HOME IS HOME, HOWEVER LOWLY. A PROVERB PARAPHRASED.
Title:Home is Home, However Lowly: A Proverb Paraphrased
Author:Alaric A. Watts
Publication:The Bolton Chronicle
Date:February 1st 1862
Alaric A. Watts’ “Home is Home, However Lowly” presents a proverbial prescription to the condition of working-class England as the effects of the US cotton embargo emerge throughout Lancashire in 1862. Watts’ rendering of the domestic sphere embeds local experiences in their wider socioeconomic frameworks: in the global financial standards that dictate and order the value of commodities; in the effects of such structures on ‘Cottonopolis’ and its municipal communities; in the subsequent atavistic impulse towards ‘tranquil, happy’ interiority as ‘the outer world’ becomes progressively destabilised. The publication of “Home is Home, However Lowly” in an 1862 edition of the Bolton Chronicle coincides with unprecedented unemployment as 51% of workers were made redundant in Manchester and Bolton alone.
Of the 430,000 hands at work in the Lancashire cotton industrial sector prior to 1862 a large portion were women whose entry into the workforce was emblematic of financial security. Watts situates his poem in the domestic space and in doing so, transforms an intensive praise of home comforts into an extensive, national curling inward. British dependence on American cotton production is unstable like ‘an ocean lashed to foam’. The dichotomy of ‘dark[ness]’ in ‘the outer world’ against the security of home (as ‘calm’ and ‘bright’) reinforces Watts’ imagining of Britannia as a parochial paradise in and of itself. Principals of scale are reimagined as the ‘earth’ is ostensibly compressed into the homely ‘hearth’ reverberating in their position at the end of their respective lines. The cotton districts of northern England are lexically ‘fenced’ and ‘cluster[ed] round’ whilst the poem’s enjambement throughout prolongs the ‘struggl[ing] slowly’. Respite is derived from the rising and emphatic use of exclamation marks ‘at the blessed door of home!’
As divine protectors of the individual household, ‘The Penates’ serve as the protectors of the roman state in classical theology. As the poem indicates, a ‘duteous love’ for the home is synonymous with pious morality. The individual responsibility of worshiping ‘The Penates’ expands to the communal responsibility to serve the Penates Publici and thereby galvanise the people under a national protection. Watts subscribes to this image of the unified nation as the apogee of commercial security. The poem seeks a prescription for the ‘Sad, encumbered, faint, and weary’ and implies the mass impact of the Lancashire Cotton Famine through concatenations of these apathetic adjectives. Watts preaches the restorative powers of the microcosmic home as it precedes a socioeconomic revival.
The religious propensities of Watts’ poem supply a fundamentally egalitarian comfort to the readers of this instalment of The Bolton Chronicle as Victorian cultural life navigates the schism between secularisation and The Church of England. Structurally, the poem refers to itself as a ‘hymn’ which is corroborated by its regular octaves, alternating ‘abab’ rhyme scheme and repetition of a principal philosophy: ‘home is home, however lowly. Watts’ semantic field of ‘precincts’ and ‘visions holy’ connote the sanctity of home’s ‘blessed door’. In aligning the ‘sheltering ark’ with home Watts anticipates an end to ‘Strife, avaunt and Melancholy’ as God speaks in Genesis: “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.” There is consolation in the homogenous baptism of civilisation that the flood represents. This period of famine exists a transient, liminal space in British culture and inevitably ‘everything that moves on land [comes out] of the ark’. Phoebe Borwell, University of Exeter