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  The File Hewer's Lamentation from The Songs of Joseph Mather, (Sheffield, 1862). 1 of 2  


Ordained I was a beggar,
And have no cause to swagger;
It pierces like a dagger
   To think I'm thus forlorn.
My trade or occupation
Was ground for lamentation,
Which makes me curse my station,
   And wish I'd ne'er been born.

Of slaving I am weary,
From June to January!
To nature it's contrary -
   This, I presume, is fact.
Although, without a stammer,
Our Nell exclaims I clam her,
I wield my six-pound hammer
   "Till I am grown round-back'd.

I'm debtor to a many,
But cannot pay one penny;
Sure I've worse luck than any;
   My traps are marked for sale.
My creditors may sue me,
The bailiffs may pursue me.
   And lock me up in jail.

As negroes in Virginia,
In Maryland or Guinea,
Like them I must continue -
   To be both bought and sold.
While negro ships are filling
I ne'er can save one shilling,
And must, which is more killing,
   A pauper die when old.

My troubles never ceased,
While Nell's bairn time increased;
While hundreds I've rehearsed,
   Ten thousand more remain;
My income for me, Nelly,
Bob, Tom, Poll, Bet, and Sally,
Could hardly fill each belly,
   Should we eat salt and grains.

At every week's conclusion
New wants bring fresh confusion,
It is but mere delusion
   To hope for better days,
While knaves with power invested,
Until by death arrested.
Oppress us unmolested
   By their infernal ways.

A hanging day is wanted;
Was it by justice granted,
Poor men distress'd and daunted
   Would then have cause to sing -
To see in active motion
Rich knaves in full proportion,
For their unjust extortion
   And vile offences swing.

__________  * __________

(Note: Before 19th century Sheffield file cutter were called File Hewer.)

__________  * __________

Memoir of Joseph Mather

Little is known of Joseph Mather's parentage or of his early history. If his obituary notice be correct he was born in 1737. As no one can be held responsible either for the time or place of his birth, it was no fault of our author that he was ushered into this world in a locality that enjoyed the odoriferous name of "Cack Alley;" my informant however, says that, "vulgar people called it by a more expressive adjective."

This delightful region was a "jennel" which led from Lambert-street to Westbar Green. Its name very probably accurately described its sanitary condition. In early life Joe was apprenticed to the file trade, and he has sung about his profession in the "File Hewer's Lamentation."

The general opinion about him is that, in early life, he belonged to the Methodists, and among that people he acquired the knowledge of the Bible which he frequently quotes; in fact it is nearly the only book he refers to in the whole of his songs. Even some of his coarsest pieces end with a moral drawn from the sacred writings. In appearance he was low in stature, but his breadth fully compensated for any deficiency in height.

His countenance was remarkable for gravity, and this gave effect to his rebukes. On one occasion, when he was singing "Frank Fearn," a well-dressed bystander rather hypercritically took him to task for using the word "pate," declaring it to be a vulgarism only used by the illiterate. Mather quickly silenced this learned philologer, by declaring that if he would read the 16th verse of the 7th Psalm, he would find these words: "His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealings shall come down upon his own pate." Some person produced a Bible and verified Mather's words, which utterly discomfited the critic.

It is not unlikely that the artisans as a whole worked less regularly in Mather's days than at present. He was employed by Mr. Nicholas Jackson, of Shemeld-croft; and it was not unusual for the grinders who worked at the Park Wheel, to persuade Mather to leave his employment and go to the public-houses frequented by employers of labour, or other persons deemed obnoxious, and in their presence to sing his satirical productions.


 
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