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Chapter VII.: HEAR THE NEWS! - 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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HEAR THE NEWS!
All was bustle about the nearest Custom-house when the seized vessel and goods were expected to arrive the next morning. The magistracy in the neighbourhood were also busy, for there seemed to be no end to the offences against the law which had arisen out of the adventure of the preceding night.
The first steps taken were towards the discovery of the murderer of Nicholas; and, for this purpose, application was made to government for aid, in the shape both of police-officers and of an offer of reward for the disclosure of the murderers. Little was hoped from the latter proceeding, as the smugglers were known to yield powerful protection to each other, and to be united by a bond of honour as strongly in each other's defence as against the law. If Nicholas's murderers were known to every dweller along the coast, from Portsmouth to the North Foreland, there was little probability that any one would step forward to name or lay hands on them. But, the little that government could do,—pry about and offer bribes, was done; and, whether or not the guilty persons might tremble or flee, every body else laughed.
One of the gipsy band was brought up before two justices of the peace on violent suspicion of having, after eight in the evening, and before six in the morning', made, aided, or assisted in making, or been present at making, a signal, by means of light, fire, flash, blaze, signal by smoke, and so forth, through all the offences described in the appropriate clause of that most singular statute ordained for the prevention of smuggling. No proof could be brought, though the truth of the charge was generally believed, and the gipsies thereby became more popular than ever. They were dismissed, and every body laughed.
A boy was brought up, on a charge of trespass, by a farmer, who complained that his fenced land had been entered and trampled, and his well and bucket made use of without leave. The boy pleaded that he had entered for the purpose of putting out a fire which he suspected to be intended for a signal to smugglers. The justices referred. to the statute, found that “it shall be lawful,” c., to commit this kind of trespass, and that the boy had only done his duty. And now, every body frowned.
A woman who had been caught standing near a tub of the spirits which had been seized, which tub was staved, was brought up on the charge of having staved the same. The penalty was so heavy as to tempt to a vast deal of false swearing on her behalf, by dint of which she escaped; and her friends and neighbours laughed again. She was not the less glad of this issue that, being a poor person, she would have been supported while in prison by a daily allowance drawn from the pockets of the nation. A crew of fishermen were summoned to show cause why they should not, according to law, pay the treble value of a floating keg of gin, which, having bumped against their boat at sea, they had stretched out their hands to appropriate. There was no use in denying the act, as it had been witnessed by two keen eyes through unimpeachable glasses, from a headland. All that the fishermen could do was to swear that they only meant to deliver over the spirits to the Custom-house officers, and were prevented from doing so by being arrested immediately on landing. The magistrates considered this a very doubtful case; and, having before their eyes the fear of the collective power of their smuggling neighbours, gave their decision in favour of the fishermen; whereat the informers were indignant, and the folks in waiting exulted.
All parties had by this time had enough of this ceremony; but the justices agreed in assuring the Lieutenant, that if they chose to look strictly into the proceedings of their neighbours, and to inflict all the punishments ordained in the statute for all the modes of offence specified therein, they might be constantly occupied from morning till night; the gaols would be filled; there would be a distraint for penalties in almost every cottage, and offenders would be nearly as common as persons who stood above five feet in their shoes. They entertained him with a sight of the entire statute, as he was not acquainted with the whole; and all thought it perfectly consistent with their exemplary loyalty to decide that it was truly an extraordinary specimen of legislation. The justices could no more boast of the achievements of their authority in putting down smuggling than the officer of his efficiency in preventing it. All shook their heads, complimented each other's exertions, and desponded about the availableness of their own.
“What is to be done?” was the commonplace query which ensued.
“Why, you see,” said one of the justices, “the prohibiting a commodity does not take away the taste for it; and if you impose a high duty, you only excite people to evade it, and to calculate the average rate of the risk of detection. That being done, there will always be abundance of speculators found to make the venture, and no lack of customers to bid them God speed.”
“Then there are two ways of demolishing the practice,—lowering the duties, so as to remove the temptation to smuggling; and increasing the difficulty of carrying on a contraband trade.”
“I should say there is but one,” replied the first speaker. “Difficulties have been multiplied till we who have to administer the law groan under them, and smuggling is still on the increase.”
“What is government about all the time?” asked the Lieutenant. “They must know this, and yet they let their own power be mocked, and the interests of our manufacturers and commercial men be sacrificed.”
“Of our manufacturers, but not necessarily of all our commercial men. Contraband trade is a fine thing for certain shopkeepers; and you might hear some curious stories below there,” (nodding towards the Custom-house,) “about certain methods of obtaining drawbacks, and then re-landing the goods by the help of our night-working neighbours. However, government is getting a glimpse of the true state of the case, as we shall soon see.”
“Because,” observed the other magistrate, “government is beginning to look to the right quarter for information. It is nonsense to consult collectors of the revenue, and persons in their interest and of their way of thinking, about the best method of rendering taxes effectual. The only way is to contemplate the interests of the tax payers. This done, it is easily seen that there is not much wisdom in a system, the enforcement alone of which costs the country many hundred thousand pounds a year.”
“And which is not enforced, after all, and never can be. No, no; the government sees now that the only way is to lower the duties down to the point which makes contraband trading a speculation not worth attempting.”
“What makes you suppose that government views the matter in this light?'”
“It is said, and confidently believed in London, that government has taken into consideration this petition from the principal silk-manufacturers in and about London.”
The Lieutenant read the petition in the newspaper, of recent date, now handed to him.
“Hum. ‘This important manufacture, though recently considerably extended,’—aye, so it ought to be, from the increasing number of wearers of silk,—’ is still depressed below its natural level'—they are tired of Spitalfields subscriptions, I suppose, and of living among starving weavers, who throw the blame of their starvation on their masters;—' by laws which prevent it from attaining that degree of prosperity which, under more favourable circumstances, it would acquire.'—Well! what thinks the House of this petition?”
“That will be seen when government speaks upon it. It is thought that the prohibition of foreign silks will be removed, and a moderate duty substituted. If so, it will be an important experiment.”
“I rather think,” observed the other magistrate, “that the fault will soon be found to be neither in the undue mildness of the law, nor in our way of administering it,—of both which the customs and excise officers are for ever complaining. I believe my friend here and I shall have little less reason to bless the change than these petitioning manufacturers.”
“There will be enough left for me to do,” observed the Lieutenant, “if, as I suppose, they will leave as they are the duties on articles not produced at home. Many a cargo of gin and tobacco will yet be landed in my day. Meanwhile, I must go and see the unpacking at the Custom-house. I hope I shall not be tempted to smuggle within those very walls, on my wife's account.”
When the officer arrived at the Custom-house, he found the Collector and Comptroller invested with all the dignity of active office, and the members of the Coast Guard who were there to claim their share of booty, watching with eagerness for the unpacking of a large store of that beloved weed which was wont to “cheer but not inebriate” them on their watch. A few inquisitive neighbours were peeping in from window and door, and Mr. Pim, admitted through favour, from his son being the Collector's clerk, paced up and down, his countenance exhibiting a strange alternation of mirth and vexation. He could not help enjoying the fun of people eluding, and baffling, and thwarting one another; such fun being one chief inducement to him to connect himself as he had done with contraband traders; but it was a serious vexation to see some of his property,—goods on whose safe arrival he had staked the earnings of his irksome school-hours,—thus about to fall into the hands of those who had paid no such dolorous price for them.
Somebody wondered that, as the smugglers had taken time to carry away so considerable a portion of their cargo, a large package of tobacco should have been left behind; tobacco feeing an exceedingly valuable article of contraband trade, from the difference between its original cost and its price when charged with the duty. If smugglers paid threepence a pound for their article, and sold it at half-a-crown, it must repay their risks better than most articles which they could import. One of the guard believed he had seen numerous packages of tobacco on the people's shoulders, as they passed to the carts, and supposed that the quantity before them formed a very small portion of what had been landed.
“Most likely,” observed the Collector. “There is more tobacco landed than there is of any thing else, except brandy and geneva. It is high time government was bestirring itself to put down the smuggling of tobacco. Do you know, sir,” (to the Lieutenant,) “these fellows supply a fourth part of the tobacco that is consumed in England?”
