xml/lby.00010.xml Icons of Liberty: Mary Barton

Elizabeth Gaskell , Mary Barton from Chapter XVII (1848)

Transcribed from pages 168-169 of the 1897 Bliss Sands edition of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton. Originally published in 1848.



  • "Mournful is't to say Farewell,
  • Though for few breif hours we part;
  • In that absence, who can tell
  • What may come to wring the heart!"


At that instant who should come in but Job Legh. It was not often he came, but when he did pay visits, Mary knew from past experience they were anything but short. Her father's countenance fell back into the deep gloom from which it was but just emerging at the sound of Mary's sweet voice, and pretty pleading. He became again restless and fidgety, scarcely giving Job Legh the greeting necessary for a host in his own house. Job, however, did not stand upon ceremony. He had come to pay a visit, and was not to be daunted from his purpose. He was interested in John Barton's mission to Glasgow, and wanted to hear all about it; so he sat down, and made himself comfortable, in a manner that Mary saw was meant to be stationary.

"Oh! very soon. I'm just getting him a bit of supper. Is Margaret very well?"

"Yes, she's well enough. She's meaning to go and keep Alice Wilson company for an hour or so this evening; as soon as she thinks her nephew will have started for Liverpool; for she fancies the old woman will feel a bit lonesome. Th' Union is paying for your father, I suppose?"

"Yes, they've giv'n him a sovereign. You're one of th' Union, Job?"

"Aye! I'm one, sure enough; but I'm but a sleeping partner in the concern. I were obliged to become a member for peace, else I don't go along with 'em. Yo see they think themselves wise, and me silly, for differing with them! Well! there's no harm in that. But then they won't let me be silly in peace and quietness, but will force me to be as wise as they are; now that's not British liberty, I say. I'm forced to be wise according to their notions, else they persecute me, and starve me out."

"You see my folly in this, Mary. I would take what I could get; I think half a loaf is better than no bread. I would work for low wages rather than sit idle and starve. But, comes the Trades' Union, and says, 'Well, if you take the half-loaf; we'll worry you out of your life. Will you be clemmed, or will you be worried?' Now clemming is a quiet death, and worrying isn't, so I choose clemming, and come into th' Union. But I'd wish they'd leave me free, if I am a fool."

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