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Chapter III.: GROWN CHILDREN's HOLIDAY. - 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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GROWN CHILDREN's HOLIDAY.
Though it was not true that nobody heeded Mrs. Eldred and her interests, her querulous complaint to that effect was in some degree excused by the substantial injuries she underwent, through interference with, and mismanagement of, the industry of all who were most dear to her. Nothing was further from the thoughts of society than injuring this poor woman and the thousands of others who suffered with her; yet it is certain that if an account had been drawn between her and the administrators of public affairs, her charge against them would have been a very heavy one.
Her husband was carried off by force to pursue a calling which he dreaded and detested, instead of one which was his choice, and in which he had been prospering in the bosom of his family. Instead of standing at his oar while passing up and down the placid Tyne, he was compelled to face the belching cannon, and encounter toils and wounds, or death, on the tossing sea. Instead of going forth to his chosen labour with a jest, and returning with a whistle, he was driven reluctantly to his enforced duty, where he brooded over his wrongs till his countenance grew unaccustomed to a smile. Instead of catching up the chorus of the loyal songs he was wont to hear among the shipping at Shields, he now preserved a gloomy silence as often as King George was mentioned, seemed to have lost much of his scorn of the French, and turned a quick ear to any word that was dropped about America.
Adam felt himself interfered with, too. If he fulfilled the apprenticeship made by law the necessary condition of advantages which should be the right of every industrious man, if of any, he must not only be denied the power of working for himself for three years after he had become as capable of working as he could ever become, but the very advantages to be obtained by the sacrifice must be forfeited if he carried his labour to any market but one, where it might or might not be wanted. If he did not fulfil his apprenticeship, he had no chance in the same town with those who did. and must go somewhere else to work out the rights of citizenship by like arbitrary means. His privileges were also as precarious as they were arbitranly gained. If he lost a limb,—and all the limbs are needed in rope-making, —he could not turn to another trade without forfeiting his rights. It was believed that he could not even take his place at the wheel, instead of walking along the line; for, as it had been decided that turning a grindstone was not cutlery work, it might be proved that turning a wheel was not rope-making. There was no knowing what he might give his hand to, however resembling his regular employment; since the law told saddlers that the girths were no part of a saddle; that cutting the hoofs of a horse was the business of neither the farrier nor the smith; and that though a wheelwright may make a coach, a coachmaker may not make a wheel. What he did know was, that, however frequently and skilfully the law of apprenticeship might be evaded, he could not, under that law, obtain a settlement, be a master, take apprentices, or exercise his calling in his native place, without having served an apprenticeship of seven years. Many and many a time he wished that rope-making had been a business unknown to Queen Elizabeth; or that he had not been born in a market-town; or that the inventors of trade-corporations had been carried out of the world before completing their invention; or that he had been early transplanted to Manchester, or Birmingham, or some other of the happy places he had heard of, where the trammels by which he was bound are never spoken of but as a matter of marvel. He just contrived to have patience to finish his term of apprenticeship, that he might possess himself of the rights it would secure. His temper and character had suffered much under the pretended control and actual license of the latter part of his term; and fluctuations of health or trade might rob him of his privileges any day; but he was wise enough, by Effie's help, to take them while they could be had. While doing so, he could have treated any inquirer with a good deal of rough eloquence about the policy and the duty of leaving free scope to all labour to find its field of exercise and its reward.
