Calico-Printing in France
IN this age of liberty and of individual enterprise, when every one can freely choose his occupation and pursue it without let or hindrance, we with difficulty appreciate the all but insurmountable obstacles which restrictive and prohibitory laws, and the jealous exclusiveness of trade corporations, once presented to a young and aspiring mechanic.
In the early ages of their history, these trade corporations were indeed the first rallying-points of liberty for the mechanic. They were, at first, secret societies, formed for mutual defence against the lawless and tyrannical exactions of the feudal lords, so continually engaged in private warfare with each other; but, as each trade naturally clustered together, these societies soon became trade corporations. Their numbers and discipline made them formidable. Privileges were granted them, and free towns established, in the government of which they took an active part; and the feudal lords were gradually forced to refrain from the cruel and ruinous oppression they had so long practised. But the oppressed readily become oppressors, and these corporations did not escape the general law. They became jealous, tyrannical, and exclusive. Improvement, progress, or innovation of any nature, was lejected by them with indignation and alarm ; and time-honored customs and vexatious regulations met the mechanic in every direction. All that his father had done the son might do, but no more. His pay, his hours of work, the number of his apprentices, indeed, every detail, was strictly regulated by his corporation. From these trammels there was no escape, for an independent workman could not find employment. He was even forbidden to exercise his calling, and frequently was banished from town or village for insubordination. In a word, he was excluded from the right of earning his bread. It is, however, but fair to add, that, during illness or accidental incapacity, the workman and his family received from the corporation of which he was a member all the necessaries, and many of the comforts, of life. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that the domineering influence of these corporations or trade-unions continued long after the causes that led to their formation had disappeared.
The arbitrary laws and customs of trade corporations we can readily ascribe to jealous and unenlightened selfishness ; but how can we explain, or even conceive, that patriotic and enlightened statesmen have clung with so much tenacity, through so many ages, to restrictive and prohibitory enactments and to sumptuary laws ? the first forbidding industry, the other forbidding consumption ! and yet every page of history tells us that such laws were enforced even to our own times.
Calico-printing in France suffered from all these causes ; for, when these goods were first introduced, the extensive and powerful corporation of the weavers, and the corporation of the dyers, were greatly alarmed. They made every effort to suppress them, and positively forbade any member of their corporations to engage in this work. Through their clamor and influence they at length induced the government to issue decrees strictly prohibiting the printing of calicoes in France.
Notwithstanding the prohibitions and the heavy duties exacted at the frontiers, printed calicoes became fashionable ; but the demand was almost wholly supplied by smugglers, who, in the very high prices obtained, found ample remuneration for the risks incurred.
The constant increase of smuggling, and the consequent decline of the revenue, together with the great number of persons continually condemned for this offence to the galleys, and even to death, at length alarmed the Council of Trade, and induced them to propose more liberal measures. But such measures, then as now, met with violent opposition. Committees and deputies were despatched from Tours, Rouen, Rheims, Beauvais, and many other manufacturing towns, to remonstrate with the ministers. They did not hesitate to affirm that foreign competition would utterly annihilate commerce and manufactures, and they conjured their sovereign not to take the bread of life from the poor weavers and their wives and children ! The evil was, however, serious and increasing ; for partial combats and loss of life were continually occurring near the frontiers. After a laborious examination and long hesitation, the council decided in favor of liberty ; and Louis XV., in the year 1759, issued a royal decree, permitting the printing of calicoes in his kingdom of France. These decrees at once called individual enterprise into action ; but it was principally to a German and a Protestant—to Christopher Philippe Oberkampf — that France is indebted for one of its most productive manufactures, which has given profitable employment to vast numbers of its inhabitants, and has markedly advanced the prosperity of the nation.
The history of this intelligent and indefatigable mechanic is, indeed, the history of the first successful establishment of calico-printing in France ; and we are greatly indebted to the family and descendants of this extraordinary man for having confided the archives of their family to Mr. Urbain Pages, and to this distinguished author for his valuable and interesting history.
Christopher Philippe Oberkampf was born on the 11th of June, 1738, at Wissembach, a small town of Würtemburg. His father was a dyer, — an expert and laborious workman, and withal a strict Lutheran. In his youth he had made long peregrinations from town to town, supporting himself, as was then the custom, by working at his trade in every place he visited ; employment being obtained for him by the dyer’s corporation of each locality.
In this excellent school of experience he learned many new processes and new combination of colors, and acquired the art of dyeing in reserve,— that is to say, dyeing cloths in any color, but reserving the design in the ground-color of the material, which was generally white. He also learned to print on woollen goods.
After his return home, he discovered a method of producing a new color. This discovery gave him the well-merited reputation of being an expert and intelligent dyer and printer, and induced a large manufacturer of Bale, in Switzerland, to make him an advantageous offer of employment. These offers he accepted, with the express sulation that his son, then eleven years old, should be received as an apprentice, and be instructed in drawing and engraving. The family made their journey to Bale on foot, and young Christopher marched quite proudly beside his father, with his bundle tied to a stick over his shoulder, thinking himself already quite a man, and soon to become a smart workman. He was a bright, courageous boy, full of good-humor and of all the happy confidence of youth.
