A Fictional, “Idealized” Lancastrian
Norman Poulton published a novel in 18961 entitled “Moses Grimshaw a Story of Lancashire Life.” His apparent purpose in the book was to expound upon his social and ethical theories and values as he saw them in the context of late Victorian England at the peak of the Industrial Revolution. Chief among his values was the ideal of “self-reliance.”
Poulton’s method was to write a “realistic novel,” using Moses Grimshaw (a fictional character) to illustrate his values and observations. From the perspective of the beginning of the 21st Century, his book seems quaint, if not a bit harsh (children, for example, should not have to begin work until age 10, and then for only 10 hours per day!) From the Preface:
Although this book may be properly regarded as a novel it is founded on real facts of life, and therefore may be designated a realistic novel, if that term did not suggest a contradiction…
…The facts recorded have come mostly under his (the author’s) own observation. The combination of qualities in the story of this one life is part of the author’s design. He would describe what a man ought to be, and what many Lancashire men have become. The intention of the writer has been to show how important to a successful life is the principle of self-reliance…
…His (the author’s) main purpose has been to illustrate the principle of self-reliance, in practical life, in politics, and in religion, as being absolutely essential to a successful and noble career.
What is perhaps most significant to Grimshaw family researchers, however, is Poulton’s choice of the surname “Grimshaw” as being representative or emblematic of Lancashire for his exposition.
The title page and table of contents of Poultons book are given below, followed by the Preface and the first and last chapters as examples of his viewpoints and style.
1 Poulton, Norman, 1896, Moses Grimshaw a Story of Lancashire life: London, Elliot Stock, 240 p.
Table of Contents – provides an overall outline of the contents of the book…
Although this book may be properly regarded as a novel it is founded on real facts of life, and therefore may be designated a realistic novel, if that term did not suggest a contradiction. Many of the novels of our time are entirely products of imagination, and pay little regard to the realities of life. They are evolved from the inner consciousness of their writers, and are not always in harmony with actual life and experience. A novel cannot be the literal history of any individual, but it may, and it should, be the description of a possible life. It should be the product of imagination within the limits of those laws that determine life and its relations. The qualities expounded may be those of the ideal man; but they must be kept within the limits of what is possible to human nature. When imagination is let loose, and produces characters that are outside the probabilities of human life, reason is violated, and lessons of practical value cannot be imparted to the ordinary reader. The form of a novel must be imaginative, but it should rest on possible facts or a substratum of reality. Art, to be genuine, ought to be an imitation of Nature. The features may not correspond precisely with any one concrete object in Nature; but they should harmonize with natural features, as these are spread over the domain of Nature. Art, which sets Nature at defiance, must be a monstrosity.
The same thing applies, more or less, to novels which are artistic productions of the imagination finding expression in book form. To be of any service to humanity these should be the incarnations of natural qualities, within the bounds of Nature and possible experience. Hence, a genuine novel should have a lesson, or a moral, and should not merely minister to the amusement of the reader.
In this book the author attempts to find expression for this principle. The facts recorded have come mostly under his own observation. The combination of qualities in the story of this one life is part of the author’s design. He would describe what a man ought to be, and what many Lancashire men have become. The intention of the writer has been to show how important to a successful life is the principle of self-reliance. There is a tendency in the present day to under-estimate this principle, by giving to it the name of individualism. The power of law is magnified, and the functions of government are extended, far beyond what formerly was deemed legitimate, or even possible. This tendency, in its many applications, is expressed by the word Collectivism, as distinguished from Individualism. By many writers, speakers, and preachers, the one system is ridiculed as selfish and oppressive, and the other is glorified as the highest form of Christianity the social Gospel, as discovered and propounded by the new lights of modern thought in Church and State. The difficulty in dealing with these questions arises, in part, from the ambiguity of the terms that are used in relation to them. There probably never was an individualism, in civilized and Christian countries, such as modern theorists describe, and then denounce. No individual can be absolutely independent of others, and no one can be justified in following a selfish course of life. What has been intended by the word is not selfishness, which is the abuse of the principle, but the development of the individual powers as the basis of prosperity. Self-reliance, in the sense of self-development, prudence, industry, thrift, intelligence, activity, must be the basis of a useful and prosperous career. A building is strong and good only when its materials are good; and no structure can be sound that consists of bad materials. The social system may be benefited by improved legislation, but if the individuals that compose it be evil the system must be rotten. The truth is to be found in the happy mean of these two systems.
There is, in ethics, a great difference between self-love and selfishness, as has often been shown by moral philosophers. The one is legitimate and commendable the other is a vice and a sin. Without self-love no man will do anything for the welfare of himself, or his family, or any- body else. When this self-love is allowed to interfere with the welfare and happiness of others it becomes selfishness, and that is the abuse of the other principle. The welfare of society is promoted by a true self-love, which becomes the basis of a true benevolence. A person who has no regard for self-development will be of no use to others. The medium between extremes is the true principle of wisdom, virtue, and social welfare.
In describing Lancashire life, the author has not attempted, except in one or two instances, to imitate the peculiar dialect of Lancashire which, under the influence of education, is gradually passing away. He doubts the wisdom of filling a volume with terms and expressions which are ungrammatical, and may even be regarded as vulgar. He has been content to give the thoughts and the principles of the persons described in ordinary English, expressed in his own style. His main purpose has been to illustrate the principle of self-reliance, in practical life, in politics, and in religion, as being absolutely essential to a successful and noble career.
