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THE PUBLIC MEETING
METROPOLITAN DRAPERS' ASSOCIATION,
Held at Exeter Hall, on Tuesday Evening, Nov. 11th, 1845,
IN AID OF THE £5000 FUND,
THE RIGHT HON. LORD ROBERT GROSVENOR, M.P., IN THE CHAIR
A PUBLIC MEETING was held by the Metropolitan Drapers' Association on Tuesday evening, Nov. 11th, 1845, for the purpose of assisting to raise a Fund of £5000 to carry out still further the object of the Association. Lord Robert Grosvenor presided ; and amongst the gentlemen on the platform were Mr. Wakley, M.P.; Mr. Grainger, of St. Thomas's Hospital ; the Rev. W. Curling, Minister of St. Saviour's, Southwark; the Rev. Dr. Archer, C. Cochrane, Esq., Dr. Hewlett, and numerous other influential gentle men and employers.
The Chair was taken shortly after seven o'clock, and soon after that period the room was well filled by a most respectable audience.
The Chairman, in opening the proceedings, spoke as follows:-Ladies and Gentlemen, there is something overawing which involuntarily creeps over me on finding myself, all at once, in the presence of so vast an assembly; and I am at this moment sensibly impressed with the difficulties and responsibilities of the duty of which I have ventured to undertake the performance : I must, however, congratulate you that so it is ; because if any reason were asked for the necessity of holding such a meeting as this, the members that do attend, and especially who attend on such a night as this, will furnish a mest unanswerable reply-(cheers.) Now, Gentlemen, it is a main feature in the institutions of this country, that the utmost latitude is allowed in the discussion of all questions bearing upon our social, moral, political, and religious interests ; and we may take some pride in the thought, that whilst our neighbours are compelled to enact and maintain laws that not more than twenty persons shall meet together for the purpose of such discussion, we are able to make use of unlimited privileges, not only without detriment to the welfare of the state, but with the utmost possible advantage to all classes of the community(loud cheers.) The cause which has brought us together this evening furnishes us with an excellent example— (hear, hear.) I should also say, that the truth will come out at such meetings as these sooner or later, whether palatable or unpalatable to those whom it may concern; and they present the only means with which I am acquainted of checking those evils; which are necessarily incident to a great commercial community, before they shall have grown up to such a height as to be quite intolerable-hear, hear.) Now, as I have already said, the meeting on this occasion furnishes us with an excellent example.
We are met together for the purpose of devising some means of checking a very serious evil. Before, however, I advert more especially to that evil, I would beg your attention for a few moments to the position in which we stand. We live, Ladies and Gentlemen, in very extraordinary times-times, in my opinion, of great national peril—(hear, hear.) We all know, from an authority that we dare not dispute, that the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth place a man's morality and virtue in the eatest danger. That which is true of an individual is equally true of the nation ; and if we will only take a short retrospect of our own domestic history, we shall see, I fear, how fearfully we have verified the truth of that declaration to which I have just ventured to refer. The accumulations of wealth in this country since the peace of 1815 are without a parallel in the annals of history ; but with these accumulations there has grown up a spirit of indifference and disregard to the producers of this very wealth, which, if men could only forget their business for a moment, if they could only stand still for a while and commune with their own hearts, they would, I am certain, start back from with amazement-(hear, hear.) Now the fruits of this, Ladies and Gentlemen, are to be seen in the long-time system in our manufacturing districts—(hear, hear)--in the late-hour system in our shops in the miserably scanty and deficient wages of many of our agricultural labourers and artizans(cheers)--and, above all, in a state of spiritual aud educational destitution which is most alarmning, thousands being suffered to grow up uninstructed and sink into the grave uncared for (hear, hear.) Unmindful of former prosperity, men seem really inclined to act as if they thought there were no Moral Governor of the universe, and that, whatever may be their individual conduct, the country will go on and prosper by itself. Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I feel convinced that you will agree with me, that we have no such security, but that the hardening and corrupting influence of this money-getting, the mania for which at this present moment seems to be inflicted upon this country as a punishment for former ingratitude, will, if not counteracted, sap the foundations of our national prosperity--(hear, hear.) This general view of the case, however, presents a very wide and fruitful topic, and one which might tempt me into a digression that would be highly inconsistent on the part of a short-time speaker-(laughter.) I will now, therefore, turn from it, and call your attention more especially to that subject which is peculiarly to engross our attention this evening, and which has, in fact, now convened us in this room. I said before, that we are assembled for the purpose of endeavouring to contrive some means of counteracting a great social evil-an evil, not perhaps so striking as some of those to which I have before adverted, but still not on that account the less subtle or insidious-an evil which injures a class of persons upon whose moral condition may be said to depend the great framework of society--I allude to the youth of our middle class—(hear, hear.) Consider for a moment what the British middle class is. It is a class whose activity, intelligence, and enterprise are almost anexampled; it is a class of whom the history of other countries furnishes us with no example ; it is a class who, having travailed to the birth of the Great American Republic, are still stretching their gigantic arms across the widest seas, and are now calling into life, in hourly and increasing action, new communities in the remotest habitable parts of the globe-(cheers.) I ask you then, Ladies and Gentlemen, is not the moral condition of this class of the highest importance to the country?