The Laboring Classes of England/Letter 13
I am aware that it is not always advisable to make comparisons; there are, however, exceptions to most rules, and if any good is likely to result, I think we ought not to allow any trifling circumstance to check our endeavors. In laying before the reader the following contrast, I am actuated solely by a desire to show the tendency of insufficient remuneration for labor, and the evil resulting from long hours of labor to young people in factories.
In the winter of 1841-2 my business required me to travel through the county of Derbyshire, in England. In this journey I was detained by unfavorable weather at Matlock Baths, a place remarkable for its romantic beauty, mineral springs, and subterranean caverns. I employed a part of the leisure time thus afforded me, in examining these local curiosities; but particularly the caverns, which are so justly celebrated.
Having satisfied my curiosity with all that was interesting under ground, I turned my attention to what was going on among the inhabitants of the village.
In Matlock Baths and the neighboring village of Cromford, there are three cotton mills. These mills, at the time of my visit, belonged to the late Mr. Richard Arkwright, the only son of Sir Richard Arkwright, the father of the English factory system.
As this place was one of the earliest seats of the cotton manufacture, I was anxious to see the effects of the factory system here. The people of this village seldom migrate, have very little intercourse in any way with the inhabitants of large towns, and know but little of what is going on beyond the beautiful hills by which they are surrounded.
I found the general condition of the people to be any thing but favorable to a high state of moral and intellectual culture. Long hours of labor, low wages, and hard fare seemed to be the prevailing characteristic of the factory system in that place. Many of the poor inhabitants related to me their tales of sufferings and privation, and seemed to feel their miseries very keenly. Among other things, I was very much interested in the case of one of their factory cripples.
Being directed to a small cottage in the village of Cromford, (which joins that of Matlock,) where this poor man resided, I made free to knock. The door was opened by a clean, elderly woman, the widowed mother of the poor cripple, who kindly invited me in, and requested me to be seated.
Having explained the object of my visit, I was directed to a young man who sat in a corner, at work upon a child's first shoe. After a short introduction, I asked him if he would be kind enough to inform me how he became such a cripple; he very readily complied with my request, and related to me his history in nearly the following words, his mother sitting beside him at the time:
"My name is J—— R——; I went to work in the cotton factory in the adjoining village of Matlock Baths, at the age of 9 years. I was then a fine, strong, healthy lad, and straight in every limb. They gave me at first 48 cents per week. For this I had to work 12 hours a day. Our master was very exact as to time; if we worked more than 12 hours a day we were paid for the extra time, if less, we were abated.
Sometimes we were obliged to stop the mill, from having too much or too little water; the time thus lost was always deducted, and our overtime added. On pay-day we gave in our time, and were paid accordingly."
"Then," said I, "you mean to say, that your wages of 48 cents was for 72 hours' work. To which he replied, "exactly so."
"I got my wages raised," he continued, "as I learned my business; but our master, Mr. Arkwright, was always very exact in these things. He always raised our wages at the beginning of the year, and at no other time except for some very particular reason. He would then give us a little more each, and that was to be our wages for the next twelve months. I worked in that mill for about ten years. I never worked in any other mill; I never had any other master than Mr. Arkwright.
I gradually became a cripple, till at the age of 19 I was unable to stand at the machine through the day, and was obliged to give it up. You see, sir, what a figure I am; I cannot walk without the help of this stick and my brother's arm. I have only been down to the market place, at the bottom of the street, twice since I left the mill, and I do not feel a desire to go again, the people stare at me so."
"How long is it since you left the mill?" said I.
"Nearly two years."
"Then you are about 21 years old?"
"Yes sir, I shall be 21 next birth-day."
Reader, imagine you see before you a young man, whose body forms (when he is standing, supported by a stick on one side and is holding by a table on the other) a curve from the forehead to the knees, similar to the letter C, his legs twisted in all manner of ways by standing at the frames, and you will have a tolerable picture of our friend J—— R——, of Cromford.
Here is a person just entering upon manhood, who was evidently intended by nature for a stout, able bodied man, crippled in the prime of life, and all his earthly prospects gone. Such a cripple as this man, I have seldom met with. Yet it was pleasing to see with what patience and resignation he bore his lot. He had learned to read and write a little, and his brother was teaching him to make first shoes for children.
This man has been paying taxes to the government of England from his birth, or his parents for him; but there is no law by means of which he can gain any compensation for the injuries he has sustained.
In returning to my lodgings, I passed by his master's Castle; and my imagination was busy at work in picturing the multitudes of human bones and sinews that had been sacrificed in building it. I almost fancied I could see them intermixed with the stones and mortar.
I left Matlock Baths, and in the noise and bustle of every day life, the case of J. R. had been well nigh forgot, till in the spring of 1843, it was again brought to my recollection, by seeing in the newspapers an account of the death of his former master, Richard Arkwright, Esq., of Wilersley Castle, near Cromford, Derbyshire.
This gentleman succeeded to all the possessions and numerous spinning factories of Sir Richard, his father, in 1792, then estimated at the value, capital stock included, of about two million five hundred thousand dollars. By his extensive spinneries in Cromford, Bakewell, and Manchester, he is said to have derived a clear income of 500,000 dollars annually. The extensive works at Manchester he disposed of sometime after his father's death, to his managers, Messrs. Barton and Simpson, who both realized large fortunes. In about 1837—8, he disposed of his spinning works at Bakewell; but those at Cromford, near his own residence, he carried on to the time of his death.
Mr. Arkwright died possessed of not less than thirty-five million dollars! in personal property alone, irrespective of landed estates.
As an individual capitalist, there is not one in Europe at the present time who can approach within half the distance, excepting, perhaps, the excellent, no less than wealthy Mr. Solomon Heine, of Hamburg; who, according to general repute, is estimated to concentrate in his own person the representation of money values to the amount of §20,000,000. It must be remembered, however, that this sum represents the whole property of Mr. Heine, whereas, the late Mr Arkwright was possessed of landed estates to the value of seven or eight millions of dollars, beyond the amount at which the personality is rated.
Immensely wealthy as are the Barings, the Rothschilds, the Hopes, &c., of Europe, there is not, has not been one, that could be placed at all in the comparison; not all the magnificent fortunes drawn off, with all the vast capital remaining still in the princely house of Baring, would reach to the amount; not all the capital of all the Rothschilds throughout Europe together, would equal more than one half the enormous mass of wealth left behind by the late Mr. Arkwright.
The reader will bear in mind that Mr. Arkwright was the son of Sir Richard Arkwright, who, about the year 1778 was a common barber in Preston, Lancashire, shaving for one cent per head. On one occasion the Preston barber had to make his appearance in a court of justice; but his clothing was so mean that he was ashamed to go, and being too poor to purchase any thing new, his friends and customers entered into a subscription of one shilling each, to put him in decent plight.
How many thousands of human beings have been hurried off to an untimely grave, in scraping together for these gentlemen, father and son, the enormous sum of upwards of forty millions of dollars, time will not reveal.
It is this sort of work that has made England so full of cripples and paupers.