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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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complaint was made. There was an open airing-ground for recrea-
tion in good weather, and a library from which books were given
freely out to those who chose to read. Great care was likewise taken
to prevent any impropriety of behaviour. In short, nothing was
wanting to render the attendance agreeable, or to encourage the
diligent and orderly. In this mill, Catherine passed a few years,
improving in health and intelligence, though without distinguishing
herself from 'the mass of her companions. Perhaps, however, she
excelled in the propriety of her deportment, from the instructions
she had received from her old mistress ; and her good feelings


prompted her to be grateful for the care taken of her, as well as
others, at the mill. She has often been heard to say : ' If ever there
was a heaven upon earth, it was that apprentice-house, where we
were brought up in such ignorance of evil; and where Mr Norton,
the manager of the mill, was a father to us all.' It is to be wished
that every one who takes the charge of a child, whether as a pupil,
an apprentice, or a servant, should feel it a duty to do what may be
done early to establish the principles and practice of virtue, and to
deserve such grateful recollections as those of our heroine.

Mr Norton did not see Catherine after she quitted his establish-
ment, and never probably was aware of the beneficial influence he
had exerted on her mind ; yet it was by the course of discipline and
instruction in the cotton-factory that her character was formed
during the most susceptible and dangerous season of her life.

Catherine left the cotton-mill to go to service in a family. The
lady of the house was a very good manager, and a good mistress ;
knew what a servant's duty was, and took care that it was well done.
In her family, Catherine's habits of diligence, order, and fidelity
were strengthened. Everything she saw there tended to advance
her education. And is it not the true idea of education, that it
comprehends all the daily and hourly influences, small as well as
great, of the circumstances by which we are surrounded, and which
are constantly acting upon us ; bearing upon thought, and feeling,
and every spring of action within us ? It is beginning to be under-
stood, that whatever acts upon our powers for their growth, or
decrease, or direction ; whatever acts upon desire, appetite, or
passion, to excite or to repress it, to gratify or disappoint it ; and
whatever, either directly or indirectly, goes to the excitement and
formation of dispositions, sentiments, principles, and habits, is to be
viewed as a part of education. In this view of the subject, it is not
a question whether children or men shall or shall not be educated.
Education is constantly going on with every individual, old and
young, from the first to the last hour of life, because every individual
is, in every hour and every moment, acted upon by the circumstances
amidst which he is placed ; and because the influence of these
circumstances upon him will be in accordance with the tastes and
desires he is forming or has formed, the principles he is adopting or
has adopted, and his strength or weakness in the application of
principles to conduct. The child at home is educated far more by
the examples which he sees than by the lessons which he learns ;
and his mind is educating with far freer and stronger tendencies in
his plays and in the streets, than in school and under the eye of his

Catherine was one of the most cheerful and faithful of servants.
The pleasure with which she was accustomed to render any assist-
ance to her fellow-servants was ever a matter of remark ; and
through this disposition, joined with a habit of accurate observation,




she laid up a large stock of knowledge, which has since been
invaluable to herself and others.

We have now to view Catherine in quite a new sphere of life.
She was married to a person deserving of her affection, but not till
she had received a promise that she should be permitted to take her
mother home to live with her, for she was now old and infirm. A
small house was taken and furnished, and the marriage promised
every prospect of happiness. This might be called a bright gleam
in Catherine's existence. When she had become the mother of two
children, her husband died, an'd to add to her troubles, her mother
became blind and insane.

Catherine's case may now be considered to have been deplorable
a widow, the mother of two children, one a new-born infant, no
means of subsistence, and with a superannuated and blind parent
depending upon her. Some women, in such circumstances, would
have sat down and wept, pined in sorrow, or gone to the workhouse.
Catherine had a soul above all this. She acutely felt the blow, but
she also knew that it was a dispensation of Providence which ought
to be borne. When the first emotions of distress were past, she
courageously yoked to the task of supporting her dependent family.
Catherine despised to eat the bread of idleness.

