The Starving Cotton Spinners’ Christmas Lament

Hang on the willow boughs the silent harp,
For bitten by hunger’s cruel fangs so sharp,
Our wasted fingers cannot sound the string,
Nor have our falt'ring voices strength to sing;
Bare is our board this year of Christmas fare,
Our ill-clad limbs shake with the chilly air.
Around the scanty fire out children crowd,
For bread – for bread – their voices cry aloud;
Ah! must we see them pine before our eyes,
Nor have wherewith to pacify their cries?
O pitying One! who in the manger lay,
From heaven – thy throne – look down, and be our stay.
Help us that we heavy cross may bear,
Thy roles of patient suffering meekly wear,
And through black sorrow’s darkly mournful night,
With quiet walking watch for morning light;
Heir of heaven’s riches! for our sakes made poor!
We seek for comfort at thy mercy’s door.
Ye, on whose well-warmed hearths the yule logs burn,
With pity towards your starving brethren turn;
Ye, who your limbs in ample clothing fold,
O, think of us, who shudder with the cold;
While steaming viands on your tables stand,
Let charity’s warm glow your hearts expand.
As a bright star the eastern sages led
To where the infant Saviour placed his head,
So let the light of kindness guide your feet
To our abodes, where suffering has its seat;
For His sake, who came from a heavenly throne,
O, leave us not (we pray) to weep alone.
Our household treasuries, one by one, we’ve sold;
Save the big Bible, and that Prayer Book old
With which our sires and grandsires worshipped,
The comforts of our homes have long since fled;
That Bible tells us who can always bless,
Those prayers shall be our comfort in distress.
O by Thy birth, Thou Son of God most high!
O by the death that thou for man didst die.
This trial sanctify that it may be
A means to bring us nearer unto Thee:
So, life’s voyage ended, we shall find a home
On those bright shores where want can never come.

Title:The Starving Cotton Spinners’ Christmas Lament

Author:Rev. Thomas M. Freeman

Publication:Manchester Courier

Published in:Manchester

Date:December 13th 1862

Keywords:hunger, poverty, religion


This poem, clearly by a clergyman rather than by an actual textile worker, addresses the concerns of the effects of the Lancashire Cotton Famine directly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, places considerable emphasis on the idea of religion as salve for earthly troubles. This kind of inter-class ‘ventriloquism’ is very common in Cotton Famine poetry and poetry addressing poverty generally in the Victorian period, but this piece sets out particularly to present its working-class subject as devout and pious. There is a double function here: in one sense there is validation for Christianity as able to provide spiritual relief in times of material distress, but there may also be an important encouragement for charitable giving and relief. ‘The deserving poor’ was a concept long before the 1860s, and presenting the working-classes as clean living and virtuous was seen as necessary to encourage middle-class generosity. – SR