Notwithstanding the slovenly 'edility' of Valenciennes, I found it a very interesting place. The Hotel du Commerce there is a very well-kept old-fashioned hostelry, installed in a stately and spacious house, long the residence of a considerable family. Indeed, one of my friends in Valenciennes was quite severe in his comments upon the indifference of the head of this family, still a man of large property, to this conversion of the ancestral mansion into an inn. With its fine gateway, its porter's lodge on either hand, its large courtyard shaded with well-grown old trees, and its well-proportioned apartments, it is certainly a specimen worth preserving of such a house as King Louis need not have disdained to enter, when he made Valenciennes and French Flanders definitely French in 1677.
'We have a noisy, ignorant set of people in power here now,' said my friend, 'who pulled down, not long ago, the finest of the only three good gates we had left, out of sheer stupidity; and you can see how they let things go at sixes and sevens all over the city. But the old-established citizens of Valenciennes are to blame also, not for the decline of our population perhaps, but for the gradual disappearance of all the features of the city worth preserving. Like the head of this family, they care nothing about the past.'
In the course of a walk about the city, he showed me, in the Rue Notre-Dame, an edifice, the condition of which certainly excused his criticism of his fellow-citizens.
It is an ancient dwelling-house of the fifteenth century, standing at the corner of two streets. A most graceful tourelle markes the facade, and strikingly resembles that which decorates still the house at Paris near the Rue des Francs Bourgeois, in the vaulted doorway of which Louis, Duc d'Orleans, was murdered, a crime avenged by the death, on the bridge of Montereau, of its real author, Jean Sans-Peur, Duc de Bourgogne. The exterior ornamentation of this house is admirable, nor is it too far gone in dilapidation to be successfully restored. The door was locked, boardings were fixed in some of the beautiful windows, and advertisements of Amer-Picon and auctions and political meetings defaced the front. Obviously the house belonged originally to some personage of importance at a time when Valenciennes, the city of the Emperor Valentinian, was still one of the great marts of Western Europe and a capital of the civilisation of the West. Its population was then much larger than it now is. By the Scheldt, it communicated with the sea, and in the thirteenth century it was a member of the famous Hanse of London, which included also, Reims, St.-Quentin, Douai, Arras, St.-Omer, Abbeville, Amiens, Bruges, Ypres, and Ghent. This league dominated over the Channel. Its chief, the Count of the Hanse, who seems to have been in a manner a successor of the Roman Counts of the Saxon Shore, was chosen by the leagued cities from among the great burghers of Bruges. The privileges its representatives enjoyed in London were balanced by sundry rather monastic restrictions; but it was a great commercial corporation, and it played a great part in the social and economical history of mediaeval Europe. As early as the ninth century Valenciennes and Mons had been so rich and influential, that they were regarded as the pillars of the 'noble Comte de Hainault, tenu de Dieu et du Soleil.' With the crusades, the importance of Valenciennes notably increased, and with its importance the independence of its burghers. The leading part taken by Godfrey de Bouillon in the early crusades is a proof of the power of these Flemish towns. When Baldwin of Flanders assumed the imperial purple at Constantinople, he did it expressly to benefit the commerce of the Flemish cities. At this day it is believed that there exist, in some palace of the sultan at Constantinople, tapestries of Oudenarde taken to the East by Baldwin, who was born at Valenciennes in 1171. At Valenciennes, too, were born his sister, Isabelle of Hainault, the first wife of Philip Augustus of France, his brother Henry, Emperor of the East, and his two daughters. One of these daughters, Marguerite, grown to woman's estate, besieged Valenciennes because the burghers refused to recognise her as the born Countess of Hainault. Gilles Miniave, provost of the city, plainly said to her when he refused to surrender: 'We have taken and we intend to kill your soldiers, madame, as abettors of tyranny.' This was as much to the purpose in its way as the firing on the royal troops by the farmers of Lexington in America in 1775.
In the middle of the fourteenth century Valenciennes was so wealthy that Jean Party, provost in 1357, was regarded as the richest man in Europe. He went to Paris during the fair of the Landit, and for his own account bought up all the goods brought there for sale at one swoop; he then retailed them at a great profit. He was invited to attend the court of France, and went there so magnificently attired as to excite the jealousy of the French nobles, who treated him in consequence with undue arrogance. He took off his cloak, enriched with fur and jewels, as no seat was offered him, made it into a roll, and sate down on it. When he rose with the rest to leave, he left the cloak where he had sate on it. The royal heralds, dazzled by the splendour of the garment, gathered it up, and one of them hastened with it after Jean Party, calling out to him that he had forgotten it.
'In my country,' said the haughty burgher turning towards the herald, 'it is not the custom for people to take their cushions away with them!'
One of the predecessors of this proud citizen, Jean Bernier, gave a banquet in 1333 to all the allies of the Comte de Flanders, which is celebrated by the chroniclers as the grandest ever seen in Flanders. There were sixty-nine guests, including the kings of Bohemia and of Navarre, and six tables 'so sumptuous with gold and silver plate, that the like had never been seen.'
In 1473 a chapter was held at Valenciennes of the Golden Fleece. In 1540 the city entertained Charles V., the Dauphin, and the Duc d'Orleans. In 1549 a society called 'the principality of pleasure' gave a festival to 562 guests in the woolstaplers' hall. Each guest was equipped with two flagons of silver, one for wine and the other for beer, and 1,700 pieces of silver and gold plate furnished forth the table, of which the chronicler observes, to the undying glory of the city, that 'all these vessels of silver and gold belonged to dwellers at Valenciennes; and also that not one piece was lost!'
The glory passed away from Valenciennes with the religious wars. The place became a headquarters of Protestantism, and the Most Catholic King sent his armies to deal with it. The Spaniards took Valenciennes and long held it. In 1656, under Conde, they beat off the French under Turenne, and it was only in 1677 that Louis XIV. finally captured it, and turned it over to Vauban to be fortified.
As the town stands much lower than the surrounding country, Vauban planned his works with an eye to flooding the region, if necessary, by the waters of the Scheldt. Valenciennes stands at 25.98 metres above the sea-level. But Anzin, the chief suburb, is at 39 metres, and the hills beyond at 80 metres above the sea-level.
When the Spaniards got the upper hand fairly in French Flanders, thousands of the workers in wool emigrated to England, carrying their industry with them. Many of these emigrants naturally went into the cloth-making West of England, and to this day I am told by genealogists Flemish names, translated or curiously transmogrified, are to be found in Somerset and Devonshire, which attest the extent and value to England of the exodus. What its real proportions were it is hard now to estimate. The chroniclers talk of a hundred thousand people going out from Flanders to England between the defeat of the Armada in 1588 and the repulse of the French from before Valenciennes in 1656. But the numbers are obviously conjectural.
What is certain is, that during this period Valenciennes was the centre of a most interesting spiral movement (to use the phrase of Goethe) in the history of modern Europe. Coming down later to the contest between France, under Louis XIV., and the allies, led by Marlborough and Prince Eugene, we find Valenciennes again playing a leading part. And during the last blind, desperate effort of France to shake off the domination of the scoundrels who had fastened themselves upon her vitals at Paris after the collapse of the monarchy, Valenciennes became the theatre of the tolerably well-conceived, but intolerably ill-executed, attempt of Dumouriez to make himself a French Duke of Albemarle. It was quite as unprincipled as his political operations were at Paris in 1792, and in both cases he came to grief through his overweening self-confidence and consequent lack of the most ordinary prudence and forecast.
A morning may be spent with both profit and pleasure in the galleries of the Hotel de Ville at Valenciennes. The building is of the early seventeenth century, and was remodelled and partially reconstructed under the Second Empire. It is spacious and not without a certain dignity, but, like the streets and squares, it is ill kept.
The galleries which occupy the whole of the second floor are extensive, well-lighted, and with a more careful and systematic arrangement of the pictures would be of considerable value to students of art. Valenciennes certainly had painters of merit before the sixteenth century. One of these, celebrated by Froissart, Maitre Andre, was both a sculptor and a painter. In 1364 he became 'imagier' of Charles V. of France. The statues of that king, of Jeanne de Bourbon his queen, and of King John and King Philip, still extant at St.-Denis, are his work. Two exquisite manuscripts illuminated by him still exist; one in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris, the other at Brussels.
Simon Marmion, who died at Valenciennes on Christmas-day, 1489, was the court painter of that high and puissant prince, Philippe, Duc de Bourgogne, and ranked among the chiefs of the Flemish School. Pictures of his exist at Bruges, Nuremberg, and Paris. The Valenciennes museum has an ex-voto on wood, the history of which is curious. It was found broken into two pieces, and hidden away behind a confessional in the cathedral of Notre-Dame. How it came there no one knows. It may have been flung there during the pillage of the church, or put there to save it. At all events, having been carefully (not too carefully) restored and cleaned, it now presents two interesting pictures, one of St. John, holding in his right hand a book on which the Paschal Lamb reposes, with an ecclesiastic kneeling before him in a red robe, covered with a transparent alb, a palm resting on his right arm. The other represents a dead body on a rug, half-covered with a shroud. Above, on a scroll, are the lines
Da requiem cunctis, Deus, hic et ubique sepultis, Ut sint in requie, propter tua vulnera quinque.
In 1782 the provost of Valenciennes, the baron Pujol de Lagrave, who served as provost till 1789, and again after the capture of the city by the Duke of York, established here a school of art not unworthy the birthplace of Watteau and of Pater. Both of these painters are represented in the collection, the former by a characteristic little 'Conversation under the Trees in a Park' and by an interesting portrait of the sculptor Pater, the father of the painter. The two families of Watteau and of Pater lived on terms of such friendly intimacy at Valenciennes that the father of Pater sent his son up to Paris, to study his art under Watteau.
Watteau received his young compatriot so coldly, and made things so unpleasant for him, that he soon went back discouraged, to resume his career at home. There he encountered the hostility of the local corporation of St. Luke, that guild of painters refusing to allow him to practise his art without regularly passing through his apprenticeship, and taking his 'master's degree.' Pater resisted, and the case went before the magistracy of Valenciennes, before the Provincial Council of Hainault, and finally before the Parliament of Flanders. It was contested for several years, and finally resulted in an arrangement, under which Pater bound himself never to paint in Valenciennes, 'under any pretext whatsoever.' He might go to Paris and paint as much as he liked, but in Valenciennes painting was the privilege of the corporation of St. Luke. This has a pre-Adamite sound in modern ears. But even now no man may lawfully kill or cure the sick in London or Paris or New York without a diploma, despite the 'epoch-making' principles of 1879. And the new French Chamber of 1889 apparently intends to forbid all foreign physicians to attend upon patients in France! In Valenciennes, as a matter of fact, a liberal School of Art was established in 1782, by which time both Watteau and Pater had done their life's work and taken their places among the masters in a world-wide corporation of St. Luke.
Two charming groups by Pater represent this painter in the Museum of his native city, together with a portrait of his sister, bequeathed by M. Bertin, the last representative of the Pater family in Valenciennes.
A grand and well-known triptych by Rubens, representing the preaching, the martyrdom, and the entombment of St. Stephen, in three compartments, upon the extension of which, when closed, appears a bold and striking picture of the Annunciation, is one of the chief treasures of the Museum. It belonged to the noble monastery of St.-Amand, which was wrecked and pillaged during the Revolution, and, with the valuable library of the monastery, very rich in missals and manuscripts, was confiscated by the patriots of Valenciennes.
Another Rubens, of less importance, originally belonged to the church of Notre-Dame de la Chaussee, which was pulled down, as well as pillaged, at the same time. It seems to have been rescued from the spoilers by the good people of the neighbourhood, and was honestly bought for the Museum in 1866, not magnificently 'presented' to it by official 'receivers,' not much better than the original thieves.
Francois Pourbus of Bruges is represented here by two admirable full-length portraits of Philippe Emanuel de Croy, Comte de Solre, and of his sister, Marie de Croy, and by a full-length portrait of Dorothee de Croy, Duchesse d'Arschot, in a stately wedding-dress, painted, in the full maturity of his powers, at Paris, in 1617. This is the wedding-dress described, according to M. Foucart, an accomplished amateur of Valenciennes, one of the Conservators of the Museum, by Reiffenberg in his valuable book: 'Une existence de Grand Seigneur au XVI^e Siecle,' and the Valenciennes Museum is particularly rich in pictures of interest from this, which may be called the documentary, point of view.
Among these must be reckoned a curious painting of the mother and the wife of Henri III., with sundry dames of high degree, and women of the people violently squabbling together over a pair of trunk-hose, the property of the king, who lies prostrate in one corner of the canvas, struck down by the clenched fist of a man in the robes of a member of the Parliament of Paris.
From this and from another painting on parchment which sets forth, as an inscription recites, 'the cruel martyrdom of the most reverend Cardinal de Guise by the inhuman tyrant Henri de Valois,' it may be clearly gathered that the people of French Flanders had very positive opinions, and were not slow to express them, long before the Abbe Sieyes constituted himself the Isaac Newton of political science.
There is a goodly show, too, of historical portraits of interest, one of the Admiral de Coligny, which was exhibited at Paris in 1878, another of Fenelon, which came here from the pillage of the Chapterhouse of Cambray, another of Prince Maurice of Nassau, another of Hortense Mancini. A good full-length portrait of Bardo Bardi Magalotti, colonel of the 'Royal Italian' regiment under Louis XIV., is set in a very remarkable frame of superbly carved oak, part of the woodwork of the demolished church of St.-Gery. Of historical interest, too, is a large Van der Meulen, representing the defeat of Turenne before Valenciennes in 1656, by the Spanish army under Conde. From a bird's-eye view of Valenciennes in the background of this large canvas, we may see how much the city has lost by the gradual destruction of its finest architectural features.
Within the last few years the Museum of Valenciennes has been endowed, through the munificence chiefly of a Wallachian nobleman, Prince George Stirbey, well known in Paris, with a unique collection of the works of Carpeaux, the sculptor of the famous groups which adorn the facade of the grand Opera House at Paris.
Carpeaux was born at Valenciennes, and the fine statue of Watteau which stands now in the city was both suggested and executed by him. So long ago as 1860, when he began to recognise his own place in contemporary art, he expressed his wish to have his memory perpetuated in his native place by as complete a collection of his works as could be made; and in his will, drawn up in 1874, he left to Valenciennes all his models in plaster, and all the drawings for his works, together with all the sketch-books he had filled during his artistic life, and which were then in the keeping of his relations at Auteuil.
In process of time Carpeaux found it necessary to part with a great many of his drawings, and Prince George Stirbey, who had bought most of them, after the death of the artist, divided them into three lots, one of which he gave to the Louvre, another to the School of Fine Arts at Paris, and the third and richest to Valenciennes. To this princely liberality, Valenciennes is indebted for the singular fulness and value of the Carpeaux collection which it now possesses.
Among the portraits in the Museum proper, is one which ought to be sent to the Musee de la Revolution in Paris. It is a pastel of a typical Revolutionary personage, who bore the not very attractive name of Charles Cochon. He was one of the 'patriots' of 1792, and having vowed irreconcilable hatred to all kings and emperors, he was selected to go as a Commissary to the Army of the North after Dumouriez had delivered up Camus and his companions with Beurnonville to the Austrians. After the advent of Napoleon, this incorruptible Republican became one of the most serviceable servants of the new master of France, and ended his career as an Imperial senator, with the queer title of Comte de Lapparent!
I wisely availed myself of my first morning in Valenciennes to visit these collections in the Hotel de Ville, for in the afternoon M. Guary, the son of the distinguished director of the great coal mines of Anzin, which I especially desired to see, kindly drove into my comfortable old hotel and most hospitably insisted on carrying me off to the mines.
At the beginning of the last century there was but a single house in all the territory now known as the Commune of Anzin. It is now the seat of a busy and growing town, a suburb, or—to speak more exactly—an extension beyond the walls of the city of Valenciennes. This town has been called into existence during the last century and a quarter by the operations of the Anzin Company, the largest coal-mining company in France. The concessions held and worked by this company cover an area of 28,054 hectares.
Six years ago, when what is known as the great strike at Anzin attracted to this important region the attention of all persons interested in that question of labour, which the excellent M. Doumer tells us the 'true Republic' has been 'studying' in vain for ten years, the Anzin Company employed 14,035 workmen, of whom 2,180 were at work on the surface and 11,855 were employed on the subterranean work of the mines. The coal extracted, which had reached 1,677,366 tons in 1862, amounted in 1883 to 2,210,702 tons, being one-tenth part of all the coal-production of France. The coal-mining of Anzin is carried on now in the face of a great and increasing competition almost at its very doors. To the north and east lie the great coal-fields of Belgium, which in 1882 sent into France 4,064,625 tons of coal, and in 1883, 4,217,933 tons. On the north and west lie the great French coal-fields of the Pas-de-Calais, where, at Lens and other points, great discontent has shown itself during the current year among the miners, but which increased their output from 5,724,624 tons in 1882 to 6,148,249 tons in 1883. Then, beyond the Channel, England, which had sent into France, in 1882, 3,560,149 tons of coal, in 1883 sent in 3,818,205 tons; and, finally, from Germany in 1883 France took 1,186,769 tons against 1,035,418 tons. These figures will suffice to show the importance of Anzin as a coal-field. It draws its prosperity from roots struck deep into the soil nearly a century and a half ago, and long before the traditional institutions of France were thrown into the melting-pot, amid the cheers of a mob in the streets, by another mob which called itself a National Assembly.
At the beginning of the last century, when, as I have said, there was but a single house in all the present territory of Anzin, coal was not known to exist in this part of France. In the Low Countries, then Austrian, and just beyond the French frontier, coal was mined, and it came into the head of an energetic dweller in the little town of Conde that what was found in Hainault might be found also in French Flanders. His name was Desambois, and he was not a rich man. But he succeeded in getting from Louis XV. a concession in 1717 authorising him to seek for coal within a considerable range of territory till 1740. The Crown even gave him a small subsidy. But the Mississippi bubble burst while he was struggling with the difficulties which surrounded him when he first struck certain imperfect veins of coal; and in the stress of that great crash he found himself obliged to part with his rights for the sum of 2,400 florins to two gentlemen of the noblesse, though not of the great noblesse, the Vicomte Desandrouin de Noelles, and M. Taffin. There is a portrait in the Musee at Valenciennes of M. Desandrouin which shows the qualities one would expect to find in a man who so long ago and in such circumstances undertook such an enterprise with a limit of no more than eighteen years before him. These two connected with themselves a brother of Desandrouin, a 'gentleman glassworker' at Fresnes, and two brothers named Pierre and Christophe Mathieu. They worked on, undiscouraged but unsuccessful, for twelve years, until, finally, on June 24, 1734, Pierre Mathieu, who was a trained engineer, found at Anzin the long-sought vein of bituminous coal.
This auspicious day is commemorated on the simple slab which marks the burial-place of Mathieu in the communal church of Anzin. When one considers what the discovery meant, and what its results now mean, to the welfare and the prosperity of France, one is tempted to regard the 24th of June as a date almost as well worth celebrating by Frenchmen as the 14th of July.
Marshal Villars is celebrated by a very uncomely obelisk on his battle-field of Denain near by, and General de Dampierre by a column in the public square of Anzin itself. Why should not Anzin set up a statue of Pierre Mathieu?
A comparatively short time sufficed to convince the adventurous associates that they had indeed found the great veins they had sought. Pierre Taffin went to Paris and got a considerable extension from the Crown of their concession. Money was raised and the work went on, bringing labourers and settlers to Anzin and founding the new industry. Then came a new danger, which might have been foreseen. The lords of the soil at Anzin had been quite left out of the calculation, but the lords of the soil at Anzin in 1734 were quite as well awake to their legal rights, and to the advantages to be derived from a judicious use of these rights, as were the small farmers of Pennsylvania long afterwards, when prospecting engineers began to sink shafts and to pump up oil along the slopes of the Appalachians. The Prince de Croy-Solre and the Marquis de Cernay brought forward their title to share in the riches found beneath their acres. Desandrouin and his associates contested these claims as long as they could. But the contests ended, as the lawyers had seen from the first that it must, in a compromise. The Prince and the Marquis on the one hand with their titles to the land, and the Vicomte and his associates on the other with their royal concessions, came together, and in 1757 founded the Anzin Company.
As in the case of St.-Gobain, the capital of the company was divided into sols and deniers. There were twenty-four deniers, of which the Prince de Croy-Solre received four for himself and two associates, the Vicomte Desandrouin five sols and four deniers, the heirs of M. Taffin three sols nine deniers, the Marquis de Cernay and his six associates eight sols, and the engineer Mathieu six deniers. The phraseology of the articles of association is somewhat quaint and ancient, but the spirit of them is essentially fair and equitable. The recital of the objects for which the company was formed is a model in its way, and shows that the authors of these articles—nobles, roturiers, engineers, and notaries of the ancien regime in 1757—had nothing to learn from Jean-Jacques Rousseau or the Abbe Sieyes as to the essential rights and duties of men in a civilised community. Thus it runs:—
'To bring about a general union of the coal-pits in the territory of Fresnes, Anzin, Old Conde, Raismes, and St.-Vaast, put an end to all the differences and proceedings brought before the Council and as yet unsettled, make it possible to live in good union and a good understanding, and secure the interests of the State and of the public by forming solid establishments, there are adopted by this present act, which shall be duly ratified before a notary, the following articles.'
These articles are nineteen in number, and, as in the case of St.-Gobain, one article binds the associates always to furnish, in proportion to their shares, whatever funds may be required for the enterprise.
The hereditary principle is distinctly recognised in these articles not only as to the ownership of the shares, but as to the management, and the Prince de Croy-Solre and the Marquis de Cernay, with their successors, are accorded certain rights as arbitrators, and in the election of directors, a circumstance worth noting because I find that, notwithstanding the supposed abolition by the revolutionists of 1789 of the hereditary principle, and of titles of nobility and of privileges, these articles of association, just as they stood when they were signed and subscribed on November 27, 1757, were quietly recognised and registered, and a good fee taken for the recognition and the registration by the proper republican functionary at Paris, on the '11 Pluviose, An XIII' of the Republic one and indivisible.
The main street of Anzin, through which M. Guary drove me to the offices of the company, is a broad and well-paved highway, with many shade-trees, and the houses, for the main part, well built, though not particularly picturesque. M. Guary tells me there are a good many small rentiers living here, which seems to show that the place must be orderly and quiet. Many of the houses are brightly painted, in blue, green, pink, and other colours not to be expected, and of cabarets the name is legion. M. Baudrillart pronounces intemperance to be a characteristic foible of the Flemish French, or French Flemings; but in these cabarets—which were, so far as I saw, rather exceptionally neat and even handsome—the customers seemed to be taking light beer and certain sweet beverages, rather than spirits.
At the main office I found M. de Forcade, a son of the celebrated minister of Napoleon III., to whom when he retired, on the accession to power of M. Emile Ollivier, the Emperor addressed a remarkable letter, recognising, in the strongest terms that could be used, his abilities, his integrity, and his patriotism. M. de Forcade had just received a telegram from the father of M. Guary, at Paris, announcing his arrival at Anzin for the next day, and asking me to prolong my visit, which I was very glad to do.
There are many factories at work in and around Anzin, but there is nothing Plutonian in the aspect of the place or of the neighbourhood, and the grimy side of coal-mining nowhere obtrudes itself. On the contrary the green fields, under a very high cultivation, everywhere encroach agreeably upon the town. The residence of M. Guary, the Director, stands in an exceedingly pretty park, and the mansion, a handsome modern chateau, is surrounded with fine and well-grown trees. You approach the mansion from the busy main streets of Anzin, traversed by a tramway leading to Denain, but from its windows and balconies which overlook the park, you gaze out upon the verdure and the spacious peace of a wide rural landscape.
