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Chapter IV.: A POOR MAN'S INDUCTION. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 7.
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A POOR MAN'S INDUCTION.
It took but a little time to show the children how to find bilberries, and not very much longer to teach them not to eat what they found; after which Mary was at liberty to walk round to the mouth of the stone-quarry, beside which the fashioning of grindstones went on, in subservience to the cutlery business of Sheffield. She avoided the sheds where the sawing and smoothing proceeded, and looked only among the men who were excavating the stone. But few were at work this day; Chatham was one of them. He was engaged high up, with his face to the rock, and having no glances to spare for the scene below him, or for the narrow, rough path by which his present position must be attained.
Mary had never been here before, and she lingered in hopes that Chatham might turn, and encourage her to go on. She gathered rag-wort from the moist recesses by the way, and paused to observe how the ivy was spreading over a portion of the stone face of the quarry which had been left untouched for some time, and to listen to the water trickling down among the weeds by a channel which it had worn for itself. As Chatham still did not turn, she proceeded to climb the path, being aware that children who were playing in the bottom had given notice of her presence, and that face after face peeped out from beneath the sheds to gaze, and then disappeared again. When at length she laid her hand on the arm of the toiling man, he started as if his tool had broken under his blow.
“Mary! what brought you here?”
“I heard that the constables were after you.”
“So did I; and here I am, if they choose to come.”
“And what next?”
“My words and deeds will be taken up against me, perhaps. Perhaps it may be found that I am a good friend to all the parties that were quarrelling last night. This last is what I wish to be.”
“And trying to be so. you will get blamed by all in turn.”
“By all at once, if they so please. As often as they choose to ask my opinion, as they did last night, they shall have it, though they themselves try to hoot me down. I do not want to meddle; but, being bid to speak out, I will speak, out of the fire or the water, if they bid me burn or drown. So it is not the notion of a constable that can frighten me.”
“Out of fire or water, would you? Then much more would you speak in a moonlight field. O, tell me if you were there.”
“How did you spend your thoughts, Mary, those nights that you sat by the spring, during the drought? What were you thinking about when your sister threw down the pitcher that you caught? That must have been a weary night to you both.”
“You saw us! Then it is true; and you are one that hopes to get food by night-arming?”
“Not I. If the question of stinting food or getting plenty of it were waiting to be decided by arms,—the hungry on one side and the full on the other,—I would take up my pike with a hopeful heart, however sorry I might be that blood should be shed in settling so plain a matter. But what could a little band of pale complainers do, creeping under the shadows of yonder walls, with limbs as trembling as their hearts are firm? How should they be champions of the right while they are victims of the wrong? They must be fed before they can effectually struggle for perpetual food.”
“Poor wretches! they did look, it seemed to me, as if they had no life nor spirit in them.”
“The spirit goes from the sunk eye to swell the heart, Mary; and those that have not strength of arm this day, may prove, many a day hence, what their strength of purpose has been. This is what the authorities ought to look to. Instead of scouring the country to wake up a wretch from the noon-day sleep which he seeks because he has had no morning meal, they should provide against the time when his arm will be strong to make his hungry dreams come true. Instead of carrying one man in disgrace from his loom, and another from the forge, and another from the quarry, to tell the old story—‘We have been patient long, and can endure no longer,’ our rulers should be satisfying themselves whether this is one of the stories which is to have no end. It cannot be very pleasing to their ears. The wonder is, that if they are weary of it, they go on from century to century to cry, ‘Tell us this story again.’”
“They cannot yet be so weary of it as we.”
“No; for they hear others in turn with it,—tales of victories abroad, and of rejoicings at home in places where no poor man sets his foot. Their painters show them pictures of jolly rent-days, and the music they hear is triumphant and spirit-stirring. If they go abroad in the day, they laugh to see their enemies made mirth of in the streets; and if at night, they glorify themselves and one another in the light of illuminations. Thus they can forget our story for a while.”
“I would rather they should come here than go myself among them, to be the merriest of the merry.”
“Ay; if we could set each of them down in this vale as one of ourselves, they would be surprised to find how dismal night-lights are when they shine upon scowling brows and hollow cheeks; and how little spirit war-music has when it cannot drown the moans of the famished, and the cries of mothers weeping for their children.”
“It seems to me that their very religion helps to deceive them about us. Last Sunday, the clergyman looked comfortably about him, and spoke very steadily when he read about the springing corn in the furrows, and that the little hills rejoice on every side. I thought of the red poppies and the stones in Fergusson's new fields, and the scanty gleanings on the uplands, and my heart turned back from my Bible.”
