Page images



In a

The existence of England's Greatness' of course requires no demonstration, however opinions may differ as to its causes. poetic or patriotic spirit this greatness has been attributed to a variety of things—to the Bible, to our wooden walls and meteor flag, to the insular position secured to us by the streak of silver sea, to the special excellence of the roast beef of old England, and the still more special excellence of our malt liquors.

There have been those who have respectively argued that the secret of our greatness lay in the possession of our magnificent national debt, a State Church, a House of Lords, the alleged stability-giving see-saw of party government, the addition of Empress to the title of Queen. That in giving us an empire upon which the sun never sets--by many accounted our greatest greatness-our sailors and soldiers also have been prime causes, there can be no doubt. In this connection it is no less true that the Bible has been an instrument of greatness in a sense -in the sense, that is, that where civilisation has taken the form of subjugation or annexation, the missionary has often been the precursor of those instruments of such civilisation, rum and rifles; the sense in which, as fishers of men, we have, as Bulwer Lytton somewhere puts it, baited with a missionary and impaled with a bayonet. The other supposed leading factors of England's greatness mentioned above may be passed over in having been named.

As a prosaic matter of fact, the present-day greatness of the mother country is chiefly the result of our supremacy as a manufacturing nation. We are a manufacturing, even more than we are a shopkeeping or carrying, nation. Indeed, our shopkeeping and carrying are to a great extent the mere outcome and complement of our position in relation to the manufacturing industries. Rightly considered, it will be found that our national greatness and manufacturing greatness are something very like convertible terms. With us coal is the uncrowned king, iron the emblematical sceptre of power. Our machinery is our best war material, our craftsmen our most powerful troops. It may be said that such talk as this might be all very well for weak piping times of peace, or if the millennium had arrived, but that it is out of harmony with an age of wars and rumours of wars, an age in which it has become axiomatic that the best security for peace is always to

be prepared for war. To such objection I would answer that on this point a question of race comes in. It is not a boast but a truism to say that the English are a hardy and high-mettled race, constitutionally brave, and with an historical record and a national prestige which make a feeling of noblesse oblige a common possession even to those who may never have heard the phrase. In actual warfare, whether by land or sea, the English have always shown dauntless courage and unconquerable resolution, and there is no reason to suppose that we have fallen from the standard of our fathers either in physique or pluck. With such a breed of men to fall back upon, should the banners of war be unfurled, the modern nation which has the greatest resources for bringing the arts of peace to bear upon the operations of war will in the long run be the most successful in battle; and in this respect, if not in tariff arrangements, England is the most favoured nation.'

Taking it, then, that we are a manufacturing nation, and that much of our national greatness arises from such being the case, it naturally follows that our artisan classes constitute one of the most important as well as one of the most numerous sections of the community. They are the élite of the working classes, the portion of those classes most capable of making themselves felt in political and social movements. In practice it will generally be found, indeed, that when the working classes are spoken of in association with

movements' it is really the artisan classes that are meant. In such an association, their name—if skilfully worked—is one to conjure with, and many are the strange and contradictory things that have been done or attempted in their name.

The typical artisan is the working man' par excellence, and the working man, as every one knows, is a man of many friends. He has candid and sugar-candied friends of every variety, from the self-constituted censor calling himself a friend, and posing as a blessing in disguise, to the one who takes the line of friend to the working man and foe to all above him. A friend or leader of the working classes has come to be a profession, and a paying one, while the methods of the friendship have attained almost to the dignity of a fine art. Between their own occasional acts and the regular operations of their professional friends, the working classes are on some points kept well before the public. Their importance in respect to their numbers, their potential political power, their demands-actual or allegedtheir social rights and wrongs, and so forth, are fully recognised.

But their importance as craftsmen, as the backbone of our manufacturing industries, is for the most part left wholly out of account. Yet this is the ground upon which they are the most important in relation to the momentous question of national prosperity, in which of course is involved the question of their own material welfare. While they are not less important as craftsmen than as-say--voters, neither

are they less interesting. There need, therefore, be the less hesitation in entering upon a consideration of their position and characteristics in the former capacity, as it is the purpose of the present paper to do. Never, perhaps, was there a time when the subject could be discussed more profitably.

England is still the first among manufacturing nations-a long way the first. Her workmen are still the best in the world, tried by the most practical standards; for, working fewer hours and receiving higher pay than Continental workmen, they enable their employers to undersell Continental producers, and so hold the premier position in the markets of the world. Nevertheless, it is no longer a case of England first, the rest nowhere, as was practically the case a generation or so ago. The total of our manufacturing production to-day is infinitely greater than it was twenty or thirty years back, even allowing for increase of population, but it does not represent the same overwhelming proportion of the manufacturing production of the world that it did at the earlier period. Manufacturing enterprise in foreign countries has been advancing. Nations formerly entirely dependent upon us for certain classes of goods now manufacture them for themselves. Others go beyond this and compete with us in foreign and some even in home markets-a thing they are enabled to do with a greater chance of success by reason of the extent to which the spirit of shoddy has been imported into the practice of our manufacturing arts. Shoddy-using the word in its representative sense—is a curse that has come home to roost. It has degraded the once proud trade blazon of English manufacture,' has deservedly depreciated its selling power.

