Letter from Lord Byron to Lord Holland
8, St. James Street
February 25, 1812
My Lord. With my best thanks, I have the honour to return the Notts. letter to your Lordship. I have read it with attention, but do not think I shall venture to avail myself of its contents, as my view of the question differs in some measure from Mr. Coldham's. I hope I do not wrong him, but his objections to the bill appear to me to be founded on certain apprehensions that he and his coadjutors might be mistaken for the "original advisors" (to quote him) of the measure. For my own part I consider the manufacturers as a much injured body of men, sacrificed to the views of certain individuals who have enriched themselves by certain practices which have deprived the frame-workers of employment. For instance;--by the adoption of a certain kind of frame, one man performs the work of seven--six are thus thrown out of business. But it is to be observed that the work thus done is far inferior in quality, hardly marketable at home, and hurried over with a view to exportation. Surely, my Lord, however we may rejoice in any improvement in the arts which may be beneficial to mankind, we must not allow mankind to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism. The maintenance and well-doing of the industrious poor is an object of greater consequence to the community than the enrichment of a few monopolists by any kind of improvement in the implements of trade, which deprives the workman of his bread, and renders the labourer "unworthy of his hire."
My own motive for opposing the bill is founded on its palpable injustice, and its inefficacy. I have seen the state of these miserable men, and it is a disgrace to a civilized country. Their excesses may be condemned, but cannot be subject of wonder. The effect of the present bill would be to drive them into actual rebellion. The few words I shall venture to offer on Thursday will be founded upon these opinions formed from my own observations on the spot. By previous inquiry, I am convinced these men would have been restored to employment, and the county to tranquility. It is, perhaps, not yet too late, and is surely worth the trial. It can never be too late to employ force in such circumstances. I believe your Lordship does not coincide with me entirely on this subject and most cheerfully and sincerely shall I submit to your superior judgment and experience, and take some line of argument against the bill or be silent altogether, should you deem it more advisable. Condemning, as every one must condemn, the conduct of these wretches, I believe in the existence of grievances which call rather for pity than punishment. I have the honour to be, with great respect, my Lord, your Lordship's
Most obedient and obliged servant,
P.S.--I am a little apprehensive that your Lordship will think me too lenient towards these men, and half a frame-breaker myself.
The best book on the industrial revolution, the Frame Breaking Act, and all related issues I've read is:
Edward P. Thompson's
Making Of The English Working Class
Published originally February 1966
Available in paperback from Random House