Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Evils of the Manufacturing System
By Robert Southey (17741843)
From Collected Essays
THE MANUFACTURING poor are also removed from other causes which are instrumental to good conduct in the labouring classes. They have necessarily less of that attachment to their employers which arises from long connexion, and the remembrance of kind offices received, and faithful services performed, an inheritance transmitted from parent to son: and being gathered together in herds from different parts, they have no family character to support in the place to which they have been transplanted. Their employments, too, unlike those of the handicraft and the agriculturist, are usually so conducted as to be equally pernicious to mind and body. The consumption of life in some manufactories, even in those which might at first be thought most innocuous, though it may be a consolation to those philosophers who are afraid of being crowded at the table of nature, would make good men shudder if the account could be fully laid before them. We could mention one of the most extensive and important of our fabrics, where the first generation of persons who were employed bore the change of life without much apparent injury; the second grew sickly and were invalided long before the natural age of decay; and in the third the whole race was extinct!
John Hunter predicted that our manufactories would engender new varieties of pestilence. New and specific diseases they have produced, but the only pestilence which has yet manifested itself is of a moral nature. Physical diseases are not more surely generated by crowding human beings together in a state of filth and wretchedness, than moral ones by herding them together, and that, too, without distinction of sex, in a state of ignorance. This is the case under the least unfavourable conditions which can be imagined; but it is doubly so under the manufacturing system, where children are trained up in the way wherein that system destines them to go, as soon as their little fingers can twirl a thread, or feed a machine. When that system was at its height, the slave-trade itself was scarcely more systematically remorseless. The London workhouses supplied children by waggon loads to those manufactories which would take them off the hands of the parish; a new sort of slave trade was invented; a set of child jobbers travelled the country, procuring children from parents whose poverty was such as would consent to the sacrifice, and undertaking to feed, lodge, and clothe them for the profits of their labour. In this manner were many of our great manufactories supplied! In those manufactories the machinery never stood still. One set of these poor children worked by day, another by night; and when one relay was relieved, they turned into the beds which had been vacated by the other, warm as the others had left them. When this system had continued long enough for those who lived through so unnatural and miserable a childhood to reach the age of maturity, it was found that the girls, when they married, were utterly unable to perform the commonest and most indispensable domestic work; and the remedy which was devised for the future, was, that they should go to school to learn those things for an hour in the day, after they had done work!