Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

be none.

be their names what they may, who appear to us to have truly at heart, not their own personal aggrandizement, nor that of their friends, but the well understood interests of the empire at large. We look much more to principles than to persons; to measures, infinitely more than to men ; and we look chiefly and anxiously to the good that can be effected by a rigid abstinence from wild and visionary and alarming doctrines, and by an equally rigid adherence to the admirable basis upon which our constitution was originally framed.

When we allude to chimerical doctrines, as contrasted with the true principles of our social system, we should wish, however, to be clearly understood, as not actuated by any desire whatever to place limits to discussion. On the contrary, we think that there should

We hope that the day may soon arrive, when every man shall be at liberty to express his thoughts without reserve upon every subject, without being liable to the ex-officio informations of the Attorney-General, or to legal penalties of any description. In our opinion, the good sense of the community ought always to be looked to, as its best safeguard against pernicious doctrines of every sort, whether they be connected with politics or religion ; and for this reason we hold that, above all things, it is the duty of the government to remove every obstacle that stands in the way of knowledge, and impedes its progress.

When we consider the extent and intricacy of the machinery which is to be found in our laws, directly, and intentionally, and cunningly contrived to multiply those obstacles, and prevent knowledge from reaching to the great masses of the people, we own that we are astonished, not that the people have made so few, but that they have, in point of fact, made so many accumulations of intellectual wealth. We know of no members of any community in the world, who are entitled to so much praise in this respect, as our own laborious mechanics. Toiling from the earliest dawn of day to its close, at their several occupations,-the smith in his foundry, the weaver at his loom, the bricklayer on his scaffold, the glassblower at his furnace, the compositor at his desk, all at their various occupations for the maintenance of their families,-no sooner is the business of the day over, and the hum of industry subsided, than they very generally turn to some of those excellent publications, which have been recently circulated in this country for their especial benefit. Thus the long winter-night, formerly spent in idleness, dissipation, or gloom, is now made short, innocent, and cheerful to them, by being turned to their own improvement, and to that of their children, in the most valuable branches of information. Let there be amongst the millions of our population, but a fair proportion of intelligent men like these, and the most despotic of English kings, even George III., in whose reign more bad laws were passed or continued, than during the reign of all his predecessors put together, may sit upon the throne again. He may have for his prime-minister a Pitt, a Perceval, or a Sidmouth; for his Chancellor, an Eldon ; for his Attorney General, a Wetherell or a Sugden; he and his minions may put down the press, and silence the Unions established throughout the country ; but so long as the light of knowledge thus burns at the firesides of the uncorrupted and industrious families of this great community, not all the measures of the worst of kings, and of the most profligate of ministers, could ever succeed in extinguishing the elements of our freedom. These would live amidst the surrounding ruins, and, sooner or later, rise up like the Phønix, with renovated strength, to renew the conflict between liberty and power.

The march” of knowledge, as it has been sneeringly called, amongst the mechanics of this country, has been truly surprising, considering the difficulties which it has had to combat. An author, for instance, sits down to write a book, but before he can pen a line, he must first pay to the revenue a duty of three-pence upon every pound of paper which he intends to consume. His work completed, he next bargains with a bookseller to get half profits, perchance, for his copy-right, and if the bargain be reduced to writing, it will not be worth a farthing in a court of law unless it be stamped. The book is then printed upon paper, for which he must pay another duty, and before it can be published, its title must be announced, not once, but repeatedly, in advertisements, inserted in the newspapers and other periodical publications. For each of these advertisements the sum of three shillings and six-pence must be paid to the crown; and we need hardly say how often this payment must be renewed, considering how difficult it is to catch the ear, or rather the eye, of that great personage, the Public, concealed as he is behind the dense masses of the community. It sometimes unfortunately happens that he becomes so deaf and so stupid, that it is utterly impossible to make him hear or see at all. This is unfortunate.' But it is rather too bad, that before an author can, as it were, make his bow before his patron, and mention to him even the first letter of the title of his work, he must have handed over to the king a great number of three shillings and six-pences, and three-pences, which would have been much better in his own scanty purse. The proprietor of the newspaper in which his advertisements are circulated, charges as much more, and often double the sum required for the duty. Hence, when the time for adjusting the account between the author and the publisher arrives, the former finds that all his profits, sometimes a great deal more, unhappily, have been already absorbed by the crown, and the newspaper proprietor, and the paper manufacturer.

This is not all. The latter has already advanced the duty upon the paper, and he of course charges an interest upon the capital so laid out, thus making a profit even upon the duty. The aggregate of this duty is so large, that none but large capitalists can be papermanufacturers; and hence the business has become a monopoly,

and the monopolists can charge what prices they please upon the different qualities of the article. Add to this, that if our author should wish to buy the newspapers in which bis advertisements are inserted, he must for each of them pay the sum of seven-pence, of which four-pence go direct into the Exchequer, the remaining three-pence being shared in different proportions between the paper-manufacturer, the proprietor, and the various persons whom he employs, and the newsman; so that the crown, which has laid out no capital at all upon the concern, actually receives more than half the sum which is distributed amongst all the other parties interested put together! This is not taxation, but confiscation.

The evil does not stop here. This system of necessity deters many persons from publishing their thoughts to the world, and consequently from giving a great deal of employment, which they might otherwise afford, to lead-miners, type-founders, compositors, paper-manufacturers, press-men, steam-engine presses, binders, booksellers, and numerous other tradespeople connected with these, who might all be set in motion by that miraculous little instrument, the pen. The circle of knowledge is thus confined within limits comparatively very narrow to what they might be, especially the circle of political knowledge; for, like the manufacture of paper, the publication of newspapers has become a monopoly, into which none but large capitalists can enter. Hence their number is contemptibly small, considering the extent of our population. Taking into account the morning and evening, the weekly, and other newspapers printed in London, and in the different towns of the united kingdom, we do not suppose that they would furnish one for every three hundred persons in the community. The case is widely different in America, where almost every man who can read may have his journal at a very moderate price, and in which he may have his advertisements inserted for about a third of the sum which he would have to pay for them in England. We know of scarcely any legislative measure more desirable, than one which should abolish taxes of every description that affect the progress of knowledge; it is, in fact, one of the rights of industry, that the interchange of thought should be as free as the air we breathe.

