HL Deb 15 March 1853 vol 125 cc175-7

in presenting a Petition of Robert Owen for measures for making known his alleged discovery of the means of preventing and mitigating the evils suffered by all classes in all countries, said, the Petition was from a gentleman whose great respectability and worth in his private capacity, and whose long exertions in the cause of human improvement, according to his own long-cherished opinions and conscientious convictions, were well known to their Lordships. Upon some subjects, including those of very high importance, their Lordships might widely differ from him; but upon his services in the great cause of education there could be but one feeling, that of general gratitude to the author of infant schools. His Petition set forth, as had other Petitions of his, formerly presented by him (Lord Brougham), the importance of the doctrines which he maintained, the discovery which Mr. Owen considered he had made of the true remedy for the evils that afflict society, and the prevention of which he deemed easy by his methods, when the cure of them would be hopeless. He repeated his desire to explain these principles either before a Committee of their Lordships, or in any other formal and regular manner; and he urged that a late illustrious Member of their Lordships' House, His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, had entered fully into the investigation of his methods and doctrines, had become entirely convinced of their soundness, and had been resolved to support them with his whole power and influence. It had sometimes been affirmed that Mr. Owen was a mere speculatist or theorist. Now, it was but fair to him and to his system to state, that whatever might be said of his opinions, and how much soever we might dissent from them, to the charge of being a mere visionary and impracticable speculator he was not at all exposed. He had passed his long life in active exertions, and these had been both made upon a large scale, at a great cost of money as well as toil, and with extraordinary success. From the early age of twenty he had been actively engaged in business, and had always connected with his professional pursuits the great work of improving the habits, the character, and the condition of the body of the people, the labouring classes. He began at Manchester as early as 1790, and there, employed as clerk or superintendent of a considerable establishment, he had effected a most happy change in the habits and the condition of the working people in the establishment, but so little to the detriment of the proprietors of the works, that they raised his salary to three, four, and five hundred pounds; and they desired him to name his own terms, if he would continue to superintend their workpeople, whose health, education and comforts he had improved, while he had diminished the length of their day's work. But he removed to Scotland, and in 1799 began that establishment at Lanark, which was known to many of their Lordships, and which he had himself visited more than once—the first time in company with his friend, Lord Denman, and from whence he had, with others of their Lordships, transplanted to this city the infant school system. At Lanark, Mr. Owen had to work on a smaller extent of population than at Manchester, but of a description in no way better when he began his labours. He had to work on a large body of persons belonging to the establishment. Instead of 500 or 600, it consisted of between 2,000 and 3,000. That the greatest success attended the methods employed for training these persons, was known to all who had visited Lanark. That much expense of labour and money was bestowed on this great and good work, no one doubted; but that the expenditure was prudently undertaken, the figures proved. About 1,200l. was the cost of the training. The concern, during more than a quarter of a century, flourished equally as a commercial enterprise and a philanthropic experiment. From 1799 to 1827, after paying the interest upon the capital embarked, at the rate of 5 per cent, there was divided the sum of 335,000l., or 12,000l. a year of clear profit, over and above the yearly interest, at 5 per cent on capital. He (Lord Brougham) conceived that he had said enough to show how groundless the notion was of Mr. Owen having all his life been a mere theorist, and unacquainted with the practical affairs of society. He moved that the Petition do lie on the table.

Petition to lie on the table.