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round, and you have time to breathe again.

I was met at the station at Lowell by a gentleman
intimately connected with the management of the factories
there ; and gladly putting myself under his guidance, drove
off at once to that quarter of the town in which the works,
the object of my visit, were situated. Although only just of
age for if my recollection serve me, it has been a manu-
facturing town barely one-and-twenty years Lowell is a
large, populous, thriving place. Those indications of its youth
which first attract the eye, give it a quaintness and oddity
of character which, to a visitor from the old country, is


amusing enough. It was a very dirty winter's day, and
nothing in the whole town looked old to me, except the mud,
which in some parts was almost knee-deep, and might have
been deposited there, on the subsiding of the waters after the
Deluge. In one place, there was a new wooden church, which,
having no steeple, and being yet unpainted, looked like an
enormous packing-case without any direction upon it. In
another there was a large hotel, whose walls and colonnades
were so crisp, and thin, and slight, that it had exactly the
appearance of being built with cards. I was careful not to
draw my breath as we passed, and trembled when I saw a
workman come out upon the roof, lest with one thoughtless
stamp of his foot he should crush the structure beneath him,
and bring it rattling down. The very river that moves the
machinery in the mills (for they are all worked by water
power), seems to acquire a new character from the fresh
buildings of bright red brick and painted wood among which
it takes its course ; and to be as light-headed, thoughtless,
and brisk a young river, in its murmurings and tumblings,
as one would desire to see. One would swear that every
" Bakery," " Grocery, 11 and " Bookbindery, 1 " 1 and other kind
of store, took its shutters down for the first time, and started
in business yesterday. The golden pestles and mortars fixed
as signs upon the sun-blind frames outside the Druggists 1 ,
appear to have been just turned out of the United States'
Mint ; and when I saw a baby of some week or ten days old
in a woman^ arms at a street corner, I found myself un-
consciously wondering where it came from : never supposing
for an instant that it could have been born in such a young
town as that.

There are several factories in Lowell, each of which belongs
to what we should term a Company of Proprietors, but what
they call in America a Corporation. I went over several of
these; such as a woollen factory, a carpet factory, and a
cotton factory : examined them in every part ; and saw them
in their ordinary working aspect, with no preparation of any


kind, or departure from their ordinary everyday proceedings.
I may add that I am well acquainted with our manufacturing
towns in England, and have visited many mills in Manchester
and elsewhere in the same manner.

I happened to arrive at the first factory just as the dinner
hour was over, and the girls were returning to their work ;
indeed the stairs of the mill were thronged with them as I
ascended. They were all well dressed, but not to my thinking
above their condition ; for I like to see the humbler classes
of society careful of their dress and appearance, and even, if
they please, decorated with such little trinkets as come within
the compass of their means. Supposing it confined within
reasonable limits, I would always encourage this kind of
pride, as a worthy element of self-respect, in any person I
employed ; and should no more be deterred from doing so,
because some wretched female referred her fall to a love of
dress, than I would allow my construction of the real intent
and meaning of the Sabbath to be influenced by any warning
to the well-disposed, founded on his backslidings on that
particular day, which might emanate from the rather doubt-
ful authority of a murderer in Newgate.

These girls, as I have said, were all well dressed : and that
phrase necessarily includes extreme cleanliness. They had
serviceable bonnets, good warm cloaks, and shawls ; and were
not above clogs and pattens. Moreover, there were places in
the mill in which they could deposit these things without
injury; and there were conveniences for washing. They were
healthy in appearance, many of them remarkably so, and
had the manners and deportment of young women : not of
degraded brutes of burden. If I had seen in one of those
mills (but I did not, though I looked for something of this
kind with a sharp eye), the most lisping, mincing, affected,
and ridiculous young creature that my imagination could
suggest, I should have thought of the careless, moping,
slatternly, degraded, dull reverse (I have seen that), and
should have been still well pleased to look upon her.


