A Chapter of Autobiography
“ Je m’entretiens avec moi même.” —
“ Ah ! prenez garde du péril extrême
De causer avec un flatteur.”
IN the winter of 1858-59 I was threading the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, seeking the residence of an old friend, formerly my father’s confidential clerk, and who still, though an octogenarian, rejoiced in the name of John Wright, Junior.
It was a portion of the city that had grown up many years after I had known anything of Glasgow. Uncertain of my way and having for some time scrutinized the countenances of the passers-by, as is my wont before accosting any one in the street, I met a face that pleased me ; hale, ruddy, the shadow of some sixty years resting lightly and cheerfully upon it, despite the snow on head and beard : a benignant face, of leisure, that did not look as if it would grudge five minutes to a stranger. It lit up kindly when I asked how I should find the street I sought.
“ I am going in that direction and shall be glad to walk with you,” Then, after a pause : “ You ’ll be a stranger in Glasgow ? ” The well-known accent and the turn of phrase brought all my youth back to me ; and, in reply to my smile, he added : “ Or are you a Scotchman yourself, may be ? ”
“ I scarcely know,” I replied, “ whether to call myself a stranger or not. It is more than thirty years since I have seen your city, yet Glasgow is my native place.”
“ Ah ! In what part of the city were you born ? ”
“In Charlotte Street.”
“Were you? But in which house was it ? ’
“ In the last house on the right hand, next to the Green ; close to the iron gates that used to close the street.”
“ Why, man ! That was David Dale’s house ! How in the world did you happen to be born there ? ”
“Very naturally. I am his grandson.”
“ An Owen, then ? ”
He stretched out his hand ; and the firm, Scottish grip made my fingers tingle.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by JAMES R. OSGOOD & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
David Dale was a remarkable man ; and he lived, and labored through a busy and prosperous life, during a remarkable period of time. He witnessed, and did his part in aiding, the world’s first Titanic steps in Industrial Science.
Born in Ayrshire and in the year 1738, in humble circumstances ; educated, as all children of reputable parents throughout Scotland even then were, in a strictly-disciplined public school ; he evinced, even while at work as a journeyman weaver, what became afterwards his chief characteristic,— expending regularly a portion of his scanty wages in relieving his poorer neighbors. With the steady perseverance of his country he gradually won his way to riches and position : so that, ere he had much passed middle-age, he was already a wealthy merchant and bank-director.
When nearly forty he won the hand of Miss Ann Caroline Campbell, daughter of John Campbell, who, having been, during the rebellion of 1745, Cashier of the Royal Bank of Scotland, got together a body of still loyal troops, conveyed the specie belonging to his bank to the castle of Edinburgh which held out against the Pretender; and so, saved to the government a large amount of funds. This John Campbell came of a noted family and had a romantic history : his grandfather being a Scottish earl.
John Campbell of Glenorchy, born 1635 and created first Earl of Breadalbane in 1681, was (according to Nisbet) a man of sagacity, judgment, and penetration.1 He aided King Charles II. and sought to induce Monk to declare for a free Parliament. He served in Parliament for the shire of Argyll, and was privy councillor under James II.
When King William had unsuccessfully endeavored to reduce the Highlands, Breadalbane undertook it singly with twelve thousand pounds ; and “effected it in such a manner as to obtain the thanks of James for saving his people whom he could not succor.”2
Being accused of complicity in the massacre of Glencoe, the Parliament, in 1695, instituted a process of high treason against him ; he was committed prisoner to Edinburgh castle, but afterwards released without trial ; it is said because no evidence was found against him.
Macky, a contemporary, says of him, probably not without reason : “ It is odds, if he live long enough, but he is a duke : he is of a fair complexion and has the gravity of a Spaniard, is as cunning as a fox, wise as a serpent, and slippery as an eel.”3
He died in 1716; leaving, by his wife, the Lady Mary Rich, daughter of the first Earl of Holland, —•
1. Duncan, Lord Ormelie.
2. John, second Earl of Breadalbane.
3. The Honorable Colin Campbell, of Ardmaddie.
For this Colin Campbell, who was my great-great-grandfather, I have a far greater respect — with ample reason, I think — than I could ever entertain for that cold-blooded father of his, even if the complicity of the latter in the shocking affair of Glencoe had never been surmised. The son, who was an officer in the Life Guards, seems, indeed, to have had neither the gravity nor the cunning nor the worldly wisdom of his ancestor ; but to have possessed instead, inherited perhaps from his mother, the richer qualities of the heart.
At all events this Colin, true to his pastoral name, fell desperately in love with a Miss Fisher, the handsome daughter of a respectable farmer living on his father’s estate. If he had seduced and deserted her, it would no doubt have been passed over, as a mere peccadillo, to be expected in the career of any young noble of that day. But he committed that unpardonable sin, for which we have no appropriate word — not having yet learned (thank God !) to consider it a sin — but which the French call a mésalliance. So far as one can judge of the facts at this distance of time, he was irregularly but, according to Scottish law, legally married to one whom the old father no doubt contemptuously set down as “ a peasant hussy.” And the culprit the son of one Earl and grandson of another ! Very shocking, of course !
The young officer tried to obtain the recognition of his bride by his parents ; and when his request was met by a haughty refusal, he left his native country : residing, when off duty, in a French seaport ; and continuing to live with his wife until his death which occurred (at the age of twenty-nine) in 1708. He left one child only, whom its parents named after the grandfather, who persisted in ignoring its existence. Breadalbane died eight years after he lost his youngest son ; but whether he ever repented driving that son into exile to gratify family pride, does not appear.
At a later period the widow and her son brought suit to procure the acknowledgment of the marriage and the recovery of her husband’s property. The terms upon which this suit was finally compromised sufficiently indicate the light in which the Breadalbanes regarded the matter. The family paid over to the claimants thirty thousand pounds ; a sum which, taking into account the difference in the value of money now and then, is to-day the equivalent of three or four hundred thousand dollars. But neither the mother’s name nor the son’s appears in the British Peerage ; and it may probably have been a condition of the compromise that this point should not be pressed. A wise woman, that peasant-ancestress of mine ! She accepted the substantial ; and refrained from insisting on reception by a family who imagined they had a right to look down upon her.
