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Chapter I.: THE COOPERS AT HOME. - 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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THE COOPERS AT HOME.
A fine spring shower was falling one May morning, in 1826, when Mrs. Cooper, the weaver's wife, was busily engaged in dusting her husband's loom, taking advantage of the interval between the finishing of tile piece with which he was now gone to his employer, and the beginning of the new one which he expected to bring home. Many weavers are as averse to dusting and cleaning taking place in their peculiar department as the most slovenly bookworm. They appear to believe that a canopy of cobwebs sheds as important an influence on their work as the student expects from the midnight lamp. Old Short was one of these, and Mrs. Cooper, therefore, thought herself fortunate in his absence at the same time, and on the same errand with her husband. She might not only clean her husband's loom in peace, but have a touch at the old man's, in the hope that the removal of some elis of cobweb, and an ample measure of dust, might escape his notice. Having opened the windows wide to admit the air freshened by the pattering shower, she sang to her baby,—still so called, though now nearly three years old,—encouraging, from time to time, the imperfect imitations of the child as he stood pulling buttercups to pieces at a chair, and cramming the remains through holes in its rush bottom. There were hopes that the child would, at some future day, be perfect in this song, for Short sang it from morning till night; and, when he was absent, Mrs. Cooper unconsciously took it up as often as she looked towards his end of the room. She was very tired of hearing it, too; but it was such a good exchange for the grumblings of former years, that she never found fault with the melody, and made up her mind to hear it hourly for the few years old Short might have to live.
But why had he left off grumbling? For a reason which does not prevail with all grumblers,—that he had nothing to complain of. For two years Mr. Culver had given him constant employment, and paid him well; and he heard so much on all sides of the great relief to the manufacturers from the reduction of the duties on raw silk,—a reduction permitted in order to prepare the manufacturers for a fair competition with the French when the prohibition of foreign silks should cease,—that he became less confident in his predictions that the trade would be found to be ruined; that the French would carry all before them; and that the last days of Spitalfields' industry were approaching. He had so often emphatically taken his neighbours to witness that he was weaving his last piece, and been presently found weaving another, that he had now let the subject drop, and adopted the more cheerful saying, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” This served his purpose very well, though he would have found it difficult, if questioned, to point out what evil he proposed thus philosophically to endure. In summer, to be sure, it was sometimes hot; and the days went on to grow dark early in winter; but the Coopers were kind to him, and able, through their own prosperity, to take good care of him. The child was readily admitted to be any thing but a plague; and with fifteen shillings a-week wherewith to answer his own small wants, the old man was not only abundantly supplied for the present, but had been able to accomplish one or two objects which he had long had at heart. His burial money was safely laid by; and he had bought a venerable Bible, which had been discovered by a neighbour lying on a book-stall, with his grandmother's birth entered on the fly-leaf. Short could not read; but he was uneasy as long as this Bible lay on the stall, liable to be tossed about without any pretence of consideration for his grandmother's name. Here it was now, deposited on the highest shelf of the cupboard, so that there was no fear of the child getting to it before he should be sixteen, unless on a Sunday morning, when it was regularly taken down to be dusted. As it was immediately replaced, however, being far too valuable to be read out of, it was not likely to receive any harm at the hands of the baby. With all present needs amply supplied, and provision being made for his body and his Bible being disposed of as they ought to be, it was certainly much more reasonable that Short should sing than grumble.
“Look, look, Ichabod! See how the rain pours down! Look at the shining bright raindrops, my pretty one!” said Mrs. Cooper, as she threw open another lattice, and cast a glance into the morsel of garden-ground behind.—“Cock-a-doodle-do! How the cock shakes off the wet. Come, my pet, come and see the cocks and hens in the shower; and the tulips! O, the fine tulips! How soon they will blow after this rain. Come, Ichabod, come, see the tulips!”
