Volume 1, Chapter 11
Volume 1, Chapter 11
I HAD for about three months frequented the lessons of my instructors, when one morning the elder of Vaublanc's sons came to my bed-side at about six o'clock, and bade me rise immediately, for his father wanted to speak to me. I obeyed.
" ' My little lad,' said Vaublanc, 'you are not to go to school to-day.' No, sir? What, is it red-letter day ?'
Your uncle has written to me to put you into a different berth.'
" ' Ah, I am very sorry ! Ours is a sweet school, and I like the masters and every body that belongs to it."
"' William Mouchard,' said my host, ' I know very little of you or your uncle either; but that is nothing to me. While he requires of me nothing that it is contrary to my notions, or out of my way to do, I intend to be his fair and punctual correspondent. All that he said to me, while he was at Lyons, was like an honest man. He said he had a numerous family of his own, and that he could not do much for you, an orphan cast upon his charity.'
" I stared. I remembered the severe injunctions of my guardian, and was silent.
" ' It appears that he has bad repeated misfortunes in the world, and that be can just make shift to bring up his children in a humble way. It cannot, therefore, be expected that he should do much for you. I can make his case my own, and I am sure I should look to my own flesh and blood. He has resolved to keep you from starving, and that is very generous of him. There is only one thing I cannot understand: why he sent you to this school at all. I think he was out in his judgment there.'
" This was the first time in my life that the ideas of subsistence and property had been plainly stated to me. My notions, like a child's, were very confused on the subject. But, I suppose, proceeding by a sort of implicit conclusion from the visible circumstances of my father, I had always considered myself as entitled to a full participation of those benefits and blessings which a child can enjoy. What Vaublanc said, however, convinced me that my uncle was deceiving him. I understood little of the descent of property, and whether, upon my father's death, it ought to devolve to his son or his brother; but I understood still less of the equity of just preserving from death by hunger the only son of a man who had possessed every luxury and indulgence that were in use in his country. In a word, the views now stated to me enlightened my understanding at once; and, when I found myself thus thrown upon the world, I apprehended, as it were by necessity, the laws and constitutions of human life.
"'What is to be done with me, sir ?' said I.
"'You must do as I do,' replied Vaublanc. ' People who have nobody else to maintain them, maintain themselves. You have seen shoemakers, and smiths, and joiners at their work ?'
" ' They get money by their work, and with that money they buy meat and drink. Does my uncle wish me to learn to be a smith or a joiner ?'
" ' No, no. Any body that taught you to be these trades would require to be paid for the trouble of teaching you, and you would get nothing by it these seven years We have a trade in Lyons that we teach to younkers for nothing.'
"'And shall I get money by my work immediately?'
"'No, not for a month.'
"'What shall I get then?'
"'Twelve sous a week.'
"'Will that be enough to save every body else the trouble of paying any thing for my food, and my lodging, and my clothes ?'
"' That it will not. A sprig, like you, cannot do that; he must do what he can.'
And my uncle will pay the rest?'
"'He cannot help himself. You are willing, then, to do what I have been telling you?'
" ' I must not say much about my willingness, M. Vaublanc. I never did any work in my life.'
" ' The more is the pity! In Lyons we find work for children from four years old - sometimes sooner.'
" ' And in--in--the country I come from, the children never do any work, till they are almost as tall as their fathers. They do little offices, indeed, to be useful sometimes; but nothing like what you call working for their living. I do not know which way is right; but I know which is agreeable. I should not so much matter a little hardship; but you say, I must go no more to school. I cannot think why, M. Vaublanc, you asked any thing about my willingness!' And saying this, a flood of tears burst from my eyes.
" ' When a schoolboy,' continued I, is to be punished, the master never asks him whether be chooses it, M. Vaublanc, I cannot help myself. I am in a strange country ; and have neither father, nor mother, nor any body to care for me. Take me, and dispose of me as you please, and as you tell me my uncle directs. I dare say you are a just man, and will do me no harm. Wherever you put me, I will endeavor to be a good boy, and that nobody shall be angry with me. I will be attentive, and learn as well as I can, and work as hard as I can. But, pray, pray, M. Vaublanc, do not ask me another time, whether I am willing?'
" 'That will do, boy,' said he, nodding his bead. 'You will get better satisfied with your situation, as you grow used to it.'
