British History - The Industrial Revolution - Rural : enclosures and Speenhamland - Urban : machines and factories - Coal and iron - Cotton and wool - Material and moral influences on the new society - Popular education - The Mechanics.
( Originally Published 1922 )
THE disciples of Burke and Eldon, with unconscious irony, daily proclaimed their aversion to change of every sort. They failed to understand that they themselves were living in the midst of a revolution more profound than. that which drew all their thoughts across the Channel. Nor did they lift a finger to check its headlong course.
Since it was the destiny of the human race that the commonest methods of bread-winning and production were to undergo changes incomparably more rapid than those of any previous age, there must in any case have been terrible suffering while the life of a whole people was being thus uprooted. But the misery in England, necessarily great, was increased by the political and intellectual atmosphere of the period in which the change began, just as it was greatly relieved by the more humane politics and more liberal thought of the middle and later nineteenth century.
When George III ascended the throne on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, the English labourer was in most cases a countryman. He enjoyed not a few of the amenities of the pleasant old-world life, and often some personal independence, and some opportunity of bettering his position. For a variety of reasons, real wages had been fairly good in the first part of the eighteenth century. The labourers and the small farmers had reason for the traditional pride that they felt as ' free-born Englishmen,' and they appear to have looked up to the gentry, more often than not, without envy or resentment. This happy state of society did once in some sort exist, although at the time when anti-Jacobin writers invoked it as an ideal to rally Britons against the republican doctrines, it was passing into the land of dreams, yielding place to the grim realities of Cobbett's England.
The ` labouring poor' in the eighteenth century had enjoyed many privileges, but they had lacked political power. This weakness proved their undoing alike in town and country, when the world of old custom, which had so long afforded them a partial shelter, was destroyed by the Industrial Revolution.
When the common, the cow, the garden, the strips of corn land, the cottage industries, and the good wages of the early Georgian period disappeared together, the poor had no means of demanding analogous benefits under any new system. They had neither the influence nor the knowledge to plead so as to be heard, either before Parliament, or before their more immediate lords, the Justices of the Peace.
The wealthy classes then enjoyed, to a degree seldom paralleled in our history, a monopoly of every form of power. They had done more to earn and deserve it than any continental noblesse, but it was excessive. Because their position was unchallenged, they fell unconsciously and almost innocently into the habit of considering all national and economic problems in terms consonant with their own interest.
The effective political economy of this period that guided the action of Parliament, of the Justices of the Peace, of the new millowners, of the enclosing landlords, was a selection and exaggeration of those parts of Adam Smith, Malthus and Ricardo which suited the acquisition of wealth by the wealthy, and a quiet ignoring of the other doctrines of those eminent philosophers.1 Such is the way in which any class, high or low, rich or poor, is sure to treat political economy, where it is not checked by the presence in the controversial arena of other classes in a position to make their side of the question heard.
In the days of Pitt and Castlereagh, the average respectable man sincerely believed that Malthus had shown poverty to be inevitable for the majority of mankind on account of the natural increase of population ; that the object of labour was not, as had formerly been thought, to supply a comfortable subsistence to the producers in the village community, but to turn out the greatest possible quantity of goods and so increase the nation's wealth; that this could best be achieved by freeing agriculture and industry from obsolete rights and customs; that common wastes and communal tillage must be abolished, together with apprenticeship and all forms of regulation of industry. It was held that the attempt of the State through the magistrates to settle wages fairly between employer and workman was an antiquated absurdity, because it was impossible to interfere with the inexorable economic laws which alone fixed what the wage must be ; that for the same reason combinations of work-men to raise wages must be punished as crimes, more especially as they were politically dangerous and Jacobinical ; that on the other hand the masters, who alone understood the needs of an industry, could properly consult together as to what wages it could bear ; that it was impossible for the State to interfere in any respect with the bargains that a master made with a work-man, either as regards the hours, pay or conditions of his own or his children's labour ; and finally, that if the working classes obtained power they would use it to burn more ricks, smash more machinery, and destroy society like the French Jacobins.
Much of this creed was common ground between Whigs and Tories. The Foxite Whigs were indeed ready to enfranchise the middle classes, and to allow the poor to hold political meetings, but they failed to comprehend the economic and social realities below.1 So, too, this same one-sided philosophy satisfied, during the Napoleonic war, both the unenfranchised millowners and the landlord governors of the Empire. The Corn Law of 1815 brought the first serious discord, for while the landlords were persuaded that corn must be kept artificially at eighty shillings a quarter or the State would perish, the master manufacturers thought that this was a gross interference with trade. So began the rift between upper and middle class, which gradually widened into such a chasm that labour from below was able to thrust through its head.
We have already indicated the nature of the revolution in agriculture which between 1760 and 1840 transformed so much land from wastes and open fields to the chess-board of hedge and ditch that we know so well today. These changes were effected under the leadership of ' improving landlords.' Such a one was Coke of Norfolk, George III's enemy and, in Norfolk, one might say rival, with his Holkham sheepshearings, famous over two hemispheres. He reigned from the beginning of the American Revolution to the premiership of Peel, spent half a million on his estate, transformed it from something little better than a rabbit-warren into one of the most productive districts of England, and raised his rental from J2,200 to L20,000 a year. He was adored by all classes in the country-side, for he had made their fortunes. His life was a mixture of the patriarchal and the progressive old English of the best.
