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Glimpses into the Past - How A Printer Was Managed

Part 2

Go to: Part 1

Written by: J.C. - January 16, 1865 Issue of The Printers' Journal and Typographical Magazine

“I do not see how it is,” said I, one day musing, “but it seems that my husband is the worst-tempered man that I ever came near; he seems to get more sulky and obstinate every day. How different he is now to what he was before we married. Then I had only to express a wish and it was gratified, and now he no more heeds what I say than if I was not his wife.”

Things went on in this way for nearly two years, and I saw with dismay that my husband came home as little as possible, and often not sober. What was to be done - for if some alteration did not take place, he was on the high road to ruin, and going a rapid rate, too? Another thing I noticed, and that was, few of my neighbors ever came to see me, which surprised me not a little. At last, I came to the conclusion that surely I must have acted wrong by some means. One day I went into a neighbor’s house, and among other things I told a long tale about Peter’s omissions and commissions, and she told me it was just what I must expect.

“You do not see my husband want to go out.”

“But how do you keep him at home?” I inquired, just ready to burst into tears.

“Why, it is the easiest thing in the world.”

“But,” said I, “how do you manage it?”

“By only making him comfortable, and if you did the same, your husband would not want to be out every night as he is.”

“Well,” said I, as soon as I reached home, “how is it I never thought of that? I can but try it, and if it does not answer, why I cannot help it, and matters cannot be” – I dared not finish the sentence. Where was I to begin, and what was I to do? Must I beg his pardon, and promise not to vex him again? While I was thinking over the matter, my neighbour came in, and said, “I will just help you a little this afternoon.” Accordingly, we washed the floor, blacked the grate, and made a fire; and she insisted on my making a cake and having it just ready to take out of the oven when Peter came in. “I tell you what, Sarah,” said she, “you do not know the good there is in a hot cake for tea. Whenever I want a new bonnet, I always get my husband toasted muffins, and when a man is good-tempered you can get anything you like out of him, and nothing makes him half so good-tempered as ease. I do believe that a man is the easiest creature in the world to manage if you only know how. I believe if I were to say to my husband, “I wish, lad, you would wash the floor,” he would do it; ad as for hearing him scold, sometimes I almost wish he would, just to hear how it would sound. You see, the fact is, the way you have managed your husband is just the way to rouse all the bad passions of his nature. Bad treatment will make anything bad, from a man to a broomstick. My maxim has been to make my husband as comfortable as I could. I have studied his habits, and I have got to know what he likes and what he dislikes. I know that at the shop he has many things to vex and irritate him, and when he comes home, I always strive to make it the happiest place he can find; and what is the result? Why he comes to it as naturally as a child to sunshine. Now, do you try it, Sarah, for six months, and if you do not rule your husband by that tie, with just no trouble at all, say I know nothing about it."

“I think that will do,” said she, shaking her duster outside the door; it is better than ours, and if you keep it as clean as it is now it will be a credit to you. There is nothing that makes a home so enticing as cleanliness; and for my part I always try to have my house clean, and everything comfortable against my husband comes home. The consequence is I know it makes him happy, and it is that which makes me happy also. Another thing I always do: before my husband arrives I dress just the same as if I expected company – and what company is equal to my husband’s?”

Peter came home about the usual time, just in same surly mood. He looked around, and grunted out – “Bless is.” That was all he said. He drank his tea in the usual manner, and all the encouragement I got for my pains was his lingering about ten minutes. He then got up and I fancied he was going to say something, but the words seemed to hang back so I said, “Peter, you won’t be late home tonight, and I will have supper ready against you come.” That night he came home about nine o’clock, but said nothing out of his usual way.

Next evening, I not only got the tea ready, a nice clean hearth, and a bright fire, but I had contrived a new hearthrug and a pair of slippers. I had taken care, also, to get him a newspaper, a pipe in the cupboard, and a mug of ale. “Now, lad” thought I, “I wonder what excuse you will have to go out tonight.” He came home, and as soon as tea was over I laid the newspaper o the table, as if by accident. The bait took, and for half-an-hour he sat very still. At last he laid down the paper, and prepared to go out.

“Whither are you going, lad?”

“I think I shall go and get a pipe.”

“I have one here,” said I, laying it on the table.

“But,” said he, “I must have a glass of ale.”

