Essays: Glamorgan Pamphlets, vols. 8-11
By Jane Haldimand Marcet
Published Under the Superintendence of the Society for the Improvement of the Working Population in the County of Glamorgan
First Pub. Date
Cardiff: W. Bird, Duke-Street
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
Another Fairy Tale.
STORY THE SECOND.
John Hopkins did not soon forget this lesson, although he was far from deriving all the benefit from it that he ought. He acknowledged that he had not hit upon the right remedy; but after having long turned the subject in his mind, and talked it over with his neighbours, he came at length to this conclusion. “Let the rich have as many luxuries as they can pay for, but let them give us higher wages for our labour. It is by the sweat of our brow, and by the work of our hands, that every thing is produced. Why! the rich would not have even bread to put into their mouths, unless we ploughed the ground, and sowed the seed for them. So it is but fair that we should be better paid for our services. If wages were doubled, we should be as well off again as we are now, and the rich would be but a trifle the poorer; for double wages would be nothing for a man who is rolling in wealth to pay, and yet it would be a mighty matter for us poor fellows to receive.”
Chuckling over this discovery, John sets off for the abode of the Fairy, and begs her with the stroke of her wand to cause wages to be doubled. “Are you sure,” inquired the Fairy, “that you will have no reason to repent of this second request, if I should grant it?”—”No, no,” said John, “this time I cannot be mistaken, for I have considered the matter thoroughly.”—”Well, then,” replied she, “we will make the trial, but it shall be for one month only. After that time, we shall see whether you wish your present scheme to be continued.”
As John was returning home, he could not help thinking, that this time at least he should not meet with a discontented reception from his wife; yet as he opened the door of his cottage, he looked rather anxiously in her face. It beamed with joy. “Good news for you, husband,” cried she, “the bailiff has been here to pay your week’s wages, and see here, he has given me all this money, for he says there is a new law in the land, and every one must pay double wages.” John thanked the Fairy in his heart for the expedition she had used in complying with his wishes. The news soon spread through the village, all received double wages, and the rejoicing was universal.
John was resolved to make a holiday of so lucky a day, so instead of sending his wife to market, he proposed to go himself, and to lay out his store of money in clothes for his ragged children. This was readily agreed to, provided he would take a basket of green peas, and a bundle of straw plait which one of his little girls had made, and sell them. To market he went, and what was his delight to learn that green peas and straw plait had risen considerably in price. He little dreamed that this was owing to his good offices; but on enquiring the cause, he was told that now wages were double, tradesmen could not afford to sell their goods as low as before. John did not quite understand this; but it shews, thought he, that I have hit the right nail on the head at last. It seems that as much unforeseen good luck comes of the Fairy’s wand this time, as there came unforeseen bad luck before. He made haste to sell the peas and the plait, though he had some difficulty at first to find a customer; and then went on to the woollen draper to buy cloth for the children’s jackets. He looked rather black, however, when on entering the shop, he found that cloth too had risen in price, and was two shillings a yard dearer than before. He expressed his surprise, and grumbled at the price, when the draper said, “Nay, nay, I have more reason to complain than you have. High as I sell it, I get scarcely any thing by it. Think what it stands the manufacturer in, now he is compelled to pay his workmen double wages. I must pay him in proportion, and if I cannot get it back from my customers, I may as well shut up my shop at once. We make little profit now, God knows, for we sell our goods as cheap as we can, not to lose our customers. But one can’t afford to sell cloth or any thing else for less than it costs one.” The same thing happened when he went to buy a cotton gown for Jenny, and in short he found every thing so unconscionably dear, that his money would not last out to buy all he had intended, even with the addition of the higher price which he had got for the peas and the plait.
His wife and children waited impatiently for his return. Jem had been promised a penny whistle, and Jenny a new pincushion, if there was any money left after the more necessary purchases had been made. When John came in, he began by boasting of the high price he had so unexpectedly got for the peas and the plait. His wife gave him a hearty kiss, and the children crowded round his knees, and began to untie the bundle be had brought home; but the contents fell far short of their expectations, and they rummaged in vain for the little presents they had expected. Then followed the indispensable explanation of the rise in the price of every kind of goods, in consequence of the rise of wages. “Humph;” said the good wife, “if we must pay so much more for every thing we buy, I don’t see that we shall be any the better off for the double wages we get.”—”Well, but,” retorted her husband, “there are Dick and Sally at the manufactories, who will have double wages too, and I am sure they will be willing to lend us a hand. So we need not complain yet.”
