Machinery in Ireland (and the printing of The Dublin Penny Journal)

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 28, January 5, 1833

No man capable of one moment's reflection can be prejudiced against MACHINERY. It has altered the entire structure of society. It has created a new world. It has brought the elements, as it were, under our subjugation, and given us a physical and a moral power which will yet bring another and another order of things, all tending to raise the condition of MAN to the highest possible point of social comfort which his nature will admit of.

Yet wherever machines have been introduced, for the first time, the working people have in general combined to put them down, or endeavoured by various means to arrest their progress, or impede their exertions. Are we to attribute this to ignorance? If an inhabitant of New Zealand, one of a race of people who are esteemed the most savage and barbarous on the face of the globe, burst into tears when he beheld a rope-walk in Great Britain, because he perceived the immense superiority which the process of spinning ropes gave our countrymen, are we to suppose that workmen born amidst a thousand advantages which the poor New Zealander had not, are so incapable of appreciation, so unused to exert their reasoning faculties, as not to perceive the almost superhuman power which we have derived from machinery? The opposition to machinery amongst workmen does not proceed from simple ignorance. No workman would say that it would be better for us that the old times were revived, when sailing vessels used to take a week and ten days in summer, and two or three weeks in winter, to cross from Dublin to Liverpool, instead of going over now in fourteen hours in a steam boat. The numerous Connaught men, who pass annually over at 2s. 6d. a head, would laugh at the idea. No reader of the DUBLIN PENNY JOURNAL would say that it would be better if the old times were revived, when every book had to be copied by the pen, and when instead of thirty or forty thousand being done, not above a. dozen or twenty could be finished. Such instances might be adduced without end, but they are unnecessary. We say distinctly that we cannot believe that the opposition of workmen in general to machinery proceeds from mere ignorance, and that it only requires us to state the advantages which result from it, to induce them to withdraw their opposition, and to lend their aid and example in introducing every new invention and improvement which the ingenuity of man has effected.

The opposition, then, of workmen to machinery is to be traced to that conservative principle in our nature which seeks instinctively our self-preservation. The society for Propagating Useful Knowledge has published a very valuable little book called "The Results of Machinery," in which the author throughout proceeds on the principle that the opposition of the working classes to machinery springs solely from ignorance of its nature and results, and to remove it, we have just to give them information. The book commences with an extract from the evidence of Joseph Foster, a poor weaver of Glasgow, who while he stated that he and his fellow-workmen suffered to a great extent from the introduction of machinery, yet also declared that machines could not and should not be stopped. But remember that Joseph Foster was before a committee of the House of Commons, which doubtless this poor and sensible man felt to be an honourable and important situation, and he spoke as if detaching himself altogether from the consequences of the introduction of machinery into Glasgow. In fact he spoke as a philosopher. But if a canvass had been made of the fifty thousand weavers of that great manufacturing city, who by the introduction of machinery were compelled to toil from five and six in the morning till twelve at night to earn four, five, and six shillings, and if you had asked them to utter their feelings, they would, to a man, have not perhaps cursed machinery, far they are in general too intelligent to do that, but they would have deplored in mournful accents the introduction of a power which reduced them from being a class of respectable men, to miserable skeletonized paupers, whose lives were but a lengthening out of death. Talk as you will of the benefits, the blessings, the advantages of machinery, the workman who hears you, will immediately ask himself, "will the introduction of machinery throw me out of employment? Will it compel me in my advanced age, to seek with doubtful success, a new trade, or will it reduce me from comparative comfort to degradation, misery, pauperism? There is but one result to every attempt to "convince a man against his will," and not all the books, not all the arguments, not all the reasonings you can offer, will induce a man who trembles for his existence as a man, to regard with favour or complaisance the introduction of a power which will destroy his prospects, though it may eventually better society.

