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Chapter II.: MUCH MAY COME OF LITTLE. - 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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MUCH MAY COME OF LITTLE.
Under the active management of Mr. wallace, the establishment of the iron-work proceeded rapidly. It was set on foot on rather a small scale at first, there being but one furnace erected. There was a house built for Mr. Wallace and a great many dwellings for the labourers, so that the place presently bore the appearance of a village. It was reported that Mr. Wallace would be married before long, and bring his lady to his new house; and it was observed that if any of the other partners should come to reside, the place would be a thriving and pleasant one to live in. Though old Armstrong groaned at the mention of every new inhabitant, everybody else thought it would be an advantage to have as many people settled there as could be provided with employment.
There were several partners in this concern, though their names did not all appear in the firm. Mr. Leslie, the richest of them, lived in London and was a Member of Parliament. He advanced a great deal of money to carry on the works, but took no trouble in the business, besides signing his name to papers sometimes, and receiving his large profits when the accounts were made up. Mr. Cole was also rich. He held about one-third of the whole concern, and was far more interested in the proceedings than Mr. Leslie. He came now and then to see what was doing, found fault with everything, contradicted Mr. Wallace's orders, and when he had done all he could to put everybody out, went away, promising to repeat his visit by and by, and if he was better satisfied, to send his son to learn business and qualify himself to take a share in time. Mr. Bernard, the third partner, had sons whom he wished to be instructed in the management of an iron-work, and he resolved to settle himself and his whole family an the spot, and to be an acting partner. Mr. Wallace was very glad of this; for he was young and had not had much experience of business, and felt the responsibility of his present situation very great. He had a high opinion of Mr. Bernard in every way, and hoped that if his own zeal and industry were supported by the talent and experience of his partner, the concern would prosper. He was sorry that some time must elapse before the Bernard family could time came but this afforded the better opportunity for getting everything into order before their arrival.
Mr. Wallace was possessed of less property than any of his partners; but he held a good share of the concern in consideration of his devoting his whole time and exertions to business. His great-grandfather had begun the world without a shilling. He was a labourer, and by his skill and industry he managed to earn rather more than was sufficient to feed and clothe his family of four children. He thought within himself whether he should lay He the surplus to set his young people forward in the same way to life with himself, or whether he should give it them in the shape of such an education as he could procure for them. He was too sensible a man to think of spending money in indulgences for himself or them, for no better reason than that he had it by him. He chose the wisest way: he put out at interest a sum sufficient to secure him against want in case of sickness or old age, and employed the rest in giving his children a good plain education, which fitted them for a somewhat higher occupation than his own. His eldest son was first apprentice and then shopman to a linen-draper, and was at last made a partner, and left a little capital to his son, our Mr. Wallace's father, who stocked a shop and rose in the world so as to be able to leave his son a few thousand pounds, which he embarked, as we have seen, in an iron-work which promised large profits.
Mr. Wallace never forgot how his little fortune had come to him. He was accustomed to say to his friend Mr. Bernard, that it arose out of labour and grew by means of saving; and that if it was henceforth to increase, it must be in the same way: so he was not sparing of his labour, and was careful to spend less than his income that his capital might grow.
When he came to establish the iron-work, he did not bring all his own capital or that of his partners in the form of money. Their capital was divided into three parts—the implements of labour, the materials on which labour was to be employed, and the subsistence of the labourers; or—which is the same thing—the money which would enable the labourers to purchase their subsistence. In the first division were comprehended the blast-furnace, the refineries, the forge, and mill, with all their machinery, and the tools of the labourers. All these may be termed instruments of labour. In the second division were reckoned the iron ore, the coal and limestone, which were purchased with the estate. In the third division were included the wages of the work-people. This division of the capital would have remained unaltered whether the people had been paid for their labour in bread and clothes and habitations, or in wages which enabled them to purchase these necessaries. It was merely as a matter of convenience to both parties, that the wages were paid in money; and indeed, in some cases, the men preferred having a cottage and less wages, to more wages and no dwelling. However this matter was settled, Mr. Wallace always considered that his capital consisted of the three parts,—implements of labour, the materials on which labour is employed, and the subsistence of labourers. Capital may exist in one only of these forms, or in two, or, as we have seen, in three; but it cannot exist in any form which does not belong to one of these three divisions.
It gave Mr. Wallace great pleasure to go round the works and see how the employment of this capital afforded subsistence to nearly three hundred people, and to remember that the productions of their labour would promote the comfort and convenience of many hundreds or thousands more in the distant places to which the iron of this district was carried. He made this remark one day to his friend Mr. Hollins, when he was taking him round the works and pointing out what progress had been made since his last visit. “It is indeed rather better employed than if it were locked up in a chest,” said Mr. Hollins.
