Thrift in Clogtown

What is the motive of after-death philanthropy? Is it the look of complacent rectitude resting upon the countenance of our “best” entrepreneurs ? This complacency is the outer symbol of an internal peace and an ethical confidence that passeth all understanding ; it is the key to posthumous capitalist benevolence. Capitalists on the whole do believe that the possession of capital is a rough but true test of virtue. Even if a capitalist on his demise bequeaths his capital to his family, his fellow members of the plutocracy do not complain ; but when he leaves a modicum, a small portion of his possessions, a comparatively meagre sum, to some “public service”—well, complacency, the profit-sharing smile, and a welter of “religious” phraseology, reign supreme. If a capitalist passes on his capital to his relatives he has more than a sporting chance of making heaven his home ; but if, when leaving this vale of tears, he throws a sop to a “Children’sHome,” then, as Ingersoll said, give him a harp. The Thrift Class of the Clogtown Mechanics Institution was a choice example of such vigilant benevolence.

The industrial haven of Clogtown boasted a number of “self-made” capitalists. Jack Smith in particular was the pride of the town; the oldest inhabitant—I mean the oldest outside the workhouse—could remember Jack Smith’s father starting business with £20 borrowed from a cousin. He was lucky in his speculations, and in the fullness of time developed into a cotton lord. His son was knighted for gifts to the Liberal Party funds, and obtained the cringing admiration of the multitude. This man, said the fawning ones, must be a divine molecule ; and they, the intelligent electors of Clogtown, looked upon Sir John Smith and his ten thousand spindles much as a certain oriental people look upon their monarch, the Son of Heaven and happy proprietor of ten thousand umbrellas.

When Sir John Smith went to the better land, being a complacent capitalist, he left a sum of money to the local Mechanic’s Institution, to be the basis of an endowment for a class which was to exist solely to teach the principles of thrift and prudence. It was the way of the youth of Clogtown to attend the evening classes during the winter, to take Shorthand, Bookkeeping, Commercial Correspondence, and the course on Thrift so liberally endowed by Sir John Smith. The series of classes was recommended by the local Education Committee, for as a one-time president of the National Union of Teachers said: “As the centuries have come and gone there has been a notable shifting of the centre of gravity of education. Time was when it was regarded as exclusively for gentlemen, and not for the masses. To-day it is made to minister largely to commercial and industrial efficiency, to enable the homeland to compete successfully in the markets of the world.” (Mr. A. R. Pickles in the “Burnley Express,” 13.4.07.)

The Thrift class had the usual teacher, but it was common for students—many middle-aged attended—to give their own experiences for the benefit of the class, in the same way that men and women exaggerate their past sins when in the Salvation Army, or in the class meetings of the Wesleyans. But in this class not many could boast much wealth as the result of their thrift. Many of the most voluble savers were still in the grip of the mortgagee ; for in Clogtown masters were few, and vacant jobs were few, and many were they who sought after them.

Things were becoming rather flat in the class toward the end of a certain session, smiles were worn threadbare, and profit-sharing had been discussed ’til it palled. Then a lucky discovery was made—a new member arrived from a small manufacturing village in the precincts of Clogtown. His experiences were unique, and gave an incentive to the rest, True, his was not a particularly pleasing personality. He was meek, not free and sociable and fraternising, his interest evidently centred around his own puny soul, and did not extend and ramify until they took in all his class: but he was ardently listened to. He told how he had never eained more than thirty shillings per week, and that he was the owner of eight cottage houses, with only a small mortgage to clear. His parents left him but £30, and with that sum he purchased a house, borrowing the remainder at 4½ per cent. With arduous exertion, and strenuous efforts to live cheaply, the first house was won. Then after two or three had been purchased, he bought the rest with the rents of the “first-bought.” This illustration of houses bought with rents drawn from others—perhaps not even paid for struck the “imagination” of the provident, frugal, parsimonious, co-operating Liberals present, and much cheering accompanied the narration of the feat.

Then up jumped Jim Roberts, a sardonic scamp, a deliberate pleasure lover, the butt of the class with his talk of cameraderie and class morality—a Socialist, whose very presence in the class was regarded with mixed feelings, in which suspicion of inveterate cynicism loomed large. He asked leave to put a few questions to the champion Smileseau. No one demurred.

IM : At what age did you marry ?
SMILESEAU : Thirty-five.
JIM : Have you any children ?
JIM : Had any illness ?
SMILESEAU : Haven’t paid 10s. to doctors in all my life.
JIM : Ever been out of a job ?
JIM : Drawn some insurance policies ?
JIM : Is your boss a steward at the Sunday School where you are a teacher ?
JIM : Um! Ever had any holidays ? Been to Blackpool ?
SMILESEAU : No. I’ve never set my eyes on the sea yet.
JIM : Has your wife worked at the mill ?
SMLLESEAU : Yes. Ever since we were married.
JIM : Do you smoke ? or use butter ? or give a party to your friends occasionally ? or take a glass of beer ? or read newspapers ? and have you any hobbies ?
SMILESEAU : I am a teetotaller, staunch ; I do not smoke ; I do not use butter—lemon cheese is a cheap substitute ; I sometimes see a newspaper when the missus gets one wrapped around her groceries ; if I have a hobby it is papering my houses during the annual “wakes.”
JIM : (to the class) Now, fellow workers, the frugality of the oracle is unveiled. Unfortunately some of us here in Clogtown do spend a trifle on newspapers and journals to help brighten our ideas ; we also often have some hobby to help to while away our few leisure hours ; we have at times a family gathering, and speculate our precarious wages on as good food as possible ; our wives do not all work at the mill, or things would look more blue for the men folks ; we do try to get a few days at the seaside, which I admit also helps to recuperate our failing energies for another year’s grind ; and the bulk of us, alas, are not teachers at a Sunday school. Unfortunately, too, for our parsimonious propensities, we do marry early, we do rear children, we do suffer from various ills, we do have doctors’ bills to pay, and we haven’t all the “cheek” to speculate in insurance policies. One thing, however, is certain : I get as much happiness through fighting for my class as does our frugal friend in penuriously trying to get out of his class and on to our backs.


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