" Saying this, he put on his hat, and bid me follow him. As we passed along, "'You know, I believe, what I am?'
"'I have heard: a manufacturer of silk.'
"One part of this business is to prepare the silk, as it comes from the worm, for the sempstress and the weaver. This is done by means of mills. I have two or three large ones, and employ a great number of work-people in them. You had rather work for me, than for a master you did not know ?'
"' That I had. The thing is frightful to me, because it is a thing I never thought of. But I should fear it more, if it placed me altogether among strangers.'
"'You cannot think,' pursued M. Vaublanc, ' what an advantage these mills are to the city of Lyons. In other places, children are a burthen to their poor parents ; they have to support them, till they are twelve or fourteen years of age, before they can do the least thing for their own maintenance: here the case is entirely otherwise, In other places, they ran ragged -and wild about the streets: no such thing is to be seen at Lyons. In short, our town is a perfect paradise. We are able to take them at four years of-age, and in some cases sooner. Their little fingers, as soon as they have well learned the use of them, are employed for the relief of their parents, who have brought them up from the breast. They learn no bad habits; but are quiet, and orderly, and attentive, and industrious. What a prospect for their future lives! God himself must approve and bless a race who are thus early prepared to be of use to themselves and others. Among us, it is scarcely possible there should be such a thing as poverty. We have no such thing as idleness, or lewdness, or riot, or drunkenness, or debauchery of any sort. Let the day of judgment come when it will, it will never surprise us in a situation in which we should be ashamed to be found.'
"I never heard M. Vaublanc so eloquent. Eloquence was not his characteristic; but he was now on his favorite topic, --a topic intimately connected with his fame, his country, and the patriotic services which he rendered her. He did not completely recollect, while he talked on so interesting a subject, that he was addressing himself to a child scarcely more than eight years of age. Some things that he said were not exactly in accord with the vivacity of my temper, and the present state of my feelings. But, on the whole, I was fixed and penetrated by the warm coloring he bestowed on his picture. I checked the rebelliousness of my heart, and said, ' Probably it is better for me that I should be admitted into so pure and exemplary a society.' I longed to set my foot upon the threshold of the terrestrial paradise he described.
" My impatience was speedily gratified. We entered a very spacious building, which was divided, however, no otherwise than into four rooms, floor above floor. The lower or under-ground apartment was occupied by the horse that gave motion to the mill, and he was relieved every hour. Two horses were the stock to each mill. Above stairs, the walls were lined on three sides with the reels, or, as the English manufacturers call them, swifts, which receive the silk as it is devolved from certain bobbins. Of these there were about: eleven hundred in the first floor, as many in the second, and as many in the third; in all, between three and four thousand. It was curious to recollect that all these, by means of wheels and other contrivances in the machine, were kept in perpetual motion by a single quadruped. In each apartment I saw several men, more women, and a greater number of children, busily employed. M. Vaublanc was so obliging as to take me over the whole, before he assigned me my task.
" You will not suppose there was any thing very cheerful or exhilarating in the paradise we had entered. The idea of a mill is the antipathy of this. One perpetual, dull, flagging sound pervaded the whole. The walls were bare; the inhabitants were poor. The children in general earned little more than twelve sous in a week; most of the women, and even several of the men, but about one French crown. We must correct our ideas, And imagine a very sober paradise, before we can think of applying the name to this mansion.
" I was most attentive to the employment of the children, who were a pretty equal number of both sexes. There were about twenty on each floor, sixty in all. Their chief business was to attend to the swifts; the usual number being fifty-six which was assigned to the care of each child. The threads, while the operation of winding was going on, were of course liable to break; and, the moment a thread was broken, the benefit of the swift to which it belonged was at a stand. The affair of the child was, by turning round the swift, to find the end, and then to join it to the corresponding end attached to the bobbin. The child was to superintend the progress of these fifty-six threads, to move backward and forward in his little tether of about ten feet, and, the moment any accident happened, to repair it. I need not tell you that I saw no great expressions of cheerfulness in either the elder or the younger inhabitants of these walls: their occupations were too anxious and monotonous-- the poor should not be too much elevated, and incited to forget themselves. There was a kind of stupid and hopeless vacancy in every face: this proceeded from the same causes.
