Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/692

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

or poor, ignorant, and callous, and nothing else. The student, teacher, scholar, reformer, or philanthropist is only half a man. He knows principles, but not what it means to pinch and starve, to beg for work without finding it, to see his savings dwindle while capital recoups itself. Piece the scholar or reformer and the workingman together, and we get a complete and useful entity, a being capable of attacking the world's woes without aggravating them. Put yourself in the place of those you propose to aid, and then indeed your help becomes not charity, but brotherhood.

To the least observant it is plain that the manual workers who to-day represent those factory operatives that led us to economic freedom are far less skilled in many branches of industry than were their primitive forbears or their ancestors under the domestic system of trades. Steam-power inventions and appliances tend to change the wage-earners who watch them into soulless, almost brainless, machines. Labor is now so specialized that one repeats endlessly the same process—feeding presses, turning cranks, guiding seams. Reason is stultified, sensibility is deadened. All-around perfected craftsmen exist no more. Who conserves the artistic workmanship, the æsthetic and industrial skill of the primitive female? It is not displayed by our proletariat, certainly, as Prof. Mason remarks; for when we take the exquisite sewing of the Eskimo women, done with sinew thread and needle of bone, or the wonderful basketry and pottery of our American Indians, or the feather work of Polynesia, or the loom products of Africa, and compare them with the tasteless, useless decorations and clumsy needlework of the untrained daughters of our laborers and mechanics, the comparison is all in favor of the wives and daughters of the degraded savage. Household knowledge and pursuits are at the lowest ebb among many of our industrial population. The mothers and girls can neither cook nor sew, nor wash and iron, nor care in the simplest way for the body. Ignorance causes the death of infants and the ill health and poverty of adults, whom poor food robs of their only capital, the power to earn.

Not only over the homes of workers, but over the shops, foundries, mills, and factories, the curse of incompetence hangs. Unless the grade of labor improves, the pay of the skilled workman will be still further lowered by unskilled competition. Our wealth, our greatness, depend on the mastery of industrial arts. It helps us little to be the largest coal-consuming and most inventive nation on earth, if the era of machinery is to be also the era of blind force; if behind the machine we have not the trained hand and eye, the taste of the designer, the skill of the architect and wood carver, the science of the shipbuilder—in short, manual