Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Woman's Work Is Never Done - Surviving in Poverty - Paris Silkweaver


"No, madame, there is no more any old Paris. The Paris that I remember is gone, all gone, save here and there a corner that soon they will pull down as all the rest. All changes, manners no less than these streets that I know not in their new dress, and where I go seeking a trace of what is past. It is only in the churches that one feels that all is the same, and even with them one wonders why, if it is the same, fewer and fewer come, and that men smile often at those that enter the doors, and would close them to us who still must pray in the old places. Is there that consolation for the worker in America, madame? Can she forget her sorrow and want at a shrine that is holy, and feel the light resting on her, full of the glory of the painted windows and the color that is joy and rest? Because, if there had not been the church, my St. Etienne du Mont, that I know from a child, if there had not been that, I must have died. And so I have wondered if your country had this gift also for the worker, and, if it has not bread enough, has at least something that feeds the soul. Is it so, madame?"

Poor old Rose, once weaver in silk and with cheeks like her name, looking at me now with her sad eyes, blue and clear still in spite of her almost seventy years, and full of the patience born of long struggle and acceptance! St. Etienne had drawn me as it had drawn her, and it was in the apse, the light streaming from the ancient windows, each one a marvel of color whose secret no man to-day has penetrated, that I saw first the patient face and the clasped hands of this suppliant, who prayed there undisturbed by any thought of watching eyes, and who rose presently and went slowly down the aisles, with a face that might have taken its place beside the pictured saints to whom she had knelt. Her sabots clicked against the pavement worn by many generations of feet, and her old fingers still moved mechanically, telling the beads which she had slipped out of sight.

"You love the little church," I said; and she answered instantly, with a smile that illumined the old face, "Indeed, yes; and why not? It is home and all that is good, and it is so beautiful, madame. There is none like it. I go to the others sometimes, above all to Nôtre Dame, which also is venerable and dear, and where one may worship well. But always I return here; for the great church seems to carry my prayers away, and they are half lost in such bigness, and it is not so bright and so joyous as this. For here the color lifts the heart, and I seem to rise in my soul also, and I know every pillar and ornament, for my eyes study often when my lips pray; but it is all one worship, madame, else I should shut them close. But the good God and the saints know well that I am always praying, and that it is my St. Etienne that helps, and that is so beautiful I must pray when I see it."

This was the beginning of knowing Rose, and in good time her whole story was told,--a very simple one, but a record that stands for many like it. There was neither discontent nor repining. Born among workers, she had filled her place, content to fill it, and only wondering as years went on why there were not better days, and, if they were to mend for others, whether she had part in it or not. Far up under the roof of an old house, clung to because it was old, Rose climbed, well satisfied after the minutes in the little church in which she laid down the burden that long ago had become too heavy for her, and which, if it returned at all, could always be dropped again at the shrine which had heard her first prayer.

"It is Paris that I know best," she said, "and that I love always, but I am not born in it, nor none of mine. It is my father that desired much that we should gain more, and who is come here when I am so little that I can be carried on the back. He is a weaver, madame, a weaver of silk, and my mother knows silk also from the beginning. Why not, when it is to her mother who also has known it, and she winds cocoons, too, when she is little? I have played with them for the first plaything, and indeed the only one, madame, since, when I learn what they are and how one must use them, I have knowledge enough to hold the threads, and so begin. It was work, yes, but not the work of to-day. We worked together. If my father brought us here, it was that all things might be better; for he loved us well. He sang as he wove, and we sang with him. If hands were tired, he said always: 'Think how you are earning for us all, and for the dot that some day you shall have when your blue eyes are older, and some one comes who will see that they are wise eyes that, if they laugh, know also all the ways that these threads must go.' That pleased me, for I was learning, too, and together we earned well, and had our pot au feu and good wine and no lack of bread.

"That was the hand-loom, and when at last is come another that goes with steam, the weavers have revolted and sworn to destroy them all, since one could do the work of many. I hear it all, and listen, and think how it is that a man's mind can think a thing that takes bread from other men. I am sixteen, then, and skilful and with good wages for every day, and it is then that Armand is come,--Armand, who was weaver, too, but who had been soldier with the great Emperor, and seen the girls of all countries. But he cared for none of them till he saw me, for his thought was always on his work; and he, too, planned machines, and fretted that he had not education enough to make them with drawings and figures so that the masters would understand. When machines have come he has fretted more; for one at least had been clear in his own thought, and now he cannot have it as he will, since another's thought has been before him. He told me all this, believing I could understand; and so I could, madame, since love made me wise enough to see what he might mean, and if I had not words, at least I had ears, and always I have used them well. We are still one family when the time comes that I marry, and my father has good wages in spite of machines, and all are reconciled to them, save my brother. But the owners build factories. It is no longer at home that one can work; and in these the children go, yes, even little ones, and hours are longer, and there is no song to cheer them, and no mother who can speak sometimes or tell a tale as they wind, and all is different. And so my mother says always: 'It is not good for France that the loom is taken out of the houses;' and if she makes more money because of more silk, she loses things that are more precious than money, and it is all bad that it must be so. My father shakes his head. There are wages for every child; and he sees this, and does not so well see that they earned also at home, and had some things that the factory stops, for always.

