Slike strani
PDF
ePub

and industry in producing them, without a proportionate increase in the cost of production; and, as the price of labour constitutes a large element in that cost, the rate of wages must be restricted within certain limits. It is perfectly true that cheap production and cheap labour are by no means synonymous; but it is also true that wages cannot increase beyond a certain proportion without destroying cheapness. Cheapness, then, with, as part and parcel of cheapness, a moderate price of labour, is essential to our success as competitors in the markets of the world.

The second condition is really quite as plainly indispensable as the first, if one thinks seriously about the matter. It is social stability. Society is stable when the wants of its members obtain as much satisfaction as, life being what it is, common sense and experience show may be reasonably expected. Mankind, in general, care very little for forms of government or ideal considerations of any sort; and nothing really stirs the great multitude of mankind to break with custom and incur the manifest perils of revolt except the belief that misery in this world or damnation in the next, or both, are threatened by the continuance of the state of things in which they have been brought up. But when they do attain that conviction, society becomes as unstable as a package of dynamite, and a very small matter will produce the explosion which sends it back to the chaos of savagery.

It needs no argument to prove that when the price of labour sinks below a certain point, the worker infallibly falls into that condition which the French emphatically call la misère—a word for which I do not think there is any exact English equivalent. It is a condition in which the food, warmth and clothing which are necessary for the mere maintenance of the functions of the body in their normal state cannot be obtained; in which men, women and children are forced to crowd into dens wherein decency is abolished and the most ordinary conditions of healthful existence are impossible of attainment; in which the pleasures within reach are reduced to bestiality and drunkenness; in which the pains accumulate at compound interest, in the shape of starvation, disease, stunted development, and moral degradation; in which the prospect of even steady and honest industry is a life of unsuccessful battling with hunger, rounded by a pauper's grave.

That a certain proportion of the members of every great aggregation of mankind should constantly tend to establish and populate such a Malebolge as this is inevitable, so long as some people are by nature idle and vicious, while others are disabled by sickness or accident, or thrown upon the world by the death of their breadwinners. So long as that proportion is restricted within tolerable limits, it can be dealt with; and, so far as it arises only from such causes, its existence may and must be patiently borne. But, when

[ocr errors]

the organisation of society, instead of mitigating this tendency, tends to continue and intensify it; when a given social order plainly makes for evil and not for good, men naturally enough begin to think it high time to try a fresh experiment. The animal man, finding that the ethical man has landed him in such a slough, resumes his ancient sovereignty and preaches anarchy; which is, substantially, a proposal to reduce the social cosmos to chaos and begin the brute struggle for existence once again.

Any one who is acquainted with the state of the population of all great industrial centres, whether in this or other countries, is aware that, amidst a large and increasing body of that population, la misère reigns supreme. I have no pretensions to the character of a philanthropist and I have a special horror of all sorts of sentimental rhetoric; I am merely trying to deal with facts, to some extent within my own knowledge, and further evidenced by abundant testimony, as a naturalist; and I take it to be a mere plain truth that, throughout industrial Europe, there is not a single large manufacturing city which is free from a vast mass of people whose condition is exactly that described, and from a still greater mass who, living just on the edge of the social swamp, are liable to be precipitated into it by any lack of demand for their produce. And, with every addition to the population, the multitude already sunk in the pit and the number of the host sliding towards it continually increase.

Argumentation can hardly be needful to make it clear that no society in which the elements of decomposition are thus swiftly and surely accumulating can hope to win in the race of industries.

Intelligence, knowledge, and skill are undoubtedly conditions of success; but of what avail are they likely to be unless they are backed up by honesty, energy, good-will, and all the physical and moral faculties that go to the making of manhood, and unless they are stimulated by hope of such reward as men may fairly look to? And what dweller in the slough of misère, dwarfed in body and soul, demoralised, hopeless, can reasonably be expected to possess these qualities?

Any full and permanent development of the productive powers of an industrial population, then, must be compatible with and, indeed, based upon a social organisation which will secure a fair amount of physical and moral welfare to that population; which will make for good and not for evil. Natural science and religious enthusiasm rarely go hand in hand, but on this matter their concord is complete; and the least sympathetic of naturalists can but admire the insight and the devotion of such social reformers as the late Lord Shaftesbury, whose recently published 'Life and Letters' gives a vivid picture of the condition of the working classes fifty years ago, and of the pit which our industry, ignoring these plain truths, was then digging under its own feet.

There is perhaps no more hopeful sign of progress among us in the last half-century than the steadily increasing devotion which has been and is directed to measures for promoting physical and moral welfare among the poorer classes. Sanitary reformers, like most other reformers whom I have had the advantage of knowing, seem to need a good dose of fanaticism, as a sort of moral coca, to keep them up to the mark, and, doubtless, they have made many mistakes; but that the endeavour to improve the condition under which our industrial population live, to amend the drainage of densely peopled streets, to provide baths, washhouses, and gymnasia, to facilitate habits of thrift, to furnish some provision for instruction and amusement in public libraries and the like, is not only desirable from a philanthropic point of view, but an essential condition of safe industrial development, appears to me to be indisputable. It is by such means alone, so far as I can see, that we can hope to check the constant gravitation of industrial society towards la misère, until the general progress of intelligence and morality leads men to grapple with the sources of that tendency. If it is said that the carrying out of such arrangements as those indicated must enhance the cost of production, and thus handicap the producer in the race of competition, I venture, in the first place, to doubt the fact: but if it be so, it results that industrial society has to face a dilemma, either horn of which threatens impalement.