Worth never wants friends. Catherine's case excited pity among
her neighbours, and her good character secured her a respectable
wet-nursing. She refused to leave home for this purpose, and the
baby was committed to her charge. By this means, and a trifle of
wages owing to her husband, she contrived to live over a year.
Now she behoved to face the world. The difficulty of obtaining
work was at this time very great. There was much suffering among
the operatives throughout the country, and among all who depended
upon their daily labour for subsistence. The only employment of
which Catherine could procure an offer was work at a nail-factory,
for which she was not well fitted. However, she gladly availed
herself of it, because the work was paid according to the number of
nails made, and she could absent herself to give a brief attendance
on her mother and children. The employment was hard, and
poorly paid. She generally wrought at large nails, of which she was
able to make about 800 daily ; but of the same kind some men can
make double that number. Her earnings were, on an average,
fifteenpence per day ; yet, though small, they were still precious to
her, because they were her own earnings. No one knew better than
herself how to receive a favour, or how to confer one ; but she would
not willingly accept the means of support from another, when she
could obtain them by her own industry. She has been known to
work in this factory till her fingers were blistered, and she could
do no more ; she would then remain at home, and poultice them
till they were sufficiently recovered to enable her to resume her
work. She and her mother at that time often suffered from, hunger.


Her necessities were known to a kind friend, whose own means
were small, but who yet contrived occasionally to furnish her
with a good meal. Through this friend she sometimes obtained
a supply of flowers or bouquets, by the sale of which she provided
for her wants when she had no other means of obtaining sub-

In expedients like these she passed some years, during which the
insanity of her mother was at times so outrageous as greatly to
endanger any one who had the charge of her ; yet this charge she
could not relinquish. She would not hear of the removal of her
parent to a place of confinement. No labours and no sufferings
could weaken her filial reverence and affection. At length, however,
it became necessary for her mother's own safety that she should be
in the charge of those more competent to the task of restraining her,
and she was removed to the workhouse. But the heart of the
devoted daughter was still with her; and from week to week
Catherine strained every nerve, and straitened herself in every
way, that she might regularly carry to her mother all the comforts
she could procure. Nor were her trials those only of the early
death of her husband and the long insanity of her mother. Her
eldest son was a severe sufferer from his birth till the age of twenty,
when he died. It is hardly to be conceived how much she did
and endured for this boy. For weeks together, after a hard day's
work, she was up through the whole night, kneeling by him, that
he might have his arms around her neck for support, because he
was unable to lie down. Her patience and love seemed to be
inexhaustible, and the strength which she exerted through her
afflictions almost miraculous.

The lad was a dutiful and affectionate child. He had a heart like
his mother, strong both to love and to endure. For a time, Catherine
seemed hardly able to sustain his loss. She could not sleep, and
with difficulty could take even the smallest portion of food. Her
inability to sleep awakened the desire to pass her nights with the
sick ; but she found this recalled the memory of her son too strongly,
and she did not persist in it. Desirous to fill the vacuity in her
house, she now, to use her own expression, ' inquired for some
family who wanted a person to take care of some tedious children.'
Her surviving child often gave her great pain. He exhibited strong
indications of inheriting the insanity of his grandmother, having
at times an ungovernable wildness of manner ; yet, when not under
excitement, he was an amiable, kind, and obedient boy.

