Those who possess rank in a manufacturing country, can scarcely be excused if they are entirely ignorant of principles, whose development has produced its greatness. The possessors of wealth can scarcely be indifferent to processes which, nearly or remotely have been the fertile source of their possessions. Those who enjoy leisure can scarcely find a more interesting and instructive pursuit than the examination of the workshops of their own country, which contain within them a rich mine of knowledge, too generally neglected by the wealthier classes.
It has been my endeavour, as much as possible, to avoid all technical terms, and to describe, in concise language, the arts I have had occasion to discuss. In touching on the more abstract principles of political economy, after shortly stating the reasons on which they are founded, I have endeavoured to support them by facts and anecdotes; so that whilst young persons might be amused and instructed by the illustrations, those of more advanced judgement may find subject for meditation in the general conclusions to which they point. I was anxious to support the principles which I have advocated by the observations of others, and in this respect I found myself peculiarly fortunate. The reports of committees of the House of Commons, upon various branches of commerce and manufactures, and the evidence which they have at different periods published on those subjects, teem with information of the most important kind, rendered doubly valuable by the circumstances under which it has been collected. From these sources I have freely taken, and I have derived some additional confidence from the support they have afforded to my views. *
8 June, 1832
[Footnote: I am happy to avail myself of this occasion of expressing my obligations to the Right Hon. Manners Sutton, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to whom I am indebted for copies of a considerable collection of those reports.]
In two months from the publication of the first edition of this volume, three thousand copies were in the hands of the public. Very little was spent in advertisements; the booksellers, instead of aiding, impeded its sale; * it formed no part of any popular series and yet the public, in a few weeks, purchased the whole edition. Some small part of this success, perhaps, was due to the popular exposition of those curious processes which are carried on in our workshops, and to the endeavour to take a short view of the general principles which direct the manufactories of the country. But the chief reason was the commanding attraction of the subject, and the increasing desire to become acquainted with the pursuits and interests of that portion of the people which has recently acquired so large an accession of political influence.