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Chapter IV.: PROSPERITY. - 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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The iron trade continued for some time after this to be so flourishing, that Mr. Wallace found himself at length quite unequal to the pressure of business which rested wholly on him. He wrote so repeatedly and urgently to Mr. Bernard on this subject, that that gentleman hastened the settlement of his affairs, that he might remove himself and his family into Mr. Wallace's neighbourhood. He owned that after his young partner had found the management of an iron-work with one furnace as much as he could manage, it was unreasonable to leave all the business to him when there were four, and when the demand for iron was so brisk that the utmost diligence could not enable them to answer all the orders they received. Instead of three hundred, upwards of eleven hundred labourers were now employed about the works. More and more capital was daily employed in the concern: and it was abundantly supplied as capital always is, where such speedy and profitable returns are made as in the iron trade, at the time we speak of. Many a man who found himself getting on but slowly in a manufacture of another kind, endeavoured to obtain a share in the iron-work. Many a farmer threw up his farm, and went into South Wales to find a more profitable settlement. Many a capitalist withdrew his money from concerns in London, or elsewhere, where he had received moderate interest for it, and invested it where the highest legal interest was willingly given. Even ladies, who had small properties in the funds, transferred them to the hands of any ironmaster they might happen to be acquainted with, and were much delighted with their increase of income. Some experienced people who observed this vast flow of capital towards one point, predicted unpleasant results. The immediate consequences were agreeable enough, they allowed. Iron-works were established, wherever a promising situation could be found. Smokes arose from a hundred places where the hills where all before had been a mountain solitude. The cottages of well-paid labourers multiplied everyday; and prosperity seemed, at last, to have visited the working classes in an equal proportion with their masters. But the quantity of iron prepared was so great, that it seemed scarcely possible that the demand could long remain as brisk as at present. Any one who observed the trains of waggons on the rail-roads of the various works, or the traffic on the canals, or the shipments at Newport and Cardiff, would have wondered where a market could be found for such a quantity of metal; but as long as the masters found it impossible to keep any stock by them, or even to supply their orders, they were very sanguine about the continuance of their prosperity, and went on fearlessly enlarging their works in number and extent, regardless of the warnings offered them that a glut must be the consequence.
Mr. Wallace and his partners were more prudent than most of their neighbours. They were mindful enough of the probability of change to be careful how much they invested as fixed capital, which could not be easily withdrawn or transferred in case of a change of times.
Fixed Capital, that is, money laid out in land, buildings, machinery, and tools, is a necessary part of the property of every one who endeavours to increase his wealth. The farmer must have not only land to produce grain, but ploughs and harrows to prepare the soil, sickles to reap the corn, waggons to carry it away, barns to store it in, &c., if he means to make the utmost profit he can of his produce. He thus increases his wealth by fixing his capital, though his tools and buildings and horses do not directly afford him any profit like his circulating capital. That which is commonly called circulating capital is the wealth laid out with an immediate view to farther production; such as the farmer's seed-corn, and the wages of his labourers. But as nothing is said in the word circulating about this farther production, we had rather find a better word. Reproducible seems to us the right term. Thus, the manufacturer's raw silk and cotton, the farmer's seed-corn, or the sheep and oxen he intends to sell again, the iron-master's coal and iron-stone, and that which is paid by all in the shape, of wages, are reproducible capital, because it comes back to its owner when it has fulfilled its purpose and procured a profit. It is clear that the business which requires the least fixed capital in proportion to the reproducible capital must be the least in danger from a change of times. The wine-merchant, whose fixed capital consists only of cellars, casks, hampers, and a cart and horses, has less of his wealth locked up in a useless form in bad times than the silk or cotton manufacturer, who has his factories, his steam-engine, and all the machinery connected with it. Both may have a large stock, the one of wine, the other of raw or wrought silk or cotton; both may complain of having their reproducible capital made unproductive by a failure of demand; but he is the worst off who has the largest proportion of fixed capital locked up at the same time. On a smaller scale, the basket-maket risks less in bad times than the baker. The one has merely his shed, and his block, and knife for his fixed, and osiers for his reproducible, capital; while the other has his bakehouse, ovens, bins, yeast-pails, and many other articles as his fixed capital; and flour and fuel for his reproducible capital. If a demand for baskets and for bread should ever cease, the baker would have a much larger capital laid by useless than the basket-maker.