Moses Grimshaw, whose prosperous career in life is to be described in the following pages, was born in the year 1827, in one of those groups of buildings on the north, or rather north-western, side of Manchester, which were regarded as villages in the early part of this century. Through the extraordinary development of the cotton trade these have gained the proportions of populous towns. Moses was one of a large family; nearly all his brothers and sisters grew up to manhood or womanhood, and lived useful and successful lives, though none of them reached the same measure of success as Moses. His parents, Thomas and Mary Grimshaw, were poor, but respectable people. They were not capitalists, they had no large balance at their bankers’, and probably they had no banking account at all. They did not live in a large house, and did not move in what is called ‘genteel society.’ They dwelt in a cottage of small dimensions, but it was clean and comfortable, and quite suitable to their wants and to their position in social life. They earned their livelihood by honest industry, and had everything that was necessary in order to meet their own requirements and those of their children. They were temperate, frugal, honest and industrious; they were also moral and religious, and sought to train their children so that they might become honourable and virtuous citizens. The honest head of the house endeavoured to keep free from debt and to this end he paid for everything that he needed with ready money. The consequence was, that the family was kept free from anxiety, and was happier than many families around them which had larger means, and made a much greater show. Through the persistent industry and the good moral life of the father, and through the orderly and economical management of the mother, the household affairs were always kept in a healthy and prosperous condition.
The first half of the nineteenth century was a remarkable period in the history of Lancashire, because of the number of men who rose almost suddenly into riches and greatness at that time. The same may indeed be said to some extent of England generally, but in a very marked way it is true of Lancashire. It was not scientific, philosophical, or literary greatness, but the development of skill in public life and relations, and in aptitude for business affairs. These powers directly affected the material progress and the social improvement of the people. John Dalton, however, spent most of his illustrious life in Manchester, and there propounded and established the Atomic theory which will ever be associated with his name. The power of mind which was displayed in the invention of the machines through which the cotton industry has gained the first rank among manufacturing interests must have been very great. Machinery, in the form of the steam-engine, the railway, and the spinning jenny, has made Lancashire what it is to-day.
A remarkable number of Lancashire men, by their natural abilities, rose from the ranks to positions of eminence and power during this century, and especially during its first half. Anyone who is acquainted with the characteristics of Lancashire industrial and social life cannot fail to have observed this. The men who raised the county to its greatness and prosperity for the most part commenced life in humble positions. Some few, no doubt, had early advantages in the possession of property and the opportunities of education; and some of the territorial lords used their means and their talents to aid the progressive development; but the marked feature of Lancashire industrial life in this century has been the rise of great men in large numbers from the humblest positions. The formation of the Anti-Corn Law League in 1838, which led to one of the most important political and industrial changes in the history of this country, was an illustration of the practical genius of the Lancashire mind. The names of Richard Cobden and John Bright must ever be associated with that great organization, and with its ultimate and far-reaching influences. Cobden and Bright were not workingmen in the usual sense of that term. They were not rich men in the commencement of their career, nor did they ever become such; but they were the leaders in a movement that has changed the character of the political and social life of England in general, and of Lancashire in particular. The many men in this county who rose to industrial and commercial greatness for the most part started from small beginnings, and by sheer force of character pushed themselves into positions of influence and power. It is not, however, necessary to assert that everything can be explained by the native energy of the population; due account must be taken of the external and material advantages which they enjoyed.
Some philosophical historians have contended that certain men in every age make the age and determine its character; that their individual energy moulds and fashions the times in which they live; their personal impress is left on their generation. These leaders are generally few, followed by a crowd of inferior men; but they are the heroes of their times the dominating spirits of an epoch the moral forces by whose agency the age has been lifted to an altogether higher level of mental and social attainment. Others have argued with equal persistency that the individuals are the products of the age, the result of social, material, and political forces which have preceded them, and of which they and the conditions around them are the expression In this view the individual is no more than a particular illustration of the characteristics of the age, which, like a machine, unfolds its products with mechanical accuracy, and provides no scope for the free influence of distinctive human personalities.
These theories are both one-sided and extreme representations of what really are two very different aspects of the complex phenomena of society. Great men do arise at different times and in different departments of life, and such men do exercise a mighty power in leading other men, and in moulding the form and the spirit of their generation. It is also equally evident that the external circumstances of an age do afford unusual advantages and opportunities for the development of individual powers. Both these two factors in the making of a period existed in the first half of this century in Lancashire. And in order that the reader may understand the progress which the County Palatine has made, it may be desirable to describe somewhat fully the conditions of industrial life in this period.
The cotton trade has made Lancashire what it is today the most influential, and the most populous county in England. There are, and there have been developed, other industries of great importance, without which the chief trade would not have prospered as it has done. There is the mining industry, both in Lancashire itself and in the adjoining counties of York, Cheshire, and Derbyshire. The cotton districts extend beyond Lancashire proper, and include portions of Cheshire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire; but the centre of the industry is, and always has been, the County Palatine. The coal trade is a very large one, and has greatly aided the development of the cotton trade. The abundance of the coal found in these districts has given the cotton factory system its unusual advantages.
Trade in modern times is largely promoted by the steam-engine, and the steam-engine is dependent upon coal. We find that Lancashire is one of the most important centres for the construction of steam-engines and machinery of every description. The silk trade once flourished in this county, but now it is declining. The hat trade has become a very large business, and in some places competes for supremacy with cotton. The shipping trade is also very large, and Liverpool is one of the most important commercial ports of the world. All these magnificent industries are bound together, the one dependent on the other; but cotton continues to be the king, and without it Lancashire could neither commercially prosper nor sustain its vast population.
The condition of the county in the last decade of the century is a marvellous contrast to its condition when the century opened, or even when our hero, Moses Grimshaw, was born.
During the Middle Ages Lancashire was one of the poorest English counties, and it continued to be so for many generations. In the eighteenth century there was a considerable awakening to a knowledge of its resources and capabilities, and the immense development of the nineteenth century really began in the latter part of the eighteenth.
