HOSTILITY AND DEPENDENCE

 

"I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down." 

"Who have you heard running the masters down?" Margaret reddened; then smiled as she said, [...] "You must take my word for it, that I have heard some people, or, it may be, only some one of the workpeople speak as though it were the interest of the employers too keep them from acquiring money - that it would make them too independent if they had a sum in the savings' bank." [...] "

I heard, moreover, that it was considered to the advantage of the masters to have ignorant workmen - [...] he - that is, my informant - spoke as if the masters would like their hands to be merely tall, large children - living in the present moment - with a blind unreasoning kind of obedience." 

"In short, Miss Hale, it is very evident that your informant iound a pretty ready listener to all the slander he chose to utter4 against the masters," said Mr Thornton, in an offended tone. Margaret did not reply. She was displeased at the personal  character Mr Thornton affixed to what she had said.

 Mr Hale spoke next: 

"I must confess that, although I have not become so intimately acquainted with any workmen as Margaret has, I am very much struck by the antagonism between the employer and the employed, on the very surface of things. I even gather this impression from what you yourself have from time to time said." 

Mr Thornton paused awhile before he spoke. Margaret had just left the room, and he was vexed at the state of feeling between himself and her . However, the little annoyance, by making him cooler and more thoughtful, gave a greater dignity to what he said: 

My theory is, that my interests are identical with those of my workpeople, and viceversa.  Miss Hale, I know, does not like to hear men called 'hands', so I won't use that word, though  it comes most readily to my lips as the technical term, whose origin, whatever it  was, dates before my time. On some future day in some millenium   in Utopia, this unity may be brought into practice - just as I can fancy a republic the most perfect form of government, [...] but give me a constitutional monarchy in our present state of morals and intelligence. In our infancy we require a wise despotism to govern us. Indeed, long past infancy, children and young people are the happiest under the unfailing laws of a discreet, firm authority. I agree with Miss Hale so far as to consider our people in the condition of children, while I deny that we, the masters, have anything to do with the making or keeping them so. I maintain6 that despotism is the best kind of government for them; so that in the hours in which I come in contact with them I must necessarily be an autocrat. I will use my best discretion from no humbug or philanthropic feelings, of which we have had rather too much in the North to make wise laws and come to just decisions in the conduct of my business laws and decisions which work for my own good in the first instance - for theirs in the second; but I will neither be forced to give my reasons, nor flinch from what I have once declared to be my resolution. Let them turn out! I shall suffer as well as they: but at the end they will find I have not bated nor altered one jot. 

Margaret had re-entered the room and was sitting at her work; [...] "you are a man, dealing with a set of men over whom you have, whether you reject the use of it or not, immense power, just because your lives and your welfare are so constantly and intimately interwoven. God has made us so that we must be mutually dependent. We may ignore our own dependence, or refuse to acknowledge that others depend upon us in more respects than the payment of weekly wages; but the thing must be, nevertheless. Neither you nor any other master can help yourselves. [...]

"You are just like all strangers who don't understand the working of our system, Miss Hale," said he, hastily. "You suppose that our men are puppets of dough, ready to be moulded into any amiable form we please. You forget we have only to do with them for less than a third of their lives; and you seem not to perceive that the duties of a manufacturer are far larger and wider than those merely of an employer of labour: we have a wide commercial character to maintain, which makes us into the great pioneers of civilization." 

"It strikes me,' said Mr Hale, smiling, "that you might pioneer a little at home. They are a rough, heathenish set of fellows, these Milton men of yours." 

(from Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South 1854-5)