A very large fixed capital is necessary in an iron-work, and of a kind too which cannot be turned to any other account in bad times. Land may generally be made to produce something which is in demand; sheds and waggons and horses may be used for a variety of purposes; but blast-furnaces and forges serve no object but that for which they were erected. There is, therefore, a degree of risk in thus investing capital which ought to make reflecting men very watchful in their calculations, and very cautious in extending their works even in the best times. Mr. Wallace and his partners were thus cautious, while some of their neighbours, flushed with the present prosperous state of their trade, erected their works in magnificent style, and to such au extent that one would have thought they had a contract for supplying the world with iron for ever. The firm thought themselves justified in erecting new furnaces to the number we have mentioned; but a judicious economy was consulted in the mode of building; an economy which was smiled at by many who appeared as lavish of money and fond of splendour in respect of their furnaces, as of their dwelling-houses.
Mr. Wallace's impatience that his acting-partner should come and see and approve what was done, was at length gratified. A letter was received one day announcing that Mr. Bernard, his two sons, his three daughters, and their governess, would arrive to a late dinner on the next Wednesday. It was a winter day, and darkness had come on long before there were any tokens of the approach of the party. The housekeeper (who had come some time before) listened to the blustering wind, and then looked at the clock, now trembling for the safety of her young masters and mistresses, and then vexed that her good dinner should be spoiled by the delay. Mrs. Wallace sent more than once to know whether the travellers had arrived. A crowd of little children, who had gathered together, unmindful of the cold, to cheer the carriage as soon as it appeared, were called home to bed by their mothers. The overlooker pronounced that there would be no arrival that evening, and every body at last hoped there would not, as the roads among the hills were very wild and dreary, and morning was the best time to pass along them. The travellers were approaching, however, all this time. The last stage was a very irksome one to horses and driver, and not very pleasant to those inside. No care could keep out the cold wind which obliged the driver to tie on his hat, and which terrified the child of three years old who hid her face in her papa's bosom every time the gust roared among the hills. Another little girl pressed close to her governess, and the lads themselves wished that it had not been so dark; for it was impossible to keep the lamps lighted. Their father and Mrs. Sydney—the lady who educated their sisters—tried to amuse them by talking cheerfully; but whenever they stopped for a moment, some little voice was sure to ask “How far have we to go now?” “Shall we get home to-night?” “How late will it be when we get home?”
“How dark, how very dark it is!” cried Francis. “I cannot make out whether there is a hill on each side of us, or whether it is the black sky.”
“It is the sky,” said his brother John. “I see a fiery flush on this side, which I suppose comes from some iron-work near. How it brightens every moment!”
“Ah ha! we shall have light enough presently,”[said his father. “We are nearer home than I thought. That light comes from behind the hill, and when we reach the turn of the road, we shall see a good fire, though we shall not feet one this half hour.”
In a moment the carriage turned the corner, and the children started up, forgetting cold and hunger and fear, to gaze at the extraordinary scene before them. Strange sounds rose when the gust fell—a roaring] like that of a mighty wind, which their father told them was caused by the blast of the furnaces; and a hissing and rumbling which came from the machinery of the forge and mill. These buildings stood on a level beneath a sort of terrace, faced with stone, on which were placed the kilns where the ironstone is calcined ready to be put in at the top of the furnace. On this terrace also was the coke-hearth, where the coal was burning in a long ridge open to the sky. The flame blazed and flickered, and shot up in red and white spires, and disappeared and kindled again, as the wind rose and fell; and there were black figures of men, brandishing long rakes, sometimes half-hidden by red smoke, and sometimes distinctly marked against a mass of flame. At some distance were rows of twinkling lights almost too faint to be seen after looking at the furnaces. These were in the cottages of the work-people. Farther off was a solitary light, so far raised as to give the idea that it came from a house on a hill. The children eagerly asked if this light shone from their home. No; it must be Mr. Wallace's house; but their own really was near now. Accordingly, when they had passed another reach of the road in utter darkness, and had heard a gate swing, and knew by the crashing sound that the carriage was on a gravel road, they saw an open hall-door, and knew the figure of the housekeeper as she stood ready to welcome them.