Instead of toddling across the room in answer to his mother's call, as usual, the child set up a cry of terror, not without cause. In thrusting his green and yellow leaves into the holes of the rush-bottomed chair, he had pushed his hand through, and was a fast prisoner till his mother released him. When this was done, and it only remained to appease him, he was taken to the window to call for the gipsyman to come and mend the poor chair. Long did mother and child call, in mimickry of each other, and no gipsy-man appeared; but instead of him, old Short and the two neighbours, who also wove in this room, all seeming very angry.
“Make haste in from the wet, Mr. Short,” cried the house-wife from the window “and bring the neighbours in with you for shelter till the shower is over. 'Tis a fine pelting spring shower.”
And Mrs. Cooper set down the child at a chair which had no holes, while she hastily put out of sight her duster and brush, that Short's evident ill-humour might not be increased by the appearance of any preparation for cleaning.
“You are welcome, neighbours,” said she to one after another, as their heads emerged from the darkness of the winding staircase. “Plenty of room: room for twice as many, the looms being all empty at this time. 'Tis a curious chance that the looms should be all four quiet at once; but——”
“It will be a more curious chance when they are all going again,” observed Rogers, one of the neighbours.
“Aye, aye,” replied old Short, “I, for one, have wove my last piece.”
“Why, dear me, Mr. Short, have you got to saying that again? Only think how often you have said that, and, bless God! it has never come true.”
“'Tis true enough now, however,” he replied. “There is hardly a master that will give out a cane to-day. There's nothing doing, nor never will be, while those cursed French are on the face of the earth.”
“I thought you told me there was no more fear of them? I thought you were delighted at what the government ordered about the lengths of their pieces,—that none should come here of the lengths that we knew they had woven? I remember you rubbed your hands over that news till the child laughed again.”
“Aye, that sounded all very well; but government can't, or won't, prevent those goods coming, though they are prohibited. The French are as hard at work as ever, weaving silks of the new lengths, and the other goods are pouring in all along the coast, by means of the smugglers. There is more smuggled silk in the market now than ever was known before, and——”
“But it will soon be all sold and gone; and besides, in two months the law will let them in, so as to allow people to buy them fairly; and then there will be an end of the smuggling, they say.”
“Never tell me! By that time, the new goods that are now on their looms will be ready. No, no; it will just be as it has always been with the Spitalfields weaver. Heaven and earth try together which can spite him most.”
“Well, now, Mr. Short, I must think it is hardly right to say so. We have had our share of troubles, to be sure; but every thing that could be done seems to me to have been thought of. You should remember how long we were especially favoured as to wages.”
“And much good it did us! Can you deny that at that very time all our best orders went to Paisley and Macclesfield, while we ought to have had our hands full, as not being such mushroom folks as they? Can you deny, that people next took it into their heads to wear cottons, so that in one winter four thousand looms stood idle? You” may not remember the winter of seventy-three: it was before your time, I fancy; but there was the hand of God upon the people, if anywhere: poor starving creatures lying about on the door-sills, too weak to get home, when they had been out for the chance of an alms. But even that was nothing to the distress of fifteen and sixteen, which I suppose you do not pretend to forget.”
“Forget it! no,” replied Mrs. Cooper, with a mournful shake of the head. “That was the year my poor father died; and mother and I thought he might have lived longer (though he had worn himself out at his loom) if we could have nourished him better, and let him hear the cheerful sound of the loom. Then it was that he advised me to set to work and qualify myself for a service, instead of remaining a weaver; he repenting, as he said, that he had brought me up to an occupation that wears the spirits by its changes as much as the body by its toils. No; I do not forget that winter; but I should be sorry to say any thing about spiting the Spitalfields weavers, for I am sure every thing was done for us that charity could do.”
“Well, but I don't like charity, for my part; it is not the same thing as earning, and being beholden to no man.”
“Why, that's true; but you have been beholden to no man of late. You have earned to your heart's content for a long time past, without interruption from God or man, Mr. Short.”
“Not without spite from man, mistress. Do you forget my being forbidden to keep pigeons these last eighteen months? There was nothing in the world I cared about like my pigeons: and now, since these many new houses, with wonderful good windows, have been built, I must send away my birds, lest they should break a pane.”
