John Hopkins's Notions on Political Economy

Marcet, Jane Haldimand
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First Pub. Date
London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman
Pub. Date
1st edition. Some essays published earlier as pamphlets

Essay 5



HOPKINS'S wife, as we have seen, loved her children tenderly; and, hard as it was to maintain them, she could not bring her mind to regret that she had so large a family; for there was not one of them she would have liked to part with. "Dick and Nancy," thought she, "earn their own livelihood, so they are none too many for us; and I had trouble enough to let them go so far away. Then Patty is soon to be married, and it will be hard to part with her even to a good husband, fond as the girl is of him; and well she may, for one may go far and near and not meet with the like. Jenny and Tom, to be sure, are growing so fast, they are enough to eat us out of house and home; but then it does one good to see them so hearty; and they will be the better able to work, when they can get any thing to do. Betsy eats but little, as yet, and is so healthy that she gives one no trouble. Then, as to my poor little darling Jemmy, he is but an ailing child, I must own; but I love him the better for all the care he gives me; and many a heartach have I had for fear I should not rear him." So the good woman went on, numbering up the qualities which endeared her children to her. At length, addressing herself to her husband, she said, with a sigh,—"What a pity 'tis, John, that the world is not a little wider, that there might be room, and work, and food for us all."


"As for that matter," cried Hopkins, "the world is big enough, in all conscience; it's only Old England that's a bit of the smallest for the lots of people it has to hold. Why, there are some countries, as they tell me, that want workmen. America, they say, is too large by half for the folks that live in it; and ship loads of people go over there, because there's a scarcity of hands, and wages run high. They go such lengths as to say, that the more children you have there, the better you are off. They are no burthen there; for, as soon as ever they can do any sort of work, they are sure to get it, and a good pennyworth by it. I've heard, that a widow woman, with a large family, is counted a prize there, and will get a second husband as soon as ever she chooses."—"Then they may marry young in those parts?" said his wife. —"No doubt; the sooner the better," replied Hopkins: "they tell me the country swarms with children, all living in plenty."—"That's a fine thing," said the dame; "but yet it would be hard to leave one's own country, where one has been bred and born; it is like leaving father and mother. Besides, husband," added she, after a thoughtful pause, "if such numbers of poor go over to America, it will soon be stock full; and then they will be in no better plight there than they are here."—"Bless you," cried John, "it is not so easy to fill America with people. I've heard a deal about it from the mate of the ship at Liverpool, which takes them over the sea; he calls it emigration."


"Emigration!" repeated the wife; "why, one would think they were sent across the seas for some crime, it sounds so like transportation."


"What matters the sound," cried John, "when it's quite another thing?"


"Well, but do, John, tell me all about it," said she, coaxingly, to her husband.


"Why, what can you understand of these matters?" replied he. But he was a kind-hearted husband, and let his wife have her way when she was not unreasonable; so he told her "that America was so large, that the mate said it would take a thousand years, and more, to fill it with people, like Old England. There is so much land there, that it may be had for asking; and those who engage to cultivate it may get as many acres as they choose. And most of those who go over, the mate says, won't stay in the towns and work for the high wages they could get there, but take their goods and chattels, and go up the country, and settle in a farm of their own."


"A farm of their own!" exclaimed the wife, "lack o'day; if our landlord would but give us one poor acre by our cottage, how happy we should be!"


John began to fear his wife might take a fancy to go over to America, so he added,—"It's not all so smooth and easy as you may think, wife. First there's such tossing to and fro on the salt seas, and they are all sick to death before they get there. And when they are landed, and go up the country and choose their ground, there are no farm houses, no barns, no ricks, no live stock; no, not even fields ready for them, meadow or arable, nothing but woods without end."—"And are there no wild beasts in those woods?" asked the good woman, timidly.—"Why, not many of them, I believe," replied Hopkins; "but plenty of snakes and reptiles, and such like. Well, the first thing they have to do is to cut down the trees, and clear them away, before they can sow their seed; and then they are obliged to build themselves log-houses to live in, and make a shift for furniture. Then they must carry their tools with them to work with, and some few pots and kettles, for you find none of those things in the woods. So, you see, there's a deal to be done before you can settle comfortably."—"I wonder," said his wife, "that when poor men are turned off at the factory, and can't find work, and those, too, who can no longer get a livelihood by the hand loom, do not pack up their all and go over to America."