Until this is accomplished, the press can never be truly said to be free. All restrictions upon it, of whatever kind they may be, whether they assume the form of stamp duty, advertisement duty, paper duty, or securities given before publication, act upon the press, to a certain extent, in the way of a previous censorship; and although the free spirit which is inherent in this country has, in some measure, loosened all these fetters, yet they are felt to be an incumbrance, they are all the remains of an odious tyranny, and they ought to be altogether removed.

Ås to the objection, that if the press were thus so completely open to all classes of thinkers and writers, it would become the constant vehicle for private and public slander, for immorality, irreligion, and disaffection, and it would be so licentious, that we

should soon find it rather a nuisance than a benefit; we should say that we have no apprehensions of any such consequences. The experiment of a perfectly free press has never yet been tried in this country. As the law now stands, it does not and cannot prevent many abuses of the kind here complained of. We suppose thai there is not in the world, a baser or a more degraded set of newspapers, than some three or four of the Sunday journals which we could name; no extension of freedom could possibly render them more licentious than they are ; and the worst of the matter is, that they derive a sort of monopoly in their evil trade from the existing state of the laws. Destroy that monopoly by throwing open the trade, and you may depend upon it, that for one mischievous journal there will be three useful ones. The good sense of the community will principally patronize those publications, which contribute most to the general improvement and happiness, and the low Sabbath libeller will fall into the contempt which he richly merits.

It is to the confined condition in which the press at present exists, that we owe many of the errors which prevail in society connected with religion, and especially with the rights of persons. We have already, with the assistance of Mr. Cooper, the American lecturer upon political economy, pointed out a few of the mistakes into which the want of proper information has led some of the industrious classes, both in America and this country, with respect to the relations that exist between capital and labour. In France the same delusions appear to prevail, and to have broken out openly into action. The workmen at Lyons, considering that they were inadequately paid for their labour, demanded a higher rate of wages; and finding that their employers would not pay them according to the schedule of prices, which the operatives had fixed for themselves, they took arms, routed the national guards, and obtained and kept possession, for several days, of the second city of France. What was the result? The moment they became the masters, they found that, without laws, they could not proceed; they established order under the severest penalties; and after all what have they gained ? Have they gained the higher prices of which they were in pursuit ? Some compromise may perhaps be made between the contending parties for the present; but it is obvious that unless the state of the market enable the employer to pay the new schedule, he must abandon the place, and transfer bis capital elsewhere, or cease to employ it in a trade in which he cannot be said to have a control over his own property. The present state of the silk manufactures in Lyons, and other parts of France, forbids the hope of any considerable rise for a long time in that article. Indeed, we should say, that, on the contrary, every year will witness still greater reductions in the prices of every article produced by human labour and machinery; and unless the mechanics be generally taught to look upon this inevitable fate of trade, in a reasonable and proper point of view, we may as well at once take measures of preparation

against a servile war—a war which can end only in their destruction,

It is dreadful to contemplate the consequences to which such a war would lead in this country; the new restrictions which it would cause to be imposed upon the press and upon personal liberty; and, above all, the immeasurable distance to which it would throw back those ameliorations of society, so anxiously sought for and expected by every friend of mankind. Let us, therefore, hope that our countrymen will be warned by the example of the operatives of Lyons; that they will calmly examine their own situation, weigh justly the rights that really belong to them, and not be led away merely by their physical strength, to suppose that they can, for their own advantage, set at nought the established and just order of society.

What, after all, is this labour of which they boast? What could it effect in a civilized country, without the assistance of capital? Send the silk weaver, or the ivory carver, the painter or the glazier, to a desert island, and what can he do there? His first business would be to procure himself food. He would spend his days in gathering wild fruits; he would seek out a cave to shelter himself in ; he must hunt the wild beasts for skins to clothe himself with; he must, in short, do every thing for himself; he has nobody to assist him. Here his labour would be endless, because it would be solitary; and he would soon become, like the savage of Aveyron, a mere brute from the meanness of his wants. Let us suppose that a vessel is wrecked upon the shore, and that our operative finds in it a saw, a hatchet, and other convenient instruments for the construction of a habitation. Already he is raised above the rank of the savage of Aveyron ; he can provide himself with comfortable shelter against the winter; he has possibly found in the wreck seeds and plants, which he transfers to the soil, and thus he soon begins to be above want. But to what does he owe this amelioration of his condition? To the assistance which he has received from capital, for it was capital that purchased the instruments, the seeds and plants, which he has made use of for his benefit. He now begins to accumulate, he has more food than he wants, and he puts something by for “the rainy day.” He, in fact, acquires capital. If we now suppose that a ship touches at the island, and happens to be in want of some of the things which he has so accumulated in the shape of capital, he will be able to exchange them for many articles which he could not make for himself, and which would tend greatly to his personal comfort and convenience. He now begins to understand the value of commerce; his new additions greatly facilitate his further labours, he accumulates more and more, again effects fresh exchanges, and, in time, supposing him to live by choice alone on his island, he finds himself a capitalist, in the full sense of the word. But the next time a ship arrives, the sailors land, and rob him of all his acquisitions, so that he again becomes a poor man, and he has nothing wherewith to make fresh

« НазадПродовжити »