Mind Amongst the Spindles. A Miscellany, Wholly Composed by the Factory Girls
MIND AMONGST THE SPINDLES.
SELECTED FROM THE
AND A LETTER FROM
JORDAN, SWIFT & WILEY.
|Introduction. By the English Editor||5|
|Abby's Year in Lowell||21|
|The First Wedding in Salmagundi||28|
|"Bless, and curse not"||32|
|The Spirit of Discontent||36|
|The Whortleberry Excursion||38|
|The Western Antiquities||43|
|The Fig Tree||45|
|The Sugar-Making Excursion||61|
|Prejudice against Labor||65|
|Joan of Arc||73|
|Scenes on the Merrimac||92|
|The First Bells||100|
|Evening before Pay-Day||108|
|The Indian Pledge||118|
|The First Dish of Tea||120|
|Leisure Hours of the Mill Girls||122|
|The Tomb of Washington||136|
|Life among Farmers||138|
|A Weaver's Reverie||147|
|Our Duty to Strangers||150|
|[iv]Elder Isaac Townsend||152|
|The Widow's Son||163|
|Visits to the Shakers||172|
|The Lock of Gray Hair||178|
|Lament of the little Hunchback||183|
|This World is not our Home||185|
|Dignity of Labor||187|
|The Village Chronicle||188|
|Ambition and Contentment||197|
|A Conversation on Physiology||199|
INTRODUCTION, BY THE ENGLISH EDITOR.
In the American state of Massachusetts, one of the NewEngland states, which was colonized by the stern Puritanswho were driven from our country by civil and religiouspersecution, has sprung up within the last thirty years thelargest manufacturing town of the vast republic. Lowell issituated not a great distance from Boston, at the confluenceof the rivers Merrimac and Concord. The falls of theserivers here afford a natural moving power for machinery;and at the latter end of the year 1813 a small cotton manufacturewas here set up, where the sound of labor had notbeen heard before. The original adventure was not aprosperous one. But in 1826 the works were bought by acompany or corporation; and from that time Lowell hasgone on so rapidly increasing that it is now held to be "thegreatest manufacturing city in America." According toMr. Buckingham, there are now ten companies occupyingor working thirty mills, and giving employment to morethan 10,000 operatives, of whom 7,000 are females. Thesituation of the female population is, for the most part, apeculiar one. Unlike the greater number of the youngwomen in our English factories, they are not brought up tothe labor of the mills, amongst parents who are also workersin factories. They come from a distance; many of themremain only a limited time; and they live in boarding housesexpressly provided for their accommodation. Miss Martineau,[vi]in her "Society in America," explains the causenot only of the large proportion of females in the Lowellmills, but also of their coming from distant parts in searchof employment: "Manufactures can to a considerable degreebe carried on by the labor of women; and there is agreat number of unemployed women in New England, fromthe circumstance that the young men of that region wanderaway in search of a settlement on the land, and after beingsettled find wives in the south and west." Again, she says,"Many of the girls are in the factories because they havetoo much pride for domestic service."
In October, 1840, appeared the first number of a periodicalwork entitled "The Lowell Offering." The publicationarose out of the meetings of an association of young womencalled "The Mutual Improvement Society." It has continuedat intervals of a month or six weeks, and the firstvolume was completed in December, 1841. A secondvolume was concluded in 1842. The work was under thedirection of an editor, who gives his name at the end of thesecond volume,—Abel C. Thomas. The duties which thisgentleman performed are thus stated by him in the prefaceto the first volume:—
"The two most important questions which may besuggested shall receive due attention.
"1st. Are all the articles, in good faith and exclusivelythe productions of females employed in the mills? Wereply, unhesitatingly and without reserve, that they are,the verses set to music excepted. We speak from personalacquaintance with all the writers, excepting four; and inrelation to the latter (whose articles do not occupy eightpages in the aggregate) we had satisfactory proof that theywere employed in the mills.
"2d. Have not the articles been materially amended bythe exercise of the editorial prerogative? We answer,[vii]they have not. We have taken less liberty with thearticles than editors usually take with the productions ofother than the most experienced writers. Our correctionsand additions have been so slight as to be unworthy ofspecial note."
Of the merits of the compositions contained in thesevolumes their editor speaks with a modest confidence, inwhich he is fully borne out by the opinions of others:—
"In estimating the talent of the writers for the 'Offering,'the fact should be remembered, that they are actively employedin the mills for more than twelve hours out of everytwenty-four. The evening, after eight o'clock, affords theironly opportunity for composition; and whoever will considerthe sympathy between mind and body, must be sensible thata day of constant manual employment, even though thelabor be not excessive, must in some measure unfit theindividual for the full development of mental power. Yetthe articles in this volume ask no unusual indulgence fromthe critics—for, in the language of 'The North AmericanQuarterly Review,'—'many of the articles are such assatisfy the reader at once, that if he has only taken up the"Offering" as a phenomenon, and not as what may bearcriticism and reward perusal, he has but to own his error,and dismiss his condescension, as soon as may be.'"