"How should they?" cried Hopkins: "they have not wherewithal to pay their passage. The captain won't take them over for nothing, and feed them while aboard the ship. And it's well for them that he won't, for America would not suit such people as these. Set a weaver to cut down a tree! why he knows no more about it than a child, and he would be a week at it. Then he would never get a log-house over his head before the winter set in, and starved him outright. They who have been used to the closeness of the factory by day, and to sleep four or five in a room by night, why they would perish in the wild woods, with no one near them for miles around."—"Well, but," said she, "there must be firing in plenty to keep them warm: no one to forbid their picking up the dry sticks, nor pulling down a branch when they wanted it."—"Sure enough, they will not want fuel," replied he; "it's easy enough to boil the pot, but not so sure of having something to put into it. Now your country folks, that have been used to out-door work, get through hardships much better than the factory men, who have been mewed up all their days like chickens in a coop. Why, the first time they slept out in those woods they would be sure to get the ague; and then who is to work for them? No such plenty of hands there. No, it is only fit for folks who are used to hard out-of-doors labour; and it won't do for them either, unless they have some little property to set them agoing; for, besides taking so many things with them, they must have a supply of food till they can get their crops in, or they would run some chance of being starved. That has happened to more than one who has gone without forethought. They say a whole colony has sometimes been cut off by famine and sickness, before they could get in their first harvest."—"Why, I can't well make out what you mean, husband; first you are after saying America's such a fine place that it almost made my mouth water; and then you talk of so many hardships and difficulties, that I would not venture there for the world."—"Why there's both good and bad in it," replied Hopkins: "a hard working man, with no ailments about him, and able to pay his passage, or get it paid for him, and with money enough to buy the tools he wants, may find it answer; ay, and become a wealthy farmer after some years, and bring up his family in peace and plenty: but he will always meet with difficulties at first, such as would knock up your indoor men in no time."


"But then you say that in towns wages are high, and the men from the factory might get employment there."


"Ay, a good handy carpenter, or wheel-wright, they tell me, can earn as much as a dollar a day, and that's more than four shillings."


"Mercy o' me!" exclaimed the wife, "what a sum!"


"But," added he, "these fellows from the factory, or the hand loom, who have done nothing else all their lives, would be mighty awkward at any other work."


"They might work in the factories in America, as there is such want of hands: their pay at the factories must be worth having."


"They have scarcely any factories in America," replied Hopkins, "being all so busy in tilling the ground."


"Then what do they do for clothes?" quoth she.


"Oh, they mostly come from England. For, look ye, they have such loads of corn that they would not know what to do with it, if they did not send it over here, where, God knows, we are short enough of it: so then they get, in return, our Manchester cotton, and Leeds cloth, and Birmingham hardware, and whatever else they may want. Corn is their money, as one may say, for it pays for every thing."


"It must be a rare place for poachers," observed the dame; "for I suppose there's plenty of game in those great woods, and corn to fatten them, and no one to hinder them killing as many as they can catch."


"It is no use killing more than you can eat, for there is no one to sell it to. But it is a good thing to know how to handle a gun; for you may knock down the birds in no time, and so keep the pot a boiling; and, indeed, that is what a man must mainly depend upon till his crops come in."


"Then there must be some wild fruits," said the dame; "and, mayhap, they might pick a salad of one sort or other to eat with the birds."


"Ay, but they will be better off when they get a bit of garden about their log-house, and a plot of potatoes and cabbages of their own."


"There is too much danger one way or other," said his wife; "better stay at home."


"If you can earn a living at home," said Hopkins; "if not, in my mind, it's better to seek your fortune abroad, than to be half starved, or go to the parish."


"But then they should not go like ninnies, not knowing what to provide or what to expect; and it is easy enough to know, by asking those that do."—"They say that sometimes the government, or the parish, will lend a helping hand, and pay their passage, or supply them with the needful, to prevent their becoming a burthen upon the parish."


"They owe them no great thanks for that, if it is just to get rid of them."


"Nay, but it is their own wish, wife, else they would not go; and if they go prudently provided for, that is to say, able to do for themselves till they can get in their crops, when once that is done, they will get on swimmingly."—"And why should we not do so in England?" said his wife.—"For the best of all reasons," replied he; "because the land in England is all cultivated already."—"Nay, how can you say that, husband, when you know there's Broom Heath, not half a mile off, that is all a barren waste?"—"And why is it so? but because it is not worth the cultivating."—"It is true," said his wife, "the soil may not be so good as the field you were ploughing the other day, that gives such heavy crops. But if it was well ploughed and sown, surely it would yield something? And any thing is better than nothing, you know, John; if it was but even enough to make a score of loaves, why there would be a score more than there was before."—"Ay, but when the soil is so bad, the ploughing, and dunging, and seed corn, and reaping, would cost more than the corn would sell for at market; and who will be such a fool as to raise corn which costs him more than it will fetch at market? Undertake a concern that brings in a loss instead of a gain? not I, faith. Why, if they gave me the land free of cost, as they do in America, I would not say thank you for it."


