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Chapter I.: TAKING AN ORDER. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 6 (Messrs. Vanderput and Snoek, The Loom and the Lugger Parts 1 & 2) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 6.
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TAKING AN ORDER.
Mr. Culver, the silk-manufacturer, arrived at home later than the usual dinner hour, one dark winter day. He had been attending a meeting at the Mansion-house, held on the behalf of the Spitalfields weavers, whose deplorable distress in the middle of the season caused fearful anticipations of what their condition might be before a warmer season and a brisker state of trade should arrive. Mr. Culver's thoughts were occupied, during his slow and sad walk from the Mansion-house to his abode in the neighbourhood of Devonshire. square, by doubts whether a time of activity would ever arrive; or, if it did, how long it would last. Year after year, since he had entered business, had he been flattered with hopes that permanent prosperity would come; that the ladies of England would continue to prize silk fabrics as the most beautiful material for dress; and would grow conscientious enough to refuse smuggled goods, when every conceivable variety could be had from the looms of their own country. These had been Mr. Culver's hopes till of late. Now he began almost to despair, and to acknowledge himself tired out by the alternate perverseness of customers and workmen. As soon as a new fashion was fairly established, and orders abounded, there was sure to follow a strike among the men for wages; they invariably urging that a protected manufacture must be able to yield good wages to the operatives employed in it. As soon as their demands were yielded to, and the price of goods therefore enhanced, the market was deluged with smuggled silks; and while traffic was busy in the shops, the manufacturer was left to sigh over his ruinous stock when the fashion of the season had passed away. Being thus the sport, as he said, of three parties,—the encroaching weavers, the capricious public, and the smuggling shopkeepers,—the manufacturer declared that he stood no chance of prosperity, however ready the taxed millions of his countrymen might be to tell him that they were made to suffer that he might flourish, and that he had no right to complain while so many paid for the protection granted to his manufacture. Mr. Culver found it difficult to be grateful for the vaunted protection which did him no good; and was strongly disposed to resign the favour and his business together. He wished he had done it ten years before, when lie might have withdrawn from the manufacture a richer man than now. At present, all the manufactures of the kingdom were in so depressed a state that there was little encouragement to invest his remaining capital in any other concern; and it would, if unemployed, barely suffice for the maintenance of his family—his motherless young family—whose interests depended on himself alone. His chief doubt about leaving off business immediately arose from something that he had heard at the Mansion-house this day, in confirmation of rumours previously afloat,—that it was the intention of government to introduce some important changes into the silk-trade,—to authrize a restricted importation of foreign silks. The rumour had created a prodigious outcry at the meeting, and caused such a contest between certain shopkeepers and manufacturers, such a splitting into two parties, as made it seem probable that the interests of the starving weavers—the objects of the meeting—would be forgotten between them. Mr. Culver was one who wished for the removal of the existing prohibition, seeing and feeling as he did that nothing could be worse than the present state of the trade in England, and believing that the rage for foreign fabrics might subside when they could be easily had, and that it must be a good thing to try a new footing for a manufacture which was at present carried on to the injury of all the parties concerned. If he continued to manufacture, it Would be with the hope of this change; but he ended with a doubt whether he ought to play the speculator much longer, and whether there was not something in the nature of the business which would for ever prevent its being in a permanently flourishing state. When he approached his own house, he saw his girls looking over the blind, as if waiting for him; and, in the background, nurse's high cap, always white, as if by miracle, considering the locality.
“O, papa!” cried Charlotte, “we thought you never would have come.”
“I dare say dinner will be overdone, my dear; but never mind. If cook is not vexed, I shall not care.”
“But the Bremes' footboy has brought a note for you; and he has called twice since for an answer; and he was obliged to go home without one, after all.”
“Such an ugly footboy, papa!” observed Lucy. “Nurse says that when they set up a footboy, they might as well have got one that had not a snub nose just like his master's.”
“And such a ridiculous livery, papa! It is so odd to see such a little fellow with knee-breeches, and with buttons on his big coat as large as my doll's saucers! Nurse says——”
“Hold your tongue, my dear. I want to read this note; and when we go to dinner, I have something to talk to you about that signifies more than Mr. Breme's footboy's coat-buttons.”
While the note was being read, nurse, who was a privileged person, did not leave the room, but muttered her wonder where the change came from that made shopkeepers now so different from what shopkeepers used to be. She remembered the time when the Bremes would no more have thought of having a footboy than of living in the king's palace. And if shopkeepers' children learned to dance in her young days, they were satisfied with plain white frocks, instead of flaunting in silks and gauze ribbons, like the Miss Bremes. There lay the secret, however. It was of the silks that all the rest came. Every body knew that the Bremes lived by breaking the laws;—that old Breme's shop in town, and his son's at Brighton, were full of unlawful goods.
