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THE SOCIETY FOR THE DIFFUSION OF USEFUL
AN opinion, by no means favourable, has been oftentimes expressed respecting the manner and spirit in which the proceedings of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge have hitherto been conducted. The ground of complaint has usually been twofold; the matter of which their treatises were composed, it was said, was not well calculated for the instruction of the people; neither was it considered that the manner in which that matter was propounded was adapted to win the affection and interest of the parties addressed.
The Society appear partially to have acquiesced in the truth of the opinion thus hazarded respecting the subject matter of the instruction they offer. They have at length addressed themselves to the working classes: they endeavour earnestly to solicit their attention, and have attempted to instruct them on some of the most important questions connected with the well-being of the industrious sections of the community. "The Results of Machinery," and "The Rights of Industry," as far as they go, redeem the pledge given by the Society at its outset. It is useful knowledge they discuss-knowledge useful to the large masses of the people; it is such as the people desire to obtain; it is that which must be first imparted, if we sincerely wish to see them generally instructed.
The spirit and intention of the following observations we hope will not be misunderstood-will not be misconstrued. The attempt to instruct the majority of the people, to address solely their understandings, through the medium of books, is an unexampled event in the history of mankind. The first essays are, must be, imperfect. It is the duty, then, of every one who believes that he has any thing to suggest on the subject of this novel experiment, openly to state his opinions-to solicit attention to his views. It behoves him to throw his quota of information into the general stock, as a fellow-labourer in the great cause of human improvement. In this spirit are the present observations offered. They are brought with no feelings of cavilling or captious criticism. The ideas they contain are suggested, not positively insisted on: they are deemed of much importance, and are, therefore, unreservedly expressed.
It unfortunately happens (and however lamentable the fact, it ought not to be disguised that the community of which we are members is divided against itself. Broad lines of distinction run through society, and the various classes whom those lines describe fancy they have separate, nay hostile interests. The feelings of the one are opposed to the feelings of another. There are contempt and dread on the one side, hatred and jealous suspicion on the other. The most numerous, and therefore the most important of these classes, is that composed of what are commonly denominated the people, or, somewhat more definitely speaking, the working classes-by these being
Under the superintendance of the "The Working Man's Companion." working men of the United Kingdom. 1. Capital and Labour.
Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
The Rights of Industry." Addressed to the By the author of "The Results of Machinery."
intended such as live by the wages of labour.*
This class believes itself an injured class. Its members view with jealouɛy and suspicion every other portion of society, and, in return, they are themselves regarded with no favourable eyes. Whence arose this painful state of things, it is, at present, needless to inquire. No one who knows the interior workings of society in England can possibly deny the truth of the above statement. It behoves all who attempt to instruct either the one class or the other, in their relative duties, to be aware of, constantly to keep in view, and constantly to acknowledge the fact. They must be aware of it in order to determine the sort of knowledge they ought to impart: they must keep it constantly in view, so that they may assume the right manner of imparting it; and they must acknowledge it, that they may not create overwhelming jealousy and suspicion in the minds of those whom they address. This latter circumstance can only be learned by experience. None is more important, none so constantly neglected. But we appeal confidently to the working classes themselves, and we entreat such as endeavour to become their instructors, to ask whether they, the working classes, do not require, as an indispensable condition on the part of every one who discusses their situation, the acknowledgement that by the present organization of society they are a distinct and isolated class in the community. It is certain that they are not necessarily thus separated from their fellows-that the opinions which led to this separation are false and mischievous-that as knowledge increases in the one class and the other, the distinctions will fade away, and be lost for ever. But nevertheless, in honesty, it ought to be acknowledged, that the working classes are now by themselves considered a separate body; that they have been driven to this opinion, not by their own wills, but by the constant ill-treatment they have received at the hands of all other portions of the community; that by the wealthier classes the same distinction has been pertinaciously maintained so long as benefit to themselves was supposed to result from it; and that now it is sought to be effaced by these same, only because terror reigns respecting the course which the working classes are supposed likely to pursue in consequence of the wrongs heaped on them. Unless these points be openly avowed, the working classes will not listen to, will be deservedly suspicious of those who assume the character of instructors.
