"We give below an extract from a work of Dr. Chalmers. We do not apologise for its length. We have scarcely ever read a delineation full of such striking and painful contrasts.
Paisley was a town in which there was nothing originally to supply a moral stamina but the habits and character of the people. That character was admirable. That even level of society in which some persons have discovered the condition of happiness existed there. There was employment ; there was competence ; but there were no great superfluities. The industry of the weaver enabled him to live in comparative enjoyment, and his taste surrounded his dwelling with all those attractions and amusements which have so often embellished humble life, where it has not been disturbed by either poverty or ambition. There education was universal, and, according to the beautiful narrative, "in every house there was an altar to God." A time, however, came when an impetus was given to the trade of Paisley, and children acquired a mercantile value. Their industry, such as it was, added something considerable to the earnings of the household. The habits of the people were revolutionised. The schools were no longer attended ; the children were deprived of moral training; their precocious independence released them from parental restraint. Habits of providence and forethought ceased from among the people. Marriages were universally early. The whole character of the town was changed, and society presented a scene of moral ruin. This was in Great Britain—a place accessible to all the influences of high civilisation—where the law was strong and punishment could speedily overtake its violators. If such were the consequences there, can we expect less in those outskirts of Australian civilisation ?
The neglect of one generation draws after it the degradation of another. We have had recently an example of what human nature may become by that neglect. Look at those poor children who have just been rescued from the blacks ! In what do they differ from the wretched people whose captives they were? How difficult it is to reconcile ourselves to the thought that the most lovely and intelligent child among us could, by being lost for a few years in the depths of aboriginal degradation, cease to possess intellectually or morally any characteristic in common with the race from which it sprang.
It is true that this is an extreme example, but at least it shows how possible it is for humanity to decline rapidly—how necessary it is that all the appliances of civilisation, and religion should be kept in active operation to prevent that decline, and how hard it is to recover a people when they have once lost the knowledge and the tastes of civilisation.
" Paisley is perhaps the most plebeian town of its size in Europe—its population being composed chiefly of weavers, with such accompanying trades and occupations as are dependent upon, or necessary for, the supply of weavers and weaving apparatus.
" As some important practical results, both of a moral and political nature, may be drawn from a review of its past and present history, it is our intention in the present article, to take a cursory view of the general population of that town from about the year 1775, or 80, to the present day ; contrasting its moral and intellectual character at two or three distinct periods, and endeavouring to account for the sad declension in public manners, which, of late, has been so obvious to the country at large.
" To state the simple fact, that the once quiet, sober, moral, and intelligent inhabitants of Paisley, are now generally a turbulent, immoral, and half-educated population, is to state what almost everyone knows and what many mourn over.
" It is, indeed, a melancholy subject for contemplation, that, what was at first eagerly embraced by many, as an addition to their family receipts, has ultimately proved not only a chief cause of individual poverty but of family feuds, insubordination on the part of the children, and, as a natural consequence, a general moral degradation over the whole community.
"From about 1770 to 1800, the manufactures of silk gauzes and fine lawns, flourished in Paisley ; and also during a portion of this period alluded to that of figured-loom and hand-tamboured muslin. These branches afforded to all classes excellent wages ; and being articles of fancy, room was afforded for a display of taste as well as enterprise and intelligence, for which the Paisley weavers were justly conspicuous. Sobriety and frugality being their general character, good wages enabled almost every weaver to possess himself of a small capital.
"Nearly one-half of Paisley at that period was built by weavers from savings off their ordinary wages. Every house had its garden, and every weaver being his own master, could work it when he pleased. Many were excellent florists ; many possessed a tolerable library. Never perhaps in the history of the world, was there a more convincing proof, of the folly of being afraid of a universal and thorough education, especially when impregnated with the religion of the Bible, than in the state of Paisley at that period.
"At the period alluded to, every man, woman, and child above eight or nine years of age, could read the Bible : many could write and cast accounts ; and not a few of the weavers' sons went through a regular course at the Grammar School ? To have had a distant relative unable to read, or one sent to prison for stealing, would have been felt as equally disgraceful.
"The inhabitants were so universally regular in their attendance upon church, and strict afterwards in keeping indoors, that it is recollected, at the end of the last century, or commencement of the present, that not a living creature, save two or three privileged blackguards, were ever seen walking the streets after divine service ; or if any chanced to appear an errand for the doctor was supposed to be the probable cause. Family duties were generally attended to ; and prayer and praise were not confined to the Sabbath evening ; for on week-days, as well as on Sabbath days, the ears of the bystanders were regaled with songs of praise issuing forth from almost every dwelling; and in those days it was no uncommon thing to find the highly respectable weaver a most consistent and truly useful elder of the church.
"At that period, the honest quiet weaver might be seen with his wife, at four or five o'clock sallying forth on an evening's walk, in full Sabbath attire ; the husband, in advance of his wife, carrying the youngest child in his arms, and his wife following, with two, three, or four children ; and perchance, ere their return, a brother and sister-in-law, were honoured with a visit to a cup of tea, to which they experienced a hearty welcome. Nor were little luxuries on such occasions altogether unknown; a weaver then being able to afford them.
" Although early marriages were very common, yet the frequent attendant evils were not immediately felt ; a lad of eighteen or twenty, being quite as able to support a family as his father at forty ; and he did not anticipate those days of darkness and privation, which have since come on Paisley.