The increase of the population may be regarded as an indication of the capabilities and resources of a county, or of a country. In the beginning of the eighteenth century the inhabitants of Lancashire were estimated at 166,200 In 1750 the number bad increased to nearly 300,000. In the first year of the nineteenth century the inhabitants were 695,100; since then there has been a rapid increase. In 1821 there were more than a million (1,052,859). In 1831, soon after the birth of Moses Grimshaw, the population had risen to 1,336,854; in 1841 it was 1,667,054; in 1851 it was over two millions, and the census of 1891 shows about four millions, or, precisely, 3,926,798, and this is still increasing at the rate of about 50,000 per annum.
The rapid increase in the population has been characteristic of nearly every part of the county. Small villages have gradually become towns of large size, and the towns have become centres of dense populations and of the most active industries. Liverpool is a conspicuous instance. In the beginning of the eighteenth century the population was only 5,000 not equal to that of many of the modern villages of the county. In 1780 the inhabitants had increased to about 40,000. In 1851 they numbered 376,065, and in 1891, the time of the last census, they were 517,951. The surrounding districts, which are largely dependent on the industries of Liverpool, have grown in similar proportions. Birkenhead, divided from Liverpool by the estuary of the Mersey, was a small place fifty years ago, but now it has a population of about 100,000. St. Helen’s, a few miles off, which is devoted to mining and chemical industries, has grown to be a town of over 71,000 inhabitants.
Manchester is another conspicuous illustration. In 1801 its population was 75,275; in 1831 it was 187,022; in 1851 it was 316,213, and in 1891 it was 505,343. The borough of Salford is separated from the city of Manchester by the narrow and dirty river of the Irwell, but its inhabitants are engaged in the same industries. In 1831 the population of Salford was 52,366, but in 1891 it had increased to nearly 200,000. The towns of Bolton and Oldham are but a few miles from Manchester. The population of the former was, in 1881, no less than 115,000, and of the latter, 131,463. There are other neighbouring towns which are very populous Ashton, with 47,323, and Stalybridge, with 44,135. Manchester is now the centre of a district of but a few miles in area, which contains over a million of inhabitants.
These immense populations have been gathered, and are sustained, by the varied industrial enterprises of the county, but more especially by the enormous and rapid development of the cotton trade In the year 1830 the raw cotton imported into this country was 871,000 bales, each containing 300 lb. weight of cotton. In 1892 the quantity amounted to 3,574,700 bales, each containing 481 lb. The improved method of packing by machinery enabled the exporters to press into the same space 181 lb. more. Thus the imports of 1892 were four times more than in 1832 in the number of bales, and nearly six times in weight. Much of the quantity imported is exported to other countries, but more than 3,100,000 bales were retained in 1892 for home consumption, and this is equal to 60,200 bales per week. The greater part, nearly five-sixths of the whole, of this cotton came from the United States of America. The extent of this trade may be realized, if attention is given to these facts: that we pay for raw cotton something like L30,000,000 per annum, and after supplying the kingdom with its own demands for cotton clothing, we export cotton yarns and manufactures to the value of over L70,000,000 per annum. In 1891 the amount was L75,000,000. These figures indicate the magnitude of the cotton industry. Although, as has already been stated, there are other great trades in Lancashire which contribute to the wealth of the county and to the prosperity of the people, cotton is the chief, and other industries are largely related to it, much as are the coal and the shipping trades. By means of this industry nearly four millions of persons are sustained. In 1892 the gross rental of the county exceeded L22,000,000, and the number of paupers was only 72,198, or about one in 55 inhabitants less than two per cent. of the population. This is the smallest proportion of paupers in any county in England.
The immense development of the cotton trade during the nineteenth century has not been altogether due to the native industry of the inhabitants; it has also followed on the extraordinary inventions and developments of machinery. The mechanical genius of Wyatt, Hargreaves, Arkwright, Crompton, Kelly, Sharp, Roberts, and others, has transformed the simple hand-working of the eighteenth century, and the early part of the nineteenth, into a system in which machinery, propelled by steam as the motive-power, does everything. By means of the improved machinery of modern times production has been multiplied three-hundred-fold, and cotton goods have become so cheap that their distribution over the greater part of the world has been secured. In the gradual extension of these industries great scope was given to individual energies, and abundant opportunities were afforded for the enterprise of individuals. In no other part of the kingdom have there been presented so great possibilities of advancement in life. Industry, frugality, temperance and intelligence have had their opportunities; and nowhere else in the United Kingdom have the working classes made more successful use of the possibilities that opened before them. A generation of men possessing the necessary qualities sprang at once into existence, recognised the signs of the times, and worked out the practical problems of the age in such a way as to secure the advantage of their country, and their own personal enrichment. Families whose forefathers were in very humble positions in life have been established in wealth and in mercantile greatness. Some have both risen and fallen, owing, in some cases, to misfortune, in other cases to unwise speculation, and in others to the misconduct of degenerate descendants. The continuance of prosperity cannot be absolutely secured either against natural calamities or against misconduct in social and in moral life.
When this remarkable change was in its earlier stages Moses Grimshaw was born, and in due time entered upon his active and successful life of honest industry and prudent conduct. When Moses was a boy there were but few elementary schools that were under any kind of inspection. The system of popular education with which we are familiar in the last decade of the nineteenth century had not then come into existence. In these days the children of the poorest may obtain the best elementary education gratuitously, and it will be the fault of parents, or of the children themselves, if the young people now enter upon the responsible duties of life without being properly equipped for the positions which they may have to occupy.
When Moses Grimshaw was a boy there were a few National or British schools, and these were attended by a limited number of children, for whom moderately high fees had to be paid, and these for an education which was altogether inferior to that which is now given in the elementary schools of the kingdom. The consequence was, that the great majority of children had to pick up in the best way they could scraps of knowledge from evening or private adventure schools. Some young people, being bent on securing personal improvement and advancement in life, managed to gain a good deal of knowledge, and to secure a fair amount of education in the primary elements of English education reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, and geography. Indeed, those who were determined to get on made greater progress than the majority do in these days with so much greater advantages. They continued their studies after they left the schools which they had attended, and with the help of the Mechanics’ Institutions, and of classes connected with the Sunday-schools, they succeeded in gaining further knowledge often literary, practical, and scientific which enabled them to exert an important influence on the social and industrial progress of their times. Where there is a will there will be usually found a way. Where there is force of character there will always be found due opportunities for its development. Labor omnia vincit.
The Sunday-schools of the country have played an important part in the intellectual education and in the moral training of the young people. Notwithstanding their manifest deficiencies, arising mainly from the want of competent and trained teachers a want which was inevitable in the early days of the Sunday-school movement, because of the educational condition of the general mass of the population these schools have exerted a most powerful and beneficial influence on British society. This was particularly the case in Lancashire, whose Sunday-schools have long been more numerous and more crowded than in any other part of the kingdom. In the northern counties the influence of Sunday schools in moulding the character and improving the condition of the people has been most marked. Where elementary day-schools were few, or even non-existent, Sunday-schools had become the agencies for imparting to many children the little secular knowledge which they ever received. During this period Sunday-schools, though aiming mainly at the religious instruction of the young, were compelled to devote themselves largely to the business of secular instructional of them arranged for teaching the children the art of reading, beginning with the alphabet, advancing to spelling, then to mechanical reading of the Scriptures, and, finally, to the teaching of Scripture truths. Some Sunday-schools even undertook the task of teaching the art of writing, using Scriptural passages as copies, and thus combining religious instruction with secular knowledge. It is easy for superior men in these days to depreciate the agency of Sunday-schools in the past; but those who understand the past, either from personal experience, or from reliable testimony, or from study, know that, in Lancashire particularly, they have been the most potent force in the education of the masses of the people, and in counteracting those materialistic tendencies which, in the opinion of some competent judges, would have produced a semi-barbaric condition of society, if there had not been some such counteracting agency.
Many of the men and the women of the past generation owed to Sunday-schools and Mechanics’ Institutions nearly all the education, both secular and religious, which they possessed, and through which, combined with good, steady, moral conduct, they have prospered and risen in social and commercial status. Most of the men in Lancashire who during this century rose from humble positions to wealth and industrial greatness derived a great part of their mental training from these institutions. They never became ‘scholars’ in the ordinary sense of the term, and were not even what would now be called educated men, especially in the early part of the century. They were, however, men of sagacity, of natural ability, and good commonsense, and they did much to improve their minds by acquiring a certain measure of knowledge, and by the mental discipline which enabled them to transact business on a large scale, and to move in a circle of society which was in advance of their early associations.
Moses Grimshaw grew up from a child in the midst of such social conditions, having to share in both the advantages and the disadvantages of the period. His parents were religious people, and belonged to one of the Nonconformist denominations. They were plain, sincere, and earnest Christians; they regarded the Christian religion in its practical, much more than in its theoretical or doctrinal, aspects. They did not ignore doctrine, or despise it. Indeed, the preaching of the day was so doctrinal in character that they could not be wholly indifferent to it. They took an intelligent interest even in the controversial questions of the times, which were discussed in the pulpit They heard much conversation in private and public circles on the mysterious things that are involved in Calvinism and Arminianism, which were at that time very freely discussed. But they were essentially practical and experimental Christians, and were satisfied with devoting themselves to the ordinary duties of the Christian life, and to the culture of a life of internal piety and external morality. They were not what may be called ‘political Dissenters.’ They had their political opinions, and these were of the Moderate Liberal type, and Mr. Grimshaw always voted for the Liberal candidates.
In those days Dissenters distinguished sharply between the political and the religious spheres of life. On this distinction they based their objections to the general principle of an Established Church, or of the Union of Church and State. The State, they maintained, had no legitimate function in the Church. Its sole office was to secure liberty for individual citizens to obey the dictates of their own consciences in the worship and service of religion. The Church, as they represented it, is a voluntary association of divinely-renewed men, and such an association is invested by Christ with the power of self-government. To them the State is society as organized for political purposes and the ordinary relations of citizenship. It is based essentially and ultimately on physical force. Church and State are not contradictory, or antagonistic, but they are so different in nature and in function that they cannot be wisely or successfully united in operation. The State cannot interfere with the Church without injury to both itself and the Church; and the Church cannot interfere with the State without employing its powers in work for which they are altogether unfitted. The two spheres of life must therefore be kept separate the Church, or religion, is founded on moral suasion, the State is founded on a recognised external authority. This was the prevailing Nonconformist theory when Moses Grimshaw was a boy, and he received these early impressions, which were matured by the thoughts and studies of later years. In recent times Nonconformist opinion and practice appear to have greatly changed. Fifty years ago the Nonconformists were political simply as citizens, but in their pulpits and churches they were entirely religious men and women who confined their attention to the cultivation of the divine life, and to the spread of Gospel truth among the people and throughout the world. In this last decade of the nineteenth century, the power and the beneficial action of the State is magnified, and functions are recognised which the Nonconformists of former times utterly repudiated. In these latter times there is some danger of the Churches, even Nonconformist Churches, claiming to dictate to the State its course of action, and using the State in order to carry out purely philanthropic and religious objects suppressing vice, and making men morally good. Politics are now introduced, not infrequently, into the pulpits and the assemblies of many denominations of Nonconformists. Politics are becoming prominent in Church proceedings; and there is reason to fear that Nonconformists may become more political than religious. The increase of their political power may possibly involve the loss of much of their spiritual life.