“You should forgive that, in consideration of your neighbours having more air and light. Yon very houses, new and with sashed windows, should show you that times are improved, Mr. Short.”
“Lake, the builder, will hardly tell you that they are,” observed Dickens, the weaver. “You should have seen him just now, holding forth to us about how we have all been deceived. When every thing looked so bright two years ago, he began to build, thinking there could never be houses enough for all the weavers that would be wanted; and now, Culver gives out scarcely a cane, and where is Lake to get his rents?”
“Has not my husband got a cane?” asked Mrs. Cooper, with a faltering voice.
“Not he, I warrant,” replied Short; “and neither Dickens nor I want our looms; so there is six shillings a week, besides work, struck off from you at once. And now, mistress, I suppose you will leave off being thankful for nothing, as you are so ready to be.”
Mrs. Cooper made no other answer than taking up little Ichabod, who was holding up his forefinger, and saying “hark!” to a noise in the street. When it came nearer, he did not like it, and his under lip began to project, and his innocent chin to wrinkle for a cry. His mother chattered to him to send away his fears, though she did not like what she heard any better than he.”
Tramp, tramp, came many feet, and the buzz of voices rose and sank. Some hundreds must have passed, before every casement in the house was opened for the inmates to peep out. A sudden gleam of sun which came out diverted the child's attention; and when he stretched out his hand, with an impatient cry, to snatch the raindrops that trembled and glistened from the eaves, every man of the crowd below looked up as he passed. They might any where have been known for weavers by the projecting eyes and narrow shoulders which distinguish the tribe, and yet more by the shuffling step with which they slopped through the pools, with feet whose accustomed motion was on the treadles of the loom. The pallid gloom which sat on their faces was a less peculiar characteristic; it belongs equally to the sinewy miner, the stout ploughman, and the withered operative, when want is at their heels, and they believe, rightly or wrongly, that it is the word of tyrants which has set it on to dog them.
“Holla, there! where are you marching?” cried Dickens from the window. “Where is Cooper?” he inquired, perceiving that Mrs. Cooper's glance was wandering over the crowd, and that she had checked herself when about to ask for him, fearing, no doubt, that he might not like to be called out from among his companions by a woman's voice. Every man looked round him, and no Cooper came out.
“He is not there, my mistress,” said Dickens, seizing his hat, and clattering down the narrow stairs to join the mob. “I must just go and see what is doing; and you will get news from your husband before I come back, I'll be bound.”
There seemed to be a halt at the end of the street, and Short and Mrs. Cooper, who were now left to their mutual conjectures, emulated each other in leaning out of the window, to see what was to happen next.
“Dad, dad, dad,” said young Ichabod presently, kissing the palm of his hand, as was his wont when his father came in sight from abroad.
“Why, there's my husband! and I never saw him all this time,” cried Mrs. Cooper, hastening to go down to him as he stood with folded arms, leaning against the door-post below.—All he could tell was that he feared some mischief would happen. There had been discontent for some little time; the worst hands being turned off one week, and more and more by degrees, till now, when many of the best had been sent home without the expected employment. There was great anger against the masters, and, above all, against the Frenchman. Cooper fancied they were about to call him to account, from the stand the crowd seemed to be making near his house.
“But, John, what are we to do?”
“Why, we must get on without that six shillings a-week, till our neighbours have work again. I must work a little harder, that is all.”
To her surprise and delight, Mrs. Cooper now perceived that her husband had lodged just within the door the cane that she had been assured had been denied him. He, happier than his neighbours in being a better workman, had employment; and his wife could spare a good-natured smile at Short's propensity to make the worst of everything, and also some sympathy for he Frenchman.—She should be sorry if any harm came to him, far away as the young ladies, his sisters, were from their friends. It was a pity they came, to be sure, interfering with Englishmen's proper business; but they seemed to conduct themselves very well——
“Except in the point of his picking out the best weavers, and getting them from the other manufacturers,” observed Cooper. “He would fain have had me; but I told Mr. Culver he might depend upon me, as I have too much spirit to leave an English master for a foreign one.”