Cuddie had his list of grievances, too—some actual, and others prospective, —all arising from his being meddled with by powers whose duty it was to take care that he was let alone in his industry. Cuddie was just seventeen; and, young as he was, he was liable to be taken from a peaceful to follow a warlike occupation on the seas. In the present day, he would have been safe till twenty-one: then, he was the lawful prey of any pressgang he might happen to encounter. When he should become capable of earning wages, there were many impediments to his working freely and being freely paid. There is actually an Act of Parliament to enforce all colliers in the Tyne being loaded in the order in which they arrive,—as if the coal-owners were not fit to judge for themselves of the state of their trade, and to proportion the number of ships employed to the demand for coal. Thus, if there were too many ships occupied, instead of some being laid by till they were wanted,—all being favoured by law with a certain portion of employment,—it must often happen that the depression falls upon the whole trade. Cuddie would thus be exposed to wait for his turn, however many colliers might be in the river, while his master was losing by the detention in port. No such regulation is found necessary in the Wear. The masters there are exempted from the irritation of being trammelled under the pretence of protection. Then, again, Cuddie must not presume to throw an ounce of coal from his ship into the lighter in the Thames. This office is the privilege of the coal-whippers or heavers, to whom the good people of London are obliged to pay 90,000l a-year for a service which, in the outports, is performed for nothing. Everywhere but in the Thames the crews of colliers discharge the cargo; but within the dominion of the corporation of London they are not at liberty to undertake the work, even though they would do for 2d. what a privileged coal-heaver asks Is. 7d. for doing. Cuddle must not only see the coal-trade discouraged by the enormous unnecessary charges laid upon the article by the Corporation of London, but he must be prevented selling his labour in discharging the cargo, to those who would be eager to purchase it, if they were allowed by those who have naturally no business to interfere in the bargain.
The evil of such meddling extended also to another member of the family—Effie, in her dwelling by the river side. Out of the interdiction to sell coal by weight came manœuvring and bargaining as to the mode in which coal should be measured. As it was found that large coal measured one-third more when broken to a certain extent, and nearly double when broken small, it became the interest of the shippers to buy coal large, and break it down before delivering it to the retail dealers in London, who, in their turn, broke it down further, to the injury of the consumer. Out of this management came the arrangement of screening the coal at the pit mouth; and out of this arrangement came the accumulation of small coal, which, instead of spreading comfort through a thousand dwellings, spread smoke and ashes over the neighbouring fields, injuring the harvests, and ruining some of Walter's plants and vegetables. The owners had no choice but of choking up their own works, or subjecting themselves to the penalties of a nuisance, incurred by the very act of wastefully destroying their own property. Thankful would they have been for the services of some such strong-backed demon as the ancient stories tell of, who would have cleared off at night the refuse of the labours of the day, transporting it three or four hundred miles to those to whom this refuse would have been wealth. Happily, this long-protracted absurdity has been abolished. It has at last been agreed no longer to sacrifice the interests of the original producers and the consumers of coal to that of the carriers and middle dealers, and coals may be sold by weight. But, for long after Effie married, her husband had sad tales to tell at his dinner-hour,—sad sights to show in the summer evenings of the devastation which the neighbouring burnings had caused in his garden. Compensation, scanty, and capricious, was given; but it was asked with trouble and pain, and bestowed unwillingly. It seems strange that while ruling powers are laudably anxious about the execution of public works,—to make their roads level and their pavements smooth, — they should so industriously perplex the paths of industry, and roughen the media of commerce. It is a bad thing to lame horses, and break carriages, and weary human feet; but it is infinitely worse to discourage industry, and to compel men to jostle and injure each other where there is naturally room for each to greet his neighbour kindly, and pass on.
Uncle Christopher looked one evening with concern, on a hedge which as much deserved the name of verdure as the shrubs in certain small squares in London, the morning after a fire in the neighbourhood. He was on the point of setting out on his long talked-of voyage to London, on the business of his patent; and he wished to take a parting view of the premises he had not quitted for twelve hours together, since, the day he was made a ferryman many years before. Strongly as he was persuaded that Walter and his young wife were, as yet, in danger of a much fiercer fire than any of the vast number which could be seen round the horizon on a dark night, he preserved such an affection for the results of their toil that he was full of wrath that mortal hands should kindle a fire against them. As he here shook his head mournfully over a row of shrivelled anemones, and there groaned at seeing the young asparagus waving grey instead of green, any brother leaders would have supposed that they were children of grace to whom all this sympathy was given. At the bottom of his grief lay the thought that, if this nuisance continued, Walter would be compelled to carry his gardening skill elsewhere. He could not carry the ferry with him, and then would come a sore struggle to choose between his son and his occupation. Walter would have been highly flattered if he could have looked into his father's heart, and seen how equally the struggle was maintained.
“I see the boat coming for you, with Cuddie in it—below the bend of the river there,” said Effie; “but you will have time to look at my young apricot, and tell me whether you think there is any chance of its bearing.”