Some days after Dick came home, but alas, far from lending a hand, it was to tell them the sad news of his being discharged from the manufactory. “Why, how so Dick?” said his father, “were you not satisfied with double wages?”—”I had little reason to be so,” replied Dick, “double wages one week and none at all the next, I would rather by half have had the common wages without being turned off.”—”But why should you be turned off,” inquired the father, “if you did your duty?”—”Oh for that matter,” returned Dick, “there was no fault found with me; but the master had not money enough to pay us all double wages, so he turned off half his men, and I happened to be one of the number.”—”Well, but,” said John, “by turning off half his men, be can get only half the work done; and then, how can he furnish the shopkeepers with as much goods as they want to supply their customers?”—”Aye, but master says,” replied Dick, “that many people can’t afford to buy the goods now they can’t be made as cheap as before; and that even those who can, will buy less than they used to do.”—”To be sure,” said John, “if less goods are wanted, fewer workmen will be wanted to make them;” and he could not help thinking that he, too, had not been able to buy some things which he had intended, the day he went to market. “Besides,” continued Dick, “wanted or not, the master can’t afford to pay them all at the new rate of wages. For observe, if he is obliged to give 30 shillings a week to each of his workmen, instead of 15 shillings, why, he must charge so much the more for his goods to the tradesman; and if the tradesman is obliged to buy dearer, he must sell dearer in his turn. And when every thing is dearer, money won’t go so far as it used. People buy less cloth, they wear an old coat instead of getting a new one.” “Well but, how is he to get the loads of cloth trade that you send to foreign parts, if he turns off half his workmen?”—”So I said to him, father, but he says that the sending of his goods abroad will be quite stopped. Foreigners will not pay the advanced price; they will get their cloth from other countries, where wages are lower and cloth cheaper.”
“Nay, but your master does not look to his own interest after all, by discharging half his workmen, for don’t you see, that by making half the goods, he loses half the profits?”—”But if he can’t sell his goods after he has made them,” retorted Dick, “he would be a greater loser still, for they would bring no money by lying on the shelf. And sure enough he would never sell any thing at all at the price it is now. Half the profits will half ruin him, poor man! and if things don’t change, why he will be a bankrupt, and there will be work neither at 30 shillings a week, no, nor 15 shillings neither. The fault is in the law that raised the price of wages, and it is to be hoped that those who did it will soon see the folly of it, and bring us back to the natural wages.” This observation came home to poor John, who kept his own secret, but vowed in his heart, that when once out of this scrape, he would never more apply to the Fairy.
A short time after, Sally, who worked at the mills, came home with the same story as her brother. “So here we are saddled with two more children,” cried his wife, “and this comes of high wages.” “Well at least I have got high wages to maintain them with,” replied John, who was not very ready to confess that he had been in the wrong.
As he was speaking, the bailiff entered the door. “Good morrow to you John,” said he, “why methinks you do not look in such glee, as you did last week, about the rise of wages.” “Nor have I cause,” muttered John, “see here are two of my grown children sent home to me, out of work. But mayhap,” added he, brightening up at the thought, “mayhap you Master Barnes might get them some work at the farm. Though they are not used to that kind of labour, I am sure they will turn their hand to it, and thank you heartily too.” “Ah! I might have given them work before this change,” answered the bailiff.” But my master cannot afford to pay double wages, and the new law will not allow us to give less. To say the truth, I am now come upon a very different errand; or we are trying, instead of increasing the number of our workmen, to do what we can to reduce them. My master says he has too great a respect for you John to turn you off; you have worked nigh a score of years for him, and you have a large family to maintain.” “Thank his Honour kindly,” said John, “I have worked for him long and hard too, Master Barnes, I am sure I have followed the precepts of the Bible and earned my bread by the sweat of my brow. Thank his Honour.” “Aye, but John,” interrupted the bailiff, “you stopped my mouth with your thanks before you had heard me out. Now, you know, however willing the Squire may be, he can’t coin money; so what is he to do? Now this is what he has thought of; he says he will employ you three days of the week instead of six.”—”And what am I to do the other three?” asked John.” Why you must seek for work elsewhere.” “Seek indeed I may, but I shall not find,” quoth John; “why there are Dick and Sally both turned adrift, and if they can’t find work, an old man like me stands no chance.” “Well,” said the bailiff, “if you sit with your hands across three days of the week, you are as well paid for the three others, as you used to be for the whole week. Besides his Honour is stretching a point for your sake John; for be pays you the same wages a week as before and yet he will have only half the work done.” John thought that but poor comfort, when he saw he had two children more on his hands, and remembered that everything had risen so much in price. The bailiff took his departure, and as he shut the door, the poor wife lifted up her hands, drew a deep sigh, and said, “Ah well-a-day how little did we understand these matters; who would not have thought that, when the law obliged the rich to pay us double wages, it would have made us much richer, and made them only a trifle poorer? but now it seems it will bring us all to ruin together.”
“Never fear,” said John, “it is the Fairy’s doing; it will all end in a month, and a fortnight of it is gone already.”—So it was; at the expiration of the month, the influence of the Fairy’s wand ceased; wages returned to their usual rate; prices fell to their common standard; Dick and Sally were restored to their work, and John laboured with more good will six days of the week, than he had done when he was employed only three, though at double wages.