Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: OWEN AND X.Y.Z. - Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside)
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Chapter V.: OWEN AND X.Y.Z. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) 
Illustrations of Taxation (1. The Park and the Paddock, 2. The Haycock, 3. The Jerseymen Meeting, 4. The Jerseymen Parting, 5. The Scholars of Arneside) (London: Charles Fox, 1834).
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OWEN AND X.Y.Z.
From the moment that Owen saw the scrap of short-hand which his brother and sister brought home from the hills, he had taken to the study of the art of short-hand writing. Mr. Waugh had directed him to the clergyman as the person most likely to give him information on the subject, and to show him specimens. The clergyman acknowledged that the short-hand he used was not the best yet invented; and that perhaps the best yet invented might not be nearly so good as some one not yet devised. This was enough for Owen to know, in order to excite him to enterprize. By the help of his friends, he got possession of three or four kinds, made his selection of what he considered the best, and introduced some important improvements. He tried his success whenever he could find an opportunity. Many were the curious conversations in the mill which he took down for his own amusement; and many the sermons which, to his mother’s amazement, he read over to her, word for word, on the Sunday evenings, when she had heard them in the mornings. She was fast yielding to the impression that her son Owen was now nearly as wise as the clergyman.
In the tract which Owen thrust into his pocket on the alarm of fire being given, there was an article about short-hand. Mr. Waugh had accidentally met with it at L—, and had brought it home for Owen. When farmer Mason’s house and barns were all burnt to the ground, and no more was to be done for him, Owen came back to the counting-house to study this paper. Mr. Waugh could not help being amused at the eagerness with which he devoured the arguments about dashes and dots, as if they had been tidings of peace or war, or of the greatest political event of the age. This was not the first time that Mr. Waugh had had occasion to observe the animation with which scantily-informed persons read what is accordant with their particular tastes and pursuits. He had seen a farm-servant, who happened to be able to read, excited for a whole day about some new way of managing a cow, or the best method of treating a sheep’s fleece; and a galloon weaver drinking in the news of the alteration of a farthing a gross in the wages of his manufacture. He had witnessed the effect of such appropriate communications in rousing the sluggish, in soothing the irritable, by turning the course of their thoughts, and in improving the arts of life, by stimulating the powers of the workmen. He had seen none more eager than Owen.
“Sir,” said Owen, “I wonder whether I may ask if you know who this X. Y. Z. is?”
“Not I,” replied Mr. Waugh, smiling. “I only know that I found the article lying on the bookseller’s counter; and that when I made a remark upon it, Muggridge told me I might bring it for you. If you have anything to say to X. Y. Z., cannot you say it without knowing who he is?”
“I—say anything to this person! In print! I should like—I am sure, if he knew one thing that I could tell him—But, sir, do you really think they would put in anything of mine, if I sent it?”
“That would much depend on whether they thought it worth putting in. If you have anything to say as good in the eyes of the editor as what X. Y. Z. has said, I suppose the editor will be glad to print it: but I hardly think such a tract as this can pay the writers.”
“I never thought of being paid, sir! Let’s see where this editor is to be found.”
It was soon settled that as Ambrose would have to go to L— in the course of a few days, he might carry a packet from Owen to Muggridge, the bookseller and stationer, who would forward it, at Mr. Waugh’s request, to the editor’s office in London. How absorbed was Owen, from that time, whenever he was not at his business in the mill! How silent at meals! How careful in making his pens! It would be scarcely fair to tell how many copies he made of his letter to X. Y. Z., nor how many beginnings he invented and altered. At last, he had to finish in a great hurry; for the morning was come when Ambrose must proceed to L—, and there was no telling how long it might be before he would have to go again.
“Now, Ambrose, you see this package of No. 2 has to go to Keely and Moss’s.”
“Very well,” said Ambrose, turning it over, as if to fix its dimensions and appearance in his memory.
“You can’t mistake it, for I have printed the direction instead of writing it, that you may have no difficulty. See here! ‘Keely and Moss.’ This little parcel you are to drop by the way, at Mrs. King’s, near the toll-bar. Then, that other great package is for Bristow and Son,—you know where. And then comes Muggridge’s. This, largest of all, is for Muggridge; and pray see Mr. Muggridge himself, and give into his own hands this little brown parcel with Mr. Waugh’s letter outside. What makes you look so puzzled? It is easy enough to carry these to their places, is not it?”
“If I can carry in my head which is which. Let’s see: this big one—”
“Read the directions, and you can’t mistake. Why should you burden your memory when the names are before your eyes?”
Ambrose showed that he could spell out the names, and suggested that, if he should be at a loss, he might ask each person to whom he delivered a package to help him to make out where the next was to go. He would try to be sure to make no mistake about the little parcel and the letter for Mr. Muggridge, and would not come home without a line of acknowledgment from that important personage himself.
Owen was so evidently fidgety during his brother’s absence, that his friend Mr. Waugh thought it right to remind him that his fate did not altogether depend on the parcel being safely delivered. There were so few printed vehicles for what such multitudes of people have to say, that a very great number must be disappointed in their wish to be heard. He owned that this was very hard; he held that printed speech should be as free as the words of men’s mouths, and as copious as it was possible to make it. He had reason to desire this; and he suffered not a little from the arrangements which prevented the possibility of its taking place.
“Because more paper would be wanted then, you mean, sir. I fancy, indeed, we might make a fine business of it; if those troublesome excisemen were out of our way. There is no saying how low you might bring the price of your paper if it were not for them.”
“For them, and for the law which gives them their office. The duty in itself, though the worst part of the grievance, is bad enough,—from thirty to two hundred per cent., and actually lower on the fine paper, used by the few, than on the coarse, which would be used by the many if it were not for the tax. It is the coarse which pays the two hundred per cent., and the fine that pays thirty. It is bad enough that this duty amounts to more than three times the wages of all the workpeople employed in the manufacture.”
“Do you really believe that to be the case, sir?”
“It is pretty clearly made out, I fancy. There are within a few of 800 paper-mills in the kingdom; and about 25,000 individuals employed about the article; and the value of the paper annually produced is between a million and a million and a half. The duty levied on this is about 770,000l.;—a most enormous amount. The wages of the workpeople can bear no kind of proportion to it. How much more paper we should make if this burden was removed, so as to allow, as far as it goes, of freedom of printed speech, one may barely imagine; or, if it is beyond our imaginations, there is a person in my mill who can tell us. You know the Frenchwoman there. She will inform you how cheaply her countrymen and countrywomen can have their say through the press. The direct interference of the government with the liberty of the press is, you know, altogether a different question. Setting this aside, there is a wonderful difference in the facilities enjoyed by the French and English for the diffusion of their knowledge and opinions.”
“Then I suppose others besides their paper-makers are better off than we for being without the duty. There must be far more printing to do; and that would occupy, besides the printers, more type-founders and ink-makers; and then booksellers and stationers and binders and engravers; then again, more carpenters and millwrights, and workmen of every kind employed in making the machinery and materials. It must cause a vast difference between that country and this, where we see a want of books on the one hand, and a want of work on the other.”
“Ay; your brother Ambrose and half-a-dozen more, standing by the hour together before a placarded wall, for want of something better to read; and scores of rag-sorters and vat-men applying to me for work which I should be glad to give them if the paper-duty was off. It is really grievous to think how few are employed in the diffusion of knowledge, compared with the numbers who are occupied to much less useful purpose. Look here. This is a list made out upon the best authority. See the proportion which employments bear to one another here. On the one side—Literature; on the other—what?
So, if we exclude the calico-printers, (who do not seem to have much to do with literature) we have not so many as 25,000 persons employed in literature, while we have above 61,000 who sell beer. If we add the gin-shops to the number, what will be the proportion?”
“I find, sir, that in Manchester they have 1000 gin-shops, and not so much as one daily paper.”
“It is the fact. And as long as members go into parliament to uphold such a state of things, while they raise an outcry against beer-shops, none such shall have a vote of mine. Which means, that I shall not vote for Mr. Arruther, if there should be an election; as I hear there will be.”
Owen thought that gentlemen who upheld the paper-duty in parliament might spare themselves the trouble of canvassing the paper-makers. He understood that Mr Arruther was one who had a terrible dread of the people knowing too much.
“He would scarcely speak to you, Owen, if he knew you were trying to get a letter of your own into print. Well: don’t set your mind too much upon it, and I wish you success with all my heart. If we should see this letter of yours next week, I am sure we may trust you not to neglect your business for the sake of becoming a mere scribbler in small publications. I think you will be careful never to take up your pen but when you really have something to say.”
Owen was internally much surprised that Mr. Waugh had encouraged him in his enterprize; for no one had a stronger horror than Mr. Waugh of the effect of what he called “low publications” on the minds of his work-people. The whole question lay in what Mr. Waugh considered to be “low publications.” If he had meant low in price, it was hardly likely that he would have brought this tract for Owen: but, as few publications then happened to be low in price without being low in principle and spirit, Owen’s surprise was natural.
One night of the following week, he came home with a bright countenance; and with a trembling hand, he laid down before his mother, as she sat at work at her table, a pamphlet, very like the tract she had seen him poring over for so many evenings. He judged rightly that though she could not read, she would like to see the page where O. E. was printed.
Long did she look at those black marks; and now, for the first time, nurse Ede learned two letters of the alphabet. From that day, she never passed the placarded wall in the village without picking out by her eye all the great O-s and E-s in the bills there pasted up. She had now some idea that her son’s letter must be altered by being in print. She had heard it very often already, (without understanding much more about it the last time than the first;) but she had now a humble request to proffer,—to hear it again.
“If you are not tired of reading it, my dear boy; and then, when you have done, I think it is not too late for me to put on my bonnet, and go and show it to the clergyman. But I am afraid you will be tired of reading it, my dear?”
There never was a more unfounded apprehension. It was not to be denied that Owen had read it very often; but he did not yet feel himself tired. There was no pretence, however, for his mother’s going to the clergyman. Owen had met him; and had made bold to stop him, and show him what had happened.
When all the compliments, hearty, if not altogether enlightened, had been paid; when Ambrose had relaxed in his stare upon his accomplished brother; and nurse had dried her few tears and resumed her needle, and all reasonable hope had been expressed that Mildred would not be long in coming home, the happy young writer began to look forward to the next week, when there would or would not be an answer from X. Y. Z. He had already consulted Mr. Waugh on the probability of there being any answer at all, if there was not next week. Mr. Waugh had little doubt of there being some reply; Owen’s remarks being made in an amicable spirit, and very courteously expressed; and if no reply should be ready by the next week, he thought there would at least be a promise of one. Owen counted the days as anxiously as in the times of his childhood, when Christmas-day and the fair-day were in prospect. He would have been much ashamed that even his mother should know how glad he was every night to think that another day was gone; and yet, perhaps, if the truth had been revealed, his mother was little less childish than himself.
The reply appeared, on the earliest possible day; as courteous as Owen’s own; not altogether agreeing with him, but modestly asking for further explanation on two or three knotty points.—Who was happier than Owen? His immediate success raised his ambition and his hopes to a height which he had before reached only in imagination. He would write an answer immediately; and when that was done, he would compose a work on short-hand, giving an account of his own studies, and the improvements he believed he had introduced into the art, with all the many ideas which during his studies had gathered round the subject. A stray notion or two about a universal language of written signs had entered his head. He would pursue the idea, and try whether he could not do something which would make him useful out of the limits of his native village. But how was he to find the money to get a book printed? his careful mother asked.—This he believed would be no difficulty: indeed, he hoped he should make a great deal of money by it. He would show the probability. In trying to do so, he proved something else,—that he had already thought enough on the subject to have made inquirtes as to the cost of printing,—had actually seen a printer’s bill. He told his mother that the paper for such a pamphlet as he meditated would cost 6l., supposing five hundred copies to be printed. The printing would cost about 14l.; not more, for he should take care not to have any alterations to make after it was once gone to press. This would be 20l.; and the stitching would cost a few shillings more; and the advertising the same, he supposed. Say, twenty guineas the whole. Then if these five hundred copies sold for half-a-crown a-piece, there would be 62l. 10s. to come in; above 40l. profit,—out of which he would pay the bookseller for his trouble, and there would be a fine sum left over; and he would tell his mother what he would do with it. He would—
She promised that she would hear all he had to say on this head when he should bring Mr. Waugh’s assurance that he was likely to gain 40l. to divide between himself and the bookseller, by writing a little book. Meantime, she thought it too good a prospect to be a likely one; and could not believe but that everybody would be writing books, if this was the way money might be made by such a lad as her Owen.
