« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
illness at the end of two or three months, and many of them obliged to return to the country, being unable to endure the disadvantages of their situation. It is also a fact equally well known to those who are in the trade, that notwithstanding the large number of persons who enter it in youth, it is a most rare thing to meet with a man as an assistant-draper above five-and-thirty or forty years of age. Now, making the largest allowance for those who go into business on their own account, and for those who have recourse to other occupations, there will yet remain a considerable number, of whom we fear no account can be given, except that they perish as victims to this system.
Surely nothing but the insidious slowness* with which these pernicious effects come on, could have prevented the cause of them from having been execrated long ago by every benevolent mind. If a grave-digger dies from breathing poisonous exhalations (as was the case at Aldgate a few years ago), a loud cry is raised for an alteration in the whole system of burying; but we take no note of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who are silently carried to their graves by a process not less fatal, only more slow.
It may indeed justly be said, that these evils belong in some degree, to the nature of a shopkeeper's occupation. In so far as this is the case, we certainly have no right to complain. It seems to be inevitable that, in a highly civilised state of society, a considerable portion of the community should suffer some such disadvantages. The mass cannot have the liberty of movement and physical advantages of the savage, without also foregoing the thousand benefits which civilisation confers. In this respect the draper is only upon a level with many other portions of the community. But what we complain of, is, that these evils are rendered far greater than they otherwise would be, by the
* “ You think that the constitution may be undergoing very serious and even permanent injury, without the magnitude of that injury being decidedly apparent in the youthful period of existence ?” “Certainly : you express my meaning fully.” — Evidence of Mr. Thackrah before Committee on Factories Bill, 1832.
unnecessarily late hours to which the business of shops is now prolonged. Let these be curtailed and the worst form of the evil will be removed.
II. But man is not merely a physical being, possessed of a material form, curiously and beautifully constructed; he is, also, an intellectual being. “ There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.” However much we may value the casket, we cannot help prizing more highly the jewel which it contains. If, then, this system of late hours be found to be as destructive to the mind as it is to the body, we are bound to condemn it the more strongly, and to strive the more earnestly after the substitution of a better.
That this is the case we shall now endeavour to shew.
To use a common figure, the intellect may be compared to the soil of the earth, which is capable of producing wholesome corn, delicious fruits, and beautiful flowers; but which does not produce either unless it be cultivated. So the mind, when properly cultivated, attains to practical wisdom, becomes the storehouse of varied knowledge, and the source of high and beautiful thoughts; but, when neglected, it is at best but a useless encumbrance, an unproductive waste, and too often it is a hotbed of folly and vice. Whatever system then, necessarily prevents the cultivation of the intellect, is chargeable with all the incapacity, folly, and crime, which result from such neglect. It is chargeable with casting down the noblest work of the Creator, and opposing His most manifest designs. Such is the case with this late-hour system.
Young men are engaged from seven o'clock in the morning until ten or eleven at night; during the whole of which time they are expected to attend exclusively to business. However few may be the number of customers, however little the amount of work to be done, the assistant or apprentice must never have recourse to a book in the shop. We say nothing about the reasonableness or unreasonableness of this practice, we merely state the fact, because some persons might suppose it would be otherwise. How can a young man in such circumstances find time for intellectual pursuits? He may, possibly, read a few paragraphs in a newspaper, or a few pages of a magazine, but for any thing like the regular study of any branch of science or literature, it is quite clear he has no time.
But not only is the time which remains after business too little to be of
young man himself is in a condition which renders him wholly unfit to employ even this small portion of time as he otherwise might. We all know how much the mind is dependent upon the body. It is impossible to use the one in a vigorous and successful manner, while the other is oppressed with fatigue. The reason of this dependence and its nature will be obvious when we consider that, according to the general opinion of physiologists, the brain is the material organ by means of which the mind acts in the present life. Now the brain is of course subject to the same general laws as the other parts of the body, and therefore shares in the general lassitude of the whole physical system.
