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Working conditions in factories

This extract is taken from Frances Trollope's novel The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, written in 1840.  Here the Rev. Bell is addressing Miss Brotherton.

Boys and girls, with few exceptions, labour indiscriminately altogether in the factories. While still almost children, they form connexions, and are married. Having worked in the mills, probably from five years old to the hour of their unweighed and thoughtless union, the boy assumes the duties of a husband with little more knowledge of moral or religious responsibility than the brute animal that labours with a thousand times less degradation in the fields; while the childish wife comes to her important task ignorant of every earthly usefulness, save what belongs to the mechanical drudgery in which throughout the whole of her short, sad life, she has been made to follow the uniform and ceaseless movements of machinery. She cannot sew, she cannot cook, she cannot iron, she cannot wash. Her mind is yet more untaught and undisciplined than her hands. She is conscious of no responsibility, she knows no law by which to steer her actions, or regulate her spirit, and becomes a mother as she became a wife, without one single thought of duty mixing itself with her increasing cares. By degrees, both the husband and the wife find employment in the factory less certain. It is for children, children, children, that the unwearied engine calls, and keenly does the hungry father, and the mother too, watch the growth of the little creatures to whom they have given birth, till the slight limbs have firmness enough to stand, and the delicate joints are sufficiently under the command of the frightened will to tie threads together under the potent inspiration of the overlooker's strap. Then comes a state of deeper degradation still. The father is idle, for often he can get no work, and it is to the labour of his little ones that he looks for bread. Nature recoils from the spectacle of their unnatural o'erlaboured aspect as they return from their thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, hours of toil. He has not nerve to look upon it, and creeps to the gin-shops till they are hid in bed. The mother sees it all, and sternly screws her courage to the task of lifting their bruised and weary limbs upon their bed of straw, putting into their mouths the food she has prepared, their weary eyes being already closed in sleep, and preparing herself to wake before the sun on the morrow, that with unrelenting hand she may drag them from their unfinished slumber, and drive them forth again to get her food. This is no varnished tale, Miss Brotherton, but the bare, naked, hideous truth.

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