Owen thought it a little unreasonable in his mother to doubt him, when he offered her actually a calculation of the expenses he had fully ascertained, and when she had nothing to bring against his figures but an impression of her own. However, he would send his rejoinder to the editor, as before, and think the matter over again before he said anything to Mr. Waugh.
He did so, feeling pretty well satisfied that his second letter, (into which he put some nicely-turned expressions of esteem and admiration for his unknown correspondent) would bring X. Y. Z. and himself to a perfect agreement: and anxious beyond measure for an answer to a query which he proposed in his turn,—a query, upon the reply to which hung he could scarcely say how much that was all-important to the art of short-hand writing. But next week no tract arrived, though it had been positively ordered; and twice over, to prevent mistake. It was so evident that poor Owen was internally fretting and fuming, though outwardly no more than grave, that Mr. Waugh kindly found it necessary to send Ambrose to L—, and even to Muggridge’s shop.
“Perhaps, sir,” said the young writer, “you would be kind enough to send one line to Mr. Muggridge; and then he would write an answer, if there should be any accident, instead of sending a message which Ambrose might mistake, not knowing much about book matters.
Ambrose brought back a written answer,—an answer fatal for the time to Owen’s hopes. The tract was not to be had this week, nor at any future time. It was suppressed. The publisher had been informed that if he went on to issue it without putting a fourpenny stamp upon it, he would be prosecuted. The publisher could not afford to sell it, if every copy must cost him four-pence in addition to the other necessary expenses; and still less could he afford to be prosecuted. The tract was suppressed.
“Well, well; that is all right enough,” observed Mr. Waugh. “The laws must be obeyed, and I am sure I should have been the last person to bring the publication to Arneside if I had dreamed of its being illegal. I am sorry for you, Owen; but the laws must be obeyed.”
Owen could not bear this; and he went home the first minute he could. His mother was full of concern, and utterly unable to understand how the case stood. She could not help having some hope that the tract would come down, after all, sooner or later; and that Owen would surprise her by bringing it in his hand some day.
No: no hope of such an event! Here was an end of everything. A most useful intercourse between minds which would now become once more strangers was interrupted. The improvement of a useful art was stopped. There was no saying what might not have arisen out of this correspondence,—how much that would have been advantageous to the individuals and to society was now lost through the interference of these Stamp Commissioners. If they had let the publication go on so long, raising hopes and justifying expectations, they might—Owen could not finish what he was saying. He had supposed himself beyond the age of tears; but he now found himself mistaken. He put his hand before his eyes, and wept nearly as heartily as a girl when the spirit of her pet lamb is passing away.
This reverse had the effect of improving Owen’s eloquence. He grew very fond of conversing both with the clergyman and with Mr. Waugh on the impolicy and iniquity of restraining the intercourse of minds in society, for the sake of a few taxes, so paltry in their amount as to seem to crave to be drawn from some material or another of bodily food rather than from the intellectual nourishment which is as much the unbounded inheritance of every one that is born into the world as his personal freedom.
All who knew Owen were surprised at the extraordinary improvement he seemed to have made within a short time, in countenance and manner, as much as in his conversation. It became a common remark among the neighbours, that there must be a proud feeling in nurse Ede’s mind whenever she saw her manly and intelligent-looking son passing through the village, with a gait and a glance so unlike those of his former school-companions, who seemed to have fallen back into a pretty close resemblance to those who had never learned their A, B, C. Some of Owen’s sayings spread, and were admired more than if they had arrived from an unknown distant quarter. When the housewife lighted her evening lamp, her husband told how Owen had said that it was bad enough to tax the light that visits the eyes, but infinitely worse to tax the light that should illumine the immortal mind; and the paper-makers quoted him over their work, saying that no taxation is so injurious as that of the raw material; and that books are the raw material of science and art. For Owen’s sake all were glad, for that of the village all were sorry, when it was made known that Mr. Waugh had resolved to part with his young friend, in order to give him opportunity for further improvement and advancement than could be within his reach at Arneside, and had procured him a good situation in Mr. Muggridge’s establishment at L—.
Nurse spoke not a word in the way of objection. Such an idea as her boy’s leaving his native village had never occurred to her; but she bore the surprise and consequent separation very firmly. She happily felt a secret hope that Ambrose would now rise into Owen’s place at the mill, and in the society of Arneside; and really, when she saw how he was getting on, in quickness and in the power of reading, she began to believe that it was not yet too late for Ambrose to become a great man.