Let us apply this principle to the present case. The young man has been engaged for fifteen or sixteen hours in an occupation involving both bodily exertion and mental anxiety. The consequence is, that when the time comes for him to leave the shop, he is so worn out with fatigue, as to be utterly unfit for any active exercise either of body or mind. Accordingly very few young men attempt to read any thing but the news of the day; many not even that. They who have the strongest taste for literature have recourse only to the lighter kinds; and even while thus engaged, they often fall asleep with the book in their hands. The writer has repeatedly seen this, even in the tolerably wellfurnished libraries of some of the large houses of business.
Here, then, is a twofold evil; the larger number of young men in whom the taste for reading is comparatively weak, neglect altogether this means (the only one they have) of improving the intellect; while the smaller number in whom this taste is stronger, are driven by the same cause, to read only those books which are exciting and imaginative, especially novels, which, it is needless to add, are often more injurious than beneficial.
There is another consideration which presents itself to our notice. The present age is distinguished by the number of literary and scientific institutions which are found in every large town and city; especially in London. In connexion with these institutions there are the greatest facilities for the acquirement of knowledge and the improvement of the mind : libraries, classes for the study of various branches of art and science, and popular lectures on different subjects delivered by talented men. How far these institutions are available for the young men in the drapery trade, may be seen from the following fact. At the Mechanics' Institute, Southampton Buildings, a record is kept, not only of the names of the members, but also of their trades or professions, according to which it appears, that out of nearly 700 members of that institution there is only one linendraper.
There are also public exhibitions which have a similar bearing, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, * the Polytechnic Institution, and the Adelaide Gallery; institutions which seem to be especially adapted for the improvement of the young men of the middle classes. And yet is it not an anomalous and lamentable fact, that a very large portion of these very persons are shut out from them by the system of which we complain? The curiosities of natural history, the wonderful discoveries of science, and the admirable productions of art, are all things with which, it would seem, they have nothing to do, excepting as they may be able to discover any trace of them in the texture or pattern of the goods they sell.
Here, then, we behold this large class of young men, who are in the very prime of life, just at that age in which every opportunity of improvement is most valuable, and in which all the powers of the mind ought to be most fully unfolding themselves, surrounded by the means of knowledge, and yet shut out from every avenue that leads to it. The open volume of Nature, which even the untutored Indian may read as he traverses his native wilds, with all of good and beautiful that it presents, in matter for reflection, and food for the imagination; with all the silent lessons that it teaches in the noiseless harmonies of the heavens, and the numberless beauties of the earth~ is to them as a sealed book. The almost divine thoughts, the profound meditations, the deep researches, and the marvellous discoveries, which gifted men, age after age, have given forth to the world, and which are now enshrined in books—are to them hid treasure after which they are forbidden to seek. Those noble institutions, the temples of science and art, which are the glory of our age, and the pride of our land, might, so far as they are concerned, as well have existed in some by-gone age or some distant country.
* It is true that the British Museum and National Gallery, so long as the present regulations for closing them remain unchanged, must continue to be inaccessible to these persons, even if a reasonable alteration be made in their hours of employment. May we not expect that a day will come in which these institutions will be open to the public in the evening ? No one can doubt that such a regulation is, on many accounts, highly desirable, and there surely might be sufficient precautions taken against fire, to remove any objection on that ground.
What, then, are the inevitable results of such a state of things?
1. It is clear that there can be no acquirement of knowledge beyond that which has been obtained at school, excepting a partial knowledge of business, and that superficial information which may be obtained by sleepy glances at the newspaper. The growth of the intellect is checked ; the developement of its powers is stopped, for want of that knowledge which is its nutriment; and minds, which under more favourable circumstances, might have been as lights in the world, are left in a state of comparative ignorance and imbecility.
2. We have, in the next place, a weakening of the mental faculties, as a regular consequence of their not being exercised.
It is well known that intellectual exercise is as necessary to the well-being of the mind as physical exercise is to that of the body. If for a length of time we suffer a limb to remain altogether unused, its sinews contract, its muscles lose their substance and firmness, and the whole limb becomes shrunken and incapable of performing its functions