The two volumes thus completed in 1842 were lent to usby a lady whose well-earned literary reputation gave us theassurance that she would not bestow her praise upon a workwhose merit merely consisted in the remarkable circumstancethat it was written by young women, not highly educated,during the short leisure afforded by their daily laborious employments.She told us that we should find in those volumessome things which might be read with pleasure and improvement.And yet we must honestly confess that we looked atthe perusal of these closely-printed eight hundred pages as[viii]something of a task. We felt that all literary productions, andindeed all works of art, should, in a great degree, be judgedwithout reference to the condition of the producer. Whenwe take up the poems of Burns, we never think that he wasa ploughman and an exciseman; but we have a painfulremembrance of having read a large quarto volume of versesby Ann Yearsly, who was patronized in her day by HoraceWalpole and Hannah More, and to have felt only the convictionthat the milkwoman of Bristol, for such was theirauthoress, had better have limited her learning to the scoreand the tally. But it was a duty to read the "LowellOffering." The day that saw us begin the first paper waswitness to our continued reading till night found us busy atthe last page, not for a duty, but a real pleasure.
The qualities which most struck us in these volumes werechiefly these: First—there is an entire absence of allpretension in the writers to be what they are not. They arefactory girls. They always call themselves "girls." Theyhave no desire to be fine ladies, nor do they call themselves"ladies," as the common fashion is of most Americanfemales. They have no affectations of gentility; and by anatural consequence they are essentially free from all vulgarity.They describe the scenes amongst which they live,their labors and their pleasures, the little follies of some oftheir number, the pure tastes and unexpensive enjoymentsof others. They feel, and constantly proclaim without anyeffort, that they think it an honor to labor with their hands.They recognize the real dignity of all useful employments.They know that there is no occupation really unworthy ofmen or women, but the selfish pursuits of what is calledpleasure, without the desire to promote the good of othersby physical, intellectual, or moral exertions. Secondly—manyof these papers clearly show under what influencesthese young women have been brought up. An earnest[ix]feeling of piety pervades their recollections of the past, andtheir hopes for the future. The thoughts of home, too, liedeep in their hearts. They are constantly describing thesecluded farm-house where they were reared, the mother'slove, the father's labors. Sometimes a reverse of fortunefalling upon a family has dispersed its once happy members.Sometimes we see visions of past household joy throughthe orphan's tears. Not unfrequently the ardent girl, happyin the confirmed affection of some equal in rank, looks exultinglytowards the day when she may carry back from thesavings' bank at Lowell a little dower to furnish out theirlittle farm on the hill side, where the barberries grew, sodeliciously red and sour, in her remembrance of childhood.Thirdly—there is a genuine patriotism in the tone of manyof these productions, which is worthy the descendants of thestern freemen who, in the New England solitudes, lookedtearfully back upon their father-land. The institutions underwhich these young women live are different from our own;but there is scarcely a particle of what we have been too aptto call republican arrogance. The War of Independence isspoken of as it ought to be by every American, with feelingsof honest exultation. But that higher sentiments than thoseof military triumph mingle with the memory of that war, andrender patriotism something far nobler than mere nationalpride, may be seen in the little poem which we gladly reprint,"The Tomb of Washington." The paper called"The Lock of Gray Hair" is marked by an honest nationality,which we would be ashamed not to reverence.—Fourthly—likeall writers of good natural taste, who havenot been perverted into mere imitators of other writers, theyperceive that there is a great source of interest in describing,simply and correctly, what they have witnessed with theirown eyes. Thus, some of the home pictures of thesevolumes are exceedingly agreeable, presenting to us manners[x]and habits wholly different from our own, and sceneswhich have all the freshness of truth in their delineations.—Theold stories, too, which they sometimes tell of past lifein America, are equally interesting; and they show us howdeeply in all minds is implanted the love of old things,which are tenderly looked back upon, even though they mayhave been swept away by what is real improvement.—Lastly—althoughthere are necessarily in these volumes,as in every miscellany, some things which are tedious, andsome puerile, mock sentimentalities and labored efforts atfine writing, we think it would be difficult upon the wholefor a large body of contributors, writing under great indulgence,to produce so much matter with so little bad taste.Of pedantry there is literally none. The writers arefamiliar with good models of composition; they knowsomething of ancient and modern history; the literature ofEngland has reached them, and given a character and directionto their thoughts. But there is never any attempt toparade what they know; and we see they have been readers,only as we discover the same thing in the best educatedpersons, not in a display of their reading, but in a generaltone which shows that cultivation has made them wiser andbetter.
Such were the opinions we had formed of "The LowellOffering," before we were acquainted with the judgmentpronounced upon the same book by a writer whose originaland brilliant genius is always under the direction of kindlyfeelings towards his fellow-creatures, and especially towardsthe poor and lowly of his human brethren. Mr. Dickens,in his "American Notes," thus mentions "The LowellOffering," of which he says, "I brought away from Lowellfour hundred good solid pages, which I have read from beginningto end:"—"Of the merits of 'The LowellOffering,' as a literary production, I will only observe,[xi]putting entirely out of