On the one hand, a population whose labour is sufficiently remunerated may be physically and morally healthy and socially stable, but may fail in industrial competition by reason of the dearness of its produce. On the other hand, a population whose labour is insufficiently remunerated must become physically and morally unhealthy, and socially unstable; and though it may succeed for a while in industrial competition, by reason of the cheapness of its produce, it must in the end fall, through hideous misery and degradation, to utter ruin.

Well, if these are the only possible alternatives, let us for ourselves and our children choose the former, and, if need be, starve like men. But I do not believe that a stable society made up of healthy, vigorous, instructed, and self-ruling people would ever incur serious risk of that fate. They are not likely to be troubled with many competitors of the same character, and they may be safely trusted to find ways of holding their own.

Assuming that the physical and moral well-being and the stable social order, which are the indispensable conditions of permanent industrial development, are secured, there remains for consideration the means of attaining that knowledge and skill, without which, even then, the battle of competition cannot be successfully fought. Let us consider how we stand. A vast system of elementary education

[ocr errors]

has now been in operation among us for sixteen years, and has reached all but a very small fraction of the population. I do not think that there is any room for doubt that, on the whole, it has worked well, and that its indirect no less than its direct benefits have been immense. But, as might be expected, it exhibits the defects of all our educational systems-fashioned as they were to meet the wants of a bygone condition of society. There is a widespread, and I think well-justified, complaint that it has too much to do with books and too little to do with things. I am as little disposed as anyone can well be to narrow early education and to make the primary school a mere annexe of the shop. And it is not so much in the interests of industry as in that of breadth of culture, that I echo the common complaint against the bookish and theoretical character of our primary instruction.

If there were no such things as industrial pursuits, a system of education which does nothing for the faculties of observation, which trains neither the eye nor the hand, and is compatible with utter ignorance of the commonest natural truths, might still be reasonably regarded as strangely imperfect. And when we consider that the instruction and training which are lacking are exactly those which are of most importance for the great mass of our population, the fault becomes almost a crime, the more that there is no practical difficulty in making good these defects. There really is no reason why drawing should not be universally taught, and it is an admirable training for both eye and hand. Artists are born, not made; but everybody may be taught to draw elevations, plans and sections; and pots and pans are as good, indeed better, models for this purpose than the Apollo Belvedere. The plant is not expensive; and there is this excellent quality about drawing of the kind indicated, that it can be tested almost as easily and severely as arithmetic. Such drawings are either right or wrong, and if they are wrong the pupil can be made to see that they are wrong. From the industrial point of view, drawing has the further merit that there is hardly any trade in which the power of drawing is not of daily and hourly utility. In the next place, no good reason, except the want of capable teachers, can be assigned why elementary notions of science should not be an element in general instruction. In this case, again, no experience or elaborate apparatus is necessary. The commonest thing-a candle, a boy's squirt, a piece of chalk-in the hands of a teacher who knows his business may be made the starting points whence children may be led into the regions of science as far as their capacity permits, with efficient exercise of their observational and reasoning faculties on the road. If object lessons often prove trivial failures, it is not the fault of object lessons, but that of the teacher, who has not found out how much the power of teaching a little depends on knowing a great deal, and that thoroughly; and that he has not made that discovery

is not the fault of the teachers, but of the detestable system of training them which is widely prevalent.2

As I have said, I do not regard the proposal to add these to the present subjects of universal instruction, as made merely in the interests of industry. Elementary science and drawing are just as needful at Eton (where I am happy to say both are now parts of the regular course) as in the lowest primary school. But their importance in the education of the artisan is enhanced, not merely by the fact that the knowledge and skill thus gained-little as they may amount to -will still be of practical utility to him; but further, because they constitute an introduction to that special training which is commonly called technical education.'

I conceive that our wants in this last direction may be grouped under four heads: (1) Instruction in the principles of those branches of science and of art which are peculiarly applicable to industrial pursuits, which may be called preliminary scientific education. (2) Instruction in the special branches of such applied science and art, as technical education proper. (3) Instruction of teachers in both these branches. (4) Capacity-catching machinery.

A great deal has already been done in each of these directions, but much remains to be done. If elementary education is amended in the way that has been suggested, I think that the school-boards will have quite as much on their hands as they are capable of doing well. The influences under which the members of these bodies are elected do not tend to secure fitness for dealing with scientific or technical education; and it is the less necessary to burden them with an uncongenial task as there are other organisations, not only much better fitted to do the work, but already actually doing it.

In the matter of preliminary scientific education, the chief of these is the Science and Art Department, which has done more during the last quarter of a century for the teaching of elementary science among the masses of the people than any organisation which exists either in this or in any other country. It has become veritably a people's university, so far as physical science is concerned. At the foundation of our old universities they were freely open to the poorest, but the poorest must come to them. In the last quarter of a century, the Science and Art Department, by means of its classes spread all over the country and open to all, has conveyed instruction to the poorest. The University Extension movement shows that our older learned corporations have discovered the propriety of following suit.

Technical education, in the strict sense, has become a necessity

2 Training in the use of simple tools is no doubt very desirable, on all grounds. From the point of view of 'culture,' the man whose 'fingers are all thumbs' is but a stunted creature. But the practical difficulties in the way of introducing handiwork of this kind into elementary schools appear to me to be considerable.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »