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Transcribed from the 1845 William Pickering edition by David Price, email

The Claims of Labour.


The Second Edition.


[Picture: Title page design]


“There is formed in every thing a double nature of good; the one, as
every thing is a total or substantive in itself; the other, as it is
a part or member of a greater body; whereof the latter is in degree
the greater and the worthier, because it tendeth to the conservation
of a more general form. Therefore we see the iron in particular
sympathy moveth to the loadstone; but yet if it exceed a certain
quantity, it forsaketh the affection to the loadstone, and like a
good patriot moveth to the earth, which is the region and country of
massy bodies. This double nature of good, and the comparative
thereof, is much more engraven upon man, if he degenerate not; unto
whom the conservation of duty to the public ought to be much more
precious than the conservation of life and being: according to that
memorable speech of Pompeius Magnus, when being in commission of
purveyance for a famine at Rome, and being dissuaded with great
vehemency and instance by his friends about him, that he should not
hazard himself to sea in an extremity of weather, he said only to
them, ‘Necesse est ut eam, non ut vivam.’ But it may be truly
affirmed that there was never any philosophy, religion, or other
discipline, which did so plainly and highly exalt the good which is
communicative, and depress the good which is private and particular,
as the Holy Faith; well declaring, that it was the same God that gave
the Christian law to men, who gave those laws of nature to inanimate
creatures that we spoke of before.”

_Bacon’s Advancement of Learning_.

“And well may masters consider how easie a transposition it had been
for God, to have made him to mount into the saddle that holds the
stirrup; and him to sit down at the table, who stands by with a

_Fuller’s Holy State_.



I have great pleasure in dedicating this book to you, as I know of no one
who, both in his life and writings, has shown a more profound and
delicate care for the duties of the Employer to the Employed. Pardon me,
if following the practice of the world, I see the author in his hero, and
think I hear you speaking, when Van Artevelde exclaims—

“A serviceable, faithful, thoughtful friend,
Is old Van Ryk, and of a humble nature,
And yet with faculties and gifts of sense,
Which place him justly on no lowly level—
Why should I say a lowlier than my own,
Or otherwise than as an equal use him?
That with familiarity respect
Doth slacken, is a word of common use.
I never found it so.”

I have had some peculiar advantages in writing upon this subject. I
should have been unobservant indeed, if, with such masters as I have
served under, I had not learnt something, in regard to the duties of a
great employer of labour, from witnessing their ever-flowing courtesy;
their care for those who came within their sphere; their anxiety, as the
heads of departments, to recognize every exertion on the part of their
subordinates; and their ready sympathy with the poor and the friendless,
a sympathy which the vexations and harassments of office, and all those
things that tend to turn a man’s thoughts in upon himself, could never

But, happily, it is not only amongst the high in office that such
examples are to be found. The spirit, and even some of the very modes of
benevolent exertion which I have endeavoured to recommend, have already
been carried into practice, and I trust may be frequently seen, in the
conduct towards their dependents, both of manufacturers and landed

I must also say how much I owe to the excellent Reports which of late
years have been presented to Parliament on subjects connected with the
welfare of the labouring classes. It is to be regretted that these
reports are not better known. I have made frequent use of them, and hope
that the quotations I have given may induce my readers to turn to the
original sources.

With regard to the subject generally, it appears to me that knowledge of
the duties of an employer is every day becoming more important. The
tendency of modern society is to draw the family circle within narrower
and narrower limits. Those amusements which used to be shared by all
classes are becoming less frequent: the great lord has put away his crowd
of retainers: the farmer, in most cases, does not live with his labouring
men: and the master has less sympathy and social intercourse with his
domestics. If this be so, if the family circle is thus becoming
narrower, the conduct of those in domestic authority, having a more
intense influence, has the more need of being regulated by the highest
sense of duty: and, with respect to society in general, if the old bonds
are loosened, other ties must be fostered in their place.

You will not be likely to mistake my meaning, and to suppose that I look
back with any fond regret at the departure of the feudal system, or that
I should wish to bring the present generation under its influence.
Mankind does not so retrace its steps. But still, though the course of
our race is onwards, the nature of man does not change. There is the
same need for protection and countenance on the one side, and for
reverence and attachment on the other, that there ever has been; and the
fact that society is in many respects more disconnected than it used to
be, renders it the more necessary to cultivate in the most watchful
manner every mode of strengthening the social intercourse between rich
and poor, between master and servant, between the employers and the
employed, in whatever rank they may be.

I am afraid it may be said with justice, that both this letter and the
following Essay are “sermoni propiora,” according to Charles Lamb’s
translation, “properer for a sermon:” but it is impossible to dwell long
on any such subject as the one which I have chosen, without having to
appeal to the best motives of human endeavour; and the shortest way even
to the good which is of a purely physical character lies often, I
believe, through the highest moral considerations.

Believe me,
My dear Taylor,
Most truly yours,

London, July 1, 1844.



It is a thing so common, as almost to be ridiculous, for a man to express
self-distrust at the commencement of any attempt in speech or writing.
And yet, trite as this mode of beginning is, its appropriateness makes
each one use it as heartily as if it were new and true for him, though it
might have been a common-place for others. When he glances hurriedly
across the wide extent of his subject, when he feels how inadequate his
expression will be even to his conception, and, at the same time, has a
yearning desire to bring his audience into the same mind with himself, it
is no wonder if he begins with a few, hesitating, oft repeated, words
about his own insufficiency compared with the greatness of his subject.

Happily, I have not occasion to dwell much upon the importance of the
subject to which I am anxious to engage attention. For a long time it
has been gradually emerging from the darkness in which it had been left.
The claims of labour and the rights of the humble and the poor have
necessarily gained more of the attention of mankind, as Christianity has
developed itself. That power was sure, in its gradual encroachments upon
the evil nature of man, to make its voice heard in this matter. It is a
voice which may come out of strange bodies, such as systems of ethics, or
of politics; but men may call it what they please, it goes on doing its
appointed work, “conquering and to conquer.”

* * * * *

Persons of a thoughtful mind seeing closely the falsehood, the folly, and
the arrogance, of the age in which they live, are apt, occasionally, to
have a great contempt for it: and I doubt not that many a man looks upon
the present time as one of feebleness and degeneracy. There are,
however, signs of an increased solicitude for the claims of labour, which
of itself is a thing of the highest promise, and more to be rejoiced over
than all the mechanical triumphs which both those who would magnify, and
those who would depreciate, the present age, would be apt to point to as
containing its especial significance and merit.

But what do all these mechanical triumphs come to? It is in vain that
you have learned to move with double or treble the velocity of your
immediate predecessors: it is in vain that you can show new modes of
luxury, or new resources in art. The inquiring historian will give these
things their weight, but will, nevertheless, persevere in asking how the
great mass of the people were fed, and clothed, and taught: and whether
the improvement in their condition corresponded at all with the
improvement of the condition of the middle and upper classes.

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