Picture of George Head

George Head

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THERE is no manufacturing town in England, I should imagine, wherein more coal is consumed, in proportion to its extent, than Leeds: situated in the heart of a coalfield, and fed by an abundant daily supply, a single glance, whether by night or by day, is sufficient to verify the above conclusion. The sun himself is obscured by smoke, as by a natural mist; and no sooner does he descend below the horizon, than streams of brilliant gas burst forth from thousands of illuminated windows,

The Old Coal Staiths form one principal point of delivery of the coal brought from the pits, four miles westward, to the town. The entrance to the first of these pits at Middleton is by a level on the side of the hill, wherein it is only necessary to enter a few yards in order to see a perfect vein of coal.

The staiths consist of a platform raised upon a row of brick arches, each having an aperture in the summit so that the cart being brought underneath, in order to receive its load, the coal is at once shot into it from the wagon above. As, from the lower level, all the arches are accessible at the same time, several wagons may be unladen together—any part of a wagon load may also be delivered by means of a regulating bar, by which the bottom of the wagon is closed or opened at will.

The railroad and locomotive steam engines are curious and worthy of observation, being of the earliest manufacture in the country; the latter especially as differentia appearance from the engines in present use, as a stage coach in the days of Queen Anne from Mr. Leader's modern vehicles. A wheel on one side of the engine works upon a line of cogs, with which the rails on the same side are furnished, so that, though her motion is slow, her purchase is that of the rack and pinion. This crazy, rickety old engine continues to trundle along day after day at the rate of about five miles an hour, and affords an extraordinary instance, by comparison, of the improvements in machinery that have taken place within the last fifteen or sixteen years.

Considerable cargoes of coal are brought from the eastern vicinity of the town by the river Aire; of these there are two points of delivery: "The Crown Point," and "Waterloo Staiths." both adjoining the river. I was surprised to find the appliances for unlading the vessels not altogether such as one might have expected, considering the enormous consumption of the article; thence may probably be inferred that, in addition to the abundance of the supply, and the natural facilities of delivery, the inhabitants of Leeds have other more important matters to attend to. At the Crown Point Staiths, the coal is raised upon the wharf, seven or eight feet above the level of the river, by a simple hand crane, worked by a couple of men at a windlass, it having been previously thrown from the lighter into an iron tub by men with shovels, which tub is raised, swung round over the cart to be laden, and emptied into it. At the Waterloo Staiths, the lighters, instead of bringing the coal in bulk, are furnished with iron tubs, like the keels of Sunderland. A lighter carries eighteen of these tubs, each of the latter containing 36 cwt. of coal, or one cartload. A small steam engine is employed to raise the tub from the lighter to the wharf, a man, at the same time, hanging on at the side of it, in order to knock out the bolt which confines the bottom, and thus let the coal fall into the cart. In case of an insufficient demand for the cargoes of the lighters, the tubs are unladen from the latter, and wheeled on a small hand truck to the raised platform which forms the staiths. Here they remain, arranged in order, till the contents are called for.

Coal in abundance arrives also daily from the south, in the neighbourhood of Wakefield, brought in ordinary carts along the turnpike road. Besides the channels already cited, another has lately been opened by the Selby Railroad, in consequence of which undertaking, and the facility of delivery resulting from it, new staiths have been constructed within the premises of that establishment, and new shafts have already been sunk on the line, which will, ere long, contribute largely to the general stock.

The supply of building stone in the vicinity of Leeds is no less abundant than that of coal. The banks of the Liverpool Canal especially are continually covered with the material in all various sizes and dimensions, such as large blocks, slabs for paving, as well as others of thinner dimensions, termed "gray slate," for roofing dwellings, &c. These lie ready for embarkation, being exported from hence to almost all parts of the country. The navigation to Liverpool by this canal is performed in about a week by the ordinary craft; the fly boats occupy two days and three nights; the distance by water is a hundred and twenty miles; the number of locks ninety two. By the Aire and Calder navigation towards the east, the port of Goole, is reached in nine hours, whence vessels proceed onward by the Humber to the coast.

I rode to the quarries at Bramley Fall, three miles from Leeds, on the south bank of the above canal; these occupy a slanting ridge of sleep ground, covered with scrubby, stunted trees, the excavations being numerous, rather than large or deep. The stone is of excellent quality, the same which furnished the balustrades of the new London bridge, and is quarried with remarkable facility, crumbling, as it were, spontaneously, into large blocks, capable of being removed in their original shape without the trouble of blasting.