“That is nothing to what they do in Ireland,” observed Brady. “There were seventy vessels in one year landing tobacco between Waterford and Londonderry.”
“Yes; the Irish are incorrigible,” replied the Collector; “they smuggle three-fourths of the tobacco they use.”
The Lieutenant doubled whether they were incorrigible. Neither the Irish, nor any body else, would think of smuggling unless they were tempted to it. If the duty, now three shillings per pound, were reduced to one shilling, smuggling tobacco would not answer; the sinning three-fourths would get their tobacco honestly, and government would be the gainer. The same advantage would arise in England from the reduction of the duty; as, in addition to the practice of smuggling being superseded, the consumption of the article would materially increase, as is always the case on the reduction of a tax. With every augmentation of the duty from eight-pence per pound to three shillings, there had been a failure of consumption at the same time with an increase of contraband trade; so that the revenue had suffered doubly, and to an extent far beyond its gains from the heightening of the duty.
“What have we got here?” cried Pim, as a gay-coloured article was drawn out from among the packages.
“Flags! Aye; these were clever fellows, and knew their business, you see. Here are pretty imitations of navy flags, and a fine variety. British, Dutch, French! They knew what they were about,—those fellows.”
“So do you, it seems, Mr. Pim,” observed the Collector. “You are as wonderfully learned in flags as if you had taken a few trips to sea yourself.”
“I have lived on this coast for many a year, and seen most of the flags that wave on these seas,” replied Pim. “But since these flags are but poor booty, it is a pity your men cannot catch those that hoisted them, and so get a share of the fine.”
“Suppose you put them on the right scent, Mr. Pim. I fancy you could, if you chose.”
Mr. Pim disclaimed, with all the gravity which his son's presence could impose. A parcel of bandanas next appeared, and as the familiar red spotted with white appeared, a smile went round the circle of those who anticipated a share of the seizure.
“Ho, ho! I suspect I know who these belong to,” observed the Collector. “There is a gentleman now not far off on this coast who could tell us all about them, I rather think. He has been sent for from London, under suspicion of certain tricks about the drawback on the exportation of silks. His shop is supplied very prettily by our smugglers, and his connexion with them is supposed to be the inducement to him to make large purchases at the India sales. I have no doubt he is one of those who buy bandanas at four shillings a piece, and sell them at eight shillings, when they have had a trip to Ostend or Guernsey. I have a good mind to send for him.”
“This is the last sort of commodities I should think it can be pleasant to you Custom-house folks to declare forfeited,” observed Pim.” Your consciences must twinge you a little here, I should think. I don't doubt your tobacco and your brandy being duty-paid, and all proper; but when paying duty will not do, you will offend, just like those who are not government servants, rather than go without what you have a mind to. I'll lay any wager now——”
“Hold your impertinent tongue, sir,” cried the. Collector
Mr. Pim obeyed, taking leave to use his hands instead. He stepped behind the Collector, and quietly picked his pocket of a bandana: he did the same to the Comptroller; and afterwards to all the rest, though the land-waiter whisked away his coat-tail, and the tide-waiter got into a corner The only one who escaped was the clerk (Pim own son), and he only because his having one round his neck made the process unnecessary. A goodly display of bandanas,—real Indian,— now graced the counter, and everybody joined in Pim's hearty laugh.
“Now,” said he, “if you summon Breme on the suspicion of this property being his——”
“So you know who the gentleman was that I was speaking of,” cried the Collector. “Very well. Perhaps you can tell us a little news of this next package.”
And forthwith was opened to view a beautiful assortment of figured silks, of various colours, but all of one pattern. Mr. Pim gravely shook his head over them.
“If you know nothing of those, I do,” said Brady, taking out his tobacco-box, and producing therefrom the snip of silk which had been extracted from Elizabeth's glove. “'Tis the same article, you see; and the Lieutenant here declares 'tis English.”
“And so it is, and so are these,” declared the Collector. “The French would be ashamed of such a fabric as this, at the price marked, though they might own the figure; which must be imitated from theirs, I fancy. We had better send for Mr. Breme, and let the other Custom-house know of this seizure. I suspect it will throw some more light on the tricks about the drawback.”
