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Chapter II.: GIVING 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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GIVING AN ORDER.
Mr. Culver was not unaccustomed to visit his work-people in their abodes, and knew very well what sights to expect on opening the door; but he had never chanced to look in upon any one of them on an evening of January,—a dull month for trade, and almost the dreariest as to weather. He did not anticipate much that was comfortless in the aspect of Cooper's abode; for Cooper was so good a workman as to be always employed while any business at all was doing. His wife was a more tidy body than many weavers are blessed with; and her baby was far from resembling the miserable little creatures who may be seen in any street in London, with peaked chins, blue lips, and red noses, their ribs bent in with uncouth nursing, and legs bowed from having been made untimely to bear the weight of the swollen body. Mrs. Cooper's baby smiled a smile that was not ghastly, and danced in its father's arms when he had time to play with it, instead of wearing his heart with its cries when he should be sleeping the sleep which follows a day of hard labour.
Knowing all this, Mr. Culver, was ratter surprised by the first view of Cooper's apartment this night. Its atmosphere was apparently made up of the remains of the orange fog of the morning, the smoke from the chimney which could not make its way into the upper air, that which proceeded from the pipe of the old man who cowered over the dull fire, and that which curled magnificently from the dipped candles on either side the loom:—which candles seemed to yield one-tenth part light, and the rest to be made up of yellow tallow, wick growing into perpetual cauliflowers, and smoke. The loom was going, with its eternal smack and tick, serving, in cooperation with the gap under the door, for as admirable a ventilator as could have been wished for on the hottest day in August. Mrs. Cooper was discharging many offices in her own person; being engaged now in snuffing the rapidly-wasting candles, now in giving a fresh impulse to the rocking cradle, but chiefly in tying the threads of her husband's work, while he was intent, with foot, hands, and eye, on the complicated operations of his craft.
It seemed a somewhat unequal division of labour that these two should have so many tasks upon their hands, while a third was sitting lazily smoking by the fire, who might as well have been tending the baby. But old Short had another occupation, which was vastly important in his own eyes, although it would sometimes have been gladly dispensed with by everybody about him. Old Short was always grumbling. This being an avocation that he had ever found time for in his busiest days, it was not to be supposed that he would neglect it now that he had nothing else to do; and accordingly his voice of complaint arose in all the intervals of Cooper's loom music, and formed a perpetual accompaniment to its softer sounds.
It was matter of some surprise to Mr. Culver, who believed that Cooper and his wife were justified in living comfortably if they chose, that they should continue to give a place at their fireside to a cross old man, to whom they were bound neither by relationship nor friendship. On the present occasion, his first remark, offered in an under-tone, was, “So you have the old gentleman with you still! He does not grow more pleased with the times, I suppose?”
Cooper winked, and his wife smiled.
“Have you any expectations from him? Or what can induce you to give him house-room? He is very well able to take care of himself, as far as I see.”
“Very well, indeed, sir. He is as capable, as to his work, as ever, when he gets any: and it is trying sometimes to hear him talk; but he is not the only person to feel the hardship of the times, sir; and one must put up with a fault or two, for the sake of having a respectable lodger.”
“He pays us fairly the little we ask for his share of our fire and our meals,” observed the wife; “and we are getting used to that tone of his by degrees;—except, indeed, the baby. One would think baby knew what Short was talking about by its fidgeting and crying when he begins on a fresh complaint.”
Short was all this time listening to himself too intently to be aware what was said on the other side of the room. He missed Mr. Culver's expression of concern at Cooper's being obliged to add to his resources by having a boarder, but was roused by the exhibition of the pattern of French silk. He felt too much contempt for it, however, to look closely at it, when he heard what it was. He supposed it was one of the new-fangled fashions people had taken to since the Spitalfields weavers had had their just wages held back from them. He had said what would happen when his brother weavers consented to take less wages than the Act gave them. The manufacture deserved to go clown——
“I am quite of your opinion,” observed Mr. Culver. “We deserve to go down if we do not mend our methods. Look at the lustre of this pattern, and only feel its substance. We deserve not to prosper if we do not improve our fabrics, with such an example as this before us of what may be done.”
“Leave the French to mind their own matters,” replied the old man, “and let the English, wear what is English, as they should.”
“You will find that rather difficult to manage, friend, if they like the French fabric better.”
“Never tell me, sir! It is a fancy, and a wicked fancy, that of liking French goods. Why, for wear, there is nothing like our brocades, that there was such a demand for when I was young. There was variety enough, too, in all conscience. There was the double and treble striped, and the strawberry-spotted, and——”
“O yes, I remember, Mr. Short. The first waistcoat I danced a cotillon in was such a strawberry-spotted thing as you describe. Nothing like it for wear, as you say. Down came my little Lucy in it, the other day, to make us laugh; and, to be sure, the colours are as bright as ever. But then, there is nothing like those brocades for price either.”
Short hated to hear such grumbling about the prices of things as was always to be heard now that the French had got a footing in the country. In old times, those that could afford to wear silk did not grudge a good price for it.
“Very true; but many more people wear silk now; and they are of a class to whom it is of consequence to pay no more than is necessary.”
“Ay; and to please them, you have wrought your web thinner and thinner, till you have made it too thin for even the cheapeners; and now you must learn from the French to give your fabric more substance.”
“I am afraid we cannot do that for the same money; hey, Cooper?” said Mr. Culver, watching for the sentence which the weaver should pronounce when he should remove his magnifying glass from his eye, and give judgment on the pattern.
