Page images

appearance of the children, and many visitors declared that they had never seen so many beautiful girls and boys as in the schools at New Lanark.

The effect of his system on the adult workers was hardly less remarkable. To stop the continued pilfering of bobbins and other small articles used in the mills, he invented a system (unfortunately not explained) by which the many thousands of these articles which passed from hand to hand daily were so recorded automatically that the loss of one by any particular worker could be always detected. In this way robbery, large or small, was always discovered, but no one was ever punished for it. The certainty of discovery, however, prevented its being attempted, and it very soon ceased altogether.

Equally novel and ingenious was his method of avoiding the necessity for punishment, or even for a word of censure, for the many petty offences or infractions of rules that are inevitable in every large establishment. Owen calls it “ the silent monitor," but the workers called it the "telegraph.” Each superintendent of a department had a character-book, in which the daily conduct of every worker was set down by marks for each of the ordinary offences, neglect of work, swearing, etc., which when summed up gave a result in four degrees—bad, indifferent, good, excellent. For every individual there was a small wooden, four-sided tally, the sides being coloured black, blue, yellow, and white, corresponding to the above degrees of conduct. This tally was fixed at each one's work-place, with the indicative colour outward, so that as Owen or his representative passed down the shops at any time during the day, he could note at a glance the conduct of each one during the preceding day, and thus get both a general and a detailed view of the behaviour of the workers. If any one thought they were unfairly treated they could complain to him, but in hardly any cases did this happen. He tells us, “ As I passed through all the rooms, and the workers observed me always to look at these telegraphsand when black I merely looked at the person, and then at the colour—but never said a word to one of them by way of blame. At first,” he says, “a large proportion daily were black and blue, few yellow, and scarcely any white. Gradually the blacks were changed for blue, the blues for yellow, and the yellows for white. Soon after the adoption of this telegraph I could at once see by the expression of countenance what was the colour which was shown. As there were four colours there were four different expressions of countenance, most evident to me as I passed along the rooms. ... Never perhaps in the history of the human race has so simple a device created in so short a period so much order, virtue, goodness, and happiness, out of so much ignorance, error, and misery. And for many years the permanent daily conduct of a very large majority of those who were employed deserved, and had, No. I placed as their character on the books of the company."

To show that Owen did not exaggerate the improved condition of New Lanark, it will be well to give the estimates of experienced and independent visitors. In 1819 the town of Leeds sent a deputation, consisting of Mr. Edward Baines, Mr. Robert Oastler, and Mr. John Cawood, to report on the character and condition of the workers at New Lanark. They spent four days in a careful inspection and examination of the whole establishment, and the following are a few extracts from their general report. Speaking first of the children in the schools, from two to ten years of age, they say, “ They appear like one well-regulated family, united together by the ties of the closest affection. We heard no quarrels from the youngest to the eldest ; and so strongly impressed are they with the conviction that to be happy themselves it is necessary to make those happy by whom they are surrounded, that they had no strife but in offices of kindness."

“The next class of the population in the Lanark establishment consists of boys and girls between ten and seventeen years of age. These are all employed in the mill, and in the evening from seven to half-past eight o'clock they pursue their education. The deportment of these young people is very exemplary. In business they are regular and diligent, and in their manners they are mild and engaging."

“In the adult inhabitants of New Lanark we saw much to commend. In general they appeared clean, healthy, and sober. Intoxication, the parent of so many vices and so much misery, is indeed almost unknown here. The consequence is that they are well clad, well fed, and their dwellings are inviting. . . . In this well-regulated colony, where almost everything is made that is wanted by either the manufactory or its inhabitants, no cursing or swearing is anywhere to be heard. There are no quarrelsome men or brawling women."