The rooms in which they worked, were as well ordered as
themselves. In the windows of some, there were green plants,
which were trained to shade the glass ; in all, there was as
much fresh air, cleanliness, and comfort, as the nature of the
occupation would possibly admit of. Out of so large a
number of females, many of whom were only then just
verging upon womanhood, it may be reasonably supposed
that some were delicate and fragile in appearance : no doubt
there were. But I solemnly declare, that from all the crowd
I saw in the different factories that day, I cannot recall or
separate one young face that gave me a painful impression ;
not one young girl whom, assuming it to be matter of
necessity that she should gain her daily bread by the labour
of her hands, I would have removed from those works if I
had had the power.

They reside in various boarding-houses near at hand. The
owners of the mills are particularly careful to allow no persons
to enter upon the possession of these houses, whose characters
have not undergone the most searching and thorough inquiry.
Any complaint that is made against them, by the boarders,
or by any one else, is fully investigated ; and if good ground
of complaint be shown to exist against them, they are
removed, and their occupation is handed over to some more
deserving person. There are a few children employed in
these factories, but not many. The laws of the State forbid
their working more than nine months in the year, and require
that they be educated during the other three. For this
purpose there are schools in Lowell ; and there are churches
and chapels of various persuasions, in which the young women
may observe that form of worship in which they have been

At some distance from the factories, and on the highest
and pleasantest ground in the neighbourhood, stands their
hospital, or boarding-house for the sick : it is the best house
in those parts, and was built by an eminent merchant for
his own residence. Like that institution at Boston, which I


have before described, it is not parcelled out into wards, but
is divided into convenient chambers, each of which has all
the comforts of a very comfortable home. The principal
medical attendant resides under the same roof; and were the
patients members of his own family, they could not be better
cared for, or attended with greater gentleness and considera-
tion. The weekly charge in this establishment for each
female patient is three dollars, or twelve shillings English;
but no girl employed by any of the corporations is ever
excluded for want of the means of payment. That they do
not very often want the means, may be gathered from the
fact, that in July, 1841, no fewer than nine hundred and
seventy-eight of these girls were depositors in the Lowell
Savings Bank : the amount ,. of whose joint savings was
estimated at one hundred thousand dollars, or twenty
thousand English pounds.

I am now going to state three facts, which will startle a
large class of readers on this side of the Atlantic, very

Firstly, there is a joint-stock piano in a great many of
the boarding-houses. Secondly, nearly all these young ladies
subscribe to circulating libraries. Thirdly, they have got up
among themselves a periodical called THE LOWELL OFFERING,
"A repository of original articles, written exclusively by
females actively employed in the mills,"" which is duly
printed, published, and sold ; and whereof I brought away
from Lowell four hundred good solid pages, which I have
read from beginning to end.

The large class of readers, startled by these facts, will
exclaim, with one voice, " How very preposterous ! " On my
deferentially inquiring why, they will answer, "These things
are above their station." In reply to that objection, I would
beg to ask what their station is.

It is their station to work. And they do work. They
labour in these mills, upon an average, twelve hours a day,
which is unquestionably work, and pretty tight work too.


Perhaps it is above their station to indulge in such amuse-
ments, on any terms. Are we quite sure that we in England
have not formed our ideas of the " station " of working people,
from accustoming ourselves to the contemplation of that class
as they are, and not as they might be ? I think that if we
examine our own feelings, we shall find that the pianos, and
the circulating libraries, and even the Lowell Offering, startle
us by their novelty, and not by their bearing upon any
abstract question of right or wrong.

For myself, I know no station in which, the occupation
of to-day cheerfully done and the occupation of to-morrow
cheerfully looked to, any one of these pursuits is not most
humanising and laudable. I know no station which is
rendered more endurable to the person in it, or more safe
to the person out of it, by having ignorance for its associate.
I know no station which has a right to monopolise the means
of mutual instruction, improvement, and rational entertain-
ment ; or which has ever continued to be a station very long,
after seeking to do so.

