Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION V.: EMPLOYMENT. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
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SECTION V.: EMPLOYMENT. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
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I. Of what nature shall be the employments carried on in this house? of what quality, in consequence, the labour exacted of the prisoners?
2. In what quantity shall that labour be?
3. How much within the day? how many, and what working hours?
4. Any more at one season than another? and if so, at what season?
5. Any difference according to length of standing? i. e. according to the share which has elapsed of each man’s respective term?
To each of these questions I will endeavour to find some answer: not surely in every instance with the view of fettering my contractor; nor in any instance is it for his sake that I should think of encroaching upon his free-will: but it will do him no harm at least to hear what I have to say to him in the way of suggestion or advice. Beyond advice I should never think of going with him in that view, though I were armed with all the powers of law; since the more incontestible the goodness of the advice, in the shape of advice, the more palpable the inutility of it in the shape of obligation.
Of these five rules, the third, fourth, and fifth, are inserted here principally in deference to the penitentiary act; the fifth, in particular, is one which would never, I confess, have gained entrance into my imagination, but through the medium of that statute.
I. Of what quality? To that question I must give three answers:—
1. The most lucrative (saving the regard due to health) that can be found.
2. Not one only, but two at least in alternation, and that in the course of the same day.
3. Among employments equally lucrative, sedentary are preferable to laborious.
1. What, then, are the most lucrative, will it be asked? Who can say?—least of anybody, the legislator. Sometimes one sort, sometimes another. No one sort can possibly, unless by dint of secresy or legal monopoly, stand in that predicament for ever. But there are those which are essentially disqualified from ever standing in it: they are those, as we shall see, which stand foremost on the list recommended by the penitentiary act.
2. Thus far, however, may be answered in the first instance: No one sort at any time; two at least should succeed one another in the course of the same day. Why? because no one sort will answer all the conditions requisite. Health must never be neglected. The great division is into sedentary and laborious. Consult health: a sedentary employment must be sweetened every now and then by air and exercise—a laborious employment by relaxation. But exercise is not the less serviceable to health for ministering to profit; nor does relaxation mean inaction: when inaction is necessary, sleep is the resource; a sedentary employment is itself relaxation with regard to a laborious one. And though the body should even be in a state of perfect rest, that need not be the case with the mind. When a man has worked as long as without danger to health he can do at a sedentary employment, he may therefore add to his working time, by betaking himself to a laborious one: when a man has worked as long as without pain and hardship he can do at a laborious employment, he may work longer by changing it for a sedentary one. No one employment can therefore be so profitable by itself, as it might be rendered by the addition of another. Mixture of employments, then, would be one great improvement in the economy of a prison.
In the mixture thus made, which of the ingredients, supposing them on a par with respect to profit, ought on other accounts to predominate? The sedentary: and that upon two grounds—economy and peace. The harder the labour, the more in quantity, and the more nourishing in quality, the food requisite to enable a man to go through with it. At the same time, the higher fed a man in such a situation is, the more robust and formidable he will be in case of his becoming refractory, and the more likely to become so. Among men in general, but more particularly among men of a description so untamed, a daring temper is the natural concomitant of a robust frame. A blacksmith or sawyer will naturally require more food, and that of a more substantial kind, than a weaver, a staymaker, or a tailor. This latter consideration, it is true, refers only to the common plans: in a Panopticon, be the prisoners well or ill fed, strong or weak, the peace of the house is equally secure.*
Mixture ministers to economy in other ways: it helps quantity, it improves quality. By variety it renders each less irksome; but the less irksome a man’s work is to him, the more as well as the better he will work.
Could a man be made even to find amusement in his work, why should not he? and what should hinder him? Are not most female amusements works?—are not all manly exercises hard labour?†
ii. How much in quantity?—Of course, as much as can be extracted from each without prejudice to health. The question is already put—the answer already given: it is given by the rule of economy—it is given by the rule of severity; nor is there anything in the rule of lenity to contradict it.
iii. What, then, should be the working hours? As many of the four and twenty as the demand for meals and sleep leave unengaged.
Would the number be too great to be spent in an employment of the laborious class? Give the surplus to a sedentary one. Suppose, then, two employments of the different classes equally productive, and that the laborious one is too fatiguing to be continued during half the number of the working hours, what is to be done? Take away from this employment hour after hour, and transfer them to the unlaborious one: do this, till there remains no more of the former than a man can fill up in that manner, without being debarred by the fatigue from bestowing the whole remainder of the disposable time on the sedentary employment.
To what imaginable good purpose, even in the way of amusement, could so much as a moment of absolute inaction serve?—to conversation? But what should hinder their talking from morning till night, if they are disposed for it? Not meals, certainly; no, nor work neither: few laborious employments exclude conversation, and scarce any sedentary ones.
iv. More hours at one season than another?—Another question already answered; and answered in the negative. In all seasons as much as may be; therefore at no season more or less than at another. Less of the laborious, perhaps, at one time than another; viz. less now and then, when the heat of the weather is such as to render the laborious employment too fatiguing: but then so much the more of the sedentary. Now and then, the heat may be so great, for a part of the twenty-four hours, that almost any sort of bodily exertion would be hardship. Be it so: but if this can happen at any time, it is only by accident—it is not the effect of the season, but the event of the day; and though the body rest, it is no reason why the mind should lie in waste. Though it be too hot, for instance, to weave, it will hardly be too hot to write, to read, or hear a lesson.
v. Fewer hours, or less work done in the time, at one degree of standing in the prison than at another?—Why should there? or, consistently with the rules already laid down, can there be? At every period, as much work as can be obtained—as great a part of the twenty-fours employed in work, as, consistently with the above limitation, can be; therefore, in every part the same.