The children grew sleepy as they grew warm, and forgot the irksomeness of their journey; and having made a good supper from what was to have been dinner, they crept to their beds and were presently asleep.
Mr. Wallace arrived before breakfast was over the next morning, to welcome his partner and accompany him down to the works. He brought a message from his wife that she hoped to call on Mrs. Sydney and the young ladies during the forenoon. Accordingly, soon after the gentlemen were gone, the little carriage drawn by a brace of sleek ponies, and containing this elegant young personage wrapped up in furs, appeared before the door. Mrs. Wallace's extreme shyness infected the young people, who were just of an age to be reserved with strangers; and Mrs. Sydney, who was always at her ease, found it very difficult to maintain the conversation. Mrs. Wallace had seen no one high or low, in the neighbourhood, except Mr. Armstrong. She did not appear interested in the manufacture going on before her eyes. She admired those parts of the country which remained green and wild, and this appeared the only subject on which she had had thing to say. Mrs. Sydney's chief interest was respecting the eleven hundred people, and the families to which they belonged, who were placed in such near neighbourhood; but she presently found that she must learn all that she wanted to know of them for herself, instead of being guided by the lady who had lived among them for so many months.
While Mrs. Wallace was blushing and rising from her seat preparatory to taking her leave, the gentlemen returned. They had come to propose that, as it was a clear, calm day, the party should, view the works and become acquainted at once with the place and people among whom they were to live. Mrs. Wallace drew back, evidently wishing to be excused; but her husband urged that it was a good opportunity for doing what she could not be expected to do while she had no lady-companion; and Mrs. Sydney seemed to think the proceeding so very desirable as well as pleasant, that it was soon agreed that the whole party should go together and on foot; the curricle being sent away with orders to return for its mistress in two hours.
Mr. Wallace explained how the ironstone, or mine as it is called, is calcined in the kilns upon the terrace which we have described. He shewed how this substance, cleansed in the kiln from clay and other impurities, is put into the furnace at the top with the coke and the limestone which are burned with it, the coke to keep the whole burning, and the limestone to unite with the mixtures of the ironstone, so that the ore may be separated pure. They saw the filler at his stand near the top of the furnace,—at the tunnel head, as it is called, pouring in at the doors the materials which were furnished from the terrace. They saw the furnace-keeper below, as intent upon his work as if his life depended on it, watching the appearance of the cinder as it was thrown off, and regulating the blast accordingly. He took no notice of any body being by, and never looked up or spoke or changed countenance.
“How intent that man is on his business!” said Mrs. Sydney to Mr. Bernard. “I suppose his office is a very important one.”
“Very important indeed. The quality of the iron produced by this furnace depends mainly on his care. It may be, and often is, ruined without his being able to help it or even knowing why; but it would certainly be spoiled without incessant care on his part.
“Is it from pure fear of spoiling his work that he is so engrossed with it, or are his wages regulated by produce of the furnace?”
“We find so much depend on the care of the men who break the limestone and prepare the coke, and burn the mine, and fill and keep the furnace, that they are all paid by the ton of iron produced, in order to secure their mutual help aud the proper regulation of the whole.”
“Well, I should be sorry if this man should suffer by the carelessness of any of the people overhead; for I never saw any thing more perfect than his own attention.”
“He is an extraordinary man,” said Mr. Wallace, who stood within hearing. “I cannot discover the motive to such indefatigable industry and frugality as his. He has worked his way up in a few months from being one of our lowest order of labourers to his present situation. He was a beggar when we first set him to work in excavating the tunnel; and he looks like a beggar still, though he accomplishes more work and lays by more money than any man among our people.”
“I wondered to see him so ill-dressed,” observed Mr. Bernard.
