The Social Experiment at New Harmony: A Chapter of Autobiography
IN the summer of 1824 there came to Braxfield a gentleman whose visit to us there determined, in great measure, the course of my future life.
Richard Flower, an experienced English agriculturist, possessed of considerable means, had emigrated, some years before, to the United States; and had settled at Albion, in the southeastern part of Illinois, and about twenty-five miles distant from a German village founded by emigrants from the Kingdom of Würtemberg, schismatics of the Lutheran Church, led by their pastor, George Rapp. These people came to America in 1804, settling first on the waters of Conequenessing, Pennsylvania ; afterwards, namely in 1813, on the Lower Wabash River and about fifteen miles from the town of Mount Vernon on the Ohio. There they purchased thirty thousand acres, chiefly government land, and erected a village containing about a hundred and sixty buildings, one half brick or frame, the other half of logs. They held it to be a religious duty to imitate the primitive Christians, who “had all things in common”;1 to conform to St. Paul’s opinion that celibacy is better than marriage ; 2 and desiring also to be, like the early disciples, “ of one heart and of one soul,” 3 they called their little town Harmonie.
Their experiment was a marvellous success in a pecuniary point of view ; for at the time of their immigration their property did not exceed twentyfive dollars a head, while in twenty-one years (to wit, in 1825) a fair estimate gave them two thousand dollars for each person, — man, woman, and child ; probably ten times the average wealth throughout the United States ; for at that time each person in Indiana averaged but a hundred and fifty dollars of property, and even in Massachusetts the average fell short of three hundred dollars for each adult and child. Intellectually and socially, however, it was doubtless a failure ; as an ecclesiastical autocracy, especially when it contravenes an important law of nature, must eventually be. Rapp was absolute ruler, assuming to be such in virtue of a divine call ; and it was said, probably with truth, that he desired to sell out at Harmonie because life there was getting to be easy and quiet, with leisure for thought; and because he found it difficult to keep his people in order, except during the bustle and hard work which attend a new settlement. At all events, he commissioned Mr. Flower to offer the entire Harmony property for sale.
The offer tempted my father. Here was a village ready built, a territory capable of supporting tens of thousands in a country where the expression of thought was free, and where the people were unsophisticated. I listened with delight to Mr. Flower’s account of a frontier life ; and when, one morning, my father asked me, “Well, Robert, what say you, — New Lanark or Harmony ? ” I answered, without hesitation, “ Harmony.” Aside from the romance and the novelty, I think one prompting motive was, that, if our family settled in Western America, it would facilitate my marriage with Jessie.
Mr. Flower could not conceal from us his amazement, saying to me, I remember, “ Does your father really think of giving up a position like his, with every comfort and luxury, and taking his family to the wild life of the far West ? ” He did not know that my father’s one ruling desire was for a vast theatre on which to try his plans of social reform. Robert Owen thought he had found one ; crossed the Atlantic (taking my brother William with him, and leaving me manager of the mills) in the autumn of 1824; completed, ip April, 1825, the purchase, for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, of the Rapp village and twenty thousand acres of land ; and in the course of the summer some eight hundred people had flocked in, in accordance with a public invitation given by him to “ the industrious and well disposed ” of all nations and creeds. Every dwelling-house was filled.
This purchase, though not judicious merely as a pecuniary investment, seeing that the estate lay in an interior nook of country off any main line of travel, actual or projected, and on a river navigable for steamers during a few months of the year only, was eligible enough for my father’s special purpose. The land around the village, of which three thousand acres were under cultivation, was of the richest quality of alluvial soil, level but above the highest water-mark, and in good farming order. This valley-land was surrounded by a semicircular range of undulating hills, rising sixty or seventy feet above the plain below, and sweeping round about half a mile from the village on its southern side. On a portion of these hills where the descent was steep were vineyards in full bearing, covering eighteen acres, and partly terraced. On the west, where this range of hills increased in height, it terminated abruptly on a cut-off of the Wabash River, which afforded water-power used to drive a large flourmill ; and near by, on the precipitous hillside, was a quarry of freestone. Across the cut-off was an island containing three thousand acres, affording excellent woods pasture.
The village had been built on the bottom land, quarter of a mile from the river. Seen from the brow of the hillrange as one approached it from Mount Vernon, it was picturesque enough ; literally embowered in trees, rows of black locusts marking the street lines. Several large buildings stood out above the foliage ; of which a spacious cruciform brick hall, the transept a hundred and thirty feet across, was the chief. There was also a church, a steam-mill, a woollen-factory, and several large boarding-houses. The private dwellings were small, each in a separate garden-spot. Adjoining the village on the south were extensive apple and peach orchards.
When my father first reached the place, he found among the Germans — its sole inhabitants — indications of plenty and material comfort, but with scarcely a touch of fancy or ornament; the only exceptions being a few flowers in the gardens, and what was called “ The Labyrinth,” a pleasure-ground laid out near the village with some taste, and intended — so my father was told —as an emblematic representation of the life these colonists had chosen. It contained small groves and gardens, with numerous circuitous walks enclosed by high beech hedges and bordered with flowering shrubbery, but arranged with such intricacy that, without some Dædalus to furnish a clew, one might wander for hours and fail to reach a building erected in the centre. This was a temple of rude material, but covered with vines of the grape and convolvulus, and its interior neatly fitted up and prettily furnished. Thus George Rapp had sought to shadow forth to his followers the difficulties of attaining a state of peace and social harmony. The perplexing approach, the rough exterior of the shrine, and the elegance displayed within were to serve as types of toil and suffering, succeeded by happy repose.
The toil and suffering had left their mark, however, on the grave, stolid, often sad German faces. They looked well fed, warmly clothed (my father told me), and seemed free from anxiety. The animal had been sufficiently cared for ; and that is a good deal in a world where millions can hardly keep the wolf from the door, drudge as they will, and where hundreds of millions, manage as they may, live in daily uncertainty whether, in the next week or month (chance of work or means of living failing), absolute penury may not fall to their lot. A shelter from lifewearing cares is something; but a temple typifies higher things, — more than what we shall eat and what we shall drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed. Rapp’s disciples had bought these too dearly, —at expense of heart and soul. They purchased them by unquestioning submission to an autocrat who had been commissioned — perhaps as he really believed, certainly as he alleged —by God himself. He bade them do this and that, and they did it ; required them to say, as the disciples in Jerusalem said, that none of the things they possessed were their own, and they said it ; commanded them to forego wedded life and all its incidents, and to this also they assented.
Their experiment afforded conclusive proof that, if a community of persons are willing to pay so high a price for abundant food, clothing, shelter, and absolute freedom from pecuniary cares, they can readily obtain all this, working leisurely under a system of common labor, provided the dictator to whom they submit is a good business manager. The success of the Rappites, such as it was, wonderfully encouraged my father. He felt sure that he could be far more successful than they, without the aid either of bodily and mental despotism or of celibacy. Aside from rational education, which he deemed indispensable, he trusted implicitly, as cure for all social and industrial ills, to the principle of co-operation.
There was much in the economical condition of England to lead a mind like my father’s, accustomed to generalizations and imbued with sanguine confidence in whatever he desired, to such a conclusion ; and, unless I here devote a page or two to a succinct statement — in mere outline it must be — of the main statistical facts which go to make up that strange and unprecedented condition, I shall leave my readers without a clew to the motives which caused a successful business man like my father to relinquish wealth, domestic ease, affluent comforts, and an influential position, and to adventure, with a faith which admitted not even the possibility of failure, an untried experiment on an unknown field, then little better than a wilderness.
As a large manufacturer, much cogent evidence bearing on that condition had been brought home to him. Ten years before, Colquhoun had published his work on the Resources of the British Empire, and that had supplied important additional data.
My father felt that there was then — as there is now — one of the great problems of the age still to be solved: I can here but briefly state, not seek to solve it. It connects itself with the unexampled increase of productive power which human beings in civilized life have acquired in little more than a single century, and with the momentous question whether this vast gift of labor-saving inventions is to result in mitigation of the toil and melioration of the condition of the millions who have acquired it. Few persons realize the extent of this modern agency, the changed state of things it has brought about, or the effect of its introduction, so far, upon the masses, especially in European countries.
From certain Parliamentary reports made in 1816, in connection with Sir Robert Peel’s Factory Bill (already alluded to), my father derived data in proof that the machinery employed in Great Britain in cotton-spinning alone — in one branch, therefore, of one manufacture — superseded at that time the labor of eighty million adults ; and he succeeded in proving, to the satisfaction of England’s ablest statistician, 4 that if all the branches of the cotton, woollen, flax, and silk manufactures were included, the machine-saved labor in producing English textile fabrics exceeded, in those days, the work which two hundred millions of operatives could have turned out previous to the year 1760.
This statement of my father’s attracted the attention of the British political economists of that day, was virtually adopted by them soon after, and became, as these vast inanimate powers increased, the foundation of successive calculations touching their aggregate amount in all branches of industry carried on in Great Britain and Ireland. In 1835 my father put down that aggregate as equal to the labor of four hundred million adults ; and estimates by recent English statisticians, brought up to the present time, vary from five hundred to seven hundred millions. We may safely assume the mean of these estimates — six hundred millions—as closely approximating the truth to-day.
But the population of the world is, in round numbers, twelve hundred millions ; and the usual estimate of the productive manual labor of a country is, that it does not exceed that of a number of adult workmen equal to one fourth of its population. Thus, the daily labor of three hundred million adults represents the productive manual power of the world.
It follows that Great Britain and Ireland’s labor-saving machinery equals, in productive action, the manual laborpower of two worlds as populous as this.
It follows, further, inasmuch as the present population of the British Isles is less than thirty millions, that seven millions and a half of adults represent the number of living operatives who control and manipulate that prodigious amount of inanimate force.