A certain proportion of the workmen employed in the mines prefer to live in the town; but it is the policy of the company to encourage the development of cottage life, and wherever I went throughout its extensive domain I found families of the workmen installed in comfortable homes, surrounded by gardens and by what are called in England 'allotments.' Of these the company now owns no fewer than 2,628. Originally these houses were built in the form of cites ouvrieres; but it has been found by experience that these blocks of contiguous houses are open to certain objections from the point of view of health, as well as from the point of view of morals, and the more recent constructions are detached cottages. A model of one of these cottages was exhibited in the social economy section of the Exposition at Paris this year, But it was more satisfactory to see them actually inhabited and on the spot. Each cottage is built in a field of land of two acres in extent, and the rent varies from three francs and a half to six francs a month. For the lesser sum, or for forty-two francs a year, a workman at Anzin earning an average wage of three francs a day, or in round numbers a thousand francs a year, may thus secure a well-built house—most of those I saw were of brick—with proper drainage and cellarage, containing two good rooms on each of three floors, with closets, and standing in its own grounds.
Compare this, not with the squalid and noisome single rooms for which in the worst parts of Spitalfields a rent of tenpence a day, or five shillings a week (Sunday being thrown in free when the weekly rent is duly paid), or thirteen pounds sterling a year is exacted—but with the average rental of lodgings in the manufacturing towns of Massachusetts!
But this is not all. Whatever repairs are needed in these houses are made, not by the tenants, but by the company, and the company further leases to its workmen, who choose to avail themselves of them, at very low rates garden sites within each commune, for cultivation as kitchen-gardens. No fewer than 2,500 families now have such holdings under cultivation, making a total of 205 hectares thus put to profit by the workmen, who take a lively pleasure in cultivating them during their leisure hours.
Every workman is allowed furthermore by the company seven hectolitres of ordinary coal per month for his own use. In cases of illness, or where a workman has a family of more than six persons, this allowance is increased. In 1888 the coal thus given by the company amounted to 598,550 quintals, representing a money value of 359,150 francs. This is not only a practical application of the Scriptural injunction 'not to muzzle the ox which treadeth out the grain;' it is a practical contribution to the solution of the great 'question' which M. Doumer in his Report tells us the 'true Republic' has been for ten years making believe to study—of the participation of the workman in the profits of the work. It is, indeed, from this economical and practical point of view, and not from the philanthropic point of view, it seems to me, that all these advantages conceded by the Anzin Company to its workmen should be considered.
No man of common sense needs to be told that to deal successfully with industrial enterprises which require the investment of a large capital for the production of commodities liable to great fluctuations in price, the managers of such enterprises must be executive men employing executive methods. If all the workmen employed in such enterprises are to be admitted in the ordinary way to a participation in the profits, they must obviously be admitted to a participation in the councils, and in the direction of the policy of the managers. How is that to be brought about without endangering the success of the enterprises? To consult the workmen of the company on technical questions within the range of their regular employment is one thing; to consider the commercial and fiscal policy of the company in its relation with competing companies, and with the consuming public, in a general conclave of all the establishment, would be quite another thing. It is a curious fact that in the original statutes of 1757 the founders of Anzin expressly provided that the six directors of the company should, when necessary, consult not only the employes, but the workmen of the company—the 'ouvriers;' and this provision was insisted on at a time when, as the doctrinaires of the nineteenth century would have us believe, 'labour' was not recognised in France as a social force to be considered.
Under its existing system of management the Anzin Company makes its workmen real participants in the profits of its operations, without at the same time exposing them to participate in the losses.
This is done not only through the singularly low rates at which the workmen are enabled to house themselves and their families, through the coal allowance, through the provision of cheap kitchen-gardens, and particularly through the establishment of a pension fund and of a savings-bank, but in many other forms.
Advances repayable without interest, for example, are made to workmen who wish to buy or to build houses for themselves. These advances in 1888 stood in the books of the company at a total of 1,446,604 francs, of which 1,345,463 fr. 91 c. had been repaid, leaving a balance due to the company then of 101,140 fr. 9 c. With these funds workmen of the company had bought or built for themselves 741 houses, being thus visibly, and unanswerably to the extent of the value of these houses, participants in the profits of Anzin.
Not less real is the participation of the workmen in the profits through the various beneficial and educational institutions which I visited with M. Guary, or with his son, and of which I shall presently speak.
The concessions now possessed by the Anzin Company are eight in number: those of Vieux-Conde, Fresnes, Raismes, Anzin, Saint-Saulve, Denain, Odomez, and Hasnon. These concessions cover, in the form of an irregular polygon, about thirty continuous kilometres of territory, stretching from Somain to the Belgian frontier, with a breadth varying from seven to twelve kilometres. The total area amounts to 2,805,450 hectares.
Of these concessions the four first-named were the original basis of the organisation of the company under the controlling influence of the Prince de Croy-Solre at the Chateau of l'Hermitage which still belongs to his family near Conde.
The others have been acquired since 1807; Hasnon, the latest, which covers about 1,500 hectares, in 1843.
But—and this is a notable fact—the Anzin Company from the beginning to this day has been organised and managed under the original statutes of 1757. Under these statutes, devised and drawn up absolutely under the ancien regime, and by an association of practical engineers and enterprising adventurers with feudal seigneurs, this great company has, for more than a century and a quarter, administered with signal success, and still administers, what may be fairly called an industrial republic, carrying on its affairs and developing its resources in the face of the enormous changes of modern life, and maintaining here, under what are thought to be the most trying conditions of labour, a most remarkable measure of harmony between an ever-increasing nation of labourers and a strictly limited administration, composed not only of capitalists, but of hereditary capitalists. What becomes of the rights of man and of the Abbe Sieyes, and of the Tiers-Etat, which 'ought to be everything,' and of the 'immortal principles of 1789,' in the face of all this?
To the wisdom of the National Assembly the workmen and the Company of Anzin owe considerably less than nothing. The National Assembly, of course, meddled with the mines of France, as it meddled with everything else. It did endless debating over the subject, in the course of which Mirabeau declaimed eloquently against the doctrine of Turgot, that the mines belong to the men who find them, a doctrine which, after all, is much more rational than the more recent contention of sundry modern Orators of the Human Race that 'the mines belong to the miners'! But after it had talked itself hoarse, the Assembly had to descend to the prosaic business of legislation, and in dealing with the mines, as in dealing with other matters, it made a muddle of the laws which existed before it met, and left this muddle to be resolved into a new order of things legal, under the presiding genius of Napoleon.
Under the ancien regime the rights of the feudal lords of the land over the mines beneath the soil had been contested by the steadily increasing power of the sovereign. In the case of the Anzin Company, and of the articles of association adopted in 1757, we see the practical good sense of the practical men who adopted those articles bringing about a good working arrangement between the concessions granted by the Crown and the claims advanced by the lords of the land. The republican legislators in 1791 concocted a mining law, under which the dominion of the sovereign, taken over by the State, was brought into perpetual conflict with the recognised, but undefined, rights of the lords of the soil. Such was the mischief caused by this ill-digested law that, in 1810, Napoleon made an end of it, and substituted for it an imperial law, under which the absolute ownership of mines in France might be conferred by a concession of the Government. 'The act of concession,' says the seventh article of the law, 'gives a perpetual ownership of the mine, which from that moment may be disposed of and transmitted like any other kind of property, and no holder of it can be expropriated, except in the cases and under the forms prescribed with, regard to all other properties.' This law of course made an end both of the royalties of the old French system, and of the English and American doctrine that he who owns the land owns up to the sky and down to the centre of the earth. For while the State recognises under this law the owner of the surface, and provides that the State shall give him what may be called a kind of 'compensation for disturbance' though on a scale to be fixed by itself, it recognises in him no ownership whatever of the mine beneath his soil.
Nor does it recognise under this law any right in the discoverer of a mine to a proprietary interest in a property which but for him might never have existed as an available property at all, either for the owner of the surface, or for the State, or for the concessionary of the State. The founders of the Anzin Company in 1757, it will be seen, recognised the right of Pierre Mathieu, the discoverer of bituminous coal at Anzin, to such a proprietary interest in the mine he had discovered; but they recognised it with a practical and sensible reference to the concurrent rights also of other people, and to the general utility. So much more deftly, it would appear, were practical questions, involving the interests of labour and of capital, handled under the ancien regime by practical persons, whether nobles, engineers, or adventurers, who had a practical interest in settling them wisely, than by theoretical persons, 'philosophers and patriots,' whose only practical interest lay in 'unsettling' them, during the long legislative riot which began in 1789.
The influence of this period upon labour and capital in France is well illustrated in the records of this company at Anzin.
In 1720, when poor coal, charbon maigre, was first found by the Vicomte Desandrouin and his friends at Fresnes, fifty-five tons of the mineral were extracted. In 1734, Pierre Mathieu 'struck it rich' at Anzin, and work began in earnest. By 1744 the yearly output reached 39,685 tons. In 1757, when the Company of Anzin was finally formed, and the articles of association were signed, the output of the concessions worked by the company amounted to 102,000 tons. From that time it increased, not 'by leaps and bounds,' but steadily, till in 1789 it had reached 290,000 tons. In 1790 it increased again to 310,000 tons. Then came a decline—gradual at first, but as things grew worse at Paris, sharp and sudden. The output fell to 291,000 tons in 1791—fell again to 275,500 tons in 1792. With the murder of the king, and the final crash of law and order throughout France, in 1793 the output dropped suddenly to 80,000 tons, or less by 20 per cent. than it had been in 1756, the year before the company was finally formed. In the next year, 1794, it dropped again to 65,000 tons, a point below that of the production in 1752, four years before the formation of the company, when the lords of the land were in the thick of their legal battle with the Vicomte Desandrouin and the concessionnaires.
Things began gradually to look better as it became more and more clear that the Republic could not last, and with the establishment of the Consulate and the Empire they grew better still. But it was not till 1813 that the output approached the figure reached in the last year of the monarchy, 1790.
With the disasters of 1814 and 1815, of course, it fell again; but within two years after the restoration of the monarchy, in 1818, the output reached and passed the highest point attained before the Revolution, and stood at 334,482 tons. In 1830 the output had reached 508,708 tons, but the revolution of that year threw it back again, in 1831, to 460,864 tons. Under the monarchy of July, the production gradually, though not regularly, increased again, until in 1847 it had reached 774,896 tons, only to be struck down by the senseless Revolution of 1848 to 614,900 tons in 1849. It went up with the establishment of the second Empire in 1852 to 803,812 tons in 1853, and by 1870 had reached 1,633,818 tons.
Under the governments of M. Thiers and of the Marshal-Duke of Magenta, during which, according to M. Doumer, the Republic existed 'only in name,' the output went up till, in 1877, it passed the two million limit, only to recede again with the advent to power of M. Gambetta and his friends, with their 'true Republic,' under which it fell in 1884 to 1,720,306 tons. The elections of 1885, marking the rise of a great conservative and monarchical reaction, were followed, in 1886, by an increase in the output of the Anzin mines to 2,337,439 tons; and in 1888, when from one end of France to the other, the Republic was officially and almost hysterically declared by the authorities to be in deadly peril, and men were speculating as to whether President Carnot, or General Boulanger, would open the Exposition in 1889, the Anzin output reached 2,595,581 tons.
Of course, account must be taken of other than political considerations in estimating the significance of this record, nor do I wish unduly to dwell upon what may be called its barometrical value in the study of contemporaneous French history.
But when we consider the relations of coal to all the great industries of our time, it is certainly noteworthy that for more than a century every development in Paris of a tendency favourable to republicanism in France, should appear to have been followed by an unfavourable effect, and every development unfavourable to republicanism in France by a favourable effect upon the production, at Anzin, of a mineral which has come to be the 'staff of life' of all modern industry and commerce.
For during the whole of this period Anzin has been what it still is, the coal-capital, as St.-Gobain is the glass-capital, and Creuzot the iron-capital of France. Its mines produce about one-tenth of the total output of French coal. A falling off, therefore, in the output of the Anzin mines may be fairly enough taken as an indication of disease in the body politic of France. The most considerable falling off in this output of late years was in 1884, when the production fell to 1,720,306, from 2,210,702 in the preceding year, 1883. Two of the great French industries, the iron industry and the sugar industry, both of them most important consumers of coal, were then passing through a period of depression, the over-production of sugar in Germany having seriously damaged the French sugar-producers in particular. To meet the pressure put upon them by the decline in the demand for coal, the directors of the Anzin Company found it necessary to carry out certain economies, either through a reduction of wages or through some modification in their methods of production.
If they had been allowed to do this through an undisturbed arrangement with their workmen, there is no reason to doubt that it would have been done with little friction, and with no injustice to anyone. Wages at Anzin had steadily risen from a daily average, for the surface workmen, of 3 fr. 67 c. to 4 fr. 52 c. in 1883, concurrently with the development at Anzin of that system of practical participation in the profits to which I have already alluded. For the subterranean workmen, the advance had been from 3 fr. 38 c. in 1879 to 3 fr. 72 c. in 1883.
The spirit in which the Anzin Company has been administered from the beginning is strikingly illustrated by the steady advance in the wage of the workmen. In Belgium, one of the chief seats of the competition with Anzin for the coal-market of France, on the contrary, the wages of the workmen are subject to the fluctuations of the general market. In 1873, for example, the average wage of the workmen in the mines of Hainault, as given to me by M. Guary, was 4 fr. 69 c., or about 25 per cent. above the average wage of 1883 at Anzin. But 1873 was the year of the great advance in coal. In 1876 the average Hainault wage fell to 3 fr. 45 c.; in 1879 it fell to 2 fr. 68 c., and in 1880 it stood at 3 fr. 6 c. By 1880 the average wage at Anzin had risen (and steadily risen) to 4 fr. 23 c.
During the year 1883 the expenditure of the Company upon the assistance fund, the pension fund, the medical services, the gratuitous supply of fuel, the cottages, in addition to, and not at the expense of, the wages paid, reached a total of 1,224,730 francs. During this same year the profits of the company, as stated after an inquiry by the French Minister of Public Works, amounted to 1,200,000 francs. This really seems to warrant the assertion that at Anzin in 1883 the profits of the mines were virtually divided into two equal portions, one of which went to Capital and the other to Labour. Assuming this assertion to be, even roughly speaking, accurate, why should there have been any serious collision between Capital and Labour, in such an organisation, over a question of practical economies necessarily advantageous to both?
Yet there was such a collision. In February 1884, what is known as the great strike at Anzin broke out over a proposed improvement in the methods of working, the demonstrable effect of which must be to improve the position of the best workmen employed by the company, without doing real injustice to others. A similar strike had occurred a quarter of a century before, when the company insisted on introducing from England and Belgium the use of ponies in the subterranean galleries. But in 1884 the conservative instinct of the workmen, which predisposes them in all callings against innovations of any kind, was adroitly worked upon and influenced by the direct influence of the politicians of the 'true Republic' at Paris. A workman of the company named Basly, who had taken an active part in organising a syndicate of mining workmen under a law passed in 1881 to favour such syndications, put himself into communication with the advanced Radicals at Paris, constituted himself the champion of the syndicates of workmen, and, according to the testimony given before a parliamentary committee, fomented a formidable exterior pressure upon the workmen at Anzin, to bring about the strike which eventually took place, and in connection with which M. Basly became a conspicuous figure in French Republican politics, receiving a much larger wage as a deputy than he had ever earned in the mines at Anzin, where, as the books of the company show, though by no means an exceptionally good workman, he earned, in 1881, 4 fr. 93 c., and in 1882 4 fr. 71 c. a day.
One obvious object of the syndicates of workmen being to establish a kind of despotic control over all the workmen of any calling, the syndicate of mining workmen at Anzin set itself, a year before the strike, in 1883, to break down what is known at Anzin (and elsewhere in France also, M. Guary tells me) as the system of 'marchandages.'
Under this system the company makes contracts with the workmen at a fixed price for coal, deliverable during several months. A good workman, holding one of these contracts and stimulated by it, frequently gains from 20 to 25 per cent. more than the average daily wage of his class. The syndicate wished to establish 'equality' of wages, or, in other words, to put idle or inferior workmen on the same level with industrious and superior workmen.
To this end, the leaders resorted to the methods usual in all such cases, of intimidation and actual violence. Workmen at Anzin who had taken 'marchandages' were attacked and beaten, some of them so severely as to disable them for weeks.
At the parliamentary inquiry which followed the strike of 1884, such letters as the following, sent to workmen at Anzin, a year before, in 1883, were produced and read in evidence:—
'Citizen,—In the name of the syndical chamber of the miners of Anzin, thou art forewarned that, if thou dost not cease thy marchandage, as we have informed Lagneaux, thou wilt pass, in the sight of thy brethren coal-miners, for a traitor and a coward, as well as thy seven comrades, who are worth no more than thyself.
