Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VII.: PROSPECTIVE BROTHERHOOD. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 6 (Messrs. Vanderput and Snoek, The Loom and the Lugger Parts 1 & 2)
Return to Title Page for Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 6 (Messrs. Vanderput and Snoek, The Loom and the Lugger Parts 1 & 2)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter VII.: PROSPECTIVE BROTHERHOOD. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
When the Macclesfield weavers arrived to swear to their handiwork, it was remarked with some surprise that they did not appear to bear the same similitude to their Spitalfields' brethren as one race of weavers usually bears to another. Several of them measured more than five feet five; and though some were pale and thin, they did not show the peculiar conformation of shoulders and of face which marks the weaving son and grandson of a weaver. The simple reason of this was, that most of these men had but lately taken to the craft; only in consequence of the magnificent promises held out, and the large speculations entered into, on the determination of parliament to repeal the restrictions of former years. When many thousands of apprentices were advertised for, and a multitude of new hands quarrelled for by ambitious capitalists, the temptation was great to quit employments which were poorly paid, for the sake of the wages which the masters vied with each other in offering. It happened, of course, that many, both of masters and men, were disappointed. The inundation of smuggled silks, caused by the prohibition of pieces of a certain length, prepared for the opened market, was a serious misfortune to the masters; and the immediate extension of sale, in consequence of the greatness of the supply, did not equal their expectations. As their stocks accumulated, some of their men were compelled to betake themselves to other occupations, or to wait for a clearance of the market, complaining, meanwhile, the foolish of the new measures by which a competition was established with the French, the wise of the miscalculations by which the good effects of the new measures had been for a time obscured. M. Gaubion's men alone had no cause for lamentation. The superiority of his goods ensured his immediate prosperity on his settling in England; and of his many workmen, none went back disappointed to an inferior kind of labour, or sat listless, waiting for better times.
These men had something cheerful to say even of those of their brethren whose hopes had been disappointed as to the silk manufacture. It happened “luckily,” as they said,—“of course,” as M. Gaubion and Mr. Culver agreed,—that there was an increased demand for labour in some other businesses, in exact proportion as French silks sold in our markets. This was natural enough, as the French must have something in return for their goods; and they would of course take those articles which we can produce better than they. It was not the less a happy thing, however, for the poor man, because it was a matter of course, that if one of his sons had to wait for the clearing of the silk market, another who was a cutler, and a third who was a cotton spinner, were in a state of increased prosperity. The fact was, that the distress of the weavers had been greater in 1816 than at any time since, while it was occasioned by causes much more likely to be lasting in their operation, and was in no degree compensated by increased briskness in other departments of British manufacture. The sum and substance of the news from Macclesfield was that some scores of slightly-built cottages were certainly tumbling into ruins, but that many dozens were inhabited which had not been in existence five years before;—that there had undoubtedly been a transference of some hundreds of apprentices from the various branches of the silk manufacture to other departments of labour, but that a much greater number had been added to the silk throwing and weaving population;— and that, if many were still waiting for employment, they were not so many by half as those who had been taken on by other classes of masters.
It could not be otherwise, an officer of the Customs declared, as the imports of raw and thrown silk were already nearly double what they had been in the busiest year under the old system, and as our exports of manufactured silks had increased 300 per cent, since the trade had been thrown open.
“You left your own country just at the right time, sir,” observed another officer to M. Gaubion. “The French exports have been declining,—not so fast as ours have risen,—but enough to show that the English need not fear competition with their foreign neighbours.”
“But who could have guessed,” asked the first, “how amazingly the manufacture would improve in this short time? The heavier sort of fabrics have improved more in three years than in any quarter of a century before. As to gauzes, and ribbons, and other light kinds of goods, the French still surpass us there, and will do so, probably, for a long time to come; but in the substantial and more important fabrics of our looms, we can undersell our neighbours in many countries abroad.”
“For which we are partly indebted to this gentleman, whom some of you have taken upon you to persecute,” observed a plain-spoken Macclesfield man. “Poor man as I am, I had rather be myself, working under him, than them that have been working against him. And how it came into their heads to suspect him is more than I can guess. Come, gentlemen, I am ready to swear to my piece. That's the piece I wove: I can swear to it, by certain marks, as confidently as my wife could to our eldest by the mole on his arm.”
One of the Customs officers could give an account of one circumstance which had aggravated the suspicions against M. Gaubion. A mysterious-looking package had arrived at the Custom-house, addressed to Mademoiselle, and declared to contain a mummy for her museum. This package had been detained for some time, on pretence of its being difficult to assign the duties on an article which it did not appear had been in the contemplation of the framers of the Customs regulations at the period of their origin. A mummy could scarcely be specified as raw produce; and if considered as a manufactured article, it would be difficult to find a parallel by which to judge of the rate of duty for which it was liable. Under this pretence, the package had been detained; but there were suspicions that it enclosed some other stuffing than the linen swathing-bands of Egyptian production, and it was reserved for examination, in case of the whole train of evidence against the gentleman miscarrying. The more it was examined, the more the package looked as if it must conceal prohibited goods in some of its recesses; but the proof was kept for a grand explosion, as the catastrophe of poor M. Gaubion's trials. The gentlemen pf the Custom-house had begun now to think that there might be possibly no more dishonesty in this package than in those of M. Gaubion's proceedings which had been already investigated; and the box had therefore been opened and examined this morning, when they found the mummy, the whole mummy, (which was well for Mademoiselle's museum,) and nothing but the mummy, (which was equally well on her brother's account.)
Nothing now remained but to verify the authorship of the thirty-seven pieces. Three men swore to two each as their own; and every one of the others was claimed by a maker. These thirty-seven pieces of unquestionable French goods were all woven in Macclesfield and Spitalfields!
Culver examined the men, and the marks they pointed out, and did not glance towards the Frenchman while the investigation was going on. Just so was it with the persevering accusers of the stranger. The difference between them and Mr. Culver was, that neither did they look in M. Gaubion's face finally, but slunk away, after the wont of false accusers; while Mr. Culver went up to the acquitted to say—
“I never gave worse advice, sir, than when I recommended you to keep quiet, and let matters take their course. Innocent as you are proved to have been all this time, I hope you would have disregarded my advice, if our riotous neighbours had not compelled you to throw it behind you. I thought I was giving you the most friendly counsel, sir; for, to say the truth, I thought,—without having a bad opinion of you, either,—that you had most probably been involved as these gentlemen said you were.”
“Without having a bad opinion of me! How could that be?”
“Why, sir, when one considers how long our prohibitive laws have been evaded by all classes of people in turn,—so that the bad were not held to be the worse for such practices, and they were considered no stain upon the good,—it seemed natural enough that, if your interest tempted you particularly, you should continue the contraband trade when other people were thinking to have done with it.”
“In declaring that I might violate public loyalty and private faith in one set of circumstances, without being a bad man,” said M. Gaubion, “it seems to me that you pass the severest of censures on the power which framed those circumstances.”
“I have no objection, sir, to having my words considered in that light. The business of governments is to guard the freedom of commerce, and not to interfere with it. If they choose to show partiality, and to meddle with affairs which they cannot properly control, they become answerable for the sin of disobedience which is sure to arise, and for all the mischiefs that follow in its train. If, moreover, governments take up any wrong notion,—such as that which has caused us a world of woe,—that the benefits of commerce arise from what is exported rather than from what is imported,—if such a notion is taken up, and obstinately acted upon, long after the bulk of the people know better, the ruling powers are responsible for all the consequences that visit themselves and the subjects whom they have afflicted, either by commercial misfortunes or by legal punishments.”
“Then you consider your ancient governments (less liberal and enlightened than the present) answerable alike for my guilt, if I had smuggled, and for my troubles under the suspicion of having smuggled?”
“Just so; and for more within my little circle of observation than I should like to have to bear my share of.”
“For the late prosperity of Breme and his brother,—prosperity of which the neighbours were jealous because it arose from amidst the destitution of a host of native weavers?.”