“It should not have done that, Mary. It is not that the Bible is in fault, but that some people read it wrong. There is never any day of any year when there are not springing grains and ripening harvests on God's earth.”
“You ought to be able to speak to that, having gone so far round the world when you were a boy at sea.”
“I can speak to it. If there are angels hovering over the fields, as 'tis said there once were, and if the earth lies stretched beneath them as in a map, they may point to one fruitful place or another, and never cease their song, ‘Thou visitest the earth and waterest it. The pastures are clothed with flocks, and the valleys are covered over with corn. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.’”
“But of what use is it to us that there is corn somewhere, if we have it not? Are we to bless God that he feeds some people somewhere, while there are still poppies and stones where we look for bread?”
“You might as well ask ‘of what use is the fruit on the tree to him who sits hungering at its foot?’ And, ‘is not a parched traveller to repine at his thirst, when a well is springing in the neighbouring shade?’ What would you say to hungering and thirsty men like these?”
“‘Bless God that there is fruit, and climb to reach it. Be thankful that there is water, and go down to take your fill.’”
“We are required by our rulers to do one half of this reasonable thanksgiving, and to fore-go the remainder. We are bidden to thank God for his gifts, but forbidden to reach and take. —How great is the folly of this, you would see at a glance, if you could go where I have been.”
“To see how perfectly happy people are in the fruitful places, while so many are suffering here? To see how unequal is the lot of dwellers in different countries?”
“Not so; but worse. There is but too much equality in the lot of dwellers in fruitful and on barren soils; between those who are too many for their food, and those who bury their spare corn out of their way. If some were satisfied while others suffer, the sufferers might be the more patient because all were not afflicted like themselves; but it is when all suffer, and might yield mutual relief, if they were not prevented, that patience is impossible. I would ask no man to have patience with our state who had seen the state of many others, striving after patience as painfully as we.”
“Why, there is the labouring man of Poland, for one. He creeps out of his log hut, shivering, half naked, in the first cold of autumn, to feed his pigs with the grain——”
“Grain! What sort of grain?”
“Wheat, or rye, as may happen; whichever happens to be rotting the fastest. Between him and the black forests on the horizon are plains, stretching away for leagues upon leagues, some sprinkled with a few cattle, and some showing a stubble that you would be glad to have the gleaning of; and others lying waste, though richer as soil than many a field of Anderson's.”
“O, but that is a shame, with the people so poor.”
“It would make the people no richer to till those wastes, unless the crops could sell. The people there do not want food——”
“So I think, if they feed their beasts on wheat and rye.”
“They want clothes, and good houses, and all that makes a dwelling comfortable; and yet, though our warehouses are overfull of broad cloth, and we could furnish twice as much metal-work as we do, if we had bread for the workmen, it is only by fits and starts that we will let Poland sell us corn, and clothe her sons. Then, again, near the Black Sea——”
“Is that sea really blacker than other seas?”
“The sun glitters there as bright as on the heaving Indian bays, and it is as blue when the sky is clear as any tarn in yonder hills. God has done all to make it beautiful, not only from above, but by spreading fertile tracts all along its shores. If man would do his part, sending ships upon its bosom, and leaving no spot desolate around, it might be made the happy place that, in my opinion, the whole earth might be made, and will be, some time or other.”
“The people are not happy there now, then?”
“Not what we should call happy, though they may like better than we should the flitting from plain to plain to gather corn, as bees flit from blossom to blossom for honey. They reap for three seasons from a field, and then move to another, leaving an exhausted soil and a desolate place behind them.”
“We might teach them husbandry, if they would let us have some of the fruits of it.”
“And then they might learn to live a little more like Christians than they do, and have some of the pleasures that we have, in the midst of all our hardships, in growing up from the state of brute beasts into that of thinking men. There are other parts,—in America,—where thinking men live who fret in the impossibility of making their children wiser and more civilized than themselves,—which should be every man's aim for his children. They can give them work,— but what is it all for?—food. They can give them work,—but what does it all consist of?— food. They can hold out a prospect of increase, —but of what?—food. They long for a thousand comforts, if they could but convert their corn into these comforts. They perceive that there are a thousand advantages and blessings over the sea, if they could but stretch out a long arm to throw corn into our lap, and reach home—things which we can now use no more than they, because we have too little bread, and they have too much. Though their sons are thus condemned to be clowns, and ours to be paupers, we must hope that they will learn from our follies so to deal together as that the clown may become a wise man, and the pauper take his stand on the rights of his industry.”