Foreign artisans, too, are picking us up, partly owing to the extent to which mere machine-minding has been substituted for handicraft skill, partly to the schooling they have received at the hands of the English managers, foremen, and leading men whom the more enterprising among Continental employers have with a wise liberality imported, and of course in some measure to continued practice. Meanwhile it is, to say the least of it, an open question whether modern developments in manufacturing systems have not tended to lessen the special skill and special value of English artisans. Here again the spirit of shoddy exerts its baneful influence. Under its operation thousands of workmen are compelled in their own despite to adopt a sloppy style of workmanship, are never allowed to acquire, much less practise, any higher style. Their pay is so arranged that to live, to obtain or retain employment, they must think of quantity only; and experience teaches them that under this state of affairs he is held to be the cleverest workman who is best not at avoiding but at concealing scamped work from the trustful, but unskilled, ultimate purchasers of the work. Frequently, too, shoddy is a means of subjecting bodies of workmen to injustice from public opinion. Outsiders are led to believe that some depression or disturbance of trade is due to the .action of the men, when as a matter of fact it really results from users or consumers having at length detected the bad workmanship, or the adulteration of material, or both, which are the characteristic features of the shoddy principle as applied to manufactures. In ..such circumstances it is scarcely to be supposed that the workmen concerned can take any special pride or interest in their craft, and the lack of such feeling upon their part is an element of weakness to a trade.

Again, as already hinted, machinery is a great leveller. On the whole, it is of course a boon and a blessing to men. It multiplies the powers of prcduction and ultimately increases the demand for labour. Still, from the point of view here in question it is not an unmixed blessing. The greater the degree to which a machine is self-adjusting and self-acting, the greater the extent to which it requires as an attendant a minder rather than a mechanic, the more perfect it is as a machine. If the machine-minder chances to be also a mechanic, so much the better. He will be able to make his mechanical experience or intelligence tell in his minding. At the same time, there is neither expectation nor necessity that he should be a mechanic. Even among minders who are nothing more than minders, there are varying degrees of skill; but, speaking broadly, the machine-attendant is rather the slave than the master of his machine

- has to feed rather than work it. Machine hands, like machine work, can be turned out in quantities. The manufacture of such hands is a very different thing from the making of mechanics. It is to our success in the latter process that we are in a great measure indebted for our superiority over competing nations. Unfortunately, however, the vital importance of keeping up the breed' of our artisans is in these later times being overlooked. Employers as a rule think only of what will pay for the passing season, while State provision for mechanical training appears to be a thing undreamed of in our 'philosophy of national duty or interest.

Subdivision of labour, like inachinery, greatly increases productive power, but also, like machinery, it has its drawbacks where the formation of the craftsmen is in question. In England the system of subdivision is carried out very thoroughly and minutely and with great results as to output, but under it the all-round workman is disappearing. And the all-round workman in his own trade-who, be it marked, is a very different person from the Jack-of-all-trades—is the best of all workmen. The one-job man may be a very good man at his work and yet be little better than a human automaton—be almost as much a mere machine as the machine he works. But to become a good allround workman a man must have good mechanical aptitudes of eye, and hand, and intellect; and with these aptitudes and a varied VOL. XX.-No. 116.


experience he gains the self-confidence and readiness of resource which are among the most valuable qualities of an artisan. The workman of this stamp is not a machine, he is a mechanic. He puts brains into his work, thinks and plans, and in a rough-and-ready way invents. He understands the capabilities of tools, whether they be simple hand-tools or complicated machines. He can make the fullest use of the automatic adjustments and self-acting gearing which reduce the one-job man to the level of a machine-feeder and nothing more. Where, however, any such accessories are wanting, he is not, like the one-job man, 'floored' by their absence. He can rig up'substitutes for them or so vary the methods of executing his work as to be able to dispense with their aid. He is a Mark Tapley among artisans, coming out strongest under circumstances that would simply “flabbergast' workmen who have allowed themselves to become blindly obedient to, and helplessly dependent upon, automatic appliances.

I remember meeting with a very good illustration of this point in a stray copy of an American trade journal. A chief engineer of a steamer, an "educated' engineer, one who had passed his Board of Trade certificate examination and would therefore be learned in reading and obeying the various self-registering indicators and gauges with which marine engines are fitted—an engineer of this stamp found himself fifty miles from port with a broken vacuum gauge ; a very important gauge to those whose sole trust is in gauges without any reserve of trust in self. Under the loss of his gauge this particular engineer showed utter helplessness and proposed immediate return.' The assistant-engineer, however, was another manner of man. He saw nothing amiss in a broken gauge or in the absence of one. He traded places with his chief and made the run by feeling. When his condenser felt too hot he gave it more injection. If the necessities of the situation had required it, this assistant would probably have been able to have done an effective stroke of ship-carpentry, while his chief, if applied to, would no doubt have replied that he was an engineer, and that wood-work was out of his line.

Here we have exemplified the essential difference between the true mechanic and what may be called the machine-made man. The one can turn his hand to anything broadly within the range of his own particular craft, or if need be to more or less cognate work in other crafts, and he has a practical if not scientific knowledge of first principles in relation to the mechanical appliances used in his trade. The other is cribbed, cabined, and confined, alike as to manual skill and intelligent self-resource. The all-round workman requires as a rule very little foremaning, and this enhances his value to employers. On the other hand, his value to himself is greatly increased by the fact that his versatility makes it easier for him than for others to secure employment. If he is a blacksmith, he is equally ready to

« PreviousContinue »