At Bale his father at once began work, and his son commenced his apprenticeship with the humble occupation of spreading colors upon the blocks his father used. The bright, inquisitive boy, ever ready to be useful, and anxious to learn, amused the workmen with his ready wit and cheerfulness, and soon made so favorable an impression that all were willing to explain to him the mysteries of their profession and to initiate him into the secrets of their art. These mysteries consisted principally of valuable receipts for making or mixing of colors, and were universally held as profound secrets. During the three years of his father’s engagement at Bale young Christopher made rapid progress in designing and engraving,— studies to which he devoted himself with unusual constancy.
The engagement ended, his father removed to Larrach, near Bale, and then to Schaffsheim, when, having by industry and economy laid by a small sum, but, above all, by strict religious honesty having acquired the confidence of all about him, he established (in 1755) small print-works at Aarau, Switzerland. He was then principally occupied in printing calicoes. He was moderately successful, and the magistrates of the canton, anxious to encourage this new industry, which gave occupation to its citizens, and thus retained them at home, bestowed upon him the distinction and advantages of citizenship. This was no slight favor, for it was then more difficult to obtain than the more aristocratic titles bestowed by kings and princes.
Young Oberkampf was now an expert workman, for he had learned practically every operation, whether important, or secondary, and theoretically, all that Switzerland could teach him. The field his father had chosen soon became too narrow and limited for him, and he longed ardently to see the world. This desire grew stronger with his strength, and, after long hesitation, he informed his father of his wishes. The father would not listen to the proposition, for young Christopher was now a valuable aid to him, and he had destined him to be his successor. A century ago parental authority was quite absolute, and it was not only sustained by public sentiment, but also was amply enforced by legal enactments. There seemed, therefore, for young Oberkampf no other course but to resign himself to his hard fate. His imagination, however, still dwelt upon the attractions of the outer world, and at length obtained the mastery ; for, having secured the implied consent of his mother, he furtively quitted his father’s house, and launched himself into the great world. He first went to Mulhouse, alreadycelebrated for its beautiful productions. Mulhouse was then a free city, and a firm ally of the Swiss Cantons. There he obtained employment as an engraver in the celebrated print-works of Samuel Koechlin and Henri Dolfus. Forty years later, in 1798, Mulhouse was incorporated into France.
The elder Oberkampf was naturally indignant at his conduct; but time wore away the sharp edge of his father’s anger, and the influence of his mother finally obtained his pardon. After an absence of six months, he returned home, but with the express understanding that he might leave again at his pleasure.
His restless desires soon returned, and in October, 1798, when twenty years old, he determined to visit Paris, and from there go to Spain, where he had been told a new field was open to him. Once more he journeyed on foot, and reached the great city with his purse nearly empty, but with a strong heart full of courage, energy, and confidence.
Calico-printing in France was still strictly prohibited, but, from some unexplained reason, a small section of Paris, called the “ Clos of St Germain,” enjoyed an exclusive privilege for printing. This privilege was probably a remnant of some ancient concessions made to the monastery of St Germains, for in feudal times the monks alone gave protection to honest industry.
Under the protection of this privilege, a person named Cotin had established print-works. He was already known to Oberkampf, for Cotin had frequently sent to Switzerland for workmen, and to him Oberkampf now applied for employment to help him on his way. A designer, engraver, colorist, and printer, all united in one person, was a godsend to Cotin, and he at once secured the prize by a long engagement. The print-works soon felt the impulse given to it by the laborious and ardent young workman. It was while thus occupied that rumors of a change of policy on the part of the government, of its intention to repeal the prohibitory laws, were circulated, and naturally attracted the attention and excited the hopes of Oberkampf; and when at length the Decrees were published, he was exceedingly anxious to profit by them. He was intelligent, laborious, and a complete master of his trade ; but the one thing needful, capital, he did not possess, and could not command. He had indeed amassed by strict economy, almost privation, the sum of one hundred and twenty-five dollars; but this was not capital, and yet it was the grain of mustard-seed which developed itself into wide-spread prosperity.
The print-works of Cotin had long been in embarrassment, and were now sustained by mere expedients. Payments were made with great difficulty, and then only by heavily loading the future. Cotin lost credit, and in consequence purchased his white cloths and dye-stuffs under great disadvantages. At length he was unable to pay his workmen regularly ; and one by one they deserted him, until Oberkampf found himself almost alone. Although Oberkampf obtained with difficulty and delay the payment of his wages, a strong sentiment of probity, which in after life never deserted him, prevented him from breaking an engagement by which he still felt himself bound. Poor Cotin could not replace the absent workmen, and at the very moment when the recently published Decrees were about to give new life to his enterprise he was forced to close his works, and Oberkampf was tree to form a new connection.
