The writer, when residing in Lowell, in 1843 contributed this and the companion pieces to ‘The Stranger’ in Lowell.
This, then, is Lowell,–a city springing up, like the enchanted palaces of the Arabian tales, as it were in a single night, stretching far and wide its chaos of brick masonry and painted shingles, filling the angle of the confluence of the Concord and the Merrimac with the sights and sounds of trade and industry. Marvellously here have art and labor wrought their modern miracles. I can scarcely realize the fact that a few years ago these rivers, now tamed and subdued to the purposes of man and charmed into slavish subjection to the wizard of mechanism, rolled unchecked towards the ocean the waters of the Winnipesaukee and the rock-rimmed springs of the White Mountains, and rippled down their falls in the wild freedom of Nature. A stranger, in view of all this wonderful change, feels himself, as it were, thrust forward into a new century; he seems treading on the outer circle of the millennium of steam engines and cotton mills. Work is here the patron saint. Everything bears his image and superscription. Here is no place for that respectable class of citizens called gentlemen, and their much vilified brethren, familiarly known as loafers. Over the gateways of this new world Manchester glares the inscription, “Work, or die”. Here
“Every worm beneath the moon
Draws different threads, and late or soon
Spins, toiling out his own cocoon.”
The founders of this city probably never dreamed of the theory of Charles Lamb in respect to the origin of labor:–
“Who first invented work, and thereby bound
The holiday rejoicing spirit down
To the never-ceasing importunity
Of business in the green fields and the town?
“Sabbathless Satan,–he who his unglad
Task ever plies midst rotatory burnings
For wrath divine has made him like a wheel
In that red realm from whence are no returnings.”
Rather, of course, would they adopt Carlyle’s apostrophe of “Divine labor, noble, ever fruitful,–the grand, sole miracle of man;” for this is indeed a city consecrated to thrift,–dedicated, every square rod of it, to the divinity of work; the gospel of industry preached daily and hourly from some thirty temples, each huger than the Milan Cathedral or the Temple of Jeddo, the Mosque of St. Sophia or the Chinese pagoda of a hundred bells; its mighty sermons uttered by steam and water-power; its music the everlasting jar of mechanism and the organ-swell of many waters; scattering the cotton and woollen leaves of its evangel from the wings of steamboats and rail-cars throughout the land; its thousand priests and its thousands of priestesses ministering around their spinning-jenny and powerloom altars, or thronging the long, unshaded streets in the level light of sunset. After all, it may well be questioned whether this gospel, according to Poor Richard’s Almanac, is precisely calculated for the redemption of humanity. Labor, graduated to man’s simple wants, necessities, and unperverted tastes, is doubtless well; but all beyond this is weariness to flesh and spirit. Every web which falls from these restless looms has a history more or less connected with sin and suffering, beginning with slavery and ending with overwork and premature death.
A few years ago, while travelling in Pennsylvania, I encountered a small, dusky-browed German of the name of Etzler. He was possessed by a belief that the world was to be restored to its paradisiacal state by the sole agency of mechanics, and that he had himself discovered the means of bringing about this very desirable consummation. His whole mental atmosphere was thronged with spectral enginery; wheel within wheel; plans of hugest mechanism; Brobdignagian steam-engines; Niagaras of water-power; wind-mills with “sail-broad vans,” like those of Satan in chaos, by the proper application of which every valley was to be exalted and every hill laid low; old forests seized by their shaggy tops and uprooted; old morasses drained; the tropics made cool; the eternal ices melted around the poles; the ocean itself covered with artificial islands, blossoming gardens of the blessed, rocking gently on the bosom of the deep. Give him “three hundred thousand dollars and ten years’ time,” and he would undertake to do the work.