Thus, in aid of the manual labor of seven and a half millions of human workmen, Great Britain may be said to have imported, from the vast regions of invention, six hundred millions of powerful and passive slaves; slaves that consume neither food nor clothing ; slaves that sleep not, weary not, sicken not ; gigantic slaves that drain subterranean lakes in their master’s service, or set in motion, at a touch from his hand, machinery under which the huge and solid buildings that contain it groan and shake ; ingenious slaves that outrival, in the delicacy of their operations, the touch of man, and put to shame the best exertions of his steadiness and accuracy ; yet slaves patient, submissive, obedient, from whom no rebellion need be feared, who cannot suffer cruelty nor experience pain.
These unwearying and inanimate slaves outnumber the human laborers who direct their operations as eighty to one. What is the result of this importation ?
If we shut our closet doors and refuse to take the answer from the state of things as it actually exists, we shall probably say that inestimable aid, thus sent down from Heaven as it were, to stand by and assist man in his severest toils, must have rendered him easy in his circumstances, rich in all the necessaries and comforts of life, a master instead of a slave, a being with leisure for enjoyment and improvement, a freeman delivered from the original curse which declared that in the sweat of his brow should man eat bread all the days of his life. But if, rejecting mere inference, we step out among the realities around us, with eyes open and sympathies awake, we shall see, throughout the Old World, the new servants competing with those they might be made to serve. We shall see a contest going on in the market of labor, between wood and iron on the one hand, and human thews and sinews on the other ; a dreadful contest, at which humanity shudders, and reason turns, astonished, away. We shall see masters engaging, as the cheapest, most docile, and least troublesome help,5 the machine instead of the man. And we shall see the man, thus denied even the privilege to toil, shrink home, with sickening heart, to the cellar where his wife and children herd, and sink down on its damp floor to ask of his despair where these things shall end, —whether the soulless slaves, bred year by year from the teeming womb of science, shall gradually thrust aside, into idleness and starvation, their human competitors, until the laborer, like other extinct races of animals, shall perish from the earth.
I have made a special study of the statistical facts which go to justify more than all I here assert. But the limits of this narrative allow me to give only a condensed abstract of the results.
For two centuries after the Conquest, feudal oppressions and intestine wars grievously oppressed British labor. At any moment the serf might be taken from the plough to arm in his liege lord’s quarrel ; and if, spite of all such interruptions, the seed was sown and the harvest ripened, the chance remained that it might be cut down by the sword of the forager or trampled under the hoof of the war-horse. Nothing is more characteristic than the Borderer’s account of an ancient raid, in Scott’s Lay : —
And burnt my little lonely tower.
The fiend receive their souls therefor;
It had n’t been burnt this year or more ! ”
The peasantry, or rather villeinry, of those days — many of them thralls — had the scantiest wages, often mere food and clothing, living miserably. But during Edward the Third’s wars with France, he was compelled to manumit many bondsmen, in order to recruit his armies ; and the forced services of villeinage were gradually exchanged for free labor, often fixed by statute. In the middle of the fourteenth century, common labor on a farm was set at three pence halfpenny a day ; in harvest, four pence. But at that time wheat did not exceed six pence a bushel, and other staple articles of food were in proportion. So in the fifteenth century, harvest wages were five pence, and wheat was seven pence halfpenny a bushel. With all this accords what Sir John Cullum, the English antiquarian (quoted as reliable authority by Hallam), tells us, namely, that in the fourteenth century a week’s wages in harvest enabled the laborer to buy four bushels of wheat. The weekly wages of common farm labor, however, throughout the year, were the equivalent of three bushels of wheat only. This last may be safely assumed as the purchasing power of ordinary farm labor in England four hundred and five hundred years ago.
After many fluctuations, weekly wages of ordinary labor settled down, in the middle of the eighteenth century, to about a bushel and a half of wheat.6 By the middle of the present century a common farm laborer could purchase, with his eight shillings for a week’s work, but ONE BUSHEL of wheat. Since then wages have slowly risen ; and to-day a farm laborer, with nine and sixpence to ten shillings a week, can earn a bushel and a quarter of wheat.
Though, for brevity’s sake, I have here confined the comparison to staple bread-stuff alone, I have verified the fact that it applies equally to other articles of common use or necessity. In the fifteenth century a week’s labor bought sixty-four pounds of butchers’ meat ; now it will hardly purchase nineteen. So, instead of ten geese, three would now absorb a week’s labor; instead of a .sheep a week, a laborer must toil four weeks for a single sheep. Again, a day’s wages will now buy, not eight dozen of eggs as then it did, but three dozen ; not eight pounds of cheese, but three; not five pounds of butter, but two. Even in some staple articles of clothing, the balance is against the peasant of to-day. Three days’ labor will now hardly procure him the stout pair of shoes which a single day formerly paid for ; and nine days’ labor, instead of six, are needed to obtain the material for a winter coat, that is, if a farm laborer should be extravagant enough to buy coarse broadcloth for such a purpose.
