Rhyme and Reform

Victorian Working-Class Poets Elizabeth Barrett Brownings "The Cry of the Children"

II: ”Who is God that He should hear us?”

While the Industrial Revolution meant that England underwent a great deal of innovation, ranging from agriculture to a boom in manufacturing, industrialization also had an insidious effect: the rise of child labor.

Until 1842, it was legal and widely accepted for children as young as 5 to work in coal mines, with virtually no regulations. This troubling and disturbing issue is at the center of The Cry of the Children by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB), which fiercely criticized England’s deplorable working conditions and the false piousness perpetuated by the Church.

Notice the references to the flawed theology of the time in the following excerpt:

”…up in Heaven,
Dark, wheel-like, turning clouds are all we find !
Do not mock us ; grief has made us unbelieving —
We look up for God, but tears have made us blind.”
Do ye hear the children weeping and disproving,
O my brothers, what ye preach ?
For God’s possible is taught by His world’s loving —
And the children doubt of each.

Although EBB was a devout Christian throughout her life, with religious tones permeating much of her work, she was also unapologetic in calling out the Church’s hypocrisy in remaining inactive against the heinous customs of child labor. She expressed a related sentiment in an 1847 letter to her sister, Henrietta Moulton-Barrett, in which she asserted that all churches are made up “of men” who are vulnerable to “error (scans are displayed below; you can access the full text by clicking here). The Cry of the Children established EBB as a champion for the disenfranchised, a role she pursued throughout her career.

Letter scans courtesy of The Camellia Collections, Linton Park, Kent, England

Although The Cry of the Children was published almost two centuries ago, child labor and other forms of modern slavery continue to exist in many parts of the world.

While EBB used her platform as a writer to make strides towards restoring the rights of the oppressed, we can make equally important efforts in simple, every day ways, as well.

Click this link for ways in which you can help end exploitative labor.


Post created by Ilse Vielma


erik_swanson • July 8, 2018

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