Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter I.: THE WEEK'S END. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter I.: THE WEEK'S END. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
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.
THE WEEK'S END.
One fine Saturday evening in May, 18—, several hundred work-people, men, girls, and boys, poured out from the gates of a factory which stood on the banks of the Medlock, near Manchester. The children dispersed in troops, some to play, but the greater number to reach home with all speed, as if they were afraid of the sunshine that checquered the street and reddened the gables and chimnies.
The men seemed in no such haste; they lingered about the factory, one large group standing before the gates, and smaller knots occupying the street for some distance, while a few proceeded slowly on their way home, chatting with one or another party as they went. One only appeared to have nothing to say to his companions, and to wish to get away quietly, if they would have let him. He was one of the most respectable looking among them, decent in his dress, and intelligent though somewhat melancholy in countenance. He was making his way without speaking to anybody, when first one and then another caught him by the button and detained him in consultation. All seemed anxious to know what Allen had to relate or to advise; and Allen had some difficulty in getting leave to go home, much as he knew he was wanted there. When he had at length escaped, he walked so rapidly as presently to overtake his little daughter, Martha, who had left the factory somewhat earlier. He saw her before him for some distance, and observed how she limped, and how feebly she made her way along the street, (if such it might be called,) which led to their abode. It was far from easy walking to the strongest. There were heaps of rubbish, pools on muddy water, stones and brickbats lying about, and cabbage-leaves on which the unwary might slip, and bones over which pigs were grunting and curs snarling and fighting. Little Martha, a delicate child of eight years old, tried to avoid all these obstacles; but she nearly slipped down several times, and started when the dogs came near her, and shivered every time the mild spring breeze blew in her face.
“Martha, how lame you are to-day!” said Allen, taking her round the waist to help her onward.
“O father, my knees have been aching so all day, I thought I should have dropped every moment.”
“And one would think it was Christmas by your looks, child, instead of a bright May day.”
“It is very chill after the factory,” said the little girl, her teeth still chattering. “Sure the weather must have changed, father.”
No; the wind was south, and the sky cloudless. It was only that the thermometer had stood at 75° within the factory.
“I suppose your wages are lowered as well as mine,” said Allen; “how much do you bring home this week?”
“Only three shillings, father; and some say it will be less before long. I am afraid mother—”
The weak-spirited child could not say what it was that she feared, being choked by her tears.
“Come, Martha, cheer up,” said her father. ‘Mother knows that you get sometimes more and sometimes less; and, after all, you earn as much as a piecer as some do at the hand-loom. There is Field, our neighbour; he and his wife together do not earn more than seven shillings a week, you know, and think how much older and stronger they are than you! We must make you stronger, Martha. I will go with you to Mr. Dawson, and he will find out. what is the matter with your knees.”
By this time they had reached the foot of the stairs which led up to their two rooms in the third story of a large dwelling which was occupied by many poor families. Barefooted children were scampering up and down these stairs at play; girls nursing babies sat at various elevations, and seemed in danger of being kicked down as often as a drunken man or an angry woman should want to pass; a thing which frequently happened. Little Martha looked up the steep stairs and sighed. Her father lifted and carried her. The noises would have stunned a stranger, and they seemed louder than usual to accustomed ears. Martha's little dog came barking and jumping up as soon as he saw her, and this set several babies crying; the shrill piping of a bulfinch was heard in the din, and over all, the voice of a scolding woman.
“That is Sally Field's voice if it is anybody's,” said Allen. “It is enough to make one shift one's quarters to have that woman within hearing.”
“She is in our rooms, father. I am sure the noise is there; and see, her door is open and her room empty.”
“She need not fear leaving her door open,” observed a neighbour in passing. “There is nothing there that anybody would wish to carry away.”
Allen did not answer, but made haste to restore peace in his own dwelling, knowing that his wife was far from being a match for Sally Field. As he flung open the door, the weaker party seemed to resign the contest to him; his wife sank into a chair, trembling all over. Her four or five little ones had hidden themselves where they could, some under the table, some behind the bed, having all been slapped or pushed or buffeted by Sally for staring at her with their thumbs in their mouths. She was not aware that Sally Field in a passion was a sight to make any one stare.
Allen carried Martha to a seat in preparation for turning out Sally Field and locking the door upon her, which he meant to do by main force if gentler means should fail. Her surprise at seeing him, however, and perhaps some degree of awe of his determined countenance, made her pause for a moment.
“What is all this, wife?” inquired Allen.
“I am sure I don't know. Sally has been rating me and the children this hour past, and heaven knows what for.”
Sally proceeded upon this to declare a long list of offences of which Allen's family had been guilty towards her, and Allen suffered her to go on till she had exhausted her breath. When at length she lost her voice—a catastrophe which happens sooner or later to all scolds,—he took up the word.
“l'll tell you what, Sally,” said he; “I am very sorry for you, and very much ashamed of you, and I should be more angry on my wife's account than you ever saw me if I did not know you well, and understand what is at the bottom of all this. Remember, Sally, I have known you and your husband since you were this high, as well as if you had been children of my own. Don't put me in mind how young you are. Don't make me treat you like a child when you have taken upon you so early to be a woman. Don't make me call your husband to take care of you as if you could not take care of yourself.”
“Call him! call him and welcome, if you can find him,” cried Sally. “Show me where he is, and I'll find a better use for my tongue than in scolding your mean-spirited wife there that looks as if she were going to die whenever one speaks. Go, pray, call my husband.”
“Aye, aye; that's the grievance, I see,” said Allen. “We all have our grievances, Sally, and it is great folly to make them worse of our own accord. Do you expect to tempt your husband to stay at home with you by scolding as you were doing just now?”
“Do you leave your wife for the twenty-four hours together?” cried Sally. “Do you make yourself drunk with your last shilling?—and yet any man had rather see his wife in a passion now and then than have her such a poor, puny, crying creature as your wife is.”
“Hush, hush, mistress!” interrupted Allen. “I will lock the door upon you this moment, and would have done it before but that you would raise a mob in the street if I turned you out. Sally, you know you have not a friend in the world if you quarrel with us, and what will you do with your sore heart then?”
The poor creature's passion now dissolved in tears. She threw herself on the bed and sobbed bitterly. She was left to herself for some time. Allen produced his week's wages, and settled with his wife how they should be disposed of, and persuaded her to go out herself and make the necessary purchases, saying that he would search for Field, and try to get him home, Allen's wife sighed.
“You are not afraid to trust me in an alehouse?” said he smiling.
“Bless your heart, no; that I never was nor ever shall be: but I was thinking of what you said, that we all have our grievances. Here is three shillings less wages this week.”
“Yes, and another sixpence off Martha's too: but don't fret, wife; we must do as others do, and be glad if nothing worse happens. See to poor Martha's knees before you go out; she is more lame than ever to-day.—And now, Sally, if you will promise me to go to your own room, and stay there till I bring your husband back, and if you will give me your word to keep the peace with him whatever he may have been doing, I will go and search him out, and see what I can do to make him behave better to you.”
Sally promised to keep the peace, but begged to stay and take care of the children till their mother should return. Seeing however that Martha looked up beseechingly in her father's face, and that the little ones clung to their mother's apron, she cursed herself for having deserved that they should be afraid of her, and ran down to bolt herself into her own room and recover her composure as she might.
As there was no fire, and as Martha was very discreet for her years, the parents promised the children to lock them up, that no scold might come and terrify them while they had to take care of themselves. Martha was advised to sit still, and her bulfinch was taken down from the window and placed beside her to be fed and watered; the other little things promised to be good, and their father and mother went, the one to the Spread-Eagle and the other to the market.
It required no great sagacity to prophesy that Field would be found at the Spread-Eagle. He varied his excursions a little, according to times and seasons: but those who knew his ways could easily guess at which of his haunts lie might be expected when missing from home. When he stole out before getting to his loom in the morning, or after leaving it late at night, he generally stepped only to the dram-shop, for a glass of gin to warm him for his work, or to settle him to his sleep, as his pretence was; but when he had finished his piece and got his pay, he felt himself at liberty to go to the Spread-Eagle and have a carouse, from which he returned in the dark, sometimes reeling on his own legs, sometimes carried on other men's shoulders. This habit of drinking had grown upon him with frightful rapidity. He had, a year before, been described by his employers as a steady, well-behaved lad. He had fallen in love with Sally and married her in a hurry, found her temper disagreeable and his home uncomfortable, tried in vain to keep her in order, and then, giving up all hope, took to drinking, and would not tolerate a word of remonstrance from any one but his old friend Allen.