- (hear, hear.) I therefore rejoice to see the movement come from this source. I hailed the establishment of the Metropolitan Drapers' Association with extreme satisfaction. I hastened to enrol myself as one of its members-(loud applause) and I have watched its subsequent proceedings with ever-increasing interest ---(renewed applause.) Now the principles upon which this Society is formed, I hold to be perfectly unexceptionable ; and the managers of this institution have, I must say, ever since it was formed, adhered to them with the most praiseworthy firmness-(cheers.) There were injuries inflicted upon the class to which they belonged of which they might, not unnaturally, have loudly complained; there were grievances experienced by them for the redress of which they might undoubtedly have most loudly clamoured ; but, instead of assailing the great body of their employers, or any particular members of that body, of whose method of conducting business they had cause to complain, they had the wisdom to perceive that the evil was not in the individuals-(hear, hear)--- but in a bad and pernicious system which had been permitted to grow up hy degrees, and, further, that the only rational, philosophical, and Christian method of combating this evil was by inviting the employers to the calm and temperate discussion of a matter in which the happiness and prosperity of both parties was go materially involved—(loud cheers.) Much good, doubtless, has been effected since this Association was formed, and evidences are not wanting of an improved state of public opinion on this subject-(hear, hear, and cheers.) But, amidst much that is of an agreeable nature, we must not forbear to look at some things which are rather of a contrary tendency; and I will frankly confess that I rose
with somewhat of a blank feeling from the perusal of those papers which were sent to me by your worthy secretary-and I must be permitted to say a very worthy secretary he is-(cheers)--and which contained an account of all that had previously been done by this society and its friends. This I will say, that statements more clear, proofs more convincing, arguments more irresistible, could not be urged against the continuance of the late-hour system; and the mortification and surprise which I experienced arose from the fact that, after the vice of the system had been so clearly demonstrated, this meeting should even have been necessary—that the system should not have been suppressed by almost universal consent-(hear, hear.) I fear, however, that although in many of the large establishments a better system of conducting business is now pursued, it must yet be avowed, that in the majority of shops in this great metropolis, the ancient baneful practice still exists. This fact is certainly discouraging ; but I mainly attribute it to two causes. The first cause is that sort of ris inertia, that kind of natural unwillingness to adopt any Dex and reformed regulation that may give us trouble, which is so inherent in the bad part of our nature, and which makes it so difficult for people even to adopt measures which will eventually lead to their own benefit when that benefit seems only remote and contingent But I attribute the fact still more to another evil, which I shall now take the liberty of stating, and that is the apathy, the want of proper spirit aud self-respect, on the part of those assistants who still stand aloof and will not join the Association-hear, bear, hear.) For if those hundreds -1 believe I may even say thousands--who might join the Association, but do not, would at once connect themselves with it, and manfully endeavour to promote its objects, I would not give five minutes' purchase for the late-hour system in the shop most remote from observation, in the most distant suburb of the metropolis-(load cheers.) I have had great pleasure, Ladies and Gentlemen, in being permitted by the proprietors to visit five or six large drapery establishments in this town, where the greatest pains have been taken to secure the comfort and moral advancement of the assistants. In many of those establishments very admirable arrangements are made, and in some, I must say, there seems little left to be desired; and I would take the liberty of strongly recommending the example of the one or two which I have just mentioned for the imitation of every other house in the trade. My reason for insisting strongly upon this is, that in those establishments common and united prayer is a part of the daily duty; for I do feel most seriously convinced that until that is universally the case, either in the house itself or in the neighbouring place of worship, our task will be but sadly fulfilled; and depend upon it you will find that science and morality, unaided by their useful sister religion, will, in the hour of trial and difficulty, crumble to atoms beneath your feet-(applause.) Ladies and Gentlemen, I have nearly done; but before I sit down, I will venture to read a communication which I have received within the last two or three days: and I venture to do so because I believe that our Metropolitan Drapers' Association is not founded in the spirit of selfish exclusiveness, but desires that whatever boon it may obtain shall be extended to all other trades in the metropolis,(cheers.) I trust, therefore, that some publicity will be given to the communication which I am about to read to you, and that it will have its due effect in those quarters which it most concerns. The letter is as follows:"MY LORD,
“ Observing your Lordship is to take the Chair at a Public Meeting, to be holden at Exeter Hall on Tuesday next, to effect a more general early closing of shops, I beg to call your attention to the very many hours the Journeymen Fishmongers are daily employed. Many are compelled to labour seventeen or eighteen hours daily, Sundays included." He then proceeds to make a comparison which is quite unnecessary, but which I will read to the meeting
“ Your Lordship will be pleased to bear in mind, that the Draper, during his labour, is sheltered from the inclemency of the weather." The fact is, the Draper is too much sheltered-(hear, hear, and laughter.) “The Fishmonger, on the contrary, is exposed to all sorts of weather ; besides the injurious effects of standing so many hours in the wet, which very often brings him to a premature grave. I hope, my Lord, you will excuse me in thus addressing you; but I wish to put you in possession of these few facts, resting assured you will, if possible, advocate the cause of Journeymen Fishmongers, as well as the Drapers."