“I could soon bring myself to bear the thought of that, seeing that Breme is more prosperous still, now that there is not destitution among his neighbours. The Brighton concern may have gone down in some degree; but the London one has flourished in greater proportion. I could much sooner forgive myself for Breme's former prosperity, let it come whence it might, than for breaking the heart of a fine fellow,—a friend of Breme's,—on the coast. I mention him because he is a specimen of a large class who were induced by the temptations of a flourishing contraband trade to quit their proper business, and set their hearts upon a cast which must disappoint them, sooner or later. Poor Pim was made for as hale and cheerful an old age as man need have: but he and his neighbours flourished too much under a bad system, and now they flourish too little under a better; and there sits the poor man, grey before his time, moping and moaning by his fireside, while his daughter, who should have gone on to be the best of housekeepers to a father she looked up to, is now striving to keep the house in another sense, and toiling in vain to preserve the appearances on which their scanty bread depends. Pim would never have been tempted to be anything but what he was fit for, if he had not unhappily fallen under an artificial system. Poor fellow! I hoped there had been comfort in store for him in the shape of a companion to gossip with. Our poor nurse———”
“My ancient enemy,” observed M. Gaubion, smiling. “I fear she will hardly be glad to hear the news of me that you will carry home. To your daughters, at least, I trust it will be welcome.”
“There is little intelligence that will be welcome to them to-day, even though it concerns yourself. They are mourning their old friend, who died this morning.”
“What, nurse! I shall be more grieved than ever that I caused her so much pain as I believe I did, by making myself, as far I could, an Englishman. But I could not help it. She left us no message of peace, I fear.”
“Not exactly a message, for she left no messages except one for my son, and one for Rebecca Pim; but I heard her speaking more pleasantly of your family yesterday than I should have expected. She kept her own opinions to the last; but she seemed to grow tired of the enmities which sprang from them. She felt kindly towards everybody latterly, as far as I know, except Mrs. Mudge's nurse-maid. Why, I can tell you no more of Mrs. Mudge's nurse-maid (nor could poor nurse herself, I fancy) than that she wears, and has for some time worn, a silk gown. It was this which occasioned the message to my son; viz, that, as our firm is now prospering, she hoped we might do very well without tempting people to wear silks who never wore them before; and that, dying, she could not countenance what she had been so little used to, even if it was to benefit her master's trade and family. The message to Rebecca Pim related to those of Rebecca's neighbours who had been kind to nurse's poor son.”
“Ah! I remember your daughters told my sisters that sad story. Can we be of any service to your family? Shall I send Adèle, or———”
“My dear sir! why do you stand here, letting me talk about a hundred things, while your ladies are in suspense about your affair? I deserve———”
“Not so. I have sent to relieve them, and shall now follow. Tell me if I can serve you.”
“Yes, if you can make your sisters forgive the part I have acted towards you. For those who have done worse, I will offer no defence.”
“None is needed beyond that which is before our eyes in the struggles of an expiring system of monopoly. But a few days ago, I thought I could hardly forgive my opponents; but now I am disposed to wait and see the effects of a natural co-operation of interests. Let your Coopers have hearts open for ‘ fancies,’ and a purse wherewith to indulge them;—let your old friend Short leave an unfinished piece upon his loom when his hour shall come;—let your daughters purchase French or English dresses as they list;—let our neighbours and ourselves be free to sell where we find customers most eager to buy;—let the government trust us to prosper after our own manner,—and there will be no antipathies mixed up with our bargains; no loss of time and temper in suspiciously watching one another's proceedings; no mutual injury in apprehension, any more than in reality.”
“Do you really expect to see the day when all will go so smoothly with us?”
“That the day will fully come I believe, because I already see the dawn. But a few hours ago it seemed to me all clouded, and I fretfully declared I would not abide the uncertainty.”
“And now? You cannot now think of leaving us,—to our everlasting shame? You will allow us to repair our disgrace?”
“We will repent our mutual offences;—I my precipitancy, and you your misapprehension. Yes; I will stay, and in our brotherhood as individuals discern the future brotherhood of our respective nations.