“And so they will be, nurse,” said her master, “as long as the great folks at court, and all the fine ladies who imitate them, buy French goods as fast as they can be smuggled.—Charlotte, see if dinner is coming. I am in a hurry. I have to go out again directly.”
“O, papa!” said Lucy, “I thought you had something very particular to tell us; and now you say you are going out directly.”
“It must do when I come back to-night, or in the morning. It is nothing very entertaining; but almost anything is better worth telling than all the faults you have to find with what the Bremes say and do. How can it possibly signify to you and me whether their footboy has a snub nose or a sharp one?”
“No, but, papa, it is such a very wicked thing of Mr. Breme to smuggle half the things in his shop, when the poor weavers close by are starving, and he knows it. Nurse says——O, here is the boiled beef! but I can go on telling you while you are helping the others. Nurse says——”
“Nurse,” said Mr. Culver, “it is a pity you should stay to cut the child's food. Charlotte will attend to her.”
Nurse unwillingly withdrew. Perhaps she would have attempted to stand her ground, if she had known what her master was planning against her. He was at this moment thinking that he must, by some means, put a stop to all this gossip about their neighbours; gossip which, in the case of the Bremes, was strongly tinctured with the malice which it was once thought nurse Nicholas could not bear towards any human being. It would be difficult, he feared, to separate nurse in any degree from those whom she would always consider her charge, even if she should live to see them all grown up; but her influence must be lessened, if he did not mean the girls to grow up the greatest gossips in the neighbourhood. He thought that the return of their brothers from school in the approaching holydays (brothers both older than Charlotte, the eldest girl) would afford a good opportunity for breaking the habit of nurse being in the parlour all day long during his absence. He now began the change by sending her away before dinner, instead of immediately after.
“Old Short has been telling nurse,” continued Lucy,—“you know old Short, papa?”
“My dear, he used to weave for me before you were born.”
“Well; old Short tells nurse that there is not a loom at work in all Crispin-street, nor has been all this month, while silk pelisses are more the fashion than ever they were. The Bremes had such beautiful pelisses last Sunday at church! You saw them, papa?”
“Not I, my dear. I do not go to church to look at people's pelisses.”
“O, well! they are made Paris fashion; and of French silk too. Your silks are not good enough for such high and mighty young ladies, nurse says.”
“There will soon be an end of that,” observed Charlotte, who attributed her father's gravity to the fact of his manufacture being slighted. “There will soon be an end of all that; and nurse's son is going to help to put an end to it.”
“Yes, papa,” cried Lucy. “Only think! He is going into the Pretence Service.”
“La, Lucy! you mean the Preventive Service,” cried Charlotte.
“To prevent prohibited goods being brought on shore; to prevent smugglers' boats from landing. Now you will understand, Lucy, what the Preventive Service means. So Nicholas is to be one of the Coast Guard! I suppose nurse is pleased.”
“I hardly know,” replied Charlotte. “He says it is very hard service in these times; and I believe she thinks her son fit to be an admiral. He has to guard the Sussex coast; and nurse says there are more smugglers there than any where.”
Lucy was of opinion that he should have somebody to help him. He could hardly manage, she thought, to prevent boats landing, if several chose to come together. He must be a very brave man indeed, she thought, to judge by what had been given him to do. No wonder nurse was proud of him! Nicholas sank much in her estimation when she heard that he was not alone to guard the whole Sussex coast, but had companions within sight by day, and within hail by night.
“But do they all earn wages, like Nicholas?” inquired Lucy. “They pay him wages, besides letting him have his pension still, that was given him for being wounded in a battle. I wish old Short, and some of the other poor people he was telling nurse about, could be made guards too. But who pays them?”
“Who do you think pays them? Try and find out.”
Charlotte thought that her father and the other manufacturers were the most likely people to pay for the prevention of smuggling, especially as some shopkeepers and the public had no objection to smuggling. But when she remembered how many guards there must be, if they were in sight of one another all along the coast where smuggling went on, she began to think that it must be an expense which would be hardly worth the manufacturers' while. Lucy supposed that if each manufacturer kept one, it might be easily managed. She asked which would cost most,—a Preventive servant or a footboy?