“I told him yesterday,” said Mr. Wallace, “that I expected to see him decently clothed, knowing, as I did, that he earned a great deal of money, and laid it all by in the Monmouth Savings Bank, except what is barely sufficient to procure him shelter and daily food.”
“Has he neither wife nor family to support?”
“He seems not to have a relation or acquaintance in the world. He speaks to nobody but the overlooker and myself.”
“And what sort of intercourse have you with him?”
“I converse with him as often as we can both spare time, and always with pleasure; for he is well, I might say highly, educated, and has the speech and manners of a gentleman.”
“How strange! And do not you know where he comes from, and what brought him?”
“I know nothing of him but that he is a genius and a miser—two characters which are rarely seen united. Paul keeps his own counsel so perfectly as to who he is and whence he comes, that nay curiosity is very strongly excited, and I would take some pains to get at the bottom of the mystery, if I did not feel that every man has a right to his own secret. He is an industrious and faithful servant to me, and that is all I have any business with.”
Mrs. Sydney ventured so far as to put a question to Paul; but he was just going to tap the furnace, i. e. to let out the fused iron,—a very important operation,—and was therefore too busy to answer her.
“I will bring you together after working-hours some day,” whispered Mr. Wallace to her. “If we should meet him taking his ramble on a Sunday, or when, as now and then happens, we put somebody in his place to relieve him for a day, he will be more disposed for conversation than now. He is sociable enough when he falls in with any one whom he thinks worthy of being talked to.”
“I am afraid we shall be quite looked down upon by such a high and mighty personage,” said Mrs. Sydney, laughing. But Mr. Wallace promised to draw him out.
The party then proceeded to the refinery where the pig-iron is refined, and to the forge and mill where it is formed into bars. They saw the refiners take it by turns to run out their moulds of metal; and the weigher who examines their work and keeps an account of it; and the puddler at the forge who improves the quality of the metal by another refining process; and the shingler who hammers the balls of metal into an oblong form for going through the roll; and the roller and his catcher who stand on each side of the rolling machine, and put the bar into a smaller roll every time it is handed from one to the other; and the straighteners who straighten the bars while they are hot, and mark them with the stamp of the wolks where they are made; and the bar-weighers who examine the finished work; and the clerks or superintendents who conduct the whole. The youths were as much struck as the ladies with the graudeur of the scale on which the manufacture was carried on, and with the ingenuity of the contrivances for aiding and saving labour.
“What a sum of money must have been laid out here!” cried Francis.
“And what a quantity of labour that money has brought into operation!” observed Mrs. Sydney.
“Yes, but there is nothing so very remarkable in seeing eleven hundred people at work, as in observing what comes of such aa outlay of capital.”
“It was not merely the labour of eleven hundred pairs of hands that I was speaking of,” replied Mrs. Sydney, “but of the hoarded labour which does what no unassisted human hands could do; the shears and the rollers, and all the complicated machinery which enables us to treat iron as it were wood or clay. I suppose, Mr. Wallace, you are free from complaints about the use of machinery; as your works are of a kind which cannot be done by hand?”
“At present we hear no complaints,” replied Mr. Wallace, “because trade is good and wages are high, and the great object with us all is to prepare as much metal as machines and men can get ready. But if times should change, I am afraid we should suffer as cotton and silk manufacturers do. We should be told of this process, and that, and another, which might be effected with less machinery and more labour. Rolling and clipping must be done by wood and iron, because no bone and muscle are equal to such work; but there is much labour in preparing limestone, stacking and loading the mine, and other processes in which we shall be assisted by machinery hereafter; and then I expect an outery against such an employment of capital, though it must produce good to all in the end.”
“To be sure,” said Mrs. Sydney. “These works would never have existed in their present flourishing state but for the improvements in the manufacture of iron; and if they are to be yet more flourishing a hundred years hence, it must be by further improvements.”
“Such improvements are much wanted, I assure you; for we have much to learn before the iron manufacture becomes nearly as perfect as many others in the kingdom. The silk and cotton manufactures are less difficult and hazardous, and are more improved than ours. So, Francis, you must have your wits about you, and be always thinking what alterations for the better must be made when the times change: for we cannot expect our present prosperity to last for ever.”