This is mere short-sighted selfishness, some may say, and should be overcome. We say it is a very natural feeling. For a man who introduces a new machine into a department of labor, where it was before unknown, incurs a heavy moral responsibility. If he introduce it merely to aggrandize himself, if he exert its power to produce, at a cheaper rate, a prodigious quantity of a certain manufacture, thereby to sell cheaper, more rapidly, and more extensively, merely to put into his own pocket what should have passed into the pockets of his workmen, he is morally responsible or the poverty and pauperism which he produces amongst the men thus deprived of bread, and he is morally responsible for the crime which poverty and pauperism superinduces. No man would be justified in laying a train of powder along the streets, and setting fire to it that he might see the result. No man would be justified in undermining the city even to give labourers employment. No man is justified in introducing a mechanical power into a branch of manufacture without proving a case of necessity, or a great and present benefit to be received. We are told of the three hundred and sixty millions of yards of cotton cloth annually manufactured and exported, and the three hundred and ninety-nine millions which are retained for home consumption, owing to the inventions in spinning cotton. But we are not told of market gluts. We are not told of bankruptcies, and general panics, and of the vast body of individuals engaged in this manufacture, depending on their weekly wages, who are liable by a re-action in the demand to be cast upon the country destitute. We do not talk here of the moral deterioration which manufactories have engendered, because, though moral deterioration has been a sad accompaniment, it is not a necessary consequence of manufactures. But, when we indulge in declamation respecting the tremendous extension of our trade and commerce, by means of the various wonderful inventions of the last fifty years, we ought never to forget the misery which has accompanied it all. Too great haste to apply inventions,--avarice, speculation, eagerness to render them subservient to the acquiring of wealth, have attracted men into various branches of manufacture, and the country has been brought repeatedly to the brink of ruin. It is not that machinery is the cause; but that indiscriminate introduction of machinery which, without regard to time, circumstance, or place, ousts manual labor, and pauperises portions of the people. While we admire the effects of machinery--while we gaze with admiration and pleasure upon countries brought, as it were, alongside of each other; while we see every article of clothing, every implement of household use, and every demand of luxury, brought to the lowest possible level, we forget that to accomplish all this, we have had to wade through suffering, to inflict injury, irreparable injury on whole classes of men, to excite a wild and reckless spirit of adventure and speculation, which has more than once put the empire of Britain in jeopardy so extreme, that a stratagem and a few hours has saved us from the horrors of civil dissolution, and we have so lowered the tone of moral obligation that bankruptcy has become a component of our commercial and trading system, and legalized knavery too often walks with brow unabashed in the face of day.

Now, we would say, that in introducing machinery into Ireland extreme caution should be used. To say that machinery would benefit Ireland, is to say machinery is a benefit, which is not denied. The manufacturers of Ireland are met and overcome by English and Scotch machinery. Therefore, that which would enable the Irish manufacturer to compete with the machinery which lowers his profits, and undersells his goods, is employment of similar machinery. But if any Irish gentleman were about to introduce a machine, he should make it a matter of serious reflection what would be the consequences of such introduction. If the sole result would be the giving out in greater quantity, what is already supplied by manual labour to the full extent of demand, and the machine proprietor be the sole individual benefitted, at the expcnce of the workman, then, though we would be the first to condemn the violence of the working classes, we could not wonder at their complaints.

Who, then, are to be the judges? To answer this question would bring us into the thorny path of politics: let every reader reflect on the subject for himself. It is said by the advocates for the indiscriminate introduction of machinery that "society breaks the fall of the workman;" that when a machine is introduced, which throws a number of hands out of employment, they are sent to seek out new branches of industry, and to acquire new handicrafts, and thus the fields of trade and commerce are extended, and the cost of all produce brought to a level. This may be true to a certain extent in England, where, if the workman fails in acquiring a new craft, he has at least the POOR LAWS to stand between him and utter destitution. But in Ireland, where there is little trade, little commerce, because there is little capital, where the workman, if he lose one branch of industry may look in vain for another, and where there are no POOR LAWS to stop the cry of famine, the case is very different. Chambers, in his common sense way, admits that machinery is a stupendous power brought to bear against the working classes, and which is rapidly effecting their annihilation! He also declares that no power can stop its progress--that we might as well attempt to blot out the sun as arrest the progress of machinery. He himself employs the aid of machinery in printing his useful papers; and the only remedy which he proposes--the only thing which he thinks the workman thrown out of employment by machinery can do, is to fly from his country, and settle in the western wilds, where the uncleared forests and uncultivated plains present a field for manual labour so vast, that if all the population of Britain were turned into it, they would form but a drop in the bucket.

Every printing press is, of course, a machine. Each press employs two individuals; and every thousand copies of the DUBLIN PENNY JOURNAL takes up four hours in printing, there being two presses and four men constantly employed upon it, frequently working day and night. When any thing delays the sending it to press ten days before the date of publication, severe extra labour is required to bring up the lost time, and produce the number of copies requisite; and frequently me delay has very seriously interfered with the interests and circulation of the periodical. Here, then, is a case in point. The printer would be justified in the eye of common sense in procuring a machine, by which the Journal could be all printed off in a few days, and thus not only the annoyance, the loss of time, the extra expense be avoided, but the Journal enabled in every respect to compete with the English and Scotch periodicals. Yet from the fear of setting an example of reckless indifference to the interests of men, from the fear of awakening that spirit of avaricious emulation, which would indiscriminately introduce machinery, which would supersede manual labour, he has hitherto abstained. Doubtless, the case still stands, that it is but exchanging one machine for another. Yet as numbers of men depend for subsistence on their labour at the old machines, the printing presses, the new machines should not be recklessly introduced; and as Ireland is yet comparatively guiltless of machinery, let it be introduced cautiously and deliberately, least in breaking up the soil for her future improvement, we hastily and want only plough through the hopes, the prospects, and the interests of her working classes.