The workmen were raising a large block of eight tons by a crane and a couple of horses. At every round, a circumference of thirty yards was completed, while the stone ascended one foot. Notwithstanding its clumsy, irregular shape, no other hold was taken en it than the ordinary "Lewis hole." By this apparent small purchase, merely an oblong mortice a few inches deep, in which, being larger at bottom than at the top, an iron pin is confined by a wedge, it seemed astonishing how so heavy a mass could possibly hold together. The block, when raised, suspended on the arm of the crane, above the verge of the quarry, was swung round with considerable adroitness on the part of the workmen, and laid upon the stiff wooden truck on solid wheels, on which it was conveyed to the masons below. The old horse that drew the truck was pushed backward and forward by the workmen, apparently with much heedlessness, sometimes even to the brink of the precipice; so near, that had he moved even one foot farther than the prescribed limit, both horse and carriage must have been inevitably precipitated to the bottom; but the animal had worked so long with the men, that a degree of mutual intelligence prevailed between both r in the mean time, the expression of his eye and ear showed him to be aware of his danger; but whether or not, the men evidently reckoned on his intuitive knowledge.

The Wodehouse quarries, situated about a mile northward of the town, produce good sandstone. It is quarried easier, if possible, than that at Bramley Fall; not only lying naturally in horizontal layers, and splitting in a parallel direction by the slightest blow of the chisel, but from the alternations of temperature, or other causes, it cracks perpendicularly in deep fissures: in fact, the workmen have nothing to do but to raise the blocks from the quarry.

Although the eye may have received a perfect impression, it is not easy, without actual measurement, to describe space, when divided into different areas; for in such case, ideas, though arithmetically definite, are not to be imparted by mere correctness of terms. On paying a visit to the Coloured Cloth Hall, on one of the mornings dedicated to the despatch of business, I was surprised at the extent of the building, although there is no other that I know of elsewhere with which to place it in comparison. It rather resembles three sides of a square of houses, than a single edifice. A long room, gallery, or street, as it is most properly called, extends from one end to the other of each side; and in these covered ways, the cloth brought from the adjacent country by the domestic weavers, in an unfinished state, is exposed for sale to the manufacturers, who finish it by machinery. Two rows of tables, one on each side, are ranged the whole length of the building: on these the bales of cloth are laid, a wide space remaining in the middle, whereon the purchasers parade up and down. Matters are conducted with remarkable celerity, and, as far as I could see, the first price offered generally adhered to. Few words go to a bargain—the cloth is first held up to the light, whipped with a small bundle of blanched sticks, and smoothed down once or twice by the hand, then the price is registered in a little narrow book, and the purchaser strides forward in quest of a fresh article.

Here men of business may receive a useful lesson in the art of making up their minds in a hurry; the regulations of the establishment make despatch indispensable, a short time only on two days in a week being dedicated to the cloth sales. On the mornings of Tuesdays and Saturdays the commencement of the market is proclaimed by the sound of a bell at half past eight o'clock in the morning. A few minutes before ten the same bell rings again, the latter being a signal to close the first part of the building, and commence on an upper floor. Twenty minutes are allowed here—the bell then rings a third time, and everybody is hustled out.

As soon as the Coloured Cloth Hall is closed, that for white undied cloth, situated in another part of the town, is then opened by a like signal.

Within a building at the water's edge, close to the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, I saw a machine at work for the purpose of sawing blocks of stone. It was driven by a steam engine, apparently of small power, although by it were set in motion upward of three dozen saws. The block to be cut was placed in a frame and moved horizontally, stone, frame, and all, backward and forward by castors on iron rails. The saws, the ordinary plates without teeth, such as are used in common by stone masons, were fixed immoveably above the block. Four of these frames were within the building, each containing eleven saws, dividing each block into twelve paving stones. One boy attended all the saws with sand and water, adjusting at the same time, by a screw purchase, their contact and pressure on the stone.

It was agreeable to see, in this instance above all others, the steam engine substituted for human labour. Nothing can be less gratifying to the mind than to watch the patient endurance and almost imperceptible progress of a mason employed in cutting through a large stone; cast a glance on him as you pass, sitting in his comfortless sentry box, the mighty mass before him, his toil seems incessant, and his attitude as if chained to the galleys. Pass on—ride, walk—wander "over the hills and far away"—in three, or four, or five hours return to the same spot, and there appears the same man and the same stone; the former, poor fellow, enduring the labour of Sisyphus without its variety, or other relief from its monotony, than merely to halt now and then for a few moments, at a time, to regulate the nozzle of his watering pot.

Even in the present instance, with the power of steam in action, although forty-four saws were moving together, the progress of each, as it made its way through the block, appeared no less tardy than if worked by hand.

In a walk through the streets of Leeds, I saw the performance of a piece of machinery employed in an unexpected if not unusual service—that of chopping sausages; nevertheless, the simplicity of the contrivance afforded fair grounds to consider why the same aid is not more generally applied to culinary purposes; moreover, I am by no means sure that such an instrument, on a small scale, might not be turned to the benefit of those who have lost their teeth—even entirely to supersede the knife and fork. One disadvantage is certainly to be complained of—namely, the grievous noise it makes while working; however, to this noise I am indebted for the opportunity of seeing it at all: for as I was passing on, my attention was arrested by a sound from the inner part of a butcher's shop, as loud as if half a dozen dragoons, with swords and cuirasses, were galloping round and round a boarded chamber, such were the rattling and thumping produced; while the owner affirmed "the meat was chopped in pieces as fine as flour." Thus one great advantage is gained in sausage-making, wherein it may be advisable, not only to conceal the art, but the material also.