Thus says plain humble economy: what says the penitentiary act? We shall see. The first thing it does is to set out with a wrong object—labour for labour’s sake. Had economy been the mark, the demands of lenity, as well as of due severity, might have been all along satisfied with little trouble, and without any expense. Abandoning the first, it attains neither of the other two; aiming sometimes at the second, sometimes at the third, it attains neither: vast expense in straining the discipline, and it is inordinately relaxed; vast expense in relaxing it, and it is intolerably severe.
At the first step, economy is kicked out of doors. Two classes of prisoners—two classes of employments; one requiring the most violent exertions—the other, none. Whether a prisoner shall be put to the one or to the other is to depend—upon what? The money to be earned? No; but upon “age, sex, health, and ability;”—age, sex, health, and ability, and nothing else. What is the professed object?—profit? No: Hardness, servility, drudgery—and there it ends. “Every” prisoner is to be “kept”—yes, every prisoner—so far as is consistent with—“sex, age, health, and ability, to labour of the hardest and most servile kind, in which drudgery is chiefly required;”—such as “treading in a wheel, drawing in a capstern,” and so forth; “and those of less health and ability, regard being also had to age and sex, in picking oakum, weaving, spinning, knitting, or any other less laborious employment,” [§ 33.] How many, then, are to be employed in the sedentary sort of employments?—as many as can be employed to greater advantage than in the other? No; but those, and those only, to whom, for want of health and ability, the “hard,” and “servile,” and “drudging” work cannot be given. No picking, no weaving, no spinning, no knitting, though orders came without number for that sort of work, and not one for the labour of the capstern or the wheel. It is to be a mere Catherine wheel, or an Ixion’s wheel—a mere engine of punishment, and nothing else. Two modes of employment present themselves: the first as hard work again as the second—the second as profitable again as the first; the individual equally free for either. What can be done? Either the unprofitable one must be given him, and the profitable one rejected, or the principle of the act departed from, and its injunctions flatly disobeyed.
We are told somewhere towards the close of Sully’s Memoirs, that for some time after the decease of that great and honest minister, certain high mounts were to be seen at no great distance from his house. These mounts were so many monuments of his charity; for those of his economy stood upon very different and more public ground. The poor in his neighbourhood happened to have industry to spare, and the best employment he could find for it was, to remove dirt from the place where it lay, to another where it was of no use.
By the mere force of innate genius, and without having ever put himself to school to learn economy of a French minister, a plain English jailor, whom Howard met with, was seen practising this revived species of pyramid architecture in miniature. He had got a parcel of stones together, shot them down at one end of his yard, and set the prisoners to lug them to the other: the task achieved, “Now,” says he, “you may fetch them back again.” Being asked what was the object of this industry, his answer was—“To plague the prisoners.” This history is a parable—this governor the type of our legislator. Ask him, “What is work good for?” answer—“To plague prisoners?”*
We have seen the constant benefit of alternation. What says the act? Laborious with laborious, sedentary with sedentary, if you please. Sedentary with laborious? Yes; it you can make a prisoner go backwards and forwards from constitution to constitution, from sex to sex, and from age to age. We have seen the occasional benefit of change: what latitude does the act allow on this head? The same. Should a greedy governor attempt in either way to smuggle economy into the house, the rigid hand of a committee-man, or an inspector, or a visiting justice, might pull him by the sleeve and say to him, “Sir, this must not be; it is contrary to law. You may put those of the one class to tread in a wheel, draw in a capstern, saw stone, polish marble, beat hemp, rasp logwood, chop rags, or make cordage, as you please; you may set the others to pick oakum, weave sacks, spin yarn, or knit nets: but know, sir, that by him who is for the capstern or the wheel, no nets are to be knit, yarn to be spun, sacks to be woven, or oakum to be picked. When the capstern heaver has hoven till he can heave no more, he is to sit, lie, or stand still and lounge: when he who has been picking oakum is in want of air and exercise, he may go and take a walk, provided his walking hour be come, and that no other use be made of it. And mind, sir, that a man of the wheel-walking cast be not turned over to oakum-picking—although all the wheels should be engaged, or although there should be a demand more than can be supplied, for the oakum, and none for the labour of the wheel. For know, sir, that we are in Hindostan—Bramah has spoken—the castes must not be confounded.”
“Imagination! imagination!—as if there were a magistrate in the kingdom that could hold such language.” O yes, many: patience, and we shall see. Meantime, does not the act say all this? What does it say then? What is the object of the clause, or what the use of it?
What is at the bottom of this predilection for hard labour? Sound. The labour is made hard, that it may be called hard; and it is called hard, that it may be frightful, for fear men should fall in love with it. Hard labour was the original object. The error is no new one: sentences of commitment to hard labour are as frequent in our penal code as the execution of them has been rare. It is no peculiar one: it is to be found upon the continent as well as here. Dutch rasp-house—Flemish maison de force—everything impressed the mind with the idea of hard labour. House of hard labour was accordingly the original name. House of hard labour, it was suggested by somebody, is a name by which no house will ever be called, and the well-imagined word penitentiary-house was put in its stead. But though the name was laid aside, the impression which had suggested that name remained in force.
The policy of thus giving a bad name to industry, the parent of wealth and population, and setting it up as a scarecrow to frighten criminals with, is what I must confess I cannot enter into the spirit of. I can see no use in making it either odious or infamous. I see little danger of a man’s liking work of any kind too well; nor if by mischance it should fail of providing him in suffering enough, do I see the smallest difficulty of adding to the hardness of his lot, and that without any addition to the hardness of his labour. Do we want a bugbear? Poor indeed must be our invention, if we can find nothing that will serve but industry? Is coarse diet nothing? is confinement—is loss of liberty in every shape—nothing? To me it would seem but so much the better, if a man could be taught to love labour, instead of being taught to loath it. Occupation, instead of the prisoners’ scourge, should be called, and should be made as much as possible, a cordial to him. It is in itself sweet, in comparison of forced idleness; and the produce of it will give it a double savour. The mere exertion, the mere naked energy, is amusement, where looser ones are not to be found. Take it in either point of view, industry is a blessing: why paint it as a curse?*
Hard labour? labour harder than ordinary, in a prison? Not only it has no business there, but a prison is the only place in which it is not to be had. Is it exertion that you want? violent exertion? Reward, not punishment, is the office you must apply to. Compulsion and slavery must, in a race like this, be ever an unequal match for encouragement and liberty; and the rougher the ground, the more unequal. By what contrivance could any man be made to do in a jail, the work that any common coal-heaver will do when at large? By what compulsion could a porter be made to carry the burthen which he would carry with pleasure for half a crown? He would pretend to sink under it: and how could you detect him? Perhaps he would sink under it—so much does the body depend upon the mind. By what threats could you make a man walk four hundred miles, as Powell did, in six days? Give up, then, the passion for penitentiary hard labour, and, among employments not unhealthy, put up with whatever is most productive.
It is to this grim phantom of hard labour that economy, however, is sacrificed in a thousand shapes. Trades fixed, though they should be losing ones: working-hours—half, as we shall see, struck off at one stroke; then a considerable share of the remaining pittance; then again a double share: laborious employments prescribed, to the exclusion of sedentary ones; employments which demand much food, to the exclusion of those which require but little: and after all these sacrifices, and all this regulation, more regulation added, by which it is made impossible, as we shall see, to have hard labour as hard here as elsewhere.
As to the general complexion of the employment, the act, as we have seen, is peremptory: as to the particular species, it contents itself with recommendation. But even recommendation had much better have been let alone. Bad or good, a recommendation in such a matter has no business in a law: bad, it is pernicious; good, it is unnecessary. Is an act of parliament a place to say to a man, “Sir, here is a trade which will answer your purpose?”
Good when given, it will be bad soon after. Two things, and two things only—a secret and a monopoly—can give to any sort of trade a permanent superiority of advantage. Bad? it is positively pernicious—it is not simply useless. Recommendation falling from such a height acquires force, and has the effect of a command. We shall see it has. Unfortunately, the recommendations given here are not only bad in the details, but bad in principle: bad in principle, by assuming that human force, when separated from human reason, is capable of being made use of to advantage; bad in detail, by exhibiting among the modes of giving application to human force, some that are peculiarly disadvantageous.
In the first place, bad in principle. There are two modes of applying human labour: one is where the task of generating the force and that of giving direction to it, are the work of the same man; as in common sawing performed by hand, or turning in a foot lathe: the other is, where the task of production is performed by one man, and that of direction by another; as in a turning lathe turned by a detached wheel. In the latter way, human labour, when employed for the mere purpose of labour, can never be employed to advantage upon a large scale. Why? because, not to mention wind, water, and steam, there are always animals to be found, any one of which may be made to generate more force than many men, without costing so much to keep as one. If, then, all the brute force you want is no more than what a single man is enough to generate, human labour may so far be employed in that way to advantage; for you cannot have a beast to work without employing a human creature, a boy at least, to keep it to its work.* But if the quantity of force you want is anything above what one man can generate and keep up for a sufficient length of time, to employ human force in that brute way, can never answer: an old blind horse, an ox, perhaps even an ass, will turn a wheel, a little boy will serve for driving, and the keep of beast and boy together will perhaps not exceed the keep of one man, certainly not equal that of two.†
The elementary primum-mobiles, wind, water, steam, wherever they can be applied, are applied, as being cheaper, in preference even to the animal: still cheaper of course they must be than that which consists of human labour.‡
“But do not you yourself make this use of human labour? do not you employ in this way, not one, not two of your prisoners, but the whole number?” Yes; that I do: but why? because I get it for nothing; which is still less than what the boy and the ass would cost me. I can undersell the broom-maker, who stole the sticks: I steal my brooms ready made. The labour I employ in this way, I steal the whole of it from idleness. The same labour does the business of health and economy at the same time. My prisoners, if they did not walk in a wheel, must, like other prisoners, walk out of a wheel: and, in the latter case, the same degree of exercise would require more time spent in walking, than in the former.
Inexpediency in detail is another property of these imperious recommendations. For instances of laborious employments, eight sorts of operations are promiscuously brought together: “Treading in a wheel, or drawing in a capstern for turning a mill or other engine, sawing stone, polishing marble, beating hemp, rasping logwood, chopping rags, and making cordage.”
What are we to understand from this heterogeneous specification? In the two first instances, the only thing mentioned is the mode of generating the force: in the other six, the direction to be given to it, the application to be made of it. Is it that the force generated, as in the two first instances, is meant to be applied to produce the effects respectively specified in the other six? Hardly. Sawing stone and polishing marble, I am assured, are operations that have never yet been performed any otherwise than by hand. Beating hemp and rasping logwood are performed thriftily by wind and water; unthriftily here and there perhaps by hand: hemp-beating, especially, so unthriftily as to be banished from all free manufactories, and confined to prisons, where its sole use is, like that of the blunt saw, to plague those who work with it. Chopping rags is performed, at all paper-mills I ever saw or heard of, by the force of that element, an abundant supply of which is essential to the manufacture. Was a business like this ever performed by a mill or other engine moved by a walking-wheel or capstern? I must have good proof of it before I believe it. My conclusion is, that in the recommendation of the wheel and the capstern “for turning a mill or other engine,” the views of the legislator had not got the length of pitching upon any particular sort of work to be performed by the mill or other engine—that the operations mentioned immediately afterwards were not meant as instances of work to be performed by such means; but that the intention was, that they should all of them be performed by hand. If so, two different misrecommendations are enveloped in this one clause. One is, the employing of human labour for the generation of brute force, in preference to the elementary and other irrational agents: the other is, the performing by hand a variety of operations, not only to the neglect of the most advantageous methods of employing machinery, but to the neglect of those very methods which itself has been pointing out.
As to the making of cordage, the ineligibility of such an employment for such a place has been pretty fully shown above.* Immense space—that space inclosed at an immense expense, which, be it ever so immense, will hardly be sufficient—and all this to carry on a manufactory of implements of escape.
The strangest recommendation is that which is intimated by the placing the labour of the wheel and that of the capstern on the same line, as if indifferently applicable to the same purposes. The first is of all the known modes of generating pure force by human exertion the most advantageous: the other, unless in very particular circumstances, perhaps the least so. In the place in question, these circumstances are never to be found. Compared with a perpendicular wheel, the sort of horizontal wheel called a capstern would, in such a place, be a miserable contrivance. The most painful and intolerable muscular contraction will not produce, in the latter way, a quantity of force approaching to that which is produced by the successive application of the weight of the body in the mere act of walking in the other. The capstern-heaver would be dead before the wheel-walker felt the sensation of fatigue.† The advantage of that horizontal wheel is, that you can put more men by far to it than you can put to the perpendicular one: you can lengthen the levers; you can multiply them to a great degree; you could even put story of them over story. Hence it is of use where, having plenty of men, who if not employed in this way could not be employed at all, you want now and then a heavy lot of work done in a short time. Such is the case in seamanship. Accordingly, in seamanship the capstern is made use of with great advantage—in heaving anchors out, in raising them, and so forth; and I question whether there be another instance.‡ Since the world began, I do believe it has never been employed to keep up a constant force.
Even laying profit out of the question, as the authors of the penitentiary act do, and setting up labour as its own end without looking for any thing beyond it, we shall find the lesson equally pregnant with delusion. Even in this point of view, nothing can be more opposite than the labour of the capstern and that of the wheel. Wheel-work is open to abuse on neither side: capstern-work, on both sides.* Laziness on the part of the workman, negligence or partiality on the part of the inspector, may reduce the exertion to nothing: tyranny may screw it up to a pitch fatal to life.
Nor is wheel-work less happily adapted to the purposes of economy in other points of view. Knowing by trial the quantity of force necessary for giving motion to your wheel, you can provide for the keeping up of that force with the utmost certainty: you can know before-hand what each man can and will do, as well as afterwards whether he has or has not done it. In this way, as no man can cheat you, nor is the quantity of work dependent at all upon good-will, slave’s work is worth as much as freeman’s work, neither being capable of doing more nor better than the other in the same time.†
The regulation about hours strikes me, I must confess, as a most extraordinary one. Working-hours, never more than ten out of the four-and-twenty; and, for a quarter of the year, not more than eight: eight for three months, nine for two months more, and ten for the other seven. For greater certainty, a curfew clause: all lights and fires out before nine. Of the quantity of labour that might be had, more than five parts out of 15 in point of time, as we shall see,‡ thrown away, for the sake of getting the other nine or ten of a hard sort: and all the while, by this very limitation in point of time, matters so arranged, that it shall be not only difficult on other accounts to have the labour as hard here as elsewhere, but upon this account impossible.—This an act for the promotion of hard labour! Say rather for the prevention of it.
What a lesson to the country! That little more than half the labour the honest poor, the industrious tradesman, are forced to go through in order to live, is a lot too hard for felons! What is the tendency, not to say the fruit, of all this hard labour so unhappily bestowed in the field of legislation? to render hard labour impossible in the place it is specially destined for, and odious everywhere else.
In one circumstance of it, the regulation is a perfect riddle to me:—most work when the weather is hottest. That the number of working-hours should be made variable according to the heat of the weather, how little necessary soever as we have seen, was, however, natural enough; but the principle by which the variation is determined seems a perfect paradox. When was the number to be the greatest?—when the season was hottest—in the height of summer: when the least? when the season was coldest—in the depth of winter: in the temperate months, it was to take a middle course. What can have been the object here? In a clause in which the quantity of labour was directly and professedly limited and reduced, one should have thought, it had been lenity and indulgence. But where is the indulgence of working a man hardest when he is hottest, and giving him least work when work would be a blessing to him, to keep him from the cold?
Even the propriety of marking the temperature in this imperfect and indirect way by the season, instead of the perfect and direct way, would itself be questionable. For observe the consequence: work is to be lessened (or, as this clause will have it, increased) upon the supposition of its being sultry, when perhaps it is below temperate: work is to be increased (or, as this clause will have it, diminished) upon the supposition of its being hard weather, when perhaps it is above temperate. Whether the thermometer is between 20 and 40, or between 50 and 60, or between 60 and 80, is a fact just as easy to ascertain as whether it be January, April, or August. If the idea of regulating work by temperature is not ridiculous, it is not accuracy that will render it so. If heat and cold are to be measured, it is surely as well to do it by a right standard as by a wrong one.
But we have already seen that it is quality only, and not quantity of work, that ought to be influenced by temperature; and that neither the one nor the other ought to be regulated by law.
Eight then, and no more, is the greatest number of hours during which, in the cold season, any sort of work, sedentary or laborious, is in this establishment for hard labour to be carried on: so at least says section 34. True it is, that by section 45, a possibility is created of a prisoner’s working at additional hours over and above those which have been mentioned. A possibility? Yes; and that is quite enough to say of it. A special permission must be given by the committee: it is to be given only “to the most diligent and meritorious;” only “in the way of reward or encouragement”—they may choose whether they will give it in this shape, or in that of an allowance of a part of the earnings of the stated hours: it is to be only “during the intervals of the stated labour;” not therefore in any interval between a time of labour and any other time, such as that of rest or meals: all “working tools, implements, and materials” ... ... that “will admit of daily removal,” are, by section 34, to be “removed” when the “hours of work are passed, to places proper for their safe custody, there to be kept till the hour of labour shall return;” and by section 40, “the doors of all the lodging-rooms are to be locked (with the prisoners, I suppose, in them,) and all lights therein extinguished, after the hour of nine.”
A possibility (did I say?) of extra work? Yes; and what is there more? The governor, on whom it so unavoidably depends, has motives given him for thwarting it, and none for forwarding it: none for forwarding it, since the earnings at these extra-hours are to go entire to the prisoner-workmen—no part of them to him. But of the labour of the stated hours, a great part, if not the whole, is to go to him. [§ 20.] Of the hard work, which is the only sort the act allows of where hard work can be got, so much as can be got within the compass of the stated hours, he will therefore be sure to get from them: but of the only two species of labour which the act exhibits at the head of the list of specimens and patterns (treading in a wheel, and heaving at a capstern,) there is not one which it would be possible for a taskmaster to compel the continuance of, so much as during eight hours of the twenty-four, the smallest of the numbers of stated hours prescribed. Judge, then, whether he will give up any of that time which is his, in order to make them a present of it.*
Another anticlimax not less extraordinary is yet behind: labour made less and less, according to length of standing. When a man has served a third of his time, so much is to be struck off from his work;† when two thirds, so much more. Less and less of it there is thus to be, the more valuable it is become to everybody, the easier it sits upon himself, and the nearer he is arrived to the period when he will have that and nothing else to depend upon for his subsistence.‡
What is at the bottom of all this contrivance?—possibly the principle of the blunt saw: when prisoners require most plaguing, most labour is to be got out of them; when less plaguing will suffice, the superfluous labour is to be tossed by, as being of no further use. While their work is troublesome to them, and they are awkward at it, and it is worth but little, they are to be made do as much of it as they can: the more it comes to be worth, as it answers in a less degree the purpose of plaguing them, the less of it there is to be.
At Westminster school, the climax of instruction takes, if it is not much altered within these thirty years, a somewhat different course. Whatever be the task, the longer a boy has been about it, the greater is the quantity of it expected from him in a given time. Memory, invention, whatever be the faculty concerned, the supposition is, that it would rather be improved than impaired, fortified than debilitated, by use. If ten lines are to be got by heart for an exercise in the second form, twenty lines are to be mastered the same way in the third. If a Greek distich is to be construed and parsed in the fourth form, a tetrastich is to be discussed within the same time and in the same manner in the fifth. The supposition there evidently is, that learning is a good thing—that the more a boy can be made to imbibe of it the better—and that, in short, he could hardly have too much. That any proposition to this effect was hung up in any part of the school-room, is more than I ever heard. But if it had been, it could not have been more thoroughly recognised, nor the truth of it more steadily assumed in practice. In these new invented schools of penitence and industry, a proposition not less steadily assumed and implicitly conformed to is, that industry, that productive labour, is a bad thing—that it is fit only for punishment—that an honest man cannot have too little of it: that it is fit only for felons, and for them only while the marks of guilt are fresh upon their heads—that the less of it a man goes through, the better it is for him. Accordingly, the object of this clause is to wean him from it by degrees; regarding it as fit not for ordinary diet, but only for physic, the dose of it is lessened, in proportion as the effect with a view to which it was first administered, is supposed to be produced.
For my part, I see nothing in the principle pursued in the school of literature that should render it unfit for adoption in the school of productive industry: I can find nothing in the design of either institution that should prevent its reception in the other. But were there in this case a repugnancy that I do not see, so that all that I could obtain were the option of giving it to the one or to the other as I chose, I must confess it would be to the more humble establishment of the two that I should be disposed to give the preference. It is by reading Latin and Greek that we learn to read Greek and Latin; but it is by digging, and grinding, and weaving, that we live.
I have sometimes thought that, considering the light in which the matter seems to have been viewed, industry has been let off tolerably cheap, and that it is a happiness the divisions in this newly-devised school of industry have not been more than half the number of those in the school of literature. Had there been as many classes at Wandsworth as there are forms at Westminster, it would not be easy to say to what profundity of gentlemanly repose the anti-climax might have been pushed. As, in the one place, the seventh form is filled with the few whose persevering spirit enables them to tug at Hebrew roots; so, to the other, none should be admitted whose oblivion of labour had not learnt to shew itself at their finger’s ends, as in China, by a seven-inch length of nail.
The stock of relaxants is not yet exhausted. When hours after hours of the working-time have been struck off, for fear the prisoners should not yet be idle enough, some of the best of them are to be picked out, their work is to be taken altogether out of their hands, and they are to be suffered to go idling about the house. By a separate section inserted for the purpose (§ 39,) the governor is empowered “to employ at his discretion any” ... ... “who shall be ranked in the third class, as servants, overseers, or assistants, in the management of the works, and care of their fellow-prisoners, instead of being confined to such their daily labour as aforesaid.”
I say idling; for house-service, in comparison of a working trade, is idleness: superintendence of course, still greater idleness. A preceding clause (§ 32) took them from whatever good trades they had been bred to, to put them to a bad trade, contrived for punishment and nothing else. A part of them are now to be taken even from that bad trade. By the time their term is out, and they are to be turned loose again upon the wide world, they are to have unlearned every thing that can afford them the smallest prospect of a maintenance. For in such a place what possible provision can house-service lead to? who will take house-servants from such a house? House-service requires confidence: character is insisted on. Of handicraft trades, most require very little, some scarce any.
The clause calls itself an enabling clause. What is it? Were it any thing, it would be a restraining one. Servants—what servants worth speaking of can really be wanted in such a house? Are the prisoners to be too proud, or has the act made them too busy, to sweep out their own rooms? Could not the task of keeping clean the common rooms (since upon this plan there were to be common rooms) be performed by rotation? does it require picked men to do it? I say it is in effect a restraining clause. Supposing no such regulation, such sort of service, what little of it there is necessary, would have been performed on one or other of two plans.—either upon the rotation plan, every one doing a small share; or, were any selection made for a sort of service requiring no sort of skill, it would be of such as were awkwardest at their trades. I speak of a manager of common plain sense, who were not handcuffed, and whose profit were staked upon the success. Here he is dissuaded from the rotation plan; an establishment of servants is recommended to him; and in choosing them, he is forbidden to take them from any of the three classes but that which includes such as are expertest at their trades, as far as expertness is to be inferred from practice.
I call it, then, a restraining clause—and so it is with regard to good management and industry: for with regard to abuses and idleness, its enabling tendency is not to be denied. The objects we are most conversant with will naturally be uppermost in our thoughts. In the creation of this new microcosm, no wonder if the old and great world should sometimes have been in view. Of this chief seat of relaxation in the most relaxed of all the relaxed classes, the idea seems as if it had been taken from Lord Chesterfield’s hospital of incurables: niches are accordingly left in it here and there, capable of being fitted up into little snug places and sinecures.
Of all this elaboration and complication, what, then, is the effect? Mischief—mischief in all its shapes: listlessness, idleness, incapacity of earning subsistence—mischief, and nothing else. What was the end in view? Not mischief, most assuredly. What then? In good truth, I do not know. Punishment is one use it is applied to, and that the only use. By § 47, powers of punishment are provided, and that of “removing such offenders, if ranked in the second or third class, into any prior class,” is of the number. What then? This delicate piece of mechanism, with all its softness, and smoothness, and relaxation, is it after all but an engine of punishment? An excellent one it would be, were it as good as it is expensive. Perillus’s bull, had it been of gold instead of brass, would scarce have equalled it.*
This reason, such as it is, makes bad still worse: complication and obscurity, and that complication a cover for tyranny and injustice. The meaning, if I do not misunderstand it, was, that for a prison-offence, the committee should have the power of adding to any prisoner’s term of confinement an additional one, ever so short or ever so long, so as it did not exceed the original one. In that case, the simple course would have been to have said so. Instead of that, the meaning is expressed in a round-about way by reference to these classes. What is the consequence? That when six years, for instance, was the term for the original offence, for the prison-offence you can have nothing less than two years; nor if you would have more than two years, anything less than four years: two years or four years, then, with an additional time, such as the committee may think proper to add to it, is the only alternative: two years the least quantity in such a case; or else this precious engine, which it cost so many thousand pounds to make, is not to be used; if you won’t use it harshly, you shan’t use it at all: so says the letter at least of this law.*
The necessity, howsoever it might sit upon the prisoners, would not sit very heavy upon the governor: I mean, if he has in effect that interest in the productiveness of the establishment which the act wishes him to have. It will be no secret to him, that the same quantity of labour at the expiration of an apprenticeship, is worth rather more than at the commencement of it. Nor will the necessity sit much heavier on the committee, if they either set a value upon the friendship of the governor, or set the same value upon this engine of punishment as appears to have been set upon it by the maker: the committee of three, I mean, who, when not so many as three, are not more than one, and who, sitting in the dark, with an interested prosecutor, their creature and their dependent, at their elbow, cumulate the functions of judge and jury. This I know, that were I a candidate for the management contract, I would make no inconsiderable allowance for such a clause, especially so worded: I mean, if I could bring my conscience to such a degree of relaxation, that the idea of taking a sentence of imprisonment for a few years, and altering it under the rose into a punishment for life, sat as easy upon me, as that of a similar transformation appears to have sitten, I hope through inadvertence, upon the planners of the colonization scheme.
The mischief roll is not yet read through. The proportion of punishment, such as it is, what does it depend upon?—upon the degree of delinquency which called for it? No—not in any shape. The punishment is proportioned, not to the magnitude of the offence, but to the length of a man’s term: not to the offence for which he is punished, but to another offence which has nothing to do with it, and which has already had its punishment.
That punishment is the only use this classification is put to in the act itself, is certain. But was it really designed for an engine of punishment, and nothing else? If so, the awkwardness of it is not less remarkable than the expensiveness. Three equal periods of a man’s term, three years say, is the time it is supposed to be wanted for. For one of those periods it can’t be used; since for such time as a man is in this “first” class, as it is called, meaning the lowest, there is no lower class into which he can be turned down. What is this period during which it can’t be used? The very period, of all others, during which, if in any, it would be wanted. When is it that punishment in every shape is in most demand?—when is it that unruliness is most to be apprehended, and requires the greatest force to combat it? One would think it were when coercion was most new. A bit for breaking in horses, which has this peculiar property belonging to it, that it can’t be used till the horse has gone a twelvemonth upon the road! an engine that cost £11,700, and that can never be used till experience has shown that there is no need of it!
Was the sinecure establishment that we have seen grafted on this classification plan, meant as a fund of reward? It is still worse contrived for reward than the engine of punishment made out of the classes is for punishment: that cannot be used till one-third of the term is over; this, not till two-thirds are at an end.
One glance more, and I have done. Two divisions or classifications, the reader may have observed, running on together: two classifications made upon so many different principles: the first grounded on capacity for hard labour, as indicated by age, sex, health, and ability: the other on length of standing; that is, not on absolute length of standing, but relative—relation had to the proportion elapsed of each man’s term. If this account be obscure, I am sorry for it, but I cannot help it: were it altogether otherwise, it would not be a faithful one. These divisions cross and jostle one another in effect; but in idea each may be considered by itself. Let us observe for a moment the consequence of the first of them. Two classes of persons are carefully distinguished, and placed in situations as opposite as possible: from that moment, their treatment, as to everything that remains of it, is uniformly the same. Two sets of people, and but two: to heave at a capstern, or what is looked upon as equivalent, the employment of the one; to knit nets, or some such thing, the occupation of the other. No medium: straining to excess, or sitting almost without motion. The labour of the former might be too severe; that of the latter not sufficiently so. Preservatives require to be employed against both excesses: clauses to restrain undue severity in the one case, clauses to restrain undue lenity in the other. What does our legislator? He twists both kinds of clauses together, and applies them indiscriminately to both classes of workmen, and both classes of work. What is the consequence? Every such clause is a two-edged sword: with one edge it destroys one part of the company; with the other edge, the remainder. With the one he thus cuts up one half of his own purposes; with the other, the other half. Because 14 or 15 hours would be too long for one set to heave at a capstern, the others, who are to do nothing but sit and knit, are not to have any more than 10, than 9, than 8 hours, to do that in, or anything else: because three or four hours would be nothing to employ in knitting, those who are to heave at a capstern are to heave on for not less than 8, 9, or 10 hours, and longest when the heat of the weather has rendered the fatigue most intolerable: because those who are to sit knitting would soon be dead were they to do nothing but sit or lie a-bed without exercise, the capstern-heavers, who have been heaving and straddling till they cannot set one foot before the other, are also to have their walk: because the capstern-heavers will be dead with fatigue before their day is half spent, the knitters are to have 14 hours out of the 24, and never less than 12, to soak in bed; and this is called keeping them to hard labour: because the capstern-heavers will be worked to death before their term is one third over, the knitters, by the time they have gone through a third of theirs, are to have a part of their knitting hours struck off; and by the time they have gone through two thirds, the abatement is to be doubled.
“Exaggeration! exaggeration! Can you seriously, then, pretend to believe that mischiefs like these would really ensue?”—I hope not—I trust not; at least, not in any such degree: in some way or other, the worst of them would be got rid of. These, like others, would somehow or other find something like a remedy. True: but who should we have to thank for it?—those who contrived the act? No, but those who would have to execute it; that is, to struggle under it, and save themselves from executing it. Of two things, one: executed, it is ruinous; not executed, it is useless: such is the dilemma that pursues it through every part of its career. The provisions either will, or will not, have the effect of peremptory ones. In the one case, they are productive of the mischief which we see: in the other, they are of no effect against the mischiefs which they themselves have in view.
Recapitulation.—Errors collected under the single head of Employment—fruits of legislative interference in matters of domestic and mercantile economy.
1. Setting out with a wrong object—hard labour instead of profit.
2. Undertaking to give any regulations or instructions at all with regard to choice among the species of employment.
3. Grounding the choice upon a wrong principle—employing human exertion to generate pure force.
4. Making peculiarly disadvantageous applications of that disadvantageous principle—capstern-work put upon a line with wheel-work.
5. Prescribing other employments particularly disadvantageous upon the face of them; such as beating hemp, rasping logwood, chopping rags—operations already performed to more advantage by machines moved by the elementary primum-mobiles.
6. Putting a negative upon mixture of employments, though alike recommended by health, economy, and comfort.
7. Putting a negative upon a free change of employments, as economy may occasionally require.
8. Limiting the quantity of labour, either one way or other, in point of time: working-hours not fewer than 8, 9, or 10 in a day, nor more.
9. Making the limitation different in different seasons: 10 hours for seven months, 9 for two other months, and 8 only for the remaining three; thence losing so much in the two latter seasons.
10. Making the limitation such, that the exercise shall be hardest in the season when men are least able to bear it.
11. Making further deduction from the sum of labour on the ground of length of standing: striking off so much when one third of the term is over, and so much more when two thirds, with or with out limiting the amount of the deduction, or specifying the mode.
12. Making the deductions per saltum: two degrees only of relaxation, two classes only of prisoners, to the disregard of the numerous differences indicated by the circumstances of individuals.
13. Facilitating undue preferences:—by the power given of changing the work from real to nominal.
14. Authorising excessive additions to the duration of punishment, by a judicature secret and arbitrary, and liable to be interested.
15. Establishing an expensive fund of reward and punishment; and that so constituted, that it can never be used till the inutility of it has been demonstrated by experience: degradations and indulgences that cannot take place till one third or two thirds of a man’s time is over.
16. Prescribing, under the common notion of hard labour, two classes of employments as opposite in point of severity of exercise, as possible, without any medium.
17. Prescribing for such opposite measures of exertion, the same measure of relaxation; and that in every particular—hours, seasons, and length of standing.
[* ]I forget what little tyrant it was of Greece, whose policy we are told it was, in the view of keeping his subjects quiet, to encourage them to betake themselves to unathletic occupations—in the language of the good old cut-throat morality, effeminate ones. I have taken a leaf, I confess, out of that tyrant’s book; the application I make of it will not, I hope, be charged with tyranny.
[† ]It is an observation made somewhere, I think, by Locke, in his book on Education, that for children amusement is to be obtained not less effectually from cheap and profitable occupations, than from unprofitable and expensive ones. A recommendation he accordingly gives is, to make a point on all occasions of giving to employments of the former description the preference over those of the latter. If the propriety of the preference is indisputable with regard to youthful innocence, how much more palpably so in the case of male-factors, whose occupations are to be allotted to them in the way of punishment for their crimes?
[* ]Howard on Lazarettos, p. 147.—I beg the jailor’s pardon: what is above was from memory: his contrivance was the setting them to saw wood with a blunt saw, made blunt on purpose. The removers of mounts were a committee of justices.
[* ]The Chevalier Paulet’s views on this head suit better, I must confess, with mine. In his establishment, a capital article in the penal list is the punishment of forced idleness; and without dividing his boys for the purpose into two classes and three classes, or plaguing his managers with governing committees, he contrives to render it sufficiently uncomfortable. See an interesting account of the establishment of that generous and intelligent philanthropist in the Repository, Vol. I.
