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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 4 Chapter 5: Permanence

Standing on the threshold, nay as yet outside the threshold, of a ‘Chivalry of Labour,’ and an immeasurable Future which it is to fill with fruitfulness and verdant shade: when so much has not yet come even to the rudimental state, and all speech of positive enactments were hazardous in those who know this business only by the eye, - let us here hint at simply one widest universal principle, as the basis from which all organisation hitherto has grown up among men, and all, henceforth will have to grow: The principle of Permanent contract instead of Temporary.

Permanent not Temporary: - you do not hire the mere red-coated fighter by the day, but by the score of years! Permanence, persistence is the first condition of all fruitfulness in the ways of men. The ‘tendency to persevere’ to persist in spite of hindrances, discouragements and ‘impossibilities:’ it is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak; the civilized burgher from the nomadic savage, - the species Man from the Genus Ape! The Nomad has his very house set on wheels; the Nomad, and in a still higher degree the Ape, are all for ‘liberty;’ the privilege to flit continually is indispensable for them. Alas, in how many ways, does our humour, in this swift-rolling self-abrading Time, shew itself nomadic, apelike; mournful enough to him that looks on it with eyes! This humour will have to abate; it is the first element of all fertility in human things that such liberty of apes and nomads do abridge itself, give place to a better. The civilised man lives not in wheeled houses. He builds stone castles, plants lands, makes life-long marriage-contracts; - has long-dated hundredfold possessions, not to be valued in the money-market; has pedigrees, libraries, law-codes, has memories and hopes even for this Earth that reach our thousands of years. Life-long marriage-contracts: how much preferable were year-long or month-long - to the Nomad or Ape!

Month-long contracts please me little, in any province where there can by possibility be found virtue enough for more. Month-long contracts do not answer well even with your house-servants; the liberty on both sides to change every month is growing very apelike, nomadic; - and I hear philosophers predict that it will alter, or that strange results will follow: that wise men, pestered with nomads, with unattached ever-shifting spies and enemies rather than friends and servants, will gradually, weighing substance against semblance, with indignation, dismiss such, down almost to the very shoeblack, and say, “Begone; I will serve myself rather, and have peace!” Gurth was hired for life to Cedric, and Cedric to Gurth. O, Anti-Slavery Convention, loud-sounding long-eared Exeter-Hall - But in thee too is a kind of instinct towards justice, and I will complain of nothing. Only, black Quashee over the seas being once sufficiently attended to, wilt thou not perhaps open thy dull sodden eyes to the ‘sixty thousand valets’ in London itself who are yearly dismissed to the streets, to be what they can, when the season ends; - or to the hunger-stricken, pallid, yellow-coloured ‘Free Labourers’ in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Buckinghamshire and all other shires! These yellow-coloured, for the present, absorb all my sympathies: if I had a Twenty Millions, with model-Farms and Niger Expeditions, it is to these that I would give it! Quashee has already victuals, clothing; Quashee is not dying of such despair as the yellow-coloured pale man’s. Quashee, it must be owned, is hitherto a kind of blockhead. The Haiti Duke of Marmalade, educated now for almost half a century, seems to have next to no sense in him. Why, in one of those Lancashire Weavers, dying of hunger, there is more thought and heart, a greater arithmetical amount of misery and desperation, than in whole gangs of Quashees. It must be owned thy eyes are of the sodden sort; and with thy emancipationings, and thy twenty-millionings and long-eared clamourings, thou, like Robespierre with his pasteboard étre Suprême, threatenest to become a bore to us, Avec ton étre-Suprême tu commences m’embêter! -

In a Printed Sheet of the assiduous, much-abused, and truly useful Mr. Chadwick’s, containing queries and responses from far and near, as to this great question, ‘What is the effect of Education on working men in respect of their value as mere workers?’ the present Editor, reading with satisfaction a decisive unanimous verdict as to Education, reads with inexpressible interest this special remark, put in by way of marginal incidental note, from a practical manufacturing Quaker, whom, as he is anonymous, we will call friend Prudence. Prudence keeps a thousand workmen; has striven in all ways to attach them to him; has provided conversational soirees; play grounds, bands of music for the young ones; went even ‘the length of buying them a drum:’ all which has turned out to be an excellent investment. For a certain person, marked here by a black stroke, whom we shall name Blank, living over the way, - he also keeps somewhere about a thousand men; but has done none of these things for them, nor any other thing, except due payment of the wages by supply-and-demand. Blank’s workers are perpetually getting into mutiny, into broils and coils: every six months, we suppose, Blank has a strike; every one month, every day and every hour, they are fretting and obstructing the shortsighted Blank; pilfering from him, wasting and idling for him, omitting and committing for him. “I would not,” says Friend Prudence, “exchange my workers for his with seven thousand pounds to boot.” [Report on the training of Pauper Children (1841), p. 18]

Right, O honourable Prudence: thou art wholly in the right: seven thousand pounds even as a matter of profit for this world, nay, for the mere cash-market of this world! And as a matter of profit not for this world only, but for the other world and all worlds, it outweighs the Bank of England! - Can the sagacious reader descry here, as it were the outmost inconsiderable rock-ledge of a universal rock-foundation, deep once more as the centre of the world; emerging so, in the experience of this good Quaker, through the Stygian mud-vortexes and general Mother of Dead Dogs, whereon for the present all sways and insecurely hovers as if ready to be swallowed!

