To all intents and purposes, Ellen Johnston (aka ‘The factory girl’) was one such like as lamented by the aforementioned middle-class poet Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. From a young age, Johnston worked in the textile factories of Scotland and the North of England. Throughout her relatively brief life, as a consequence of the rigours of factory labour, together with intermittent periods of unemployment which brought acute material deprivation, Johnston suffered from ill-health. She wrote the following poem during one of her most severe bouts of sickness. She believes she is at death’s door, and laments her life cut short. In her autobiography, Johnston describes how she was seduced and fell in love with a close male friend whom she trusted, only to be subsequently deserted by him when she fell pregnant. With no means of financial or emotional support, Johnston’s already precarious existence was made even more difficult. This man is possibly the person to whom the poem is addressed.
(Further information on Ellen Johnston's autobiography can be found in Chapter 2 of my research project, 'Working-Class Women's Autobiography').
Farewell, my loved one, fare thee well for ever;
I come, my love, to sing thee my last lay;
King Death, ere long, life’s silver links will sever,
And leave me slumbering in the silent clay.
My heart is fraught with many a secret sorrow –
With many a care the world will never know;
I sleep to dream of joy, then comes the morrow,
With hope deferred, wrapped in wreaths of snow.
I cannot longer live to look upon thee;
Still doubting, I may not hope thy heart to gain;
In sad despair, my love, I hasten from thee –
We part; oh, Heaven! Have I thus loved in vain?
Once I loved thee only as a daughter-
Ah! Thou wert more than a father unto me;
But now, the boundless depths of Leth’s water
Can never quench my boundless love for thee.
To cut a long story short: