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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Last week (August 11, 1860)

LAST WEEK.

 

 

RAG FAIR.

Rag Fair is a power in the State just now. Never mind the people who go about clothed in purple and fine linen. Rags are your only wear. The beggars throughout the British Islands had best look to themselves, for the eyes of the paper-makers are upon them. They believe that unless they can procure rags in plenty they must throw their mill machinery out of gear, and try their luck in some other kind of trade. Now, we should not smile at the sorrows of rich men when they employ their riches in a gainful way to the country and to themselves. If a manufacturer in any branch of industry can make money breed by setting a thousand pairs of arms to work, so much the better for himself, and for all. The big paper-makers have killed the small paper-makers, because, as the trade advanced, it was found that the machine helped man, more than man helped the machine. And yet there are more hands employed in the making of paper now—even relatively to supply—than in the days of the small-mill men. It is just the old story of the spinning-jenny and the threshing-machine told over again with other names. Skill and capital were brought to bear upon the trade. The small men were thrust off the path, and the capitalist and the engineer came in; and had it all their own way. There is no use in whining over this. The human race can’t afford to make a bad debt here; and to pay a double price for an article there for the profit of a few. We have put ofl our mourning for the small paper mill owners, and we shall not spend another farthing upon crape, even though the owners of large mills are in a scrape, which. after all, perhaps, is more one in appearance than in reality.

We all remember how it was said, in 1845-46, that the British farmer was ruined because he was exposed to the rivalry of the corn-grower in the United States and the vast plains of southern Russia. It was proved to us, as plain as figures could prove it, by Lord George Bentinck and others, that the English soil must fall out of cultivation when the British farmer was involved in this unequal contest. Is not the British farmer a more thriving man than ever, now that fifteen years have flown by, and he has tried conclusions fairly with his foreign rivals? The corn-growers of Tamboff have not answered Lord Derby’s expectations. The same dismal prophecy was uttered by the workers in glass, and their friends, when the late Sir Robert Peel set the glass-trade free. Who would not be glad, at the present moment, to have an interest in a glass-factory of good repute? Now the turn of the paper-makers has come. They say that if they are exposed to the competition of the foreign paper-maker, under equal fiscal conditions,—that is to say, when there is equilibrium between the excise and custom duties—they must infallibly be ruined. This terrible result, as they say, depends upon the fact that the foreign paper-maker has access to a larger rag-market than themselves, and although he is perfectly willing to supply us with the manufactured article, he altogether declines to let us have his rags, save they be weighted with an export duty which will place them beyond the reach of the British paper-makers altogether. In other words, there is cheaper paper to be had on the continent of Europe than here. If so—why are we, the public, not to have the benefit of this cheapness? As long as it was a question of revenue, there was not a word to be said. Mr. Gladstone was scarcely justified in throwing away 1,500,000l. of revenue at a time when there is such a heavy gunpowder bill falling due. However much the consumers of paper might desire to have the article at the cheapest possible rate, they felt that the time was not well chosen for tampering with the public finances, even though any change proposed might in the end work for good. This, however, was not the view of our patriotic paper-makers. So the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given them a penny protective duty to keep out the foreign article, they would have been quite content to see the excise duty leviable upon home-made paper knocked on the head. We should not in that case have heard much of the sweet minstrelsy of that Dying Swan, Mr. Thomas Wrigley, nor of the unsuccessful experiments of the Taverham Mills. The simple fact is this, the manufacture of paper is one of the few monopolies left in the country. It is in the hands of a few capitalists who have destroyed or bought up their smaller rivals. At considerable expense, but with enormous advantage to themselves, they have erected machinery which is admirably adapted for tearing rags into pieces and reducing them into pulp, but which could not be brought to deal with any other materials. Of course they don’t like a change—why should they? The udders of the milch cow were in their own hands; why should they let in the foreign milkmaid to share their easy profits? Can any one say what argument can in fairness be urged in favour of the British paper-maker which has not been urged a hundred times over in favour of the British farmer, the British ship-owner, the British glass-blower, or the British monopolist of any denomination? We are just dealing over again with the ghosts of the old fallacies which, as we all supposed, were laid for ever in 1845-46, and were consigned to the Limbo of nonsense for ever.

This is sad stuff they are talking about the raw material. Is a rag raw material? Sow it in the earth, and see if other rags will spring up. Or is it raw material in the sense that iron and wool are raw materials? It is nothing of the kind, but the mere refuse of manufactured articles past service. There is such an abundance of this refuse even in our own country, that it is largely exported to the United States. The price of rags, no doubt, is thus raised in England. So much the better for the rag merchant; so much the worse for the paper-maker; above all, in the long run, so much the worse for the consumer. Are we therefore, out of regard to those gentlemen, who are no doubt making a good thing of it, to be compelled to purchase our paper of the maker who only has access to the dearest rag-market? We cannot compel foreign nations to take the duty off rags. But if this Treaty with France had never been heard of, it would have been equally right to set the trade in paper free. As far as the revenue is concerned, it is a matter of perfect indifference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he receive the money under the head of Customs or of Excise. There may possibly have been a certain amount of blundering in the negotiation. Had Mr. Cobden held out a little longer, and played off the French Rag-merchant against the French Paper-maker, he might have made better terms for the British paper-maker. Even so, are the public to be sacrificed because Mr. Cobden might have let him down a little more easily? If it can be proved that the revenue of the country is not damaged to the extent of one farthing by the proposed change, why should we not be allowed to buy our paper where it may be had cheapest?

