‘The City of a Day’ by John Greenleaf Whittier (1843)

In 1843, the poet, newspaper editor, and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) published a collection of essays titled The Stranger in Lowell. For a time, he published a newspaper called The Middlesex Standard in Lowell. He was born in Haverhill and lived in both Amesbury and Haverhill. Following is an excerpt from one of the essays in the book, “The City of a Day.” The description of the bricks and shingles “stretching far and wide” makes me think of the construction buzz all over UMass Lowell.—PM


“This, then, is Lowell,—a city springing up, like the enchanted palaces of the Arabian tales, as it were in a single night, stretching far and wide its chaos of brick masonry and painted shingles, filling the angle of the confluence of the Concord and Merrimac with the sights and sounds of trade and industry. Marvellously here have art and labor wrought their modern miracles. I can scarcely realize the fact that a few years ago these rivers, now tamed and subdued to the purposes of man and charmed into slavish subjection to the wizard of mechanism, rolled unchecked toward the ocean the waters of Winnepiseogee and the rock-rimmed springs of the White Mountains, and rippled down their falls in the wild freedom of Nature. A stranger, in view of all this wonderful change, feels himself, as it were, thrust forward into a new century; he seems treading on the outer circle of the millennium of steam engines and cotton mills. Work here is the patron saint. Everything bears his image and superscription. Here is no place for that respectable class of citizens called gentlemen, and their much vilified brethren, familiarly known as loafers. Over the gateways of this new-world Manchester glares the inscription, ‘Work, Or Die!’ Here ‘Every worm beneath the moon/Draws different threads, and late or soon/Spins, toiling out is own cocoon.’ ” . . . .