One of his countrymen named Tavanne, who held a small post under the Comptroller-General of Finance, had obtained early notice of the Decrees, and, full of confidence in the brilliant prospect about to be opened, had realized a small capital, and had employed it in establishing small print-works in the Rue de Seine St. Marcel. He was well acquainted with Oberkampf, and had made great efforts to induce him to join him, but Oberkampf refused so long as his engagement with Cotin continued. He had, however, promised to join him as soon as he was free to do so ; and in the mean time had given valuable indications and advice to Tavanne, who thought it indispensable to be the first in the field. As soon as the Decrees were published, he commenced work. Oberkampf now joined Tavanne, who had impatiently waited for him. A short experience convinced Oberkampf that the works were badly located. Why remain in the city, to be continually overshadowed by dust and smoke, where land was dear, and water at a distance? and, above all, where the bustle, excitement, and temptations of city life were continually distracting the attention of the workmen ? Oberkampf insisted upon removing to the country, and at length prevailed upon Tavanne to seek for a favorable position. This was soon discovered, and, after several visits, a new location was selected.
About three miles from Versailles, and fifteen miles from Paris, lies the peaceful village of Jouy-en-Josas. It was a small hamlet, composed of a few cottages grouped around the church, and placed in a deep valley,—the hills on each side being covered with woods. Near it flowed the river Bièvre, which watered the green prairies at the bottom of the valley. The position seemed to unite every advantage. The water was excellent and abundant, the green field could be had at a moderate price, and the seclusion of the valley secured it from the interruptions and the attractions of city life.
Oberkampf at once decided his partner in its favor, and noticing a small unoccupied house, having a grass-field attached to it, he proposed to Tavanne to secure it at once. After long bargaining, it was leased for nine years at a moderate rent. A few days afterwards, in the spring of 1760, Oberkampf, with his brother Fritz, whom he had called to him, and two workmen, transferred to this new scene of labor the implements of their trade, where a house-carpenter put them in place. It was a narrow field, for the house was so small that it was impossible to place in it the large kettle used for heating and mixing the colors employed. Like the camp-kettle of a regiment, it was bravely placed in the open air in the yard. The remainder of the implements filled the house, leaving no place for furniture of any kind. In consequence, the printing-table was required to do triple duty ; for, after a laborious day, a mattress placed upon it served for a bed; and upon it was spread their frugal meals brought from the village, at the moderate price of eight cents each.
This was the humble origin of one of the most extensive and prosperous manufactures of France.
Work commenced with great ardor, and, on the 1st of May, 1760, Oberkampf printed the first piece of calico. There could be no division of labor among the four workmen ; each became designer, colorist, or printer, as occasion required ; and at the end of two months a sufficient quantity of calicoes had been printed to be sent to market. Unfortunately, the commercial partner was not in any way equal to the manufacturer. Tavanne, having furnished the funds, had reserved for himself the sale of the goods; but unluckily he was quite incompetent. He could not effect sales nor provide funds to pay the notes he had given for the white cloths purchased, and which were fast falling due. Perplexed and alarmed, he informed Oberkampf of his unfortunate dilemma. By his letters of copartnership Oberkampf was not responsible for any losses incurred ; but he at once gave his one hundred and twenty-five dollars to Tavanne, and then, with his usual energy, sought for aid to meet the difficulties of the situation.
An acquaintance of Tavanne, a Mr. Parent, first clerk of the Comptroller of finance at Versailles, had often visited the print-works, and had remarked the intelligence and industry of Oberkampf. To him Oberkampf applied for counsel. Mr. Parent received him in a friendly manner, and, as his position placed.him in frequent communications with the merchants of Paris, he offered to apply to one of them for aid. He explained the affairs of Jouy to a silk-merchant of Paris (whose name is not mentioned), and induced him to make the necessary advances to meet the engagements of Tavanne, upon the condition that all the printed goods should be consigned to him for sale, and, in addition, that he should have a share in the profits. The merchant soon discovered that the print-works were profitable, and that Oberkampf was the cause of its success. Being a keen, shrewd man, he manœuvred in such a manner as to disgust Tavanne with the whole affair, and finally bought of him all his interest in the business for the small sum of twelve hundred dollars. Not content with this, he further induced the candid and confiding Oberkampf to convey to him a part of his share of the profits. A drone had entered the hive, and was taking to himself the honey collected by the working bees.
The friendly interest of Mr. Parent had been excited, and he soon perceived, with regret, that the interests of Oberkampf were being sacrified by the grasping shrewdness of the merchant. He now cast about for a remedy. He proposed another partner, who was ready to embark the large sum of ten thousand dollars in the business, for one third of the profits. This capital would place the printworks upon a solid basis, and Oberkampf accepted the proposition with great joy. The silk - merchant was greatly annoyed, but, fearing he might lose Oberkampf, he was forced to consent.
The new partner was Mr. Sarasin Demaraise, an advocate of Grenoble, who had, however, long resided in Paris. He was a learned and successful advocate, but had always felt a strong inclination for commerce, which he preferred, indeed, to his own occupation. He was an excellent man; and Oberkampf and himself naturally drew together, and soon became warm friends. With the consent of the partners, the books and countability of the print-works were confided to Mr. Demaraise, and the manufactory of Jouy now boasted of an office in Paris. The sale of the merchandise still remained in the hands of the merchant.
