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private customers, who, it is needless to say, had plenty of their own to offer in exchange. We were frequently confronted with Carlyle's problem: How was it that, with all the talk about distressed needlewomen, he could never find a needlewoman, distressed or otherwise,' to do a periodical day's sewing at Cheyne Row; and the oftener the question was put, the better we were pleased, as it gave us the opportunity of asking in return, how did Mr. Carlyle and those who quoted him expect the said needlewoman to maintain herself on all the other days of the year when the philosopher's clothes didn't want mending? We pointed out that some ten or twenty families, offering between them not less than 250 days' work to a decent and competent sempstress, would have no difficulty in finding one; but that, without some virtual security for regular employment, any woman in her senses must prefer the poorly paid but constant employment given by the trade, where even the hardest employer will try to find or make a bit of work for his best hands in bad times, to the casual engagements offered in private families, which spend two or three months of every year out of town, and feel unfortunately in no way bound to enable their needlewoman to earn a year's wages during the nine months for which they need her services. Other queries were of a more personal character.
ore personal character. A young man with historic christian names wanted to know if one of us was any relation of the Miss So-and-so who had written a dismal book about ethics, and had some difficulty in grasping that the nearest relation was that of identity. One pretty creature with a good sweet face wanted to know if we made shirts for the love of Christ, and as truth forced us to reply it was for the love of shirtmakers, we were fain to hope that our friend had never heard of
Abou ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!),
so that the involuntary plagiarism might at least be innocent of presumption. In truth we found little upon which to pride ourselves in what the charitable were pleased to call our work. They wished to know if we tried to do our people good. Did we read to them at their work ?-a question solved by the sound as of distant thunder overhead, where four sewing-machines kept up a continuous rumble. Did we try to teach them thrift, temperance, and the rest of it? virtues which, to tell the truth, we felt less likely to abound in our customers and ourselves than among our workers. Did we try to cultivate their intelligence and provide them with higher interests'?
we were, on the whole, more apt to realise our substantial inferiority to every woman with a trade and to exaggerate the intelligence implied in the skill we lacked, while we observed with awe and admiration that, by some inexplicable freemasonry, as news fly through the uninhabited desert, our shirtmakers were generally in a position to give us the earliest intelligence as to the winner of the Derby
or the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, while their comments on current affairs were fully up to the customary standard of intelligence observable, say, in the nine o'clock omnibuses.
Of course we must not allow ourselves to exaggerate. Side by side with an astonishing and admirable amount of patient industry, endurance, kindness to those in trouble and scrupulous professional honesty, our shirtmaking friends have their less amiable traits. The language of workrooms is not select, and we have had to beg that nothing might be said before the children in the room that would not be said before the partners; then there are a few-we are told and can believe a diminishing number, but still some, and those not the least skilled shirtmakers—who, after working steadily for a few weeks or months, disappear some Monday, spend a few days in drinking, and then come back to their work as if nothing had happened, or with a mythical story that no one takes the trouble to question because every one knows what it means. We naturally took a more serious view of these escapades than employers made kind by fellow feeling, and there was less of this with us than in most workrooms, but the offenders we should have most liked to reclaim have a good deal of pride in their lucid intervals, and we found that after one or two lapses they preferred to go elsewhere rather than face our remonstrances. Then, again, the embittering effect of the struggle for existence shows itself in jealousies and wranglings about the discribution of work, each imagining the other to have more than herself of the easiest or the best-paid work, or more than her fair share of the work when there is not enough for everybody. But we always found them ready to respond to an explicit appeal to their sense of reason and justice. A shirtmaker does not believe that two and two will make five if she cries and bothers enough about it;' she does not expect to get forty-nine farthings out of a shilling; and when we found that we were in some cases dividing amongst them more farthings and halfpence for making a particular shirt than our employers paid us for it, the ladies in parliament assembled voted the necessary redistribution and reduction of prices, without, so far as we could judge, thinking us at all to blame for the unamiable limitation of arithmetical possibilities.
Thus from year to year the work went on. Customers multiplied, and were no longer drawn mainly from the ranks of private acquaintanceship. It seemed that, with all our inexperience and blundering, we blundered on the average less than the average tradesman; people who came at first out of goodnature, came again because it suited them. Whether we solved Carlyle's problem to his satisfaction or no, we made his and his brother's shirts. Our first issue of an explanatory circular brought us so many members of the House of Commons as seriously to raise our estimate of the intelligence scattered up
and down on both sides in the great national palaver. Men, who in their
devoted youth had bought co-operative coats of infelicitous cut under the inspiration of Alton Locke, rejoiced to assert their principles at less expense in shirts of unexceptionable fashion. The higher mathematics, we began to feel, would have been nowhere without us, for by a curious chance it seemed that such of their professors as did not deal with us direct were yet drawn by some elective affinity to the shops supplied with our manufactures. The bench of bishops, of course, was represented on our books, and that the last precocious .scholar of Balliol should be unable to go up' without our assistance seemed the most natural thing in the world, while our human sympathies were not less touched by the bereft old gentleman who abandoned himself to our care, with a belated sigh, “My poor dear wife used to look after these things for me. We remember, too, the gratitude, mixed with wonder, of the first little bride to whom a sympathetic partner lightened the anxieties of the trousseau with afternoon tea and counsels based on the widest experience of bridesmaidenship.