When Catherine worked in the nail-factory, she formed a friend-
ship with another woman who also worked there. This poor crea-
ture afterwards became blind and helpless. She had for some time
previously been greatly disabled, and Catherine had never failed
to do what she could for her. But now she took her to her own
house, and for seven years supported her entirely. She carried her



up-stairs at night, and brought her down in the morning. At length,
when her son became so ill that she could not leave him, and her
means of support were wholly unequal to the increased expense,
she sent her blind friend to the workhouse ; yet her interest in the
poor sufferer never declined. Her care for her was like that of a
mother for a child. She never omitted once a week to send her
a little tea and sugar, that she might not be made uncomfortable by
the want of these accustomed gratifications. It happened that this
poor blind woman had a son in the workhouse, who was a cripple,
and nearly an idiot. The child was dear to his mother ; and when
she took her tea, she gave him a part of it. This became one of
his highest gratifications; and after the death of his mother, he
was greatly distressed by the loss of this indulgence. Catherine
therefore promised him that while she lived she would bring him
tea and sugar, as she had brought them to his mother ; and she kept
her word. On one occasion, a friend called upon Catherine, and
found an old woman with her who had a number of small parcels
in her hand. On noticing these parcels, she informed the visitor
that they contained a little tea, sugar, and snuff, and that they were
for a woman in the workhouse nearly a hundred years old. ' She
knew my parents/ said Catherine ; ' and I daresay assisted my
mother when she needed ; so it is just a little acknowledgment.
There are other old persons there to whom I would be glad to send
something, if I had the means.'

After Catherine left the nail-factory, she supported her family
by mangling; a benevolent gentleman in the neighbourhood, who
was struck with her character, having assisted her to purchase a
mangle at a sale of effects. By means of it and a little charing-
work she lived for several years, till her mother died, when she had
no longer an inducement to remain in the place ; and she removed
with her only surviving son to Liverpool, where she was fortunate
in getting him some small employment suited to his infirmities.
She took her mangle with her, and therefore we have now to follow
her to one of the humblest dwellings in a back-street of that large
town. Here she laboured, struggled to keep up a good name, and
to do all the good she could within her sphere. On one occasion,
a poor woman, a Mrs O'Brien, came into the neighbourhood to look
for lodgings, but could nowhere obtain a room. ' She must not die
in the street,' said Catherine. Yet what was to be done ? Catherine
lost no time in answering this question. The door of her house was
opened, and Mrs O'Brien and her children at once found .a home
there. In a fortnight, this woman died; but poor as she had been,
her heart was bound up in her children, and her great solicitude
in death was for them. With the full sympathies of a mother,
Catherine promised to do for these children as if they were her own ;
and this promise she faithfully fulfilled.

Another Irishwoman, Bridget M'Ann, was a common beggar.


Her appearance indicated extreme distress, and no inconsiderable
disease ; yet she was unwilling to go into the infirmary, because she
would there be separated from her children. Catherine visited this
woman, gained her confidence, persuaded her to allow her eldest
boy to be put into the workhouse, and took the youngest, about tv/o
years old, under her own charge. She nursed this child carefully,
sent some of her own clothes to the mother, and took a change
of clothes to her every week; yet for all these kind offices she
had scarcely any other return than reproaches and complaints. The
clothes, it was said, were not well washed, nor was anything done for
her as it should be done. But Catherine was neither to be fatigued
by service nor discouraged by ingratitude. She felt the claims of
weakness, ignorance, and suffering in this poor beggar far more
strongly than she felt any injury to herself. She kept the child for
some months, till the mother reclaimed it ; and then gave up her
charge only because she was allowed to hold it no longer. It is
only from such facts that one knows how much the poor often do
for the poor.

