The Song of the Shirt

Thomas Hood is perhaps chiefly remembered for his humorous poetry including Miss Kilmansegg, which appeared in the New Monthly Magazine. He also wrote a number of serious poems one of which is the popular 'Song of the Shirt' that he published anonymously in the Christmas issue of Punch in 1843.
Inspired by an incident which had newly drawn public attention to the condition of some workers in London. A woman with a starving infant at the breast `was charged at the Lambeth Police-court with pawning her master's goods, for which she had to give two pounds security. Her husband had died by an accident, and left her with two children to support, and she obtained by her needle for the maintenance of herself and family what her master called the good living of seven shillings a week. (Jerrold).
It was a powerful attack on worker exploitation and was immediately reprinted in the London Times and other newspapers across Europe. It was dramatized by Mark Lemon as The Sempstress, highly praised by many of the literary establishment, including Charles Dickens it was printed on broad sheets and cotton handkerchiefs.

An English poet of the Romantic Era and early Victorian age it was common in his day for women and children to work 14-hour days for starvation wages. Sad to say that today it's still common for women and children to work 14-hour days for starvation wages even though more that two hundred years have passed. Only the location of the exploitation has changed.

During the 19th century an large part of the European and particularly English people rose to the middle class marking a clear contrast against those left behind at the bottom of the economic ladder. One of the results of this was that sweatshops were viewed as became the target of social reform movements . With an increasing number of people rising to the middle class, the contrast presented by those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder became unbearable to many. The Song of the Shirt became an of the impetus of popular opinion and frequently used to support the liberalized labor laws in England. Today it has become a literal translation making it applicable in Guatemala, Thailand and West Africa .



Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

RPO -- Thomas Hood : The Song of the Shirt:

Cst Approved.

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