“I see great heaps of cinders that appear to be wasted.” said Francis. “Look at that one which is more like a mountain than a pile of furnace-refuse. Can no use be made of it?”
“That is a question which I have asked myself a hundred times,” replied Mr. Wallace: “and I bear the thing in mind to be considered when the demand for iron slackens, as I suppose it will some time or other. Now our attention is fully occupied in supplying our customers by the usual methods, and there is no leisure for trying experiments, and little need of new methods of economy. They will come with a change of times.”
“What is to be done with these people of yours when those days come? “asked Mrs. Sydney. “When I look at the ranges of cottages and see how many children are playing before the doors, I wonder whether it will always be easy to maintain so increasing a population.”
Mr. Wallace told her that it was his constant endeavour to impress upon his people that it is the duty of well-paid labourers to become capitalists if they can, as a security against a reverse of fortune. The difficulty he always found was to persuade them that the earnings which are only enough to maintain them for a few days, may, by being properly disposed of, be made sufficient for the maintenance of years. He wished his labourers to furnish themselves and their families in the first place with food, clothing, and habitation, and then to put out at interest, or invest in some other profitable way, their surplus wages, that they might have something with which to begin a new employment, in case of their present work being taken from them. Some had attended to his advice and some had not. Some had money in the Monmouth Savings Bank, which was a good way. Some laid out their earnings in stocking a little shop at the iron-work, which was kept by their wives and children. This was also a very good plan. Some laid by their notes and silver in a stocking or glove in their own cupboard, which was a safe method enough, but not so good as one which would have made the money profitable. Others spent the whole as it came in, which was the worst plan of all.
Some who had several children growing up, had them taught different trades, that there might be a resource for the family in case of one trade failing. There could be no better way of employing money than this, for it was sure of a return in the profitable industry of the young people, — a return which would be afforded exactly when it was most needed. It also yielded an immediate return, not the less valuable because it could not be estimated in gold and silver, — the peace of mind which arose from the consideration that all the resources of the family could not be cut off at once, and that if some were thrown out of employment, there would be others in a condition to help them.
All that Mrs. Sydney heard made her wish to begin an acquaintance with the families of the work-people. She proposed that the party should return by way of their dwellings. Mr. Wallace gave his arm to his wife, who had been in conversation with Mr. Bernard, and they all set forward. Mrs. Wallace envied Mrs. Sydney the ease and kindness of manner with which she conversed with people of all classes. The difference between them was, that the one was ignorant of the habits and manners of all ranks except her own, and that the other had mixed with each in turn, and was therefore familiar with whatever concerned them. Both were generous and kind-hearted, though they showed their kindness in different ways. Mrs. Wallace would have given away all she had to a neighbour in want; but when her neighbours, as now, were not in want, she was at a loss to express her good-will, while Mrs. Sydney, by merely conversing with them, made herself liked by them without trying to do so, or ever thinking of anything beyond satisfying her own kind interest.
Mr. Wallace had thought that Paul worked too hard; and as he was anxious to make inquiries of Paul's host about his health, he conducted the party to the cottage of John Jones, with whom Paul lodged. Jones was out, but his wife was within, preparing dinner for herself and two of her younger children who were playing beside her. She thought, like Mr. Wallace that Paul had grown thin lately, and was not so strong as formerly; and she did not wonder, considering how little food and sleep he took. She never saw anybody so sparing of both, or so eager after money. She had no reason to complain, she said; for he paid for his lodging exactly and regularly every Saturday night; but it did make her sorry to see him work so hard and allow himself so few comforts.—He was up at four, summer and winter, doing his tailoring and cobbling work, and would sit from six till eleven in the evening, cutting corks when he had nothing more profitable to do.
Mr. Wallace looked astonished, for he had no notion that Paul had been a Jack-of-all-trades.