Erelong, Mr. Demaraise discovered that the merchant had secured to himself undue advantages; and the legal acumen of the advocate soon detected flaws and omissions in the original contract with Tavanne, and in the transfer to the merchant. This Demaraise communicated to Oberkampf, showing him conclusively that he was working for another. He proposed to him to unite, and drive the drone from the hive. With some reluctance and hesitation, Oberkampf consented. The merchant positively refused to sell to them his share of the business, even after the irregularities in his contract had been explained to him, and a suit at law was commenced.
To the advocate, Mr. Demaraise, a lawsuit was a pleasant matter; but to Oberkampf it seemed full of care, uncertainty, and alarm. Other cause of anxiety had arisen. He and his workmen were Protestants, and the inhabitants of the village were ill disposed towards this little colony of strangers and heretics.
These causes of preoccupation and anxiety weighed heavily upon Oberkampf, when, unluckily, a freshet of the river laid his drying-field under water at the moment when his cloths were exposed. Oberkampf and his workmen plunged into the water to rescue the cloths. The next morning sharp pains and fever confined him to his bed; and there he remained several weeks, suffering all the pangs of severe nervous rheumatism. The vigor of youth and the strength of his constitution, aided by a short visit to Switzerland, with the gentle care of his mother, at length gave him the victory.
In the mean while, the lawsuit made slow progress; but the friendly Mr. Parent once more offered his services, and at length effected a compromise. The belligerent advocate, Mr. Demaraise, was very unwilling to accede to it, but the influence of Mr. Parent and the urgent solicitations of Oberkampf at length prevailed. The drone was permitted to withdraw from the hive, well laden with honey.
A new co-partnership was now formed under the name of Sarasin Demaraise, Oberkampf, and Co. ; and the partners, relieved from all embarrassments, determined to carry out their plans with activity and energy.
It is well known that cotton cloths have been printed in India from time immemorial; but there the outline of the design alone was printed; all the colors were afterwards painted in by hand. For this reason, these goods, in France, were called “toiles peints,” or painted cloths, and they still retain the name. This industry was therefore in India more that of an artist than of a printer, and could be carried on only in a country when the price of labor was reduced to its lowest limits. In Europe all the colors were printed in the same manner as the outline ; but for a long time the result was very imperfect and unsatisfactory, and at the same time slow and expensive. The colors were difficult to manage, for chemistry had not yet lent its aid. Nor had mechanics been applied, for block-printing alone was practised.
It may be well to explain to the uninitiated this simple process. A design was drawn upon a block of wood, of which the surfaces had been accurately smoothed, and repeated upon as many blocks as there were colors in the design ; suppose three colors, — red, blue, and green. On the surface of the first block all but the red color was cut away, and the red printed on the cloth. On the second block, all but the blue was cut away, and this block was applied precisely to the place where the red block had been placed, and printed the blue color; and so with the green. If the blocks were applied with precision, the result would be the design printed in three colors. It will be readily perceived, that, if each block is not applied with mathematical precision, the design will be awry, and very imperfect, if not destroyed, and thus occasion great loss of labor, materials, and cloth.
A few colors, such as indigo blue and some others, were still applied by hand, — generally by women, with small hair brushes.
It was all-important, therefore, to secure the best workmen. This was very difficult, if not impossible, in France, where the corporations of the weavers and of the dyers exerted so much authority, and Oberkampf was forced to seek them in Germany and in Switzerland. He supplied his father and his brother-in-law Widmer, at Aarau, with the necessary funds to make advances to any good workman who was willing to come to Paris. In this way he secured the services of Rohrdorf and Hapner, both excellent designers ; and of Bossert, a talented engraver. These three remained with him until their death, and formed a very superior staff of foremen. They always lived in friendly fellowship with Oberkampf, — taking their meals with him at the printing-table, — and shared his recreations whenever opportunities occurred. When more prosperous times came, they always resided at his house, and dined at his more luxurious table.
Every one now worked with ardor, and all were soon rewarded by evident success. Their designs were greatly admired, and the printing was so very superior that their goods met with a ready sale. The profits, too, augmented rapidly. The first year gave but $ 1,500 to $ 1,800, but the second year showed a gain of nearly $ 12,000. This great success determined the partners to enlarge their premises. The small house had indeed received many additions, but it was still too small and inconvenient. The capitalist, Demaraise, was ready to invest more of his fortune in so profitable an affair, and their credit was excellent ; but this success was troubled by local annoyances.
The pious susceptibilities of the curate of Jouy were alarmed by the influx of Swiss workmen, most of whom were Protestants, and complaints had been made to the local authorities. Goodhumored patience and generous contributions gradually enlightened the curate and the mayor to their true interests, and their opposition subsided ; but a more difficult obstacle remained. The partners required more land ; but the seigneur of the village, the Marquis of Beuvron, had been much annoyed by the establishment of the print-works in the quiet valley of which he was the principal proprietor, and so near to the chateau which he occupied. He coldly, but positively, refused to sell or let a prairie near the print-'works, which had now become indispensable to its extension. He was, however, a generous and enlightened gentleman, and soon learned to respect the industry, integrity, and intelligence of his unwelcome neighbors. Nor could he refuse to acknowledge that the neighborhood and his own estate had profited by their presence. At length, after long solicitation, seconded by the liberal price offered, and by a generous present to the Marchioness, as was the custom of the age, he consented to allow them to take the land they so earnestly desired.