'If thou dost not what we exact of thee, be not surprised to find thyself stretched out a bit, and to be laid up for three weeks, as well as the good-for-nothings who are working with thee.
'Receive our great contempt.
'A group of workmen who will caress thee one of these days if thou dost not give up thy marchandage.'
Letters like these, which would not discredit the rural terrorists of Kerry and Clare, were followed, not only by attacks on the obnoxious workmen, but by the destruction of their flowers and vegetables in the gardens which, as I have stated, they are enabled by the company to cultivate. As a workman may go to his work as soon as he likes in the morning (the gates are closed just before six o'clock), they have their afternoons to themselves, and those of them who have gardens I found working there with great evident satisfaction at most of the points which I visited.
With the outbreak of the 'strike' in 1884, matters grew worse. Dynamite was then called into play. Fusees were exploded under the windows and in the doorways of workmen who refused to be coerced into leaving their work. As nearly nine-tenths of the workmen had gone, or been driven, into the strike, the cabarets in which the region abounds were filled with crowds of idle men. Radical speakers and managers hurried down to Anzin from Paris, to harangue the multitude and stir the people up to mischief, and the position of the workmen who stood out against an agitation which they knew to be founded on no grievance of theirs, and which could have no possible result for them but to injure the company, with the prosperity of which they felt their own prosperity to be identified, became really dangerous.
In the thick of the contest thus provoked and carried on, it is interesting to find M. Allain-Targe, of whom I have already had occasion to speak, in connection with his conduct as Minister of the Interior during the elections of 1885, appearing on the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry, of 1884, into the situation at Anzin, as a friend and advocate of the 'syndicate of workmen,' and urging the Anzin Company to accept the syndicate and its secretary, M. Basly, as an umpire between itself and the 'strikers,' who had been seduced or coerced into 'striking' by this very syndicate and its secretary!
What possible good, either to Labour or to Capital, can be rationally expected—what possible harm to both may not be legitimately feared—from a republic controlled and administered by such men?
One curious and important incidental object of the 'syndicate of workmen,' and of M. Basly in promoting this strike of 1884 at Anzin, revealed itself to me in the very full Report of the Parliamentary inquiry which M. Guary was good enough to put at my service.
After devoting large sums of money to the various institutions and funds established by it for the benefit of the workmen, the Anzin Company invited the workmen themselves to contribute to their own savings and pension fund at the rate of three per cent. of their wages, the expenses of management being borne, of course, by the company. The 'syndicate of workmen' and M. Basly did not like this. They preferred that any contributions to be made by the workmen from their wages should be made, not to a fund guaranteed and administered by the company, but to a fund to be handled by the syndicate.
Whereupon M. Basly wrote, and caused to be circulated among the workmen, a letter signed by himself as secretary of the syndicate, in which he bade them regard the proposal of the company as 'a snare set for their liberties.' 'To sign any such agreement as the company suggests,' he said, 'will be to sign your own death-warrant and that of your children!'
'Citizens! your enemies see our Union established. They know that we are on the point of having a pension fund solidly established under the guarantee of the State, which shall leave us all free to work whenever we like.'
This idea of a Labour Pension Fund under the guarantee of the State is not, I need hardly say, of M. Basly's invention. It 'trots through the heads' of all manner of political adherents of M. Doumer's 'true Republic.' It was very neatly 'thrashed out' in a brief colloquy which. I noted down one day in Paris between a representative of the 'syndicate of jewellers' and a deputy, M. Thiesse. 'What would you think?' asked M. Thiesse, 'of an obligatory assessment on wages, intended to secure, by the authority of the State and with perfect safety, a certain pension to the workmen of your corporation?'
Whereunto the jeweller, M. Favelier, replied: 'We prefer freedom in this respect, as well as from the point of view of our work.'
M. Thiesse returned undismayed to the charge.
'Then you would prefer to organise a pension fund in your syndical chamber? But if you had not means enough to ensure pensions to your workmen, what would you think of an institution which would ensure them a pension and bread for their old age?'
To which M. Favelier, suddenly striking the bull's eye and 'ringing the bell': 'We do not want the State called in, to lay new taxes upon us!'
M. Basly, who is probably a consumer rather than a payer of taxes, had more 'advanced' views than the Parisian jeweller. But his chief immediate object evidently was to secure contributions from the wages of the Anzin workmen to a fund to be controlled by the syndicate. What the eventual meaning to the contributing workmen of a fund so controlled is likely to be may be inferred from an incident which came to my knowledge not long ago, in London. A question arose between a certain association of English engineers, and men employed by one of the great English railway companies, over an issue not unlike that presented at Anzin by the demand of the 'syndicate of miners,' that the Anzin workmen should give up their long time and profitable contracts. The men in the employment of the railway were old and excellent railway men, who were earning, on a kind of special contract, something like a pound a week apiece more than the usual rates paid to their class. They were members of the association referred to, and, as such, had for many years contributed to its funds under a system which promised them a certain pension at the expiration of a certain number of years. This being the situation, these men were notified by the association that if they did not give up their special contracts and content themselves with the usual wages earned by others of their class, they would, in the first instance, be fined, out of their own money in the hands of the association, a pound a week for a given time, at the end of which, if they still remained in disobedience, their pensions would be forfeited!
I should be glad to know what 'employer' ever devised a more shameless plan than this for reducing workmen to slavery, moral and financial? Probably the laws of England, if called upon, would protect them against such outrages. But how is a workman in such circumstances to call upon the laws? How is he to meet the legal cost of defending his rights? How is he to face the organised hostility of men of his own class?
The 'strike' at Anzin in 1884 ended as 'strikes' are apt to do. A certain proportion of the men who had been foremost in accepting or promoting it disappeared from the service of the company; others, and the majority, escaped from the domination of the 'syndicate' and of M. Basly. That the conduct of the company throughout the crisis was such as to commend itself to the workmen in general may, I think, be inferred from the fact that a fresh attempt to bring about a 'strike' at Anzin, since I visited the place, completely failed. The attempt originated with the leaders of a 'strike' which was actually carried out in the mines of the adjoining Department of the Pas-de-Calais. The means employed in 1884 to intimidate the workmen at Anzin were again used. The troops and the gendarmerie were, however, called out at Anzin, not to protect Capital against Labour, but to protect the working-men of Anzin who chose to keep out of the 'strike,' against men of their own class who tried to drive them into it. In this case the original 'strike' seems to have been provoked by local rather than general causes. The managers of the mines in the Pas-de-Calais had resolved to increase the output of their mines. This necessitated a considerable increase in the number of miners employed, and this augmented demand for mining labour, not unnaturally, led the men to demand an advance on their wages. They were encouraged to demand this advance, too, by a somewhat sudden rise in the market-price of certain descriptions of coal, and it is not perhaps surprising that it should not have occurred to them to ask themselves whether the rise in the market price did, or did not, mean a real increase of profits to their employers, who, of course, could only take a very partial advantage of the advance, on account of the long contracts under which by far the greater part of their output had to be delivered to their customers.
I drove with the younger M. Guary through a charming bit of woodland country, to visit a newly-opened pit—the Lagrange pit. Part of the way led us through a large forest full of fine, well-grown trees. The shooting in this forest is good, chiefly deer and pheasants. It belongs to the domain of the State, and is leased to a former director of Anzin. That the country is a pleasant land to live in appears from such facts as this, as well as from the blue, yellow, russet and rose-pink houses which enliven the long highway from Valenciennes, and are the habitations of well-to-do people living here on their incomes. From Valenciennes to the Belgian frontier, indeed, the road is virtually one long continuous street of houses and gardens, as the railway is between New York and Philadelphia.
M. Guary pointed out to me the house of another ex-director of Anzin who has invested in a considerable tract of land here, on which he has put up a number of exceedingly neat houses. They are built of brick, like the small houses to which the working-men of Philadelphia are indebted to the philanthropic enterprise of Mr. Drexel and Mr. Childs; but I think it would astonish Mr. Drexel and Mr. Childs to know that a brick house, containing four good 'upright' rooms and two good garret rooms, all wainscoted in hard wood and well fitted up, well drained, and with a large cellar and a garden rather wider than the house, running back for several hundred yards to a fringe of picturesque forest, can be rented here, from this private proprietor, for 120 francs, or $24 a year.