She received a very broad hint about setting her heart upon favourites, but was comforted notwithstanding, by an encouraging opinion about the apricot: Walter was further told that he might just mention the asparagus and the apricot together in the first letter he should write after hearing of his father's arrival.
“Why, father ! do you really mean to write to us ?” cried Walter, in joyful surprise.
“No, no,” said Effie. “He means that we shall hear from Cuddie of his getting to London.”
“I mean that if, by grace, I get safe through the dangers of the deep waters, i shall give you the opportunity of being thankful for me.”
“And when will it be, father ?”
“The times are not in our own hands. Effie, you say the boat is to he chiefly your charge.”
“Yes, father, you know I have practised ferrying a good deal lately, on purpose.”
“She is more sure of her oar than I,” observed Walter.
“What of that ? Why do you puff her up ? Except One guide the boar, as well as build the house, we labour in vain, with our weak arm of flesh.”
“Indeed I am not puffed up about ferrying,” said Effie. “I know I cannot do it half so well as you. But I hope to improve before you come back.”
“May my office be given you in full! My outward oar is only a sign, child.—a type of the corresponding office which I hold, of setting souls safe over the abyss where they are like to be drowned, without some servant of mercy, like myself, to lodge them on plain ground. Think of this, my dear, as you pass to and fro.”
Effie could honestly promise not to forget this new interpretation of her office. Cuddie's skiff was now very near, and he was seen waving his hat as a signal; and immediately his uncle Christopher began assuring his son and daughter of the strength in which he went forth, and the faith with which he looked for protection by the way, and a safe return. There was a tremor of the hands, however, and a quaver of the voice which belied what he said, and gave an idea that he felt much as other quiet, elderly people feel on going forth, after years of repose in their own habits, to he startled by new objects and jostled amidst a busy new world.
“I believe he would give both of us for Cuddie at this moment,” observed Effie to her husband, as they stood in the ferry-boat from which the skiff bad just pushed off, with the would-be patentee sitting bolt upright, nursing the model of his invention, and looking the picture of resignation. “I do not know what he thinks of Cuddie's spiritual state; but it is my belief that he would part with us both rather than give up Cuddie just now. However little he thinks of young people, he looks up to Cuddle as his main dependence in the ship and on landing. I am sure he does; and I doubt whether he would have gone at all without Cuddie at his elbow.”
Walter thought so too, but wondered what was to be done about the matter of the patent, if his father should still be nervous. Cuddie could not help him there. It was to be hoped he would get warmed for the sport, when he should be once more mounted on his hobby.
“Come, let us go up into the garden,” said Effie. “We can watch them longer there.”
Much longer,—past the bend of the river, and then once more at the next curve, till nothing was to be distinguished amidst the grove of masts.
“Gone ! gone !” cried Effie, putting her arm within her husband's, and tripping up the slope with a step much more like a dance than any she had ever indulged within the notice of uncle Christopher,—as she had not yet cured herself of calling him. “Now, Walter, tell me. If we have to remove, where shall we go?”
“You seem to like the idea or flitting, Effie.”
“Fond as I was of this place before I came to live in it, you are thinking. Why, as for the place, I love it as much as ever, as we see it now, —with these laburnums hanging in this corner, and the acacia growing up to be a veil and not a blind. When I saw the moon through it last night, I thought it would be a sin ever to leave the place. But——”
“But there is something about it still that prevents your being happy here.”
“O no, no. Nothing to prevent my being happy. I am very happy,—happier than you will ever be, I am afraid, Walter; for, try as you will, you always find something to be fretted and anxious about, though you take more and more pains to hide it, even from me.”
“I am sure,” said Walter, very seriously, “I grow less and less anxious and distrustful;—ever since——not exactly ever since I knew you, for we knew each other before we could talk; but ever since I knew——”
“Very well; I understand what you mean; and you began describing that moment to me one day, just as if I knew nothing of it myself. O, Walter, do you really think there are any people that have passed through life without knowing what that moment was,—that stir in one's heart on being first sure that one is beloved? It is most like the soul getting free of the body, and rushing into Paradise, I should think. Do you suppose anybody ever lived a life without having felt this?”