[* ]The instance of a turnspit dog is an exception: but the force that can be generated in that way is but small, and that for no long continuance.
[† ]Nor yet can it answer to employ a man for generating force, but upon the supposition that the whole quantity of the commodity capable of finding a market is no more than what the brute force generated by two men is able to produce. Suppose it equal to the force of three men, one man to give direction to the force, with a beast, and a boy to drive it, could afford the commodity so much cheaper as to break the other two, with their respective directing partners.
[‡ ]In the economy of mechanical operations, one of the most fertile sources of improvement is the separating the art of giving direction to force, from the labour of generating it. Great is the advantage that may be made in this way, even where this latter operation is left to man: much greater of course where it is turned over to more proper agents. A single man, or in many instances a single child, and that a very young one, may find direction for a very powerful machine, or a very numerous assemblage of less powerful ones: instance—the spinning-machines, and the various other engines employed in the manufactories of the different sorts of cloths.
[* ]Part I, Section 20.
[† ]According to Desaguliers, the force which a man can exert in towing is upon an average equal to no more than 27lbs.; that is, a force that would serve to raise a weight to that amount; for instance so much water out of a well. But “drawing in a capstern” is towing. According to the same philosopher, 140lbs. may be reckoned the average weight of a man: with this whole force a man acts, when walking in a wheel. The principle of the walking-wheel is therefore more than 5 times as advantageous as that of the capstern.
[‡ ]Am I right? I think I have traced the error to its source. On board the ballast lighters, the capstern was employed to raise gravel; for the captain was a seaman. Now as anchors are raised in that manner, why not gravel? On board the ballast-lighters, gravel is raised upon the capstern principle; and that surely is hard labour. But hard labour is the very thing we want, and there it is for us.
[* ]Wheel-work is mere foot exercise: capstern work is arm exercise. In the former, the effect is the immediate result of muscular exertion, and proportioned to that exertion, be it ever so great or ever so little: in the latter, it is the result of mere weight—the weight of the body successively applied to the different parts of the circumference of a wheel; and so long as the same pace is kept up, that weight, as well as the exertion by which it is applied, is invariably the same.
[† ]Could not a man cheat, it may be said, by setting his foot down on the same spot from which he took it up, or even backward instead of forward? I should doubt it: and if it were feasible, an effectual remedy might be found. Even in a single wheel (I mean a wheel with a single man in it) the impetus already acquired by a few turns would make it much easier to a man to go on, than to step backward, or in the same place: much more in a double wheel, especially if the deceit were practised by one alone without the concurrence of the other. In the only walking wheel I ever saw (which was made for a carriage to go without horses) there were steps in the inside for the convenience of treading. These would serve likewise to render deceit more difficult, as well as to maintain regularity in the pace. But deceit might at any rate be prevented, especially with the help of these treading-boards, by prescribing the number of steps to be taken within a certain time: a small index-wheel connected with the main wheel, as in the instrument called a way-wiser for measuring ground, would serve to show with the utmost exactness how far the injunction had been observed.
[‡ ]See Section Distribution of Time.
[* ]What, then, does this clause amount to? anything or nothing? Shall we ask the Gloucester magistrates? Their decision is in the negative. Punctual copyists of the other provisions of the act, they have passed this by without notice.
[† ]“From his confinement and labour,” says the act (§ 38.)
[‡ ]“The offenders ...... shall be divided into three classes; which shall be called the first, second, and third class; for which purpose the time for which such offenders shall severally be committed shall be divided into three equal parts; and during the first part of the time of the imprisonment of every such offender, he or she shall be ranked in the first class, and during the second part of such time, he or she shall be ranked in the second class, and during the third and last part of such time, he or she shall be ranked in the third class; and the confinement and labour of such offenders as shall from time to time be ranked in the first class, shall be most strict and severe, and the confinement and labour of the offenders ranked in the second class, shall be more moderate, and the confinement and labour of those ranked in the third class, shall be still more relaxed; which several degrees of confinement and labour, so to be affixed to each class, shall from time to time be settled by the committee, by orders of regulation to be approved of in manner aforesaid, but so as not to defeat or elude the special provisions made and appointed by this act.”
[* ]Calculation of the expense of this engine of punishment, for 900 prisoners, being the number provided for by the Act:—
Proportion to be struck off from the labour of each prisoner upon his removal from the first class to the second, one hour out of nine, the average number of hours, I set at one-ninth: and a manager would hardly think of striking off less than this, if he struck off anything.
I think I shall not be accused of having rated the value of the labour extravagantly high at 3d. a-day, considering that it is but the gross value, and that it takes the economy at the highest pitch to which it can be pushed, not only by this act, but by the accumulating powers of a series of acts explanatory and emendatory upon the same principles to the end of time. I say, then, that for £11,700, not a Perillus only, but even an ordinary goldsmith of the present degenerate age, could make a very decent bull, big enough to broil a middle-sized man in, of the very best gold. I mean, provided he were allowed to take his own way for making it; for I would not answer for him were he to be obliged to learn his art, like the manager of this manufacturing concern, from instructions beat into him by act of parliament, nor if the thickness of the gold were to be regulated upon the same principles as the dimensions of the houses in the penitentiary-town are by this Act.
[* ]This is one mode of construction: is it the right one? I will not be positive: it would take an argument of an hour long to attempt to get to the bottom of this darkness. Here is the clause, in its own words, that I may be sure of not doing it an injustice:—“And in case of removal into any prior class, the offender shall, from the time of making such order of removal, go through such prior class, and also the subsequent class or classes, in the same manner as under his or her original commitment, and for such additional time as such committee shall think proper to order, so as the whole time of confinement, to be computed from such order of removal into such prior class to the final discharge of the offender, shall not exceed the original term for which he or she was committed.”