Images de page
PDF
ePub

the Company's advantage, especially as to plain black silks, generally exported again. · Surely no accusation ever advanced against the Company could be more unjust than this that they had been guilty of plotting the improvement of their subjects; who, generally speaking, continue to this day as ignorant of all the useful arts of life, and as deeply sunk in superstition, as they were before we founded a factory, or unfurled our flag on their shores. But the Company being, by the nature of their own union, debarred the use of any arguments against other monopolists, were unable to resist long the clamours of the silk manufacturers. The revocation of the edict of Nantz (in 1685) by Louis XIV. (one of the worthy scions of that virtuous stock replanted by our bayonets on the throne of France,) having driven some hun. dred thousands of his subjects into foreign countries, about fifty, or, as some think, seventy thousand of them, took refuge in Great Britain. A great number of them, who had been engaged in the silk manufacture, established themselves in Spitalfields, and introduced here the weaving of alamodes, lustrings, brocades, satins, and various other stuffs before unknown. With a view to relieve their distress, and, probably, retaliate upon their persecutors, prohibitory measures were adopted by the British Government against the importation of French silks. 1o 1692, the refugees obtained a patent for the sole manufacture of alamodes and lustrings, the kinds which had been most in vogue, but, by the change of fashion, they soon ceased to be in demand. In 1697° the silk manufacturers advanced still farther their system of monopoly, by obtaining an Act prohibiting India and China wrought silks, in which they were aided apparently by the very general disgust which was entertained about this period against the East India Company's monopoly. The state of the silk-trade at this epoch stands as follows: Raw and Thrown Silk Imported British Manufactured Silk Goods from

Exported to Turkey

£210,476 Europe, Ireland, GibralItaly 124,789

£24,946 Holland 21,214 Asia

121 Asia 26,132 Africa

78 America, Foreign.

8,425 Total., £382,611 British

16,924

Total........ £50,494 Such were the imports and exports of silk and silk goods in the year 1701; and it deserves to be remarked, with respect to the comparatively small quantity brought from Asia, that this consisted entirely of raw and thrown silk, nothing else being admitted from that quarter; although the made goods were imported in abundance from

9 In this year, the silk weavers of Spitalfields, under an impression that the sale of calicoes and silk stuffs injured the sale of their manufactures, became outrageous, assaulted the East India House, and had nearly got possession of the Company's treasure, when they were dispersed by the civil power.-Moreau's East India Company's Records.

tar, &c.

Turkey, Italy and Holland. For then, as now, England acted upon the miserable policy of treating the natives of India worse than other foreigners. The allowance of competition with the rest of the world, however, had the advantage of improving our manufacture, which went on increasing rapidly during the next twenty years, and the fabrics of Spitalfields were esteemed superior to those of France. But the system of exclusive privileges and monopoly was never lost sight of by those interested in the trade. In 1719, a patent was granted to Sir Thomas Lombe and his brother, for the sole and exclusive property, for fourteen years, of the celebrated silk-machine erected at Derby, for silk throwing, which produced 73,726 yards of organzine silk at one revolution of the great water-wheel, which turned round three times every minute, making 308,504,960 yards in the day. It was constructed after models they had clandestinely obtained in Italy, and, at the expiration of the patent, the proprietor received a public grant of 14,0001. as a reward for introducing a machine which it was supposed would supersede altogether the necessity of obtaining, as heretofore, the supplies of thrown silk from Italy. But, as remarked by a late contemporary publication,

Instead of being of any advantage, it is most certainly true that the establishment of throwing-mills in England has proved one of the most formidable obstacles to the extension of the English silk manufacture. These mills were originally constructed in consequence of the heavy duties laid on thrown or organzine silk, and the circumstance of their having been erected, and a high amount of capital invested in them, has been urged, and hitherto with success, as a reason for continuing these high duties!