Again, we say the British paper-makers tell us they must infallibly be ruined if they are brought into competition with the foreigner, because the foreigner has access to the better rag-market—and because paper cannot be made out of any other material than rags—that is, so that the trade shall be remunerative. Now, is this so? They say that “any raw material possessing the quality of fibre requisite for the manufacture of good paper would be available also for the manufacture of those articles out of which good paper is now made, and the latter as a matter of course would be the more profitable application of the two.” Now, it is clear enough that a substance may possess so much toughness of fibre that it may be converted into excellent paper, and yet it might not be strong enough for other purposes, as for the making of ropes and cordage. At the present moment there is a weekly journal of enormous circulation published in this town which is printed on straw. Captain Sherard Osborn, in his interesting little work called “A Cruise in Japanese Waters,” tells us that in Japan paper enters far more largely into the uses of ordinary life than among ourselves. The Japanese build houses out of paper; they make carriages out of paper; they use their shavings of paper for tying up parcels as we use twine, and the paper stands the strain. There can be no doubt that you could hang a man with a strip of Japanese paper. Would the British paper-maker consent to rest his case upon the result of this ordeal? Let the trade choose a champion, and let Mr. Gladstone suspend that champion—pinioned of course—by a strip of Japanese paper to a lamp-post in Palace Yard, and leave him standing on a stool two feet above the ground, with the power of kicking away the stool if he chooses. If the rope breaks then the manufacturer is right, and we must yield to the point of the argument. If it holds he is wrong, and there is an end of his mistake and his misery. It seems clear that other materials than flax enter into the composition of Japanese paper; indeed, it is doubtful if it be made of flax at all. Upon examination here the conclusion seems to be possible that hair or wool, or some other such animal substance, is employed; but this statement is given rather as curious than material to the immediate argument. We are told that there is plenty of fibre in the short furze for paper-making purposes,—still more in the common broom—in the bine or stem of the hop—in the thin leaves which protect the ear of the Indian corn. Then there is the wool of the silk-cotton trees of tropical America—the refuse fibre of sugar-cane mills—and the bad short cotton of India. These articles are enumerated by a writer in the “Gardener’s Chronicle” of March last, together with “wood-shavings, the fragments of the basket-makers, the worthless thinnings of coppice woods, weeds, the valueless pulp of beet-sugar works, old mats, damaged hay, worn-out gunney-bags, all sorts of coarse grapes; to say nothing of straw.” In addition to the substances enumerated we have before us all the chances of tropical vegetation. Rags have hitherto been the substance chiefly—nay, almost exclusively employed by the British paper-maker; but it is notorious that a large fortune was made by a gentleman at the time connected with the trade of Manchester, who had the good sense to go round to the various mills, and offer the proprietors a certain sum for the cotton refuse, which was thrown off by their machinery, and which they had been in the habit of regarding as a mere nuisance. All that is wanted is a good pulp containing a short, and not necessarily a tough fibre. It is really quite immaterial whether this is made out of rags, or whether it is a broth of mahogany trees.

The British paper-makers, just because they have not been exposed to the free air of competition, have been taking this matter easily, and have been content to jog on in the old senseless way to the detriment of the public. Sleepy Hollow has proved an El Dorado to them, and they are not very pleased with any one who gives them a rough shake, and bids them look to themselves. Their machinery is only adapted to the reduction of rags into pulp; if they should be now called upon to deal with other substances, they must invest,—nay, risk capital upon the purchase of fresh machinery. They have been enjoying all the ease and mental tranquillity of carrying on a close business. They should now confront the rivalry of the whole country and the whole world, and come off victors in the contest, or quietly retire out of sight. Let no man look his fellows in the face, and assert that the ingenuity and energy of England are not equal to carrying on a brisk business in paper, even if the continent of Europe works up all its old rags. The inevitable result will be, either that this rag-fear will turn out a mere panic, or that before many months have passed away we shall have discovered various materials, which will make us independent of the rag-merchant altogether. It is a farce to speak of rags as worthless; they are just worth the labour which has been spent upon collecting them, which is considerable, and we shall probably do better than rags. At any rate, there is no reason why England should continue to buy paper in the dearest market for the benefit of the British paper-makers; to make no mention of the fact that the supply is so defective under existing arrangements that it is not without difficulty the quantity necessary for trade purposes can be procured.

THE IMPERIAL LETTERS.