Labor in factories is somewhat better paid than farm labor; adult operatives receiving from nine to eleven shillings a week when fully employed. But there are thousands, weavers and others, in every manufacturing district, who have only occasional work at home and live in squalid wretchedness,— wretchedness that has often but five cents a day to keep each human body and soul together,7 — wretchedness that terribly shortens life.
Another most significant fact is, that whereas, three hundred years ago, the poor-law system of England scarcely existed, my father found one in ten of all the inhabitants of Great Britain a pauper, receiving parish relief. 8 Without the English poor-laws, there would long since have been wholesale starvation among those willing and able to work, and, probably, a rebellion instigated by despair.
With all the foregoing data tallies an estimate made by Hallam, in his History of the Middle Ages, of the relative value of money ; which is, that any given sum in the fourteenth century must be mul iplied by twenty, and in the fifteenth century by sixteen, to bring it to the standard of our day. If so, then a common laborer’s wages in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were equivalent to five shillings of the modern English currency per day, or to thirty shillings per week ; at least three times as much as such a laborer receives at present.
But to guard against possible exaggeration, let us deduct one third from this result; and the startling fact still forces itself on our attention, that the working-classes employed in tilling the garden soil of Great Britain, or in tending her magnificent machinery, receive now, as the price of their toil, but one half as much as their rude ancestors did five centuries ago.
As cure for such evil and suffering, my father found the political economists urging a reduction of taxes. But his experience taught him to regard that as a mere temporary palliative. The very reduction of government burdens might be taken as an all-sufficient plea for the further reduction of wages. Labor could be afforded for less. And down to the very point at which it can be afforded, — which means at that point on the road to famine at which men are not starved suddenly, but die slowly of toil inadequately sustained by scanty and unwholesome food,—down to that point of bare subsistence my father saw the laborer of Britain thrust. How ? Wherefore ? By what legerdemain of cruelty and injustice ?
Thus the problem loomed upon him. We may imagine his reflections. Why, as the world advances in knowledge and power, do the prospects and the comforts of the mass of mankind darken and decline ? How happens it that four or five centuries have passed over Britain, bringing peace where raged feuds and forays, affording protection to person and property, setting free the shackled press, spreading intelligence and liberality, reforming religion and fostering civilization,— how happens it that these centuries of improvement have left the British laborer twofold more the slave of toil than they found him ? Why must mechanical inventions — inevitable even if they were mischievous, and in themselves a rich blessing as surely as they are inevitable— stand in array against the laborer, instead of toiling by his side ?
Momentous questions these ! My father pondered them, day and night. If he had tersely stated the gist of his reflections,— which he was not always able to do, — they might have assumed some such form as this: Will any man, who stands on his reputation for sanity, affirm that the necessary result of over-production is famine? that because labor produces more than even luxury can waste, labor shall not have bread to eat ? If we can imagine a point in the progress of improvement at which all the necessaries and comforts of life shall be produced without human labor, are we to suppose that the human laborer, when that point is reached, is to be dismissed by his masters from their employment, to be told that he is now a useless incumbrance which they cannot afford to hire ?
If such a result be flagrantly absurd in the extreme, it was then, and is now, in Great Britain, a terrible reality in the degree. Men were told that machines had filled their places and that their services were no longer required. Certain English economists scrupled not to avow the doctrine, that a man born into a world already occupied and overstocked with labor has no RIGHT to claim food ; that such a one is a being superfluous on the earth, and for whom, at the great banquet of nature, there is no place to be found.9
My father’s conclusions from the data which I have here furnished were ; —
1. That the enormously increased productive powers which man in modern times has acquired, involve, and in a measure necessitate, great changes in the social and industrial structure of society.
2. That the world has reached a point of progress at which co-operative industry should replace competitive labor. 3. That society, discarding large cities and solitary homes, should resolve itself into associations, each of fifteen hundred or two thousand persons, who should own land and houses in common and labor for the benefit of the community. In this way (he believed) labor-saving power would directly aid, not tend to oppress, the workman.
The first proposition is doubtless true, especially as to old countries largely engaged in manufactures ; the question remaining, however, of what character and to what extent the changes should be.
The second proposition is now on trial in England on a large scale. Through the kindness of an English friend, I have before me a report of the Fifth Annual Co-operative Congress held at Newcastle on the 12th, 13th, and 14th of last April, and which was attended by two hundred delegates from all parts of Great Britain and Ireland.10 The two most prominent speakers were members of Parliament; namely, the well-known Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown at Oxford, and Walter Morrison.
Mr. Hughes introduced the resolution. That this meeting recognizes in co-operation the most effective means of permanently raising the condition of the people.” And Mr. Morrison moved the following : “ That it is of the essence of co-operation to recognize the right of labor to a substantial share in the profits it creates.” Both resolutions were unanimously adopted.
