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ART. I.-Special Report by the Directors to the Proprietors of Price's Patent Candle Company. April 5, 1852.
THERE is a kind of egotism which puts on the air of sympathy and affects its speech. Men lacking pastime for their unoccupied intellects, or eager to get recognized as burning and shining lights, are apt now-a-days to take up the masses' as the subject-matter of their speculations, treating them with scarcely different or deeper feeling than if they were a sort of raw material from which to manufacture a book, a pamphlet, or a speech―a song or a sermon-in short, as the stalking-horse for the advancement of their own literary or political ambition. Under the attractive title of the People's Friends, they have often succeeded in embroiling master and man; in drying up the resources of the one and sending the other supperless to bed. While the capital of employers (as for example in the late engineers' strike) suffered losses not easily, if ever, to be made up, and while penury was sharpening the features of wife and child, who did not read the pamphlet or hear the speech-the mechanic's sorry compensation for weeks of family distresssuch sympathisers have withdrawn from the troubled scene to their well-cooked dinners and easy chairs, convinced in all modesty that their only misfortune was being before their age, or dismissing any little suggestion of self-distrust by the espousal of some fresh cause'-that is, capering forth again upon another equally unsound hobby.
We cannot doubt that much substantial improvement has been checked by the day-dreams and ideals with which sentimental philanthropists on the one hand and calculating demagogues on the other have warmed the fancies of the artisan. It is dull work, after being whisked by an express train' of Imagination far into Utopia, to return to plans which aim at less than perfection, and which do not pretend to plane down all the knots and difficulties in the social system. Having in past times looked upon mechanics as no better than live machinery, and now, after the horrors of Factory Reports, having subjected ourselves
VOL. XCII. NO. CLXXXIII.
to Factory legislation, we are in danger of a re-action that will carry us into the profitless extreme of plausible impracticabilities.
Sober people, sickened with so many selfish or silly manifestations, or mockeries, of the spirit of the age,' will, we believe, enter into the pleasure with which we have read the pamphlet now before us. This Report by the Directors to the Proprietary of Price's Patent Candle Company' gives a sample of a different species of philanthropy. We are neither inclined nor qualified to enter deeply into the biography of this patent candle, though by no means underrating its rapid success as a sign of economic change-contemplating on the contrary with a cordial satisfaction the increase of that class who are entitled in prudence to rise above the use of tallow, although not exactly, except on state occasions, to afford themselves the lustre of aristocratic wax. It appears that, the demand for these candles having become too great to be met by the original patentees alone, there was formed some years back a joint stock company on a large scale, and that its concerns have been prosperously carried on in a now vast establishment, at Belmont, Vauxhall. It also appears that the managing director, Mr. James Wilson— (whose Letter is embodied in the pamphlet)—ere long felt that such a co-operative work had other elements to be considered beside the successful sale of a valuable article and the regular payment of wages. He looked upon such a body of men thus brought together as something more than mere profitable instruments called into existence to promote the illumination of drawing-rooms. He thought it possible, without loss or hurt to the texture of the candles, to humanise and Christianise hands' that made them; and circumstances enabled him and a brother, his co-manager-both of them still young-to carry such views into practice in a manner which deserves, we think, the attention of statesmen and churchmen, as well as of our merchants and manufacturers.