During the half-century that followed the accession of George III, our country led the world in the scientific progress of agriculture, largely because the grandees of that period, besides being men of high education and experience in great affairs, loved their country homes and the company of their rural neighbours, and depended on their estates for their vast incomes.
They invested much capital in the improvement of land, and were amply rewarded by rents that often rose during the Napoleonic wars to four or five times what they had been in the former generation.
The mouthpiece and inspirer of these men in the hey-day of their agricultural zeal was Arthur Young, at once the practical and literary leader of English country life during the period of its revolution. His patriotic idealism drew him into a crusade against the waste lands ; he saw that, if properly enclosed and cultivated, they would yield far more than the gains made by the poor of the neighbourhood whose cattle wandered by right over these commons. He was no less zealous against the great open-field of the midland village with its hundreds of tiny strips ; he desired to see it hedged round into a score of fair-sized fields under farmers with enterprise and capital. Communal tillage was an anachronism, monstrously perpetuating into the age of enlightenment the methods by which Piers the Ploughman had toiled on the manors of John of Gaunt.
Young saw his dreams realised. In whole districts the very landscape was changed according to his desire. The break-up of the old cautious peasant life helped the population to increase at a pace unknown during the long centuries of ` subsistence agriculture.' The enclosures helped England, by producing more corn and wealth, to survive the economic struggle with Napoleon. But unfortunately they had also another effect, which their chief author in the latter part of his life had the humanity to recognise and the manhood to proclaim. In 1801, Arthur Young wrote to tell his fellow-countrymen that : 'By nineteen out of twenty Enclosure Bills the poor are injured and most grossly.'
Enclosure on a great scale was absolutely necessary in order to increase corn production and to keep pace with the changes in industry. But the method adopted from 1760 to 1840 was too uniform and paid too little regard to social consequences. Enclosure of open fields and common wastes, which meant the disappearance of innumerable small rights and properties, was during this period conducted by a long series of private Acts of Parliament, promoted by local land-lords and passed by two Houses composed almost entirely of that same class. The compensation given to the dispossessed commoner or small holder was too often inadequate, usually taking the form of a little money; the recipient had seldom any chance of setting up again as a farmer under the new system, where considerable capital was required, if only for the necessary fencing.1
The legislators saw nothing but the good side of what they did. The new fashion of economic and political thought no longer judged things by the old criterion of rearing independent families, but by the aggregate national wealth. The doctrine not only attracted philosophers and patriots, but suited the game-preserving lords and squires, who rejoiced in the disappearance of the independent classes, the yeoman free-holder and the small cottar on the edge of the common, because the countryside was thus rid of rebels to feudal authority, and actual or potential poachers. Indeed, by the time the social consequences of the movement began to be plain, the anti-Jacobin feeling of the new age openly welcomed the enclosure of common land as a means of keeping the people in their place. The use of common land by labourers ` operates upon the mind as a sort of independence,' we read in Mr. Bishton's Report on Shropshire sent to the Board of Agriculture in 1794: but when the remaining commons are enclosed, then that subordination of the lower ranks of society, which in he present times is much wanted, would be hereby considerably secured.' The labourers, who are to be housed in cotta es supplied by their employers, will then work every day instead of idling about on their own patches, and their children, ho are now growing up wild, lazy and vicious will be ' taugh to read and put out to labour early.' Mr. Bishton and many others believed, from their own personal observation, that the economic as well as the moral condition of the squatter on he common would be improved if he was turned off it and given no choice but to work as a farm hand.
Not only the squatter on the common, but the small yeoman disappeared, even out of regions like Kent and Devon, where enclosure had taken place in former centuries in a manner compatible with small farming. Undoubtedly more corn had to be grown, and could be best grown on large farms. But the movement in that direction was too universal and uniform, even from the standpoint of production. While the large farm was best for corn, poultry and livestock on the other hand were best reared and sold by the small farmer and by his wife, who took the eggs, butter and pigs to market, or supplied geese and turkeys to the great towns. The big farmers would not be bothered with these things; they produced corn on the grand scale and thought of nothing else. Under the impetus of Napoleonic prices they took the plough over lands quite unsuitable for corn. When the fall in the price of corn came, they had too often no other string to their bow.
The enclosures had increased the food supply and the national wealth; but the increased wealth had gone chiefly in rent to the landlord, in tithe to the parson, and to the pocket of the more fortunate of the big farmers.1 The lower middle class had become poor, and the poor had become paupers. Agricultural progress had been so handled as to bring disaster to the working agriculturist. This would have been avoided by leaving a larger number of small holders, and by enforcing the payment of a living wage by the farmer instead of throwing the farm hands as paupers upon the rates.
The pauperisation of rural England, the long-drawn-out disaster with which the nineteenth century opened, can only in part be ascribed to the mistakes accompanying the necessary enclosure of the land. It was equally due to the decadence of the cottage industries.' As textile and other trades were year by year gathered round the new machinery and the new factories, the corresponding industries disappeared out of cottage after cottage and village after village, at the very time when efforts were being made in so many districts to convert common waste land and small holdings into large farms. The small yeoman or labourer, losing sometimes his own sources of income, sometimes those of his wife and children, and sometimes losing both together, was left in helpless dependence on the big farmer, who, just because the rural proletariat had nothing now to live on but the farm wage, was able to cut that wage down to the starvation rate.
At this crisis in the fortunes of the poor, prices rushed up; the harvests from 1792 to 1813 were exceptionally bad; the French wars interfered with the importation of corn; food was at famine prices. The population increased with a rapidity hitherto unknown. Many went off to the new factories and helped to lower industrial wage rates. Some went to the New World, though the great tide of emigration only came in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Enough of them remained on the country-side to prevent a rise of wages there, and even to create a danger that multitudes would perish of inanition.
The danger of wholesale death by famine, with which rural England was faced in 1795, was averted by a remedy that perpetuated and increased the evils of the time, the famous poor-rate in aid of wages. In May of that year the magistrates of Berkshire were summoned to meet at Speenhamland 2 for the expressed object of fixing and enforcing a living wage for the county, in relation to the price of bread. It would no doubt have been hard to carry out during the period of violent price fluctuations between 1795 and 1815, but in principle this was the true remedy. If it had been adopted for Berkshire and for all England, it might have diverted our modern social history at its source into happier channels. It was the course pointed out by ancient custom and existing law. Unfortunately the magistrates, who had come to Speenhamland for this good purpose, were there persuaded not to enforce the raising of wages, but to supplement wages instead out of the parish rates. They drew up and published a scale, by which every poor and industrious person should receive from the parish enough to make up the deficiency of his wages to 3s. a week for himself, and for every other member of his family Is. 6d. a week, when the loaf cost a shilling. As the loaf rose higher the dole was to rise with it. This convenient scale, vulgarly known as the ' Speenhamland Act,' was adopted by the magistrates in county after county, till, except in some of the northern shires, the labourers of all England were pauperised. ' Speenhamland' became a governing fact of English life until the Poor Law of 1834.
The result was that agricultural wages were kept unduly low. As the burden of maintaining the employee had been taken over by the parish and as labour was plentiful, the farmer had no motive to pay a higher wage. Too often wages fell and prices rose, until it was no longer possible to maintain even the wretched rate of subsistence which the Berkshire magistrates in 1795 had fixed on as the lowest permissible standard. Hollow-cheeked, ragged, housed in hovels, the peasantry of England degenerated year by year under the eyes of men who were doubling and trebling their rents, and who tried to silence Cobbett as an ' incendiary ' because, when no one else dared, he pointed out the contrast.
The principle of supplementing wages out of rates, while it kept down wages, destroyed the self-respect of the labourer, by making pauperism the shameless rule instead of the shameful exception. The net result of the enclosures and of Speenhamland was that the labourer had small economic motive for industry, sobriety, independence or thrift. The employee of the big farmer was often compelled to become a pauper; and to maintain him the small, independent man was crushed by the exactions of the poor-rate. In every way it was made as hard as possible for the poor to be self-supporting. Enclosure had helped to put an end to the old methods of livelihood which once had been schools of modest virtue. Arthur Young, awakened to the evils that had accompanied the success of his own policy, thus summarises the philosophy of the alehouse bench when the new century opened : ' If I am sober, shall I have land for a cow ? If I am frugal, shall I have half an acre of potatoes ? You offer no motives. Bring me another pot.'
The rapid increase of the population, so much deplored at this time by the disciples of Malthus, was due very largely, first to the enclosures, and then to Speenhamland. In the days of ' subsistence agriculture,' the English peasants had been ` small men,' but each with a standard to maintain. The rustic lover had prudently waited before marrying till he could tell his bride of ` a pig put up in a stye,' or some other basis for the family budget. And the small farmer, if he employed labour at all, preferred to hire young unmarried people who slept in the farm and shared his table. But under the new system all was changed. The big farmer put his labourers into hovels of their own, where now the Speenhamland Poor Law secured them eighteen pence a week for every child they brought into the world. Even the mother of a family of illegitimate children was offered, as such, a better income than the worker in the field. For the rest, as Arthur Young pointed out, the labourers had nothing for which to save ; they had no prospects ; whatever they did, they were paupers for life.
These conditions, and the corresponding conditions of factory life with its child labour, largely account for the sudden increase in a population which, so far as we know, had grown only very gradually since the Norman Conquest. The vast multiplication in the numbers of Englishmen was one of the causes of their misery. But it helped the development of British industries, and in the following generation peopled Canada and Australia with men and women of our race.
When hope and self-respect had fled, crime made his seat on the hearth. In the era of Waterloo rick-burning was a common form of vengeance that often had the secret sympathy of the whole village, while highway robbery and thieving in barns were resorted to with dreadful frequency as a means of subsistence. But the particular crime most deeply resented and most severely punished by legislators and magistrates was regarded by the bulk of the population as no crime at all: to the man whom society had made a pauper malgré lui, it must often have seemed that to snare hares and net partridges at risk to his personal safety was the most honourable part of the grim and sordid life in which he strove against fate to find food for wife and child. Poaching brought a gleam of romance and joyous living into the life of the disinherited peasant
' Oh, 'tis my delight, on a shining night, in the season of the year.'