John Campbell — the Cashier, not the Earl — did well in the world. He married Lady Stirling of Glorit ; and when she died without issue, contracted a second marriage with Miss Campbell of Tofts, by whom he had five children. Of these General Colin Campbell, afterwards Lieutenant-Governor of Gibraltar, was one, and my grandmother, Ann Caroline Campbell, another. Upon her seem to have descended the charms which may have led captive the Life Guardsman ; for my grandmother Campbell was noted throughout Scotland as one of the most beautiful women of her day: though she failed, unfortunately, to transmit her fair looks to her grandchildren of the Owen branch.
David Dale’s marriage with this lady was, as I have always heard, a most harmonious union ; and, in every respect save its comparatively brief duration, a happy one. She died when her eldest child, my mother, was but twelve years old ; and upon that child devolved thenceforth the care of a widowed father and four younger sisters; a charge the duties of which she fulfilled with a devotion and prudence beyond her years.
But David Dale himself, and his connection with the marvellous events of his time, are better worth writing about than his wife’s relatives or their fortunes.
George III. succeeded to the British throne in 1760, and it was the lot of that weak sovereign to witness, during his sixty years’ rule, a succession of inventions and discoveries such as was never before crowded into the reign of earthly monarch. They revolutionized the producing powers of man.
Though the expansive force of steam was understood, and even mechanical effects were produced by its agency, before the Christian era, yet when George became king, the steam-engine proper was unknown. Watt was at work upon it in 1765, and patented his invention in 1768-69.
So, again, when George ascended the throne, the foundation of all textile fabrics — that is, thread, whether woollen, cotton, linen or silk — was spun on the single wheel; the same of which the hum is still to be heard in some of the cabins of the West : 4 the spinner, with utmost exertion, producing but a few hanks by a day’s labor. Ere he died that same king, had he passed through his British dominions, might have found nearly half a million engaged, in vast factories, in spinning and manufacturing cotton ; each spinner turning out, on the average, some three hundred times as much yarn as before.
In 1771 the first cotton-mill —a small one, worked by horse-power — was built. Eleven years later Arkwright had four or five thousand persons employed in various mills, though his patents were still contested. He sought partnerships with capitalists ; they furnishing the money and he contributing the right to use his cotton-machinery. In 1782 my grandfather and he had entered into such a partnership ; the waters of the Clyde,5 about thirty miles above Glasgow, to be used as motive-power.
In 1784 a village and several large cotton-mills were completed. The site was a strip of valley-land adjoining the river, about a mile from the ancient town of Lanark : and the entire waters of the Clyde, brought through a rocktunnel a thousand feet long, formed the mill-race.
Then, for the first time, Arkwright (not yet Sir Richard) came to Scotland, to visit the new manufactory. Taking a post-chaise from Glasgow, Mr. Dale and he reached the summit of a hill which commanded a view of the village, and on the gentle slope of which were laid out small garden spots, separated by gravel paths. It was a fine summer evening. Getting out of the carriage Mr. Dale led his partner to a favorable point, whence could be seen not only the entire establishment, including the vast factory buildings, the mechanics’ shops, the school-house, and the rows of stone dwellings for the work-people, but also the picturesque river winding its way below the mills between abrupt walls of shrub-covered rocks, the landscape bounded by a beautiful champaign country stretching out on the other bank. Well do I remember the scene!
“ How does it suit you ? ” my grandfather asked at length.
Arkwright scanned the whole with a critical business eye for some time before he answered ; “ Capital ! That site was selected with great judgment.”
“ You like the way the streets are laid out and the mill-buildings placed?”
“Very well, — could n’t be better.”
“ Each family in the village has one of these garden patches.”
“ A very good idea.”
“ We had to tunnel the rock for a long distance at a heavy expense; but we gained a fall of twenty-six or twentyeight feet.”
“ It ’s a spot in a thousand,” cried Arkwright. “ Might have been made on purpose.”
“ I’m glad you like it.”
“ I do, very much.” Then, after another long look over the village and all its surroundings, he added, pointing to a wooden cupola within which the factory bell was hung: “But that ugly steeple — or whatever it is — what made you put it off at the end of the building ? ”
“ Why, where would you have had it ? ”
“ Over the middle of the mill, of course.”
“ I don’t see any 1 of course ’ about it. It’s just right where it is.”
“ You think so ? ” asked Arkwright.
“ To be sure I do, or I wouldn’t have put it there.”
“ Well, you ’ve a curious idea of things. I ’d like to hear a single good reason for having the thing stuck on to the end of that mill, the way you’ve got it.”
“ If a man’s so blind he can’t see that was the proper place, it is na worth while finding him reasons for it.”
“ Blind ! A man with half an eye might have seen better. I don’t care to argue with a man that has n’t more common sense.”
This was too much for my grandfather. “ Arkwright,” said he, “ I don’t care to have a man for a partner who would get stirred up anent such a trifle, and talk such nonsense about it too,”
“ Neither do I. So there’s one thing we do agree about. I ’m ready to sell out to you to-night.”
“ Good ! Let’s get into the carriage and I ’ll show you all over the place. Then we ’ll go back to the auld town ” (so Lanark was usually called), “get something to eat and a glass of toddy,” — (my grandfather was a strictly temperate man, but no Scotchman in those days thought an occasional glass of Highland whiskey toddy an offence against temperance),— “and I daresay we can hit it off atween us.”
That evening Richard Arkwright and David Dale dissolved partnership, the latter remaining sole proprietor of the village and mills of New Lanark.6
If such an issue in so important a matter seem strange, it was yet natural enough in the case of men born and circumstanced as these men had been. Successful smugglers both, through difficulty and opposition up to great success, accustomed as both had been, from their youth, to take their own way and to find that way the fortunate one, they had become unused to contradiction. Men of strong, untrained energy, they had grown to be self-willed even in petty things.
