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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 sil
-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.