" Not one of the persons before me exhibited any signs of vigor and robust health. They were all sallow; their muscles flaccid, and their form emaciated. Several of the children appeared to me, judging from their size, to be under four years of age -I never saw such children. Some were not tall enough with their little arms to reach the swift; these had stools, which they carried in their hands, and mounted as occasion offered. A few, I observed, had a sort of iron buskins on which they were elevated; and, as the iron, was worked thin, they were not extremely unwieldy. Children, before they had learned that firm step with the sole of the natural foot, without which it is impossible ever to be a man, were thus disciplined to totter upon stilts. But this was a new invention, and not yet fully established.
" This, or nearly all this, I observed upon my first survey of M. Vaublanc's manufactory. In addition to this, I afterwards found, what you will easily conceive, that it was not without much severity that the children were trained to the regularity I saw. Figure to yourself a child of three or four years of age. The mind of a child is essentially independent; he does not, till be has been formed to it by bard experience, frame to himself the ideas of authority and subjection. When he is rated by his nurse, he expresses his mutinous spirit by piercing cries; when he is first struck by her in anger, he is ready to fall into convulsions of rage: it almost never happens otherwise. It is a long while (unless be is unmercifully treated indeed) before a rebuke or a blow produces in him immediate symptoms of submission. Whether with the philosopher we choose to regard this as an evidence of our high destination, or with the theologian cite it as an indication of our universal depravity, and a brand we bear of Adam's transgression, the fact is indisputable. Almost all that any parent requires of -a child of three or four years of age consists in negatives: stand still, do not go there : do not touch that. He scarcely expects or desires to obtain from him any mechanical attention. Contrast this with the situation of the children I saw: brought to the mill at six in the morning; detained till six at night; and, with the exception of half an hour for breakfast, and an hour at dinner, kept incessantly watchful over the safety and regularity of fifty-six threads continually turning. By my soul, I am ashamed to tell you by what expedients they are brought to this unintermitted vigilance, this dead life, this inactive and torpid industry!
" Consider the subject in another light. Liberty is the school of understanding. This is not enough adverted to. Every boy learns more in his hours of play, than in his hours of labor. In school be lays in the materials of thinking; but in his sports he actually thinks: he whets his faculties, and he opens his eyes. The child, from the moment of his birth, is an experimental philosopher: be essays his organs and his limbs, and learns the use of his muscles. Every one who will attentively observe him, will find that this is his perpetual employment. But the whole process depends upon liberty. Put him into a mill, and his understanding will improve no more than that of the horse which turns it. I know that it is said that the lower orders of the people have nothing to do with the cultivation of the understanding; though for my part I cannot see how they would be the worse for that growth of practical intellect, which should enable them to plan and provide, each one for himself, the increase of his conveniences and competence. But be it so ! I know that the earth is the great Bridewell of the universe, where spirits descended from heaven are committed to drudgery and hard labor. Yet I should be glad that our children, up to a certain age, were exempt; sufficient is the hardship and subjection of their whole future life; methinks, even Egyptian taskmasters would consent that they should grow up in peace, till they had acquired the strength necessary for substantial service.
" Liberty is the parent of strength. Nature teaches the child, by the play of the muscles, and pushing out his limbs in every direction, to give them scope to develope themselves. Hence it is that he is so fond of sports and tricks in the open air, and that these sports and tricks are so beneficial to him. He runs, he vaults, he climbs, he practices exactness of eye and sureness of aim. His limbs grow straight and taper, and his joints well knit and flexible. The mind of a child is no less vagrant than his steps; it pursues the gossamer, and flies from object to object, lawless and unconfined: and it is equally necessary to the developement of his frame, that his thoughts and his body should be free from fetters. But then he cannot earn twelve sous a week. These children were uncouth and ill-grown in every limb, and were stiff and decrepit in their carriage, so as to seem like old men. At four years of age they could earn salt to their bread; but at forty, if it were possible that they should live so long, they could not earn bread to their salt. They were made sacrifices, while yet tender; and, like the kid, spoken of by Moses, were seethed and prepared for the destroyer in their mother's milk. This is the case in no state of society, but in manufacturing towns. The children of gypsies and savages have ruddy cheeks and a sturdy form, can run lie lapwings, and climb trees with the squirrel.
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