"Well, but you know it sometimes answers to take in commons, John," said she; "there's Ashdown Common, that was parcelled out among the parish."


"Ay, that's a better soil: it grew grass, and the parish fed their cattle and sheep on it before it was parcelled out. So their crops are not all clear gain, for they have lost the pasture, now that it is turned into arable land."—"Yes," replied his wife, "I have heard neighbour Partridge say, she has often sorrowed for the loss of the milk her little ones got when her dappled cow fed on the common; yet, upon the whole, she owned they were better off now. 'My husband,' said she, 'makes more by his five acres now, than he could get by the cow formerly; and though I am sorry poor Biddy is gone, the money she sold for bought us a bit of good dung for the land; which was so poor, that the seed put into it would have been as good as lost without it.'"


"There is farmer Stubbs," said Hopkins, "who had a good big slice of the common (for he bought up the shares of some of the poor parishioners, who had not the means to cultivate it). Well, he says as how he was obliged to lay so much dung on it, that he had not enough for his own farm; and he thinks he has lost as much by injuring the crops of his old land, as he has gained by that of the new. For it is but a poor crop after all. Then to think of the labour it cost him; why, there were more men at work on that bit of ground than there was to raise twice the quantity of corn on the old land; and it is small encouragement to have to work harder and get less. However, he expects it will do better next year, and pay him in time. And look ye, wife, I don't pretend for to say, that it will not answer to turn up any common or waste."—"No, that you can't," returned she; "for you know that when we got leave to take in that bit of a bank by the road-side into our garden, what a pretty crop of potatoes it gave us."


"That it did; but you may remember, dame, how you complained of the cabbages that same season. And why did they fail? Just because they were stinted of manure; for I was obliged to lay some of it on the new land, before I planted my potatoes. So you see, after all, it was robbing Peter to pay Paul, as the saying is. However, the bit of ground is not bad, and it will answer in the end. But, as I said before, you must not reckon all you get from new land as clear gain, on account of the outlay."—"And what do they do to manure the land in America?" said the wife: "it must want it sadly, never having had a morsel laid on since it was created."


"If there has been no manure laid on, there have been no crops taken out of it," said Hopkins; "and so the soil has never had any work to wear it out."


"No more has a common, when it is first ploughed up," quoth she.


"That's true enough; but then think, what are the commons and heaths of Old England? They are just nothing but the poorest land that is neglected, after all the better soils are taken into cultivation. Now see the difference in America. It's a large country, with very little of it cultivated:—the land lies before you, and you have only to pick and choose; if one spot don't please you, why, another will. Besides, the land, so far from being poor, the mate swears, is as fine a soil as you could wish to see; and instead of wanting manure, when first it's turned up, it will yield crops for many years without having any thing at all put upon it."


"That seems very strange to us here," cried the dame.—" And well it may, because all the good land was turned up, and cultivated ages ago: it is natural enough to choose the best first, and then when all the best is cultivated, why, you must take up with the second best; and after that, with land of the third quality, and so on, worse and worse, till you come to the poorest land of all; and that is all we have left now," quoth he, "that is not cultivated. So, if you turn up that, you must needs humour it and give it a bit of good stuff, and make much of it, if you expect it to pay you. But those woods in America, that have grown time out of mind, since the beginning of the world for ought we know—" "Nay," interrupted his wife, "it can but have been but since Noah's time, for those woods must have been all destroyed by the flood."—"Well, well," retorted he, impatiently; "they have had time enough in all conscience to grow since the flood—but you have put it out of my head what the ship's mate told me." Then, after recollecting himself, he went on. "These same trees, d'ye see, shed their leaves every year, and there they lie on the ground, for there is no one to meddle with them. So when the rain comes they are well soaked, and they become manure as it were, and help to nourish the soil; and when once the labour of felling the timber and clearing it away is over, the ground wants nothing more than scratching over with a light plough to be ready for sowing, and it brings forth crops unheard of!"


"And how comes it," said the wife, "that America, seeing it is such a large place, and such a fine soil, has so much fewer people to live in it than England?"


