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"Editorial: Two Suicides," Harriet Farley, Lowell Offering, Volume IV, 1844
1844


 

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In this document, Harriet Farley responds to newspaper reports of two suicides committed by female millworkers, one in Lowell and one at a neighboring factory.



One more unfortunate,
Weary of breath,
Rashly importunate,
Gone to her death!

Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion'd so slenderly,
Young and so fair!

Touch her not scornfully;
Think of her mournfully,
Gently and humanly;

* * * *

Perishing gloomily,
Spurned by contumely,
Cold inhumanity,
Burning insanity,
Into her rest.

Hood's Magazine.

Within a few weeks the papers of the day have announced the deaths of two young female operatives, by their own hands -- one in Lowell, the other in an adjacent manufacturing town. With the simple announcement these papers have left the affair to their readers -- appending to one, however, the remark that the unfortunate had neither friends nor home; to the other the assertion, that reports injurious to her fair fame had been circulated -- reports which, after her death, were ascertained to be false. And how have the community received this intelligence? Apparently with much indifference; but where we hear an expression of opinion it is one of horror. The human being who has dared, herself, to wrench away the barrier which separated her from the Giver or her life, and who will judge her for this rash act, is spoken of as a reckless contemner of His laws, both natural and revealed. People are shocked that any human being should dare imbrue her hands in blood, and rush, all stained and gory, before her God. But He, who placed us here, and commanded that we should stay until he willed to call us hence, has enforced His law by one written on our own hearts -- a horror of death inwrought into our nature, so that we violate our own sensibilities by disobeying His will; unless, indeed, our feelings have become so distorted and perverted that they are untrue to their original action. So possible is a discord in this "harp of thousand strings," and so improbable is a violation of its harmony while perfectly attuned, that many have supposed this last discordant note, which rings from the ruined lyre, a proof that its perfect unison had been previously destroyed, though unobserved by all around.

We may easily conceive of the feelings of those who give away their lives in some noble cause -- we can imagine how the higher feelings of the soul bear it away from all subordinate doubts and fears, and the greatest boon we can ever give is laid upon the altar, a holy sacrifice. We can in some degree enter into the feelings of the martyrs of old, and can perhaps imperfectly apprehend the philosophy of a Cato or a Cleopatra; but when one, in the very prime of womanhood, with no philosophy to support her, and no great misfortune to impel her to the deed, yields up her life, we feel that the soul itself must have become distorted and diseased.

When we reflect upon the shudder which the though of death occasions in our season of health and prosperity -- when we find that it requires all our strength of soul to look upon it, and prepare our minds for its always possible approach -- when, in a healthy and natural state of feeling, it needs all the consolation and hopes of religion to reconcile us to this last event, then we may think how heavy has been the weight which has pressed upon some poor spirit till, crushed and mutilated, it has writhed from beneath its influence, into the dark abyss of despair. How heavily must life weigh upon her who flees to death for refuge! -- who waits not for the grim tyrant, but rushes impetuously into his loathsome embrace! There must have been a fearful change in the nature of her, whose natural reluctance to pain is so wholly overcome that no bodily agony is dreaded if but the prison bars of this clay tenement be loosened -- and, when the innate delicacy of her nature is so far forgotten that the body, itself, is yielded up to the cold eye, and unshrinking hand of the dissector -- for this must always follow. Let us contemplate all this, and feel assured that, though reason may have been left, though it may even have been actively manifest in the preparations for this dreadful finale, that something was gone even more essential to vitality than reason itself -- that "the life of life was o'er" -- that the something, which gives zest to being, was taken away -- that the vitativeness of the phrenologist no longer acted and harmonized with the other faculties of the brain.

In the first instance, were the causes mental or physical which led to the deed? We believe in this, and indeed in all cases, that both operated upon the individual. There was action and reaction, and it is impossible that the mind should be so deeply affected without injury to the body: as, on the contrary, oppression of any part of the physical system must depress and weaken the mind. We will not make a long sermon, for we have a short text. "She had no parents or home." She was alone in the world -- she had no kindred to support and cheer her in life's toilsome journey, and no place of refuge to which she might retreat, when weary and faint with the tedious pilgrimage. She was alone; and none came forward to cheer her with their companionship -- she had no home, and saw no prospect of one. Life, before her, was a dreary waste, and her path more rugged than any other. It was uncheered. There was not the voice of sympathy to sustain her, nor the necessity of acting for others to arouse her energies. When her spirits drooped there were none to revive them -- then they sank still lower, and there was nothing to sustain them. Mere acquaintance seldom strive to remove the dark cloud which may rest upon another's brow. Perhaps they think it habitual, and that no other may remove it -- perhaps that, if it is not so, they have not the power to drive it away. They are so distrustful that they strive not to lighten that which they might possibly remove. Perhaps their own hearts are saddened, and they flee rather to the gay hearted, that they may be infected by their joyousness. They shrink from the sad one lest sympathy should reveal that which in their own hearts had better be concealed.

Mere acquaintance strove not to comfort her, and "she had no parents or home." O, how soothingly might a mother's voice have fallen upon her ear! -- her words, like healing balm, might have sunk into her heart, and her kind glance have been the charm to drive away the demon. But, she had no home. She rose at early dawn, and toiled till night. Day after day brought the same wearisome round of duties; and, as she looked forward, she saw no prospect of a brighter future. It would take long years to procure an independence by her slight savings, and mayhap, with her sinking energies, she hardly gained a maintenance. Her spirits were gone, but life remained; and vitality seemed fixed upon her as a curse. The physical laws of her nature had not been violated, and nature still resisted the spirit's call for death. Perhaps it was frenzy, perhaps despondency, but -- the rest is a short item in the common newspaper.

The other had friends and a home -- at least, we learn nothing to the contrary. She probably had a father, mother, sister, or brother.

"And there was a nearer one
Still, and a dearer one
Yet, than all other."

She, too, had toiled, daily and hourly, but not hopelessly. There was one near whose smile was her joy, and whose voice was her strength. She had turned from all others to devote herself more entirely to him. All other affections were absorbed in this. She was affianced to him, and, in anticipation of the time when they twain should become one, her soul had make his its stay. But, when Calumny had sent its blasting simoon over this fair prospect, how changed the scene! That which was so bright is, O how dark! How susceptible must have been that heart which the consciousness of innocence could not sustain! How keen must have been those sufferings which could only find relief in the sleep of the grave?


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