Of the merits of the Lowell Offering as a literary produc-
tion, I will only observe, putting entirely out of sight the
fact of the articles having been written by these girls after
the arduous labours of the day, that it will compare
advantageously with a great many English Annuals. It is
pleasant to find that many of its Tales are of the Mills
and of those who work in them ; that they inculcate habits
of self-denial and contentment, and teach good doctrines of
enlarged benevolence. A strong feeling for the beauties of
nature, as displayed in the solitudes the writers have left at
home, breathes through its pages like wholesome village air;
and though a circulating library is a favourable school for
the study of such topics, it has very scant allusion to fine
clothes, fine marriages, fine houses, or fine life. Some persons
might object to the papers being signed occasionally with
rather fine names, but this is an American fashion. One of
the provinces of the state legislature of Massachusetts is to


alter ugly names into pretty ones, as the children improve
upon the tastes of their parents. These changes costing
little or nothing, scores of Mary Annes are solemnly con-
verted into Bevelinas every session.

It is said that on the occasion of a visit from General
Jackson or General Harrison to this town (I forget which,
but it is not to the purpose), he walked through three miles
and a half of these young ladies all dressed out with parasols
and silk stockings. But as I am not aware that any worse
consequence ensued, than a sudden looking-up of all the
parasols and silk stockings in the market; and perhaps the
bankruptcy of some speculative New Englander who bought
them all up at any price, in expectation of a demand that
never came ; I set no great store by the circumstance.

In this brief account of Lowell, and inadequate expression
of the gratification it yielded me, and cannot fail to afford
to any foreigner to whom the condition of such people at
home is a subject of interest and anxious speculation, I have
carefully abstained from drawing a comparison between these
factories and those of our own land. Many of the circum-
stances whose strong influence has been at work for years in
our manufacturing towns have not arisen here; and there
is no manufacturing population in Lowell, so to speak : for
these girls (often the daughters of small farmers) come from
other States, remain a few years in the mills, and then go
home for good.

The contrast would be a strong one, for it would be
between the Good and Evil, the living light and deepest
shadow. I abstain from it, because I deem it just to do so.
But I only the more earnestly adjure all those whose eyes
may rest on these pages, to pause and reflect upon the
difference between this town and those great haunts of
desperate misery : to call to mind, if they can in the midst
of party strife and squabble, the efforts that must be made
to purge them of their suffering and danger: and last, and
foremost, to remember how the precious Time is rushing by.


I returned at night by the same railroad and in the same
kind of car. One of the passengers being exceedingly anxious
to expound at great length to my companion (not to me, of
course) the true principles on which books of travel in
America should be written by Englishmen, I feigned to fall
asleep. But glancing all the way out at window from the
corners of my eyes, I found abundance of entertainment for
the rest of the ride in watching the effects of the wood fire,
which had been invisible in the morning but were now
brought out in full relief by the darkness : for we were
travelling in a whirlwind of bright sparks, which showered
about us like a storm of fiery snow.



LEAVING Boston on the afternoon of Saturday the fifth of
February, we proceeded by another railroad to Worcester :
a pretty New England town, where we had arranged to
remain under the hospitable roof of the Governor of the
State, until Monday morning.

These towns and cities of New England (many of which
would be villages in Old England), are as favourable
specimens of rural America, as their people are of rural
Americans. The well-trimmed lawns and green meadows of
home are not there; and the grass, compared with our
ornamental plots and pastures, is rank, and rough, and wild :
but delicate slopes of land, gently-swelling hills, wooded
valleys, and slender streams, abound. Every little colony of
houses has its church and school-house peeping from among
the white roofs and shady trees ; every house is the whitest
of the white ; every Venetian blind the greenest of the green ;
every fine day's sky the bluest of the blue. A sharp dry
wind and a slight frost had so hardened the roads when we
alighted at Worcester, that their furrowed tracks were like
ridges of granite. There was the usual aspect of newness on
every object, of course. All the buildings looked as if they
had been built and painted that morning, and could be taken
down on Monday with very little trouble. In the keen