Their success in life, however, was not wholly due to character and abilities. The lines had fallen to them in wondrous places. They were pioneer workers in the richest mine ever opened to human enterprise. It had not entered into the heart of man to conceive the physical results that were to follow a contrivance simple almost to commonplace : consisting, substantially, in the substitution of rollers, driven by machinery, for the human hand. That invention determined the fate of nations. Coupled with the modern application of steam, it was mainly instrumental in deciding the giant struggle between England and the first Napoleon.
The soft fleece of the cotton-plant is peculiar in character. When freed from seeds and impurities, its fine, strong fibres slip past each other readily, and can, with facility, be arranged so as to lie in parallel lines. In the earliest days the Hindoo, holding in his left hand a staff around one end of which was wrapped a portion of the vegetable fleece, drew out, with forefinger and thumb moist and delicate, and then deftly twisted, the thread. After tens of centuries Arkwright substituted, for human forefinger and thumb, two sets of rollers, revolving with unequal velocity : the lower roller of each pair fluted longitudinally, the upper covered with leather. This gave them a sufficient hold of the cotton as it passed between them.
The space between the two pairs of rollers was made somewhat greater than the length of the cotton fibre. The back pair, which received the cotton in the form of a band or ribbon, revolved much more slowly than the front pair, which delivered it. The effect was that, at the moment when this cotton ribbon was released from the grasp of the back pair of rollers, the front pair, because of their greater velocity, exerted upon it a slight, steady pull. The result of this was twofold : first to straighten out the fibres left crooked or double in the carding; secondly, to elongate the line of cotton presented to the action of these rollers, and thus diminish its calibre. In other words, the front pair of rollers drew the cotton out, as the finger and thumb, pulling on the contents of the distaff, had done ; but with far more rapidity and regularity than human fingers ever attained. This process was repeated through three machines, and the cotton band was thus reduced in thickness by successive attenuations, and was then loosely twisted in long, cylindrical, revolving cans ; (made into rovings, the mill-phrase was). By the front rollers of the last of these machines, usually called a throstle-frame, the cotton-cord was drawn out to the calibre or fineness of the thread to be produced ; and underneath these rollers were stationary spindles (revolving with much greater velocity than the spindle of the cottager’s wheel had done) on which the hard-twisted thread was finally wound.7
In this way, by an expedient so simple that a child may, at a glance, comprehend its operation, each set of four rollers, thus arranged in pairs, took the place of a human being ; the metallic fingers, however, working much faster than those of flesh had done. The inanimate spinner, set in his frame, with a hundred other similar workmen ranged in rank beside him, turned out in a day several times the length of thread which the most diligent housewife, toiling at her solitary spinningwheel from morning till night, had been able to produce.
And each company of these automata had, for its leader or captain, not an adult, female or male, but a child, perhaps ten or twelve years old. The urchin learned to direct the ranks of his subordinates with unfailing skill. He noted their short-comings, corrected their blunders, supplied their deficiencies. If some thick, rough portion of yarn escaped the iron lips, he caught and excluded it. If one of his automata suffered a thread to break, the child’s quick eye detected it, and his deft fingers mended it (pieced it, as the mill-phrase was) on the instant.
Thus a tiny superintendent, boy or girl, took the place of a multitude of adult work-people. Myself at the age of twenty-three superintending a manufacturing establishment where some fifteen hundred operatives were employed, I had a thousand opportunities to witness the skill and fidelity with which these child-rulers acquitted themselves. I found that each one of them, aided by the magical rollers, was even then producing as much, in any given time, as two hundred cottagespinners had done before Arkwright’s day.
It need hardly be said that, during the first years of such an industrial revolution, the profits, in large establishments, after making allowance for imperfect machinery and other accidents incident to every new scheme, were very great. The prices then obtained seem to us now incredible. Yarn, of a quality which in 1815 was sold for three shillings a pound, brought, in the infancy of the manufacture, as high as thirty shillings. The “ British mulled muslins ” which, when first manufactured were eagerly bought up by the rich at two dollars and a half a yard, are now offered to the poor — of less durable quality however — for six cents a yard!
The population of New Lanark in 1784 was upwards of seventeen hundred, of whom several hundred were orphan children, from seven to twelve years of age ; these being procured from the poor-houses of various parishes. It was, I believe, the largest cotton-spinning establishment at that time in Great Britain ; employing about a thousand work-people. The orphan children were comfortably cared for, and but moderately worked ; and they attended evening-school after the labor of the day was over.
Because the yarn made on the throstle-frame had a much harder twist than it had been possible to give it by the treadle of the old spinning-wheel, it was found that it could be fitly used for warp, for which, up to Arkwright’s time, the weaver had been compelled to employ linen thread alone. This was a great advance.
I pass over the question whether thread-making by two sets of rollers was, originally, Arkwright’s invention. We know that it was he who first brought that wonderful adaptation into practical operation.
My grandfather remained sole proprietor for thirteen years ; that is, until 1797. He sought to make money, of course, as all business men do ; but, according to the testimony of his contemporaries, he was not willing to do so at expense of the comfort of his work-people. Many of the manufacturers of that day, urged by the dazzling prospect of fabulous profits, became cruel taskmasters ; demanding from children exertions which even from adults ought never to have been exacted. But David Dale was not one of those who, for gain, lay upon their fellows burdens grievous and heavy to be borne. A tourist, visiting New Lanark in 1796, thus describes its condition : —
“ Mr. Dale deserves well of his country, dispensing happiness and comfort to many of his fellow-creatures by his attention not only to their health but to their morals ; training them up in habits of industry, instructing them in the necessary branches of education, and instilling into their minds a knowledge of the important truths of Christianity. Four hundred children are entirely fed, clothed and instructed at the expense of this venerable philanthropist. The rest live with their parents in neat comfortable habitations, receiving wages for their labor. The health and happiness depicted on the countenances of these children show that the proprietor of the Lanark Mills has remembered mercy in the midst of gain. The regulations here to preserve health of body and mind present a striking contrast to those of most large manufactories in this kingdom, the very hotbeds of disease and contagion. It is a truth that ought to be engraved in letters of gold, to the eternal honor of the founder of New Lanark, that out of nearly three thousand children who have been at work in these mills throughout a period of twelve years, only fourteen have died and not one has suffered criminal punishment.”8
The character of the man is well illustrated by an incident which occurred I know not at what precise date, but some years after the New Lanark mills were in full operation, and when their owner already saw what a large fortune he was reaping from Arkwright’s patent. One of the principal factory buildings was destroyed by fire, throwing some two hundred and fifty persons out of employment. As soon as the news reached Mr. Dale at Glasgow where he then was, he hastened to the spot and found the work-people lamenting their hard fate, and expecting to be turned adrift at once. He caused them to assemble in the principal school-room, and when he rose to speak many of them shed tears. After pausing to control his own emotion, he said, — the Scottish idiom mixing in, as it always did in familiar talk with his own countrymen, especially when much moved, —
“Dinna greet my children. You’ve helped me to muckle siller by your labor ; and I can weel afford to spend some of it in taking care of you till that mill’s built up and started. You shall bide where you are till then. I ’ll employ as many of you as I can in clearing off the rubbish and other jobs. But I ’ll pay you all the same wages you ’ve had till now. And be gude bairns till ye can go to work again. The Deil finds mischief, ye ken, for idle hands to do.”
