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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The steel-grinder: his health



An Asiatic despotism is a dreary thing to contemplate and describe: and the tyranny of the ruder sort of African kings is intolerable to the imagination of Christian nations. The barbarity of negro slavery in its grosser forms is no less painful: and our only consolation in reading or hearing of the things that are done under such authorities as these is in hoping that the spread of civilisation and Christianity will, in time, render rulers and strong men aware of the value of human life, and more or less considerate in the expenditure of it. If we were to read of a country in Central Asia where a valuable mineral was found, which slowly poisoned everybody who came within reach of its fumes while it was smelted; and if we heard that the Khan of that country took strong men from their homes at his pleasure, and made them work upon that mineral till they were dying of the fumes, and then cast them adrift in their last days, we should think it a horrible destiny to be that Khan’s subjects. If it was also the fact that means were known by which the poison might be partly neutralised, so that the workmen might live for twenty years instead of certainly dying within ten: and if the Khan would not allow those means to be used, saying that ten years were long enough for his workmen to live, and that it was more convenient to him to have a rapid succession of them, we should proclaim such a ruler to be the monster of the world.

If we knew of a wild African king who required a certain quantity every week of weapons and other implements made of bamboo, and insisted on their being made in a particular way which caused the bamboo to fly in little spikes which stuck in the eyes and throats and lungs of the workmen, so that they began to cough the first day they went to work, and never stopped till they died choked in a few years—many being blinded also before that time—we should call the king a savage and his workmen slaves. If, moreover, the weapons might just as well be made without inflicting a single prick on anybody, and yet the king insisted that the pricking was precisely the part of the business which took his fancy most, we should call him a monster too. It is sufficiently horrible that there are slave-owners in Louisiana who say they find it answer better to “use up” (kill off) their negroes in a certain time, and get fresh ones, than to spare labour and replenish their stock less frequently. It makes an Englishman’s blood boil that such things should be said. But how could he find words for his indignation if the sugar could be grown and made just as well without the “using up,” and the owner should refuse to adopt the machinery which would answer that purpose because he did not like new ways, or because he did like to whip the negroes up to their toil, and get work out of them to the last gasp? This man, too, would be execrated as a monster wherever he and his methods were heard of.

Suppose a sovereign and a set of officials in England who should propose to inflict these very sufferings on Englishmen.

Nobody will stop for a moment to suppose any such thing. It is an insult to our country, and to all the men in it, we shall be told, to admit even a passing imagination of men being wantonly murdered by inches—doomed to a ten or a five years’ term of torture, ended only by a lingering death. It would be mere nonsense, if it were not also wickedness, to suppose that in England there are men who would submit to such tyranny in their own persons, or who would permit it to be inflicted on others.

Do we really think this? Do we confidently say it? Then we are mistaken; and we have some melancholy truths to learn about our country, and the men in it. Many hundreds of workpeople die every year, in each of several branches of manufacture, after a slow torture which is as needless as the early death; the difference between the English case and those of Asia, Africa, and America being that here it is no sovereign, no official personage, and no master who inflicts the murder, but the victims themselves, and their neighbours of the same craft. It is true the evil is not so great as it was: but it is still the fact Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/100 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/101 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/102 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/103