The Working Chap

Posted on Friday, November 02, 2012, under , , ,

I'm a working chap as you may see,
You'll find an honest lad in me;
I'm neither haught, mean nor proud,
Nor ever tak's the thing too rude.
I never gang abune my means,
Nor seek assistance frae my frien's,
But day and nicht thro' thick and thin,
I'm workin' life oot to keep life in.

Nae matter, frien's, whate'er befa'
The puir folks they maun work ava,
Thro' frost and snaw and rain and wind,
They're workin' life oot to keep life in.

The puir needle-woman that we saw,
In reality, and on the wa',
A picture sorrowful to see,
I'm sure wi' me you'll a' agree;
Her pay's scarce able to feed a mouse,
Far less to keep hersel' and house,
She's naked, hungry, pale and thin,
Workin' life oot to keep life in.

Don't ca' a man a drunken sot
Because he wears a ragged coat;
It's better far, mind, don't forget,
To rin in rags than rin in debt.
He may look seedy, very true,
But still his creditors are few;
And he toddles on devoid of sin,
Workin' life oot to keep life in.

But maybe, frien's, I've stayed ower lang,
But I hope I hae said naething wrang;
I only merely want to show
The way the puir folk hae to go.
Just look at a man wi' a housefu' o' bairns,
To rear them up it tak's a' he earns,
Wi' a willin' heart and a coat gey thin,
He's workin' life oot to keep life in.

It is only rarely that the bothy songs essay a direct sociological comment and when the attempt is made, the result is not usually a happy one. The Working Chap is reminiscent of the style found in the writings of the 'fustian philosophers' who helped to pioneer the British socialist movement, "The puir needle-woman on the wa' . . .'' mentioned in the second verse, is a reference to the once ubiquitous daguerretype inspired by Thomas Hood's 'The Song of the Shirt’.

“By far the most popular of all the examples of social themes in Victorian painting was the seamstress. Fostered by articles in newspapers and in periodicals, encouraged by attention in parliamentary reports, it received its greatest impetus from a literary source. In December 1843, Thomas Hood’s The Song of the Shirt was published …in…Punch. Overnight both the poem and the magazine became a sensation. Its publication is said to have trebled the circulation of the magazine…Quoted by nearly every paper (beginning with The Times), printed as catchpennies, set to music, dramatized by Mark Lemon (the editor of Punch), even printed on handkerchiefs, The Song of the Shirt soon echoed from the ranks of every social class. Hood’s lines became an enduring symbol for the Victorian populace generally and for reformers, painters, and illustrators specifically….

  “On 27 October 1843, The Times noted: Sometimes as many as five or six young girls occupy one small room in which they work and sleep and take their meals in common, plying their needles from morn to night…The wretched shirtmakers… cannot obtain a subsistence by the starving wages allowed them.’ Thus, Redgrave and those following his example made a conscious artistic choice to use the single figure. By ignoring some of the harsh actualities of the seamstress’s existence and by focusing attention on one protagonist, these artists created a stronger empathy in their audience…”

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