“Besides that, you would hardly know what to make of his new sorts of looms and patterns. They would not come easy to your hand.”
“For that matter,” replied Cooper, “I am not above learning anything new, even from a Frenchman; and I have some curiosity to find out how they manage a certain thing that I have been trying after these two years. I shall try and try again, for I don't want to come out at last a worse weaver than Cook.”
“You a worse weaver than Cook!” exclaimed the wife. “I should like to see the day when that will happen, John Cooper.”
Cooper smiled and reminded his wife how much easier it is to improve one's craft when put in the way by a knowing person, than when one has to find it out for one's self. Nevertheless, as Culver had been a good master to him, he would continue to work for him, if the Frenchman offered him the weight of his first piece in gold.
“This much,” continued Cooper, “I am willing to do for Culver: but as to anything more, I am for letting a man have fair play, be he French or be he English. I would not persecute any man for choosing to settle in one place rather than another, whatever I might think about its being better for him to remain in his own country.”
“Do you think Culver encourages the people against the Frenchman?”
“Not one of the masters likes him; and indeed he does steal their trade very fast.”
“Aye, just at present; but his secrets will soon get abroad; and others will manufacture as well as he; and then they ought to thank him for teaching them.”
“May be they will then: but they don't now. Not that Culver would lift his hand and say, ‘Burn down that man's house;' but he would ather not hear him praised as his own weavers praise him.”)
“They praise everything about him but his odd speech. What a misfortune 'tis that he cannot speak English as we do!”
M. Gaubion, the gentleman in question, daily thought so too. He could make his way, as to language, very well with educated persons; but the dialect of his weavers puzzled him perpetually. His foreman acted as interpreter; but in his absence, M. Gaubion, who at Lyons had been thought to be very accomplished in the English language, found that he could not understand one word in ten that was said to him. The case was made worse by his being a timid man, and fully alive to all the peculiarities of his situation, without being able to make light of them as some of the gayer tempered of his countrymen would have done.
On the present occasion, M. Gaubion was taken by surprise; and unintelligible as the yells of an English mob were likely to be to him at any time, there was no chance of his understanding them amidst the conflict of feelings under which he now listened to them. The word “Macclesfield” alone struck his ear as familiar, and he comprehended from it that the people disapproved of the proceedings of his firm in that place, where he believed he had been doing what must be acceptable in employing some hundreds of people in throwing and manufacturing silk. He knew that building had been going on, through the stimulus given by his demand for labour, and that which had arisen in other quarters, partly through rivalship of himself, partly from an uncontrolled spirit of speculation, and, yet more, because the silk trade was really, on the whole, in an improving condition. He wanted to explain to the crowd that one thousand new houses had been demanded by advertisement in Maccles-field, the year before, and that from four to five thousand apprentices had been wanted about the same time; and that if, after this tremendous state of activity, manufacturers found their business slack for a time, it was hard to lay the blame on him of what had resulted from their own extravagant speculations. It was wronging him to suppose that his concern, however flourishing, could swallow up all others, or that he had any more to do with the temporary distress at Macclesfield or in Spitalfields than at Coventry, where there were thousands out of employment at this very time.—M. Gaubion could find no words, however, at the critical moment; and if he had, they could scarcely have been heard while the builder, who could not get his rents, was haranguing, and the disappointed weavers were shouting, and the envious manufacturers on the outskirts of the mob were grumbling about the favour shown to Frenchmen by an unpatriotic government. There was nothing to be done but to throw down among the crowd the newspaper containing the advertisements about houses and apprentices, and to trust to the sense of the people to discover what it was that they were to make out from the proceeding.
The constables now arrived and inspired him with more confidence in their staves than he had in the good sense of the people. Stragglers fell off from the main body in all directions, till nobody chose to stay to be marked as disposed for a riot. They left the foreigner wondering in hm-self.