Mr. Cowen, chairman of the Congress, said, in opening one of its meetings : “ I am not an old man, yet I recollect a meeting which was held in this room thirty years ago. It was addressed by the father of co-operative principles in this country, Mr. Robert Owen. (Cheers.) To the discredit of some of the inhabitants of Newcastle they brought the meeting to a close by breaking the windows and dispersing the audience. They refused to listen to the patient and, I may say, affectionate appeals which Mr. Owen made to his hearers. We have considerably advanced since then.”
The experiments then commenced, in the way of co-operative stores, failed at that time, probably because the current of public opinion set in strongly against them. How great the contrast is to-day appears from the statistics, founded on Parliamentary documents, which were laid before this Congress. One wholesale co-operative store in Manchester has two hundred and seventy-seven shareholding societies, and has five hundred societies doing business with it; it has a capital of nearly three quarters of a million dollars, and its present annual business falls but little short of six millions. During eight years past it has done business to the amount of twenty millions, and has incurred in that period but a single thousand dollars of bad debts. Another, the North of England wholesale store, does a business varying from a hundred thousand to a hundred and forty thousand dollars a week.
There are in all, throughout England, about a thousand co-operative stores, and full returns have been made to Parliament by three fourths of these. These three fourths had, in 1871, two hundred and sixty thousand members ; a capital of more than twelve and a half millions; were doing a business of more than forty-seven millions a year, with an annual profit of four millions, that is, eight and a half per cent on the capital invested.
Besides these stores, English co-operators have engine-works employing five hundred hands ; a mining company, with twelve hundred workers ; an industrial bank at Newcastle ; linen, cotton, and other factories ; corn-mills ; a printing society ; an agricultural and horticultural association, with Thomas Hughes on its council; and a Central Agency Society, with two members of Parliament on its committee of management.
Profiting by the experience of the past, many errors in organization and in management have been avoided. At this time, with some twenty millions of capital employed, these co-operative enterprises are, with scarcely an exception, a pecuniary success.
As to the third proposition,— the resolving of society into small communities of common property, — my father resolved to test it at New Harmony. I think it was a mistake to change the scene of the experiment from England to the United States. The average wages of farm labor here amount to a dollar and a quarter a day, or seven dollars and a half a week ; and even if we put wheat at a dollar and eighty-five cents a bushel, which is its price only in our seaboard cities and when it is ready for shipment, a week’s labor in husbandry will purchase four bushels of wheat, instead of a bushel and a quarter, as in England. The need of co-operation or some other protection for labor may be said to be threefold greater there than here.
My father made another and a still greater mistake. A believer in the force of circumstances and of the instinct of self-interest to reform all men, however ignorant orvicious, he admitted into his village all comers, without recommendatory introduction or any examination whatever. This error was the more fatal, because it is in the nature of any novel experiment, or any putting forth of new views which may tend to revolutionize the opinions or habits of society, to attract to itself (as the Reformation did, three hundred years ago, and as Spiritualism does to-day) waifs and strays from surrounding society ; men and women of crude, ill-considered, extravagant notions ; nay, worse, vagrants who regard the latest heresy but as a stalking-horse for pecuniary gain, or a convenient cloak for immoral demeanor.
He did, indeed, take the precaution of establishing at New Harmony, in the first instance, a Preliminary Society only ; and he did refrain from any conveyance of real estate to its members. But he allowed this motley assemblage to elect its own Committee of Management, though the constitution of the society vested in him the appointing power.11 That constitution was laid before the inhabitants, April 27, 1825 ; Robert Owen then, for the first time, addressing the inhabitants. It was adopted May I.12 But my father was able to remain, to watch its progress, little more than a month. He departed, early in June, for England ; leaving a school of a hundred and thirty children, who were boarded, educated, and clothed at the public expense. As to the other inhabitants, they received a weekly credit on the public store to the amount which their services were, by the committee, deemed worth. There was a good band of music ; and the inhabitants, on my father’s recommendation, resolved to meet together three evenings each week : one to discuss all subjects connected with the welfare of the society ; another for a concert of vocal and instrumental music; while the third was given up to a public ball.
My father’s reception in America had been kind and hospitable ; and he gave us, on his return to Braxfield, a glowing account of the favor with which his plans of social reform were regarded in the New World, and of the condition of things, and bright promise for the future at New Harmony. I was captivated with the picture he drew, and embarked with him toward the end of September from Liverpool in the packet-ship New York, exulting as an Israelite may have exulted when Moses spoke to him of the Land of Promise.
We had a jovial set of passengers, including the operatic troupe of the elder Garcia, together with his son Manuel, twenty years old, and his two daughters,— Maria, then aged seventeen ; and Pauline, then only four years old, but who afterwards became a celebrated singer and actress, and married a Paris journalist of some reputation, Monsieur Viardot. She was the pet of passengers and crew ; and I have heard the child reply, in four languages, with almost equal facility, to remarks in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, addressed to her, in rapid succession, by the members of her father’s company.
