Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 63

“You are not much altered,” said Thornberry, as he retained Endymion’s hand, and he looked at him earnestly; “and yet you have become a man. I suppose I am ten years your senior. I have never been back to the old place, and yet I sometimes think I should like to be buried there. The old man has been here, and more than once, and liked it well enough; at least, I hope so. He told me a good deal about you all; some sorrows, and, I hope, some joys. I heard of Miss Myra’s marriage; she was a sweet young lady; the gravest person I ever knew; I never knew her smile. I remember they thought her proud, but I always had a fancy for her. Well; she has married a topsawyer — I believe the ablest of them all, and probably the most unprincipled; though I ought not to say that to you. However, public men are spoken freely of. I wish to Heaven you would get him to leave off tinkering those commercial treaties that he is always making such a fuss about. More pernicious nonsense was never devised by man than treaties of commerce. However, their precious most favoured nation clause will break down the whole concern yet. But you wish to see the works; I will show them to you myself. There is not much going on now, and the stagnation increases daily. And then, if you are willing, we will go home and have a bit of lunch — I live hard by. My best works are my wife and children: I have made that joke before, as you can well fancy.”

This was the greeting, sincere but not unkind, of Job Thornberry to Endymion on the day after the meeting of the Anti–Corn-Law League. To Endymion it was an interesting, and, as he believed it would prove, a useful encounter.

The print-works were among the most considerable of their kind at Manchester, but they were working now with reduced numbers and at half-time. It was the energy and the taste and invention of Thornberry that had given them their reputation, and secured them extensive markets. He had worked with borrowed capital, but had paid off his debt, and his establishment was now his own; but, stimulated by his success, he had made a consignment of large amount to the United States, where it arrived only to be welcomed by what was called the American crash.

Turning from the high road, a walk of half a mile brought them to a little world of villas; varying in style and size, but all pretty, and each in its garden. “And this is my home,” said Thornberry, opening the wicket, “and here is my mistress and the young folks”— pointing to a pretty woman, but with an expression of no inconsiderable self-confidence, and with several children clinging to her dress and hiding their faces at the unexpected sight of a stranger. “My eldest is a boy, but he is at school,” said Thornberry. “I have named him, after one of the greatest men that ever lived, John Hampden.”

“He was a landed proprietor,” observed Endymion rather drily; “and a considerable one.”

“I have brought an old friend to take cheer with us,” continued Thornberry; “one whom I knew before any here present; so show your faces, little people;” and he caught up one of the children, a fair child like its mother, long-haired and blushing like a Worcestershire orchard before harvest time. “Tell the gentleman what you are.”

“A free-trader,” murmured the infant.

Within the house were several shelves of books well selected, and the walls were adorned with capital prints of famous works of art. “They are chiefly what are called books of reference,” said Thornberry, as Endymion was noticing his volumes; “but I have not much room, and, to tell you the truth, they are not merely books of reference to me — I like reading encyclopaedia. The ‘Dictionary of Dates’ is a favourite book of mine. The mind sometimes wants tone, and then I read Milton. He is the only poet I read — he is complete, and is enough. I have got his prose works too. Milton was the greatest of Englishmen.”

The repast was simple, but plenteous, and nothing could be neater than the manner in which it was served.

“We are teetotallers,” said Thornberry; “but we can give you a good cup of coffee.”

“I am a teetotaller too at this time of the day,” said Endymion; “but a good cup of coffee is, they say, the most delicious and the rarest beverage in the world.”

“Well,” continued Thornberry; “it is a long time since we met, Mr. Ferrars — ten years. I used to think that in ten years one might do anything; and a year ago, I really thought I had done it; but the accursed laws of this blessed country, as it calls itself, have nearly broken me, as they have broken many a better man before me.”

“I am sorry to hear this,” said Endymion; “I trust it is but a passing cloud.”