The new building was commenced in 1764, and completed two years afterwards. Among other improvements made, a canal was dug from the river, the sides and bottom of which were well puddled with clay, and then incased with thick oaken planks. In this basin the cloths could be washed in perfect safety.
The establishment now assumed large proportions ; for Oberkampf, while making great exertions to produce beautiful designs, enriched with brilliant colors, did not neglect to produce less expensive goods at a moderate price, within the reach of the great mass of consumers. These goods were called Mignonettes, from the nature of the designs, which consisted of small running flowers and vines, varied in disposition and colors according to the taste of the moment or of the market to which they were destined. The sale of this class of goods was immense, for they penetrated into the most secluded corners of France.
The prosperity of the new establishment soon extended to the village, where houses were built, and waste lands cultivated, to supply the requirements of the increasing population, attracted by good wages and certain employment.
The reputation of the print-works was now fully established; but it is an old maxim, that reputation can be maintained only by constant progress. To this end Oberkampf directed all his energy. He established a washing-mill to replace hand labor, and continually simplified and perfected every operation. When his brother Fritz brought from Switzerland a design engraved upon copper, he did not hesitate to adopt this innovation for fine work, notwithstanding the great additional expense.
This constant labor of mind and body could not, however, be sustained without recreation and relaxation. He built for himself and friends a moderate house, and at times indulged his passion for horses. He had two or more always in his stable, and a sharp canter, in company with one of his foremen, over the neighboring hills, was a favorite diversion. Upon one occasion, the baying of hounds gave notice that the royal hunt was near. Louis XV., surrounded by a brilliant cortége of nobles, huntsmen, and servants, swept by ; and Oberkampf and his companion, carried away by the excitement, and thinking no harm, followed after at a respectful distance. Louis XV. remarked them, and inquired, “ Who are those gentlemen so well mounted ? ” Upon being told, he coldly observed they would do better to remain at their factory, rather than lose their time in following his hunt. The observation was at once carried to Oberkampf, who, with his usual good sense, without any sign of anger, replied, “ His Majesty is right, and we will profit by his counsel,” and at once withdrew.
Oberkampf had remained unmarried ; but he now decided to share his prosperity with another. He had long been acquainted with a Protestant family of Sancerre, and in that family he chose his wife. His dwelling-house and grounds were enlarged and improved, but his marriage with Miss Palineau was celebrated in Paris. Mrs. Oberkampf was an accomplished musician, many of his Swiss foremen were good performers, and in the royal band at Versailles, near by, there were many Germans, who were soon in friendly relations with Jouy. The liberal hospitality of Oberkampf attracted them to his house, and upon Sundays and féte days, indeed upon every occasion, his house was crowded with musicians and artists ; and music and the dance alternated with more serious theatricals and conversation.
Upon one occasion the tutor of the royal princes brought them to visit the establishment, and Oberkampf explained the divers operations to the future Louis XVI., Louis XVIII., and Charles X., who successively occupied the throne of France. The last, then called Count d’Artois, attempted to print, but the blocks were too heavy for his hand.
In 1782 Oberkampf met with a cruel misfortune. His wife, while attending one of her children, ill with the smallpox, contracted the disease, and became its victim.
In the mean while, the unfortunate Louis XVI. had succeeded to the throne of France. Ever anxious to encourage national industry, and to reward merit, he conferred, in 1783, the title of Royal Manufactory upon the print-works of Jouy; and, four years later, he granted, without solicitation, a patent of nobility to Oberkampf, the German mechanic whom Louis XV. had not permitted to follow the royal hunt.
Two years later, when the Revolution began, this noble distinction bestowed upon Oberkampf became a serious danger. The recent date of his parchments, and his simple good sense and frank character, averted the evil ; and he was permitted to hide away, and forget his title of nobility with its emblazoned coat of arms. “ Liberty and Fraternity” could not well be alarmed by the sturdy mechanic who had risen by his own industry and merit.
In 1789 his copartnership with Demaraise expired. It had lasted twentyfive years, and Demaraise now wished to retire from active life. His fortune was ample, for the profits to be divided amounted to the large sum of $ 1,800,000. The intercourse between the partners had always been confiding and friendly, and they separated with mutual esteem.
This period marked an epoch in the history of the establishment, for it was the moment of transition from the old system to new progress. Improvements of every nature had indeed been effected, but now science was to perform its wonders ; chemistry and mechanics, so long confined to the laboratory, were now to be applied to active industry.
Prosperity had not alienated the affections of Oberkampf from his family. When his parents, his brother-in-law, and a married sister died, he called their young families around him, and gave them the advantages of a careful education. To each of his nephews he gave successively an interest in the manufactory, and was rewarded by their intelligence and devotion,—more especially in the case of his eldest nephew, Samuel Widmer, who became a distinguished chemist and mechanic, and rendered important services to his uncle.