The machine was, in size and appearance, like a hand mill, such as is used to break beans for horses, with a heavy fly wheel, and worked by a single man at a winch. The meat to be chopped was placed in a round tub below, which tub turned round and round by a slow horizontal motion. Thus the position of the meat was continually shifted, under four heavy blades, which latter, as the wheels revolved, were lifted up, and allowed on their descent to fall with their full weight. I understood from the owner that it cost him thirty pounds. At all events, no six Leaden Hall butchers could chop up an old cow against time in competition with it.

In order to ascertain the force required, I took hold of the handle, and gave it a few turns: the movements were so easy, that notwithstanding the clatter was unavoidable from the nature of its business, a child might have kept it in motion.

These implements are, I believe, at present common enough in London; at least, I am mistaken in the sound if one of them be not in constant work towards the southwest end of Oxford-street.

With reference to the extreme facility whereby the powers of an engine are brought into action, and accumulated forces expended in some particular moment of contact, without affording to the observer any sensible indication of the resistance that has been overcome, it would seem, that the greater the deed to be done, the less the noise and disturbance. And this, as it were, in analogy and contrast with the struggle to conquer of a determined heart, and the squabbling warfare of more grovelling minds.

The above reflection occurred to me on seeing within a celebrated manufactory of machinery, the attempt, while the more important operations within the chamber were performing in glibness and comparative silence, to reduce an old misshapen grindstone to its pristine circular form. As it revolved under an overpowering force, notwithstanding the softness of the material, the remonstrance of this ???? ???????, this "radical grindstone," was absolutely deafening. Although grown ancient and protuberant in the exercise of the levelling system, and in grinding down its betters, yet the moment the experiment was retorted upon itself, the cries emitted were as if a hundred hogs were under discipline; meanwhile an innocuous flame of fire descended from the chisel, expending its venom in the water below, without even (as I smiled to observe) the power of raising ebullition.

Such impetuous rotary motion, by-the-way, imparted to a grindstone has been heretofore attended with a catastrophe. It was related to me on the banks of the Kendal and Lancaster Canal, where grindstones brought from the quarry in the neighbourhood, of all manner of sizes, like so many cheeses, lie arranged ready for embarkation, that in one particular instance a grindstone under manufacture being caused to revolve too violently, or containing, perhaps, a flaw, suddenly split in the middle, when one of the pieces flew off at a tangent, and forced its way through the roof of the building. Although I learned thus much of the history of one part of the said grindstone, my informant, on whose veracity I altogether depend, omitted to state what became of the other.

On making a circuit through the chambers of an extensive cloth manufactory, a stranger, as he is hurried along, feels, as it were, dragged from one object to the other, in unsated curiosity, leaving behind, at every step, recollections on which the mind vainly lingers, relinquishing' every moment half-tasted food for hours of contemplation.

On such an occasion my attention was in the very beginning arrested by the carding machine, as well as by observing the exquisite delicacy of sight and touch by which the wool is previously prepared by hand. It is indeed beautiful to see the material, after being thus sorted, weighed in scales, and spread, weight for space, on a flat surface at one end, then pass over, between, and among, upward of a score of revolving, toothed cylinders, till it drops out at the other end, at regular periods, in soft rolls, one after another, the size and thickness of a walking cane, which rolls are brought end to end, and spun into the thread.

It was with no less delight and amazement that I traced the various means and multifarious devices by which the article under manufacture proceeded towards final perfection. How the cloth, after being subjected to the powers of numerous and different machines, the wheels of which might, according to appearance, vie with those of a chronometer, passed through the subsequent stages of improvement. Here, irrigated by soft, equable, artificial showers of water, continually falling over its surface; there exposed to perpetual contact with a cloud of vapour, raised for the purpose; and thus through twenty or more degrees of gradation and approximation to the last finishing point. Then, indeed, it may be said to exhibit a specimen of human art, imitative in no small degree of nature's works; worked up with such delicacy, and so saturated with oily particles, as, when the nap is raised, to partake of that property by which the covering of a living animal preserves its purity, and in a great measure to resist the adherence of extraneous matter.

In this exclusive department, that of raising the nap, it is worthy of remark that the teazle plant still performs the office awarded to it from the earliest period, unrivalled in its peculiarity of touch, and unequalled by any modern invention.