The game laws, severe when George III came to the throne, were still having fresh rigours added to them when he died. These later laws ascribed transportation for a long term of years even to the poacher carrying nothing more formidable than a net. Some indeed of the poachers were professional ruffians, coming armed from a distance and reckless of human life. The woods at midnight resounded with volleys when gentlemen and their servants, in parties of a dozen or twenty, were grappling with the banditti, man to man. It was in these years that the harsh spirit of the age introduced a new terror into the English woodland, the ` mantrap,' with its crocodile teeth, and the yet deadlier ` spring-gun,' lurking in the under-growth and murdering not only the poacher, for whom they were meant, but the gamekeeper or the innocent neutral.
Partly because they slew and maimed at random, partly because legislators were beginning to think more humanely, these engines of refurbished feudalism were made illegal in 1827. But the poaching war still raged on, and in the next three years there were over 8,s00 convictions under the game laws. Poaching diminished just in proportion as the game laws were softened down to the Victorian level of humanity and justice.
The agricultural revolution of George III's reign had been, for the labourer, a tragedy. But the part of villain need not be ascribed to the landlords.
In tragic life, God wot,
can apply as well to public as to private matters. It is true that the landlords' rents went up two, three and fourfold during the Napoleonic wars. But that was largely because they had invested their money in improving their estates. It was not the mere rack-rent of the unimproving Irish landlord of the same period. It was return on capital, well invested in an industry which enabled the island to increase its population, in days when food could not be imported largely from abroad. Such was one aspect of the enclosures. And if the rents went up, so did war-taxation and the poor-rate,. Speenhamland was a bad policy, but it was to a large extent a self-imposed levy on landlords to prevent the poor from dying of starvation.
The Corn Law of 1815, prohibiting the import of corn till the price of wheat stood above eighty ;shillings a quarter a terrible price in the money values of that day was indeed a great mistake, but Huskisson did not think so at the time. It was an almost inevitable outcome of the landowning monopoly of the legislature. Any other class with a like political mono-poly would have been equally self-regarding. In the panic created by the sudden fall of corn prices after the war, farmers threw up their farms in multitudes, and became bankrupts and village paupers. The landlords themselves, who had unwisely launched out into expenses on the expectation of perpetual high prices, had often mortgaged their estates, and were now in great difficulties. Although rents were not reduced as much or as quickly as they should have been, they had fallen in 1816 it was believed by as much as nine millions. The collapse of prices in 1814–6 was more rapid and terrifying than the agricultural depression of 1875 and the following years. In spite of the great increase of rents during the Napoleonic war, landlords were probably nothing like so substantially prosperous as their grandchildren in 1875-80. And so, having the means, as they imagined, of saving themselves and the country with them, they passed the Corn Law of 1815 with the best intentions and the worst results.
Meanwhile, step by step with the rural revolution, advanced the urban revolution, similar in principle and in spirit, and at the outset similar in its social consequences. Just as the old theory of subsistence agriculture, associated with ancient rights, small properties and communal tillage, was being re-placed by a new habit of mind that looked for the greatest net productivity of the national soil, on a basis of unfettered individual farming on the large scale so in the towns the old theory of a ` limited ' and ` well-regulated ' trade, based on the local monopoly of a chartered few, subjecting themselves to a common set of rules about trade and apprenticeship, was being gradually abandoned for the new principle of open world-competition wherein all traders who could muster the capital and enterprise were invited to buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest, and to hire their labour wherever they liked and on what conditions each could secure. The change, in town as well as country, caused a wide cleavage of sympathy and of interest between classes which had previously shared, each in its degree, the common advantages of a fixed system of life and work; now that everyone scrambled for himself, the rich became richer and the poor poorer, and the law instead of attempting to redress the balance interfered heavily on the side of the employer. Such at least was the first phase of the new civilisation in England.
A new civilisation, not only for England but ultimately for all mankind, was implicit in the substitution of scientific machinery for handwork. The Greek scientists of the Alexandrine age, the contemporaries of Archimedes and of Euclid, had failed to apply their discoveries to industry on the big scale. Perhaps this failure was due to the contempt with which the high-souled philosophy of Hellas regarded the industrial arts conducted by slave labour; perhaps the great change was prevented by the disturbed and warlike state of the Mediterranean world during those three hundred years between Alexander and Augustus, when Greek science was in its most advanced state. In any case it was left to the peaceful, cultivated but commercially minded England of the generation that followed Newton's death, to harness philosophic thought and experiment to the commonest needs of daily life. The great English inventors negotiated the alliance of science and business.