At an average wage of 4 fr. 50 c. a day, working 25 days in the month, an average workman at Anzin may easily earn 1,350 francs a year, so that he may rent such a house as I have here described for a good deal less than one-tenth of his income. What is the ordinary proportion between the house-rent and the income of a respectable tradesman or mechanic in New York? But the Anzin workman who rents such a house as this on such terms, enjoys also free fuel, free medical attendance, and schooling for his children.
We called at one of these private houses, seeing the miner, whom M. Guary knew very well, standing at ease in his doorway and surveying the scene with a pipe in his mouth. He was a shrewd, stalwart man of about forty, who glanced down complacently at his own well-developed limbs and laughed scornfully when I asked him what he thought of a proposition I had seen made at Paris, by a friend of the workmen, that forty should be fixed as the age of retiring pensions for miners. 'He may be a friend,' said the miner, 'but certainly he is not a miner!'
This miner had long done his day's work in the mine, and after his pipe was going to work in his garden, where his vegetables were coming forward very well. Nothing could have been better than his manners—quiet, manly, civil, without the rather aggravating slyness of the ordinary French peasant, and with absolutely nothing of the infantine swagger of the small French bourgeois. These miners here wear a picturesque and practical costume, something between the garb of a sailor and the garb of a fireman, and as their life—like the life of a fireman or a sailor—is lived a good deal apart from the lives of other men, and has a constant spice in it of possible danger, they acquire a certain self-reliance and self-possession which give them a natural ease and even dignity of carriage. In talking with more than one of them I thought I detected a slight tone of contempt towards other workmen and especially towards the peasants, such as tinges the talk of a sailor about land-lubbers. M. Guary confirmed this, and told me that the men, especially of the old mining stock, certainly do regard themselves as rather better than their neighbours.
This may have something to do with the Conservative strength in this region. Politics do not apparently run very high among the miners, either here or in the adjoining region of the Pas-de-Calais. Valenciennes covers three electoral districts, and the Anzin concessions extend into each of these districts. In the second or St.-Amand district there was rather a lively contest in September, between M. Girot, a Republican, and M. de Carpentier, a Boulangist. The latter received 5,894 votes, but the former was elected, with 8,331 votes. In the first Valenciennes district the outgoing member, an Imperialist, M. Renard, was re-elected, receiving 5,803 votes, against 4,856 given to his Republican competitor.
In the second district another outgoing member, M. Thellier de Poncheville, a leading Royalist, was also re-elected, receiving 8,690 votes, against 7,263 given to his Republican opponent. In both of these cases it came within my knowledge that the authorities of the Department made the most open and unscrupulous efforts to prevent the return of the outgoing members. Both M. Thellier de Poncheville and M. Renard, however, sate on M. Pion's Committee on the mines, and the mining population of the region appear to have a singularly clear notion of the difference between sense and nonsense in dealing with mining matters.
Our miner, who hit the difference so neatly between 'miners' and the 'friends of miners,' after a little chat on the doorway, asked us, very politely, to walk in and look at his home. It was very neatly and adequately furnished, with clocks in each of the ground-floor rooms, sundry framed mezzotints hanging on the walls, and a goodly show of neatly-kept crockery. The wife, looking older than her husband, but very probably his junior, cheerily pointed out to me the local improvement she had made by transferring the cooking-range from the front room, looking on the highway, to the back room looking into the garden. 'It is pleasanter, don't you think?' she said, 'to sit out of the kitchen; and then, with the kitchen at the back, one can always leave the door open. That is my idea!' We assured her we thought it an excellent idea and most creditable to her—a compliment which she received with modest satisfaction, saying, 'You know the wife must think of these things!' to which the husband good-naturedly assented, while the daughter, a well-grown good-looking girl of fourteen, looked up from her household duties, much interested in our visit. The husband, on his part, had contrived a convenient wine-cellar under the stairway. 'It will not hold much wine,'he said with a smile; 'but it is too large for all the wine I drink.' 'Ah!' said the wife archly, 'he likes cider much better!'
This miner was employed in the new Lagrange pit, and though I was much struck by the neatness of his person and apparel, I was more struck by the general absence of anything like the griminess which we commonly associate with mines and mining among his fellows, whom I found still at work around the pits. M. Guary told me that this is a characteristic trait of the Anzin miners. In the buildings attached to each pit there is a large hall, called the miner's hall, where the men meet when they go down to and come up from their underworld. There each man has a box, under lock and key, bearing his number, in which he puts away his ordinary clothes when he dons his mining suit; the company—I should mention here—provides every man when he enters the service with a mining outfit. And to this hall there is attached a lavatory for the use of the men. The hall is well warmed in winter, and, being always on an upper floor, is well aired and ventilated in summer. From this hall at the Lagrange pit we walked into an adjoining room, where we found the miners going down the shaft in a great metallic basket, while the coal came up. While we stood there, there came up a magnificent lump of coal, of a very brilliant and even lustrous surface, around which the admiring miners crowded. This is a new vein, and the coal found in it, M. Guary tells me, burns with an unusually clear and intense flame.
A miner with whom I talked a little had been to see the Exposition, and it was curious to perceive that he had been much more interested in the Anzin part of it than in anything else. He spoke indeed almost disrespectfully of the Eiffel Tower, and he was entirely convinced that the workmen at Anzin were much better off than the workmen at Paris, as to which I am not prepared to dispute his opinion. He had not seen the President, which did not appear to disturb him much; but he thought the beer at the Exposition 'very dear and very bad.' The engines, however, he frankly admired, though 'everybody can see that it is not possible to make better engines than are made at Anzin.'
One curious thing he told me of the young miners who are drafted away into the military service. 'When they come back,' he said, 'some of them at first try other trades, but all that are of any use sooner or later come back to the mine. It is of no use,' he said reflectively, 'for any man to try to be a miner if he is not trained as a boy.' This is exactly Jack Tar's notion as to sailors.
From the Lagrange pit we drove, still through pleasant woods and fresh green farming-lands, to Thiers, where the company has a large number of working-men's houses, together with a considerable church, a lay and a religious school, and other institutions.
There we paid a visit to a delightful little old lady, with a face, full of wrinkled sweetness and humour, which Denner might have painted. She insisted upon showing us all over her home, and a little miracle it was of thrift and neatness and order; from the spotlessly clean little bedrooms with the high Flemish beds, the crucifix hanging over the bed, and prints—not always devout—on the walls, to the sitting-room with its shining mirror, highly polished tin and brass candlesticks and platters, and abundant china. She was a staunch Imperialist, and had portraits of the Emperor, with prints of Solferino and of Sedan. 'There it was that they betrayed him!' said the little old lady, with deep indignation in her voice. I had not the heart to ask her who these traitors were. The garrets I found filled with new-mown hay. 'It keeps there till we sell it,' she said, 'and then it smells so sweet!' which was undeniable. Behind her house (her son and his wife were both absent at their work) she showed us the garden, very trimly kept and gay with the old familiar flowers, and an arbour, in which she took especial pride, none of her neighbours possessing anything of the sort.
At Thiers I talked with an officer of the company who had served for some time in one of the great mines of Southern France. The differences in the habits and character of the mining populations there and here he found very great, and, on the whole, he evidently thought the Northern miners much superior, in most essential points, to their fellows at the South. Certainly, according to him, they are neater in their persons, more cool and sensible, less credulous, less addicted to politics, and much more thrifty. 'The women, when they are well-behaved and good managers,' he said, 'have more influence with the men in the North. In the South and in Auvergne, I have sometimes thought the worst women had more influence with the men than the best.'
He had an odd theory as to the effect of great altitudes on human character. 'In Auvergne and in Savoy,' he said, 'the higher up you go the more excitable and quarrelsome you find the people. Here in Flanders the people are placid, like the plains.' He called my attention, too, to the prevalence among the miners here at Anzin of a peculiar type of blonds with a sort of ruddy russet hair and beard, not quite the glowing Titianesque auburn, and yet by no means red. It is certainly a marked and peculiar tint, and may be seen faithfully reproduced in a large picture of the Anzin miners exhibited this year at Paris. I had supposed it to 'hark back' to the Scandinavians, who made themselves so much at home in all these fat and accessible regions after Charlemagne passed away.