I observed in the dying house the mode adopted of boiling liquid by steam, whereby vessels containing four hundred gallons were raised from a temperature of fifty degrees of Fahrenheit to that of boiling heat in a quarter of an hour. The steam entered from below through a pipe, five or six inches diameter, causing a violent commotion in the first moments of contact with the water, and producing a rattling, crackling, gurgling sound, both sonorous and awful.

Two steam engines were employed in the service of these very extensive works, which form one establishment only, among others belonging to the same proprietor: the building consists of a quadrangle, the front windows of one side of which alone amount to one hundred and sixty-four. After viewing the manufactory, I ascended by a flight of steps to the small stone building containing one of the said steam engines. Although so vast a power was in action, not the slightest tremulous or other motion was perceptible; the enormous fly wheel spinning meanwhile in silence, though weighing some tons, close to the wall; and the movements of the engine altogether were so perfect and free from friction, the brilliancy of polish bestowed on many of its parts so lustrous, and the care and attention paid to the whole so apparent, that imagination might readily have transformed the edifice to a temple, dedicated by man, grateful for the stupendous power that moved within, to Him who built the universe.

In a large worsted-spinning establishment I saw machines for combing the wood, consisting of wheels four or five feet in diameter, through the hollow spokes and felloes of which heat was communicated by steam; their revolution was vertical, the teeth placed on the circumference, at right angles with the plane of the motion. I observed the vast power by which the water is squeezed out of the wool, after the latter is washed in a large vessel: this is done so effectually, that merely by passing the wet wool once between a pair of heavy iron cylinders, it is rendered nearly dry. In addition to the weight of the upper cylinder, both are pressed together by a compound lever, one arm of which appeared to be about a couple of feet in length, and was acted upon by a second of five feet or thereabout; the weight at the extremity of the latter, two hundred pounds. The Continent chiefly furnishes the wool for broadcloth, England that for the worsted manufacture, a longer thread being spun from the latter. The degree of fineness already attained in spinning worsted by machinery is such, that a pound of wool furnishes one hundred and twenty hanks, each hank containing five hundred and sixty yards in length—equal to thirty-eight miles and two-eleventh parts.

Among the numerous objects that attracted my notice in a manufactory of flax machinery was the self-acting turning lathe. This machine was in the act of reducing to its proportions a hollow iron cylinder, four feet in length by three feet in diameter, and thickness three quarters of an inch. As the cylinder revolved, the graver, or cutting tool, was fixed and adjusted to its proper point of contact and pressure, having, at the same time, a lateral motion imparted to it by a rack and pinion. The graver continually pared away a spiral thread of iron, a sixteenth of an inch in thickness, or thereabout; the revolution of the cylinder being very slow, the lateral motion of the graver still slower, so much so, that the movements of the wheels that imparted it were hardly perceptible to the eye. By this slowness of motion, the generation of heat was prevented, and consequently the application of oil, water, or other liquid, to refresh the cutting tool, rendered unnecessary. I was informed that a good tool would thus plane the whole cylinder, from end to end, without sharpening; the distance traversed, being, on a rough calculation, two thousand three hundred and four yards.

There was an appearance particularly graceful and majestic in the slow movement of this powerful engine, thus performing its office as an automaton, and almost in silence. It was visited at rare intervals, and then only for a moment at a time, by an individual who had this service, besides several other duties, to perform within the building.

Although I had frequent opportunities, both in Leeds and elsewhere, of visiting the interior of several celebrated manufactories, I should feel unwilling to make to individuals what might be considered an ungracious return for their liberality, even did I consider myself qualified to describe to the world the movements of their machinery; nor could I reconcile to myself to publish the most trifling details whatever, in case such had been imparted to me under the slightest implied impression of confidence, or if, indeed, any reserve at all on the subject were, in fact, necessary. But there was neither concealment nor mystery on the part of those to whose kindness I am indebted for having been admitted as a total stranger, and conducted off-hand and unreservedly all over their premises; moreover, I am no mechanic, neither versed in the operations of machinery—not even acquainted with the vocabulary of the members that compose any description of engine. Merely an uninterested spectator, I have no more to describe than such as I saw in common with hundreds, nay, thousands, of people connected with the works in question, nor have I attempted any more than to trace in general terms the impressions received on my mind.

It is with a feeling of veneration that one enters a manufactory, such as the one last referred to—namely, that for the manufacture of other machinery—wherein each of the component parts is fashioned, of those machines whose operations, complicated as they may be, yet when a number are seen all working together in the same apartment, appear somewhat monotonous.

Here is a creation in miniature—wherein variety knows no bounds, and the number and complexity of curious engines, constructed merely for the purpose of forming small parts of another, baffle all description.