Moses Grimshaw, however, was trained from early years in quite a different school. The forces that determined his life were religious. Politics were regarded as subordinate to, and distinct from, religion. The spirit of religion ought to be infused into the life of the politician, even as into the life of the tradesman; but the two spheres of life should be kept entirely separate. Many persons still think that this is the proper attitude for the religious man to take. The tendency of these later times to magnify the State, and make it an instrument of the churches, involves the principle of Established Churches, and is a return to the thought and practice of the Middle Ages.
The education of Moses Grimshaw was received in a small country school which now, perhaps, we might designate a British school. This was supplemented by the agency of the Sunday-school. His parents had no lofty idea of the education which their son needed. They were satisfied if he could be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and a smattering of a few other things, such as English grammar and geography. These acquisitions would enable him to prosecute the business of his secular life successfully. They had no anticipation that in course of time he would prosper in business as he did, and attain to wealth and position in the commercial society of Lancashire. The future they left to take care of itself, or rather, for the God of their children to take care of. They were anxious that Moses, along with his brothers and sisters, should attend regularly the Sunday-school that was connected with the chapel in which they worshipped. From an infant Moses was trained in this school. He began in the lowest class, where the alphabet and the elements of spelling were taught. There were then no fine-spun theories about the best or most philosophical method of teaching a child to read, and understand what he read. He began by learning to distinguish between the forms and sounds of the letters, A, B, C, etc. Then, when he had mastered the alphabet, the true basis of an English education, and could repeat the letters from memory mechanically, from A to Z, he would proceed to the next stage in his education, the formation of words by joining the letters together, and forming ab, ac, ad, and so on. All this was then taught to children in the Sunday-school, and not unsuccessfully. The teachers were not educated men and women; but they were practical, zealous, and persevering. We knew a plain working-man who, during the greater part of his life, occupied the position of teacher in the alphabet class. He never aspired to a higher grade, and probably be was conscious that he was not qualified for any higher position. He was the right man in the right place. There he remained, every Sunday drilling his class of infants or small boys in alphabetical knowledge, until bad health disabled him. From that lowest class the boys gradually passed into the higher, ultimately reaching the Bible-class, where they received special religious instruction.
Moses Grimshaw proceeded from one stage in that plain and primitive school to another, passing finally into the highest. Thus, during the first few years of his life he gained that limited degree of education, from the day and Sunday-schools combined, which was to become the basis of a further education by means of observation, reading, and personal effort, aided by the Mechanics’ Institutions, and the improvement classes which were connected with the Sunday-school.
Whilst he was thus acquiring the elements of a plain English education, his parents did not neglect to teach him those moral and religious lessons which were to fit him for a good moral life here and a blessed life hereafter. They were not materialists, secularists, agnostics, socialists, or infidels in any sense of such terms. They believed their children had souls, and were capable of a moral and spiritual life, and were destined to live hereafter according to the moral and Christian life which they pursued here. They believed that religion did not consist in mere ceremonial performances, or in the repetition of a creed or a catechism. They taught their children to attend to the doctrinal instructions of the Church to which they belonged, because they believed them to be founded on the inspired Word of God. They trained them also to respect the minister, to attend the services of the sanctuary, and to worship God in spirit and in truth. They placed emphasis, however, on the religion of the heart and of the life, the cultivation of the spirit of true piety within the soul, and its practical manifestation in the deeds of the outward life. They impressed on their children the truth that the soul was greater and better than the body, and that a genuine moral and spiritual life was higher than a mere worldly, material, and pleasurable life, and was the true and permanent foundation of a really prosperous earthly life. Moses Grimshaw, as he grew up from childhood, imbibed this plain moral teaching, and became resolved that he would reduce it to practice when he became busily engaged in the ordinary affairs of life, and pressed under its responsibilities.
It was an old principle of Nonconformist teaching that men individually should cultivate the spirit of self-reliance, not an absolute independence, but a spirit of true individualism. The individual soul must trust in the one Saviour, independently of human priests, and must appropriate the truths of Christianity to his own heart and life. In like manner, under the Divine blessing, and with due help from others the individual must rely on himself in the bodily life. Without this self-reliance no vigorous character can be formed, and no great prosperity can be secured. The men who have prospered in such an industrial district as Lancashire, have been those who and exhibited individual, moral, and intellectual force. This is the same thing as saying that men can succeed in life only by means of intelligence, industry, temperance, prudence, thrift, and morality. Lacking these qualities and virtues, nothing else will be found to suffice. Such were the principles inculcated by the parents of Moses Grimshaw, and by the application of them to his business and social relations he attained to a high condition of prosperity, both moral and material.
CHAPTER XII (Final Chapter)
During, the industrial life of Moses Grimshaw the cotton trade had undergone many and great changes, partly through the remarkable improvements in machinery. But this may be said of every manufacturing industry in the kingdom. These changes have greatly affected the condition of the workpeople. In the early part of this century, great opposition was offered to the introduction of machinery, both in Lancashire and elsewhere, and violent schemes were organized for resisting such introduction, or for destroying the machinery. The apprehension of the workpeople was, that the new machines would supersede manual labour, and so deprive many persons of their employment, as well as seriously reduce the wages of all. It is now manifest that these fears were wholly groundless. The machinery of to-day will do a hundred times, or some say three hundred times, as much work as manual labour did a century or so ago, and yet there are more men employed than in those times, and the rate of wages is altogether higher. The cheapening of the production has increased the demand for manufactured articles, and immensely extended trade and commerce. The fact that wages are much higher than they were fifty years ago cannot need to be proved. But the mere amount of wages is only one element in determining the condition of the working-classes. Another, and an equally important one, is the purchasing power of the money that is received. If food, and clothing, and rent, and rates, are high, then the increased wages may bring no additional comfort to the workpeople. It is often a difficult thing to determine the precise value of wages at different periods, and even in different districts.
This question had often been discussed by Mr. Grimshaw, whose fair and discriminating judgment was frequently sought. There was one occasion in particular, when he was requested to join in the discussion of it, and to give his opinion as to the amount and value of wages now, as compared with previous times. He then said, ‘The solution of the problem of wages has been perplexing to many writers because they have embraced many centuries, and tried to consider at once every aspect of the question. In speaking from my own experience and observation, which has extended now over half a century, I have no hesitation in expressing a decided opinion. The social condition of the working, or wage-earning classes, is vastly better now than when I began my industrial life. They are better fed, and better clothed, and live in better and more sanitary houses. Wages are much higher in every department of industry, and food and clothing are much cheaper. When I was a boy, a man whose wages were a pound a week was considered in a good condition, and was looked upon with envy. Then he had to pay more for his clothing and for his food, but his rent is now higher than it was then. A pound a week is in these days almost a despised wage. It is often difficult to compare the wages of individual workers with what was paid in past times, because the conditions of labour have greatly changed, and the classification of workers has changed also. I know, however, that wages range much higher, and the hours of labour are much shorter than they were. Fifty years ago, children began to work in the mill much earlier, and many of them began at the small wage of 1s. 6d. per week. The hours are now ten per day, and children soon get wages enough to pay their parents for their maintenance. The wages in a cotton factory are not high in most individual cases, but the aggregate earnings of families are often large. Many weavers are females, and they earn from 15s. to 21s. per week. The spinners are men, and their wages are higher than those of the weavers.
There are many trades in Lancashire besides the cotton trade. These are governed by the same conditions as in other parts of the kingdom. I have recently seen a careful description of the present wages in these trades. The journeyman tailor may earn two guineas per week, and even more than that; and an under foreman, three pounds. A West End foreman may earn from L5 to L10 per week in a fashionable business. The wages of an engraver in wood range from 33s. to ₤5 per week. In the printing business, a young man may earn at twenty-one years of age, L2 per week, and able men more than that. Head readers and managers get from L150 to L00 per annum. A journeyman bookbinder earns from 32s. to 40s. per week. In the paper trade, a young shopman may commence in London at L60 to L80 per annum, and may rise to be a traveller, at L150 to L250 or even L350. The dock labourers are supposed to have small wages, but it has recently been declared that their average wages are 27s. per week. The shipwrights in the Government docks have an average wage Of 33s. per week, and in private yards, 36s. to 38s. per week. The ordinary colliers of South Wales, including boys, earn an average 25s.; and there are some families who are said to earn as much as from L10 to L12 per week. These figures are not mine, but have been recently published in the daily journals. Half a century ago no such wages could be earned in this country.
I have not referred to the wages of agricultural labourers. Some twenty years ago these wages rose considerably, while agriculture was in a prosperous state; but this industry has recently suffered great depression, and the wages have gone down. I fear that until agricultural produce rises in value, the farmer will not be able to pay the labourers as they ought to be paid.
Speaking generally, I may venture to say that the condition of the working classes in Lancashire, and in England as a whole, apart from agricultural labourers, has immensely improved since I was a boy. To estimate the precise extent of the improvement in particular industries may be difficult, but taking the population generally the improvement has been about 100 per cent. Wages are advanced perhaps 50 per cent., and the means of life are cheaper by about the same percentage. When I was a boy, lump sugar was tenpence per lb.; it is now threepence. Tea was then about twice the price it is now. Bread is both better in quality and cheaper. Formerly a bad harvest meant not only dear, but bad, bread. Now, owing to the free communications of the world, the bad harvests of one country are modified by the good ones of other countries. Thus the workers in most industries have the double advantage of higher wages, and cheaper and better food.’
Mr. Grimshaw was requested to give his opinion in relation to the factory system, as it had been affected by recent legislation.
The late Lord Ashley, afterwards the Earl of Shaftesbury, was a great benefactor to the manufacturing districts. The merchants and employers in Lancashire did not at first approve of his proposals, but now, as the result of their experience, they are quite in favour of them. In the early part of this century, the machinery of cotton and other factories, was worked night and day by means of shifts, or successive workmen, and these shifts included the children. When I was young, the average hours of work, even for the children, were fourteen per day. These children worked the same hours as adults. They commenced to labour when seven or eight years of age, and in some trades even earlier than that. The result was, that the children grew up stunted and feeble. This state of things has been changed, and now night work for children has been abolished. No child is allowed to begin to work, even as a half-timer, until he is ten years of age, and then only if he has passed a certain standard of education. The hours of labor have been reduced, and the conditions of work have been placed under proper sanitary conditions.
In my early days women worked in collieries and often, even in the presence of men, in a semi-nude state. All this has been changed. Women can no longer be employed in mines. The change in every direction is immense, and the conditions and comforts of the workers have been greatly improved thereby, while the whole country has benefited. I am decidedly of opinion, that if the working classes of this country would become temperate and frugal, they could live happily and prosperously; but so long as they spend L85,000,000 per annum on drink, and millions more on tobacco, as is estimated by the late Mr. Leone Levi, they cannot expect to prosper as a class.
The conversation then turned on the question of the present condition of the people. Some of those present contended that the working classes were no better off in the latter part of the nineteenth century than they were even during the Middle Ages, when the population was much smaller than it is now. Quotations were made from books of authority on the subject, especially from Mr. Thorold Rogers’ able work, Six Hundred Years of Work and Wages. Mr. Grimshaw was asked to state his opinion on the question.
I do not profess to be an authority on ancient history. I can speak with definiteness as to the condition of the working classes now, and fifty years ago, because this period comes within my own observation. In considering the state of the people now, and hundreds of years ago, I am dependent on the testimony of others, including the author who has been named. I have certainly read a good deal on the subject. I may venture to say, that isolated quotations from any authority can serve no practical purpose. We must take all the facts into consideration if we are to come to a right conclusion. Anything may be proved if we select our figures, and place them in relations that suit our purpose. I cannot fully go into the subject, but I may mention a few things which seem to be indicative of the condition of the people.
