Martin Farquhar Tupper

(July 17, 1810 - November 1889 / London)

A Dozen Ballads About White Slavery. III. The Quill And The Counter


When, O when, shall the life of a Man
Be worth a Man's while to live?
When, to this old White-Slavery plan
Its death shall Liberty give?
For, Life was lent to each of us here
For more than a living to earn,
For duties to bless, and affections to cheer,
And plenty to teach, and to learn.

But how can yon pale copying clerk,
Screw'd down to a desk and a stool
Twelve hours per diem at quill-driving work,
Go ever to God's own school?
No rest, no leisure, no changes in life,
But one dull same routine,
The pounce and the parchment, the pen and the knife,
And - Man as a mere machine!

Then,- as to that faint feverish youth
So early and late in the shop,
Whose mileage of walk by the counter in truth
Has rendered him ready to drop,
Painfully smiling, and puffing his wares,
And tricking the customer well,
How sad is his life, and how badly he fares
Let too many thousands tell!

O tyrannous Fashion, these victims are thine,
O Vanity, thine are these souls,
O merciless Trade, at thy bidding they pine,
And misery over them rolls!
Grant them, ye chiefs with the will and the power
More leisure for knowledge of good,-
The boon of a sensible evening hour
For mental and heavenly food.

Ay, how many myriads with every day
Wake only to worry and pain,
Life's beauty and blessedness shredded away,
A mockery cruel and vain!
And all because Man, tyrannical Man,
Wills not that his brother be blest,
But fights against Nature's sabbatical plan
Of righteous and rational rest.

You may talk of the Slave, and the chain and the whip,
We have plenty of slavery here;
Steep'd in its bitterness up to the lip
They grind in a bondage severe!
O God! what a heaven this hard earth might be,
If men to each other were kind,
And bodily industry left a man free
To nourish his heart and his mind!

Submitted: Wednesday, September 22, 2010

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