Her elder sister, Mademoiselle Garcia, afterwards world-renowned,— her brief career sad indeed in private, but brilliant in public to a degree hardly paralleled in the annals of the stage,— had the previous spring made a successful début in London. She was a most interesting girl, simple, frank, bright as could be, charming in conversation, a general favorite ; and I think that during our somewhat protracted voyage she captivated the heart of Captain McDonald, a young and handsome English officer, a great friend and admirer of my father, who had accompanied us on our Transatlantic trip. It came to nothing, perhaps because McDonald, though a noble, generous fellow, had then little besides his commission to depend on ; but I doubt not she would have been far happier as his wife than she afterwards was — poor girl ! — with the reputed rich but bankrupt Malibran.
Her health seemed feeble, and this may have been due in part to the extreme severity with which that terrible Spaniard, her father, treated his children. The troupe had frequent rehearsals on deck when the weather was fine, greatly to the delight of the passengers. The only drawback to our pleasure in listening to some of the finest voices in the world was the brutal manner in which Garcia sometimes berated the singers, but especially his son and daughter, when their performance did not please him.
One evening, after a rehearsal at which he had been so violent that his daughter seemed in mortal fear of him, she and I sat down, on a sofa on deck, to a game of chess. At first she appeared almost as lively and bright as usual ; but, ere the game ended, she turned deadly pale, her head sunk on my shoulder, and had I not caught her in my arms she must have fallen to the floor. I carried her down to the cabin, quite insensible ; and it was some time before she recovered.
Another day, at the close of a rehearsal, the old man spoke in insulting terms to his son, I and other passengers being present. Manuel rereplied in a respectful, almost submissive tone ; yet he earnestly vindicated himself against the charge — of wilful negligence, I think it was — which his father brought against him. This incensed Garcia to such a degree, that he suddenly struck his son a blow of his fist so violent that the youth dropped on the deck as if shot. We instantly went in search of the captain, telling him what had happened, and he came on deck at once, confronting the still enraged father.
“What is this, sir?” he said, the tone low, but with a dangerous ring in it. “ Is it true that you dared to knock your son down ? ”
The great singer was silent and looked sullen.
“ It is true, then ? ” The tone rose a little and the eyes flashed ; we saw there was mischief in them. “ Do you know, sir,” he went on, “that I am master here, — ruler in my own ship, — with the right to do whatever I please, if it is necessary to protect my passengers either from insult or injury ? Do you know that, sir ? ”
Still no answer.
“ Do you see these men ? ” pointing to some sailors who were looking on at a distance with eyes of curiosity. “ A single word from me and they ’ll seize you on the spot ! But I don't want a fuss on board my ship. This time I ’ll pass it by. But now attend to what I say ; you had better, for your own sake. If you lay a finger again on a single passenger here, — on your son, on your daughter, or on any other soul on board,— I’ll have you down below in irons, sir, — in irons ! Do you understand that ? ”
He did understand, and he was fairly cowed at last. He muttered an unintelligible excuse; and the captain, turning away, issued some commonplace order to the mate, as quietly as if nothing had happened.
From that day forth, though Garcia still scolded and grumbled, he used, in our hearing, no insulting language, nor committed any other violent act. To us, when nothing crossed his will or went wrong, he was polite and even obliging. We amused ourselves throughout the somewhat tedious voyage by getting out a weekly newspaper, — quite a creditable production it was,—and in its last number appeared a song, the words by one of our party, Mr. Stedman Whitwell, a London architect, and a convert to my father’s views ; the music, graceful and spirited, by Garcia. It was afterwards published in New York under the title Ebor Nova, and had quite a run ; for the Garcias won for themselves an enthusiastic reception.
Our pleasant voyage came to an end November 7, 1825, — the day on which I was twenty-four years old. New York’s magnificent bay, its surface just stirred by a gentle breeze and dotted all over with white sails, — signs of a busy and enterprising nation, — while beyond, the city’s hundred spires shot up white in the sunshine of a fresh autumn morning, — all this, as I came upon it after the even tenor of a long ocean voyage, outwent whatever I had imagined of New World scenery. I had reached the Canaan of my hopes, and its first glimpse was beautiful even beyond my dreams. I landed, as in vision of the night one enters fairyland.
Our letters of introduction first brought us into contact with a people genial and magnetic, who seemed to me, as to temperament, to occupy middle ground between the distant conventionality of my own countrymen and the light vivacity of the French. I liked them from the first, and, with a youthful precipitancy, which, however, I have never repented, I went at once to a prothonotary’s office and declared my intention to become a citizen of the United States.
That was nearly forty-eight years ago. Kindly, indulgently, has my adopted country treated me since ; and well do I love her for it.
She has her peculiarities, of course, like other nations ; and it was not long ere we came in contact with some of these. Martin Luther is said to have had his latter years embittered, perhaps his life shortened, by certain crotchety and ill-conditioned fanatics, as the Anabaptists, Libertines, and others, who “ played such fantastic tricks before high heaven ” as brought the name of Protestant, which they had assumed, into no little discredit for the time. A radical reformer, if he be of any note, commonly attracts around him erratics of this class ; and my father did not escape the common fate.