The social and intellectual conditions of the England of that day would not have been enough to initiate the industrial revolution without the presence on the spot of coal and iron. Both had long been known and used, but they had not yet been used together. The British iron industry had flourished since primeval times in the weald of Surrey and Sussex, where lonely ' hammer ponds' ' still recall the vanished day. From times before the Phoenician traders came to Britain, down to the time of the elder Pitt, ironmasters had been feeding their furnaces from the local forests. So long as wood remained the only fuel, the output of iron or steel was necessarily small, and so long as it remained small there could be no age of machinery. But in the middle of the eighteenth century, just when the English woodland was giving out, and the iron industry was beginning to leave our shores for the Scandinavian and North American forests, methods were devised to apply coal to the smelting process. This discovery led, by a chain of closely interrelated developments, to the whole urban revolution.
Iron-smelting moved to the North and Midlands to be near the coal. As the demand for coal grew, steam-engines, invented by James Watt in the early years of George III, were used to pump water from the mines. More iron, the result of more coal, in turn made it possible to produce more steam-engines, and men looked round for other ways to employ them, whether in locomotion or manufacture. In Watt's own life-time his steam-engines were applied to the cotton industry. Already the need for more coal had produced not only steam-engines but English canals, and many years later it produced the steam railways. Brindley's first canal and Stephenson's first locomotive were both made to carry coal from the pit's mouth.
It was characteristic of England, as opposed to the France of the ancien régime, that some of our nobility took an active part in these developments. The Duke of Bridgewater employed Brindley and invested his own capital in the first canals. There were great noblemen who were also great coalowners, working their own mines, and thereby becoming in due course still greater noblemen.
On the other hand, the changes in cotton and wool that followed hard on the changes in iron and coal were not patronised by the aristocracy, or even to any great extent by the merchant capitalists. The textile revolution was the work of a wholly new order of men, risen from the ranks by their energy in seizing the opportunities of the new industrial situation. A workman who had toiled at the hand-loom in his own cottage might borrow L100 to start as a small employer with the new machines. The more enterprising of the vanishing class of yeomen invested the price of their ancestral farms in a like venture. Such are the origins of not a few families who became honourably famous in the nineteenth century.
The first generation of these men had the defects as well as the merits of pioneers. A common type of ' millowner ' in the days of the younger Pitt was a hard-bitten North-country working-man, of no education and great force of character, taking little stock of his social or political relations with the outer world, allowing neither leisure nor recreation to himself or to his hands, but managing somehow to convert the original 4100 that he borrowed into a solvent ` mill,' the prison-house of children, the hidden reef on which Napoleon's empire struck. As a rule, he bothered his head equally little about the children he employed and the foreign war in which he was to be a decisive factor except in so far as they made or marred his own fortunes.
By the time the war came to an end, men and their manners were changing. A millowner of the second generation had been born and bred a bourgeois, but of a new and enterprising type. With more education and wider outlook than his grim old father, the young man looked about him for the uses, obligations and privileges of wealth, as they were understood in that generation. He cast an eye on the world of gentry and clergy around him, with the result sometimes of alliance, more often of mutual repulsion. As likely as not he became a Unitarian, to express his intellectual and social independence, while his workmen sought simple salvation as Baptists or Wesleyans. As a young man, he believed in Mr. Brougham, slavery abolition and the ' march of mind,' hated Church Rates, Orders in Council, Income Tax and Corn Laws, and read the Edinburgh Review. His coming battle with the Tory borough-owners and landlords, delayed by the long struggle with Napoleon, was a thing as inevitable as the feud with his own workmen that he had inherited from his father. But his war on two fronts never degenerated into class-war pure and simple; with its constant regroupings, cross-currents, conversions and compromises, it was the destined method of evolution for the political and intellectual life of the new Britain.
The cotton industry, though not absolutely created by the new machinery, derived thence almost its whole importance. Between the accession of George III and the passing of the Reform Bill its output increased a hundred-fold. Already by 1806 cotton was said to supply a third of the total British exports. The industry was concentrated in South and Central Lancashire, because the port of Liverpool was convenient to a trade depending on the import of raw cotton and the export of the manufactured article; because there it was near cheap coal; and because the climate of the damp Atlantic seaboard is peculiarly suitable to fine spinning.
The first mills, worked by water-power, were established on the upper reaches of the Pennine streams. But throughout the long war with France, Watt's steam-engines were replacing water-power, and the industry was moving down into the big towns of the Lancashire plain. This meant a change from small to large mills, real capitalist employers, great assemblies of working-people and an increase in the proportion of skilled mechanics, circumstances all of which prepared the way for improved conditions of life in the future. The employees, now accumulated in one mill by hundreds instead of by scores, could not long fail to combine for economic and political action. The new type of large millowner had a secure financial position, more education and sometimes more enlightenment. Individuals of this class introduced factory conditions which inspectors in a later time could enforce as standards. And when the age of Factory Acts came, it was easier to inspect properly one big mill than many small ones.
If the cotton industry showed England the way into some of the worst miseries of the industrial revolution, it also showed the way out, because it passed most rapidly through the period of semi-capitalised and half-organised industry, with its mean cruelties, into full-blown capitalism where the workpeople, the masters and the State could readily take stock of each other.
But before the age of Factory Acts, the condition of women and children in both small and big mills was as a rule very wretched. Mothers and children worked from twelve to fifteen hours a day under insanitary conditions, without either the amenities of life which had sweetened and relieved the tedium of family work in the cottage, or the conditions which make factory life attractive to many women to-day. The discipline of the early factories was like the discipline of a prison. Small children were often cruelly treated to keep them awake during the long hours, which shortened their lives or undermined their health.
