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The Costs of Technology

The first number of The Irish Penny Magazine was issued on July 4th, 1840. It was edited by George Petrie and was published in Church Lane off College Green in Dublin. It included a satirical piece, possibly from the pen of Petrie and in the tradition of the great dean, Jonathan Swift, who had lived nearby a century earlier.

Comparative Value of Black Boys in America and Ireland

It has not unfrequently occurred to us as a thing somewhat remarkable, that there is a vast difference in the comparative value of the black boys of America and those of Ireland; and this was very forcibly proved to us on a recent occasion. The American little blacks are, as we have been credibly informed, to be bought for forty dollars and upwards, according to their health, strength, and beauty; the Irish blackies for about a twentieth of that sum; and as everything is valued in proportion to its cost, it follows as a matter of course that the American urchins are vastly more prized and better taken care of than the Irish. It is not very easy to account for this, but perhaps it is only a consequence of difference of race. The American black boys are supposed to be the descendants of Cham – true wooly headed chaps, with the colouring matter of their complexion deposited beneath their outer skin, and not washoffable by means of soap and water. The Irish black boys generally are believed to be of the true Caucasian breed – the descendants of Japhet; and their blackness is on the outer surface of the skin, and may, though we believe with difficulty, be removed. But we will not speak dogmatically on this point. In other respects they agree tolerably. They have both the power of bearing heat to a considerably degree, and of dispensing with the incumbrance of much clothing. But it is in their relative value that they most differ, and this is the point we desire to prove, and what we think we can do to the satisfaction of our readers by the following anecdote:

Being naturally of a most humane and benevolent character, as all our readers are – for none others would support our pennyworth – we have often lamented the abject condition and sufferings of our black urchins, and have come to the resolution never to assist in encouraging their degradation, but on the contrary to do everything in our power to oppose it. With this praiseworthy intention we recently sent for a gentleman who professes the art of increasing our domestic comforts by the aid of modern science as developed in our improved machinery – or in other words, we sent for him to clean the chimney of our study, not with a little boy, but with a proper modern machine constructed for the purpose. The said professor came accordingly, but to our astonishment not merely with his sweeping machine, but also with one of the objects of our pity and commiseration – a little black boy! The use of this attendant we did not immediately comprehend, nor did we ask, but proceeded at once to inquire of the professor the price of his services in the way we desired.

“Three shillings,” was the answer.
“Three shillings!” we rejoined, with a look of astonishment, “why, we had no idea, that your charge would be any thing like so much. What”, we asked, “is the cause of this unusual demand”?
“Why, sir, the price of my machine. But I’ll sweep the chimney with the boy there for a shilling.”
“And pray, sir, what did your machine cost?”
“Two pounds!”
“Indeed,” I replied; “and what was the cost of the boy?”
“Ten shillings; and do you think, sir, I could sweep with my machine, which cost me so much, at the same rate as I could charge for the boy, that cost me only ten shillings?”

There was no replying to logic so conclusive as this; and we think it right to give it publicity, in the hope that that it may meet the eyes of some of our readers at the other side of the Atlantic, who may be induced to rid us of some of our superabundant population, by importing our black boys, which they can get, even including the expense of carriage, at so much cheaper a rate here than they can procure them at home!

4/6/2019