“It is not a cloud,” said Thornberry; “it is a storm, a tempest, a wreck — but not only for me. Your great relative, my Lord Roehampton, must look to it, I can tell you that. What is happening in this country, and is about to happen, will not be cured or averted by commercial treaties — mark my words.”

“But what would cure it?” said Endymion.

“There is only one thing that can cure this country, and it will soon be too late for that. We must have free exchange.”

“Free exchange!” murmured Endymion thoughtfully.

“Why, look at this,” said Thornberry. “I had been driving a capital trade with the States for nearly five years. I began with nothing, as you know. I had paid off all my borrowed capital; my works were my own, and this house is a freehold. A year ago I sent to my correspondent at New York the largest consignment of goods I had ever made and the best, and I cannot get the slightest return for them. My correspondent writes to me that there is no end of corn and bread-stuffs which he could send, if we could only receive them; but he knows very well he might as well try and send them to the moon. The people here are starving and want these bread-stuffs, and they are ready to pay for them by the products of their labour — and your blessed laws prevent them!”

“But these laws did not prevent your carrying on a thriving trade with America for five years, according to your own account,” said Endymion. “I do not question what you say; I am asking only for information.”

“What you say is fairly said, and it has been said before,” replied Thornberry; “but there is nothing in it. We had a trade, and a thriving trade, with the States; though, to be sure, it was always fitful and ought to have been ten times as much, even during those five years. But the fact is, the state of affairs in America was then exceptional. They were embarked in great public works in which every one was investing his capital; shares and stocks abounded, and they paid us for our goods with them.”

“Then it would rather seem that they have no capital now to spare to purchase our goods?”

“Not so,” said Thornberry sharply, “as I have shown; but were it so, it does not affect my principle. If there were free exchange, we should find employment and compensation in other countries, even if the States were logged, which I don’t believe thirty millions of people with boundless territory ever can be.”

“But after all,” said Endymion, “America is as little in favour of free exchange as we are. She may send us her bread-stuffs; but her laws will not admit our goods, except on the payment of enormous duties.”

“Pish!” said Thornberry; “I do not care this for their enormous duties. Let me have free imports, and I will soon settle their duties.”

“To fight hostile tariffs with free imports,” said Endymion; “is not that fighting against odds?”

“Not a bit. This country has nothing to do but to consider its imports. Foreigners will not give us their products for nothing; but as for their tariffs, if we were wise men, and looked to our real interests, their hostile tariffs, as you call them, would soon be falling down like an old wall.”

“Well, I confess,” said Endymion, “I have for some time thought the principle of free exchange was a sound one; but its application in a country like this would be very difficult, and require, I should think, great prudence and moderation.”

“By prudence and moderation you mean ignorance and timidity,” said Thornberry scornfully.

“Not exactly that, I hope,” said Endymion; “but you cannot deny that the home market is a most important element in the consideration of our public wealth, and it mainly rests upon the agriculture of the country.”

“Then it rests upon a very poor foundation,” said Thornberry.

“But if any persons should be more tempted than others by free exchange, it should be the great body of the consumers of this land, who pay unjust and excessive prices for every article they require. No, my dear Mr. Ferrars; the question is a very simple one, and we may talk for ever, and we shall never alter it. The laws of this country are made by the proprietors of land, and they make them for their own benefit. A man with a large estate is said to have a great stake in the country because some hundreds of people or so are more or less dependent on him. How has he a greater interest in the country than a manufacturer who has sunk 100,000 pounds in machinery, and has a thousand people, as I had, receiving from him weekly wages? No home market, indeed! Pah! it is an affair of rent, and nothing more or less. And England is to be ruined to keep up rents. Are you going? Well, I am glad we have met. Perhaps we shall have another talk together some day. I shall not return to the works. There is little doing there, and I must think now of other things. The subscriptions to the League begin to come in apace. Say what they like in the House of Commons and the vile London press, the thing is stirring.”

Wishing to turn the conversation a little, Endymion asked Mrs. Thornberry whether she occasionally went to London.