Indeed, by the time we were fully launched on our career as clothes-makers to every age and sex, we felt that Schiller had gone too far afield to seek in the Lied von der Glocke the accompaniment,
Des Lebens wechselvolles Spieland that in truth'tis your outfitter who receives the earliest and most intimate confidences as to the trappings proper to whichever step, in the long journey from the cradle to the grave, lies before you next. The wedding order' is a symbol of universal joy, and even a dressmaker is sorry for girls whose bright new frocks have to be cast aside because there has been a death in the family. The bell of the poet is a supernumerary, but besides the usual chapter of births, deaths, and marriages, the sempstress is in contact with a thousand domestic fatalities which never reach the ringers. She knows when the boys go to Eton and when their mothers are no longer trusted to buy their shirts. Illness comes to her with sudden calls for unaccustomed garments, and the climate of the future emigrant's home is known to her by his :wardrobe. The dressmaker is in humble alliance with the artist if the fair one who is to sit for her portrait has a face, or the artist a brush, that will be the better for effects in costumery. The creeds, too, are represented in this microcosm, and nothing is foreign to a shirtmaker of catholic capacity, from the last fashion in surplices to the riband of blue put upon the fringe of the borders of the garments of the children of Israel, throughout their generations. Even the larger movements of the political world have their echo in the workroom, and officers ordered to Afghanistan or diplomatists sent to the rescue of oppressed nationalities, bear with them the good wishes of all who have worked upon their orders. A shirtmaker of cynical proclivities may even observe that the washermen of the oppressed nationality have a tendency to avenge its wrongs by 'spoiling' the linen of the intrusive benefactor with a celerity suggestive of general financial disorganisation.
2 Numbers xv. 38.
These glimpses of a kind of far-reaching household union, of domestic services rendered out of doors and from a distance, but yet by individual human beings to creatures of their own kind, have sometimes seemed to open to us dim visions of the industrial ideal which social reformers have laboured to construct à priori. The shirtmaker whose buttons don't come off is a social benefactor, saving the time of women and the temper of men in distant households. Let us for a moment imagine that the time of our customers is as valuable, as uniformly well employed, as that of mortal men should be in a muchsuffering world, then the value of the services rendered them is enhanced and becomes a part of their larger services to the race, while the service itself is rendered with more faithfulness and zeal because the work is seen to be useful and the reward for it ungrudged. If we could imagine all wealth to be expended profitably, no labour would then be driven to throw itself away, bribed to do work for which the community is none the better at wages for which the worker is the
There is no moralising agent equal to the power of work, but, as an idle poet wrote,
Work without hope draws water in a sieve,
and a large proportion of the work imposed upon the poor by the vagaries of industrial competition has about the moral as well as the economic value of so many months upon the treadmill.
We are much indebted to the industrious poet who preaches the right of the worker to joy as well as hope for his portion ; but it may be doubted whether quite every screw and bolt in the machinery of civilisation can be wrought into a thing of beauty, and to glorify duly the commonest kinds of labour we must idealise the object rather than the product of the workman's toil. What worshipper would not rejoice to make his hero's shoes, if hero-worshippers were apt to be able to do anything half so useful? But surely not all work is worship (unless, maybe, of Mammon); to make it so in all cases, the employers of labour and the consumers of its fruits had need be worshipful.
No account of a co-operative adventure would be complete which did not touch upon the important question of profit and loss. Could co-operative shirtmaking be made to pay as well as private trading, and what are the difficulties in the way of its doing so ? For the benefit of other amateurs it may be worth while to go into details which would be superfluous for those whose ignorance of the ways of commerce was less complete thau ours.
We entered upon our work with the capital of a few hundred pounds, to be raised to 1,0001. if necessary. We were advised that the cost of articles sold should be estimated at the cost of the raw material plus the cost of the work, plus a certain percentage to cover
rent, general working expenses, interest on capital, and profits. But no one explained to us, nor did it occur to us à priori, that, for a business to pay its way, it is first of all necessary that the amount of trade done shall be large enough for the percentage added to the cost to equal the anticipated fixed general expenses ; thus, if the price is made by adding 20 per cent. to the cost of work and materials, and the general expenses are 3001., the sales must reach 1,8001., or there will be a loss on the year's transactions, as 20 per cent. on less than 1,500l. will not produce the requisite 300l. This is obvious as soon as stated, but such truths are by no means innate, and it must be confessed that, so far from being discouraged by the smallness of our turnover in 1876, we were rather proud of ourselves, and had a sepse of commercial success, when we found after a few months that, with 500l. invested, we had actually received 8001. for goods and work. It is even possible that we had a dim and short-lived notion that we were already earning profits to the extent of the difference! Even the drafting of a balance-sheet does not come by nature, and in our first attempt at one the distinction between capital and revenue was still a little nebulous. Its general tendency was to indicate a loss of between 2501. and 3001.--a fact which the partners discreetly buried in the deepest recesses of their own minds beneath wreaths of cheerful remarks about the cost of the goodwill’of a business and the high premiums charged to learners.
In the course of that year we had gradually substituted the scale of piecework prices ruling in the best first-hand shops for weekly wages, and in 1877 an increase of nearly fifty per cent. in our gross earnings enabled us to establish an equilibrium between receipts and expenditure. In the third year there was a falling off in the trade work, owing partly to general depression and partly to the competition already referred to, while our private customers had increased and began to grumble at the back-rooms we had thought so businesslike and appropriate to the humble shirtmaker. With some hesitation we determined to move from Soho, to take a whole house and add dressmaking to our other work; one of us wished to become a tailor, but we felt that too lofty ambitions were a snare.
In its new quarters, at 27 Mortimer Street, Cavendish Square, the progress of the firm was gradual but continuous, and its earnings in 1882 and 1883 would have warranted the declaration of a dividend of eleven per cent, and eight per cent. respectively upon its modest capital. We had drawn interest at the rate of five per cent. throughout, but when there was a surplus, anything beyond that was left to make good the original losses. It should however be explained that after the first three or four years much of the clerical and other work that had been done by the partners was handed over to paid officials, so that the amount of gratuitous supervision became less and less. Before that time we used to suffer severe remonstrances from our political-econo