“I think we may do it, sir,” pronounced Cooper. “I believe I see the principle of the thing; and I could make a fair imitation, I think. Not with the same body, of course. We cannot afford to put in equal material for the money; but a slighter fabric of the same pattern might sell, I have no doubt.”
“If I might put in my word,” said Mrs. Cooper, “I should recommend a higher price instead of a slighter fabric. It is more for the substance than the pattern that the French silks are preferred, I have heard say.”
“My dear,” said her husband, “I cannot pretend to rival a French weaver, if you give me leave to use all the silk that ever passed through a foreigner's loom. That is a point above me. So we had better content ourselves with a likeness as to figure and price.—I cannot conceive,” he continued, as he turned the pattern over and over, and held it in various lights, “how the foreigners can afford their silks at such a price as to tempt our shopkeepers to the risk of the contraband trade.”
“Never tell me!” cried Short again. “You do not really think that the French sell at the rate our shopkeepers say they do! It is all a trick of the people at home, to spite those they have been jealous of so long. They may starve us; but the law will be too strong for them, sooner or later.”
“I rather hope that they may be too strong for the law,” replied Mr. Culver. “If we can but get the law altered, our day of prosperity may come again. We might have learned by this time that all our hopes of selling our silks abroad are at an end, unless we improve like our neighbours, instead of wrapping ourselves up in the idea that nobody can ever equal us.”
“Ay, I suppose it was under the notion that it was a fine thing to export, that we were forbidden to import silks,” observed Cooper; “but if they had only let us have a little free conversation with the French about their manufacture, we might by this time have had something as good as they to sell abroad.”
“Or if not silks, something instead, which would have been produced out of what we should have saved from our expensive manufacture. If I had but the capital which is wasted in following our inferior methods, what fine things I would do with it for my family, and, in some sort, for my country!”
“I cannot imagine,” Cooper again observed, “how the French afford their goods at the price they do. Whether it is that they have food cheaper, and therefore wages are lower, or whether it is that they have better machinery, I should like to come to a fair trial with them. If we can get upon an equality with them, well and good; there will be buyers at hand for all that we can make. If we cannot compete with them, better know it at once, and turn to something else, than be supplanted by means of a contraband trade, while our masters' money is spent in guarding the coast to no purpose.”
“Never tell me!” interposed old Short. “You grumblers” always grudge every farthing that is not spent upon yourselves.”
“0, yes,” replied Cooper, smiling; “we grumblers grudge every half-crown that is laid out on French silks in our neighbourhood; and no wonder, friend.”
“It is the Coast Guard I was thinking of,” replied the old man. “There is Mrs. Nicholas's son just well settled in the Preventive Service; and now you are for doing away the whole thing. What is to become of the poor lad, I wonder?”
“Cooper will teach him to weave,” said Mr. Culver, laughing. “So many more people would wear silks, if we had fair play, that we might make a weaver of a coast guardsman here and there.”
Cooper feared it would be a somewhat difficult task to impart his skill to Nicholas, who was not over-bright in learning; but he would attempt more difficult things if they brought any chance of relief from the present unhappy state of affairs. He was as little given to despond as any man; and was more secure than many of his neighbours of being employed as long as there was occupation to be had; but it did make him tremble to look forward, when he reflected how his earnings grew less, quarter by quarter.
“Ay; that is the way,” muttered Short. “You let the masters off their bargain about wages, and then you complain that your earnings are small. People's folly is a mystery to me.”
“As great a mystery as the black dye,—hey, Mr. Short?” said Mrs. Cooper.
The old man smiled with an air of condescension when Mr. Culver asked, “What of the black dye?'
“Only that Mr. Rose was complaining of seldom having his goods dyed exact to pattern, sir: and the dyer made an excuse about the air;—some stuff that I forget, about the air being seldom two days alike at that time of year. As if the air had anything to do with black dye! No, no,—never tell me!”
“As great a mystery as the mishap with the steam-boat, perhaps, Mr. Short?”
“Why, ay; there is another piece of nonsense, sir. I happened to be at hand when the little steam-boat blew up, five years ago. I saw the planks and things blown clean on shore, sir; and they would have had me believe that it was steam that did it.' Never tell me,' said I,' that steam did all that.'”
“How did it happen, then, do you suppose?”
“What is that to me? They might blow it up with gunpowder for anything that I cared. But about the dye,—that is a different matter altogether; and so is the affair of the wages, since our bread depends on the one and the other. And as for throwing open our trade to those French rascals, never tell me that you are not all idiots if you wish for such a thing. I have woven my last piece, sir, if you prevail to bring in a Frenchman to supplant me. Mark my words, sir, I have woven my last piece.”
“I hope not, Short. I hope you will weave many another piece before you die, however we may arrange matters with the French. Meantime, if Cooper discovers the secret of yonder pattern, as I think he will, you must find a place for your loom at the other end of the room, and be ready for your share of the work.”
Short muttered that new-fangled patterns did not suit old eyes and hands like his. He must starve with the starving, since he could not take his chance with those who were fond of change.—The mention of the starving left the parties no spirits for further conversation on other subjects; and Mr. Culver departed, while Cooper stepped back into his loom, and the old man resumed his pipe, full of contempt for all masters that were caught by a new pattern, and of all workmen that would have anything to say to such innovations. He only wished they would come first to him with their new schemes. He should enjoy bidding them weave for themselves, if they must have new fancies.