The great chemists of the age, Berthollet, Chaptal, Monge, and Chevreul, were in constant communication with Jouy, and Gay-Lussac was employed to give courses of lectures upon chemistry and physics to the foremen and workmen of the print-works. They would come to Jouy, when any new combination or new process was conceived by them, with their pockets filled with samples ; and Oberkampf and Widmer were ever ready to test them upon a large scale, and thus ascertain their application and value. Many, very many, were worthless ; but many brilliant exceptions served to mark the constant* progress obtained by the application of science to industry. The system of bleaching with chlorine, discovered by Berthollet, was here first applied, and Widmer at once established a laboratary to produce this useful material.
The sanguinary Revolution still pursued its course, and the excitement spread in every direction. Partly to obey the instinct of the moment, and partly as a politic precaution, Oberkampf caused a large design of the “ Fête of the Federation ” at the Champs de Mars to be engraved with great care for furniture - hangings. The success was extraordinary, and gave a somewhat new direction to the print-works. Eminent artists, such as Huet, Lebas, and Demarne, were employed to produce a series of large designs; but Oberkampf, with good sense and prudence, abandoned political subjects. The Wolf and the Lamb, The Lion in Love, Psyche and Cupid, Don Quixote, and others, were produced in succession with marked success. In smaller designs, natural flowers were copied with care and precision ; and the flora of distant lands contributed their curious and graceful flowers, decked in all the gorgeous colors of the tropics.
Oberkampf again found himself crowded for room, and decided to erect an immense building, in which his workmen would be more at ease, and in consequence produce still more perfect work. A plan by an architect of Paris was adopted, and at once carried into execution. An immense hall on the lower floor, lighted by eighty-eight windows, was devoted to printing. In the first story were the offices, and the rooms occupied by the engravers and designers upon wood and copper, as well as printing-rooms for shawls. Here, too, was the store-room for blocks, where all were carefully preserved, for many were found worthy of several editions. In the next story were placed the finishers, where three hundred women were seated at long tables completing or correcting the coloring of the rich designs. Over all was an immense, lofty garret, open upon every side, which served as a drying-room. Here the long depending cloths of every hue, swaying back and forth in the wind, gave a brilliant and picturesque appearance to the building. They were called the banners of Jouy. This building was finished in 1792, and during the year the prosperity of the establishment continued unabated, notwithstanding the vast political agitation of the moment; but soon misery crept slowly but surely upon the people, and the demand rapidly declined.
The excitement and madness of the Revolution had long since reached the quiet village of Jouy. Public meetings had been called, clubs had been formed, and political festivities been celebrated, but fortunately all the municipal authority of the place was concentred in the hands of Oberkampf. He was himself the mayor; two of his foremen were sub-mayor and secretary ; and his nephew, Samuel Widmer, was the commander of the militia. Oberkampf did not attempt to oppose the torrent of public excitement, but wisely allowed it to expend itself in violent speeches, and still more violent resolutions, but he carefully watched their development into active operation, and was thus enabled to protect society and himself.
He was, of course, obliged to contribute largely of his wealth, as we may judge by a few notes found among his papers. He first made a patriotic gift of $ 10,000, then gave $ 1,600 to equip and pay ten volunteers, then a forced loan to the nation of $ 5,000, then a so-called voluntary loan of $15,000, then $600 to equip a cavalry soldier, then a warcontribution of $3,500, — all these in addition to the very heavy taxes imposed upon his property and upon his manufactory. By acceding promptly and cheerfully to these exactions, he maintained the character of a good citizen and a friend of the country, but this did not secure him from occasional alarm. On the 19th February, 1794, a gendarme brought him a summons to appear the next day, at eleven o’clock, before a committee at the Hôtel de Toulouse (now the Bank of France). At the foot was written the ominous notice, “Exactitude rigorously required.” Oberkampf at once obeyed. A scheme for raising ten millions of dollars “ to save the country ” was laid before him. It was in the form of sixty notes, the payment of which was to be guaranteed by forty-four of the principal bankers and merchants. Oberkampf’s signature was required. He did not hesitate to sign the bonds, — indeed, it would have been dangerous to manifest any unwillingness,— and then returned to Jouy calmly to await the result. A long while afterwards he learned that these notes could not be employed, and that they had been finally destroyed.
Two months later, Oberkampf was denounced as a suspected moderate, a hidden royalist, a monopolizer, — in a word, a rich man. These charges were more than sufficient to bring him before the Revolutionary Tribunal and lead him to the scaffold. Fortunately, a member of the committee was friendly to Oberkampf, and, although a violent Jacobin, he defended him with courage, and succeeded in averting the blow. The first intimation to Oberkampf of the danger he had run was made by a communication from the terrible Committee of Public Safety, who sent him a certificate of civism, declaring the manufactory useful to the Republic, and requiring Oberkampf, his wife, and children, to continue it. The hand of a friend was visible in this certificate, for the “wife and children” protected by it had nothing to do with the factory, which, indeed, had never suspended operation. Many of the workmen had been drawn away, either to Paris or to the army; but every good workman found employment at the print-works, and, what was more, was paid in coin so long as it was possible to procure it. When this could no longer be obtained, the agent in Paris sent down whole bales of bank-bills, fresh from the press, and on pay-day three women were employed in cutting them apart.