Some Permanence of Contract is already almost possible; the principle of Permanence, year by year enlarged, better seen into, and elaborated, may enlarge itself, expand gradually on every side into a system. This once secured, the basis of all good results were laid. Once permanent, you do not quarrel with the first difficulty on your path, and quit it in weak disgust; you reflect that it cannot be quitted, that it must be conquered, a wise arrangement fallen on with regard to it. Ye foolish Wedded Two, who have quarrelled, between whom the Evil Spirit has stirred up transient strife and bitterness, so that ‘incompatibility’ seems almost nigh, ye are nevertheless the Two who, by long habit were it by nothing more, do best of all others suit each other: it is expedient for your own two foolish selves, say nothing of the infants, pedigrees and public in general, that ye agree again; that ye put away the Evil Spirit, and wisely on both hands struggle for the guidance of a Good Spirit!

The very horse that is permanent, how much kindlier do his rider and he work, than the temporary one hired on any hack principle yet known! I am for permanence in all things, at the earliest possible moment, and to the latest possible. Blessed is he that continueth where he is. Here let us rest, and lay out seedfields; here let us learn to dwell. Here, even here, the orchards that we plant will yield us fruit; the acorns will be wood and pleasant umbrage, if we wait. How much grows everywhere, if we do but wait. Through the swamps we will shape causeways, force purifying drains; we will learn to thread the rocky inaccessibilities, and beaten tracks, worn smooth by mere travelling of human feet, will form themselves. Not a difficulty but can transfigure itself into a triumph; - not even a deformity, but, if our own soul have imprinted worth on it, will grow dear to us. The sunny plains and deep indigo transparent skies of Italy are all indifferent to the great sick heart of a Sir Walter Scott: on the back of the Apennines, in wild spring weather, the sight of bleak Scotch firs, and snow-spotted heath and desolation, brings tears into his eyes.[Lockhart’s Life of Scott]

O unwise mortals that forever change and shift, and say, Yonder not Here! Wealth richer than both the Indies lies everywhere for man, if he will endure. Not his oaks only and his fruit-trees, his very heart roots itself wherever he will abide; - roots itself, draws nourishment from the deep fountains of Universal Being. Vagrant Sam-Slicks who rove over the Earth doing ‘strokes of trade,’ what wealth have they? Horseloads, shiploads of White or Yellow metal: in very sooth, what are these? Slick rests nowhere, he is homeless. He can build stone or marble houses; but to continue in them is denied him. The wealth of a man is the number of things which he loves and blesses, which he is loved and blessed by! The herdsman in his poor clay shealing, where his very cow and dog are friends to him, and not a cataract but carries memories for him, and not a mountain-top but nods old recognition; his life, all encircled as in blessed Mother’s-arms, is it poorer than Slick’s with the ass-loads of yellow metal on his back? Unhappy Slick! Alas, there has so much grown nomadic, apelike, with us: so much will have, with whatever pain, repugnance, and ‘impossibility,’ to alter itself, to fix itself again, - in some wise way, in any not delirious way! -

A question arises here: Whether, in some ulterior, perhaps some not far distant stage of this ‘Chivalry of Labour,’ your Master Worker may not find it possible and needful to grant his workers permanent interest in his enterprise and theirs? So that it become in practical result, what in essential fact and justice it ever is, a joint enterprise; all men, from the Chief Master down to the lowest Overseer and Operative, economically as well as loyally concerned for it? - Which question I do not answer. The answer, near or else far, is perhaps, Yes; - and yet one knows the difficulties. Despotism is essential in most enterprises; I am told, they do not tolerate ‘freedom of debate’ on board a Seventy-four! Republican Senate and plebiscita would not answer well in Cotton-mills. And yet observe these too: Freedom, not nomad’s or Ape’s Freedom, but man’s Freedom; this is indispensable. We must have it, and will have it! To reconcile Despotism with Freedom; - well, is that such a mystery? Do you not already know the way? It is to make your Despotism Just, Rigorous as Destiny; but just too, as Destiny and its Laws. The Laws of God; all men obey these, and have no Freedom at all but in obeying them. The way is already known, part of the way; - and courage and some qualities are needed for walking on in it!

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