Walter feared it might be so; but if so, a man missed the moment that made a man of one that was but an unthinking creature before; and a woman, the moment best worth living for, and that which joined her past life to the nothing that went before, and her future life to the heaven of realities that was to come after. But one thing he grieved to be sure of;—that this moment was not received as the token from God which it was designed to be; but in far, far too many cases, put away and denied. If this was done as a duty, and altogether as an act of the conscience, it only remained to be sorry that such a putting away was a duty,—but he was more than sorry, —he was ashamed and angry to witness the expectation in so many that they could bring back this moment whenever they pleased;—that they could call upon God to breathe into their hearts as often as they could bring their worldly interests to agree with His tokens.
“It seems to me,” said Effie, “that though God has kindly given this token of blessedness to all,—or to so many that we may nearly say all,—without distinction of great or humble, rich or poor,—the great and the lowly use themselves to the opposite faults. The great do not seem to think it the most natural thing to marry where they first love; and the lowly are too ready to love.”
“That is because the great have too many things to look to, besides love; and the lowly have too few. The rich have their lighted pa-laces to bask in, as well as the sunshine; and they must have a host of admirers, as well as one bosom friend. And when the poor man finds that there is one bliss that no power oil earth can shut him out from, and one that drives out all evils for the time,—one that makes him forget the noonday heats, and one that tempers the keen north wind, and makes him walk at his full height when his superiors lounge past him in the streets,—no wonder he is eager to meet it, and jogs the time-glass to make it come at the soonest. If such a man is imprudent, I had rather be he than one that first let it slip through cowardice, and would then bring it back to gratify hm low ambition.”
“And for those who let it go by for conscience' sake, and do not ask for it again?”
“Why, they are happy in having learned what the one feeling is that life is worth having for. They may make themselves happy upon it for ever, after that. O, Effie, you would not believe,—nothing could make you believe what I was the day before and the day after I saw that sudden change of look of yours that told me all. The one day, I was shrinking inwardly before everything I had to do, and every word of my father's, and everybody I met; and was always trying to make myself happy in myself alone, with the sense of God being near me and with me. That other day, I looked down upon everybody, in a kindly way;—and yet I looked up to them too, for I felt a respect that I never knew before for all that were suffering and enjoying; and I felt as if I could have brought the whole world nearer to God, if they would have listened to me. I shall never forget the best moment of all,—when my mind had suddenly ceased being in a great tumult, which had as much pain as pleasure in it. I had left my father getting up from breakfast, and I was just crossing yonder to take up my rake, when I said distinctly to myself, ‘she loves me,’ and heaven came down round about me that minute.”
Effie could have listened for aye; but the cry was heard from below—“Ferry !”—and she must go. Her husband “crossed to take up his rake,” and found occasion to remark at the instant that Effie tripped along as like the Effie of that day as if no day had intervened. Only her face showed the difference; and that was as if a new and higher spirit had come down to dwell in her.
On her return, the question recurred,
“If we have to leave this place, where shall we go?”
“Somewhere near the Deep Cut, it is my opinion. There will be much custom of all sorts there, when it is opened as a place of trade.”
“But there will be collieries near, and more burnings.”
“Not so as to trouble us, for some time to come. The proportion they have been in the habit of burning here, you know, is about 20 per cent. It will be some time before this becomes of much consequence in a new situation; and we will choose our place carefully. Besides, I cannot but think that, before long, everybody will see the folly of making such waste, for the sake of selling coal by measure instead of weight. If so, there will soon be an end of the burning.”
“And you think garden stuff will be much in request in the Deep Cut.”
“No doubt. There will be such a settling of people about that beautiful sluice, that there will be room for more gardeners than one.”
“And for ropemakers, among other craftsmen. I think Adam had better go, and make new ropes for the new ships that will carry away the new coals.”
“Ah ! if he was settled down with us in a place where he might work prosperously for him-self, he might prove steadier than his mother expects he will.”
“Beside us,—not with us,” said Effie. “You would not think of having any one to make a third again, would you? How comfortable every thing is this evening, while we are alone!— But how do you think your father will get on by himself?”
Walter had never entertained the idea of being of much consequence to his father, from the day of his childhood, when he was surprised at being searched for, at night-fall, among the haycocks, to this very afternoon, when he was full as much astonished to learn that his father meant to write to him. He agreed, however, that his parent ought not to be left, unless the destruction of the garden should make the removal a matter of necessity.
