Friday, July 09, 2010

Silas Marner

Many of my readers of a certain age might have been required to read George Elliot's Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe while in High School. Today, I am reading a book given me by my librarian friend at Teachers College, Reports from Assistant Hand-Loom Weavers' Commissioners, ordered by the House of Commons, 4 February 1840. The quality of this copy is such that it would hardly stand much more than a few more readings. No doubt there are other copies of this book available in the UK. This is actually the oldest book on industrial arts in my small library. It calls to mind, the character Silas Marner, in that it offers great insight into working conditions, and traits of character among real hand-weavers of the same period. The books, Silas Marner, and this one I am reading now, courtesy, Teachers College disposal of old library books and the generosity of a friend, offer important insight into the transitional period at the beginnings of widespread industrialization, and the beginnings of the end of widespread acceptance of the value of common crafts. The image above is of Silas Marner, hand-weaver and his adopted daughter Eppie.

The report covers a variety of issues from various hand-weaving regions of England and Ireland. It investigates the impact of child labor, the effects of additional new technologies, the rise and fall of market for the product and its effects on the earnings of workers, most of whom worked 70-75 hour weeks at the loom for declining wages. The report also inquires into the morality of workers, particularly with regard to temperance and embezzlement... finding the weavers by and large to be honest, sober, moral in their dealings, and concerned with the lives of their children.

I am interested in this report on the hand-weavers because I would like to encourage a society in which skilled expressions of the human hand are regarded with greater respect and where the value of hands to development of character and intellect are better known.

One of the types of weaving described was that of "stuff weaver" and the investigation of that led to this interesting list of early and largely forgotten occupations. The earliest recorded use of the word stuff referred to the quilted material worn under chain mail, with the word stuff gradually expanding through centuries in meaning, (as stuff does, stuffing) to fill our lives and encompass a wider range of things.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:37 AM

    Seems like some of those forgotten occupations did the kinds of things that we do now, whether for fun or for a living.