"For me, I am weaver of ribbons, and I love them well, all the bright, beautiful colors. I look at the windows of my St. Etienne and feel the color like a song in my heart, and while I weave I see them always, and could even think that I spin them from my own mind.

"That is a fancy that has rest when the days are long, and the sound of the mill in my ears, and the beat of the machines, that I feel sometimes are cruel, for one can never stop, but must go on always. I think in myself, as I see the children, that I shall never let mine stand with them, and indeed there is no need, since we are all earning, and there is money saved, and this is all true for long. The children are come. Three boys are mine; two with Armand's eyes, and one with mine, whom Armand loves best because of this, but seeks well to make no difference, and we call him Etienne for my saint and my church. And, madame, I think often that more heaven is in him than we often know, and perhaps because I have prayed always under the window where the lights are all at last one glory, and the color itself is a prayer, Etienne is so born that he must have it, too. I take him there a baby, and he stretches his hands and smiles. He does not shout like the others, but his smile seems from heaven. He is an artist. He draws always with a bit of charcoal, with anything, and I think that he shall study, and, it may be, make other beautiful things that may live in a new St. Etienne, or in some other place in this Paris that I love; and I am happy.

"Then comes the time, madame, that one remembers and prays to forget, till one knows that it may be the good God's way of telling us how wrong we are and what we must learn. First it is Armand, who has become revolutionary,--what you call to-day communist,--and who is found in what are called plots, and tried and imprisoned. It was not for long. He would have come to me again, but the fever comes and kills many; he dies and I cannot be with him,--no, nor even see him when they take him to burial. I go in a dream. I will not believe it; and then my father is hurt. He is caught in one of those machines that my mother so hates, and his hand is gone and his arm crushed.

"Now the children must earn. There is no other way. For Armand and Pierre I could bear it, since they are stronger, but for Etienne, no. He comes from school that he loves, and must take his place behind the loom. He is patient; he says, even, he is glad to earn for us all; but he is pale, and the light in his eyes grows dim, save when, night and morning, he kneels with me under my window and feels it as I do.

"Then evil days are here, and always more and more evil. Month by month wages are less and food is more. My mother is dead, too, and my father quite helpless, and my brother that has never been quite as others, and so cannot earn. We work always. My boys know well all that must be known, but at seventeen Armand is tall and strong as a man, and he is taken for soldier, and he, too, never comes to us again. I work more and more, and if I earn two francs for the day am glad, but now Etienne is sick and I see well that he cannot escape. 'It is the country he needs,' says the doctor. 'He must be taken to the country if he is to live;' but these are words. I pray,--I pray always that succor may come, but it comes not, nor can I even be with him in his pain, since I must work always. And so it is, madame, that one day when I return, my father lies on his bed weeping, and the priest is there and looks with pity upon me, and my Etienne lies there still, and the smile that was his only is on his face.

"That is all, madame. My life has ended there. But it goes on for others still and can. My father has lived till I too am almost old. My brother lives yet, and my boy, Pierre, who was shot at Balaklava, he has two children and his wife, who is couturière, and I must aid them. I remain weaver, and I earn always the same. Wages stay as in the beginning, but all else is more and more. One may live, but that is all. Many days we have only bread; sometimes not enough even of that. But the end comes. I have always my St. Etienne, and often under the window I see my Etienne's smile, and know well the good God has cared for him, and I need no more. I could wish only that the children might be saved, but I cannot tell. France needs them; but I think well she needs them more as souls than as hands that earn wages, though truly I am old and it may be that I do not know what is best. Tell me, madame, must the children also work always with you, or do you care for other things than work, and is there time for one to live and grow as a plant in the sunshine? That is what I wish for the children; but Paris knows no such life, nor can it, since we must live, and so I must wait, and that is all."
Prisoners of Poverty
Helen Campbell, 1889
MyLadyWeb’s primary goal is improving the financial condition of women (including myself) and men by providing such free and low cost tools as reliable domains and hosting, self-installing websites, turnkey websites, brandable ebooks, SEO tools, PLR and unique articles and so on and so on and so on…. So why in the world would I post women’s history on a blog dedicated to helping people build and maintain a low-cost business online? Well, because I have a graduate degree in history and I love history in all it’s forms–especially women’s history. A graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA in History so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. However, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of A Very Merry Chase

It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

No comments:

Post a Comment