The men were in little better case. Often out of employment, they were forced to sell their wives and children into the slavery of the mills, while they themselves degenerated in squalid idleness. The hand-loom weavers had flourished until the early years of the nineteenth century, weaving the in-creased product of the new spinning mills. But the coming of the power-loom destroyed their prosperity ; their wages fell, they went on to the rates as paupers, and drank the dregs of misery, until after long years their old-world employment altogether disappeared.
The older branch of the textile industry, wool, was more widely spread over the island than its younger and half-foreign sister, cotton. But its chief centre remained in the dales of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Wool was subject to the same general conditions of employment as cotton, and underwent in the end the same kind of transformation. But the change came more slowly in wool. Although the spinning jenny had in the last years of the eighteenth century gone far to destroy the spinning of wool by women and children in rural cottages, the power-loom was introduced for the weaving of worsted and wool several decades later than for cotton. In the early years of the century, therefore, the woollen weavers suffered little from the introduction of machinery, although the fluctuations of trade caused them much distress.
Coal-mining was an ancient industry, but its development in the age of ` iron and coal ' was prodigious, and a large part of the population now worked underground. Women were used there as beasts of burden, and children worked in the dark, sometimes for fourteen hours.' The men laboured under conditions that showed but little regard for health or human life. In Durham and Northumberland it was not the custom before 1815 to hold inquests on the victims of the innumerable accidents. Payment was not on a cash basis, owing to the truck ' system, and the oppression by the ` putties ' or sub-contractors for labour. These things and the condition of the miners' cottages, which were generally owned by their employers, too often rendered the life of the miner of a hundred years ago ` brutish, nasty and brief.'
If things were thus in the great textile and mining industries, they were no better in shops and smaller businesses where the new semi-capitalised industry was breaking up the old apprentice system and the ` regulated ' trade. Indeed in many small or less highly organised concerns, where Trade Unionism failed to take root, ` truck ' payments and ` sweated ' wages and hours continued till the end of the nineteenth century, though they were worse when it began.
The new urban proletariat was swelled in numbers and depressed in standard of life by constant arrivals of fresh swarms of impoverished rustics, driven by stress of famine from the English and the Irish country-side. Any attempt of workmen to combine for a living wage consonant with the rise of prices was illegal under Pitt's Combination Acts (1799). And though the law was frequently violated by the men it was frequently enforced by the justices of the Peace. However little some of the magistrates who were squires might sympathise with the new class of millowner, they saw their duty in keeping down the 'Jacobinism ' of the lower orders. But in fact they were thus preparing for ' Jacobinism ' a powerful revival.
After the Tom Paine movement had been suppressed, the workmen in the early years of the nineteenth century had no political ambition. But they petitioned Parliament during the Napoleonic wars that a living wage should be enforced in accordance with existing statutes; such patriarchal protection by the authorities would seem the corollary of Pitt's laws that prevented the workmen from attempting to raise wages for themselves. But the answer of Parliament in 1813 was to repeal the assessment clauses of the Elizabethan Statutes for the enforcement of which the workmen were asking. Assessment of wages was condemned on the principle of non-interference proclaimed by the new political economy. Laissez faire was always invoked against the workman but never on his behalf, as was proved once more when in 1815 the price of bread was artificially raised by the Corn Law. It was this unfair political dealing at every turn that drove the masses of workmen now collected together in the great staple industries to renew their interest in politics.
The Tory panacea for unrest had been proclaimed in 1795 by Bishop Horsley when he said that ` the mass of the people had nothing to do with the laws but to obey them.' During the next twenty years the laws had almost invariably been used to make the mass of the people worse off. That was why the workmen, led by Cobbett and Hunt, began to demand the vote, before the middle classes had been stirred to a like demand. That was why Peterloo followed hard on Waterloo.
Before tracing the political history of the new era, it remains to notice some of the moral and intellectual influences to which men and women were subjected, when, uprooted from the pieties and associations of the old rural life, they drifted to the new factories to find work.
First they had to be housed, if only in the private and temporary interest of the employer. Consideration for the public and forethought for the future were absent from the planning of the new town. The man for the employer's purpose was the jerry-builder, who designed the outward aspect of the new civilisation. Street after street sprang up, each more ugly, narrow and insanitary than the last. They were barracks for cheap labour, not homes for citizens.
Citizens, indeed, the workmen were not. They had no word in the government of England, and no civic position in the local area which they had come to inhabit. If they happened to be lodged within a chartered town, they lived under a close corporation and its municipal magistrates. If they were out-side such precincts, they were under the rural justices of the Peace and the antiquarian relics of the Court Leet. Neither urban nor rural authorities were called upon to provide for health, lighting, decency or education in a new factory quarter. They were content to quell riots and to arrest trade unionists, seditionists, deists, frame-breakers and other criminals.
The municipal corruption of the eighteenth century had lost the civic traditions and the public spirit of medioeval corporate life. The sudden growth of the new factory quarters hardly disturbed the complacency of the long inactive oligarchs, who were so well accustomed to neglect their old duties that they were not likely to attend to the new.