It was long ere the mill was rebuilt and refitted; for the construction of the new machinery, in those days, was a very tedious process, the demand exceeding the supply. Between twenty and thirty thousand dollars were expended before the people were again at work. I can well understand how the villagers, even in my day, had preserved the memory of my grandfather’s very words, and were wont to speak of “ gude David Dale ” as the best man the sun ever shone upon.
From my father’s autobiography we learn that Mr. Dale was very religious, being at the head of a sect of “Independents ” ; that he had charge of about forty churches in different parts of Scotland, and preached every Sunday to his congregation in Glasgow.9 These Independents were an order of Presbyterians who, conscientiously believing that the Word of God should be taught to men without money and without price, gave their pastors no salary nor other remuneration. Their preachers, in consequence, followed secular occupations ; some, like my grandfather, being merchants or manufacturers ; some, members of various professions ; while others, in humbler position, labored, like Paul, with their hands. But after my grandfather’s death the sect over which he had presided fell off; the doctrine embodied in a well-known text prevailing in spiritual matters ; namely that “ the laborer is worthy of his hire.”
Strict Presbyterianism was my grandfather’s belief, to the day of his death. But the abundant geniality of the man saved him from the intolerance, and the harshness toward offenders, which often ally themselves with such a creed. My father, who knew him intimately for years, and who was himself, even then, outspoken in his heresies, testifies to his father-in-law’s unfailing good temper. He says : “ Mr. Dale was one of the most liberal, conscientious, benevolent, and kind-hearted men I ever met with through my life : one universally respected for his simplicity and straightforward honesty of character..... From my marriage to his
death he and I never exchanged one unpleasant expression or unkind word. Yet our religious opinions were widely different, and we distinctly knew this difference.” 10 My father mentions, also, that Mr. Dale was wont to close their frequent discussions kindly and affectionately, with some such expression as, “ Thou needest be very right, for thou art very positive,” — which was doubtless quite true.
A trifling tradition, current in the family, illustrates his good-natured mode of dealing with sinners. Passing down the garden behind his house in Charlotte Street, early one morning, he discovered, crouched behind a large gooseberry-bush, a man with a bag evidently half filled with what in that country is a favorite fruit. Mr. Dale stepped quietly up to him, laid his hand on his shoulder, and — adopting a friendly Scottish mode of address toward one of inferior rank — asked: “ Honest man, what are ye aboot there ? ” The culprit, confounded, stammered out some apology about his being very hungry, to which my grandfather replied : “ Aweel, tak the berries and gang yer way ; but think o’ yer soul, man, and steal nae mair.” A lad, who chanced to be in the vicinity, overheard and repeated this conversation ; and, when the story got wind, David Dale’s notion of an “ honest man ” excited many a smile among the friends who loved him.
Like most of his countrymen he had a quick sense of the ludicrous, and keenly enjoyed a joke, even at his own expense. One fine winter morning — being then advanced in years and having become quite corpulent, especially around the waist — he appeared, in his business office in St. Andrew’s Square, his clothes bespattered with snow.
“ Hae the bairns been snowballing ye, Mr. Dale?” laughingly asked an old friend who had been awaiting his arrival.
“ Hoot no,” replied my grandfather ; “but it’s slippery, and I just fell doon on the sma’” (small) “of my back.”
“ Weel, that’s news to me, auld friend,” rejoined the other ; “ I never kenned afore that ye had a sma1 to yer back.”
When my grandfather came home to the family dinner, that day, he repeated the jest with great glee.
He was generous to the poor, almost to a fault ; “giving away,” my father says, “large sums, often in mistaken charities.”11 My mother estimated that he must have expended for benevolent purposes, in the course of his life, more than a hundred thousand dollars.
Such a man — rich but open-handed, determined yet tender, sturdily upright but merciful to those who went astray, eminently religious yet feeling kindly toward those who differed from him in opinion, simple, humorous, familiar with all, high and low — was just the character to be appreciated by his countrymen. There were more distinguished men in Scotland, toward the close of the last century, than David Dale ; but not one, perhaps, more generally lovedHis townsmen mourned his death, which occurred in 1806, as a public calamity ; and every shop in Glasgow was closed on the day of his funeral.
That funeral is, of all my childish recollections, one of the earliest and most distinct. I was then between four and five years old, for 1 was born November 7, 1801 ; and, as usually happens as to events dating from such an age, things important and unimportant retain their places with equal persistence. The coming from the tailor’s of a suit of black, the unprecedented fact that I was hurriedly dressed in it the moment it arrived ; the stream of visitors, the unexampled stir in the house and the vast assemblage around it; the show, the carriages and the interminable procession ; the long walk, with my hand in my father’s, just behind the hearse ; the crowds along every street as we passed on,—all remain vividly stamped on my memory, as if of yesterday. A more dim reminiscence is of my grandfather himself: his gold-headed cane ; his portly form filling the large easy-chair; then the hand on my head and the face lighted up with kindness, — the nicest face, I thought, in the world, — that always welcomed me when I was brought to see him and talk with him in the parlor after dinner.