Every visitor to New Lanark who published any account of his observations seems to have agreed as to the exceptional health, good conduct, and well-being of the entire population ; while residents in the vicinity, as well as the ruling authorities of the district, bore witness that vice and crime were almost wholly unknown. And it must be remembered that this was all effected upon the chance population found there, which was certainly no better if no worse than the usual lowest class of manufacturing operatives at that period. There appears to have been not a single case of an individual or a family being expelled for bad conduct; so that we are compelled to trace the marvellous improvement that occurred entirely to the partial application of Owen's principles of human nature, most patiently and skilfully applied by himself. They were necessarily only a partial application, because a large number of the adults had not received the education and training from infancy which was essential for producing their full beneficial results. Again, the whole establishment was a manufactory, the property of private capitalists, and the adult population suffered all the disadvantages of having to work for long hours at a monotonous employment and at low rates of wages, circumstances wholly antagonistic to any full and healthy and elevated existence. Owen used always to declare that the beneficial results at which all visitors were so much astonished were only onetenth part of what could and would be produced if his principles were fully applied. If the labour of such a community, or of groups of such communities, had been directed with equal skill to produce primarily the necessaries and comforts of life for its own inhabitants, with a surplus of such goods as they could produce most advantageously for themselves, in order by their sale in the surrounding district to be able to supply themselves with such native or foreign products as they required, then each worker would have been able to enjoy the benefits of change of occupation, always having some alternation of outdoor as well as indoor work; the hours of labour might be greatly reduced, and all the refinements of life might have been procured and enjoyed by them.

On considering the whole course of Owen's life, the one great error he committed was to give up the New Lanark property and management, and spend his large fortune in the endeavour to found communities in various countries of chance assemblages of adults, which his own principles should have shown him were doomed to failure. He always maintained that a true system of education from infancy to manhood was essential to the best formation of character. His infant schools had only been about ten years in existence, when, owing to some difficulties with his Quaker partners, who had always objected to the dancing and drill, he gave up the management into their hands.

This was a weakness due to his amiable temper, which could not bear to be the cause of difference with his friends. Under the circumstances he might well have refused to give up an establishment which was wholly his own creation, and whose splendid success was unequalled in the world. He possessed nearly half the shares, and the profits were so large that he could soon have paid off the remainder, and become the sole owner. If they had absolutely refused to sell, he might have sold his interest and started another community on improved lines, to which it is almost certain the whole of the inhabitants of New Lanark would have voluntarily removed in order to be under his beneficent rule. He would thus have had all the advantages of not losing the young people he had so thoroughly trained, and might have gone on during his life extending the establishment till it became almost wholly self-supporting, and ultimately, when the majority of the inhabitants had been trained from childhood under his supervision, self-governing also. Had he done this, his beautiful system of education, and the admirable social organization founded on his far-seeing and fundamentally true philosophy of human nature, might still have existed, as a beacon-light guiding us towards a better state of industrial organization. In that case we should not have now found ourselves, after another century of continuous increase of wealth and command over nature, with a much greater mass of want and misery in our midst than when he first so clearly showed the means of abolishing them.

Notwithstanding this one fatal error, an error due to the sensitive nobility of his character and to his optimistic belief in the power of truth to make its way against all adverse forces, Robert Owen will ever be remembered as one of the wisest, noblest, and most practical of philanthropists, as well as one of the best and most lovable of men.

I have a recollection of having once heard him give a short address at this “Hall of Science," and that I was struck by his tall spare figure, very lofty head, and highly benevolent countenance and mode of speaking. Although later in life my very scanty knowledge of his work was not sufficient to prevent my adopting the individualist views of Herbert Spencer and of the political economists, I have always looked upon Owen as my first teacher in the philosophy of human nature and my first guide through the labyrinth of social science. He influenced my character more than I then knew, and now that I have read his life and most of his works, I am fully convinced that he was the greatest of social reformers and the real founder of modern Socialism. For these reasons I trust that my readers will not consider the space I have here devoted to an outline of his great work at New Lanark is more than the subject deserves.

The preceding sketch of his life and work is founded upon his “Life” written by himself, and accompanied by such a mass of confirmatory reports and correspondence as to show that it can be thoroughly relied on. It has, however,

« EelmineJätka »