Mr. Breme was found to be nearer at hand than had been supposed. Having failed in his speculation, through two unfortunate seizures of contraband cargoes, he had cut but a poor figure at the larger Custom-house, where he had just been examined, and found it necessary to consult with his Brighton brother as to the means of getting the threatened fine mitigated, or of paying it, if no mercy could be obtained. He was proceeding along the coast to Brighton, when Pim, who was aware of his movements, met him, and told him of the adventures which had taken place at Beachy Head.
What was to be done? Should he slip past to Brighton quietly, at the risk of being brought back in a rather disagreeable way, or should he make his appearance at once, and brave the circumstances, before more evidence should be gathered against him from distant quarters? The latter measure was decided upon; and Breme, after changing his directions to the post-boy, leaned back in his chaise to ruminate, in anything but a merry mood, on the losses which he had sustained, was sustaining, and must expect still further to sustain.
Breme had lately become a merchant in a small way, as well as a shopkeeper. He had followed the example of many of his brethren in trade, in venturing upon a proceeding of some risk, in hopes that large profits would cover the loss of the occasional failures which he had to expect. He had employed his Spitalfields neighbour to manufacture a fabric in imitation of French silk, and had exported the produce as English, receiving at the Custom-house the drawback granted to such exportation. This drawback was the remission, or paying back, of the duties on the article to be exported; such remission being necessary to enable the exporter to sell his commodity in the foreign market on equal terms with the foreign manufacturers, who were less burdened with taxes. Breme claimed and received this drawback, he and his agents swearing, in due form, according to the statute, that the goods were really for sale abroad, and should not be relanded. The oath was considered merely as a necessary form; and Breme had no notion of selling his goods in a foreign market at a lower price than would be given for them in England, under the supposition that they were French. Back they came, therefore; and the government, which had paid the drawback, besides having thereby made a very pretty present to Mr. Breme, saw an addition made to the stock of the already overstocked market at home, while the weavers of silk were starving, and it was charitably contributing to frequent subscriptions for their relief. Mr. Breme was now, however, a loser in his turn, his beautiful goods being clutched by the strong hand of the law. In addition to this trouble, he was suffering under the prospect of a speedy end being put to this kind of speculation.
He could not decide what line of defence to take till he reached the Custom-house, and heard the nature and amount of the evidence that there might be against him. When he was told that the case was to be followed up very diligently, and exposed as a warning; that tire silks were known to be of the same kind as those for which he had had to answer in another place; and that the manufacturer and weavers would be produced to swear to the origin of the whole,—he offered to make oath that he had sold the goods abroad, and that their being afterwards smuggled back again was the act of his customers, and not his own. The Collector congratulated him that, this being the case, he was not subjected to the loss which some of his friends had regretted on his account. It was, indeed, a much pleasanter thing to have sold the goods and pocketed the money than to see such a beautiful lot of goods, prepared at so much cost, and with so much labour and ingenuity, now lying a forfeit to the offended British law. With a bitter sweet smile, Mr. Breme bowed in answer to this congratulation, and changed the subject. He observed that days of comparative leisure were apparently at hand for all the gentlemen he saw around him. If government should carry into other departments the changes it was about to make in the silk trade, there would be an end of many of the little affairs with which the time of the Custom-house officers was now so fully and disagreeably occupied.
What did he mean? Did he bring any new information?
Merely that government was about to remove the prohibition on the importation of foreign silks, and to substitute an ad valorem duty of 30 per cent.
“Bless my soul, sir! what an extraordinary thing!” cried the Collector. “You do not mean that you are sure of the fact, sir?”
Mr. Breme had it from the best authority.
“Why ‘ extraordinary?’” asked the Lieutenant. “The nature of our business this morning is proof enough that some change is necessary, is it not?”
“To be sure,” replied Breme; “but the change should be all the other way. Do you know, sir, the market is deluged already with silk goods from the late slight mourning, and from a change of fashion since? What are we to do, sir, when the French pour in a flood of their manufactures upon us?”