The next event that comes in lifelike traits before me, dating about a year later, is a visit to Rosebank, my grandfather’s country-seat on the banks of the Clyde, some four miles above Glasgow. It was occupied, at that time, by four maiden aunts, who vied with each other in efforts to spoil their eldest nephew, — not without success.
The sky-born charm that hallows certain familiar spots is a current phrase, not always meaning much. But the strange glamour under which my young eyes regarded what then seemed veritable fairy-land — the quaint old-fashioned mansion, with its honeysuckle-shaded porch, its pointed gables, its dormer-windows, the sunk area that surrounded it like a moat, its unexpected nooks and corners, and its perfume of mignonette from boxes set in window-sills ; then the marvellous garden in front, with its succession of terraces, its gigantic evergreen-hedges, its enigmatical sundial, its wonderful bowling-green, and its wilderness of roses with a thousand unknown flowers beside ; again, off to the left, the long, dim, pleached avenue of venerable beeches, with a ha-ha stone fence on one side whence a spacious lawn swept down to the river-bank ; then, farther off beyond the garden, a mysteriouslyshaded winding road that led down, through a dark alley, to another part of the Clyde—the inexplicable glamour, I say, which invested all this made the place, for me, an abode of bliss apart from the real world : its trees, its flowers, its mystical paths, all its accessories and its surroundings, like none other upon earth ; instinct with vague fancies, feelings, obscure emotions, the like of which I may realize in the next world, but have never found since, in this.
There was, too, an element of wonder, rising to awe, that intervened among gentler excitements. A mile or more distant and on the opposite side of the river loomed up the “ Clyde Iron Works,” a large establishment with extensive foundries and rolling-mills. Its fires never went out ; and the red flames that shot from its tall chimneys lit up, with lurid glare, the night landscape. I had never seen, or heard of, anything like it ; I had no distinct idea what was going on there ; and, when I gazed on it through the darkness, the scene called up the pictures, which my good mother had deemed it her duty to set before me, of a burning hell. Fancy peopled its mysterious regions of fire and smoke with grim, swart, unearthly figures, like the demons I had been told of, as inhabiting the Brimstone Lake.
But these visions vanished when day dawned on my fairy-world. All was rose-hued then.
What influence a brief episode in my life at Rosebank may have had in coloring its day-dreams I cannot tell; nor whether the incident itself was due to impulses inherited, in somewhat precocious phase, from my ancestor, the Life Guardsman. I had wandered off alone, one sunny day, into the shady Beach Walk, some distance from the house. There I met a certain little maid, a stray from a neighboring farm-house, (five past, she told me, her last birthday,) very neatly dressed in tartan, and, to my thinking, the prettiest creature my eyes had ever seen. We were soon well acquainted, walking up and down the ancient avenue, as older lovers no doubt had done before usAfter a time it occurred to us that we might be intruded on in so public a place. Just back of the Beach Walk was a tall, thick hawthorn hedge in which we found a gap large enough for a Newfoundland dog to creep through. This admitted us to a meadow in which the grass was nearly as high as our heads, and there we found a charming resting-place where, day after day, we used to spend hours together ; terribly afraid, at first, of being found out ; but finally gaining confidence in the verdant screen that sheltered us.
If we had been readers of Campbell, we might have called to mind that description of his (carped at by Byron in one of his cynical moods) touching a sequestered spot “ where transport and security entwine ” ; but I am not sure whether, at that time, the lines were written. My little love was somewhat coy at first ; but after we had faithfully promised each other that we would be married as soon as we “ grew big,” we came to an excellent understanding, and had long talks about the sort of house we were to have built, and the nice time we were to have in it together, when it was finished.
Our nest was never discovered ; and the birds singing in the fragrant hedge near by were not more blithe-hearted than we. Our love was warm and honest ; and so were the tears we shed when at last, after a few weeks, — altogether too short weeks they were, — our prospects of domestic happiness were broken in upon, and I had to leave my land of enchantment for the work-aday world at New Lanark, — or rather at Braxfield, for that was then my fathers residence.
Robert Owen, born in Newtown, North Wales, in 1771, was, like my grandfather, a self-made man. His specific plans, as a Social Reformer, proved on the whole and for the time a failure ; and this, for lack of cultivated judgment and critical research, and of accurate knowledge touching what men had thought and done before his time ; also because be strangely overrated the ratio of human progress ; but more especially perhaps because, until late in life, he ignored the spiritual element in man as the great lever of civilized advancement. Yet with such earnestness, such vigor, such indomitable perseverance, and such devotion and love for his race did he press, throughout half a century, these plans on the public, and so much practical truth was there, mixed with visionary expectation, that his name became known, and the influence of his teachings has been more or less felt, over the civilized world. A failure in gross has been attended by sterling incidental successes ; and toward the great idea of co-operation — quite impracticable, for the present at least, in the form he conceived it — there have been, even since his death, very considerable advances made, and generally recognized by earnest men as eminently useful and important.
His father, also named Robert Owen, seems originally to have been what used to be called a man of substance ; but having lost in a lawsuit — as he believed through bribery of the lawyer he employed — an estate worth five hundred pounds a year,12 he afterwards made a modest living in the saddlery and ironmongery business. Of his ancestors I know nothing save what my father has vaguely left on record in his Autobiography. He tells us that, at the age of nine, he was the daily companion of a young gentleman, ten years older than himself, Mr. James Donne, then studying at Oxford or Cambridge, for the church. The theological student afterwards became Dr. Donne of Oswestry, well known and highly respected for his learning and research. In 1817, when all England was stirred up by my father’s public speeches to thousands at the City of London Tavern, Dr. Donne wrote to him stating that, in the course of his genealogical studies, he had traced my father’s pedigree, in regular descent, from the native princes of North Wales, and offering to send him particulars.13 My father, at that time engrossed by the exciting delusion that he was about suddenly to revolutionize society and reform the world, “ cared,” Gallio-like, “ for none of these things,” and overlooked the friendly offer. If the Doctor ever sent him a chart of the family tree, the matter has not come to my knowledge.