According to Mr. Wilson's statement, the first step in the movement began among the young, who had almost from the outset been employed in considerable numbers at Belmont. This movement was quickly and warmly encouraged by him; nay more—we have reason to believe that he had paved the way for it by many quiet and unpretending measures-above all, by so exercising his patronage in the distribution of superior posts as to impress every observant member of the community with the importance of some educational acquirement. But he carefully avoided making himself prominent as the founder of a new system. He desired, if possible, to avail himself of the voluntary action of the minds committed to his care. His great ambition
was to form independent characters, in the good sense of the word, who might afterwards walk alone without leading-strings. But let us take his own simple record of the visible start in 1847:
'The schools,' he says, 'began in a very humble way by half a dozen of our boys hiding themselves behind a bench two or three times a week, after they had done their day's work and had their tea, to practise writing on scraps of paper with worn-out pens, begged from the counting-house. The foreman of their department encouraged them, and as they persevered and were joined by other boys, he begged that some rough moveable desks might be made for them. When they had obtained these they used to clear away the candle-boxes at night, and set up the desks, and thus work more comfortably than before, although still at great disadvantages as compared with working in any ordinary school-room. My brother encouraged them with some books as prizes, and many who had been very backward improved much in reading and writing. The fact of the whole being the work of the boys themselves seemed to form so large a part of its value that we carefully abstained from interfering in it further than by these presents of books for prizes, and of copy-books, spelling-books, and Testaments, and by my being-(though not till long after the commencement, and after being much pressed, and being assured that it would cause no restraint)— always present at the school to give them the sanction of authority, but taking no more part than hearing the boys their spelling.'
This was the secret-this being always present;' this drudging on with dull boys at their spelling; this kindly sacrifice of leisure after a hard day's work in the counting-house; this practical sympathy with the lads-sympathy, too, and toil, and oversight, as distinct from interference. Many a manager, or many a manufacturer, may give orders' that there shall be schools for his people,' and drive off to his villa day after day as soon as he has done whatever partners or proprietors had a title to expect from him: here and there such a gentleman may once or twice a year, or even once or twice a month, honour the school with his presence, and patronise the affair; but to reach success there must be something warmer and heartier than this. Nor should it in fairness be omitted that, even where there exists a most sincere desire to work out good in such a line, it may be in fact impossible for the individual to give the time and pains requisite for a satisfactory achievement. The energies of youth may not be at command: there may be the urgency of strictly domestic cares and duties—a world of other serious hindrances will suggest themselves on a very little reflection. But to proceed with the Belmont boys.
By and bye the half-dozen who began with the 'worn-out pens' in the midst of the 'candle-boxes' had increased to about thirty and it was much to be desired that they should have
some better place for their school meetings, that in which they then held them being dirty, exposed on all sides, and moreover requiring every school evening considerable labour to clear it sufficiently for the putting up of the moveable desks.
'Now, there was one part of the factory,' says Mr. Wilson, which we had long looked upon as very dangerous in case of a fire occurring. We gutted all this part of the building, clearing out enough old wood to have burnt down half a dozen factories, and making in place of the two lower store-rooms one lofty school-room, big enough for about 100. It was in the winter of 1848 that the boys got into this first schoolroom, still working entirely by themselves, so much so that the prayers with which the school closed, now that the separate rooms had set them free from the bustle of the factory, were always read by themselves.'
After this, as older boys came in, it became necessary to have the school placed more under authority, though Mr. Wilson still guided rather than governed all. The new room began to be 'overcrowded, so much so that all the desks had to be removed from it, and the boys were obliged to write on pieces of stiff cardboard, held in their hands or on their knees.' Soon, therefore, a second school-room was built, and, by and bye, the company having taken the business of 'Child's Night Lights,' the school system, now including girls, required still further expansion. To save time, one of the railway arches of the South-Western was seized upon, and, being made water-tight, it was extemporised into a school. The progress was thenceforth rapid. At an inspection which took place in 1851, when the schools were emptiest, 512 scholars were present; and in the winter, when business would be slack, Mr. Wilson was confident of numbering 800.
It is not, however, simply of the growth of the schools-this marvellous growth of a scheme which began with half a dozen boys hiding themselves behind a bench once or twice a-week’— it is not of bare cold schooling only that we have to speak. It is the tone, the spirit, the character that was given to them, the evident action they had on the whole state of the factory, the leaven which they spread—the kindly, nay, the religious sympathy which sprang up between all ranks and bodies in the establishment. We can find large Factory Schools in many parts; they are compulsory in several kinds of manufactories; but few are conducted in such a spirit as those at Vauxhall. There is often too much starch, too much drill, too much outward mechanical regularity and order; and in speaking of the tone which Mr. Wilson gave to the whole, we have to remark on the wisdom with which he effected what he desired. He was bent on producing, if possible, a Christian factory, but he did not force religion down. Nay,