“If we must go, it will be a happy chance that such an opening offers in the neighbourhood.—What could the rector mean by throwing difficulties in the way?”
“He knows best; but I suppose he has some such fears as I have heard certain gentry had when turnpike roads were first introduced into this country. There were petitions in those days from the proprietors of land near London, that turnpike roads might be forbidden in distant counties, for fear there should be too much competition in articles of agricultural produce.”
“They have managed to have their own way, and regard their own interests pretty well since, for all the competition and the roads,” said Effie. “They seem to have been of the same mind with Queen Elizabeth, when she sent out orders to put a stop to the increase of London. They all seem to have fancied that whenever some people gain, others must certainly lose.”
“If this is not our reetor's notion, I do not know what is. But the fact is, whatever this company may gain by opening the Cut is neither more nor less than what is given them in return for the benefit they bestow upon the payers. As for the coal owners on the Tyne, they are as safe as they ought to be. If a demand rises up for all the coal both parties send out, every body will prosper. If not, those who can send out coal cheapest will have the most custom, as is perfectly fair.”
“And there is not the same reason for jealousy as there might be if one great rich man had opened this Cut at his own expense, to serve himself alone, and get all the coal trade to himself. I do not say that he would not have the right; but it would account for a jealousy which would be ridiculous when shown towards a company.”
“No man in our borders is rich enough to do such a work as this. It is the proper undertaking for a company; and I am heartily glad parliament has given them all the leave they asked for. In my opinion, it is the business of a company to do that which individuals have not wealth or power to achieve; and it is the duty of government to smile on undertakings which favour the industry of the people, as much as to frown on the selfish who would get its grace to enrich themselves at the expense of others. In this view, I think parliament as just and kind in countenancing the Deep Cut, as Queen Elizabeth was unjust and unkind in giving patents to her courtiers for the sale of soap and starch, and other things that everybody wanted.”
“Courtiers selling soap and starch! What sort of courtiers could they be?”
“Why, not exactly like the gentlemen who are about the king in these days. But those courtiers did not sell their soap and starch with their own hands. They sold their patents to companies of merchants, who, of course, laid a pretty profit on the articles, as the patentees had done before; and so the people were cheated.”
“Cheated indeed ! we are better off than they, to be sure.”
“Yes, indeed; it cheers one's heart to think how free our industry is left in comparison with what it was, and how the fashion is passing away of enriching the few at the expense of the many. Great things have been done for the people, indeed; and it almost makes one ashamed to complain of the restraints on their industry that yet remain, when one thinks of what they once were.”
“Nay, I do not see why that should be, as long as there is any mischief which may still be done away. If it is really a hardship that handicraftsmen in particular places, and of particular kinds, should be tied down to a seven years' apprenticeship, and that masters, in certain crafts, should be allowed to take only a certain number of apprentices, and that the Corporation of London should make the London people pay shamefully dear for their coals, and hurt our fields and gardens, and that men should be taken from a prosperous occupation to follow one that they hate, like my poor father,—it is our duty to complain till the government sets these things right, how-ever grateful we may be for what they have already done, and however we may be better off than our fathers. It would be a sad thing indeed to have to pay any price for our starch that our Duke of Northumberland might choose to sell it for.”
“And the practice spread to so many articles! When the list of them was read over, (I have heard my father say,) in Queen Elizabeth's parliament house, some gentleman called out to ask if bread was not among them: and when everybody stared, he said that unless the matter was looked into, there would be a monopoly of bread before the next parliament.”
“And was there? I suppose nobody dared.”
“Nobody: but wondrous things were dared in the reigns that came after. King Charles, who managed to offend his people in more ways than almost any king I ever heard of, took 10,000l. from some soap-merchants for allowing them to manage the snap manufacture all their own way, and put as high a price upon it as they pleased. They gave him further eight pounds for every ton of soap they made, so you may guess how dear it came to the people.”
“That was a very different sort of company from the one which has managed the Deep Cut. This last is making coals come cheap to the people. I suppose you think they have a fair right to any profits they may make, however large.”