At the age of ten, his travelling expenses paid and ten dollars in his pocket, Robert Owen found himself in London whither he had been sent, to the care of an elder brother, to “ push his fortune.” Six weeks afterwards he obtained a situation as shopboy with an honest, kind Scotchman, Mr. James McGuffog, a linen-draper of Stamford, Lincolnshire, where he remained four years ; the first year for board and lodging only ; afterwards with a salary added, of eight pounds the second year and a gradual increase thereafter, — an independence for the child, who thenceforth maintained himself. The labor was moderate, averaging eight hours a day. McGuffog was childless ; but he adopted a niece, two years younger than his Welsh apprentice; and between the two children there grew up a warm friendship. When my father finally decided, at fourteen years of age, to return to London, he and the family parted with mutual regrets.
He then became salesman in the long - established haberdashery-house of Flint and Palmer, on Old London Bridge. There he had twenty-five pounds a year, with board and lodging ; but he was occupied often till one or two o’clock in the morning, arranging and replacing goods, so that he was scarcely able to crawl, by aid of the balusters, up to bed. The details of the morning toilet I give in his own words : “ We were up, had breakfast, and were dressed to receive customers at eight ; and dressing then was no slight affair. Boy as I was, I had to wait my turn for the hairdresser to powder and pomatum and curl my hair, — two large curls on each side and a stiff pigtail, —and until all this was nicely done, no one thought of presenting himself behind the counter.”14
And, in the original, the concluding sentiment is: “And the glory of our Prince’s wide-wasting sword shall be celebrated in a hundred languages, to give him praise.”
Gwyneth is the ancient name for North Wales. Owen succeeded his father, Griffith ap Cynan, in the principality of North Wales, A. D. 1137.
He endured this ceremonious slavery for half a year ; then found another, easier situation, and a larger salary with Mr. Satterfield in Manchester, which he kept for four years and until he was between eighteen and nineteen.
His life, so far, had been passed entirely in subordinate positions ; in which, however, he acquired habits of regulated industry, strict order, and persistent attention to business.
For a few months after this he was in partnership with a Mr. Jones, manufacturing cotton machinery. While thus engaged, he received a cordial letter from his former master, McGuffog, now become old and wealthy, with a proposal, if Owen would join him in business, to supply all the capital and give him half the profits at once ; and with the further intimation that he would surrender the entire establishment to him in a few years. It appears that the niece had conceived a childish attachment to her playmate, though the object of her affection did not discover that she had, till many years afterwards ; and, perhaps, a knowledge of this may have influenced the uncle. “ If I had accepted,” says my father in his Autobiography, “ I should most likely have married the niece, and lived and died a rich Stamford linen-draper.” Why, then, only nineteen years old, he refused an offer in every way so eligible, does not appear. If, as is probable, he then expected large profits from his present enterprise, he soon discovered his mistake ; separating from his partner, in whom he had lost confidence, after a few months, and taking, as his share of stock, three mule-machines only.
With these, however, he did well; engaging three men to work them and superintending the business himself. He bought rovings at twelve shillings a pound and sold them, spun into thread, for twenty-two shillings ; thus gaining two dollars on each pound of yarn he turned out. At these rates the profits soon ran up to thirty dollars a week ; a fact which lets one into the secret of the enormous fortunes then made in this business.
Some months passed, when one Monday morning he read an advertisement by a Mr. Drinkwater, a wealthy merchant and manufacturer, for a factory manager. A sudden impulse induced him to present himself, an applicant for the place.
“You are too young,” was Mr. Drinkwater’s curt objection.
“ They used to object to me,” said my father, “ on that score four or five years ago ; but I did not expect to have it brought up now.”
“ Why, what age are you ? ”
“ I shall be twenty in May next.”
“ How often do you get drunk in the week ? ”
My father blushed scarlet. “ I never,” he said indignantly, “ was drunk in my life.”
This seemed to produce a good impression. The next question was: “ What salary do you ask ? ”
“ Three hundred a year ” (that is, three hundred pounds ; as much as from two to three thousand dollars to-day).
“ Three hundred a year ! Why, I ’ve had I don’t know how many after the place here, this morning; and all their askings together would n’t come up to what you want.”
“ Whatever others may ask, I cannot take less. I am making three hundred a year by my own business.”
“ Can you prove that to me ? ”
“ Certainly. My books will show.”
“ I ’ll go with you, and you shall let me see them.”
He inspected them, was so far satisfied ; and then my father referred him to Satterfield, McGuffog, and Flint and Palmer.
Ten days later Robert Owen was installed manager of what went by the name of the “ Bank Top Mill.” A raw youth, whose entire experience in the operations of cotton-spinning was limited to the running of three mules, — who had never entered a large factory in his life, — found himself suddenly at the head of five hundred work-people. It might conceal his first blunders, but in reality it added to the difficulty of the position, that Mr. Lee, the working partner and a practical cotton-spinner, had just formed another business connection and deserted Mr. Drinkwater, who, though an experienced fustian manufacturer and a successful importing merchant, knew nothing practically of the new manufacture then coming into vogue.
It was the turning-point in my father’s fortunes. There is not, probably, one young man in a thousand, coming suddenly to a charge so arduous and for which no previous training had fitted him, who would not have miscarried, and been dismissed ere a month had passed. But Robert Owen had received from nature rare administrative capacity, large human sympathy, and a winning way with those he employed. For six weeks, he tells us, he went about the factory, looking grave ; saying little, but silently inspecting everything; answering requests for instructions as laconically as possible, and giving no direct order in all that time ; at night studying Mr. Lee’s notes and drawings of machinery. Then he took the reins, and so managed matters that, in six months there was not, in Manchester, a more orderly or better disciplined factory. He had gained the good-will of employer and work-people ; and had greatly improved the quality and reputation of the Bank Top yarn. He had also become an excellent judge of cotton ; and, early in 1791, he bought, from a Mr. Robert Spear, the two first bags of American Sea Island cotton ever imported into England.
