Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/452

This page needs to be proofread.
Owen
Owen
446


of the rhetoric, in discussions with Coleridge, who visited Manchester (ib. p. 36), perhaps during his tour for starting the 'Watchman ;' and gained the name of the 'reasoning machine,' He was also intimate with Robert Fulton, who was in Manchester in 1794, and lent him money to carry out inventions connected with canal navigation (ib. pp. 64-70). Drinkwater desired to withdraw from the partnership agreement in consequence of some family arrangements, and offered to continue Owen as manager at any salary he chose to name. Owen at once gave up the agreement, but refused to remain as manager. He stayed for a year till Drinkwater could find a competent successor, and in 1794-5 formed the 'Chorlton Twist Company,' two old-established firms taking some part in the enterprise. Owen superintended the new mills which were built at Chorlton, and made the purchases. His business led him frequently to Glasgow. He there made the acquaintance of Anne Caroline Dale, daughter of David Dale [q. v.] Dale was the proprietor of mills at New Lanark on the falls of the Clyde, which he had started in 1785 in combination with Arkwright. Miss Dale immediately confided to a friend that she would never take any husband unless Owen were the man. Owen was diffident until the friend revealed the confidence to him. Miss Dale, when he ventured to speak, said that she must first obtain the consent of her father, to whom he was still unknown. The father, as a man of strong religious principles, was likely to be repelled by Owen's views. A happy thought suggested itself to Owen, that he should introduce himself by offering to buy the New Lanark mills. Owen, with the help of his partners, agreed to buy the mills for 60,000l., to be paid in twenty annual instalments. Dale took a liking to Owen in the course of their meetings, and after a time consented to accept the young man as his son-in-law. In spite of many discussions upon religious questions, Dale and Owen remained upon affectionate terms till Dale's death in 1806. Mrs. Owen also retained her early religious opinions, which her husband treated with tenderness.

Owen says that his property at this time was worth 3,000l. (ib. p. 55), but his income was rising rapidly. He had for two years occupied Greenheys at Manchester, the residence of De Quincey's father. He married Miss Dale on 30 Sept. 1799 ; and, leaving the Chorlton mills to his partners, undertook the 'government' of New Lanark about 1 Jan. 1800. The Chorlton mills were soon afterwards sold.

Owen now resolved to carry out the plans I suggested by his experience at Drinkwater's. His workmen and their families numbered about thirteen hundred, and there were four or five hundred pauper children. The men were given to drink and dishonesty ; and the children, chiefly sent from workhouses, though Dale had tried to provide for their comfort and instruction, were terribly overworked. Owen took no more pauper children, and began to improve the houses and machinery. The workmen disliked him as a foreigner and obstructed his plans. He won upon them by arranging stores at which good articles were sold for low prices, and still more by his conduct during the American embargo in 1806. He stopped the mills for four months, but paid the workmen their full wages, amounting to more than 7,000/. He was now able to introduce other measures for diminishing temptations to drink and checking pilferers. He was especially proud of a quaint arrangement for marking each man's conduct daily by a 'silent monitor,' a label coloured variously to indicate goodness and badness and placed opposite each man's post. He was anxious to apply his principles more thoroughly by forming the characters of his people from the first, and resolved to set up schools. He was still only a partner, with a ninth share of the profits and 1,000l. a year as manager. He calculated the outlay for a proposed school at 5,000l. besides an annual expense. The partners made some difficulties ; and, although they gave him a piece of plate with a flattering inscription, they hesitated to co-operate in his plans. He agreed to buy them out, the business being valued at 84,000l., and the profits during the ten years of the firm's existence having been 60,000l., after paying five per cent, on the capital. A new partnership was now formed, in which Owen had the largest of five unequal shares besides his 1,000l. a year. The new partners, however, objected to his measures, and it was finally decided that the works should be sold by auction. The partners spread discouraging accounts of the result of Owen's management, intending to buy the mills for a small sum. Owen meanwhile was tired of partners who looked merely to profit, and resolved to find men who would sympathise with his aims. He circulated a pamphlet, called 'A New View of Society' (revised by Francis Place, according to Mr. Holyoake's Life and Last Days, p. 18), describing his principles, and found ready support. He proposed to raise 130,000l. in ten shares, of which he held five himself; John Walker of Arno's Grove took three ; Joseph Foster of Bromley, William Allen [q. v.], Joseph Fox (a dentist), Michael Gibbs