“You think, I suppose,” said her father, “that as the Preventive men do not prevent smuggling, after all, we might as well have a footboy, and be as grand as the Bremes. But, do you know, Lucy, I think the Bremes would have much more reason to laugh at us then, than you have now for ridiculing them. I believe Mr. Breme is growing rich; and he must know very well that I am growing poor.”
Charlotte asked again about the Coast Guard. She would have been pleased just now to learn that her father had any kind of manservant in his pay, besides those in the warehouse of whom she knew already. When, however, she was told the annual expense of keeping a guard against smugglers on the coast and at sea, she believed that the cost was beyond the means of all the manufacturers together that she had ever heard of. It was above four hundred thousand pounds a-year,—a sum of which she could as little realize the idea as of so many millions.
“Yes, my dear,” said her father, “four hundred thousand pounds are paid every year for not preventing smuggling; for we see that smuggling still goes on.”
“How can it be?” asked Lucy. “Do the men go to sleep, so that they do not see the boats coming? Or are they lazy? or are they cowardly? I do not think there will be any more smuggling in Sussex, now that Nicholas is there.”
Her father laughed, and told her it would require a much greater man than Nicholas to put a stop to smuggling in Sussex; and that if the Coast Guard could keep their eyes wide open all the twenty-four hours round, and were as active as race-horses, and as brave as lions, they could not prevent smuggling, as long as people liked French goods better than English; and that such would be people's taste as long as French goods were to be had better for the same money than any that were made in England.
Why the English should be so foolish as to make their fabrics less good and less cheap than the French, Mr. Culver could not now stay to explain. He despatched his cheese, tossed off his port, recommended the girls to learn as much as they pleased from nurse about the Preventive Service, and as little as they could about the Bremes' misdeeds, and was off, to see the very man against whom nurse's eloquent tongue had been employed.
Mr. Breme appeared to have something of consequence to display to Mr. Culver, as he turned on the gas in his back-room to an unusual brightness when his friend entered. (They still called themselves friends, though provocations were daily arising in matters of business which impaired their good will, and threatened to substitute downright enmity for it in time.)
“Here, my dear sir,” said Breme; “just look——but I wish you had come by daylight: you can't conceive the lustre by daylight;—just look at this piece of goods, and tell me if you ever manufactured anything like it.”
Mr. Culver unrolled one end of the piece of silk, ran his finger-tips over the surface, furled and unfurled its breadth, contemplated its pattern, and acknowledged that it was a very superior fabric indeed. He had hardly ever seen such an one from the Lyons looms, and he was sure neither Macclesfield nor Spitalfields had produced it.
“Can Spitalfields produce such an one, or one nearly resembling it?” asked Breme. “That is the question I wanted to ask you, my dear sir. Bring me a specimen which shall pass for French, and you shall have a larger order than has left this house for a twelvemonth past;—provided always that you can furnish it without delay.”
There need be no delay, Culver answered; for there were more looms unemployed in Spitalfields than could be set to work by any order that a single house could give. But the inferiority of the British manufacture was the impediment;—an inferiority which seemed almost hopeless. There was not a child of ten years old, dressing her doll in her mamma's odds and ends of silk, that could not tell French from English at a glance. Ay; put her into a dark room, and she would know the difference by the feel.
“You should get rid of this inferiority, my dear sir,” said Breme, with an encouraging smile, “and then we shall be most happy to deal exclusively with you. We prefer dealing with neighbours, caeteris paribus, I assure you. You should get rid of this inferiority, and then——”
“Get rid of it! I should like to know how, while our weavers insist on the wages which they fancy can be spared from a protected trade, and will not believe that their prosperity has anything to do with the quality of their work. As long as they fancy their manufacture by law established, they will take no pains to improve it. There is no stimulus to improvement like fair competition.”
“Well! your men's wages will soon be no longer by law established; that will be one step gained. You will then compete with Maccles-field and Paisley, which you could not do while your Spitalfields Act was in force. Bestir yourselves, I advise you, or the foreigners will cut you out in every way.”
“I shall bestir myself to get our protection removed,” observed Culver. “This is our only hope: but in this endeavour you will not join me, Breme. Contraband goods have too many charms for your customers, and bring too much profit to you, to allow you to wish that the trade should be open. Beware, however, that you are not caught some day.”
Breme begged to be trusted to take care of himself. As to his fondness for a stock of contraband goods, he would just mention, in confidence, a circumstance which would prove his disposition to encourage the home manufacture.