This letter, I should inform you, comes from the foreman of one of the largest establish ments in the whole of London. It is (as you must have perceived) well and properly written ; and, therefore, I immediately sent an answer to the effect, that if I had an opportunity, I would bring forward the facts to which he referred at the meeting this evening. I also said, as the writer was a stranger to me, that I trusted I might rely upon his statements not being exaggerations, and asked him whether I should be at liberty to mention his name. Just before coming here I received the following: * MY LORD,
“I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship's letter of this day, with many thanks, and beg to assure your Lordship of the truth of my assertions, and that your Lordship may make whatever use of my letter your Lordship thinks fit." Now I have only one word more to say. I thank you very much for having listened to the observations which I have made with so much kindness and attention. I thank you also for the very kind rec. ption which you have been pleased to give me; and I trust that you will extend the same indulgence to those gentlemen who are about, in a more captivating manner than I have done, to address you, and to give you details bearing upon the object of the meeting. I can only say, that I never took part in any public meeting in my life with greater pleasure than I feel in reference to the present one-(great applause.) For reasons which I have already stated, I most cordially concur in its object. I also, Ladies and Gentlemen, in the ranks, as a common soldier, and under no party banner, have fought the important battle of the curtailment of the hours of labour to a reasonable extent, both in my place in parliament and out of it ; and subsequent experience does but tend to satisfy my mind of the wisdom of the course which I have adopted-(hear, hear.) I entertain, Ladies and Gentlemen, a most confident expectation, that at no very distant day, the agitation of this great labour-question will be crowned with the most gratifying results - immense applause.) I am requested to state, that it is with very great regret that Mr. Hawes, the Meinber for Lambeth, who was to have been here on the present occasion, finds himself prevented from attending. I. am well acquainted with that honourable and excellent Gentleman, and I am quite sure that it has given him all the pain which he expresses in this letter to be under the necessity of absenting himself.
R. D. GRAINGER, Esq., of St. Thomas's Hospital, on rising to move the first resolution, spoke as follows:-My Lord, Ladies, and Gentlemen, it may be right to state, in a few words, the reasons which have led to my undertaking the serious part which I have now to perform of moving the first resolution of a society so important as that which you have now met to support, and before an audience so numerous as that which I now behold. I might sum up all that I have to say on this subject, by declaring that I come here to perform what I consider to be an act of simple duty. I consider it the duty of every man, who, in consequence of his peculiar situation, has enjoyed opportunities of obtaining information on any subject which greatly and closely bears on the happiness of a large part of his fellow-creatures, not to shrink from taking part in any public movement in which the communication of information so obtained may tend to the advancement of a good cause-(hear, hear.) I have, however, peculiar reasons for addressing you on this occasion. It has so happened that I have possessed many opportunities of witnessing the disastrous results of protracted labour. I say this, not to exalt myself, for I am a most humble individual, and merely an instrument in such matters, but that you may know that what I have to lay before you is the result of facts and of experience. I have observed, in an official capacity, in the manufacturing districts of this country, the evils of that system which we are now attempting to remove; and having witnessed the physical, the moral, and the religious evils which have been produced by exhausting and protracted labour, for which the human constitution is not fitted, and which it cannot endure, I have undertaken to advocate-most feebly shall I do so--the first resolution of this meeting-(cheers.) But there is another reason why I could not shrink from the performance of this duty. I have been connected with another Association having a similar object to this, viz. the investigation, with a view to the relief, of human suffering, and the speedy discontinuance of protracted, exhausting, and destructive labour; and the Association to which I refer, I fearlessly assert, before this assembled multitude, has evils to remove which are even greater than those under which the parties more immediately interested in this meeting are suffering. This Association is formed to relieve men from their sufferings; but that to which I refer is designed to relieve from the pressure of severe bondage those whom, as all must admit, nature has neither adapted nor intended to bear it. The name of the Association in question has frequently been mentioned here ; and if I say that I have, in an official capacity, been connected with the Association for the relief and benefit of Dressmakers and Milliners, can you not, Ladies and Gentlemen, in that announcement perceive a reason why I should be here on this occasion ?