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THE

R

EDINBURGH REVIEW,

JUNE, 1827.

No. XCI.

ART. I. 1. Article "Cotton Manufacture," in the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica.

2. A Compendious History of the Cotton Manufacture. RICHARD GUEST. 4to. pp. 70. Manchester. 1823.

By

3. History, Gazetteer, Directory, &c. of Lancashire. By EDWARD BAINES. 2 vols. 8vo. pp. 1404. Liverpool. 1825.

THE

HE rapid growth and prodigious magnitude of the cotton manufacture of Great Britain, are, beyond all question, the most extraordinary phenomena in the history of industry. Our command of the finest wool, and of inexhaustible supplies of iron-ore and coal, naturally attracted our attention to the woollen manufacture, and paved the way for that superiority in it, to which we have long since attained. But when we undertook the cotton manufacture, we had comparatively few facilities for its prosecution, and had to struggle with the greatest difficulties. The raw material was produced at an immense distance from our shores; and in Hindostan and China, where the manufacture had been carried on from the remotest antiquity, the inhabitants had attained to such perfection in the arts of spinning and weaving, that the lightness and delicacy of their finest cloths emulated the web of the gossamer, and seemed to set competition at defiance. Such, however, has been the ascendancy we have derived from the stupendous discoveries and inventions of Hargraves, Arkwright, Crompton, Cartwright, and others, that we have overcome all these difficulties-that neither the extreme cheapness of labour in Hindostan, nor the perfection to which the natives had previously attained, has enabled them to withstand the competition VOL. XLVI. NO. 91.

A

of those who buy their cotton, and who, after carrying it five thousand miles to be manufactured, carry back the goods to them. This is the greatest triumph of mechanical genius. And what, perhaps, is most extraordinary, our superiority is not the late result of a long series of successive discoveries and inventions. On the contrary, it has been accomplished in a very few years. Little more than half a century has elapsed since the British cotton manufacture was in its infancy: and it now forms the principal support and bulwark of the country, affording an advantageous field for the accumulation and employment of millions upon millions of capital, and of thousands upon thousands of workmen! The skill and genius by which these astonishing results have been achieved, have been one of the main sources of our power. They have contributed, in no common degree, to raise the British nation to the high and conspicuous place she now occupies. Nor is it too much to say that it was the wealth and energy derived from the cotton manufacture, that bore us triumphantly through the late dreadful contest; at the same time that it gives us strength to sustain burdens that would have crushed our fathers, and could not be supported by any other people.

Under these circumstances, it may justly excite our astonishment, that so few attempts have been made to trace the rise and progress of this great branch of industry-to mark the successive steps in its advancement, the solidity of the foundations on which it rests, and the influence which it has already had, and must continue to have, on the number and condition of the people. To enter fully into the discussion of these topics, would, we are aware, infinitely exceed the limits within which we must confine ourselves; but we hope to be excused for briefly touching on a few of those that seem most important.

The precise period when the cotton manufacture was introduced into England is not known; but it is most probable that it was sometime in the early part of the 17th century. The first authentic mention is made of it by Lewis Roberts, in his "Treasure of Traffic," published in 1641, where it is stated, "The town of Manchester, in Lancashire, must be also herein remembered, and worthily for their encouragement commended, who buy the yarne of the Irish in great quantity, and weaving it, returne the same again into Ireland to sell: Neither doth their industry rest here, for they buy cotton wool in London, that comes first from Cyprus and Smyrna, and at home worke the same, and perfect it into fustians, vermillions, dimities, and other such stuffes, and then return it to London, where the same is vented and sold, and not seldom sent into

forrain parts, who have means, at far easier termes, to provide themselves of the said first materials."-(Orig. Ed. p. 32.) It is true, indeed, that mention is frequently made by previous writers, and in acts of the legislature passed at a much earlier period,* of "Manchester cottons," "cotton velvets," "fustians," &c.; but it is certain that these articles were wholly composed of wool, and had most probably been denominated cottons, from their having been prepared in imitation of some of the cotton fabrics imported from India and Italy.

From the first introduction of the cotton manufacture into Great Britain, down to the comparatively late period of 1773, the weft, or transverse threads of the web, only were of cotton; the warp, or longitudinal threads, consisting wholly of linen yarn, principally imported from Germany and Ireland. In the first stage of the manufacture, the weavers, dispersed in cottages throughout the country, furnished themselves, as well as they could, with the warp and weft for their webs, and carried them to market when they were finished. But, about 1760, a new system was introduced. The Manchester merchants began about that time to send agents into the country, who employed weavers, whom they supplied with foreign or Irish linen yarn for warp, and with raw cotton, which was first to be carded and spun, by means of a common spindle or distaff, in the weaver's own family, and then used for weft. A system of domestic manufacture was thus established; the junior branches of the family being employed in the carding and spinning of the cotton, while its head was employed in weaving, or in converting the linen and cotton yarn into cloth. This system, by relieving the weaver from the necessity of providing himself with linen yarn for warp, and raw cotton for weft, and of seeking customers for his cloth when finished, and enabling him to prosecute his employment with greater regularity, was an obvious improvement on the system that had been previously followed. But it is at the same time clear, that the impossibility of making any considerable division among the different branches of a manufacture so conducted, or of prosecuting them on a large scale, added to the interruption given to the proper business of the weavers, by the necessity of attending to the cultivation of the patches of ground which

* In an Act of the 5th and 6th of Edward VI. (1552,) entitled, for the true making of WOOLLEN cloth, it is ordered, "That all cottons called Manchester, Lancashire, and Cheshire cottons, full wrought for sale, shall be in length," &c. This proves incontestably, that what were then called cottons, were made wholly of wool.

they generally occupied, opposed invincible obstacles to its progress, so long as it was conducted in this mode.

During the earlier part of last century, the weavers of cotton, as well as those of wool, &c. were accustomed to throw the shuttle containing the weft from hand to hand, through the meshes of the web; and when the cloth exceeded three feet in width, two men were required for one loom-one to throw the shuttle from right to left, and the other from left to right. But in 1738, a person of the name of John Kay, a native of Bury in Lancashire, invented a new method of casting the shuttle, by an extremely simple and effectual mechanical contrivance, technically denominated a picking peg. This contrivance enabled a weaver to perform, on an average, twice the quantity of work he had previously been accustomed to perform, even on the narrowest webs; at the same time that it enabled him to weave cloth of any width without any assistance. The picking peg was first introduced into the manufacture of woollens; and it was not till after a lapse of nearly twenty years that it was made use of in the cotton manufacture; the latter being, at the time when this admirable little instrument was invented, so limited in its extent as hardly to excite any attention. In 1760, Robert Kay of Bury, a son of John's, invented the drop-box, a contrivance by means of which a weaver can at pleasure use any one of three shuttles; and can thereby produce a fabric of various colours almost with the same facility that he can weave

a common calico.

Previously to the year 1760, the cotton stuffs manufactured in England had been used wholly for home consumption. But about that period, the Manchester merchants began to export them, in considerable quantities, to Germany and the West Indies. There were, however, very serious obstacles to the extension of the trade. It was easy to import whatever supplies of linen-yarn might be required for warp; but no additional supplies of cotton-yarn could be procured for weft, except by the employment of an additional number of spinners at home. In consequence, the price of yarn rose with every extension of the manufacture; and this rise not only operated as a check to its farther increase, but tended to contract the limits to which it had already attained. Under such circumstances, it is next to certain, that, unless the processes of carding and spinning had been facilitated, the manufacture could never have made any considerable progress, but must have continued to languish in the state of insignificance in which it was at the period in ques

tion.

But, at this epoch, improvements began to be attempted in the process of carding. The first was made, as almost all the

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