It is perhaps the greatest of our national misfortunes that the modern English town arose too rapidly and with too little regulation, either sanitary or aesthetic. The bodily and spiritual health of future generations was injured in advance. A type of city was allowed to grow up which it was fatally easy to imitate as the model for the whole industrial development of the new century, until the great majority of Englishmen were dwellers in mean streets, ` divorced from nature but unreclaimed by art.' When, indeed, in the course of the nineteenth century, local government was made to attend to its duties, by being subjected partly to democratic election and partly to an elaborate system of central control, large provision was made for health, convenience and education. But ugliness remained a quality of the modern city, accepted by the public conscience in spite of Ruskin and his successors. It has yet to be dislodged,
Working-class life, a hundred years ago, divided between the gloom of these dreary quarters and the harsh discipline of the workshop, was uncheered by the many interests that now relieve the lot of the town dweller. Few of the workmen or their wives could read; the children had the factory and the slum, but not the school or the playground; holiday excursions and popular entertainments were rare, except some sporting events of a low type, such as setting on men, women or animals to fight. In the vacant misery of such a life, two rival sources of consolation, drink and religion, strove for the souls of men. The annals of drink are much the same in all ages, though worst in ages of degradation. But the particular form that religion then took among the workmen, influenced the course of political and social history.
The Established Church in that era scarcely paid more attention to the new slums than did the other constituted authorities. What Church expansion there was, took place chiefly at the expense of the taxpayer, who was compelled in 1818 to contribute a million pounds to build a hundred new churches. The beneficed clergy, many of whom were active magistrates, were suspect to the workmen as ` black dragoons ' of the possessing classes. But many of the more self-respecting of the new proletariat found in the Baptist or Wesleyan chapel the opportunity for the development of talents and the gratification of instincts that were denied expression elsewhere. The close and enthusiastic study of the Bible educated the imagination more nobly than it is educated in our age of magazines, novelettes and newspapers. And in the chapel life working-men first learnt to speak and to organise, to persuade and to trust their fellows. Much effort that soon afterwards went into political, trade union and cooperative activities, was then de-voted to the chapel community. It was in Little Bethel that many of the working-class leaders were trained. In a world made almost intolerable by avarice and oppression, here was a refuge where men and things were taken up aloft and judged by spiritual and moral standards that forbade either revenge or despair.
Wesleyanism, unlike Baptism, was originally conservative in its political associations, owing to the views of its founder, a Church of England clergyman. Wesley's religion could not indeed induce the workman of the new era to accept the conditions of his helotage, but it worked against violence and helped to develop many of the moral qualities and sober aspirations which have often distinguished the labour movement of England from that of the Continent.
The Radical ' infidelity ' of the Peterloo era was a rival to Dissent, but like Dissent it nursed aspirations in the working-class for better things. Before the French Revolution, unorthodox views had been common among the aristocracy of England, and indeed our free-thinking writers had given the original stimulus to the more formidable anti-clericalism of France. But in the days of Middleton, David Hume, Gibbon and their upper-class patrons, the middle and working classes were orthodox Churchmen or Dissenters, or else were too ignorant to have any views on religion. With the publication of Tom Paine's Age of Reason (1794-6), a popularly written attack on miraculous religion from the point of view of ethical deism, the philosophic appeal to the people was fairly launched, and was associated with radicalism in politics owing to its author's burning reputation.
Partly on account of Paine's two-fronted attack against Church and State together, a strong religious reaction set in among the upper class under the combined influence of anti-Jacobinism and Evangelical religion. Only Fox, Lord Holland and others of the high Whigs remained untouched by the movement, handing on in their party the tradition of a quiet and gentlemanly scepticism, half aristocratic, half liberal, wholly anti-ecclesiastical. Meanwhile the triumphant Tories were setting the law in motion against the propagators of Paine's doctrines, political and religious. The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, after selling for a short while in thousands, were driven out of circulation before the century ended.
The two movements associated with Paine went on under-ground, and after Waterloo reappeared openly together among the northern factory hands. The leaders of the new radicalism, whose chief demand was universal suffrage, were nearly all either Deists or Dissenters. The Dissenting preachers were under the protection of Wilberforce and the Evangelical Churchmen, now powerful in the Tory party. But the blasphemy laws were refurbished, and a fresh war of prosecutions, fines and imprisonments was waged against Radical publishers of deistic works, particularly the reprinters of Paine. The genuine horror felt by the respectable classes for a ` radical ' was much increased by the supposition that he was also an ` infidel.'
In this connection Richard Carlile suffered and achieved more for the liberty of the Press than any other Englishman of the nineteenth century. He and his like bore the brunt of this early struggle, which secured immunity for those who published unorthodox works. Thanks to these sturdy predecessors, the decorous and well-to-do philosophers of the Victorian era were able without fear of the law to write what-ever they thought about the relation of science and literature to dogmatic belief.