“This particular company, certainly; because they do not offer advantages which people must have, and which cannot be had in any other way. There being so many other coal works, and such outlets as the Tyne and the Wear not far off, will prevent the company making such over-grown profits as the people would be right to grudge: but the case is different in different sorts of undertakings. If a company opens a road, and charges too high a toll, another company may open another road, and cause a competition; but if a company opens waterworks, and possesses all the springs within a certain distance, almost any price may be put upon the supply: and therefore I think government should, while giving privileges, take care that they do not overgrow just bounds. A man cannot change his water-merchant as he can change his baker or brewer; and therefore, if government makes him a customer of the mighty water-merchant, it should take care that he is not overcharged. I have heard my father talk a good deal about these things. He has looked much into them,—not only because he particularly dislikes being overcharged, but because his thoughts of taking out a patent have led him to learn all he could about privileges given by governments to trade and to ingenious undertakings.”
“Ah, I was thinking of him when you talked about those patents. I never found out, from your manner, that you thought ill of what he is gone to seek?”
“Nor do I, if it answers its purpose. There is all the difference in the world between a patent to sell what lies before everybody's industry, and a patent to sell what a man has invented by his own ingenuity, and perfected at his own trouble and expense. If a patent could secure to a man the sale of his own article till tie has reaped the reward society owes him, I should think very highly of a patent: and it is only because it is so difficult to secure this, that I have any doubts about my father's trip to London. But it is a hard thing to manage. A world of difficulties are sure to crowd in whenever legislation is brought to bear directly upon industry. There are so many interests to be considered, and it is so impossible to foresee how and where they interfere, that my wonder is how governments can like to meddle as they used to do. One would think that they would be glad to let industry alone, to find its own channels and nourish its own harvests. Indeed the time does seem to be coming when legislatures will leave off troubling themselves to meddle with those whose interest lies in being let alone.”
“Do you think it really signifies very much to so many trading people as there are in this country whether government lets them alone, or meddles here and there?”
“Why, Effie, it signifies altogether,—as much as possible. How many trading families do you fancy might be affected by government interference, in one way or another?”
A few hundred thousand, Effie supposed.
“Do you know that there are not more than 160,000 families in Great Britain deriving any income at all from trade, manufactures, and professions?”
“No more than that? And, to be sure, many of these must be so rich that they can very well bear such interference.”
“Not so many,” replied her husband, smiling. “Fewer than 4000 have more than 1000l. a year; and not more than 40,000 have an income above 150l. a year.”
“Leaving 120.000 with an income below 150l. a year. These last must feel the effect of restraint very much; and I think, if there are no more than you say, that all must feel it more or less.”
“And through them many that have nothing to do with trade,” observed Walter, looking sorrowfully at a favourite shrub which was already dropping its yellow leaves. “What a mistake it seems, Effie, to be lighting those red and yellow fires within sight of this brimming blue river, and the sloping banks, that look so green in the evening sun! What a cruelty it seems to be sending puffs of smoke over the water to touch and shrivel this hanging laburnum, that you put into the ground!”
Effie well remembered the planting of that laburnum. When she and Walter were children, and used to bring wild strawberries from the wood, and plant the roots at noon, shading them from the hot sun under a suspended pinafore; when Effie used to dig a pond which would hold no water, and Walter a grave in which he used to lie down to see what being buried was like; when they mounted the wheel-barrow to took over the hedge and count how many left legs were jerked backwards as the keelmen pulled the oars in the keels that passed;—in those old days, somebody had given Effie a few lupin seeds, which Walter carefully planted, while Effie stuck in a twig—dead, as she thought,—to mark the spot. This twig burst into leaf, and grew into the tall laburnum which was now waving its branches against the blue sky; and every time that Effie had looked upon it, a feeling of complacency had come over her, as if she had performed a feat—given life to a tree, or been the occasion of a miracle. There was scarcely a growing thing in Walter's beautiful garden that she would not have devoted to the smoke in preference.
The smoke looked surly and encroaching as it rose and spread itself in the darkening sky, after the sun had gone down. It did not, how ever, deter Effie from going into the midst of it, when it was really too late for Walter to work any more, and he could attend to the ferry while she just ran to tell her mother that uncle Christopher was gone; that Cuddie and he had been watched in safety a good way down the river, and that tidings of their further voyage might be soon expected by letter.