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the people lived on salted pork for five and six months of the year; fresh meat was used only occasionally, in the winter, even by farmers, but the mass of the people could obtain none even in the cold season. The consequence was, that scurvy, leprosy, and other diseases prevailed. Compare this state of things with modern times, when the working classes eat as much fresh meat as any other class, especially in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The salt that was used for preserving the meat and also used with the food when cooked, was then very impure. Most of it, in the fifteenth century, came from France. The brine springs of England were known to the Romans, but do not seem to have been used by the inhabitants of this country until the early part of the eighteenth century. The salt used previously was derived from solar evaporation. In the fifteenth century the agricultural labourer was paid 32s. per annum as wages, partly in food and partly in money. He received, more, however, in harvest-time. The ordinary carpenter was paid, in the thirteenth century, 3d. per day; in London 4d. or 5d. per day. Masons earned 5d. per day, and sawyers from 3½d. to 4½d. per day. During the winter the wages were 25 per cent. less than in summer. There was then no gas, or electricity; the nights were long, dark, and dismal. There were no cotton operatives working in well-lighted and heated factories.
The fifteenth century has been called the golden age of labourers, but his wages were only 4d. per day. The carpenter had 6d. per day, the plumber and the mason 6½d. per day. In London the wages were 24 per cent. higher than in the provinces. The joiner had a little more than the ordinary carpenter. The labourer in the fifteenth century worked eight hours per day. Some carpenters had to work 365 days in the year, at 6d. or 5d. per day, which is equal to L9 2s. 6d., or L7 12s. 1d. per annum. In harvest time the labourers’ wages rose from 4d. to 6d. per day. The wages of girls in the fifteenth century were 2d. per day. The board of men at this time was 2d. per day, and women 1½d. per day. The value of these wages depended upon the cost of living. The price of wheat, in the fifteenth century, seems to have been about 6s. per quarter, or five times lower than the low prices of 1892-93. judging from this point alone, the labourers 4d. per day would be equal to about 1s. 8d. now; and the carpenters, and joiners, and plumbers wages, of 6d. or 6½d. would be equal to the wages of 2s. 6d. and 2s. 9d. Such workmen now get twice this amount. In the sixteenth century. the average price of labour was 4s. 9d. per week, and the price of wheat, in 1533, was 7s. 8d., and oatmeal, 8s. In 1563, however, wheat rose to 19s. 9d. per quarter, and oats were 7s. The ordinary labourer’s wages were 3s. 6d. This was a bad time for the workers. In 1681, Suffolk haymakers’ wages were 10d. per day, and those of artizans 1s. 6d. to 1s. 4d. per day; and then the price of wheat was 43s. 8d. per quarter. In 1750 the wages of artizans were 1s. 6d. to 2s. per day, and labourers had 1s. to 1s. 6d. per day. In 1767, Arthur Young states that labourers wages were under 75. per week, or L18 per annum in Herts, and L17 per annum in Northamptonshire. In 1768 the wages of colliers in Wakefield were 11s. per week, and in Newcastle, 15s. Those engaged in cutlery at Rotherham earned 10s. per week, and at Sheffield, 13s. 6d. The wages for those engaged in porcelain, in different places, were 8s. 11d., 9s. 6d., and 9s. per week. The average wages of spinners and weavers in Lancashire were 9s. 7d. per week, and for fustians 7s. 1d. in Manchester, and 10s. at Wakefield. In textile manufactures women earned 4s. 3d., boys, 3s., and girls 2s. 7d. per week. Drugget weavers earned 9s. Woolcombers, 12s., and carpet weavers, 10s. to 12s. Pin-makers of Gloucester earned from 10s. to 15s. Woollen manufacturers paid 7s.; steel polishers, at Woodstock, 15s. to 42s.; weavers, at Lavenham, received only 5s. 9d. per week. The best paid agricultural labourers in Kent and Middlesex had 11s. 4d. per week, and the lowest, in Wilts and Gloucester, 5s. 3d. These wages prevailed in the last half of the eighteenth century, and wheat was sold at 50s. per quarter in 1780. These, too, were bad times for the working classes. In 1795 journeymen tailors’ wages had risen to 25s. and compositors to 24s. and 27s., and carpenters, masons, and bricksetters to 3s. per day. The wages of agricultural labourers had risen, in 1810, from 1s. 4d. to 1s. 8d. per day. The previous twenty years had been times of poverty, and poor-rates in England were very high, reaching, in 1813, to ₤8,640,842, and the money was used largely in the augmenting of wages. These facts are sufficient to show that the past ages were times of greater anxiety for the working classes. They were then badly fed and, clothed and educated. Their houses were hovels; made of timber or mud. They had scarcely any of the conveniences of life that they now possess, and which do so much to brighten life. Diseases were prevalent, and these at times swept off large portions of the population. Famines were periodical, and there were few alleviations. Large numbers died from hunger. The mere statement of these things shows that immense progress has been made both in the earnings and in the daily condition of the working classes.
The company were greatly pleased with this interesting information. They felt that the state of social and industrial life in the Middle Ages, and even up to the eighteenth century, was so essentially different from these times, that comparisons could not be of any real value. The present generation of workers evidently has advantages and blessings which no preceding generation has ever possessed. Men and women receive much more consideration than they formerly did; they are not treated now as slaves, or as the mere instruments of production, but as persons, to whom material things must be made subservient. The danger of this age arises from the tendency to ignore the individual, and to absorb him in a vast national communistic machine, in which wages are to be everything, and the mental and moral personality nothing. This is really to make the world go back into the Middle Ages.
Mr. Grimshaw was requested to give them his opinion on the general advance of the industrial classes in material wellbeing during the past fifty years.