Then, one day, Mr. Drinkwater sent for him to his country residence. He describes his feelings when he received the unexpected invitation. “An illeducated, awkward youth,” he calls himself; “ alive to his defects of education ; speaking ungrammatically a sort of Welsh - English ; sensitive among strangers and dissatisfied with his own speaking and acting when in company: then also painfully subject to blushing which no effort of his could prevent.”15 (His eldest son, Robert Dale, inherited in full both bashfulness and ungovernable blushing ; but I have bravely got over the first ; and though I have not lost the habit of blushing, it is in moderation and no longer with painful consciousness.)
Mr. Drinkwater had an offer to make to his young manager, — a salary of four hundred pounds for the second year, five hundred for the third ; after that, a partnership with himself and his two sons, with a fourth of the profits. It was gratefully accepted, and the contract signed ere they parted.
It was during the period of this contract that my father, boarding in Brazen Nose Street, Manchester, at the same house as Robert Fulton, of steamboat celebrity, became intimate with that inventor, then much straitened for means. He advanced to Fulton, at various times, to aid the “ project of running boats independent of locks,” the sum of a hundred and seventy pounds. Of this the other repaid him sixty pounds in 1797 ; but was never able to acquit the remainder of the debt.
The contract with Drinkwater was never fulfilled. Before the third year closed there was a new son-in-law, who wished to take my father’s place as partner. Mr. Drinkwater offered any salary that my father might name as manager, if the partnership was waived. In reply my father, who had his contract with him, thrust it into the fire, saying: “ I desire no partnership in any case where it is unwelcome ; but I decline to continue manager.” And all Mr. Drinkwater could obtain from him was a promise to remain till some one else could be found to fill his place.
But by this time my father’s name was up as one of the best fine-cotton spinners in England, and offers of partnership flowed in upon him. He finally connected himself, in the spring of 1797, with two rich and long-established firms, Borrodaile and Atkinson of London and the Bartons of Manchester, under the name of the “ Chorlton Twist Company.” Soon after, business took him to Scotland ; and there, both as regards his domestic life and his future career, public and private, he met his fate.
A sister of the Robert Spear above mentioned happened, at that time, to be on a visit to my grandfather; and my father, walking near the Cross of Glasgow one day, met and recognized her. She introduced him to a young lady who was with her, Miss Ann Caroline Dale, David Dale’s eldest daughter; and, turning, he walked with the ladies some distance. Miss Dale and the young cotton-spinner seem to have been mutually attracted from the first. She offered him an introduction to her uncle, then manager of her father’s establishment at New Lanark ; suggesting, at the same time, that the Falls of Clyde, a mile or two beyond the mills, were well worth seeing. The offer was eagerly accepted, and the lady then added that, when he had made the trip, she would be glad to hear from him how he liked it.
Of course he called, on his return to Glasgow, to render thanks for her kindness. Fortune favored the young people. Mr. Dale was absent; the morning was fine ; a walk in the “ Green ” (the park of Glasgow) was proposed, and my father accompanied Miss Dale and her sisters to the banks of the Clyde. The young lady dropped a hint — not quite as broad as Desdemona’s — that they would probably be walking there early next day.
But “on this hint” my father, less adventurous than Othello, spake not. He joined the party, indeed ; but the day after he returned to his snug bachelor quarters at a country-house called Greenheys, near Manchester.
The standing and reputation of David Dale dismayed him : not alone his wealth, his eminence as a manufacturer, his prominence as a popular preacher and bounteous philanthropist, his position as chief of the two directors, in the Glasgow branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland ; but, more than these, his former station as one of the magistrates of Glasgow.
We of America are unfavorably situated, at this day, to appreciate the exalted respect with which the magistrates of Scotland’s chief cities were then regarded ; and which, to a great extent, they have retained till now. During a week which I spent, in 1859, with Robert Chambers, the well-known author and publisher, at his Edinburgh residence, I questioned him closely as to the manner in which the municipal affairs of the city were conducted. His replies surprised me. “ I have never,” he said, “ heard even a suspicion whispered, affecting the unblemished integrity of our city magistrates. There is not a man who would dare approach one of them with any offer or suggestion touching official action inconsistent with the strictest honor. He would know that, if he did, he might expect to have a servant rung for, and bidden to show him into the street.”
“ And the contracts,” I asked, “by the City Councils, as for building, street alterations, and the like, — how are they managed ? ”
“With better judgment and more economy, it is generally admitted, than the average of contracts by private individuals.”
“ Who are these incorruptible men ? What are their antecedents ? ”
“ Usually gentlemen who have made large fortunes here ; eminent merchants or manufacturers or others who have retired, perhaps, from active business, and who consider it the crowning glory of their lives to take place among the magistracy of Edinburgh.”
I must have smiled sadly, I suppose, for Chambers asked : “ You are thinking of New York and some others of your own cities, with their universal suffrage ? ”
“ Yes. ”
But my father was thinking of a Glasgow magistrate, such as held office toward the close of the last century ; and he despaired of winning the great man’s daughter. Nor is it likely that he would have seriously attempted the citadel, had it not been betrayed by the sympathetic imprudence of one of its fair allies.
Miss Spear, probably taking compassion on my father’s lonely condition, told tales out of school.
“ I could let you into a secret worth knowing,” she said to him one day ; “ I don’t think I ought to tell it, but it would make you very happy.”
Of course my father earnestly begged to be made happy, and solemnly promised to make no improper use of what might be revealed.
Then it came out that, when my father, the first time he walked with Miss Spear and her Scotch friend, had parted from them, Miss Dale had made special inquiry as to who and what that Englishman was ; and that, when her curiosity was satisfied, she had confessed to her friend, after a pause: “Well, I don’t know how it is; but, it seems to me, if I ever marry, that is to be the man.”
This breach of confidence by Miss Spear caused a third visit to Glasgow and more walks on the Green. After a while the younger sisters — discreet girls ! — got into the way of straying off and giving my father a chance. The great life-question was put, and the lady answered, like a dutiful child: “ You must get my father’s consent, or you can never have mine”; adding, however, like a dear, frank girl as she was : “ I daresay he won't agree ; and if he does n’t, I do not intend to marry at all.”