“Never was there,” she said, in a sharp, clear voice; “but I hope to go soon.”

“You will have a great deal to see.”

“All I want to see, and hear, is the Rev. Servetus Frost,” replied the lady. “My idea of perfect happiness is to hear him every Sunday. He comes here sometimes, for his sister is settled here; a very big mill. He preached here a month ago. Should not I have liked the bishop to have heard him, that’s all! But he would not dare to go; he could not answer a point.”

“My wife is of the Unitarian persuasion,” said Thornberry. “I am not. I was born in our Church, and I keep to it; but I often go to chapel with my wife. As for religion generally, if a man believes in his Maker and does his duty to his neighbours, in my mind that is sufficient.”

Endymion bade them good-bye, and strolled musingly towards his hotel.

Just as he reached the works again, he encountered Enoch Craggs, who was walking into Manchester.

“I am going to our institute,” said Enoch. “I do not know why, but they have put me on the committee.”

“And, I doubt not, they did very wisely,” said Endymion.

“Master Thornberry was glad to see you?” said Enoch.

“And I was glad to see him.”

“He has got the gift of speech,” said Enoch.

“And that is a great gift.”

“If wisely exercised, and I will not say he is not exercising it wisely. Certainly for his own purpose, but whether that purpose is for the general good — query?”

“He is against monopoly,” observed Endymion inquiringly.

“Query again?” said Enoch.

“Well; he is opposed to the corn laws.”

“The corn laws are very bad laws,” said Enoch, “and the sooner we get rid of them the better. But there are worse things than the corn laws.”

“Hem!” said Endymion.

“There are the money laws,” said Enoch.

“I did not know you cared so much about them at Manchester,” said Endymion. “I thought it was Birmingham that was chiefly interested about currency.”

“I do not care one jot about currency,” said Enoch; “and, so far as I can judge, the Birmingham chaps talk a deal of nonsense about the matter. Leastwise, they will never convince me that a slip of irredeemable paper is as good as the young queen’s head on a twenty-shilling piece. I mean the laws that secure the accumulation of capital, by which means the real producers become mere hirelings, and really are little better than slaves.”

“But surely without capital we should all of us be little better than slaves?”

“I am not against capital,” replied Enoch. “What I am against is capitalists.”

“But if we get rid of capitalists we shall soon get rid of capital.”

“No, no,” said Enoch, with his broad accent, shaking his head, and with a laughing eye. “Master Thornberry has been telling you that. He is the most inveterate capitalist of the whole lot; and I always say, though they keep aloof from him at present, they will be all sticking to his skirts before long. Master Thornberry is against the capitalists in land; but there are other capitalists nearer home, and I know more about them. I was reading a book the other day about King Charles — Charles the First, whose head they cut off — I am very liking to that time, and read a good deal about it; and there was Lord Falkland, a great gentleman in those days, and he said, when Archbishop Laud was trying on some of his priestly tricks, that, ‘if he were to have a pope, he would rather the pope were at Rome than at Lambeth.’ So I sometimes think, if we are to be ruled by capitalists, I would sooner, perhaps, be ruled by gentlemen of estate, who have been long among us, than by persons who build big mills, who come from God knows where, and, when they have worked their millions out of our flesh and bone, go God knows where. But perhaps we shall get rid of them all some day — landlords and mill-lords.”

“And whom will you substitute for them?”

“The producers,” said Enoch, with a glance half savage, half triumphant.

“What can workmen do without capital?”

“Why, they make the capital,” said Enoch; “and if they make the capital, is it not strange that they should not be able to contrive some means to keep the capital? Why, Job was saying the other day that there was nothing like a principle to work upon. It would carry all before it. So say I. And I have a principle too, though it is not Master Thornberry’s. But it will carry all before it, though it may not be in my time. But I am not so sure of that.”

“And what is it?” asked Endymion.

“CO-OPERATION.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19