It is most curious to observe the infinity of devices by which the velocity of revolving wheels is regulated, and every description of circular and rectilinear motion generated; how the revolutions are accelerated or retarded, merely by shifting the gear along the conical axle of the drum wheel; how a straight rod, resting upon the plane periphery of an eccentric revolving wheel, receives and communicates a movement, whether vertical or horizontal, equal, and at regular intervals such as, for instance, is necessary to produce the blow of a hammer; how a movement is also obtained, alike equal and at regular intervals, but by impulses longer continued, imparted by means of the traverse or reversing pinion, where a wheel or pinion, acting on both sides of a rack, by passing over the extremity along the opposite side, reverses the direction of the motion—such as is exemplified, for instance, in the slow ascent and descent of the frame which feeds the spindles in a cotton or worsted mill or the horizontal motion backward and forward of an ordinary mangle.

There can be no spectacle more grateful to the heart of an Englishman than, viewing the interior of a manufactory of machinery, to observe the features of each hard-working mechanic blackened by smoke, yet radiant with the light of intelligence—to contrast with his humble station the lines of fervid thought that mark his countenance and direct his sinewy arm—and to reflect that to such combination of the powers of mind and body England owes her present state of commercial greatness. It is no less pleasing to consider, that although particular classes of men have suffered by the substitution of machinery for manual labour, such evils arise from the mutability of human affairs—are such as the most zealous philanthropist cannot avert; and, lastly, of themselves insignificant compared with the general demand for labour throughout the country, which has not only kept pace with the increase of machinery, but no doubt might be shown even to have exceeded it; nay, it might be made manifest, that not only is the grand total of operatives employed throughout the manufacturing districts augmented, but additional employment afforded in like proportion for mechanics, to supply the wear and tear of machinery, and buildings dependant thereupon, as well as for workmen upon all works to be traced to a similar cause, such as railroads, bridges, viaducts, aqueducts, &c.

Great have been the strides of the commercial interest, while the agricultural has comparatively remained still. In halls like these the growth of science has been fostered, and England is no doubt indebted to the manufacturer, among other benefits conferred, for the simultaneous expansion of intellect that has spread of late years far and wide through the country. The public, nevertheless, have been slow to do justice to the character of the manufacturer, or appreciate the manifold difficulties of his position. Instead of regarding him as an individual on whom hundreds, nay, thousands of his fellow-creatures depend for their daily bread, expressions of morbid sympathy have, on the contrary, never ceased to paint the situation of the operatives far darker than it is in reality; while there can be no doubt but that the well being of both parties has been preserved through the struggle, not alone by the industry of the servant, but by the benevolence of the master. Benevolence, in England, as well as industry, is a leading virtue—to exercise it at others' expense is a national failing; as in the case of those, for instance, who, under the forms of various descriptions of associations and societies, undertake to direct the kindly feelings of individuals. This propensity, (laudable in itself, and perhaps harmless, even though misapplied, so long as confined really to individuals,) exerted in the way of special interference between different classes of persons, and especially between masters and their servants, then subverts the natural dependance whereby both mutually lean upon each other. It is as unquestionable that the operatives rely, over and above their daily wages, upon their masters, as that the benevolence of the latter can never flow so freely as through an open channel; inasmuch as the domestic policy of individuals, with regard to house servants, preserves in sickness and old age multitudes of those whose "service is no inheritance," there is no reason to apprehend that similar unseen channels of sympathy, if left to themselves, flow less abundantly towards the relief of the operatives among the manufacturing classes.

With respect to the general state of the workmen, and especially the children in the factories, I certainly gained, by personal inspection, a happy release from opinions previously entertained; neither could I acknowledge those resemblances, probably the work of interested artists, by whom such touching portraits of misery and over-fatigue have been from time to time embellished; I saw around me wherever I moved, on every side, a crowd of apparently happy beings, working in lofty, well-ventilated buildings, with whom a comparison could no more in fairness be drawn with the solitary weaver plying his shuttle from morning to night in his close dusty den, than between the bustle and occupation of life and soul-destroying solitude. It is surprising, after all, to reflect, that notwithstanding human labour necessarily receives its limit according to the extent of human power, yet how few there arc who are aware how great that power is. Extraordinary feats of exertion, from time to time heard of, serve to exhibit prodigies of strength displayed at particular times and places; nevertheless most people are totally ignorant how far voluntary labour, unrecorded and almost unnoticed, is daily urged. I remember one day at Liverpool, when walking on the docks, stopping to observe the mode in which the labourers employed to carry sacks of oats from the adjoining storehouses to a vessel lying at the waterside conducted the operation. These men (chiefly Irishmen) received the full sacks as they were lowered by the cranes off the hitch on their shoulders and carried them across the road. They pursued their heavy task during the working hours of a summer's day at a uniform, unremitting pace, a trot of at least five miles an hour, the distance from the vessel to the storehouse being full fifty yards; they were frequently obliged, moreover, to deviate from a straight line, in order to avoid the numerous carts and carriages that continually obstructed their course. Arrived on the edge of the wharf, they shot the sack into the hold of the vessel, after which, returning to the storehouse, and fixing the empty sack to the hitch at the end of the rope, they received in its place a full one. It was said that at this work a good labourer earned, at 16d. per 100 sacks, ten shillings a day; so that consequently he made seven hundred and fifty trips from the storehouse to the vessel, carrying for half the distance a full sack of oats on his shoulder, thus performing a distance of seventy-five thousand yards, or forty-three miles nearly. All which, weight, distance, and impediments being considered, though a great performance, is one only of those numberless instances that somehow or other neither cause pity, nor engender that state of excitement and outcry so congenial to the English character.