The manner and matter of the instruction now propounded by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge to this class, thus jealous of every other portion of the community, well deserve remark so also does the time at which, and circumstances under which that instruction is attempted.
The subject matter of this instruction consists of elaborate attempts to inculcate on the minds of the people the necessity of maintaining
These expressions are exceedingly inaccurate. The inaccuracy arises from the confusion of ideas which suggested them: however, the indefinite distinctions they mark, are sufficient for the present purpose. It, nevertheless, is desirable, that the name of working classes should not be retained. There are large numbers who fall not within the meaning of the term as generally intended, who yet labour and labour honestly and usefully for their subsistence. The physician is as much a working man as a weaverand quite as useful. Locke was a labourer, a mental labourer, and more beneficial to mankind than any ten thousand mechanics.
property inviolate. The manner assumed is that of condescending superiors; the time at which this attempt is made, is when the wealthier classes are afraid of the poorer. What is the conclusion likely to be drawn by the working classes from all these circumstances? Is it not probable that they will say that the instruction offered is not the result of benevolent feelings on the part of those offering it, but solely the offspring of selfish fears?-that when the rich fear the poor, and cannot put them down by force, then, but not till then, do they attempt to govern them by the mild voice of reason and persuasion ?* The working class have come to this conclusion. They complain, too, and justly complain, that they are invidiously singled out to have fastened on them opinions which are held in bad repute; that their reasonings and objections are misrepresented, and the world generally led to believe that they the working classes feel, and are disposed to act like powerful robbers. They are spoken to as if they had the intellects of children, with all the bad passions and violent uncurbed habits of a band of plundering savages. How, under these circumstances, can it be supposed that their confidence can be obtained? How can they be expected to listen, no matter how wise the instruction offered them-no matter how much good feeling may prompt the individual who has constituted himself their instructor?
But, it may be asked, "now that the people are thus suspicious, how is their confidence to be gained, and how are they to be taught that very important, that absolutely vital knowledge, which this very volume of the Society professes to teach ?" The task is difficult, but not impossible. It is difficult because of the prejudices, not so much of the scholars as of them who are to teach-not so much of the poor as the rich.
The only way now left open is by a thorough, unreserved, and searching exposition of the whole frame-work of society. No portion of political knowledge can be allowed to remain a mystery. All institutions, no matter of what description, must be openly and freely canvassed; whether ecclesiastical or temporal, whether intended to maintain monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy. The people must be admitted into the sanctuary, and the meanest hands be permitted to lift the veil which surrounds it.
Time was, when such need not have been the case. when the people could easily have been induced to believe that the rich had benevolent intentions in teaching them. They would have listened as docile children, and have loved and revered their instructors. They have suffered too much, and of themselves learned too much, now to behave thus. They must be admitted as equals, or they will not come in at all. He who addresses them must not speak ex
We feel anxious to have it understood that we do not bring this accusation against the Society, and particularly not against the writer of the work now under consideration. He, we are well convinced, has none but the most philanthropic motives, guided by great intelligence. He has made some mistakes, but considering the novelty of his task this is not surprising.
+ This opinion is formed of the whole working class, because some few are dissolute and depraved. As well might we call the whole aristocracy swindlers and blacklegs, because some are so; or declare all the women of the aristocratic class prostitutes, because some are notoriously unchaste.
cathedra; must assume no consequence from his position; but, if he wish their respect or confidence, must prove by his acts that he deserves it.
Any one who candidly inquires into the feelings and general frame of mind of the various classes of the community, will learn that the opinions of all are extremely incorrect respecting their relative social and political duties, and that of these erroneous opinions the larger number are held by the wealthier portions. These assertions are certainly not generally assented to, and consequently the people are not generally properly instructed. If the separate items of our social and political duties be investigated, however, the truth of the above statement will be evident, and the right course to be pursued will of itself become manifest.
