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Joseph Marie Jacquard

The small world which lives in elegant houses knows little of the great
world in dingy apartments with bare walls and empty cupboards. Those who
walk or ride in the sunshine often forget the darkness of the mines, or
the tiresome treadmill of the factories.

Over a century ago, in Lyons, France, lived a man who desired to make
the lives of the toilers brighter and happier. Joseph Jacquard, the son
of a silk-weaver who died early, began his young manhood, the owner of
two looms and a comfortable little home. He had married Claudine
Boichon, the daughter of a goldsmith who expected to give his daughter a
marriage portion, but was unable from loss of property. Jacquard loved
her just as devotedly, however, as though she had brought him money. A
pretty boy was born into their home, and no family was happier in all
France. But the young loom-owner saw the poor weavers working from four
in the morning till nine at night, in crowded rooms, whole families
often bending over a loom, their chests shrunken and their cheeks
sallow from want of air and sunlight; and their faces dull and vacant
from the monotony of unvaried toil. There were no holidays, no walks in
the fields among the flowers, no reading of books, nothing but the
constant routine which wore out body and mind together. There was no
home-life; little children grew pinched and old; and mothers went too
early to their graves. If work stopped, they ate the bread of charity,
and went to the almshouse. The rich people of Lyons were not
hard-hearted, but they did not think; they were too busy with their
parties and their marriages; too busy buying and selling that they might
grow richer. But Jacquard was always thinking how he could lighten the
labor of the silk-weavers by some invention.

The manufacture of silk had become a most important industry. Seventeen
hundred years before Christ the Chinese had discovered the making of
silk from silk-worms, and had cultivated mulberry-trees. They forbade
anybody to export the eggs or to disclose the process of making the
fabric, under penalty of death. The Roman Emperor Justinian determined
to wrest this secret from China, and thus revive the resources of his
empire. He sent two monks, who ostensibly preached Christianity, but in
reality studied silk-worms, and, secreting some eggs in two hollow
reeds, returned to Justinian, and breaking these canes, laid the eggs on
the lap of the beautiful Empress Theodora. From this the art spread into
Italy, and thence into France.

The more Jacquard thought how he could help the silk-weavers of France
the more he became absorbed, and forgot that money was needed to support
his family. Soon the looms had to be sold at auction, with his small
home. The world ridiculed, and his relatives blamed him; but Claudine
his wife encouraged him, and prophesied great fame for him in the
future. She sold her little treasures, and even her bed, to pay his
debts. Finally, when there was no food in the house, with tears in his
eyes, Jacquard left his wife and child, to become a laborer for a
lime-burner in a neighboring town. Claudine went to work in a
straw-bonnet factory; and for sixteen years they battled with poverty.

Then the French Revolution burst upon Lyons in 1793. Her crime before
such murderers as Robespierre and Marat was that she was the friend of
Louis XVI. Sixty thousand men were sent against her by the so-called
Republicans, who were commanded to utterly destroy her, and write over
the ruins, "Lyons made war upon liberty; Lyons is no more." Six thousand
persons were put to death, their houses burned, and twelve thousand
exiled; among them Jacquard.

His only child, a brave boy of sixteen, had joined the Republican ranks,
that he might fight against the foreign armies of England, Austria, and
Naples, who had determined, under Pitt, to crush out the new government.
At the boy's earnest request his father enlisted with him, and together
they marched toward the Rhine. In one of the first battles a
cannon-ball struck the idolized son, who fell expiring in Jacquard's
arms. Covered with the blood of his only child, he dug a grave for him
on the battle-field; and exhausted and heart-broken went to the hospital
till his discharge was obtained.

He returned to Lyons and sought his poor wife. At last he found her in
the outskirts of the city, living in a hay-loft, and earning the barest
pittance by spreading out linen for the laundresses to dry. She divided
her crusts with her husband, while they wept together over their
irreparable loss. She soon died of grief, but, with her last words, bade
Jacquard go forward in developing his genius, and have trust in God, who
would yet show him the way of success. Blessed Claudine! A sweet,
beautiful soul, shining like a star in the darkness of the French

Jacquard with all earthly ties severed went back to the seclusion of
inventing. After his day's work was done as a laborer, he studied on his
machine for silk-weaving. Finally, after seven years,--a long time to
patiently develop an idea,--he had produced a loom which would decrease
the number of workmen at each machine, by one person. The model was
placed at the Paris Industrial Exposition in 1801; and the maker was
awarded a bronze medal. In gratitude for this discovery he went to the
image of the Virgin which stood on a high hill, and for nine days
ascended daily the steps of the sacred place. Then he returned to his
work, and seating himself before a Vaucanson loom, which contained the
germ of his own, he consecrated himself anew to the perfecting of his