Corbett, in his English Grammar, takes King’s speeches as models of bad English. After laying down rules for writing or speaking English, he shows his pupils by the force of examples how they may be kept, how they may be violated. Royal speeches furnish him with a plentiful crop of blunders. “This is what his Majesty said,” “This is what his Majesty meant to say,” is the burden of this rough grammarian’s song. Louis Napoleon’s letter to M. de Persigny is not stuffed with errors of this kind. It is written in remark ably good French, almost as good as the French of M. Thiers or George Sand. It is not interlarded with phrases such as “The inexorable logic of facts,” “France under the influence of a generous idea,” and so forth. The Emperor’s meaning is clear enough; and what a meaning as far as the French people are concerned! He writes as though France were his own in fee-simple. Louis XIV. would have found a few graceful phrases to humour the self-love of his subjects. Louis Napoleon has not one. It is all “what I intend,” “what I do not intend,” “my armies,” “my fleets.” The egotism of Louis Napoleon is the egotism of a Virginian planter rather than the self-assertion of a nation’s chief. In this familiar letter he has thrown off the mask altogether, and whether he lets us into the secret of his true designs or not, he shows us the cabinet in which they are worked out. The jealousy of foreign statesmen, or of foreign nations, gives him uneasiness to a certain extent—the jealousy of his own people, not a thought. We know, at least, now what our security is—it lies in the intentions of the French Emperor—in the breast of a single man whose chief characteristic is his heroic capacity for silence. It is probable that he speaks sincerely for the moment. The worst is, that admitting all his facts to be true, we can draw no inference favourable to our own security from such truths as those. Napoleon the Unready could fight Magenta and Solferino on a six weeks’ notice, and carry his Lombard campaign through to a reasonably successful issue. The day might come when we, too, might find him equally unprepared, and equally driven by the force of circumstances to attack us in our turn. In this matter we are somewhat unjust to Louis Napoleon—very unjust to ourselves. Our security lies in our own state of preparation, not in the French Emperor’s want of it. He is perfectly right when he says that his army, and his fleet, are not more numerous than they were during the days of the monarchy; although it is one thing when a rifle is in the hands of a rifleman, another when it is in the clumsy grasp of a grocer. The ruler of France, exposed, as he always is, to the chances of a collision with the great military monarchies of the Continent, must keep a considerable army a-foot. We cannot blame him for this. As long as France was governed by a parliament and in a constitutional way, this gave us no cause for alarm; but now things are changed. One man, alone, can restrain that army within its camps and cantonments, or let it loose upon the world; therefore we must be prepared. The very worst thing which could happen to us, would be that Louis Napoleon should take us at our word, and agree to a disarmament upon both sides. Two years hence, it would take us a twelvemonth be fore we could put on our war-paint again; in a fortnight the French Emperor would be in fighting-trim. This is the most momentous of all deceptions. Whatever measures we adopt for our own security, let them be taken with reference to our own weakness and power: not because we attribute strength or weakness to our rival. When the continental nations adopt such a system of internal government as will leave them without a fear of danger from within, they will be able to disarm—not before. As long as one remains in arms, all will remain in arms. As long as the Continent is armed, England must look to her own security. Meanwhile, nothing can be more contemptible—nothing more unworthy of the English character than the periodical panics which run like wild-fire throughout the nation. Why should England fear France, or indeed Europe? We have but to will our own security, and the thing is done. At the present epoch of the world’s history we must be content to pay a small per centage on our income in the way of insurance against foreign aggression—a small per centage indeed—and the thought of attacking England would never enter into the mind of any foreign statesman. Not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of the world, we should do this. What would be the condition of Europe if England were drawn within the maelström of military oppression? At the same time that we determine to put ourselves in a state of defence we should also resolve that not a penny shall be wasted by the various Boards which preside over our military and naval arrangements. It seems monstrous that we should be called upon this year to pay a gunpowder bill which, including the cost of the Chinese Expedition, and the quota to be expended upon fortifications will amount to something like 35,000,000l. This is for gunpowder which may be let off. We must add something like 28,000,000l. more for gunpowder which has been let off: in other words, for the interest of the National Debt incurred to meet the expenses of past wars. Here we have 63,000,000l., or thereabouts—a heavy tax indeed upon the productive labour of the country. There is thus much of truth in the letter of the French Emperor, that his last thought would be an attack upon England. He will never run that awful hazard until he is reduced to his last throw for empire. The letter to M. de Persigny is, however, undignified enough—and not likely to earn him much favour in the eyes of Englishmen. It is the return move to Lord Palmerston’s speech when the vote for fortifications was first asked from the House. Surely England may resolve to put the sea-fronts of her arsenals in a state of defence, without arousing just susceptibilities! What about Cherbourg?

 

THE CROWNING MERCY.

The battle of Melazzo has been Garibaldi’s “crowning mercy.” With a small force of irregular-regulars, and with a swarm of Volunteers, he has inflicted a complete defeat upon the best Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/204