evening air, every sharp outline looked a hundred times
sharper than ever. The clean cardboard colonnades had no
more perspective than a Chinese bridge on a tea-cup, and
appeared equally well calculated for use. The razor-like
edges of the detached cottages seemed to cut the very wind
as it whistled against them, and to send it smarting on its
way with a shriller cry than before. Those slightly-built
wooden dwellings behind which the sun was setting with a
brilliant lustre, could be so looked through and through, that
the idea of any inhabitant being able to hide himself from
the public gaze, or to have any secrets from the public eye,
was not entertainable for a moment. Even where a blazing
fire shone through the uncurtained windows of some distant
house, it had the air of being newly lighted, and of lacking
warmth; and instead of awakening thoughts of a snug
chamber, bright with faces that first saw the light round that
same hearth, and ruddy with warm hangings, it came upon
one suggestive of the smell of new mortar and damp walls.

So I thought, at least, that evening. Next morning when
the sun was shining brightly, and the clear church bells were
ringing, and sedate people in their best clothes enlivened the
pathway near at hand and dotted the distant thread of road,
there was a pleasant Sabbath peacefulness on everything,
which it was good to feel. It would have been the better
for an old church ; better still for some old graves ; but as it
was, a wholesome repose and tranquillity pervaded the scene,
which after the restless ocean and the hurried city, had a
doubly grateful influence on the spirits.

We went on next morning, still by railroad, to Springfield.
From that place to Hartford, whither we were bound, is a
distance of only five-and-twenty miles, but at that time of
the year the roads were so bad that the journey would
probably have occupied ten or twelve hours. Fortunately,
however, the winter having been unusually mild, the Con-
necticut River was " open," or,, in other words, not frozen.
The captain of a small steamboat was going to make his


first trip for the season that day (the second February trip,
I believe, within the memory of man), and only waited for
us to go on board. Accordingly, we went on board, with as
little delay as might be. He was as good as his word, and
started directly.

It certainly was not called a small steamboat without
reason. I omitted to ask the question, but I should think it
must have been of about half a pony power. Mr. Paap, the
celebrated Dwarf, might have lived and died happily in the
cabin, which was fitted with common sash-windows like an
ordinary dwelling-house. These windows had bright-reel
curtains, too, hung on slack strings across the lower panes;
so that it looked like the parlour of a Lilliputian public-house,
which had got afloat in a flood or some other water accident,
and was drifting nobody knew where. But even in this
chamber there was a rocking-chair. It would be impossible
to get on anywhere, in America, without a rocking-chair.

I am afraid to tell how many feet short this vessel was, or
how many feet narrow : to apply the words length and width
to such measurement would be a contradiction in terms. But
I may state that we all kept the middle of the deck, lest the
boat should unexpectedly tip over; and that the machinery,
by some surprising process of condensation, worked between
it and the keel : the whole forming a warm sandwich, about
three feet thick.

It rained all day as I once thought it never did rain any-
where, but in the Highlands of Scotland. The river was full
of floating blocks of ice, which were constantly crunching and
cracking under us; and the depth of water, in the course
we took to avoid the larger masses, carried down the middle
of the river by the current, did not exceed a few inches.
Nevertheless, we moved onward, dexterously ; and being well
wrapped up, bade defiance to the weather, and enjoyed the
journey. The Connecticut River is a fine stream ; and the
banks in summer-time are, I have no doubt, beautiful : at all
events, I was told so by a young lady in the cabin ; and she


should be a judge of beauty, if the possession of a quality
include the appreciation of it, for a more beautiful creature
I never looked upon.