I should be ashamed of my father, if he had not found some way out of this difficulty. But he was equal to the occasion. He had heard a vague report about the Lanark mills being for sale, and he resolved to make that a pretext for calling on the old gentleman. When he asked Mr. Dale’s terms, the reply was : “ Why, you don’t want to buy them. You ’re too young.”
“ But I ’m in partnership with older men who have capital enough. We are cotton-spinners ourselves.”
“ Have you seen New Lanark ? ”
My father said he had taken a cursory view of it.
“ Well, have a good look at it; see your partners, and bring them to me if they want to buy.”
My father thought this was a put-off; but as Mr. Dale gave him a letter authorizing him to examine every part of the works, he posted to New Lanark at once, went over the mills and workshops thoroughly, and came to the conclusion (perhaps thinking of Miss Dale the while) that the property was a desirable purchase.
On his return to Manchester he brought over his partners to his views, and persuaded two of them to return with him to Glasgow. After brief negotiation, they purchased the entire establishment for sixty thousand pounds. This was in the summer of 1797.
The outworks were carried, but still the garrison held out. Miss Ann had spoken to her father of the suitor who had won her heart. But David Dale, like many of his countrymen, had his prejudices against the English (shared by his grandson Robert in the nursery, and for years after) as the oppressors of their northern neighbors and the murderers of William Wallace. He felt disposed to resent the attempt of a land-louper (foreign interloper) to carry off one of his daughters. So the lady wrote to her lover saying that he would have to resign her, and advising him to look for a better wife in England. Later, when they met at New Lanark, she repeated to him the assurance that, as her father held out against their union, she should never marry.
But my father, as might be expected in a character so strongly stamped as his with perseverance, had no idea of condemning his ladye-love to a life of celibacy. Two years brought great changes. A Mr. Scott Moncrief, codirector with my grandfather in the Royal Bank, and his wife were won over by the young couple to their interests. The lover had frequently to meet Mr. Dale on business, and took pains to please him ; the young lady adhered to her resolution, refusing several eligible offers ; and the father was indulgent, calling to mind what a faithful little housekeeper his daughter had been to him. And so it was brought about that, on the 30th of September, 1799, Miss Dale became Mrs. Robert Owen.
The Rev. Mr. Balfour, of the Scottish kirk, officiated. He bade the bride and bridegroom stand up, and asked them, respectively, if they took each other as husband and wife. They nodded assent, and he added : “ Then you’re married; you may take your seats.” When my father expressed his surprise, Mr. Balfour replied : “ I usually explain to the young couple the duties of married life ; but with Mr. Dale present, and to his children, I could not presume to do what he doubtless has already, and much better, done.” Surely a modest and sensible speech.
For a few months my father remained manager of the Chorlton Mills. Then his partners wished him to take charge of New Lanark ; which he did, at the commencement of the present century, — about the first of January, 1800.
At first, the newly-married couple spent their winters in Charlotte Street, and their summers in a cottage, with garden attached, near the centre of New Lanark. But, after a few years, my father took a long lease of Braxfield, a country-seat about a quarter of a mile from the village, belonging to Lord Braxfield, a judge of the Supreme Court of Scotland.
And thus it happened that it was to Braxfield House I returned, when I had taken leave of my indulgent aunts, and of that charming little country maiden at Rosebank.
Robert Dale Owen.
Owen swift and Owen strong ;
Fairest flower of Roderic’s stem,
Gwyneth’s shield and Britain’s gem.
Lord of every regal art.
Liberal hand and open heart.”
Backward Meinai rolls his flood ;
While heaped, his master’s feet around,
Prostrate warriors gnaw the ground.
- Douglas, Peerage of Scotland, p. 238.↩
- Douglas, Peerage of Scotland, p. 230.↩
- Macky’s Memoirs, p. 199.↩
- The ancient emblems of female industry, the distaff and spindle, have been in use certainly more than three thousand years. At what period these were superseded in India by the spinning-wheel is not on record : but four hundred years ago the spinning-wheel was unknown in Europe, having been first used by English workmen in the reign of Henry VIII. For thirty centuries (and how many more we know not) the invention of the world found nothing better wherewith to manufacture thread than a small wooden wheel impelled by the foot on a treadle, and giving motion by a cord or belt to a single spindle. And now! A century since it would have required the manual labor of one third the population of the world to supply as much cotton yarn as is turned out to-day by the cotton-mills of Great Britain alone.↩
- The most important river of Scotland, passing by Lanark, Hamilton, Bothwell and Glasgow; and terminating, at Greenoch, in the great estuary known as the Frith of Clyde.↩
- This anecdote, which I have heard many times from my father’s lips, was confirmed to me, in all its essential particulars, by Mr. John Wright, during the visit to him referred to at the commencement of this chapter.↩
- It need hardly be said, except to those who have never entered a cotton factory or read the details of its operations, that, by an antecedent process, the raw cotton, after being cleansed and having its matted locks loosened and opened, and after being passed over cylindrical cards, whence it came out a thin broad sheet, was drawn together, converging into the continuous, soft, untwisted cord, or rather thick ribbon, of which I have above spoken.↩
- Life of Robert Owen. Philadelphia, 1866; pp. 61, 62.↩
- Life of Robert Owen, written by himself. London, 1857 ; p. 71.↩
- Autobiography, pp. 71, 72.↩
- Autobiography, p. 71.↩
- The probable equivalent, in our day, of five thousand dollars’ rental.↩
- I fear the line may have run back to a certain truculent hero, sung by Gray (translating from Gwalchmai, the son of Melir) in the ode beginning : —↩
- The drawback is that this “dragon-son of Mona" was chiefly famed for his “wide-wasting sword”; as the succeeding lines (describing a famous battle gained by him, in 1157, over the combined forces of Iceland, Denmark and Norway) indicate : —↩
- Autobiography, p. 19.↩
- Autobiography, p. 31.↩