“I have it here, lad;” and I poured it into a clean glass. I was this did not suit, but he sat down, began to smoke, and took up the paper. I then began to clean his boots, and I assure you I took my time. At last he jumped up, and said he had promised to meet an old companion, and he must go.

“Why, sure, you won’t go out tonight, for it must be nine o’clock.” He looked at the clock, and then at his watch – which he had got back again.

“Why, that clock is stopped,” said he. The truth is, I had stopped it.

“Dear me! Is that rain?” said I, poking the fire; and then, without saying another word, began to lay the cloth for supper. I saw that he was about to say something; at last he said in his usual surly mood, “Did not you stop that clock for purpose?”

“Yes,” said I. He tried to work himself into a passion, but it was no use. It is the most difficult thing in the world to scold when everything pleases us. At last, he sat down, and in spite of his vapouring and pretending to scold, I saw a smile – yes, a real smile! There is a world of good feeling in a real genuine smile. It is like sunshine upon the frozen earth. There is something magnetic in its influence: it is the bond that binds friendship between friend and friend, and renders earth as Eden.

HIW-pressmen Mid to late 19th century saw much improved living and working condition for most of the working class people. Peter, as a journeyman printer, and Sarah would have lived in a multi-room townhome, and possibly owned a gas range to cook on, but indoor plumbing was probably still out of reach. Various laws were passed to deal with max. daily work hours, child labour, health and education. In the 1860s, trade unions were formed for skilled craftsmen, although the unskilled labourers would have to wait another couple of decades.
Public drinking establishments were abundant (and much frequented by Peter, it seemed), and reading was a popular pastime as public libraries were opening up throughout England. Although newspaper was made cheaper by the abolishment of stamp duty by the mid century, it didn’t become popular until Daily Mail began publishing in 1896.

Many were the innocent schemes that I tried for months afterwards to keep him at home. Sometimes they were crowned with success, and often not; for I found to my sorrow that it is a difficult thing for a man to break from bad habits and bad companions. By degrees, I found that home began to possess attractions for him, and a proud woman was I when I could get him to sit and read to me of an evening while I worked.

About a year passed away, and one evening, as we were sitting by the fire, he said, “Sarah, I think of joining the Mechanics’ Institute.”

“Do, Peter, and then you can bring the books home to read.”

“Yes; and I shall join the classes, as you know I am no scholar; and if anything should turn up, it would be a sad thing to refuse it because I am not scholar enough.”

That night, before Peter went out, I said in my most winning tone – “Had you not better leave your money with me, lad; as you may be tempted, you know?”

“Well,” said he, “I don’t care if I do it is always well to be on the safe side.”

“Don’t be late, Peter,” said I, chuckling to myself. I had got my own way at last, and from that day, for twelve years, Peter always gave me every farthing he earned, and knew no more about the spending of it than you, dear reader.

Time passed on, and I commenced selling a little stationery and a few fancy articles. I added by degrees a circulating library, newspapers, and periodicals, till in two years I had a fair business, the income of which had exceeded my highest expectations. To cut my story short, imagine twelve years to have passed away. Peter came home one evening with a serious face, which was the index to something disagreeable.

“Peter,” said I, as we sat at tea, “what is the matter?”

“Old master is going to retire as soon as he can get anyone to take the business off his hands, and he has offered it to me, with all the plant.”

“What might he want for it, lad?”

“He says anyone might take it and do well if he could manage three hundred pounds.”

“Cannot you borrow it, said I, “as it is a good chance?”

“Borrow three hundred pounds! And who would lend it to a journeyman printer?”

No more was said that night, but next day at dinner, I told him that I thought we could manage the business, and at the same time I put three hundred pounds into his hands. He looked at it, and then threw it on the table, and asked in a stern voice where I got it. “It is your own, Peter,” I replied; “it is saved out of your wages for the last ten years. The shop has partly kept the house.”

Peter took the business. Many years have since passed away. Peter has twice been mayor of the town in which we live; we have a country house, and every comfort in our old age that money can purchase.

Dear reader, these were the two ways in which I managed my husband, and you see the effects of each. The lesson to be learned is, that the home is the great secret of failure or success in life. Thousands who now stand high in the world, if they look back can trace it to home influence, and on the other hand many might now have been in prosperity, and looked up to with love and respect, who are now groveling in the lowest pursuits, but for the baneful influence of a bad and mismanaged home.

Return to: How A Printer Was Managed - Part 1


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