After two hours and a half of this odd travelling (including
a stoppage at a small town, where we were saluted by a gun
considerably bigger than our own chimney), we reached Hart-
ford, and straightway repaired to an extremely comfortable
hotel : except, as usual, in the article of bedrooms, which, in
almost every place we visited, were very conducive to early

We tarried here, four days. The town is beautifully
situated in a basin of green hills ; the soil is rich, well-wooded,
and carefully improved. It is the seat of the local legislature
of Connecticut, which sage body enacted, in bygone times, the
renowned code of "Blue Laws, 11 in virtue whereof, among
other enlightened provisions, any citizen who could be proved
to have kissed his wife on Sunday, was punishable, I believe,
with the stocks. Too much of the old Puritan spirit exists
in these parts to the present hour ; but its influence has not
tended, that I know, to make the people less .hard in their
bargains, or more equal in their dealings. As I never heard
of its working that effect anywhere else, I infer that it never
will, here. Indeed, I am accustomed, with reference to great
professions and severe faces, to judge of the goods of the
other world pretty much as I judge of the goods of this ;
and whenever I see a dealer in such commodities with too
great a display of them in his window, I doubt the quality
of the article within.

In Hartford stands the famous oak in which the charter
of King Charles was hidden. It is now inclosed in a gentle-
man's garden. In the State House is the charter itself. I
found the courts of law here, just the same as at Boston ;
the public institutions almost as good. The Insane Asylum
is admirably conducted, and so is the Institution for the Deaf
and Dumb.

I very much questioned within myself, as I walked through


the Insane Asylum, whether I should have known the atten-
dants from the patients, but for the few words which passed
between the former, and the Doctor, in reference to the
persons under their charge. Of course I limit this remark
merely to their looks ; for the conversation of the mad people
was mad enough.

There was one little prim old lady, of very smiling and
good-humoured appearance, who came sidling up to me from
the end of a long passage, and with a curtsey of inexpressible
condescension, propounded this unaccountable inquiry :

" Does Pontefract still flourish, sir, upon the soil of

"He does, ma'am," I rejoined.

"When you last saw him, sir, he was "

"Well, ma'am," said I, "extremely well. He begged me
to present his compliments. I never saw him looking

At this, the old lady was very much delighted. After
glancing at me for a moment, as if to be quite sure that I
was serious in my respectful air, she sidled back some paces;
sidled forward again ; made a sudden skip (at which I pre-
cipitately retreated a step or two) ; and said :

" / am an antediluvian, sir."

I thought the best thing to say was, that I had suspected
as much from the first. Therefore I said so.

" It is an extremely proud and pleasant thing, sir, to be an
antediluvian," said the old lady.

"I should think it was, ma'am," I rejoined.

The old lady kissed her hand, gave another skip, smirked
and sidled down the gallery in a most extraordinary manner,
and ambled gracefully into her own bed-chamber.

In another part of the building, there was a male patient
in bed ; very much flushed and heated.

" Well," said he, starting up, and pulling off his night-cap :
"It's all settled at last. I have arranged it with Queen


** Arranged what ? " asked the Doctor.

"Why, that business," passing his hand wearily across his
forehead, "about the siege of New York.""

" Oh ! " said I, like a man suddenly enlightened. ' For he
looked at me for an answer.

" Yes. Every house without a signal will be fired upon by
the British troops. No harm will be done to the others. No
harm at all. Those that want to be safe, must hoist flags.
That's all they'll have to do. They must hoist flags."

Even while he was speaking he seemed, I thought, to have
some faint idea that his talk was incoherent. Directly he
had said these words, he lay down again ; gave a kind of a
groan ; and covered his hot head with the blankets.

There was another : a young man, whose madness was love
and music. After playing on the accordion a march he had
composed, he was very anxious that I should walk into his
chamber, which I immediately did.

By way of being very knowing, and humouring him to the
top of his bent, I went to the window, which commanded a
beautiful prospect, and remarked, with an address upon which
I greatly plumed myself:

" What a delicious country you have about these lodgings
of yours ! "

" Poh ! " said he, moving his fingers carelessly over the notes
of his instrument : " Well enough for such an Institution as

I don't think I was ever so taken aback in all my life.

"I come here just for a whim," he said coolly. "That's

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 8 of 43)