It was the fashion to represent the producers of wealth
as pur- suing a low and illiberal occupation. In the vocabulary of our forefathers, value and utility were opposite terms. The classes which furnished the subsistence, comforts, and conveniences of society, and advanced a nation in civilization, wealth, and power, were despised; the nati consunzere fruges were honoured. These opinions are passing away, with many other notions equally vene- rable and equally absurd. The world is beginning to feel the logi- cal difference of vulgar and learned ideas, and to discover that when an occupation is stigmatized as illiberal, we must attribute it in nine cases out of ten to the ignorance of the censurer, and not to the occupation itself. As the smallest insect, or the commonest plant, often exhibits the astonishing workmanship of Nature in the highest perfection, so the humblest trade, the meanest handicraft, may not only bear testimony to the triumphs of human ingenuity, but be pregnant with " useful and entertaining knowledge" to those who are capable of appreciating the one or acquiring the other.
A well-written history of the Silk Trade would do much towards strengthening these opinions. The Treatise on the Silk Manufac- ture will do something. Few trades bear more palpable evidence to the beneficial results of mechanical and commercial skill, or afford a more striking illustration of the principle that labour is the primary cause of value. What is more completely a gift of Nature than silk ? What is less valuable than a natural cocoon ? It is only, moreover,in one particular part of China that the silk-worm is indigenous, or that silk can be produced in the open air ; and even then the spontaneous is much inferior to the cultivated pro- duct. In every other region, the greatest attention, the most assi- duous labour is requisite, from the time the eggs are deposited, till the chrysalis, transforming itself into a moth, dies in furnishing the larva necessary to perpetuate its race. The hatching must be accelerated or retarded by artificial means, according to the supply of mulberry-leaves. When the worms come forth, they must be tended, and with more care than the weakest infants, and through the various stages of their growth. Their attendants (attendants upon caterpillars !) must class them according to their ages and their health. Their food must be prepared, their appetites watched, and (they are monstrous gourmands, with a monstrous digestion) kept perpetually satisfied both by day and night. Their apartment (rearing-room) should be confined, but thoroughly ventilated, and kept to proper temperatures, which vary with the ages of the in- sects. When ready to spin, they are furnished with artificial bowers ; and during the period of their labour, they require con- stant watching. The sluggish must be tempted with tit-leaves, for " as long as the slightest inclination for food remains, they will not attempt to form their cocoons." If they will neither eat nor spin, they may be stimulated by some pungent scent—such as fried onions, or by removal into another room with a higher temperature. Heat is indeed of the utmost consequence, for if they are exposed to much cold, they desist from their labours.
" Should the balls be sufficiently thin, the insects may be discerned, either quite inactive, or moving very slowly. On the temperature being raised, they will immediately resume their work with renewed activity, and will once more desist if the cold be again allowed to exert its in- fluence. After they have remained inactive from this cause for a short time, they put off their caterpillar form, and assume that of the chrysalis, without having sufficient energy to complete their silken covering."
When the insect spinner has finished its task, the direct labour of man commences. The cocoons must be gathered and sorted, and the chrysalides destroyed, exceptino.b those reserved for breed- ing. The balls are then again classed, according to kind, fine- ness, and colour. The process of reeling (generally a distinct bu- siness) succeeds, and the silk is formed into skeins. It is next converted into singles, train, or organzine (thrown silk) ; and is finally formed,.by the weaver, into the innumerable fabrics which more or less assist in clothing the civilized (we should rather say the non-savage) world, and form a leadirg article of manufacture in five extensive nations.* Of the number of persons employed in this branch of commerce, no general idea is given by the present work ; and it is perhaps impossible to obtain any accurate or even approximate informa- tion upon the subject. Some faint idea may, however, be formed of their number, when we learn that in one city (Lyons), and in one branch of the business (weaving), 36,000 men were employed in 1826. The annual consumption of silk in England is four mil lions of pounds weight ; and "fourteen thousand millions of ani- mated creatures annually live and die to supply this little corner of the world with an article of luxury." To make sixteen yards of Bros de Naples of ordinary quality, the produce of rather more than 2,800 worms is required ; to feed which 152 pounds of mul- berry-leaves must be gathered. Let our fair readers reflect upon the various elements which enter into the cost of silk,—the rent of the land which produces the mulberry-trees, or at all events the profits of the planter; the wages of the labourers employed in rearing the worms and manufacturing the article ; the expenses of conveyance both by sea and land ; the costs of the machinery used in the different processes ; the profits of the numerous traders through whose hands the fabric must successively pass ; and finally, the duties levied by various governments,—and appreciate, when- ever they make a purchase, the results of the territorial and ma- nual division of labour.
For full and detailed information upon every point connected with silk-worms or the manufacture of silk, this volume may be advantageously consulted. Its historical and economical informa- tion is less valuable. The history of the Silk Trade amongst the Ancients is somewhat meagre, and might have been made more ample without going much farther than ROBERTSON and GIBBON. In the discussions upon the abolition of the prohibitive duties, its effects upon wages and profits—two somewhat important ele- ments—are disregarded. In making this remark, we shall not be suspected of a wish to bolster up a particular manufacture, or to uphold the protective system. The beneficial results to the public are shown in improved articles and extended trade. At the same time, it would have been satisfactory to know whether these re- sults were obtained without any individual sacrifices ; or if not, to have ascertained their amount and their duration. The possession of this knowledge would have enabled us to determine more clearly upon the propriety of reducing the present protecting duties from 30 to 15 per cent.; the estimated difference between the cost of manufacturing the article in England or in France.
* China, India, England, France, and Italy.