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HE writer of the following pages was, in the winter of 1849-50, deputed by the proprietors of the Morning Chronicle to proceed to Manchester, with the view of personally studying the social and industrial condition of the working population of the metropolis of cotton manufacture. The result was an extended series of long and elaborate letters, going into the very minutia of the subject, and presenting what the writer is not afraid to characterise as one of the most minute and faithful pictures ever painted of the working and the home-life of the 'hands' of the Manchester cotton-mills; for it was all, so to speak, drawn from nature and on the spot. Upon matters of fact, the writer never spoke from hearsay. He was put into communication with gentlemen of official and of mercantile standing in Manchester, who procured for
every facility for the prosecution of his inquiry. Thus he was enabled to see every phase of the life of the people-to converse with them by the drawing-frames' and the 'rovingframes; to visit them at their homes; to meet them in their public places of resort; and to ascertain, by personal converse, the manner of the life of the manufacturing operative, and the social and industrial influences which form and direct it. These letters,
however, are of anything but easy or convenient access, and, furthermore, they necessarily contain, along with the matter essentially and permanently true, much information respecting the cotton manufacture which was only temporarily correct. It has been thought, therefore, that the pith and substance of the former class of information might be profitably condensed, and compacted into the view of Manchester and Manchester operative-life which follows. The writer has in some degree sought to call up as vivid a picture as he might of the peculiar and visible characteristics of the cotton city. With its commerce, its institutions, and its municipal and mercantile arrangements, he had nothing to do. His object was to convey a correct and locally-coloured idea of the social system which has grown up under the influences of the greatest branch of our national industry, and to sketch with some minuteness the peculiarly shrewd and hard-headed temperaments of the manufacturing men of Lancashire, who have lately afforded so many proofs of their ability and their will to play a most important part in the direction of our national polity.
There have been few things better abused than the cotton manufacturing system. For many years, it has been made the scapegoat for all kinds of imputed iniquities and alleged oppressions. 'Factory-slaves' became a common cant term in certain agitating circles, and 'cotton lords' were looked upon by every eau-de-Cologne sentimentalist throughout the land as Molochs and modern Giant Despairs. Silly novels aided what scurrilous and unfair pamphlets had begun; and, a few years ago, the great cotton regions of England-its guiding spirits and its working hands-were very generally looked upon with mingled pity and indignation. Mr Southey described the factory system as a wen—a fungous excrescence on the body politic;' and the day has been sighed for when the ploughshare would pass over the foundations of Manchester. But out of all this slough of prejudice and error, the Cotton Metropolis has of late been steadily rising. No amount of folly or misrepresentation could ultimately prevent that; and the whole kingdom has seen that district which it contemned as a region of grinding capitalists, without a thought save of cotton and of stunted serfs, toiling perforce at an unwholesome trade-one vast slave-gang; the nation, we repeat, has seen that region suddenly dart into magnificent political energy and power; found a new economic and social system; and by the peculiar clear-headedness of the views, and the still more peculiar working energy of its people, triumphantly direct the policy of the land. Such a people are formed neither of serfs nor tyrants.
The secret of the success of this late grand movement of the city and the district of the tall chimneys, is to a great degree to be found in the intense practical sagacity and practical energy of its inhabitants. England is the most practical of nations, and Lancashire is the most practical part of England. It is on the
banks of the Irwell and the Mersey, indeed, that we find the very essence of the old Anglo-Saxon spirit of the country-often expressed, by the way, in Anglo-Saxon words, everywhere else long extinct and forgotten. And the essence of this spirit was ever to do rather than to say-the special characteristic of Manchester. While other towns are speaking, Manchester is working. A local scheme, for example, got up in Manchester, would be proposed, considered, subscribed for, undertaken, and executed, before another similar scheme in a southern city had furnished half its quota of preliminary talk. Life, indeed, in the cotton districts, appears at first a perfect turmoil of action; but on nearer inspection all the feeling of confusion wears off, and you contemplate with equal awe and admiration the working of the vast manufacturing and distributing machine, supplying half the world with its productions, with a thousand eyes peering for new markets, and a thousand hands ready to pour in the staple material; consulting every popular taste and every physical climate; manufacturing for Siberia and Africa; clothing in its textures the Chinese in his tea-garden, and the Indian squaw among the Rocky Mountains. Everywhere you observe practical sagacity, and the invincible tendency to action. No procrastination there, no delay. A man resolves, and his hand is at the work ere the thought has ceased to vibrate in his brain.
