There are hands by hundred thousands
In the crowded North,
Empty, idle, yet for labour,
Not for alms, stretched forth.
Hands all thin and white and bloodless,
Free from strain or soil,
Hands struck helpless yet so willing
If they could to toil!
Hands that failing fitting labour,
Cannot long forbear,
Or to clench in desperation,
Or to fold in prayer.
Whirr of working wheels is silent,
Chimneys smoke no more:
Famine and her Sister Fever
Knock at every door.
Here are hearts by hundred thousands
Full of ruth and pain,
Till those hands struck sudden idle,
Are at work again.
Humble hearts whose mite is ready,
Hungrier mouths to feed:
Haughty hearts brought low by thinking
Of their brother’s need.
Hearts that only seek for channels
Wherein best may go,
All these streams of human kindness
Charged to overflow.
Then to work through clay and gravel,
Dull rock, thirsty sands,
From these brimming hearts make passage
To those failing hands.

Title:Hands and Hearts


Publication:The Bolton Chronicle

Published in:Bolton

Date:15th November 1862

Keywords:famine, hunger, industry


This poem from the pages of Punch contrasts the North and South of England, first detailing the situation of the deserving poor in the North (hands ‘for labour, / Not for alms, stretched forth’) and then the compassionate poor of the South: ‘Humble hearts whose mite is ready, / Hungrier mouths to feed’. This is a reference to the New Testament ‘lesson of the widow’s mite’ (a ‘mite’ was the smallest denomination of Jewish currency in Judea) and there is a suggestion that help would easily be forthcoming if only the mechanism to provide that help were improved. One of the problems of Cotton Famine relief efforts was the scale and rapidity of the effects of the distress, and the simple logistics of collecting and distributing materials to hundreds of thousands of people across a region. – SR