“When I was last in Paris,” said he, “a manufacturer there offered to supply me with any quantity of silk goods, to be deposited in any part of London that I might point out, upon the payment of an insurance of ten per cent. This tempting offer I declined, sir.”
“Because you knew you could as easily get the goods without paying the insurance. Very meritorious, indeed, Mr. Breme! However, I am not one to talk about the patriotism, and the loyalty, and all that, involved in the case: for I hold the frequent and unpunished breach of a law to be a sufficient proof that the law is a bad one; and that the true social duty in such transactions is to buy where things are cheapest, and sell where they are dearest; thus relieving those who want to sell, and accommodating those who wish to buy. I am not going to quarrel with you, sir, for buying your silks abroad, if you will only join hands in getting your neighbours freed for a fair competition with France.”
“Very liberal, indeed, my dear sir! Very handsome, indeed! It will give me great pleasure if you can accept the order which I have just given you a hint of. By the way, were you at the last India sale?”
“How did the bandanas go?”
“You probably know as well as I. I am no exporter of bandanas.”
“Do you mean to insinuate that I am? Retail dealers have something else to do, I assure you.”
“O yes;—to sell them when they come back again. But you must know how they are disposed of at the India House, and how much it costs to carry them over to Guernsey, and bring them in again, in spite of the Pretence Service (as my little girl calls it), before you can tell whether to sell them at seven or eight shillings apiece in your back shop.”
“Upon my word, sir, you are very wise,” said Breme, laughing.
“One learns such wisdom at a dear cost,” replied Culver. “Let me see. About 1,000,000 bandanas have been sold at the India House this year, at four shillings apiece. Of these, full 800,000 come back to be sold at seven or eight shillings each; so that the users of bandanas pay a bounty of 800,000 times three shillings a-year to speculators and smugglers, besides their share of the expense of the Blockade and Coast Guard which is employed to prevent their getting their handkerchiefs. It is a beautiful system, truly!”
“Let it work quietly, till those concerned begin to see into it,” replied Breme. “You ought not to complain, you know. It is all done to protect your craft.”
“If government would please to protect the consumers' money,” observed Culver, “they would have more to spend on the produce of my looms. All I ask is that the people's purses may be protected, and we manufacturers left to take care of ourselves. Government has been so long killing us with kindness that I doubt whether we shall ever get over it. However, cut me a pattern of your silk, and I will consult with my cleverest workman, and let you know what we can do.”
“Certainly:—that is,—I am sure I may trust your honour.”
“My interest, if not my honour. You must know very well that our books are not so full of orders just now as to make us willing to throw a chance one into other hands.”
“True, true! But a rival house——”
“Will not interfere with you while you agree to fair terms. I will be off to my factotum, as I call him, in ray business matters. I hope Mrs. Breme is well, and the young ladies?”
“The children are well enough; but my wife has not got over the autumn fogs yet. She would not be persuaded to leave Brighton till the royal party had removed; and the consequence is just what I expected. Her chest is so delicate that I doubt whether she will get across the doors this winter. It is really a very animated, an extremely fascinating scene, you know, when the royal household are at hand. Your young folks are flourishing, I hope?”
“Quite so. Good evening. My best respects to your lady.”
“Good evening. O, Mr. Culver, just one thing more! You said something about your stock. Have you a good assortment that one might select a few pieces from,—of grave colours,—at moderate prices?”
“0 yes. Will you come and see?”
“I think I will,” replied Breme, looking round for his hat. “And a good many blacks?”
“Of course; but you had better view them by daylight. You are not thinking of choosing colours to-night?”
“Certainly; but I can examine your prices, and bring home a piece or two of blacks. Here, Smith! Send Johnson after me directly to Mr. Culver's warehouse with his bag. As to these bandanas, Mr. Culver——”
Culver turned quick round upon him with the question,
“Is the King dead?”
“Lord bless my soul, what an idea! His Majesty dead! No, not that I have heard; nor even ill, for anything I know.”
Mr. Culver was not quite satisfied; so remarkable was Breme's method of inquiring after his stock of blacks—at the tail of their conversation, and yet with an evident design of immediately possessing himself of some pieces. He was not altogether mistaken. Breme had received private intelligence of the inevitable occurrence of a slight general mourning, and was anxious to have his assortment of black silks ready at once, and the fabric in imitation of his French pattern prepared against the expiration of the short mourning.
Culver was enough on his guard to avoid selling any of his stock quite so low as he might have done if no suspicion had crossed him. When the transaction was concluded, he stepped into Crispin-street, to consult the best skilled of his workmen on the matter of the new order.