Smithsonian

Excerpt from a short story by a young worker

“Ellen,” said I, “do you remember what is said of the bee, that it gathers honey even in a poisonous flower? May we not, in like manner, if our hearts are rightly attuned, find many pleasures connected with our employment? Why is it, then, that you so obstinately look altogether on the dark side of a factory life? I think you thought differently while you were at home, on a visit, last summer—for you were glad to come back to the mill, in less than four weeks. Tell me, now—why were you so glad to return to the ringing of the bell, the clatter of the machinery, the early rising, the half-hour dinner, and so on?”

I saw that my discontented friend was not in a humour to give me an answer—and I therefore went on with my talk.

“You are fully aware, Ellen, that a country life does not exclude people from labor—to say nothing of the inferior privileges of attending public worship—that people have often to go a distance to meeting of any kind—that books cannot be so easily obtained as they can here—that you cannot always have just such society as you wish—that you”—

She interrupted me, by saying, “We have no bell, with its everlasting ding-dong.”

“What difference does it make,” said I, “whether you shall be awaked by a bell, or the noisy bustle of a farm-house? For, you know, farmers are generally up as early in the morning as we are obliged to rise.”

“But then,” said Ellen, “country people have none of the clattering of machinery constantly dinning in their ears.”

"True,” I replied, “but they have what is worse—and that is, a dull, lifeless silence all around them. The hens may cackle sometimes, and the geese gabble, and the pigs squeal”—

Ellen’s hearty laugh interrupted my description—and presently we proceeded, very pleasantly, to compare a country life with a factory life in Lowell.

The Lowell Offering, 1840