" We come now to the mournful cause of the present degraded state of that once moral and happy town. The introduction of the manufactory of imitation Indian shawls, about the year 1800, required that each weaver should employ one, two, or three boys, called draw-boys. Eleven to twelve was the usual age, previous to this period, for sending boys to the loom ; but as boys of any age, above five, were equal to this work of drawing, those of ten were first employed ; then, as the demand increased, those of nine, eight, seven, six, and even five. Girls, too, were by and by introduced into the same employment, and at equally tender years. Many a struggle the honest and intelligent weavers must have had between his duty to his children and his immediate interests. The idea of his children growing up without schooling, must have cost him many a pang ; but the idea of losing 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week, and paying school-wages beside, proved too great a bribe even for parental affection, and, as might have been expected, mammon in the end prevailed, and the practice gradually became too common and familiar to excite more than a passing regret. Children grew up, without either the education or the training which the youth of the country derive from the schoolmaster ; and every year, since 1805, has sent forth its hundreds of unschooled and untamed boys and girls, now become the parents of a still ruder, more undisciplined, and ignorant offspring. Nor was this all. So great was the demand for draw-boys, that ever and anon the town crier went through the streets, offering, not simply 2s. 6d., 3s., or 3s. 6d. a week for the labour of boys and girls, but bed, board, and washing, and a penny to themselves on Saturday night. This was a reward on disobedience to parents—family insubordination, with all its train of evils followed. The son, instead of standing in awe of his father, began to think himself a man, when he was only a brawling impudent boy. On the first, or second quarrel with his father, he felt he might abandon the parental roof, for the less irksome employment of the stranger. The first principle of all subordination was thus early broken up, and the boy who refused to hearken to the voice of his father or his mother, and to honour them, could not be expected when he became a man, ' to fear God, or to honour the king.' If ignorance be the mother of superstitious devotion, it is also the mother of stupid and vulgar contempt. An intelligent and moral people will ever be most ready to give honour where it is due ; and, respecting themselves, will yield a willing respect to intelligence, virtue, rank, and lawful authority, wherever it is placed.
" The increase of the family receipts, arising from the employment of one or more children as draw-boys, ceased on the first slackness in the demand ; for it is evident that the additional sum—we shall suppose of 5s. a week—drawn by the labour of the weaver's children, enabled him to work just at so much lower prices to any manufacturer who might choose to speculate in making goods at the reduced price, in the hope of a future demand. A short period of idleness, on the part of the weavers, would have given time for the overstock of goods to clear off, whereas, this practice of working even extra hours, during the period of a glut, tended to perpetuate the glut, or to render fluctuations arising from this source more frequent, and, along with other causes, to perpetuate low wages. Thus was the employment of their children from five to ten, by the weavers of Paisley, at first an apparent advantage, but in the end a curse ; demonstrating that whatever may appear to be the interest of parents, this year, or next year, it is permanently the interest of them, and their offspring, to refuse every advantage in their temporal concerns, which tends to defraud youth of the first of parental blessings—Education—and that Providence has bound in indissoluble alliance the intelligence, the virtue, and the temporal well-being of society. In 1818-19, there were found full three thousand, Paisley-born and Paisley-bred, who could not read ; and the decline of intelligence has been followed by the decline of that temperance, prudence, and economy which are the cardinal virtues of the working classes, by which alone they can elevate their condition or preserve themselves from sinking into the most abject poverty.
"The Paisley weaver of forty years ago married early, because he foresaw that he could, in decency, support a family, and even save something for sickness or age, or the fluctuations of his trade. The Paisley weaver lad, in 1832, marries equally early, on a pittance that scarcely supports himself, because he has neither judgment to reflect on the misery which he is entailing on himself and others, nor moral principle to feel the solemn obligations of the state into which he is entering. Had the population of this town, continued a well educated, religious population, and, as wages diminished, intelligence and virtue increased, the fall of wages would have been arrested by the natural operation of that prudence, which leads mankind to consult their duty, as well as their inclinations ; and without any knowledge of the principles of Malthus, the operative classes would, like the middle and upper classes, have acted on his principles. It was the practice of the old Paisley weaver, after an attachment was formed, and an engagement entered into, to interpose sometimes a delay of years, in the labour of collecting, their providing or plenishing; that is, a most enormous mass of bed and table linen, an eight-day clock, &c, &c. ; and it was a point of distinction, on the day previous to marriage, by one or other of the parties, to exhibit to all the neighbours, this accumulation of industry and economy. Will the clergy of Paisley inform us how many marriages they now celebrate annually, where the parties have such plenishing to exhibit, with honest satisfaction, to their neighbours ? Or, rather, how many enter into the state of wedlock, without one thought of the future, and who know not nor care not what they do ?
" Those who have no consideration concerning the things of this life, are not likely to have any forethought regarding the life to come; and just in proportion as the modern Paisley weaver is without religion does he despise it. All clergy are necessarily hypocrites, as all kings and magistrates are, in their estimation, tyrants. Unitarianism, infidelity, or reckless profanity, too generally abound ; and the popular cry is against all distinction of ranks. Thus, measuring themselves by themselves, they would reduce society to their own level. Paisley thus furnishes an affecting illustration of the declaration of Holy Writ, ' That righteousness exalteth a city ; but sin is the ruin of any people.' "
The Sydney Morning Herald 1 November 1859