The 13th Child

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” 
Cicero

Sir Richard Arkwright

Sir Richard Arkwright

The Industrial Revolution did not happen overnight; rather it was a series of innovations that began in the second half of the 18th century that came together in a synergistic flow that caused an unstoppable movement.  We like to believe that an idea can change the course of history; most times, it is a chain, or sequence, rather than an idea, in isolation, that creates the transformation.  The advances of the Industrial Revolution appear to be meticulously orchestrated; to me, however, they took on the randomized form of a jigsaw puzzle.  Most fascinating are the stories of those who became the change-agents, the leaders of the Industrial Revolution. Creative genius, after all, is found in unlikely places.

Richard Arkwright was the 13th child, the youngest, born into to desperately poor family living in the small market town of Preston, Lancashire.  The year was 1732, the same year that announced the birth of George Washington, first President of the United States, Joseph Haydn, Austrian composer, Jacques Necker, the finance minister of the ill-fated Louis XVI, and Frederick North, Lord North, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  While each of these men would take their place in history, it would be Richard Arkwright who would have the most lasting global influence. Even though his name is no longer  a household word, history records Richard Arkwright as the creator of the modern factory system.  The clothes that we wear today had their origins in a 13th child from humble origins.

Richard Arkwright’s story is as complex as the age into which he was born. Ambitious, brilliant and a shrewd businessman, he evokes both admiration and dismay.  To this very day, many believe that he was a cheat and thief, while others consider him one of the greatest minds of his age.  It is a narrative worth pursuing.

“Here, then, is the “curse” of our factory-system; as improvements in machinery have gone on, the “avarice of masters” has prompted many to exact more labour from their hands than they were fitted by nature to perform, and those who have wished for the hours of labour to be less for all ages than the legislature would even yet sanction, have had no alternative but to conform more or less to the prevailing practice, or abandon the trade altogether.”

P. Gaskell, The Manufacturing Population of England. London, 1833

79 thoughts on “The 13th Child

  1. “… a synergistic flow that caused an unstoppable movement.” The chain of event that cause change seem faster and more complex than ever. An excellent post.

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    • I am so glad that you enjoyed the post! I agree – the Industrial Revolution was the beginning of exponential change – and it has only picked up speed. It would be interesting to know what future generations say about our time….

      “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” Mahatma Gandhi

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  2. Fascinating history as ever, thank you Rebecca… are you going to tell us more about this intriguing man and the really intriguing story?
    Love your big print, Rebecca, just wish the comments were as big when we type them in – I’m always squinting !!!

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    • There is more to come – complete with twists and turns that I am certain the universe throws humanity’s way, just to make things more interesting.

      As for squinting – I have had to get special glasses for my computer. I find that with some themes, I have to increase the zoom just to read the posts. I was very happy to find this theme – easy to use and has simple lines.

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  3. Ambition and greed are so often inseparable. Many of the people who create progress and technology aren’t motivated by altruism. That’s why those of us with a conscience need to keep them in check.

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    • You have come to the crux of this discussion. There are many studies that deal with personality types of change-agents and point to examples throughout history; there are many who provide explanations on why certain people have had significant influence. But I believe that real progress can only happen when greed is held in check, as you noted in your comments. The Industrial Revolution was a foreshadowing of our age; and our age, is setting the groundwork for the next. This series of posts is helping to deepen my understanding of our current world – it is my way of trying to figure out how to participate in a meaningful way. We are all involved in progress, one way or the other.

      “The major work of the world is not done by geniuses. It is done by ordinary people, with balance in their lives, who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner.” Gordon B. Hinckley

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    • Oh, I love the term “life-long” learners. There is so much to learn, so little time – which makes it all the more exciting. I love this theme, especially when I read the words it the “detail section”, “large fonts.” 🙂

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    • Thank you for your encouraging comments. I am learning as I go along. It is one thing to visit a location, it is quite another thing to understand the significance of its history. I find that blogging helps me to connect history with present.

