Passages from the Life of a Philosopher/Chapter XVII
experience amongst workmen.
During one of my visits to Leeds, combinations and trades-unions were very prevalent A medical friend of mine, who was going to Bradford on a professional visit, very kindly offered to take me over in his carriage and bring me back again in the evening. He had in that town a friend engaged in the manufactories of the place, to whom he proposed to introduce me, and who would willingly give me every assistance. Unfortunately, on our arrival we found that this gentleman was absent on a tour.
My medical friend was much vexed; but I assured him that I was never at a loss in a manufacturing town, and we agreed to meet at our hotel for dinner. I then went into the town to pick up what information I might be able to meet with.
Passing a small manufactory, I think it was of door-mats, I inquired whether a stranger might be permitted to see it. The answer being in the affirmative, one of the men accompanied me round the works. Of course I asked him many questions which he answered as far as he could; but several of them puzzled him, and he very good-humouredly tried to supply the information I wanted by asking several of his fellow-workmen. One question about which I was anxious to be informed, puzzled them all. At last one of the men to whom he applied said, "Why don't you go and ask Sam Brown?" My guide immediately went in search of his learned friend, who gave me full information on the subjects of my inquiry.
Much pleased by the intelligence and acuteness of this man, I thought it possible he might have read the "Economy of Manufactures." On mentioning that work, I found he was well acquainted with it, and he asked my opinion of its merits. I told him that, having myself written the book, I was not an impartial judge. On hearing that I was its author, his delight was unbounded; he held out his brawny hand, which I cordially grasped. The most gratifying remark to me, however, amongst the many things in it to which he referred with approbation, was the expression he applied to it as a whole. "Sir," said my new friend, "that book made me think." To make a man think for himself is doing him far higher service than giving him much instruction.
I now told my new friend that I had studied a little the effects of combinations, and also the results of co-operative shops, and that I was very anxious to add to my stock of information upon both subjects, but particularly on the latter. Knowing that there existed a co-operative shop in Bradford, I asked whether it would be possible to see it and make some inquiries as to its state and prospects. He said if he could get permission for half an hour's absence he would accompany me to it, and give me whatever information I wished as to its operation.
Mr. Brown accordingly accompanied me to the co-operative shop, where the information required was most readily given.
As we were returning, my companion exclaimed, "Oh, how lucky! there is ——, the secretary of all our clubs. He is the man to tell you all about them." We accordingly crossed over to the other side: the secretary, as soon as he heard my name, held out his hand and greeted me with a hearty grasp.
Having told him the objects of my inquiry, he expressed great anxiety to give me the fullest information. He proposed to take me with him in the course of the evening to all the clubs in Bradford, in each of which he promised me that I should receive a most cordial welcome.
He offered to show me all their rules, with the exception of certain ones which he assured me had no connection whatever with the objects of my inquiries, and which the laws of the respective clubs required to be kept secret. I think it right to mention this fact; but I am bound also to add that I have a strong conviction of the truth and sincerity of my informant I believe that the one or two rules which I understood could not be communicated to a stranger, were merely secret modes of recognition amongst the members of the different societies by which fellow-members of the same societies might recognize each other in distant places.
However, my limited time was now drawing to a close. It was impossible to remain at Bradford that night, and my previous arrangements called me in two days to a distant part of the country. I parted with regret from these friendly workmen, and joining my companion at the hotel, after a hasty dinner we were soon on our way back to Leeds.
Our conversation turned upon the large ironworks we should pass on our return, which indeed were clearly indicated by the columns of fire in front of us—tall chimneys illumining the darkness of the night.
I was told by my friend that in one of the ironworks which we should pass, there was a large tunnel through a rock which had originally been intended for a canal: but that it was now used as an air-chamber, to equalize the supply of the blast furnaces. Also that an engine of a hundred horse-power continually blew air into this stony chamber.
I inquired whether it would be possible to get admission into this Temple of Æolus. As my friend, fortunately for me, was acquainted with the proprietors, this was not difficult. Our carriage drove up to the manager's house, and my wish was immediately gratified.
A lantern was provided, a small iron door at the end of the cavern was opened, and armed like Diogenes, I entered upon my search after truth. I soon ascertained that there was very little current, except close to the tuyeres which supplied the several furnaces, and also at the aperture through which tons of air were driven without cessation by the untiring fiery horse.
I tried to think seriously; and reflecting on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, I speculated whether their furnace might have been hotter than the one before me. I was within a foot or two of a white heat, but I had no thermometer with me, and if I had had one, its graduations might not have been upon the same scale as theirs—so I gave up the speculation.
The intensity of that fire was peculiarly impressive. It recalled the past, disturbed the present, and suggested the future. The contemplation of the fiery abyss, which had recalled the history of those ancient Hebrews, naturally turned my attention to the wonderful powers of endurance manifested by one of their modern representatives. Candour obliges me to admit that my speculations on the future were not entirely devoid of anxiety, though I trust they were orthodox, for whilst I admired the humanity of Origen, I was shocked by the heresy of Maurice.
I now began to moralize.
Blown upon by a hundred horse-power, I sympathised with Disraeli refrigerated by his friends. Turning from that painful contemplation, I was calmed by the freshness of the breeze. The action of the pumps, the coolness of the place and of the time, for it was evening, recalled to my recollection M . . . . . . . M . . . . .; so I hoped, for the sake of instruction, that he would in his own adamantine verses snatch if possible from oblivion the moral anatomy of that unsuccessful statesman. Yet, lest even the poet himself should be forgotten, I resolved to give each of them his last chance of celebrity preserved in the modest amber of my own simple prose.
Emerging from my reverie, I made the preconcerted signal; the iron door was opened, and we were again on our road to Leeds.