One morning he had gone out on a visit, leaving Captain McDonald and myself in a parlor of the Howard House in Broadway (where we had put up), busy writing letters home, when a waiter, entering, handed me a strange-looking visiting-card, with the message, “ A gentleman to see your father, sir. I told him he was out, but he would have me bring up his card.” It was of green pasteboard, and bore the single word, “ Page.” I bade him invite Mr. Page to walk up.
“ A singular fancy,” said I to McDonald, “ to color visiting-cards green. But, of course, in new countries we must expect new fashions.”
Thereupon the door opened, and there stalked in, in a solemn way, a middle-aged personage, quite as queerlooking as his card. He was dressed, from head to foot, in light-green broadcloth ; his overcoat, cut with a plain Quaker collar, reached his ankles ; his cap and boots were of green cloth, and his gloves of green kid, all matching the rest of his costume. His long hair was divided in the centre and dropped, slightly curling, on his shoulders.
McDonald and I were so taken aback by this sudden apparition that we even forgot to offer our visitor a chair. He seemed to prefer standing, as about to declaim. His manner was dignified, and his gestures had a certain grace, as he proceeded to say : “ Gentlemen, I have come, in my public capacity, to welcome a brother philanthropist. But you do not know who I am.”
To this we assented, and he went on. “ My name is Page. I am the page of Nature. She has enlisted me in her service. I wear her livery, as you see ” (pointing to his dress), “ as a reminder of the official duty I owe her. She talks to me, instructs me in the way I should go, and tells me how I can best benefit my fellow-creatures. In the olden time I was King David’s page ; and I was a great comfort to him, as he had been to his master, Saul, when the evil spirit from the Lord was upon him, and when David’s playing on the harp refreshed Saul and caused the evil spirit to depart. David had his dark hours also, when his sins weighed upon his spirit ; and at those times I was able to console and encourage him. But Nature’s service is better than that of any king.”
We were mute with amazement. He paused, then drew from a capacious pocket a thick roll of manuscript. It was written on long sheets of green paper.
“ Some of the words of wisdom,” he pursued, “ that my gracious mistress has vouchsafed to communicate to her votary. They ought to have been written in green ink ; but to human eyes the words might not have been very intelligible. And black cannot be said to be inappropriate. In summer holiday, indeed, Nature’s vestment is green ; but she has her seasons when all is black, — the starless midnight hour, the wintry storm’s murky darkness. That may justify the black ink.”
He unrolled and smoothed out the manuscript; but reading in our faces, perhaps, the alarm which we certainly felt at the threatened infliction, he seemed to change his purpose ; and with the air of a father making allowance for his thoughtless children, he said : “ Young people have not always leisure or inclination to hear divine truth. Hand these leaves from the Great Book to Robert Owen ; for he is a disciple of Nature, like me, and he will appreciate them.”
With that, having bowed ceremoniously to us both, he swept slowly and majestically from the room.
McDonald sat looking intently at the fire for a minute or two after the door closed, then suddenly turned to me : “Are we all crazy, do you think, Robert? Have we been poking into great subjects and thinking of a world’s reform, until our brains are addled and we are fit inmates of a lunatic asylum ? ”
“ Well,” said I, “ we knew already that there are harmless bedlamites who are suffered to go at large. We still dress like other people. We have n’t come to the conclusion yet, that the Goddess of Nature keeps a lot of pages to whom she dictates homilies, to be written out on green foolscap ; and we are not Pythagoreans, believing that our souls were once in the service of ancient kings.”
“ For all that,” replied McDonald, “it’s uncomfortable; it gives one a shock.”
The manuscript, like a hundred others which it has been my hard fortune since to glance over, was a dull tissue of sentimental commonplaces, with mad streaks through it, but with a certain method in the madness. The author had sense enough to give his address at the close, and we carefully returned it to him.
In the course of two or three weeks several pleasant and intelligent people had joined us, bound for New Harmony ; among them Thomas Say, one of the founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, who six years before had accompanied Major Long on his expedition to the Rocky Mountains as its naturalist; Charles Lesueur; a French naturalist and designer, who had explored, with Péron, the coasts of Australia ; Gerard Troost, a native of Holland and a distinguished chemist and geologist, who was afterwards professor of chemistry in the Nashville University; also several cultivated ladies, including Miss Sistare (afterwards the wife of Thomas Say) and two of her sisters. Whether William Maclure, president of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, and one of the most munificent patrons of that institution, accompanied us, or came on a few weeks later, I am not quite certain. He afterwards purchased from my father several thousand acres of the Harmony estate.
At Pittsburg, which we reached early in December, finding that steamboats had ceased to ply on the Ohio, we purchased a keel-boat and had it comfortably fitted up for the accommodation of our party, then amounting to some thirty or forty persons. About eight miles from Beaver, Pennsylvania, the ice, closing in upon us, arrested our voyage for a full month.