After a few years' residence in Liverpool, Catherine's son died,
which was a sore grief to her, for she was now alone in the world,
and had no longer any one of her own family to love. To fill up the
vacancy, she gladly took charge of three children from a widower, a
respectable man in the neighbourhood, who engaged to pay her
twelve shillings a week for their board. She, however, had not long
had the children under her roof, when the health of the man failed,
and he was unable to earn the amount he had agreed to pay her.
So anxious, however, was he to do what he could in payment for
the relief and comfort he had received, that he was actually at his
work on the week in which he died. Catherine kindly waited upon
him on his deathbed, and although he professed a different form
of religious belief from her own, brought him, unasked, a clergyman
of his own persuasion. She said ' she thought people always go fastest
to heaven upon their own road.' On his dying bed, this poor man
besought her to retain the charge of his children. She gave him
her word that she would ; and she admirably performed her promise.
After a time, the youngest boy was placed in a charity-school, where
she maintained a faithful supervision of him ; and when he left it, she
fitted him out for sea, and continued to care for him whenever he
returned from a voyage. The girl she kept two or three years, till
she found a good place for her. And the eldest boy, owing to the
failure of the master to whom he was apprenticed, was for several
years a considerable expense to her. A fellow-apprentice earned
only four shillings a week : his own father refused to keep him for
so small a sum. The anxiety and grief of his mother were extreme,
and she applied to Kitty upon the subject, who told the mother
that, on condition of the good-conduct of the boy, she would receive
him into her family.


At the first appearance of cholera in England, great anxiety was
manifested to guard against it, and cleanliness was especially-
enjoined. The habits of the very poor, and their few conveniences,
made the washing and drying of clothing and bedding very difficult.'
Catherine's house at this time consisted of a small kitchen, a little
parlour, two or three chambers, and a small yard at the back of the
house. In the kitchen, she had a copper. She fastened ropes across
the yard, and offered her poor neighbours the free use of them and
her kitchen for washing and drying their clothes. She also took
charge of clothes and bedding which were lent for the use of the poor.
So apparent was the benefit derived by the families who availed
themselves of Catherine's kindness, that a benevolent society was
led to provide a common cellar where families might wash every

The establishment thus begun was found very useful ; and in
cases of cholera or fever, medical men were accustomed to send
a note with the clothes used by a patient, or when a change of
linen was required ; hired washers being employed for the service of
the sick. This plan made neighbours willing to lend clothes and
bedding, since no risk of contagion was incurred. During the
second year of the cholera, one hundred and forty dozen articles of
clothing for men and women, one hundred and fifty-eight sheets,
thirty-four beds, sixty quilts, and one hundred blankets, were washed
in this establishment in one week.

The cholera principally attacked the heads of families, especially
those who were in a state of exhaustion from fatigue or want of food.
It frequently happened that the sufferers had neither food nor fuel,
while the rigorous quarantine led to a dearth of employment.
Catherine divided her own stores as far as she could with the
sufferers around her. A supply of oatmeal was given her, and with
this she made porridge every morning for a number who would
otherwise probably have had no breakfast ; and at one time she
thus supplied sixty with daily food. A neighbour every evening
went three miles into the country for the milk for this porridge.

Wherever the disease appeared among those who knew Catherine,
her presence and aid were felt to be of high importance. The
physicians were quite unable to meet the calls that were made upon
them ; she therefore went to them for advice, administered the
remedies which were prescribed, and carried back accounts of her
patients. It seemed impossible that she should obtain rest either
night or day. She found a vacant room, on the floor of which she
could spread some bedding, and there she provided a lodging for
families in which death had occurred, and whose rooms, it was
thought, should be vacated for a time, that they might be purified.
One of the first cases of cholera occurred in the street where Cathe-
rine lived. A widower, with two young children boarding with a poor
woman, was taken suddenly ill, and died. To prevent unnecessary



exposure to the disease, the attending physician directed that the
body should be buried unwashed. A report of this got abroad,
and a crowd assembled about the house, threatening violence if the
body were not washed before it was buried. Catherine undertook to
address this assemblage. ' We should be very sorry to do anything
wrong,' she said to them ; ' but the physician has forbidden that the
body should be washed, on account of the danger of infection. Now,
this man who has died is no more to us than he is to any of you.

Mrs R and I have done our part, by laying out the body ; and if

any one of you will come in and wash it, we will provide everything
that is necessary for you.' The crowd dispersed quietly and quickly,
and the body was buried unwashed.

