Romance and Reality

Very Pretty Picture

Mr. Editor:

Those who write so effusively about the "Beauties of Factory Life,"" tell us that we are indeed happy creatures, and how truly grateful and humbly submissive we should be. Can it be that any of us are so stupefied as not to realize the exalted station and truly delightful influences which we enjoy? If so, let them take a glance at pages 195 and 196 of Rev. H. Miles' book," and they will surely awake to gratitude and be content. Pianos, teachers of music, evening schools, lectures, libraries and all these sorts of advantages are, says he, enjoyed by the operatives. (Query—when do they find time for all or any of these? When exhausted nature demands repose?) Very pretty picture that to write about; but we who work in the factory know the sober reality to be quite another thing altogether.

After all, it is easier to write a book than it is to do right. It is easier to smooth over and plaster up a deep festering rotten system, which is sapping the life-blood of our nation, widening and deepening the yawning gulf which will ere long swallow up the laboring classes in dependent servitude and serfdom, like that of Europe, than it is to probe to the very bottom of this death-spreading monster.


Voice of Industry, June 12, 1846


A Factory Life—Romance and Reality

Aristocratic strangers, in broad cloths and silks, with their imaginations excited by the wonderful stories—romances of Factory Life— which they have heard, have paid hasty visits to Lowell, or Manchester, and have gone away to praise, in prose and verse, the beauty of our "Factory Queens," and the comfort, elegance and almost perfection, of the arrangements by which the very fatherly care of Agents, Superintendents, Overseers, Scc., has surrounded them. To these nice visitors everything in and around a Lowell Cotton Mill is bathed in an atmosphere of rose-colored light. They see the bright side of the picture, and that alone. They see the graceful form, the bright and speaking eye, the blushing cheek and the elastic motions of "Industry's Angel daughters," but they fail to see that these belong not to Lowell Cotton Mills, but to New England's country Homes.—There the fair cheek, kissed by the sunlight and the breeze, grew fresh and healthful. There the eye borrowed its brightness from stream and lake and sky, and there too the intellect received the culture which enabled the "Factory Girls" to astonish Europe and America with a LOWELL OFFERING.

These lovers of the Romance of Labor—they don't like the reality very well—see not the pale and emaciated ones. They see not those who wear Consumption's hectic flush. They think little of the weariness and pain of those, fair forms, as they stand there, at the loom and spindle, thirteen long hours, each day! They know not how long these hours of toil seem to them, as they look out upon the fields, and hills, and woods, which lie beyond the Merrimack, steeped in golden sunlight and radiant with beauty—fields and woods which are to them what the Land of Promise was to Moses on Pisgah, something which they may never enjoy. They have no time to ramble and climb the hill-sides. Six days shalt thou labor some and do all thy work, and on the seventh thou shalt go to church, is thing the Commandment as improved by the mammon worshiping Christianity of modern Civilization. The factory girl is required to go to a meeting on Sunday, where long, and too often unmeaning, prayers are repeated, and dull prosey sermons "delivered," and where God is worshiped, according to law, by pious Agents and Overseers, while the poor Irishman is blasting rocks for them in the Corporation's canal, that the mills may not be stopped on Monday. It would be very wicked, of course, for the "mill girl" to go out upon the hills, where she might worship in the great temple of the universe, without a priest, as proxy, to stand between her and her Maker.

These lovers of the Romance of Labor—here, have much to say of the moral and intellectual advantages by which the operatives are surrounded. These may be over-rated or they may not be, it matters not. It is true there are Churches and ministers "in any quantity," with many good influences, and with some that are at least questionable.

There are lectures of various kinds, some of them free, and others requiring only a trifling fee to secure admission, to all who wish it. Then there are also libraries of well selected books, to which all can have access. Those who recollect the fable of Tantalus in the old Mythology, will be able to appreciate the position of a large portion of the population with respect to these exalted privileges. They are all around them, on every side, but they cannot grasp them—they continually invite to the soul-feast, those who, tho' they hunger and thirst, cannot partake. Do you ask why they cannot partake? Simply from physical and mental exhaustion. The unremitted toil of thirteen long hours, drains off the vital energy and unfits for study or reflection. They need amusement, relaxation, rest, and not mental exertion of any kind. A really sound and instructive lecture cannot, under such circumstances, be appreciated, and the lecturer fails, to a great extent, in making an impression.—"Jim Crow" performance are much better patronized than scientific lectures, and the trashy, milk-and-water sentimentalities of the Lady's Book, and Olive Branch, are more read than the works of Gibbon or Goldsmith or Bancroft.

If each factory girl could suspend her labors in the Mill for a few be months each year, for the purpose of availing herself of the advantages for intellectual culture by which she is surrounded, much good might be derived. A few can and do thus avail themselves of these advantages; but the great mass are there to toil and toil only. Among these are some of earth's noblest spirits. Theirs is Love's willing toil. an on The old home-stead must be redeemed,—a poor sick mother or infirm father needs their little savings to keep them from h ed that dreadful place. Civilization's only guarantee, the "Poor House,"—or a loved brother at Dartmouth or Harvard, is to be assisted in his manful efforts to secure an education; so they must not think or a of schools and books for themselves. They must toil on, and they do toil on.

But day by day they feel their over-tasked systems give way.—A dizziness in the head or a pain in the side, or the shoulders or the back, admonishes them to return to their country homes before it is too late. But too often these friendly monitions are unheeded. They resolve to toil a little longer. —But nature cannot be cheated, and the poor victim of a false system of Industrial Oppression is carried home—to die! Or, if her home is far away and disease comes on too rapidly, she goes to the Hospital, and soon, in the Strangers' Burial Ground may be seen another unmarked gravel This is no fancy of mine—no studied fiction—(would to God it were) but sober truth. There are now in our very midst hundreds of these loving, self-sacrificing martyr-spirits. They will die unhonored and unsung, but not unwept; for the poor factory girl has a home and loved ones, and dark will be that home, and sad those loved ones when the light of her smile shines on them no more.

Voice of Industry, December 3, 1847


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