"Because," said Hopkins, "it is so far away, that it was not found out or known that there was such a country in former times. The mate says, that in those days no ship ventured to sail out so far on an unknown sea: they were not so handy at their rigging as they are now; nor the ships either so well built or so well managed; and as for a steam-boat, why, they never so much as heard of such a thing, because they were not invented as yet."—"They must have been but dolts in those times," cried his wife. "And how came they to find out America, after all?"


"Why, once upon a time, a matter of three hundred years back, the mate says there was one Christopher Columbus, who was a fine, brave fellow, and had set his heart upon doing what no one had ever done before. So he got a ship and sailed on fearless in those unknown seas, till he reached land, and that land was America."


"How pleased he must have been when he first saw it!" cried dame Hopkins; "and well he deserved to be pleased, for being so bold; for there is no saying what might have befallen him, or whether he would ever have found his way home, if he had not met with land."—"So the sailors thought," replied Hopkins; "for they were all in such a taking, for fear they should sail on for ever without coming to land, that at last they mutinied, and had well nigh thrown him overboard. Then he begged hard for three days more, and promised, that if at the end of that time they should not see land, he would give all up, and sail homewards. Well, what should turn out, but on the third day, just as they were going about, the sailor at the top of the mast cried out, 'Land!' and sure enough it was land, for they sailed on a little longer, and then came to America. There is a whole book written about it, and it tells all that happened to them afterwards. They say it is as amusing a book as one could wish to read."—"Well," said the dame, "this same Christopher Columbus, with his hard name, was a fine daring fellow, and Old England has reason to be proud of him."—"Why, good wife," returned John, hesitating whether to confess the mortifying truth or not, "Christopher Columbus was not an Englishman, as you might have guessed by his name."—"Not an Englishman!" exclaimed she, lifting up her hands in astonishment; "who would ever have thought that a foreigner would dare to go where an English sailor had not ventured?"—"I should not credit it," said Hopkins, "if I had not heard it from the ship's mate at Liver-pool, but I'll warrant he is not mistaken, for he seems to know every thing, especially about those parts. However, we must remember, wife, that we are all God's creatures alike, English or foreigner, Protestant or Papist, Jew or Gentile; as you may call to mind in the parable of the good Samaritan, which Patty read to us last Sunday; he was but a foreigner to the Jews, and yet he was worth more than any of them."


"And are there any other countries besides America, where poor folks can earn their bread easier than they can here?" asked Dame Hopkins.


"Yes; brother Bob tells me there are several, and one above all the rest which he sailed to in one of his voyages; he declares it a very Paradise for fine weather, beautiful prospects, and abundance of all things—fish, flesh, and fowl, besides fruit and garden-stuff. But then there's one thing that would never please you, wife."


"And why not, pray, if it's such a pleasant place?"—"Why, because they send convicts there," replied her husband. "However, that don't so much matter, every thing else being so agreeable. Indeed, Bob says people are but too happy when they can hire some of the convicts to work for them, hands being so scarce."—"Mercy on me!" exclaimed the wife, "I should always be fancying they were going to murder me!"—" Women will have foolish fancies," replied he; "but you would soon be used to them. Then there's no danger; for those that are unruly are made to work in chains, with an overseer to watch them. But many a poor lad has been transported, that poverty has brought to crime; and when he has worked out his freedom, there's no reason why he should not turn out as good as his betters who never were transported. Several have been known to thrive and prosper in that country, and bring up their children as Christians should do."


"And pray, what is the name of that country?" enquired the wife.


"It is called Van Dieman's Land, after one Van Dieman who discovered it; and it lies in the same part of the world as Botany Bay."


"Ay, one may guess that by the convicts being sent there; but that is at the end of the world, as one may say. Dick White once got a letter from his brother there, and he said it was well nigh a year coming."—"Yes, it's a sad long way off," said Hopkins; "and that makes it the more difficult to get there. All the world would be going to such a pretty place, if the expense of the long passage on board of ship was not so heavy."


"Well, for my part," returned his wife, "I don't like long voyages, because of the sea sickness; and I don't like convicts, because of their wickedness: so if it was the very Paradise that Adam and Eve lived in, I would none on't; for I'm sure the Devil would be behind the bush, in the shape of a serpent, or a convict, or some such creature."


This set her husband laughing. "So you are after cutting your jokes, are you?" cried he. "Well, it is not much more that women know about such matters, and it's my belief that I have only just been losing my time, in telling you all about it." So he took up his hat and walked off; while his wife, who liked to have the last word, called after him—"A Paradise full of convicts, forsooth! Why, it's more like a prison by half."

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