There were more customers this evening at the Spread-Eagle than was usual even on Saturdays. Allen was warmly welcomed as he entered, for it was supposed he came to keep company with his companions from the same factory. Almost all present were spinners and power-loom weavers under the firm of Mortimer and Rowe; and the occasion of their assembling in greater numbers than usual, was the reduction of wages which had that day taken place. Room was made for Allen as soon as he appeared, a pipe and pot of porter called for, and he was welcomed to their consultation. But Allen looked round instead of taking his seat, and inquired for Field. The landlord pointed to a corner where Field lay in a drunken sleep under a bench.
“Let him lie,” said one. “He is too far gone to be roused.”
“What concern is it of yours?” cried another. “Come and listen to what Clack was saying.” “You shirked us in the street,” said a third: “now we have caught you, we shall not let you go.”
The landlord being really of opinion that Field had better lie where he was for an hour or two, Allen sat down to hear what was going on.
Clack turned to him to know what their masters deserved for lowering their wages.
“That depends upon circumstances,” replied Allen. “Be they much to blame or little, something must be done to prevent a further reduction, or many of us will be ruined.”
“Shake hands, my fine fellow!” cried Clack. “That was just what we had agreed. It is time such tyranny was put down, and we can put it down, and we will.”
“Gently, gently,” said Allen. “How do you think of putting it down?”
“Why should not we root out the one who is the most of a tyrant, and then the others may take warning before it is too late? We have nothing to do but to agree.”
“No easy matter sometimes, friend.”
“Stuff! we have agreed before upon a less occasion, and when there was danger in it. Had not we our combinations, when combination was against the law? and shall not we have them again now that the law lets us alone? Shall we be bold in the day of danger and shrink when that day is over?”
“Well, well, neighbour: I said nothing about being afraid. What would you have us agree to do?”
“To root out Messrs. Mortimer and Rowe. Every man in our union must be sworn not to enter their gates; and if this does not frighten the masters and make them more reasonable, I don't know what will.”
“And if, instead of being frightened, the masters unite to refuse us work till we give up our stand against Mortimer and Rowe, what are we to do then?”
“To measure our strength against theirs, to be sure. You know they can't do without us.”
“Nor we without them; and where both parties are so necessary to each other, it is a pity they should fall out.”
“A pity! To be sure it is a pity; but if the masters drive us to it, the blame rests with them.”
“I hope,” said a timid-looking man, Hare by name, who had a habit of twirling his hat when silent, and of scratching his head when he spoke, “I hope, neighbour, you will think what you are about before you mention a strike. I've seen enough of strikes. I had rather see my children on the parish than strike.”
Clack looked disdainfully at him, and said it was well that some dove-like folks had not to manage a fight against the eagle. For his part, he thought any man ought to be proud of the honour of making a stand against any oppression; and that he had rather, for his own share, have the thanks of the Union Committee than wear Wellington's star. Would not his friend Allen say the same?
No. Allen agreed with Hare so far as thinking that there could be few worse evils than a strike; but at the same time it was an evil which might become necessary in certain cases. When convinced that it was necessary in defence of the rights of the working-man, he would join in it heart and hand; but never out of spite or revenge,—never to root out any master breathing. —So many agreed in this opinion, that Clack grew more eager than ever in defending himself and blaming the masters in question.
“Dare any one say,” he cried, “that the Dey of Algiers himself is a greater tyrant than Mortimer would be if he dared? Does not he look as if he would trample us under foot if he could? Does not he smile with contempt at whatever is said by a working-man? Does not he spurn every complaint, and laugh at every threat? and if he takes it into his lofty head to do a kindness, does not he make it bitter with his pride?”
“All true, Clack, as everybody knows that works for Mortimer; but———”
“And as for Rowe,” interrupted the talker, “he is worse, if possible, in his way.”
“I don't know,” said Hare, doubtfully. “Mr. Rowe came once and talked very kindly with me.”
“Aye, when he had some purpose to answer. We are all, except you, Hare, wise enough to know what Rowe's pretty speeches mean. You should follow him to the next masters' meeting, man, and hear how he alters his tone with his company. Tile mean-spirited, shuffling knave!”
“Well, well, Clack; granting that Mortimer is tyrannical and Rowe not to be trusted,—that does not alter the case about rooting them out. To make the attempt is to acknowledge at the outset that the object of our union is a bad one: it will fill the minds of the operatives with foul passions and provoke a war between masters and men which will end in the destruction of both. Whenever we do strike, let it be in defence of our own rights, and not out of enmity to individuals among our employers.”
Clack muttered something about there being shufflers among the men as well as the masters; to which Allen replied that the way to make shufflers was to use intimidation. The more wisdom and moderation there was in the proceedings of any body of men, the better chance there was of unanimity and determination. He repeated that, as long as the Union of which he was a member kept in view the interests of the body of operatives, he would be found ready to do and to sacrifice his share; but as soon as it should set to work on other objects, he should withdraw at all risks.
Before he had done speaking, the attention of his companions was called off by an unexpected addition to their company. Music had been heard gradually approaching for some minutes, and now the musician stood darkening the door and almost deafening the people within with the extraordinary variety of sounds he produced. An enormous drum was strapped across his body; a Pan's pipe employed his mouth, and his hat, with a pointed crown and a broad brim, was garnished with bells. A little girl, fantastically dressed, performed on the triangle, and danced, aud collected halfpence from the bystanders. While the musician played a jig, jerking his head incessantly from side to side, nobody thought of looking particularly at him: but when he turned to the company within doors and set his little companion to sing to his playing
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,”
several of the debaters began to fancy that they knew the face and figure of the musician. “It is — yes, certainly is Bray!” said one to another; and many a hand was held out to him.
“I thought you were not likely to forget old acquaintance, even if they come in a new dress,” said Bray, laughing heartily, and proceeding to deposit his decorations with one or another of his former companions. He put his hat on Allen's head, slipped the strap of his drum over Clack's shoulders, and gave the triangle to Hare.
“Come,” said he, “let us have a concert. It is my turn to see spinners turn strollers. Come, Allen, shake your head, man, and let us hear what comes out of it.”
“How we have wondered,” exclaimed Allen, “what had become of you and yours! Is that poor little Hannah that used to be so delicate?”
“The same that your good wife nursed through the measles. She would hardly know her now.”
Allen shook his head.
“Ah, I see what you mean,” said Bray. “You had rather see her covered with white cotton flakes than with yellow ribands; but remember it is no fault of mine that she is not still a piecer in yonder factory; and I don't know that I need call it my misfortune any more than my fault. Look how strong and plump she is! so much for living in the open air, instead of being mewed up in a place like an oven. Now, don't take off the hat on purpose to shake your head. What can a man do——” and looking round, he appealed to the company, “what can a proscribed man do but get his living, so as not to have to ask for work?”
A loud clapping and shuffling of feet was the answer to his question. The noise half roused the drunken man in the corner, who rolled himself over to the terror of little Hannah, who bad got as far as she could out of the way of the smokers, among whom her father had been so well received. Allen rose to go, having some hope that Field might be safely set on his legs again by this time. He asked Bray whether he meant to stay in the neighbourhood, and where he would lodge.
“You must stay,” cried one, “and play a tune before your old masters' gates.”
“You must stay,” said another, “and see how we manage a strike now-a-days.”
“A strike! Are you going to try your strength again? You will make me wish I was one of you still; but I can head the march. Stay? Yes, I'll stay and lead you on to victory. Hurra! I'll go recruiting with my drum. I'll manage to meet Mortimer, when I have a procession a mile long at my heels!”
“You lay by your drum on Sundays, I suppose?” said Allen.
“Yes, yes. We keep within and take our rest on Sundays. It is as great a treat to us to sit within doors all day once a week, as it is to some other folks to get into the green meadows. If the landlord can give us lodging, you will find us here in the morning, Allen.”
“Let Hannah go home with me, Bray. I know my wife will be glad to see her and to hear her story, and this is no place for a child. If I can rouse yon sleeper, I will go now, and send my wife with a cloak or something to hide the child's frippery, and then she will spend tomorrow in a fitter place than a public-house.”
Bray sat gravely looking at his child for a few moments, and then started up, saying that he would undertake to rouse the sleeper. Blowing the Pan's pipe close by his ear made him start, and a rub-a-dub on the drum woke him up effectually: so that he was able, cross and miserable, to crawl homewards with the help of Allen's arm, and to be put to bed by his wife with the indistinct dread in his mind of a terrible lecture as soon as he should be in a condition to listen to it.