During that month, immensely to my satisfaction, I took my first lessons in Western country wood-craft. A dense, almost unbroken forest adjoined the spot where we had tied up our boat. I had bought in Pittsburg an excellent rifle and appurtenances, together with a good supply of ammunition. The second or third day I came upon the cabin of an old hunter of the Leatherstocking school, named Rice, whose good-will I gained by the timely gift of a pound or two of excellent rifle powder. He taught me the names and qualities of the forest trees, the habits and haunts of the game then plentiful enough in that district ; but, above all, he trained me to rifle-shooting with a patience which I yet gratefully remember. Before leaving home I had read, with enthusiasm, Cooper’s Pioneers, and now some of the primitive scenes I had pictured to myself were enacted before my eyes. The eagerness with which I sought instruction, and the manner in which I profited by it, made me quite a favorite with the old man ; and, after a week or two, I was domesticated in his cabin. With his wife, also, I found favor by telling her stories of the “ old country.” From her, I remember, came my first reminder that I had reached a land of practical equality, in which all (white?) adult males, rich or poor, were men. I had a handsome silver-mounted powder-horn which attracted the attention of one of the half-clad urchins who were running about the cabin, and I had ceded it for his amusement. He was making off with the coveted plaything out of doors when his mother recalled him, “ Here, you, George Washington, give the man back his powder-horn.” Later, I learned the meaning which attaches in the West (fairly enough, too) to the word gentleman. I was bargaining with a young fellow who had agreed to make a few thousand rails to repair a fence on one of our farms ; and, profiting by Rice’s instruction, I warned him that they must be of such and such timber; I would accept none of inferior quality; whereupon he said, “ Mister, I'm a gentleman, and I would n’t put any man off with bad rails.”
Toward the close of our ice-bound sojourn I accompanied Rice to a shooting-match. He obtained the first prize, and I, to his great delight, carried off the fourth or fifth,— a wild turkey worth twenty-five cents. I carried it home in triumph to our keel-boat.
Soon after the middle of January, 1826, we reached Harmony ; but I must delay, until next month, the recital of what I found there.
Robert Dale Owen.
- * Acts iv. 32. The land was entered in the names of the entire community ; and was conveyed by Rapp, under a power of attorney from them, to my father.↩
- I Corinthians, vii. 8. They lived together as the Shakers do.↩
- Acts iv. 8.↩
- Colquhoun, whose celebrated work on a cognate subject is above referred to. See, for Robert Owen’s conversation with Colquhoun on this subject, his (Owen’s) Autobiography, p. 127.↩
- “The self-acting mule has the important advantage of rendering the mill-owners independent of the combinations and strikes of the workingspinners."—Baines’s Cotton Manufacture, p. 207.↩
- See tables of wages and prices from 1813 back to 1495, by Barton, in his Enquiry into the Depreciation of Labor.↩
- In Minutes of Evidence before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, 1833, Mr. William Stocks, secretary of a committee of factory owners, deposed to certain facts obtained and verified by that committee during visits to the cottages of laborers in and around Huddersfield, thus summing up the results : “ We found 13,226 individuals that averaged two pence halfpenny (five cents) per day to live on. That sum included all parish relief; and it was not wholly applicable to meat and drink, for they had rent and everything to pay out of it, including wear and tear of looms.”—Minutes of Evidence, July 28 and August 3, 1833.↩
- The Report of the Liverpool Branch of the AntiCorn-Law League for 1833 shows a similar state of wholesale misery. It states that “in Vauxhall Ward, Liverpool, containing in all 6,000 families or 24,000 souls, the number of 3.462 families had but two pence halfpenny (five cents) per individual to live on.”↩
- “In our manufacturing districts every eleventh inhabitant, and in our agricultural counties every eighth inhabitant, receives parish relief. But this by no means represents the whole mass of suffering. The horror of being branded as a pauper is so prevalent among the industrial population, that thousands prefer death by gradual starvation, to placing themselves on the parish funds.”— Report of Liverpool Branch of the Anti-Corn-Law League, 1833.↩
- These calculations are, however, for the middle of the present century. Wages having since risen twenty or twenty-five per cent, the proportion of paupers is very considerably less to-day.↩
- See Malthus, in his Essay on the Principle of Population. But my father believed in the axiom put forth by a French historian : “ Avant toutes les lois sociales, I’homme avoit le droit de subsister.”— Raynal, Histoire des Indes, Vol. X. p. 322.↩
- Published in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle on April 19, 1873, and covering twenty-nine closely printed columns. This paper is larger than the New York Tribune, and was established in 1764.↩
- See New Harmony Gazette, Vol. I. page 135. My father recommended four of the seven persons who composed the committee ; and these four, together with three others, were elected by the citizens.↩
- A copy of this constitution will be found in New Harmony Gazette, Vol. I. pp. 2, 3.↩