Jacques de Vaucanson, who died when Jacquard was thirty years old, was
one of the most celebrated mechanicians of France. His automatons were
the wonder of the age. He exhibited a duck which, when moved, ate and
drank like a live one. The figure would stretch out its neck for food,
and swallow it: walk, swim, dabble in the water, and quack most
naturally. His musician, playing the flageolet with the left hand, and
beating the tambourine with the right, executing many pieces of
difficult music with great accuracy, was an astonishment to every body.
He had been appointed inspector of silk-factories at Lyons, and, because
he made some improvements in machines, he was pelted with stones by the
workmen, who feared that they would thereby lose their labor. He
revenged himself by making a machine which wove, brocaded, and colored
at the same time, and was worked by a donkey!

It remained for Jacquard to make the Vaucanson loom of the utmost
practical use to Lyons and to the world. After a time he was not only
able to dispense with one workman at each loom, but he made machinery do
the work of three men and two women at each frame. The city authorities
sent a model of this machine to Paris, that the Emperor Napoleon might
examine it. So pleased was he that he at once sent for Jacquard to come
to Paris. The latter had previously invented a machine for making
fishing-nets, now used in producing Nottingham lace. When brought before
Bonaparte, and Carnot the Minister of the Interior, the latter asked,
"Is it you then, who pretend to do a thing which is impossible for
man,--to make a knot upon a tight thread?"

Jacquard answered the brusque inquiry by setting up a machine, and
letting the incredulous minister see for himself.

The Emperor made Jacquard welcome to the Conservatoire des Arts et
Metiers, where he could study books and machines to his heart's
content, and gave him a pension of about twelve hundred dollars for his
discovery. When he had, with his own hands, woven a magnificent brocaded
silk dress for the Empress Josephine, he returned to Lyons to set up the
Jacquard looms. His name began to be lauded everywhere. Claudine's
prophecies had at last come true. She had given her life to help him;
but she could not live to share his honors.

Soon, however, the tide of praise turned. Whole families found
themselves forced into the street for lack of work, as the looms were
doing what their hands had done. Bands of unemployed men were shouting,
"Behold the traitor! Let him provide for our wives and children now
driven as mendicants from door to door; or let him, the destroyer of
the peoples' labor, share in the death which he has prepared for us!"
The authorities seemed unable to quell the storm, and by their orders
the new loom was broken in pieces on the public square. "The iron," says
Jacquard, "was sold as old iron; the wood, for fuel." One day he was
seized by a crowd of starving workmen, who knocked him down, and dragged
him to the banks of the Rhone, where he would have been drowned at once,
had not the police rescued him, bleeding and nearly dead. He left the
city overwhelmed with astonishment and sorrow. Soon Switzerland,
Germany, Italy, and America were using the Jacquard looms, largely
increasing the manufacture and sale of silk, and therefore the number of
laborers. The poor men of Lyons awoke to the sad fact, that by breaking
up Jacquard's machines, they had put the work of silk-weaving into other
hands all over the world; and idleness was proving their ruin. They
might have doubled and trebled the number of their factories, and
benefited labor a thousand-fold.

The inventor refused to take out a patent for himself, nor would he
accept any offers made him by foreigners, because he thought all his
services belonged to France. He loved the working people, who, for
twenty years, were too blind to see it.

He removed to a little home and garden at Oullins, near Lyons, the use
of which had been given him for life, where he could hear the sound of
his precious looms on which he had worked for sixty years, and which
his city had at last adopted. Here he attended his garden, and went
every morning to early church, distributing each day some small pieces
of money to poor children. As old age came on, Lyons realized the
gratitude due her great inventor. A silver medal was awarded him, and
then the grand distinction of the cross of the Legion of Honor.

People from the neighboring towns visited Oullins, and pointed out with
pride the noble old man at eighty-four, sitting by his garden-wall,
dressed like a workman in his long black tunic, but wearing his broad
red ribbon with his cross of honor. Illustrious travellers and statesmen
visited him whose fame was now spread through Europe and America.

Toinette, a faithful servant who had known and loved Claudine, watched
over the pure-hearted Jacquard till death came, Aug. 7, 1834. Six years
after, Lyons, which once broke his machine and nearly killed him, raised
a beautiful statue of him in the public square. The more than seventy
thousand looms in the city, employing two hundred thousand workmen, are
grander monuments even than the statue. The silk-weavers are better
housed and fed than formerly. The struggling, self-sacrificing man, who
might have been immensely rich as well as famous, was an untold blessing
to labor and to the world.

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