The two most striking classes of questions which now agitate the minds of men, are, first, those which relate to the existing institutions respecting property; and second, to those which apportion the powers of government. Throughout England, and even throughout Europe, the institution of property is, at the present moment, being discussed in a way that must necessarily startle all who have been educated in a blind reverence for what is termed the sacredness of property. The very existence of the institution is now being canvassed by some of the most enlightened minds of the present day; and the defenders of the old system are severely tasked to defend their opinions against the attacks by which they are assailed. As men advance in knowledge, they necessarily are led to call in question many old opinions, however just, however necessary to the well-being of society. A restless spirit of inquiry, a habit of questioning, a hatred of patient acquiescence, is the first great symptom of improvement. This spirit, as regards social institutions, is now abroad among the labouring population of this country, and the philosophers of the rest of Europe. The miserable situation of large masses of the people naturally led benevolent investigators to search for the cause of that situation; and they, as well as the labouring classes here, have been led to believe that much of this misery is owing to the present faulty laws respecting property. In this there is nothing criminal; and although there is much error in many of the opinions newly broached, there is also much truth in them. It has been seen by many, that accumulation of large masses of wealth in the hands of a few, is necessarily injurious, not merely to the physical comfort of the people, but also to the morality of every class. Seeing this, they have next gone on to inquire how this evil might be avoided, and many wild, some useful schemes have been proposed.* This is precisely the question that now agitates the minds of the labouring population of England. The question is one well deserving of attention; and whatever may be the horror entertained by the dull sticklers for the laws of yesterday, it must be thoroughly sifted before peace will exist among us. The labouring population on the one hand, the supporters of the old institution on the other, are necessarily placed in an arena. The public at large are the spectators, and must eventually be the judges.
* Abolishing the rights of primogeniture is one, and a highly beneficial means proposed to this end. The proposal to establish a minimum of wages, is a mischievous scheme for the same purpose.
Now it happens that of these disputants, by far the most acute, inquiring, and sagacious, are the working classes. Most of the knavery, too, is on the opposite side, and yet do these latter assume exclusive virtue, and supereminent knowledge and sagacity. They abuse their opponents as robbers and plunderers, but promise protection and patronage to such portions of the labouring classes as will listen to instruction. In the work before us, there is a thorough misunderstanding of the point at issue. There is, consequently, great labouring to prove what is not disputed, to teach what is known, to explain what is clear. If the work were merely intended to be a simple exposition of truth, this circumstance could not be brought forward as a charge against the author. But the work unfortunately assumes a polemical character; it attempts to combat error, as well as to expound the truth, and the Author, while doing so, unintentionally falls into the great error of becoming a partizan. If he thought it wise to combat error, he should have appeared as passionless and impartial as a judge; he should have distinctly marked that he was of no party, and this not merely in words, but in act. Before he could make this appear, however, it was requisite for him to state the question fairly; to place neither the one side nor the other in unnecessary difficulty; to entertain no part of the subject not relevant to the matter in issue. Now the chief part of " The Rights of Industry" is occupied in demonstrating the utility of capital. But the utility of capital is not disputed. Machinery has been broken, it is true, and some of the working classes declare that certain sorts of machinery do mischief to the labourer. This, however, does not arise in consequence of any hatred to capital, or an undervaluing of its worth. The question does not turn on this point. The reasoning of the labouring men on all the various parts of the question is exceedingly acute, and is not met by the present work, or by the general position respecting the inviolability of property. The following is a consecutive, though very abridged statement of some of their leading argu
Property, they say, is the creature of the law; is instituted for the benefit of all. Therefore, when discussing questions concerning the various rights included under the term property, we must go to a higher principle than that which determines that property should be what is termed inviolate. When endeavouring to determine whether all the rights which are now included under the term property have been wisely created, it assuredly is nothing to the purpose to build an argument on the general and unmeaning proposition that all property ought to be inviolate. We are not endeavouring to learn whether all property ought to be inviolate, but striving to ascertain what ought to be property.
Capital, when profitably employed, yields a produce sufficient to replace itself and yet leave something beyond. For example: a hundred bushels of corn expended in agriculture will return, if profitably employed, one hundred bushels, and some more, say twenty. Now all persons allow that the capital ought to be replaced, must be returned to the capitalist; but a question arises as to what is to be done with the remaining twenty. Shall means be taken by the legislature to insure to the labourer a certain portion of this which in