“Our market is glutted because we can find no vent for our produce; and I do not see how the matter could be mended by increasing the inducements of smugglers to supply us, while our weavers are starving in the next street. If the French silks are, on the average, 25 per cent. cheaper than ours, a duty of 30 per cent, will leave our manufacturers a fair chance in the competition with foreigners, and will throw the trade of the smugglers into their hands. My only doubt is, whether the duty is not too high,—whether there is not still some scope left to smuggling' enterprize.”
“Your countrymen are much obliged to you, I am sure, sir,” said Breme, tartly. “I think government should know that some of its servants are ill-disposed to their duty.”
The Lieutenant dared the shopkeeper to say this again, in the midst of the witnesses of what his conduct had been on the preceding night. Breme meant only,——and so forth.
Anxious and perplexed were all the faces now, except the Lieutenant's own. His men had only a vague idea that something was to happen to take away their occupation, and to do a great mischief. Their officer bade them cheer up, and told them that it was only to the article of silk that the reported regulations would relate.
“There is no knowing that,” sagely observed the Collector. “When they begin with such innovations, there is no telling where they will leave off. With such a fancy once in their heads, Ministers (though God forbid I should say any evil of them!) will not stop till they have ruined the revenue, and laid waste the country under the curse of an entirely free trade.”
“I dare say they will be wise enough to retain duties which all classes allow to be just; and the levying of them will afford you quite sufficient occupation, Mr. Collector, if our trade increases, as it is likely to do under such a system,” replied the Lieutenant. “This little custom-house may no longer be wanted as a store-place for contraband goods; but there will be all the more to do in the large ports; and there, sir, you may find an honourable and appropriate place.”
Neither the Collector nor any of his coadjutors, however, could be consoled under the dire prospect of the total ruin of the revenue, which was the result they chose to anticipate from the measures understood to be now in contemplation. Their only ground of hope was, that the British manufacturers would rise in a body to remonstrate against the sacrifice of their interests. This, however, considering that the most eminent of the body had already petitioned for the opening of the trade, offered a very slender promise of consolation.
Pim had early slipped away to spread the news of the contemplated “ruin of the coast.” The tidings spread from mouth to mouth, till they filled every cottage, and reached even the recesses where the gipsies made a home. Draper and Faa came forth over the down to hear what the schoolmaster had to tell, and returned thoughtful to the tent where Mrs. Draper was looking out for them.
“Then the winters will pass over us in a ceiled house,” said she, when she had heard the news.
“We must join our tribe in London from the first autumn fog till the last spring frost.”
“You and yours,” said one of the men, who was weaving the rush bottom of an old chair.
“We men may work in the free air, though there will be stones instead of turf under our feet. Many chairs to mend in London.”
“But no night-play to fill the pocket and sharpen the spirits,” old Faa observed. There was nothing in cities that he liked so well as his task of the last night,—to stand on the ridge as a watch upon the sentinel, and stoop, or hold himself erect, according as the sentinel turned his back or his face, that the lads in the furze might know when to creep forward on all-fours, and when to lie still. It was far pleasanter to see them all collected safe in the shadow of Shooter's Bottom, ready for work or fighting, whichever might befal, than to mix in the medley of bustling people in London streets, who were too busy in the lamplight to heed the stars overhead, which, indeed, it took some time to make out through such an air.
Mrs. Draper would forgive the air for the sake of the warmth and shelter; and the children would excuse everything for the sake of being seventy miles distant from Mr. Pim's school-room. The younger of the men hoped that the “ruin of the coast” might be delayed beyond another winter; that if they might no more have the pleasure of handing bales of silk ashore during unlawful hours, tubs of spirits might yet cross the surf between sunset and sunrise.
“The ‘ ruin of the coast!’” cried Elizabeth, as the words struck her ear in passing some of the cottages. “Dear me! has anything happened to the fish, I wonder.” She soon found,—what she ought to have known before,—that fish are not always the chief concern of fishermen on the coasts of a land where trades are severally “protected.” Let the fish swarm in the waters as the motes in the sunbeam, and the coast may be not the less ruined in the opinion of fishermen who grow sophisticated under a bad law.