Much of the popular distaste for the manufacturing system and the manufacturing districts, possibly arose from the ugliness and smokiness of the towns; and in this respect, no doubt, Manchester and its compeers might be greatly improved. Some architectural symmetry lavished upon the mills, and some smokeconsuming apparatus to clear the atmosphere, would cheer the aspect of matters immensely. As it is, the transition from the rural to the cotton districts is, it must be confessed, not pleasant. First, the railway traveller perceives a dull, leaden canopy encroaching upon the bright blue sky, and the number of stations shews the increasing density of the population. Rural factories, each with its clustered group of cottages, begin to appear. The roads are substantially paved with stone; canals, studded with barges, abound; and the rivers run turbid and thick, charged with the foulness of many factories they have helped to set in motion. Then the tall chimneys begin to rise around you; the country loses its fresh rurality of look; the grass seems brown and scorched, and the trees, grimy and stunted; while path and road are black with coal-dust. Further on, you shoot through town after town-the outlying satellites of the great cotton metropolis-all of them identical in features; all of them little Manchesters; all of them dotted with vast brown piles of building, distinguished by the dull uniformity of their endless rows of windows, their towering shafts, with pennons of smoke, and the white gushes of waste steam continually blowing off. Some dozen miles characterised by such features, and you are whirled along
the roofs of a vast net-work of mean, unadorned streets; everywhere broken up by the eternally recurring black masses of the mills; the expanse of populated brick intersected by numerous canals, and its hollows spanned by railway viaducts; until, in a few minutes, you find yourself discharged from the train, in the very centre of the city of Manchester.
In the general aspect of the town, a very important part is played by the sombre, silent streets, which principally consist of warehouses many of them of stately and symmetric aspect, with long, pillared façades and ornamented frontages. Here the passengers are comparatively few, and consist almost entirely of hurrying men of business; while the prevailing vehicles are the low vans or trucks, on which bales of goods are conveyed from the factories to the marts, where they are exposed for sale, and packed for distant markets. Other thoroughfares are more metropolitan in their aspect, presenting the usual appearance of the crowded highways of a large and busy town, and studded with public buildings, several of them of great size and architectural beauty. But wherever you may take your station in Manchester, you are not far from heaps of mean, two-storeyed houses, extending in ramifications of monotonous and uninteresting streets, and every now and then interrupted by the vast sweep of brick-wall, the half-dozen tiers of square windows, and the towering shafts of the genius loci-the cotton-mill.
In Manchester streets, there is a total absence of loungers. Busy as London is, the cotton capital is still busier. The upper class of the population go buzzing from warehouse to warehouse, and bank to bank, and office to office. At certain hours, swarms of mechanics, in their distinguishing fustian, seem to burst from concealed receptacles; and mingled with them, appear the factory operatives, the true working-people of Manchester; the men, in general, under-sized and sallow-looking; and the girls and women also somewhat stunted and pale, but smart and active, with dingy dresses, and dark shawls wreathed round their heads, abundantly speckled with flakes of cotton-wool. The girls almost invariably move about in groups, and very often with their arms round each other's necks and waists. The working-dress, with its characteristic locks of cotton, however, disappears upon the Sunday; and the 'factory-lass' who flung a shawl over her head and shoulders on the last six days of the week, appears on the first as gay as a smart bonnet and ribbons can make her.
Both in its industrial and architectural features, Manchester may be roughly divided into three great regions. The central of these, lying round the civic heart-the Exchange-whence the pulsation of every steam-engine, at least morally, proceeds, is the grand district of warehouses and counting-rooms. There the fabrics spun, woven, printed, and dyed at the mills, are stored for inspection and purchase; there the actual business of buying and selling is carried on; there are banks, offices, and agencies