Various other legislative efforts to encourage the silk-trade followed, for the most part injudicious and abortive. In 1720, an Act was passed for raising silk-worms, and planting mulberry trees, in Chelsea Park, on which scheme much money was expended. In 1722,“ the silk manufacture having been brought to great perfection in all its branches, so as to equal the finest fabrications of any foreign country,” was assigned as a reason for giving it legislative assistance; in the same manner as, a century later, its comparative imperfection in several branches is alleged as a ground for claiming Parliamentary protection! At the former period, a bounty of three shillings a pound, avoirdupois, was given on stuffs of silk only, and four shillings on silks mixed with gold. In 1730, we are told, by M. Moreau, that Keyslar, an author of credit and esteem, says, in his travels through a great part of Europe, that

In Italy itself the silks of English manufacture were most esteemed, and bear a greater price than those of Italy; so that at Naples, when a tradesman would highly recommend his silk-stockings, &c., he protests they are right English.

In 1750, the duties on China raw silk were reduced to an equality with that on the importation from Italy; a measure which was of

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

3 Edinburgh Review, No. LXXXV, p. 78.

material advantage to the manufacture, as the China silks were peculiarly adapted for several purposes, particularly gauzes; and the East India Company were at the same time enabled to increase their importation of raw silk, at this time inconsiderable, as shown by the following statement of the imports of raw silk in 1750:

lbs. From Turkey

132,894 Italy, Gibraltar, Spain, Flanders, &c. 55,585 the East Indies

43,876 Total

lbs. 232,355 In 1765, prohibitions and penalties were laid on the importation of a variety of kinds of silk goods; and, next year, similar impositions of old standing were continued, and new ones added. Notwithstanding these bounties and protections, the journeymen silk-weavers were far from being satisfied with their lot; for, in 1769, they entered into illegal combinations to raise the rate of their wages, imposed taxes upon their fellow-workmen to support themselves in idleness, and committed many acts of violence and depredation upon the looms and property of their employers, till they were subdued, not without bloodshed, by the military force.

In 1779, it was found necessary to pass an Act to encourage the importation of Italian organzined (or spun) silk. In consequence of the great scarcity of that commodity, which is indispensably necessary for the warp in silk fabrics, permission was given to land it at any port and in any vessels whatever; an Act which was prolonged from time to time till March 1784. In this year, additional duties of two shillings and two shillings and nine pence per pound were laid upon raw and thrown silks imported; and corresponding bounties of two shillings and eight pence to four shillings per pound allowed, on the exportation of silk goods, Notwithstanding all these unnatural stimulants administered from time to time, the manufacture had hitherto languished; and, about 1790, it was still further depressed by the change of public taste, which, revolting from the persevering attempts to force upon us silk goods above their natural value, gave now a preference to cotton fabrics. In consequence, we are told, that in Spitalfields only above 4000 looms were shut up in 1793, which, seven years before, had given employment to 10,000 persons.

Having, as briefly as possible, traced the history of the silk-trade down to this period, it is now time to give some account of the main part of the work before us, namely, the valuable and comprehensive tables which exhibit, in figures, the progress of the trade from 1786 to nearly the present time. The first table presents the quantities of raw silk of Bengal, of China and Persia, of Italy and Turkey, and of thrown silk imported into, and re-exported from, Great Britain, and the quantity remaining on hand for the use of the home manufacturers, with the amount of the duties, &c, in each year,

The subjoined summary shows the total results of the five years ending in each of the following periods :

Five Years
Ending in

EXPORTS.

IMPORTS,

Remaining for Home

Manufacture.

lbs.

Ibs.

lbs.

lbs.

Raw Silk. Organzine. Raw Silk. Organzine. Raw Silk. Organzine.
Ibs.