I have no hesitation, he said, in repeating the expression of my opinion, that the working classes are in every respect much better off now than they have been in any preceding times. The increase of wealth in this country, during this century, has been immense, and the working classes have had a large share in this increase. According to Mr. Giffen the facts are these: The total income of all classes amounts to L1,430,000,000 or ₤1,500,000,000. Of this large sum L633,388,000 are wages earned by the working classes. There are (in 1893) in the United Kingdom 13,277,000 persons, men, women, and children, who are engaged in manual industry, and they earn the above sum, which represents an average wage of forty-eight pounds per year for each worker. According to the same high authority, the income of all classes has been doubled in the last half-century. Fifty years ago, 24,000,000 inhabitants had an income of L500,000,000 to L550,000,000, which is equal to something over twenty pounds per head, per annum. Now, the 38,000,000 of population have an income of over L1,400,000,000, which is equal to over thirty-seven pounds per head, per annum, and this estimate includes the child workers. The income of the adult male workers, in all industries, has risen in the fifty years from forty pounds to eighty pounds per man, per annum. In the mining industry, the income increased, in the years 1888 to 1891, from L26,000,000 to L40,000,000. In the Savings Banks there are now more than L120,000,000, and most of this money belongs to the working classes. There are nearly 10,000,000 of persons in this country who are members of friendly societies which possess large capital. There are building societies which are patronized mainly by the same classes, with a capital of L51,000,000, and Provident Societies which have a capital of ₤19,000,000. These figures are approximate estimates made by the most competent men, but they indicate clearly the immense progress that has been made by all classes of this country during the past half century. The exception to the general progress is agriculture. But even here the wages of the labourers have increased. The recent report of the Labour Commission shows, that the actual number of agricultural labourers has decreased since 1871 from 1,671,082 to 1,199,768, in 1891; but the wages of the better class of labourers have risen to forty-eight or forty-five pounds per annum, and those of inferior labourers to forty or thirty pounds. Calculated by the week, the report states that, in 1867-70, the wages were 12s. 3d., and they are now 13s. 5d. The joint earnings of some agricultural families amount to eighty-four pounds, or seventy-five pounds per annum.
Mr. Grimshaw closed his remarks by expressing the fear that he had wearied the company by presenting so many figures, and by stating that they were not his own, but derived from the most reliable sources.
There was only one other topic introduced on this occasion. He was asked to give his opinion on the wages of workmen in this country, as compared with those of other countries-American and Continental. He said I have never been in America, and therefore cannot speak of American industry from personal observation. I have been in most of the Continental countries, and know something of their workpeople. I have observed, in most countries, a general advance in wages and prosperity, but nowhere an advance equal to that of this country. The French and the Germans are more economical than most Englishmen. They drink quite as much in quantity, but the quality is weaker. Germany is indeed the largest producer of beer. In that country, in 1893, 1,071,066,105 gallons of beer were produced; but in England, only 874,192,275 In Austria-Hungary, 308,889,675 were made, and in France 225,000,000. The German beer is lighter, and not so heady as the English. Many Frenchmen and Germans can make a good meal of materials which Englishmen would throw away.
In comparing the wages that are earned in different countries, I do not wish to rely on my own judgment. I have before me the recent report of the American Commission of Labour, which comprehended Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, and in it the earnings of various industries are compared with those in the United States. I can give you only the general results. In the Bituminous Coal mining Industry the earnings of the head of the family are given in English money. I will omit fractions. In the United States they were, in the years 1890-1892, L85; in England, L75; in Belgium, L58; in Germany, L51 per annum. In Bar Iron, the comparison is: United States, L139; England, L88; France, L66; Belgium, L43; Germany, L49. I cannot go over the various trades that are included in the report, but the general result is, that wages are highest in the United States ; next, in England, and the others come in this order: France, Belgium, Germany. The ordinary expenditure of families, which is dependent largely on the price of articles of food and clothing, are given in this report, and present some very striking results. Rent is everywhere an important item in family expenditure. In the United States, it averages L12 5s.; in Britain L9 10s.; in Belgium, L3 16s., and in Germany, L7 15s. Clothing is in the United States L22 8s.; in England, L13 5s.; in Belgium, L12 11s., and in Germany, L13 3s. The result of these comparisons is that, taking wages and necessary expenditure into account, there is no better country for the working classes than the British kingdom. No limit can be placed on industrial progress. What is chiefly necessary for the continued prosperity of this country, and the welfare of the working classes, is the practice of economy and temperance; abstinence from unreasonable strikes, and a steady and rational government, which will secure gradual development but give no opportunity for the revolutionists.
Mr. Grimshaw lived to become a gray-headed man; but a good deal of bodily and mental energy remained to him, and this he still devoted to the welfare of his fellow-creatures.
The moral of the sketch of his life, which has been given, is the importance of self-reliance, and the development of the personal character and powers. Without this, no theories and no schemes of social reconstruction can ever be of much avail. The cultivation of individual qualities is the only true basis of prosperity. The collectivism that is preached by some men can only prove a delusion, if personal qualities be ignored or despised.
If every employer of labour were as reasonable and considerate as Mr. Grimshaw, there would be fewer industrial difficulties in our country, and the progress of our national life would be altogether smoother. And if every professor of religion were as consistent and noble-minded as Mr. Grimshaw, the Christian religion would exert a far more powerful influence on the moral, the social, the political, and the material condition of the ‘British people. On the other hand, if all working men in England were as industrious, as temperate, as economical, as prudent, and as virtuous as he was especially while he was a working man there would be less poverty, suffering, and discontent. The importance of individual character, personal development, and self reliance cannot be over-estimated. This is the obvious lesson which is taught by the life and opinions of Moses Grimshaw, as it is of nearly all the men who have been permanently successful in the county of Lancashire.
Elliot Stock, Paternoster Row, London.
Webpage posted November 2000