Unhealthy Employments

Cormell Price and Charles Faulkner

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Georgiana Burne–Jones, Memorials.

◦ Mackail, J. W. Life of William Morris .

◦ “Charles Joseph Faulkner.”. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


Two members of the brotherhood, Cormell Price (1835-1902) and Charles Joseph Faulkner (1834-1892), collaborated on this essay. Price wrote several articles for The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, the first of which, an essay on Shakespeare, was published in February. In 1855, before the first issue was published, Burne-Jones wrote to his cousin that “Faulkner, on whose youthful brows hang the heaviest laurels Oxford has given for years” would soon become a main contributor to the Magazine (Memorials 123). Despite Burne-Jones’s expectations, this was Faulkner’s only article in the Magazine. He remained close friends with Morris for the rest of his life, and was one of the founding members of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., a firm of decorators (Dictionary of National Biography).

Faulkner and Price were, at least at first, the most socially aware members of the brotherhood, and “brought to Oxford actual knowledge of the inhuman conditions of human life in the great industrial areas” (Mackail 64). As is clear from this essay, their interests lay mostly in reform for the urban working class. Here, they use match and cutlery manufacture as examples of needlessly dangerous work that could be easily made safer by simple reforms. They also apply the term “employment” more broadly, to mean any daily activity, and criticize, for example, the lack of ventilation in public spaces, such as theaters, that leads to the spread of disease and infection.

Faulkner’s contributions are clear when one compares this essay with Price’s other articles in the Magazine. Faulkner excelled in mathematics and science, and this essay uses sanitary reports and chemistry journals as evidence, in addition to the literary and social essays usually cited in Price’s work. Together, the two bring scientific solutions to social problems. This combination is clear in the opening paragraphs: “That there exists among us at present a vast preventible sacrifice of human life there is no doubt, and it is to the unapplied resources of science, and a wider knowledge of physiology, that we must look for the power of removing the causes” (265). The recommended reforms include, for example, a newly-developed method for producing phosphorous matches. The article concludes with a critique of England’s capitalist system, suggesting that, if reforms are not implemented, “all the competition in the world will be incapable of retaining us in our position” (268).

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , May, 1856.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1