If the real meaning of the Industrial Revolution and the break-up of the apprentice system had been understood, men would have seen that education was no longer a luxury for the few, but a necessity for all members of the new society. Generations were to pass before this idea was acted upon by the State, as a corollary of the working-class enfranchisement of 1867. The first effect of the Industrial Revolution, and the misery and unrest that it caused among the poor, was to render education suspect as ' Jacobinical.' This notion was still prevalent in Parliament in 1807; the House of Commons took the compulsory element out of the Bill by which Whitbread'. proposed, somewhat on the Scottish model, to establish parish schools in England out of the rates. In the Lords the Bill, thus mutilated, was introduced by Lord Holland, but was rejected without a division, on the complaint of the Archbishop of Canterbury that it did not leave enough power to the clergy.
But there was a counter-current setting towards a better future for education ; and it gained ground as the French Revolution slowly receded into the background of men's consciousness. At the head of the new movement were the Quakers, ever ready with the purse; the more intelligent Whig leaders - Holland, Whitbread, Brougham; the Radical philosophers headed by Bentham ; the few educated leaders of the workmen, Owen and Place; and, in a separate group, the Evangelical Churchmen with their desire to promote among the humblest the personal study of the Bible. All these assisted to provide voluntary education since public funds were not available. More conservative educationalists, who dreaded lest a learned peasantry would turn Jacobin or desert agriculture for clerical professions, were appeased by the arrangement that only reading, and not writing, should be taught in the Sunday schools, now rapidly on the increase.
But, during the Peninsular War, the foundation of day-schools and the propagation of the dangerous art of writing received a fresh impulse. For some years past the Quaker Lancaster, partly helped by the ideas of the Churchman Bell, his future rival, had been working out a cheap education based on the 'monitorial system of instruction.' Lancaster's early efforts led to the formation of the ` British and Foreign School Society' under Dissenting and Whig patronage, on the basis of undenominational Bible-teaching ; while the Churchmen, partly to counter Lancaster's early efforts, had founded the ` National Society for the Education of the Poor according to the Principles of the Church of England.
The claim of the Church to control the spending of any public funds that might be devoted to education was in accordance with her privileged position in the law and theory of that time, but it was naturally resisted by many indignant laymen and Dissenters. The result was that all chance of public money going to education was put off to the Greek Calends. But religious rivalry, so disastrous in the legislative sphere, had a healthy effect on private benefaction, ` British ' and ` National ' schools multiplied, and the Church began to pull ahead, especially in rural districts. In 1818 as many as 600,000 children out of two million were attending schools of some sort. In the year of the Reform Bill, when Bell died, there were as many as 12,000 ' National ' schools.' But the ' monitorial system of instruction,' though it made it easy to set up schools cheaply, gave very poor results. The master kept order while certain children whom he had instructed before school-hours imparted their newly acquired knowledge to the others by rote. This was at least better than nothing. But in the great factory districts, especially London and Lancashire, the employment of children in mills and workshops prevented them from receiving education of any kind, and made illiteracy common in parts of England where it should have been most rare.
The cause of Adult Education received its first stimulus from the Industrial Revolution in the desire of mechanics for general scientific knowledge, and the willingness of the more intelligent part of the middle class to help to supply their demand. It was a movement partly professional and utilitarian, partly intellectual and ideal. Disinterested scientific curiosity was strong among the better class of workmen in the North. From 1823 onwards Mechanics' Institutes, begun in Scotland by Dr. Birkbeck, spread through industrial England. The flame was fanned by the bellows of Henry Brougham's organising and advertising genius, in the period of his greatest public service, when he stood for the real ' Opposition ' in Parliament and country, pointing to
'The young time with the life ahead.'
Self-satisfied classical scholars like Peacock might laugh at the ' learned friend ' and his ' steam-intellect society,' but the new world could not live wholly on classical scholarship carefully locked away from common use in the close ecclesiastical corporations of the Oxford and Cambridge of that day. Nor, in an age that needed first and foremost to be converted to see the need for education, was there so much harm in a ' semi-Solomon ' from Scotland, irrepressible in zeal as a propagandist and not afraid of making a fool of himself before the learned if he could help the ignorant to learn.
The success of these democratic Mechanics' Institutes, with an annual subscription of a guinea, reminds us that there was one section of the working men:, the engineers and mechanics, who had already gained more than they lost by the Industrial Revolution.
Of that Revolution, the men who made and mended the machines were indeed the bodyguard. They were usually better paid than their fellow-workmen, they were on the average more intelligent, and they often took the lead in educational and political movements. They were less looked down upon by the employers, who had to consult them and to bow to their technical knowledge. They were in the forefront of progress and invention, and rejoiced in the sense of leading the new age. Such workmen were the Stephensons of Tyne-side ; there was nothing ' middle class ' about the origins of the man who invented the locomotive, after having taught himself to read at the age of seventeen.
It is indeed easier to reconstruct the early history of the coal-miners and textile hands, than that of the mechanics and engineers, because the latter were scattered up and down the country. But any picture of the earliest and worst stage of the Industrial Revolution is too black if it omits the life of the mechanics. The motto of the coming age was ` self-help,' a doctrine that left behind many of the weaker and less fortunate; but at least there were from the first other classes besides employers and middlemen who reaped a large share of its benefits, and who grew to a larger manhood under the moral and intellectual stimulus of the individualist doctrine.