A few months afterwards, Oberkampf received an alarming visitor. In June, 1794, a carriage drove into the courtyard, and a tall, elegant young man sprang lightly to the ground, and gave his hand to a young and beautiful lady to aid her to descend; a robust servant immediately stretched himself into the carriage, and withdrew in his arms a third person, whom he carried into the saloon. This person was the redoubtable George Couthon, a monster of cruelty, who, with Robespierre and St. Just, governed and instigated the terrible atrocities of the Committee of Public Safety. The “virtuous and tenderhearted Couthon,” as his adherents were pleased to call him, took an active part in spreading spies and informers in every direction, and with their aid covered France with guillotines. His personal appearance was not at all fearful, for his pale, regular features expressed calm confidence, if not benignity and dignity. He was dressed with care, for the Jacobins did not affect roughness either in manner or dress, He wore powder, and his manners were polite, although cold and formal. He appeared to be of medium height, but his bust alone existed, — the lower part of his body being completely paralyzed. Oberkampf received him with quiet self-possession, but with difficulty suppressed a sentiment of detestation and fear. Citizen Couthon was, of course, invited to visit the manufactory, and Widmer carried him in his arms from story to story, while Oberkampf explained to him all the interesting processes of manufacture. The party then returned to the house, where refreshments were offered. Great care was taken that the repast should be extremely simple and frugal ; for famine was abroad, and sumptuous living was not merely an impropriety, it was crime which led directly to the scaffold. Wheat flour was extremely scarce, and the bread served was coarse and dark. To the surprise of every one, Couthon directed the servant to bring a small basket from the carriage, in which, carefully enveloped in a napkin, lay a few delicate white loaves, .with their rich brown crust, for which Paris is renowned. Couthon made no remark upon this aristocratic luxury, in which he alone dare indulge, but politely offered it to all. Commerce and the feats of the great army of the nation were the only subjects of conversation, which was constrained and guarded. It was therefore with a sensation of great relief that Widmer once more placed Couthon in his carriage, who, after having briefly expressed his satisfaction and his thanks, drove away, leaving behind him distrust and apprehension. To the surprise of all, no disastrous results ensued from this visit.
The overthrow of Robespierre brought peace and partial security, and active operations recommenced at Jouy. In the year 1797 this activity received an immense impulse by the invention of printing with rollers. The principal honor of this invention is due to Widmer, but he was greatly aided by the counsel and encouragements of Oberkampf. Widmer had long dreamed of substituting rollers for blocks, and at length, after many failures, succeeded in realizing his dream by establishing his machine at Jouy. The progress was immense, for the machine printed fifty-five hundred yards per day, the work of forty-five printers.
The engraving of the rollers was a difficult, costly, and long process, and Widmer set himself at work to overcome this objection. After three years of laborious thought and costly experience, he at last succeeded, and produced a machine which greatly aided in engraving the rollers. This was established in the year 1800. The successes of Napoleon and the establishment of the Empire gave a strong impulse to the activity of the print-works, which now employed fourteen hundred workmen. It had been intimated to Oberkampf that he might aspire, under the new régime, to the dignity of senator. But the simplicity of his character remained unchanged, and he positively refused the high honor.
In the month of June, 1806, a Garde de Chasse in the Imperial livery entered Jouy at a sharp gallop, and rode at once to the manufactory. He announced the visit of the Emperor. The news spread with rapidity, and every one quitted his occupation to rush to the court-yard. A few moments later the Emperor, accompanied by the Empress Josephine, drove into the same court-yard where, a few years since, Couthon had brought fear and dismay. But now a dense crowd of workmen and villagers received their visitor with unbounded enthusiasm. Addressing a few words to Oberkampf, with his customary rapidity, he proposed at once to visit the printing machine. It was put in operation, and, to the surprise and admiration of all, the white cloth was drawn under the rollers and printed at the rate of eight yards per minute. At a signal the rollers were changed, and a new design printed. Napoleon frequently expressed his satisfaction, and then visited every part of the manufactory, asking with great rapidity the most searching questions, which taxed all the attention of his host to answer. With ready tact he conversed with the foremen and workmen, and excited the enthusiasm of all about him. He then returned to the court-yard, and was again surrounded by the crowd, while every window of the immense building was filled by the workmen. The favorable moment had come. Napoleon detached the Cross of the Legion of Honor which he wore, and placed it with his own hand upon the breast of Oberkampf, exclaiming, in a firm voice, that none were so worthy to wear it. This high military honor, bestowed in so marked and public a manner upon a civilian, gave great satisfaction, not only to the friends of Oberkampf, but to the whole commerce of the country, which claimed its share on this occasion, and felicitations from every province were addressed to Oberkampf.
The fourth Exposition of National Industry took place in the year 1806, and for the first time the manufactory of Jouy sent a brilliant collection of its products, and received the gold medal.
The succeeding years were marked by two important inventions. The method of printing a solid green color in one application, and the heating of colors by steam.