Ibs. 1790 3,644,484 1,958,889 457,295 | 126,840 3,187,189 1,832,049 1795 4,349,679 1,816,954 268,807 87,424 4,080,872 1,729,530 1800 3,559,559 2,005,144 306,694 | 178,759 3,256,865 1,826,385 1805 4,324,726 1,938,577 170,459 | 225,575 4,154,267 1,713,002 1810 4,257,188 1,953,151 125,475 230,292 4,120,713 1,722,859 1818 6,599,635 1,898,153 611,511220,264 5,988,124 1,677,889 1823 10,321,171 1,809,205 190,431 116,075 (10,130,740 1,693,130

Hence it appears that our home manufacture has nearly trebled itself since 1790; but the export of raw and thrown silk has greatly diminished; and the next table shows that in wrought silks our foreign trade has made very little, if any, progress during the same period :

[blocks in formation]

But this still exhibits our export trade much too favourably, till we take into consideration the large proportion of it which goes to Ireland, India, and the various British islands and dependencies abroad. The quantity absorbed by these, through the help of restrictions and bounties, or other indirect advantages, as the exorbitant price paid for sugar to the West India colonies, amounts to more than one half of the whole export. This will appear from the following statement of the whole British manufactured silk goods (pure and mixed) exported in each year, from 1814 to 1823:

[blocks in formation]

Judging from these data, we must come to the conclusion that, under the present system, our foreign trade in silks was decidedly on the decline. The only appearance of increase is in the consumption of our foreign dependencies, for which apparent gain we are made to pay severely in another shape; or in the consumption of the United Kingdom itself, where the manufacture is fostered on monopoly principles, to the obvious detriment of the public interest. Under these circumstances, there is no room to doubt of the necessity which existed for placing the trade upon a better footing; and the only question which remains, therefore, to be discussed, is, not whether alteration was proper, but whether the measures adopted by Ministers are the best that could have been devised.

The chief cause which impeded the progress of this manufacture, was the heavy duty on the raw material. Previous to 1796, the import-duty on all raw silk for home-consumption, was 3s. per pound, (laid on in 1787,) and it was gradually increased till 1806, when it came to about 4s. 6d. on Bengal silk, and 6s. on that of China. From that time, the Italian and Turkey raw silk paid a duty of nearly *58. 6d. per pound; and from 1814, the Bengal was charged at the rate of 4s. 2d., the China, 6s. 3d. While such were the burdens on the British manufacturer, and the Frenchman was only paying at the rate of 44d. per pound on his raw material, as competition with him was impossible on those terms, in 1824, Ministers very judiciously reduced the duty on all raw silks imported into Great Britain, to 3d. per pound.

The second incumbrance on our manufacture, was the still more oppressive duty on organzine, or thrown silk. This, previous to 1796, was 7s. 4d. per pound; it was then raised to 8s., and gradually increased till 1819, when it was 14s. 8d. In 1824, Mr. Huskisson, in accordance with the same enlightened policy, reduced that duty to 7s. 6d., and in November 1825, to 58. per pound. This still large duty is retained, temporarily we hope, as a protection to the silkthrowsters of this country. But as they have now the raw silk at a duty of 3d., instead of twenty times that amount, as formerly, and as silk can be converted into organzine, by the foreign manufacturers, at about 3s. 6d. to 4s. per pound, it is plain, that if our workmen cannot compete with them with a less protection than 5s., it were better for us to abandon that inferior branch of the manufacture altogether; since it is essentially necessary to the higher objects of the trade, the production of silk goods, that the material used be provided, either at home or from abroad, on more economical principles.

The present inferiority of our manufacturers in this production can only be attributed to the absence of the salutary principle of free competition. This is to be regarded as the third great obstacle to the prosperity of the trade. Its injurious influence is remarkably conspicuous in the late debate in Parliament. Mr. Ellice, the advocate of the manufacturers, and, therefore, not likely to exaggerate any fact which bore against them, said, (February 23,) “ There were in Coventry 9700 looms in this trade, of which 7500 belonged to the weavers themselves, and these looms were all of the worst possible construction ; but in France, the improved looms were capable of finishing five times the quantity of work with the same labour”! 4 This coines of erecting a monopoly by the prohibition of foreign silks ; instead of keeping pace with the improvements of the age, as in other branches of our industry, in which we leave foreigners far behind, the silk manufacture continues in a state so rude, as to be a disgrace to this country. A striking example of the mode in which improve

4 Parliamentary Report, Globe,' Feb. 24.

« PrécédentContinuer »