Inasmuch as during the course of late improvements in machinery, thousands of the lower classes have been necessarily made conversant with the operations, and daily habit has continually encouraged and confirmed the love of knowledge and the spirit of investigation, I think it follows that the march of intellect at least has received from hence a powerful impulse, and that, at all events, it may be predicated as to the point at which the latter has now arrived—that even supposing the mind of the public were suddenly to change, and instead of meditated schemes of education, compulsory and persuasive, an endeavour were made, on the contrary, to stop its progress —the word "halt" would be uttered in vain.

With the same good intention that would fain heretofore have improved the condition of the factory children by special interference, in like manner there are many who would regulate education generally throughout the country, not only for the benefit of the lower classes, but even out of tender mercy towards the higher, from the apprehension that from this said march of intellect the lower classes may gain undue pre-eminence.

But it appears to me that the matter may very well be allowed to rest in the old hands, and that parents and guardians may safely, as usual, continue to direct the course of education, particularly as experience shows that the energies excited have been simultaneous instead of partial, and that all classes of society (not the lower classes exclusively) have been awakened by a sympathetic stimulus; for it might be shown that knowledge has shed light in equal proportion over the higher ranks, were only the numerous public lectures delivered continually, year after year, on every branch of science, and in every great town in the country, to be given as an example.

It may be a question for consideration, whether or not the first process of all in mental cultivation—that of clearing the soil of the weed of idle habit, and preparing it for the seed of instruction—be properly attended to; and whether that stupendous engine—the imitative faculty of a child—be made available to its utmost extent. I have often thought that during the important season of reason's first development, those few years of existence when figures, sounds, colours, languages, fall on the understanding as the down on the wing of a butterfly, something more might be done under the peripatetic system of instruction than has been generally attempted; I say peripatetic, as the blessing of health is not only the first of all desiderata, but even learning itself is worth little without it. According to the present plan of many infant schools, a peripatetic system of instruction might, I think, be acted upon, to such extent at least as might not only afford instruction to children of all ranks, but render them at the same time more healthy and happy. At all events, there appears no rational objection to the institution of infant schools for the children of the rich as well as the poor; were it only as a refuge from those solitary hours of idleness passed by the firstborn of the higher classes within the walls of a nursery, wherein many an infant, while the mother is shopping and paying morning visits, remains untaught one useful lesson— that the world was made for others as well as itself— nay, grows daily more confirmed in its propensity to self-will, and lays the foundation of sorrow and disappointment in after age.

Our public schools, together with the present forms of education, taken with all their imperfections, certainly afford the means of attaining every requisite description of knowledge, provided the mind of the student be properly prepared, and he be willing to learn: but our public schools are not to be blamed if, on the contrary, he, having such advantages at command, and choosing to slumber away his hours on the bank of the stream without drinking its waters, should afterward complain of thirst. Our present forms of education are not, by reason that they hold out the means of obtaining instruction, to be held amenable for their mal-appropriation. A certain period, no doubt, varying according to disposition and talent, is indispensable, under any particular course of study; to define this period it behooves those concerned to exercise their judgment: for it is as certain that things half learned are never remembered, as that those thoroughly ingrafted in the mind are never forgotten. There is a time—a moment, perhaps—when the particles of knowledge descending on the memory are liable to be swept from its surface by the most trivial cause, yet, for that moment being suffered to remain, sink and amalgamate with its essence for ever. There may be imperfections in our forms of education; nevertheless, such may be, probably, more attributable to the apathy of parents and guardians than to the system itself: for, though public schools may be said partly to lead the public taste, yet they hold always in due deference public opinion; the intelligible, definite expression of which, without more special interference, will, no doubt, prove alone sufficient to instigate all necessary alterations.

