Neither Work Nor Wages, Or, The Cotton Famine

Hast thou a home with comforts stor’d,
A cheerful fire, an ample board,
Raiment to suit our changeful year,
No pressing claims, no boding fear –
Dear children climbing on thy knee,
The mother sharing in their glee –
Fair skies, and prospects rich and bright,
Filling each bosom with delight –
And hast thou not a thought to spare
For those whose hearts are rack’d with care?
Just look within that shattered door,
See the bare walls, the naked floor;
No fuel there, no table spread,
But children crying for their bread.
How wan and meagre they appear,
Whilst all around is dull and drear!
No smile upon the parent’s cheek,
No wages now from week to week,
Of all they valued most, bereft,
With scarce a chair or table left.
The cotton gone, the hands are still,
The engines hush’d, and closed the mill,
Yet once they seemed so well to do,
Their mercies grear, their trials few,
All labouring for the common weal.
With minds to think and hearts to feel –
Honest, contented with their own,
They joy’d to work and stand alone.
How has this dismal change occurr’d,
Have our poor neighbours sadly err’d?
Are they the idle thriftless poor
For whom there is no hope, no cure?
Ah! no, they suffer without blame.
No foul dishonour stains their name,
And in the midst of such distress,
‘Tis little that their lips confess, -
Shrinking from beggary, they try
To shun the cold unfeeling eye;
And often helpless worn and faint,
Bear on and utter no complaint!
Have they not filled us with surprise,
And won the favour of the wise!
Their patient bearing felt and known
In other lands as in our own!
Brave, noble spirits! He who hears
Your secret prayers, and sees your tears,
Will never turn his ear away,
In this appalling cloudy day;
He who has suffered human grief,
Will surely plead for your relief;
And prompt the liberal soul to feel
Responsive to this warm appeal!
Preston, June 21st, 1862. E.R.
These lines were composed by Mrs. Dr. Reed, under the influence of a visit to Preston, and the suffering she witnessed there, in the hope that they might induce readers to send benevolent help.

Title:Neither Work Nor Wages, or, The Cotton Famine

Author:E. R.

Publication:The Bolton Chronicle

Published in:Bolton

Date:12th July 1862

Keywords:charity, domesticity, poverty, religion


One of several poems with the words ‘cotton famine’ in the title, this poem consists of rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter, and remains very consistently within this rhythm and metre. The stanzas decrease in length from twenty-eight to sixteen to eight lines long, and this has the effect of intensifying the register of the piece towards its conclusion. The language is formal in tone, beginning with the archaism ‘hast thou’, and there are some examples of ‘poetic syntax’, where the word order is shifted to maintain the rhythm and rhyme (‘The engines hush’d, and closed the mill’).

The overarching purpose of this poem is to attract sympathy and to appeal for charity, but within this there is a general focus on domesticity and an insistence that this poverty is undeserved and unavoidable. In a sense this middle-class woman, the wife of a doctor, is speaking on behalf of the working-class, claiming that they are too proud to ask for help themselves. The last stanza, rather typical of much Victorian poetry of its type, refers to God (or Christ) without explicitly stating this, an example of the rhetorical or poetic practice of ‘periphrasis’.

- SR.