The deaths and sickness of so many parents by cholera left a large
number of destitute children, too young to go to school, and who
were therefore running about the streets. Catherine could not over-
look these children. She collected about twenty of them into her
house, and a neighbour, who lived on the opposite side of the street,
offered to assist her in the care of them. This neighbour amused
the children by singing to them, by telling them stories, and by
teaching them to repeat hymns. The number of the children soon
became too large to be comfortably accommodated in Catherine's
little dwelling. It was resolved, therefore, to form them into a
school. The infant school thus begun was adopted by the managers
of one for older children in the same street ; the neighbour who
aided Catherine became the mistress, and obtained a comfortable
maintenance from the employment she had begun in benevolence.

A being with such a universal spirit of charity and love, and with
such self-imposed claims and duties, required to eke out her means
by every plan which seemed available. To make the most of her
house, small as it was, she received lodgers ; and to make their
evenings pass agreeably, she borrowed books and newspapers, and
proposed that one should read aloud for the general entertainment.
She provided a good fire in the winter, well knowing this comfort
often tempts even a sober man to an alehouse. She permitted her
lodgers to invite their acquaintance ; and during the winter of 1835,
as many as ten met and subscribed for three different cheap
periodicals, and to the Mechanics' Library. As some of the party
were carpenters' apprentices, an older workman gave them instruc-
tion in their business before the reading began. One of these
young men begged Catherine to speak to four of their fellow-
workmen, who spent the money at alehouses which they earned by
working over-hours. She did so, telling them if they would come
every night to her house, they should have the use of a good fire and
a newspaper, and for sixpence a week she would provide a supper.

This poor woman seems to have had an eye to everything. One
day, in passing a shop, she saw a great boxful of waste paper,
including many damaged and used Bibles. These she was allowed
50 9


to pick out and buy for a mere trifle. When she brought her parcel
of Bibles home, she fastened the leaves, patched up the covers, and
then lent them to sailors who were going to sea. It was afterwards
ascertained that by this act the characters of several were improved.
It may be matter for surprise how Catherine earned enough to
accomplish so many good deeds. But cheerful and persevering
labour, with rigorous economy, will do wonders. She long lived a
credit to her station, and shewed, in all her undertakings, a remark-
able power of making much of slender means. Her economy with
regard to both food and clothing was admirable. Nothing was wasted.
She has been known to stew fish-bones into broth for the sick poor,
and from the refuse of fruit to make a pleasant drink for fever
patients. Time was also, in her estimation, a thing not to be thrown
away, and therefore every moment of her waking existence was
devoted to the execution of some useful object.

The owner of the house in which Catherine lived was a single lady,
and a cripple, with a very small income. Catherine's consideration
of these circumstances was beyond all praise. She expressed her
unwillingness to apply to her poor landlady even for necessary
repairs, and as far as possible made those repairs herself. She
bought paint, and painted her rooms with her own hand. She
received payment from her lodgers on Friday, and the sum, though
only a few shillings altogether, she lent to some poor women, who
purchased certain goods which they sold in the market on Saturday,
and made their returns to her on Saturday night. It did not appear
that she ever thus lost anything, while the gain was of considerable
importance to those who made it She mixed but little with her
neighbours, except for such offices of kindness as she was able to
render to them ; and most unwillingly asked for any aid for her own
personal friends.

We must, however, draw our account of this poor widow to a
conclusion. She was not without faults ; as, for instance, hastiness
of temper ; but her anger was soon appeased, and no ill-usage could
check her kindness, except for a very short time. She had expe-
rienced injustice ; and though she felt it strongly, acknowledged
that it was a duty to forgive others, when there was so much to be
forgiven in ourselves. She was ever most careful not to incur a debt,
and maintained her sense of duty on this subject with an energy
worthy of all praise. Had she been embarrassed by debt, she
could have carried through few of her benevolent intentions. Her
whole history presents a striking combination of simplicity with
energy, sensibility with judgment, of forethought, calculation, and
economy, with disinterestedness and self-sacrificing benevolence.

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 5 of 58)