In the year 1810 the Emperor Napoleon invited Oberkampf, the " patriarch ” or the “ seigneur ” of Jouy, as he familiarly called him, to visit him at the Palace of St. Cloud. Oberkampf was accompanied by Samuel Widmer, who wished to solicit a favor from the Emperor. Napoleon received them in his usual manner, addressing rapid, searching, almost offensive questions to Oberkampf and to Widmer. " They tell me you are wealthy, — was not the first million the most difficult to gain ? Have you children ? Will your son continue your business, or will he, as is more usual, dissipate your fortune ? ” &c., &c. He discussed the tariff, and when Oberkampf remarked that the duty on cotton was excessive, “O,” replied the Emperor, “ I only take what the smugglers would get,” and added, in an excited voice, " I will have all the English and Swiss cotton goods burned. I have given three millions to plant cotton in the plains of Rome. Is not that better than giving them a Pope ? ” In his memoirs, dictated by himself at St. Helena, speaking of the Continental system, he remarks, “ I consulted Oberkampf.” So indeed he did, but he did not listen to his advice.
The interview was brought to a close by the usual question, “ Have you anything to ask?” Oberkampf replied that his nephew, Widmer, was very desirous to visit the manufactories of England. The Continental system was strictly applied at that moment, and no one could visit England without a passport signed by the Emperors own hand. Napoleon replied with some impatience, “ What can he see there ? What can he learn ? Well, well, I will send him a passport.” A few days afterwards the desired document was received.
In the midst of this honorable but laborious prosperity, Oberkampf did not escape the trials and afflictions of life. Illness and death had visited his family and his friends, taking from him his child in its early years and his devoted friends in their old age. In 1810 he lost Ludwig Rohrdorf, the last of his early associates around the printing-table of Jouy. He, like the rest, had shared in the prosperity of the factory, and left a fair property. Being unmarried, his heirs, who resided in Switzerland, proved their unlimited confidence in the probity of Oberkampf by requesting him to liquidate the succession without process at law.
The sturdy Oberkampf himself did not appear to feel the fatigues of advancing age. He had long wished to free himself from dependence upon the manufactories of printing-cloths, and to convert the bale of raw cotton into pieces of printed calicoes within his own works. His son-in-law, Mr. Louis Feray, being fully competent to direct a mill, Oberkampf established one at Essonne, and another at Corbeil for his brother Fritz, both for the manufacture of printing-cloths. His brother preferred to retire from commerce ; Oberkampf received back the mill, and maintained it in activity.
The fall of Napoleon in 1814, and the invasion of the Allied armies, suspended work at Jouy. For the first time the manufactory was closed. A recommencement of activity was arrested by the return of Napoleon from Elba in 1815, when Jouy was once more occupied by foreign troops. Many farms with their buildings had been destroyed, and every one was anxious for the safety of the manufactory ; for, although work had again ceased, yet the building had never before been so crowded with occupants. All the poor families of the outskirts, who had the most to fear, were permitted to bring their furniture and worldly goods to the manufactory, and there they found protection and support.
The buildings escaped destruction, and, when peace returned, active operations were again commenced. But anxiety, distress, and severe labor could no longer be borne with impunity by Oberkampf at his advanced age. He became feeble, and his health began to fail, when a severe cold brought on a fever which proved fatal. He expired on the 4th of October, 1815, and ended an honorable and useful life of seventyseven years, surrounded by his family and by his numerous friends. A son and three daughters (all married) survived their parent.
The manufactory was continued six years longer by the son, Emile Oberkampf, and by the nephew, S. Widmer. Upon the death of Widmer, Emile Oberkampf associated with him a new partner, to whom he was soon obliged by ill-health to cede the paternal establishment. The prosperity of the manufactory seemed, however, to be attached to the name and family of Oberkampf; for, when separated from them, it languished and declined. It was converted into a joint-stock company, but without success, and a few years afterward was discontinued, and the property sold. The principal building alone now remains.
The decline of the manufactory at Jouy does not in any way indicate the decline of calico-printing in France, for the impulse given by Oberkampf has been fully sustained by the great progress continually made. One examines with surprise the wonderful printing of Mulhouse, upon the gossamer, airy tissue of muslin, which one would think incapable of bearing the rich colors and designs with which it is impregnated. The town of Mulhouse is now the seat of the perfection of calico-printing, but Rouen and many other towns can well boast of their productions.
The family of Oberkampf did not desert the humble village of Jouy. They retained the dwelling-house, and constantly visited the village and the families of the old workmen, who long experienced their active and generous charity.
The small building called the House by the Stone Bridge, in which Oberkampf printed the first piece of calico at Jouy, was offered for sale, and the daughters of Oberkampf hastened to purchase it. They enlarged and improved it, and converted it into an asylum for young children. All the children of the village were here collected for the day, and received the care and the instruction their age required. They were provided with meals, and even those living at a distance were brought to the asylum in an omnibus, and carried home at night. Assuredly this was a noble monument of gratitude and charity to the memory of their father.
We need not add that his name will never be forgotten in the village of Jouy. The principal street bears the name of Oberkampf, and the patriarchs of the village recall with pride the splendors of the times of the great factory.
- “ Manufacturers and Inventors.” By URBAIN PAGES.↩