“I wish we could persuade our old friend on the hill to invest his two hundred guineas in your concern. His daughter would be very glad of the proceeds; you would be glad of the increase of capital; more iron would be prepared for the use of society, more and more labourers provided for here.”
“Two hundred guineas would certainly go some little way towards procuring all these advantages, and the least of them would be preferable to letting the guineas lie by as useless as so many pebbles. Not one of all the owners of capital round us would be guilty of such a waste of the resources by which society must live.”
“And, pray, how many capitalists do you reckon beside yourself?” said a voice near.
The gentleman turned and saw a strange-looking figure standing just behind them, whom Mr. Wallace remembered to have seen repeatedly, within a few days. He was a strong, hearty-looking man of about thirty, with a cheerful countenance, but a most destitute appearance. His clothes hung in tatters about him; he had neither hat, shoes, nor stockings. He had lingered about the place for some time; now seating himself on the hills near and watching the labourers for hours, and then coming down to talk with them till sent away by the overlooker.
“Pray who may you be, friend?” asked Mr. Wallace.
“If it suits you to call me Paul, that name will do as well as another,” said the man. “And if you want to know my profession, I will tell you that I am just about making my choice; and if you further inquire what is my business here, I answer that I am come to suit myself.”
“Indeed! you seem to make very sure of suiting me,” said Mr. Wallace. “But I would have you know we allow no idlers on our premises.”
“Show me the hardest labourer in your works, and I will engage to do more than he.”
“In which department.”?
“Why, it would be bad policy to own oneself ignorant of all; so I came down this morning to find out which sort of labour is best paid; and to that I will swear myself equal. But I think I must begin humbly; so, suppose I take a pick and work at the tunnel? I wilt tell you to-morrow how my new way of life suits me. So good morning.”
“Stop, Sir. Let us hear a little of your old way of life, if you please. I should like to know where you picked up so much assurance. I thought you were a beggar and not a labourer. There is no difficulty in getting employment in this neighbourhood, and the lowest wages that ever were given would find you better clothing than that you have on”
“Very true,” said Paul. “You are right in every particular. I have been idle, as far as the labour of the hands is concerned, for nearly six months; but I have all the time been busy observing and reflecting, in which occupation my neighbours have been kind enough to indulge me, by giving me food as often as I said I was hungry.
“And pray what were you six months ago?”
“That I will leave untold, that you may have the amusement of guessing how it is that I speak so little like either a beggar or a labourer. All that you are concerned with is, what I am now. I am a man with a strong pair of arms to work, and a strong mind to persevere.”
“I am afraid that you are too proud a gentleman to work under the eye of the overlooker, which you must do if you work for me at all.”
“What matters it to me where the overlooker stands, as long as he does not hinder my work? None but knaves fear being watched, and I am an honest man.”
“If your account of yourself be true, it is a pity you should be a beggar. I will call the overlooker and bid him set you to work.”
“First answer me, unless you have any objection, the question with which I introduced myself to you. Remember how many of your inquiries I have answered, and be pleased to observe that the tunnel-workmen are going to dinner, so that I have nearly an hour before me, which might hang heavy as I have no dinner to eat.”
The gentlemen were so amused at the oddity of this man, that they did not walk away, as many would have done after such a speech. Paul's manner, though free, was not disrespectful, and his language testified that he must have held a superior situation to that in which he now appeared.
“Am I to refer your hint about a dinner,” said Mr. Wallace, laughing, “to your old trade, or your new one? Are you begging your dinner, or do you wish for it as wages in advance?”
“Neither the one nor the other, sir. I used to wait for my dinner till seven for fashion's sake; and now I can wait till six for honesty's sake. By that time I hope to have earned my meat; and from the moment you promised me work, I gave up begging. I shall beg no more.”
Mr. Wallace thought, however, it would not be fair play to let Paul begin his labours hungry. He called to Briggs, one of the cokers, and asked if he had more dinner in his basket than he wanted. He had.
“Well, then, give this man some, and he will pay you to-night, and if he does not, I will.”
“And now,” said Paul, after apologizing for eating in the gentleman's presence, “will you tell me who are capitalists here besides yourself?”
“Every man about the works might be so, except perhaps yourself, Paul; and you may be a capitalist six hours hence.”
“That depends upon what we mean by the word,” said Paul, smiling. “Do you mean by capital, something produced with a view to further production, or any production which may be exchanged for some other production? There is a vast difference between the two.”
“A great difference indeed,” observed Mr. Hollins. “Parry, the overlooker, is a capitalist, for he has saved money enough to build yonder cottage, which he lets at a rent of five pounds a year; but is Briggs, the coker, a capitalist? He has property, I know; a bed, a table, and a few chairs, and other articles of furniture; but as these are not instrumental to further production, can they be called capital?”