“What is it that these people would have? I employ hundreds of them, and they complain. 1 teach them my superior art, and they are jealous. If I were to employ but twenty where I employ a hundred, they would complain yet more. If we Frenchmen kept the secrets of our manufacture, these English would nourish a still stronger jealousy. What is it that they would have?”
This was just the question which Mrs. Cooper had ready for her husband to answer, when he returned, newspaper in hand, from M. Gaubion's house.
“They want a steady, uniform demand,” was his reply; “which neither M. Gaubion, nor any one else, can ensure them, unless they could give them masters with cool and sound heads, and find some broom that would sweep away the mischiefs that remain from old bad plans. How is M. Gaubion, or any one else, to prevent the slackness which comes of building a thousand new houses to hold five thousand new apprentices in one town?—of which you may read in this paper. And if we are so jealous of the French goods as by law to declare all of a wrong length which are made ready to be sold here as soon as they are allowed to be brought in, how is Gaubion, or any one else, to prevent the smuggling of those goods? What we want is a little prudence on the part of the government and the masters, and a little patience on that of the men.”
“Aye, patience!” cried Short. “Patience enough wanted to hear you talk! Here you have been preaching prudence and patience these ten years; and all for what? Can anything make the silk trade prosper?”
“It has prospered, for two years past, only rather too vehemently,” replied Cooper. “If the masters had let it grow a little more gradually, all would have been right: and all will be right yet, if we have but a little patience, as I said before.”
“You have no reason for saying that, in the face of all experience.”
“I have reason;—and that from experience. The demand for thrown silk is greater than ever it was; and if that is not a good sign, I don't know what is. Nearly twice as much thrown silk is imported now as there was when the trade was most protected; and our throwsters at home find a demand for a million of pounds more than was needed two years ago. Now what is this silk all wanted for but to be woven? and, depend upon it, Mr. Short, you will have your share.”
“Aye, when, I wonder? You talk as if I were a young man, instead of an old fellow who can't wait for his bread till new-fashioned schemes are tried, and the old ones found to be best. When, I say?”
“When we make trial of fair play between nation and nation; which will be after next July.”
“And here is May now,” observed Mrs. Cooper. “If no more silk is to be smuggled after July, Mr. Short, you will soon be at your loom again. I wish I could think that the French gentleman would be comfortable after that time; but I fear the feeling against him is too strong to go down so soon.”
“That is the worst of such feelings ever being allowed to grow up,” replied her husband. “However we may talk about being on free, and fair, and friendly terms of competition with the French after July, I doubt whether we shall be willing to make the experiment really a fair one, as if we belonged all to one country.”
“Why, John,” said his wife, “even you would not work for the foreigner so soon as for your old employer. You were saying so this very morning.”
John muttered something about its being a different thing countenancing Frenchmen in their proper country and in one's own neighbourhood; but he could not give a very satisfactory account of what he meant. He ended by hoping that there would be room, in the world of production for everybody; and that all would find out where it was easiest to get what all wanted, that each, whether English, French, or Chinese, might be employed to furnish what he could provide most easily and cheaply, and all help one another. If this were done, all might perhaps be well furnished with necessaries and comforts; and, if not, their privations would not be made more bitter by the jealousies which God's children now nourished against one another.
Short was sure the only way to have peace and quiet was to go on in the old way.
“What shall we make of you, my boy?” cried Cooper, catching up the child for a romp, before beginning the arduous task of putting his new piece into the loom. “What shall we make of you, child? Will you be a little weaver?”
The boy immediately began stamping with his tiny foot, and reaching out his hand for the shuttle.
“Why, look!” cried his delighted mother. “He is pretending to weave already. Aye; that is the way, my boy. Tread, tread! That is the way. Will Ichabod be a weaver, like father?”
“In steadier times than his father lived in, I hope,” said Cooper. “Hey, boy? Will you weave like a Frenchman, Ichabod, so that your loom may be as busy as a Frenchman's?”
“And carry an English heart in your breast, dear, all the time?” added old Short.
“Without hating the foreigners,” observed Mrs. Cooper. “We must teach him, John, that there is room in the wide world for all.”