'No,' said my philosophic engineer, 'it is due to the potash. These miners are so addicted to washing themselves and use such quantities of strong soap, that it has permanently affected their hair.' Upon which another engineer, also familiar with Auvergne, broke in: 'That's all very well; but I have seen many miners in Auvergne with the same tint of hair and beard, and you know that there they wash their faces, at the most, once a week!'
This last speaker was an exceedingly shrewd man and, as I found, a strong Conservative. He had been asked to stand as a candidate for mayor in his commune, but had declined, though his personal popularity made his election almost a matter of form. I asked him why. 'Let myself be elected to a political office by my workmen!' he said; 'how can a sensible man think of such a thing? Ask men to give you their votes, and what authority will be left to you? No, I think I know my business too well for that. They tried that sort of thing, you know, during the war, and a beautiful business they made of it! I suspect it was the Germans who suggested it!'
What I am told of the morals of the people here reminds me of the traditional reputation of certain sections of Pennsylvania settled by the Germans in the last century, and of the Dutch in Long Island. There is a good deal of drinking. Buvettes are forbidden within the limits of the cites ouvrieres, but in the communes they are very numerous, averaging, I am assured, as many as twenty to every 1,200 inhabitants. To open a buvette nothing is needed but a police permission, and the buvettes are kept, for the most part, by the wives of miners and other artisans, as a means of adding to the family income. Beer is very cheap, costing only two sous a litre. Wine and spirits are more costly, though a great deal of gin is made, and inexpensively made, in the country. There is much sociability among the people, and great practical liberality as to the conduct of young girls, the ancient practice known as 'bundling' in New England being still in vogue among these worthy Flemings. M. Baudrillart, who evidently inclines to a favourable judgment of these Northern populations, puts the truth on this point very considerately.
'Conspicuous historical examples,' he observes, 'prove to me that the flesh is weak in this province of Flanders. The severity of public opinion does not always make up for the laxity of the control exercised by principle. Unmarried mothers are numerous, and incidents of this sort are often regarded as simple errors of youth and inexperience, to be remedied by marriage. The marriage-tie when formed, however, is not less respected than among our rural populations in general, and cases of flagrant misconduct on the part of married women are rare.'
Offences against persons and property are not relatively numerous here. On the contrary, while the proportion of persons accused of crime is 12 to the hundred thousand, for all France, in this Department of the Nord it falls to 8-1/3 to the hundred thousand, and this notwithstanding the numbers crowded into the great manufacturing towns of the department. In the Department of the Seine, which includes Paris, the proportion rises to 28 to the hundred thousand, and in the agricultural Department of the Eure, which is the champion criminal Department of France, to 30 to the hundred thousand. One might almost imagine that M. Zola must have gone to the Eure for his studies of French peasant-life.
Without being particularly devout, the people of this region, I am told, are fond of their religious observances, and much dislike the persecution of the Church and the laicisation of the schools.
At Thiers the church, which is a large one, fronting on an extensive Place Publique, was very handsomely decorated on Corpus Christi Sunday by the people of the commune. Flags and garlands were put up, too, all about the Place Publique. The Anzin Company are now building a large school for girls very near this church; and I visited, with M. Guary, one afternoon, the boys' school at Thiers. It is very well installed in a large building, with a playground and a gymnasium roofed in, but not walled. The teacher—a lay teacher, and a very quiet, sensible man—who lives in the school-building with his wife, told me he preferred to keep it thus, and the boys liked it better. They were at their lessons when I visited the school, and a very sturdy, comely lot of lads they were. Some of them were en penitence, having slighted their lessons, as the teacher slily intimated, by reason of the great Church festival. This I thought not unlikely, and he did not appear to regard it as an absolutely unpardonable offence, while the juvenile criminals themselves were evidently quite cheery in their minds. In a room near the gymnasium were racks filled with wooden guns. These the teachers pointed out with pride. They were a gift from the company to his battalion of boys, who delighted in their regular military drill. He thought them, after only eighteen months' training, one of the best boy-battalions in the department, and would have liked to take them to Paris to compete for the athletic prizes. But to take up even a picked company of ten would have cost 400 francs, which he thought, and I agreed with him, might be better spent in Thiers. 'And then,' he said with a smile, 'what a life I should have led in Paris, with those ten boys to look after!'
The Anzin Company used to spend 80,000 francs a year on keeping up its own schools. But it is so heavily taxed for the 'school palaces' which have been put up, and for the public schools, that it has materially reduced this outlay, though it still expends a large sum in various ways for the advantage of the children of its own workmen attending the public schools; and still keeps up certain religious schools, especially for the little children and the girls.
One of these schools for little children which I visited at St.-Waast, kept by the Sisters, was a model. The little creatures, ranged in categories according to their years, were pictures of health and good humour, as they sate in rows at their little desks, or marched about, singing in choruses. One exercise, through which a number of them, from six to eight years old, were conducted by two of the Sisters, might have been studied from a fresco by Fra Angelico representing the heavenly choirs, and gave the most intense delight evidently to the singing children as well as to the smiling and kindly Sisters. There is a large church, too, at St.-Waast and a cite ouvriere.
The commune, I believe, formerly was a part of the wide domain of the famous Abbey of St.-Waast which grew up near Arras over the burial-place of St.-Vadasius, to whom after the victory of Clovis over the Germans at Tolbiac in 495 the duty was confided of teaching the Frankish king his Christian catechism. He had a tough pupil, but he taught him, so well that King Clovis conceived a great affection for him, and got St.-Remi to make him bishop, first of Arras, and then of Cambrai.
At the time of the Revolution the great abbey near Arras, which bore his name, was one of the richest of the religious communities which, according to the very important Avis aux deputes des trois ordres de la province d'Artois, so thoroughly and instructively analysed by M. Baudrillart, held among them in 1789 two-thirds of the land of that province. M. Baudrillart's analysis of this Avis shows conclusively that a judicious and systematic overhauling of these ecclesiastical properties was absolutely necessary; but it also shows conclusively that the people of Artois who desired this wished to see it done decently and in order. They had a strong love of their provincial independence. Even Maximilian Robespierre, who was then bestirring himself in public matters at Arras, addressed his first political publication, which he called a 'manifesto,' not to the people of Artois, but to 'the Artesian nation.' This from the future executioner of the French federalists is sufficiently edifying as to the great 'national' impulse to which we are asked by a certain school of political rhapsodists to attribute that outbreak of chaos in France called the 'great French Revolution.'
What the Tiers-Etat of the great and solidly constituted province of Artois really wanted before 1789 is clearly set forth in this remarkable Avis. They did not want the 'Rights of Man,' or the downfall of tyrants, or any vague nonsense of that sort. They wanted a more fair and equitable system of taxation, and a better system of agriculture. They had some practical ideas, too, as to how these things could be got, for they knew that these things had been got in England. 'The Englishman of our times,' they said, 'gets an income of 48,000 pounds from a square mile of land, whereas the Artesian can hardly get 12,000 pounds from the same area. Yet the soil of Artois is in nowise inferior to that of England. The enormous difference can only be attributed to the encouragement and the distinctions which the English Government bestows upon agriculture, and to the better system of the English administration.'
This passage reads almost like an extract from the diary of Arthur Young, and it is noteworthy that Arthur Young at this same time, while he was commending in his diary the admirable quality of the deep, 'level, fertile plain of Flanders and Artois,' also expressed his opinion that 'nowhere in the world was human labour better rewarded than there.' Taken together, however, the Avis and the diary of Arthur Young prove that the leaders of the Tiers-Etat of Artois in 1787 were neither radicals nor revolutionists, but practical men, who wished to see the value of their property improved, and the natural advantages of their province more adequately developed. To this end they thought it necessary that the constitution of the Provincial Estates should be reformed. Thanks to a combination, as the Avis declares, of the municipalities of the towns with the noblesse and the higher order of the clergy, the cures—'that most interesting class of men who are alone in a position to make the needs of the people understood and to work for their relief—were entirely excluded from the Provincial Estates in 1669, as were also the farmers, who alone can supply the means of perfecting our agriculture.'