Sunday, May 24, 2009

One More Fragment on Machines

A new stage in the historical process was suggested by Wedderburn's pamphlet Cast-Iron Parsons, or Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on Political Economy (1820). During a visit to Saint Paul's Church, Shadwell, on the London waterfront, he had asked the parson whether the church was built of brick or stone. "Of neither," came the reply, "but of CAST-IRON." An old apple woman who overheard the conversation added, "Would to God the Pasons were of Cast-Iron too." Wedderburn considered this to be an excellent idea: "Finding that the routine of duty required of the Clergy of the legitimate Church, was so completely mechanical, and that nothing was so much in vogue as the dispensing with human labour by the means of machinery, it struck me that it might one day be possible to substitute a CAST-IRON PARSON." It would be oiled and kept fresh in a closet, to be rolled out on Sundays. In fact, the idea had broader application, as it might also be possible to make a clockwork schoolmaster to teach the sciences. This invention Wedderburn called a "TECHNICATHOLICAUTOMATOPPANTOPPIDON." As a postscript, he suggested making a cast-iron king and cast-iron members of Parliament, and was promptly jailed for his blasphemy. He understood machinery, politicians, and the source of all wealth: "Slaves and unfortunate men have cultivated the earth, adorned it with buildings, and filled it with all kinds of riches. And the wealth that enabled you to set these people to work, ,was got by hook or crook from society.--Pray, was ever a solitary savage found to be rich? No; all riches come from society, I mean the labouring part of it."

From The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (318)

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