Throughout the nineteenth century, industry and consumerism became a growing factor for Great Britain. From being a poor and tired nation, Great Britain become a striving economic stronghold with multiple colonies longing for financial support. Britain also became the superpower of trade and economy throughout the world and Victorian Era. The development of new technology such as steamed powered engines and new transportation routes such as railway roads, Great Britain was years ahead of other nation’s technological advances. New industries came more jobs for people, including for children as young as four. Children are working the jobs that adults could not do, such as crawling under machines to retrieve fallen cotton, which often resulted in children losing a limb or even their life. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The cry for children” emphasises the miserable feelings children had while working for factories and how trapped they felt working there. Likewise, John Davidson discusses how factory owners enjoy the easier life through the worldwide market in his poem, “The Crystal Palace”. Having said that, this essay will intend to critically evaluate the pleasure of consumerism in Davidson’s “The Crystal Palace” and Browning’s sentimental poetry about child labour during the Victorian era in each poem.
Browning was criticised for being too sentimental when having written the poem “The Cry of the Children” because, ‘modern critical opinion has routinely dismissed it too religious, sentimental or socially conscious to be considered aesthetically worthwhile’ (Henry, 535). From the beginning the poem, it shows a normalised and iconoclastic idea of the power of child labour because children did not have access to adequate education at the time. The first verse of poem states this lack of freedom that the children have during this era, since all their time is spent working; Barrett compares the children to animals that are ‘bleating in the meadows’ (Line, 4) or ‘young birds are chirping in the nest'(line 5). These animals get to spend all their time doing what they were intended to do, unlike the poor children who were unable to play in the meadows. Instead they had to work for twelve-hour shifts for only twenty percent of an adult’s wage in either a coal mine or a factory. Hence, the prominent theme of child labour in the poem and showing the sentimental nature that Browning felt for children during this era. Furthermore, Browning writes about how children would rather die than live the life that they are living. In one case, the children are talking about how Alice died and how lucky that Alice is to have died. Moreover, Alice ‘never cries’ (Barrett, 46) because she is in the grave and all the children are not weeping but are overjoyed for their dear friend Alice because they know that she doesn’t have to work another day and that she can finally have peace lying in her grave, ‘It is good when it happens,” say the children, “That we die before our time!”‘ (Barrett, 47-48). Arguably, this shows that Browning did feel sentimental during the Victorian Era, thus writing about the power of child labour enforces her sentimental values.
In contrast to Browning, Davidson writes about the pleasure behind consumerism during the Victorian era in his poem “The Crystal Palace”; Davidson was critiqued as an outstanding poet because, “what Davidson, alone of Scottish poets, did was to enlarge the subject-matter of poetry, assimilate and utilize a great deal of new scientific and contemporary material” (Hynd, 497).For the duration of the poem, Davidson considers the idea of consuming and eating to portray an almost realistic modern-age view of consumerism. The people who love to eat and digest in this consumerism lifestyle also enjoy the world’s physical and cultural aspect of the consumerist time, “” Grilled soles?” for us: Kidneys to follow. Now, your sole, sir; eat it with profound respect. A little salt with one side; scarce a pinch! The other side with lemon; tender! Don’t crush the starred bisection; count the drops!” (Davidson, 190-195). As well as this, the poem also suggests that they were feeding to the culinary delights consumed by the worldwide market. Thusly, affirming the various points of views that bored consumers had and how the pleasure of consumerism has overwhelmed them by simply eating and digesting the pleasure of captivating experiences which in turn became the sole purpose of a consumerist’s life.
After analysing both “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and “The Crystal Palace” by John Davidson, it is evident that Browning’s sentimental poem has an interesting yet thought-provoking concept for the theme of Child labour during the Victorian Era. As well as that, Davidson argued fascinating points of view from the consumerist’s position in the Victorian Era. This essay attempted to critically evaluate the sentimental values of Child Labour and consumerism throughout the Victorian Era. Therefore, both theme gives prime examples of life during the Victorian Era, it is both poets that shed light on the horrible events that took place throughout the Victorian Era that provides readers nowadays of life during the nineteenth century.