Mrs. Jones explained that he seemed able to learn any employment he chose when the inducement of money was set before him. With the first wages he had earned at the works, he purchased a tailor's and cobbler's implements, and patched and cobbled for half the neighbourhood at his leisure hours. He still complained” that be had not enough to do, and went to the next town to look for some employment which he might bring home. He brought a package of cork on his back, and a cork-cutter's knife in his pocket, and for many and many a gross had he received payment from the druggists and others of the next town, and even of Newport. The same bench and the same dirty clothes served him for his cobbling and his cork-cutting; and another advantage of the latter employment was, that a very little light would serve his purpose. He usually burned a farthing candle at hours when he could not have the advantage of the Joneses' lamp.
Mrs. Jones shewed her guests how neatly Paul had partitioned off half his little room to serve as a workshop: the inner half, where he slept and kept his few clothes, was as neat and orderly as possible; for Paul always said that there was good economy in cleanliness and order. The workshop also was kept as tidy as the nature of things allowed.
Mr. Wallace was surprised to see a very pretty picture placed against the wall of the inner room, and covered with a piece of muslin to keep it from the dust. It had no frame, but appeared a good painting. It seemed to be the likeness of a boy, handsome and well-dressed, with a hoop in his hand and a greyhound beside him. The back-ground was a park, with deer grazing, and a mansion seen among the trees.
Mrs. Jones said this picture had a very elegant frame when Paul first put it up in his room, but that he had, after looking at it very often and for a long time together, taken off the frame and carried it with him when he went to the fair to sell his cattle.
His cattle! What cattle?
He seemed to be a very good judge of cattle, and had managed to buy a cow and two or three sheep which he had sold to advantage at the last fair. It had been curious to observe his caution in his calculations. He sat on his bench with a piece of chalk beside him, reckoning and reckoning his sums in the intervals of his work, till it seemed as if all his thoughts were engaged on numbers. The same process had begun again now; so the Joneses concluded he was going to buy and sell more cattle.
Mrs. Sydney inquired whether he was a pleasant inmate and a kind neighbour. So far as he was sober and regular, Mrs. Jones replied, he was a valuable lodger; but be did not often speak or smile at the children; which would, she said, have been the best way of gaining her. He took no notice of the neighbours, whether they laughed at him for a miser, or whether he might have laughed in his turn at their petitions for a loan of money. Altogether, those who cared for Paul had as much sorrow as comfort on his account; for if it was a pleasant thing to see one who was once a beggar acquiring property every day, it was a sad thought that he could not enjoy his earnings reasonably, but pinched himself with want and care as much as if he had still been a beggar.
“However,” added Jones's wife, “I have no right to find fault with his way of disposing of his wages any more than my neighbours have with mine. If I complain of their laughing at me and my husband, Paul may complain of my finding fault with him. Only he does not mind these things as I do.”
In explanation of this, Mr. Wallace told his companions that the Joneses were ridiculed by some of their neighbours for not getting employment for all their children at the iron-work, which would make the family quite rich at present. Instead of doing this, at the risk of being all out of work at once by and by, the parents had chosen to apprentice one of their boys to a shoemaker at Newport, and another to a smith, while only one was employed on the works. The neighbours boasted that no expenses of apprenticeship were likely to fall on them, while at the same time they were earning more than Jones's filmily would ever be making at one time; and were continually urging that the young shoemaker should be brought home to bo made a catcher, and the little smith to be a straightener.
“Keep to your own plan, I advise you,” said Mr. Bernard. “If you do not repent it now, you never will; for there can scarcely be better days for our works, and there will probably be Worse.”
Mrs. Wallace had all this time been playing with the children, for she was not afraid of them. She had, let the little one hide its face in her muff, and had listened while the older one told her how mammy let her help to make the bed, and how she was learning to hem her own pinafore, and how she could thread a needle for Mr. Paul when he was mending a coat. Mrs. Wallace bad been laughing with the children, but looked so grave the instant their mother turned round, that Jones's wife thought she was offended with the little ones, and chid them for their freedom, so that they went and hid themselves. This was all a mistake; but it was no fault of Mrs. Jones's, for she could not possibly suppose the lady like to be treated with freedom while she looked so grave upon it and said nothing.