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    • Ah…the “tipping point.” Have your ever noticed when someone says “he or she made it overnight,” that they are talking about someone in their 40’s, 50’s or 80’s (like Grandma Moses) Nothing happens overnight! Dramatic change, as you noted, is about a “chain of events.” I find that this is what makes it all the more amazing. So many variables and so many pathways to chose, all leading to a different outcomes…

      “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

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    • There are so many stories hidden in the folds of history. I’m so glad for those writers, diarists, photographers, painters, scientists, inventors etc etc etc, who thought to document their lives! And my thanks goes to those amazing librarians who have gathered all of the pieces and put them together for us…

      “When I got [my] library card, that was when my life began.” Rita Mae Brown

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  4. Dear Rebecca,
    thank you sooo much for this series of early industrialisation. I learn so many historical facts in an easy way. Great! You would have been a perfect teacher.
    Have a happy weekend.
    Love
    Klausbernd

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    • You always, always, always make my day pure sunshine! I am finding that history is a narrative that cannot be captured within dates or a sequence of events. It is a story – actually, we are the story. We live within a finite existence, yet we embrace infinite possibilities. We are a part of what came before; yet, when I look at the photos of my great-grandparents, I cannot imagine that I have any connection with them other than the gene-pool. I have always liked the quote by Søren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

      By the way, the quote “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” by Mark Twain has always given me pause. You have me thinking….

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      • This is really great reading and learning, Rebecca!

        I like the quote by Kirkegaard too, I think it matches this one perfect:

        “Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.” -Yvonne Woon

        which is your motto: “A backward look forward”

        Wishing you a lovely Sunday,
        with a big hug from the Rhine Valley
        Dina x

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      • Thank you so much, Dina! I am learning as I go along. Your thoughtful encouragement is much appreciated. And I wanted to thank you especially for your recommendation on the book “Storm of Steel” by Ernst Junger. I found it at the library and have it on my computer desk in front of me. It is a new translation by Michael Hofmann. It is an extraordinary book – I have decided that it is one that I must add to my personal library.

        It was supposed to rain and snow today, but instead our Sunday lived up to its name – sunshine and blue skies….

        A big hug coming back to you….

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      • Dear Rebecca,
        just a quick note to you across the pond; I’m on night duty and your kind words put a BIG smile on my face right now and give me the right energy to wipe away any tiredness.:-)
        Also, I’m so happy that you got Ernst Jünger, I was most impressed as I read the biography of the man of the century.
        Klausbernd once wrote a post about him, but I suppose it was before the bookfayrieblog went bilingual.
        Lots of fayriedust coming your way from Siri and Selma!
        #############

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      • Dear Rebecca,
        that`s meant to be. Isn`t it the aim of a post to make the readers thinking – or feeling. But I am better with thinking;-)
        I write to inspire and get inspired.
        We are the story. I like this sentence and agree and then you quoted Kierkegaard, well, you got me …
        So I will go on to make your day pure sunshine. I know for sure Siri and Selma will love this idea to produce sunshine for others – and ourselves, of corse, as well.
        A big Hug from Norfolk to Vancouver
        Klausbernd 🙂

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    • Thank you so much. I wanted to research the Industrial Revolution in a way that I could understand the transformational change that we are experiencing today. I was more interested in the stories, than in memorizing dates and events. We can only know what it was like when we hear it from those that were there. I am truly grateful for all of the letters, diaries, newspapers that have come down to our time. These were the “blogs” of their day. I often wonder what future generations will say of us…

      Let’s keep on blogging!

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  5. Clanmother, Soft smile,had all my history classes been taught with your approach, most likely I would have been a much better student. I so much enjoy your historical snapshots. Thank you, and thank you for once again visiting my Blog and liking one of my current posts. I hope you continue to find reasons to visit. Take care, Bill

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    • Thank you for your encouragement! History gives us so many stories – courage, determination, resourcefulness, hope, loyalty!!! To me, blogging is about telling our stories, our history for others who come after us. Your blog exemplifies this ideal. Looking forward to our blogging adventure in 2014!! 🙂

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  6. These Christmas night thousands of greeting cards seek their own paths through the thick flakes of snow . Let ‘s find my way to you and tells you a Merry Christmas , instead of me .

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    • Thank you for your visits – they always make my day!! We enjoyed our visit this past summer. There is so much history to explore and places to visit. Whenever we travel, we prefer to travel by public transit or train so that we can meet people. We never lost our way – everyone was happy to give us directions or suggestions. We came when the Buddleja davidii was showcasing their purple. They welcomed us everywhere we went. 🙂

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  7. Its a really wonderful place to visit. We learn so much about who we are from this area. We understand so much. Thank you for such a joyful blog. You are soooooooooo amazing as you reflect back to us who we really are. Thank you

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    • Thank you so much!!! Whenever I think of the English countryside, I think of “The Secret Garden”

      “Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
      “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
      ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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