“In a certain sense they might,” said Mr. Wallace; “for they might be turned into money, which could be employed productively. Furniture is one way of investing capital, though not a profitable one; but when I spoke of all our people being capitalists, I meant that all earned more than is absolutely necessary for them to spend; which is, I believe, the case, in the present prosperous state of our trade. Every man does, I believe, possess more than food for the hour, always excepting Paul: and that possession, whether it be a shilling or fifty pounds, is capital at the time it is received, whether it be afterwards invested in furniture, which might be sold again, or lent out at interest, or made productive in any other way.”
“But if that only is capital which is produced with a view to further production,” said Mr. Hollins, “I hope there are a good many among your three hundred labourers who are capitalists in this sense.”
“Several,” said Mr. Wallace; “and such I reckon benefactors to society; but there are also many who, having a roof over their heads and something to cover them, are satisfied, and spend all their earnings as fast as they get them in a way which brings no return. Such men become, sooner or later, a burden to the community.”
A deep sigh from Paul made the gentlemen look at him, and they were struck with the melancholy expression of his countenance. When he saw that he was observed, he roused himself and put in his word again.
“I have heard people say you may see plants grow in a thunder-shower, and that the sun sees a baby grow in a summer's day; but neither is so easy to be seen as the growth of capital. I should like to be by at the opening of a new iron-work,—not with all the helps that we have about us here,—but where people had only their wits and their hands to depend upon. That would be the place to watch capital from its birth, through all the stages of its nursing till it was full grown like yours.”
“Let us hear your notion of the process, Paul.”
“I suppose it might occur to a shrewd man, finding a lump of the mineral melted in a very hot fire and hardened again, that it would make better tools than wood. He would heat his lump, and beat it with stones while it was hot, and bend it and notch it and sharpen it in a rude way, till he would be so much better off for tools than his neighbours, that they would try to get some like his. If they could not find any more ironstone, he would use his tools to dig or pick it out of the earth for them.”
“Then, Paul, his tools would be his capital.”
“Certainly: his tools would be capital arising from labour, and tending to further production. His neighbours would pay him well in such produce as they could spare for furnishing them with iron, and then they would all set about making tools. They would soon find that they could get on faster and better by dividing their labour; and so one would keep up the fire, and another would see that the ore flowed into the hole as it should do; and another would beat it while soft, and another would notch it into a saw, and another sharpen it into an axe.”
“Very well, then. As there must be labour before capital, there must be capital before division of labour.”
“To be sure. There would be nothing for them to divide their labour upon if they had not the ironstone, which is their capital as, much as the man's first tool is his.—The more tools they make, the more ore they can procure.”
“So the division of labour assists the increase of capital.”
“There is the beauty of it,” replied Paul. “They play into one another's hands. Labour makes capital; capital urges to a division of labour; and a division of labour makes capital grow. When the people we are talking of are all supplied with tools, (which have gone on improving all this time in the quality of the metal as well as the make of the implements,) they begin to traffic with the next district, bartering their manufacture for whatever productions they may agree to take in exchange. As their manufacture improves, they get more wealth; and then again, as they get more wealth, their manufacture improves; they find new devices for shortening their labour; they make machines which do their work better than their own hands could do it, till an iron-work becomes what we see it here,—a busy scene where man directs the engines whose labour he once performed; where earth and air and fire and water are used for his purposes as his will directs; and a hundred dwellings are filled with plenty where, for want of capital, men once wrapped themselves in skins to sleep on the bare ground, and cut up their food with flints. —-So, now that I have given you the natural history of capital as I read it, I will wish you good morning and go to my work.”
“Paul, you astonish me,” said Mr. Wallace. “How is it that one who understands so well the history of wealth should be so destitute?”
“Do not you know,” said Paul, turning once more as he was departing,—“do not you know that the bare-headed pauper understands well what is meant by a kingly crown? Do you not suppose that the hungry children who stand round a fruiterer's door see that a pine-apple is not a turnip? Then why should not I, clothed in rags, be able to speak of wealth? I told you my head had not been as idle as my hands. On yonder crag I have sat for weeks, watching the busy crowd below, as the stray sheep marks from a distance how the flock browses by day and is penned in the fold at night. The stray sheep may come back” experienced in pasturage, and not the worse for its fleece being torn by briar not; and I, for all my tatters, may, by tracing the fortunes of others as on a map, have discovered the best road to my own.”
As he said these last words, he held forth his hands, as if to intimate that they were to be the instruments of his fortune, and then, with a slight bow to the gentlemen, hastened to the tunnel where he was appointed to work, leaving his companions to express to one another their curiosity and surprise.