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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LVI. - The Native regulation


I HAD abundant opportunities between 1860 and 1880 of seeing at close quarters how firmly the natives of the Bradford worsted district kept their predominant position, and came to the conclusion that as long as they remained the same in character as they then were, they would never lose strength nor be submerged. They had passed, ere I saw them, through the severe ordeal of the industrial revolution which superimposed the collectivism of the big steam-engine mills and other works upon the individualism of the handicraft arts which their forbears combined with small farming pursuits. It was a painful trial to conform to an order of things which made men and women and children slaves to machinery instead of retaining the skilful mastery of simple tools, with the individual or family freedom which they had before. After a few ructions and riots they saw they had no chance but to conform, and that in the matter of work and wages the revolution would have its compensations. They yielded to necessity, but their surrender was not unconditional, because they brought into the new order as much as possible of hereditary habits and moral ideals. With imperturbable unconsciousness they spliced the new order with the old in a manner which was as conservatively wholesome as it was, in some of its aspects, singular to behold. Was it not, for instance, a remarkable thing that long after Bradford had a population of over a hundred thousand, it should not have a single bakery, because its housewives had continued the ancestral habit of baking their own home-made bread, than which no better bread could be found anywhere? Between Bradford and Skipton there were many thousands of garden allotments worked diligently and profitably by working men in their leisure hours. And in a corner of the allotment was often found, snugly housed and much cared for, the family pig, which, when fattened and killed, was cured and converted into fine bacon with all the skill which had come down from days of old. After having been to church or chapel fathers and mothers, with their children, could be seen making Sunday visits to the allotment gardens to see how the pig, the pot vegetables, and the flowers were growing, and to hold there, in fine weather, their little picnics. Such a firm hold had the majority of the native operatives kept on the arts pertaining to rural life, that at home or in the colonies "back to the land" would have well suited them if they saw advantage in the change.

The practical and seemingly harsh outer crust of native Yorkshire character covers a large store of soft inner virtues, domestic affection, loving kindness, self-denial, noble aspiration, and high idealism not wholly of this world. Castes and classes may and do arrange themselves under different banners, but are at bottom united by hereditary habits, common ideas of right and wrong, national patriotism, and conservative instincts which can be disowned but never entirely shaken off. These qualities helped the working classes of the worsted district to pass through the ordeal of the industrial revolution with wonderfully little damage to family life and the moral training connected therewith. Factory Acts have brought about a vast improvement, but, I fear, mill work can never be made thoroughly conducive to the cultivation of the higher domestic virtues, including the relation of parents and children and the habits, arts, and amenities which throw a halo round household hearths. Honour and grateful thanks, however, are due to the sturdily stable working people of the past who bore the first dislocating brunt of the bewildering industrial revolution without demoralisation, and who managed so well to splice the old with the new as to preserve moral, social, and national continuity.

One must take it for being in obverse accordance with their hard grit and naturally noble race that the Yorkshire man or woman who takes to an evil course will keep on it resolutely and defiantly, and be evil indeed, yet with streaks of goodness now and then bursting out. If the worst housed and most crowded parts of Bradford, Bingley, Keighley, and the surrounding villages should be called slums, these slums, in my time, were far more inhabited by low class and poor strangers, than by natives who, as loafers, drunkards, thieves, and prostitutes, had fallen out of the native ranks. The comparative smallness of the native race fringe of worthlessness and criminalism could be partly accounted for on mere race grounds, and very much on grounds of family and religious training, which helped to steady the young lads and lasses who earned wages that made them prematurely independent. What they did, as a rule, was to marry early, and to begin housekeeping on the sensible lines they had learned from their parents. The young couples often had ambitions which they strove hard to realise, and they often succeeded in doing so, and going even far beyond their most sanguine expectations. Ambition to rise was not useless when it failed to attain its material object, for it strengthened self-respect and self-control and promised well for the children of parents who missed the material advance they had qualified themselves to deserve. The best of the men who rose to wealth from little or nothing did not ignore their poor relations, nor fail, if they were reliable, to give them chances for bettering them- selves. The crops of children consequent on early marriages kept the vital statistics all right, and ensured steady increase to the native people, of whom, through personal acquaintance, I formed a much higher estimate than the one I had got from Charlotte and Emily Bronte's novels. The grim looking old father of the gifted sisters was, for several years after I went to Bradford, still living, like Ossian after the Feinne, in the wind-swept mountain -top parsonage at Haworth. His daughters and his gifted, errant son could scarcely have got their genius from him ; but Emily seems to have inherited his fierceness of character. Charlotte, fortunately for lasting preservation, caught up the dialect before it sustained any damage or showed the marks of coming decay, which, in my time, were slowly making themselves visible under the influence of pulpit, press, and School Board English. But if it is doomed to die it will yet take some generations of gradual killing before it will quite cease to be spoken, and when it ceases to be spoken it will be embalmed in a great deal of local literature, as well as in the Bronte novels.


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