The study of arithmetic and algebra might certainly be made a more primary object of interest than has been hitherto the practice. It was a trite adage when Horace was a boy—

"Ut pueris olim Jant crustula blandi
Doctores, elements velint ut discere prima,"

yet common custom rather tends to give a distaste for the science of numbers and quantities, than inspire the pupil with a sense of its beauty; the study is taken up altogether in a desultory way, and may rather be said, after a couple of hours' labour, to spoil a half holyday, than to afford any direct advantage. Under the present system, a youth has scarcely shaken off the heavy machinery of primary rules, when he leaves school, and bids adieu to the subject for ever; and this notwithstanding the accumulating rapidity with which difficulties disappear in proportion to progress. It is really absurd that since, even in the further stages, there is no mental exercise more painful, one which requires more fixed attention or more tenacity of thought, than the mere primary, mechanical process of multiplication, the student should be thus propelled, as it were, through stormy weather, and then be obliged to abandon his course the moment the light of reason illuminates his track, and teaches him to adapt principles painfully acquired to easy practice. Provided arithmetic be made a part of education, the student should never stop short of algebra, of which, by any one versed in common arithmetic, a tolerable insight may be obtained in a few months. By it, he not only becomes thoroughly master of theory, but arrives, as it were, in an element, where, with every new object calculated to delight and surprise, he breathes afresh, inhales new life, and reposes in peace, half suffocated by the turbid waters of the immortal Cocker. A problem in algebra once arranged and commenced, no matter how frequent the interruptions, how sudden or how long the interval, an hour, a day, a week afterward, it is resumed and pursued, precisely with the same interest and the same facility as if no interruption at all had taken place. By the help of algebra, the student not only at once perceives the use of all his early labours, and views the general principles of arithmetic laid bare in surprising beauty, but obtains, moreover, a master key, wherewith to advance at will, as fancy or interest in future days may lead, within the pale of mathematics.

There may be those among classical students who hold arithmetical studies in vile estimation—who consider them derogatory to the heir apparent of large possessions, and condemn them as vulgar and low. Provided the fancy takes no turn that way, or in the case of imbibing an antipathy, there is no help for what is, after all, in some degree, a matter of taste; but as to any possible objections which can be raised by such a class of scholars, the following allegory appears to me to convey, in few words, a satisfactory reply.

Knickerbocker relates, in his History of New-York, that in the early days of traffic between the aborigines and the Hollanders, the former were totally ignorant of the science of numbers; and that, although at the same time they had recourse to the use of scales, in their bargains for furs brought from the interior of the country, they were by no means conversant with the adjustment of weights. Hereupon it was proposed by the Dutchman, merely to facilitate matters and for the sake of convenience, that his foot, placed in one scale, should reckon against five pounds of furs in the other; and upon this understanding they went on for a long time, without any other arrangement. Affairs, in consequence, it is said, always went well with the Dutchman, though somehow or other, by the perversity of fortune, it invariably fell out that the Indian remained poor.

Considering there are various modes by which the thing to be taught may be administered, and that it may be rendered more or less palatable to the taste of the student, I have often thought that the latter object might be somewhat promoted, and the course of instruction improved, merely by an alteration in the order of the rules; for instance, as relates to decimal fractions.

According to the present plan, a boy is led through all the primary rules before he is taught that a decreasing scale exists, to the right of the unit, precisely similar to that which increases to the left. As nothing can be more simple than the whole theory of decimal fractions, which operations are, in (act, the same as those in whole numbers, there is no reason why they should not be taught from the very beginning; which early insight would certainly tend to encourage reflection, at the expense of hardly any additional encumbrance on the mind.

Again, the rule of three is universally learned by rote; a barrier at the beginning to the range of thought, beyond which the mind of a boy has no more scope than if he were taught to reckon with his fingers. It is administered after the manner of a quack medicine, or a charm of unknown ingredients, to be swallowed without further inquiry, as if to suit all manner of purposes in life. This of the rule of three direct. As for the rule of three inverse, it may be, for ought many know to the contrary, the other rule set to music; while the double rule of three, being somewhat complicated and unintelligible, few are inclined to take in hand.

Yet all these rules, the direct rule of three, the inverse rule of three, and the double rule of three, are, in fact, no rules at all, taken in a primary sense; but they are secondary rules, founded upon another rule, or elementary law of proportion, which latter rule, or elementary law, is the simplest of the two.

It were surely better, therefore, since a sufficient demonstration is intelligible to any capacity, that a boy should either not be made acquainted with the rule of three at all, or that the principle, together with the rule, should be explained to him; and this principle lies, as it were, in a nutshell, the elementary law alluded to being so generally known, that it is unnecessary to say where it is to be found: whether it be known or not, it is as easy to understand and remember as the rule of three; it is simply as follows, namely—that of four numbers, being proportionals, the sum of the two middle terms multiplied together is equal to the sum of the two extremes multiplied together. As every possible question in the rule of three, whether direct or inverse, consists, when solved, of four proportional numbers; suppose it be taken for granted that the question is so solved, the said fourth number being represented by x. Thus—if 3 lbs. cost 9s., what will 5 lbs. cost? That is, as 3 is to 9, so is 5 to x; whatever number x may be. Here are four proportional numbers, and, as has been stated, it follows that 3 times x is equal to 9 times 5. Hence a: must be equal to a third part of 9 times 5; or, in other words, equal to 5 multiplied by 9, and divided by 3, which is the rule; for the fourth number, here represented by x, is found by multiplying the second and third numbers together, and dividing by the first, which was to be shown.