-(cheers.) I feel that the Metropolitan Drapers' Association has nobly stepped forward in the van to collect the expression of sentiment on the part of the humane, the benevolent, and the religious; and in advocating their own cause, they are, in fact, advocating the cause of every trade and of every profession that labours under the same evils. Thus, indeed, it is with all who in their peculiar circles, endeavour, as opportunities occur, to effect what will tend to the general good; and considering the energy and ability with which this society is conducted, as well as the numbers which it embraces, it may well be regarded as the embodiment and representative of other Associations having the same object in different parts of the country. But, although it is a high privilege to be able to take part in relieving human suffering, and in promoting human improvement, there is another reason--and here I shall speak the sentiment of many others as well as myself, which has especially enlisted my sympathy in favour of the object of this Association. I refer to the spirit in which the attainment of that object has been sought-hear, hear.) The admirable spirit in which this Association has conducted its affairs has secured for it, I believe, a larger amount of sympathy and support-sympathy and support received from the best of mankind, the thoughtful, the reflective, the philanthropical, and the religions, ---than has ever been obtained from the same cause by any institution in this country originated by so small a number of individuals. This society emanated from young men ; and it is, I say, my Lord, a thing for which they are greatly to be commended and ap plauded, that they set forward with such principles to guide them in their mode of action. I will read a few lines from what I believe to be the organ of the Association respecting its views and objects, I mean The Student, to show the spirit in which they have ondertaken the great work in which they are engaged. In the first number of that magazine, I find the following:
“ It will therefore be the high aim of The Student to supply such elements of thought as shall give the widest scope and compass to the powers of the mind, and tend at the same time to purify and elevate the affections. It will embrace subjects in every department of Literature and Science-will give directions as to the best course of Readingwill advocate and promote the establishment of Literary and Scientific Institutions—the formation of Libraries—the delivery of Lectures-with the most recent intelligence on every subject in which either man of business or man of letters may be supposed to be interested. It will exhibit a constant variety of invaluable matter on whatever is most interesting and instructive. No pains shall be spared to make it the medium of whatever is most rare and excellent in the domain of thought-within the circle of universal science. It will be forward also to assert, with the most unyielding tenacity, your legitimate and andisputed claims. It will extenuate no wrong-- it will suffer no compromise. It is irrevocably pledged to the cause of justice, and in this hallowed cause it will spend and be spent. It will never cease to advocate and inculcate “ whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pare, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report." It will spare po rice --it will trifle with no virtue. It will assert truth and condemn error, frown upon profligacy and crime in every form, brand the corrupt and the corrupter in what walk of life soever they may move, and give countenance only to what is chaste and pure in principle--true and dignified in character.”
These are sentiments, my Lord, which would do honour to the highest rank and to the noblest mind; and it is evident that the Association, if its object be carried out on these principles, must enlist the goodwill of the benevolent and religious of every part of the community-(cheers.) These, then, are the reasons, my Lord, which have induced me to come forward on this occasion; and I have ventured to mention them, not so much because they may be adduced by myself, as because they may be adduced by every one who advocates the cause of this institution-(cheers.) It having fallen to my lot, I must say most unexpectedly, to move this first resolution, I would ask, first of all, what is the canse which we have assembled here to advocate. This, if it be rightly understood, suggests some of the most momentous questions which can be agitated touching the social state of man. First of all, it concerns that which, in a mercantile conntry like this, is a vital question, namely the relations existing between the employer and the employed. That is one part of the question which we have met to consider. Secondly, it embraces the consideration of another vital question in all great industrial emporiums, namely, the physical evils of protracted labour and toil. More than all these, however,-for, after all, the physical is as nothing in comparison with the spiritual part of our nature,--the object enbraces an inquiry into the moral and religious evils springing from excessive occupation. Now, with reference to the first of these points, the relations existing between the em ployer and the employed, permit me to say that this, after a'l, is the point upon which a question affecting the masses as this does must hinge. It has been truly stated, by aur moble Chairman, that the state of things at this time in England is most fearful. I have myself witnessed the state of things in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Notting ban. and many other great towns of the kingdom. I have seen with my own eyes the existing