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The Editor's Room, No. XIV:-Shreds and Patches—Stories
from the History of Scotland-Sketches of Dogs-House-
No. X. JANUARY, 1829.
THE SILK QUESTION.
We are disposed to make every allowance for persons who imagine, however erroneously, that their interests are suffering from any particular measures that may be adopted with reference to them; and if their pertinacity in the defence of what they conceive to be a vital object be often carried far beyond the point of sober reasoning, we are inclined to overlook the ridicule that may justly apply to all querulousness founded upon prejudice and blind self-love. But the pertinacity of the party fancying himself aggrieved, and the patience of the other party that is doomed to hear assertions that have been successfully controverted as often as they have been put forth, must, like every thing else, have their limits. The patience of the patient man of old, had silk-weavers struggling for a monopoly been in fashion in his days, would have been worn out. However, we are compelled again to “ slay the slain;" which we will do as concisely as the subject will admit of.
The restrictionists of the silk trade have for some time had their guerillas in motion carrying on a desultory warfare, which we now understand is to be turned into a regular campaign, and their grievances brought up in array to frighten the Cabinet and the Parliament. At present the light troops are only in array, and with them we will deal as summarily as may be. We would have waited till all the forces were in the field, but we do not choose that even a beaten enemy should steal a march upon us. We understand that a great effort is to be made during the next Session of Parliament in order to show that the new commercial code will destroy the silk manufacture, and that it must be immediately abandoned; that all the leading places connected with it are under the severest depression; and nothing short of prohibition-protection will not do—will restore this trade to its former prosperity. The decrease of spindles at work, and the increase of poor-rates, are calculated with arithmetical nicety; and the year 1824, a period of the wildest speculations and, we may add, the most dishonest adventures, (in which many persons connected JANUARY, 1829.
with the silk trade led the way,) and consequently one of almost unprecedented activity, is to be compared with the year 1826, a season when the result of these adventures was felt in its full force, and the most distressing embarrassment was experienced in every branch of commerce. But it is convenient to select this year, because it was the first for the operation of the new system upon the silk manufacture; and we take it for granted that those engaged in that trade are prepared to assert that it has been getting worse and worse ever since, because that unimportant part of the English community, the public, is no longer obliged to pander to the inactivity and avarice of monopolists, but is allowed to purchase under a wholesome competition. A stranger to the subject would believe, if he were now to converse with the silk-weavers, that they never complained before, and that their trade was always prosperous, subject to no vicissitudes and no jealousies. But what is the fact ? Why that the inhabitants of Spitalfields more especially, when they were entrenched up to their eyes in restrictions, were always pestering the Legislature for more protection even against their fellow-subjects; and their folly at times has been carried to such an extreme upon this point that, had it been listened to, they would have lost the manufacture altogether. Restriction was their only hope; they thought of it by day and dreamt of it by night; and were as anxious formerly to be protected against Macclesfield, as they now are against Lyons. This is at once presumptive evidence of their want of knowledge in their own affairs. But when we have positive, we need not refer to less certain testimony, in proof of the little attention that ought to be paid to the remonstrances of these complainants, whose text is, that they cannot compete with the foreigner at the rate of duties now in existence, under the present circumstances of the country, and the condition of their trade.
Depression is always in some degree experienced between Michaelmas and Christmas in commercial affairs; and it is certainly unfortunate that no law can be framed to protect the silk-weavers and throwsters from the bad effects of two or three gloomy months. In furtherance of the object to give a false impression as to the present inactivity in this department of commerce, it is stated, that, in Macclesfield and various other places, mills are untenanted in many instances, and in all that they are only partially employed. But the extension of the trade to localities that before did not partake of it, is studiously kept out of view; and the improvement in machinery in these localities is with equal care avoided. The fact is, great improvement has taken place in many instances by active and enterprising individuals, but it has not been fairly followed up; and all inquiries upon this important subject are met by the question, is it reasonable to suppose that if improvements could take place in machinery to enable silk-weavers and throwsters to compete with foreigners, they would not be adopted ?–Mr. Pitt, one night, in the House of Commons, upon being told by a country gentleman, that his ideas failed him when he endeavoured to contemplate the mischief that some measure of the government would produce, replied, “I thank God that, amidst all my arduous duties, it not one of them to find ideas for the Honourable Gentleman opposite.” We are equally