“But why, if so many countries are fruitful, is England alone barren?”
“England is fruitful in corn; but yet more so in men, and in arts which she chooses to make barren of food. England has corn on her hills, corn in her valleys, corn waving over her plains; yet this corn is not enough, or not always enough, for the multitudes who gather together in her villages, and throng her cities, and multiply about her workhouses. If this corn is not enough, England's duty is,—not to starve hundreds, or half-starve thousands of her children, but to bring out corn from all the apparatus of her arts. She should bring out corn from her looms, corn from her forges, corn from her mines; and when more than all this is wanted, let her multiply her looms and her forges, and sink new mines from which other millions may derive their bread.”
“You dig bread from this hard rock, I suppose, when you furnish grindstones on which the cutlery is to he prepared which may be exchanged with the Russian and the American for corn.”
“I do: and to limit this exchange is not only to limit the comforts of us workmen, but to forbid that there shall be more lives in our borders than the fruits of our own soil can support. There is room for myriads more of us, and for a boundless improvement of our resources; these resources are forbidden to improve, and these myriads to exist. Whence rulers derive their commission thus to limit that to which God has placed no perceivable bound, let them declare.”
“Then there are not too many of us, if all were wise.”
“By no means. If all were permitted to be as happy as God bids them be, there would be neither the recklessness of those who multiply without thought, nor the forced patience of those who have a conscience and listen to it. If all were wise, they would proportion their numbers to their food; but then that food would not be stinted by arbitrary laws which issue in evil to all. Our rulers turn away, if perchance they see in the streets infants that pine for a while, only to die; and pronounce that such children should never have been born. And it may be true; but it is not for our rulers to pronounce, except with shame; for it is only while waiting for their becoming just that it behoves the people to be as self-denying as they require.”
“Strangers that pass this way for their pleasure,” observed Mary, “wonder at the hardness of our shepherds in turning their tender lambs exposed upon the moors, where, if some thrive, many pine. Do not they themselves (as many of them as have to do with making laws) turn out the young of our cities into stony fields, where they pine like starving lambs?” There is small use in pitying—small kindness in saying that such should never have been born, if there are indeed fields where for stones they may gather bread.”
“When I see money buried in the furrows of such fields,” replied Chatham, “I feel that it is taken twice from those whose due it is;—from the mechanic who, instead of standing idle, would fain be producing corn on his anvil; and from the spiritless boor abroad, who would as willingly exchange his superfluity to supply his need. When I see the harrow pass over such fields, I see it harrow human souls; and voices cry out from the ground, however little the whistling husbandman may heed them.”
“The husbandman will not long whistle, if all must at length scramble for food. His turn to see his infants pine must come at last”
“At last! It comes early, for there are more to follow. There is the farmer to swear that it is hard upon him that his labourers must live, as it is upon his substance that they must live. Then comes he for whom the farmer labours in his turn. He complains that, let the sunshine be as bright, the dews as balmy as they may, he can reap scarcely half the harvest of his gains, and that he is pressed upon by the crowds who come to him for bread.”
“He can hardly wonder at this, when it is he himself who forbids their going elsewhere. To what third party would he commend them?”
“Perhaps he would quote Scripture, as may be done for all purposes, and tell them that the clouds drop fatness, and bid them look up and await the promised manna. Till it comes, however, or till he and his tribe have unlocked the paths of the seas, he has no more right to complain of the importunity which disturbs him than the child who debars the thrush from its native woods has to be angry when it will not plume itself and sing, but beats against its wires because its fountain is no longer filled.”
“I could not but think something like this when I saw even so good a man as our Mr. Fergusson on rough terms with some of the people he met on the way, when he went out to view the harvest-home.”
“The harvest-home which used to be a merry feast when it was clear that its golden fruits were to be wealth to all! Now, there is no knowing what is to become of it; whether it shall be divided and consumed in peace, or scrambled for by men possessed by the demon of want, or burned by those who cannot share, and are therefore resolved that none others shall enjoy. It is said, and no one contradicts, that the harvest-moon rose clear, and lighted up alike every mansion and cottage in the dale; but I was abroad to see her rise; and I declare that with my mind's eye I beheld her eclipsed, shedding a sickly light, maybe, upon the manor and the farm, but blight and darkness into the dwellings of the poor.”