The wives looked melancholy, as in duty bound, at the extraordinary cruelty of which the government was going to be guilty,—at the very irksome caprice by which it was endeavouring to prevent itself from being cheated, as heretofore, for the advantage of those who mocked, and occasionally murdered, its agents. The good wives thought it very strange of the government to interfere with their husbands. To set spies was bad enough; but to take away their best occupation was a thing not to be borne patiently. No wonder Ned kicked away his nets, and Jem cursed the child, and Dick left his boat, and said he should go to the parish, as his prime work at sea was taken from him. As for the children, they looked as much dismayed under the shadow of evil tidings as their mothers had done in childhood, on being told that Buonaparte and his French were coming ashore to cut all their throats. As soon as they dared speak, there was many a wail of “O mammy, mammy! are they going to ‘ ruin the coast?’”
Elizabeth thought she would make haste to the down, and tell her sister the dismal story. Breasting the wind as hardily as Matilda herself could have done, she arrived at length at the station-house, unable, for some time, to find breath for her tale. The signs of consternation below had attracted Matilda's notice; and she, too, had dared the wind, to look for the cause through the telescope, which was her favourite companion when the Lieutenant was absent. Her smile at the news surprised Elizabeth, pleased as she was with her own prospects under the new arrangements.
“I should not have thought,” she observed, “that you would care so much about the matter. It will be very pleasant, to be sure, to have as much French silk, without breaking the law, and being searched, and all that kind of thing, as we like to buy; but really, if you were to see the distress of those poor people below;—the children——”
“Ah, the children! I am sorry for their fright; but they will soon be comforted. For their parents my pity is at an end. Yonder are their boats and tackle, and strong arms to use them; and there is the great and wide sea, where they may innocently get the bread by which they profess to live. This is better than stealing the bread from those who have no sea at hand from whence to fetch their food. I cannot pity those fishermen, Elizabeth: I cannot be sorry at this news. Remember, there are places full of a woe, compared with which the vexation of the people you pity is mirth;—chill chambers, where little ones have no heart to play, but crowd together to keep warmth in them;—alleys, where the wife, who is no longer wanted at her husband's loom, holds out her hand for the alms which her brave-souled husband has not the courage to ask;—hearths, where the mechanic sits with his arms by his side, looking into the empty grate, and thinking of stirring times gone by. When the wife comes in with this news, gathered from the street-talkers, he will leap up, look to his loom, and play with his shuttle as a child with a new toy. Hope will warm his heart from that moment,—hope will be in his face when he hurries out to hear if the news be true,—hope will be in his speech when he returns. These, multitudes of these sufferers, are they whom I have pitied; and for them, therefore, you must let me now be glad.”
END OF THE FIRST PART.
W. Clowbs, Stamford etreet.
Some of my correspondents will not be surprised at the notice I find myself compelled to give, that I shall henceforward take in no unpaid letters, directed in an unknown handwriting, which have not the name of the writer superscribed. The tax of postage for anonymous flattery or abuse is one to which I cannot be expected to submit.
As for the other tax,—on time,—thus imposed on myself and others, it may supersede some of it to declare, once for all, that no appeals to me, whether made in print or by letter, anonymous or avowed, have or shall have any effect upon me, unless they are addressed to my reason. If my arguments are open to refutation, I shall be thankful to have them refuted. If my views are founded on a false or narrow induction, the most acceptable as well as the truest kindness will be to show me where lies the error or deficiency. As an illustrator of truth, it behaves me to listen, with the utmost respect, to applications like these; but, as a vowed servant of the people, I am not at liberty to attend to appeals to my individual interests, whether presented in the form of evil prognostications, of friendly cautions, or of flattery, gross or refined.
What I have just said is applicable to only a few individuals, to some of whom I owe gratitude for kind intentions, and towards others of whom I feel more concern than resentment. To those to whom my work has been, in my own heart, dedicated from the beginning,—the people,—I have only to say that their generous appreciation of my object is so effective a support and stimulus, that nothing troubles me but a sense of the imperfection of my service; and that the most precious of my hopes is, that I may become capable of serving them with an ability which may bear some proportion to the respect with which I regard their interests.
THE LOOM AND THE LUGGER.