The above is but a partial demonstration of a common rule, by no means offered to the reader as a perfect illustration. Yet, while I am on the subject, a subject tending at least to promote reflection, and useful as far as regards the endeavour to render more palatable that which is undeservedly called a heavy science, another instance occurs to me, whereupon a very few lines regarding a rule in mensuration, also very generally known, may not altogether be thrown away.

The rule I allude to is that for determining the solid contents of the frustum of a pyramid; and is as follows: Add to the sum of both areas the square root of their product, which multiply by a third of the height. The same, put in an algebraical formula, taking the larger area as A, the smaller a , and the height h, stands thus:—

A mathematical equation

This formula is applicable to various practical purposes; the figure of a pyramid (and, a fortiori, a frustum thereof) admitting of such infinite variety, according as the bases may be circles, plane rectilinear figures, or polygons of any description, and also according to the height or variation of the angle at the apex: a common wineglass, almost every description of vat, tank, or drinking vessel, a log of timber, round or square, a tapering column, a chimney, and various parts of buildings and ordinary objects, assimilate their solid contents to this rule. But I have only introduced it for the sake of its partial demonstration, and its conformity with the principles that direct the dimensions of the pyramid or cone, and those of the prism or cylinder; conceiving that, with both the rule and its principles, every boy at school ought to be made acquainted. A perfect and neat algebraic demonstration is given in some of the books of arithmetic; but I address myself solely to the arithmetical reader.

Everybody knows that the solid contents of a prism or cylinder are found by multiplying the area of the base by the altitude; and secondly, that the solid contents of the pyramid or cone, whose base and height are equal to the base and height of the said prism or cylinder, amount to one third thereof.

It is necessary to premise what must of necessity be previously taken for granted; namely, that any quantity multiplied by nothing amounts to nothing. Upon this point in arithmetic the demonstration rests, and this point is no paradox, but a fact intelligible to anybody. For, inasmuch as the product of any quantity is diminished, in proportion as the multiplier is greater or less, so of course when the multiplier arrives at nothing the product vanishes altogether.

To prove the truth of the above formula for determining the solid contents of the frustum of a cone or pyramid, by applying the said formula to the entire figure — it is evident that a frustum, being an indefinite terra, may approximate infinitely near to the entire figure, of which it is a part, and still be a frustum so long as the lesser area be any quantity at all. Thence it follows that an entire pyramid may, in correct terms, be defined a frustum, whose lesser area is equal to nothing.

In the latter case the formula would stand thus: —

A mathematical equation

whence, the two latter terms within the brackets being multiplied by naught, it would be which is the rule for the pyramid or cone.

In like manner, either taking the prism or cylinder, as a frustum whose areas are equal; and, reasoning as before, conversely, the said frustum may approximate indefinitely near the entire figure, so long as the smallest conceivable particle of difference remains between the two areas. The formula would then be

A mathematical equation

or A x h; which is the rule for the prism or cylinder.

The above observations have more for their object to point, as it were, in the direction, than mark the alterations that might be made with good effect were the subject of arithmetical studies treated with more consideration, to the end that the young mind, instead of being burdened with mere rules, should be rather instructed in the principles of their foundation: at the same time I trust it by no means follows that I propose, in the least degree, to hold cheap the Latin and Greek classics— quite the contrary; being fully impressed with the conviction that if time be judiciously employed, there is time for everything. Our public schools, so long as the tree be judged by its fruit, claim first rank among the seminaries of the world; the English aristocracy, as regards classical attainments, being second to none; and as the heirloom of the higher classes in every country is leisure, it naturally follows, that the classics must form a more prominent part of their education than of the lower. Yet, by the mechanic, a partial proficiency in the dead languages would certainly be desirable, nor would a moderate proportion of pains towards the attainment be ill bestowed. To many an inquiring mind, the barrier, that first presents itself on the approach towards any particular science, is its glossary; a barrier which, as it frequently causes all further attempt to be abandoned, may be called almost insurmountable: were even a partial summary of etymological terms of the sciences prepared and learned by rote as a part of the mechanic's education, while the memory is young and retentive, it would doubtless form a desirable and useful adjunct.

The Latin and Greek classics stand by far too deeply rooted to be shaken "arbitrio popularis aurae from their beauty and merit alone, they must ever remain identified with the literature of modern nations; taken on the mere ground of utility, as a branch of study, ten or twelve per cent, of the English words in any ordinary book are to be directly traced therefrom; but surely the dead languages, instead of being taken merely for what they are worth, ought to be considered, in fact, rather elements of living ones, thus to be acknowledged and received by a civilized people as the earliest record of human intelligence, and thence even as illustrative of the gift of speech.

George Head, A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2009.

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