“It has ever been God's hand that has drawn a shadow over sun and moon, but now—”
“Now man has usurped the office, and uses his power, not once and again to make the people quail, but day by day. To none is the sun so dark as to the dim-eyed hungerer. To none is the moon so sickly as to the watcher over a pining infant's cradle. Let man remove the shadow of social tyranny, let him disperse the mists which rise from a deluge of tears, and God's sun and moon will be found to make the dew-drops glitter as bright as ever on the lowliest thatch, and to shine mildly into humble chambers where those who are not kneeling in thanksgiving are blessing God as well by the soundness of their repose.”
“Are those whom you meet at midnight of the same mind with yon? Do they go to church on Sunday to bring away this sort of religion for the week?”
“They do not go to church,—partly because they know themselves to be squalid,—partly because, as you say, their hearts turn back from their Bible. They are slow to believe that their soul-sickness will be pitied somewhere, if not by man. They no doubt feel also some of the unwillingness of guilt; but I can tell,—I will tell those whom it may concern,—that the way to bring these men from their unlawful drill into the church aisle is to preach to them full. and not hungering, that God giveth to all living things food in its season. This, like all other words of God, is true; but with his vicegerents rests the blasphemy if shrunken lips whisper that it is a lie.—Such sufferers, if they did make Sabbath, have not the leisure that I have to work out their religion by themselves, during the week, making it and toil lighten each other.”
“So that is what you do in this place,—high up on the face of the stone, with no moving thing near you but these dancing weeds overhead, and no sound but the dull shock of your own blows! So your religion is what you think over all day!”
“In some form or other; but you know religion takes many forms;—all forms, or religion would be good for little. I am not always thinking of the church and the sermon; but sometimes of how I am to advise the people that come to me, and sometimes of what I could tell the powerful if I could get their ear; and oftener than all, Mary, of what was said between you and me the evening before, and what will be said this evening, and of what we may dare to look to in a future time.”
“With so much to think about, you could do without me,” said Mary, smiling. “You would hardly miss me much, if I was drowned to-morrow, till the country is quiet, and there is nothing more to be complained of.”
“Meanwhile, Mary, you want nothing more, I suppose, than to clean trenchers and wash and mend stockings. To do this would make you perfectly happy for evermore, would it?”
“It is light work cleaning trenchers for a half-starved family.” replied Mary: “and as for the stockings, the children are going barefoot, one by one. So, no light jesting, Chatham; but tell me—;”
“Who these men are just at your shoulder? They are constables, and come for me, I rather think.”
“And what next?” inquired Mary, as she had done half an hour before.
“I know no more than when you asked me last; but I suppose they will either let me come back here to think over the matters we have been talking about, or put me where I may consider them at more leisure still, not having my tools with me wherewith to hew down stone walls. You well know, in that case, Mary, what I shall be thinking about and doing; and so you will not trouble yourself or be frightened about me. Promise me.”
“Certainly: what should I be frightened about?” asked Mary, with white lips. “You cannot have done wrong,—you cannot have joined in—”
She stopped short, as the constable was within hearing. His office was an easy one, as Chatham cheerfully surrendered himself; and Mary turned to descend, as soon as he had flung on his coat and disposed of his tools. They were permitted to walk arm-in-arm, and to talk, if they chose to do it so as to be overheard. Not being at liberty in heart and mind for such conversation as the constable might share, they passed in silence the groups of workpeople, some of whom grinned with nervousness or mirth, and others gazed with countenances of grave concern; while a very few showed their sympathy by carefully taking no notice of what must be considered the disgrace of their companion. In a little while, Mary was told she must go no farther; and, presently after, she was at the door of her own home, with a child in each hand,— one talking of bilberries, and the other telling a story of a duckling in the pool, which had billed a worm larger than it knew what to do with; and how it ended with dropping the worm in deep water, and, after a vain poke in pursuit of it, had scuttled after the rest of the brood. All this Mary was, or seemed to be, listening to, when her brother looked out from the door, and told her impatiently that he had been watching for her this half-hour. His wife was asleep at present; but he had not liked to leave her alone in the house, much as he wished to go out and see what sort of a net the constables were drawing in.
“Have you heard of anybody that they have taken?” he inquired.
“Well! Anybody that we know?”
Kay looked at her for a moment, sent the children different ways, and then looked at her again.
“You are not down-hearted, Mary?”
“He will come out clear, depend upon it: my life upon it, it will turn out well. Oh! it will turn out a good thing,—a real good thing!”
“Ay, ay, in the end; but I mean——But come, sit you down. I am in no hurry to go out; and I will get you something after your long walk.”
“Pray do not; I do not wish it, indeed. I will help myself when I am hungry.”
As she seemed not to want him, Kay thought perhaps he had better go. Before he closed the door behind him, he saw that Mary was taking a long, deep draught of cold water.