In listening to tales of the youth of our mothers and grandmothers, we are often reminded how much easier has been our lot. We did not have to shear barefooted; we were not asked to rise at five in the morning to feed the mill; and so on.
Well! As we can live only one life, we shall never be able to determine whether some other mode of life would have been easier or harder. But it is certain that, although labour changes its character with each succeeding generation, it does not cease.
We were not brought home from school in haytime and harvest. Instead, we were expected to work for a succession of exams, sitting up till midnight with books instead of rising at five o’clock in the morning to the cheerful companionship of the fields. Who is to say which is the harder?
I grant that our early childhood was easier. Our grandparents had not modern notions on the subject of child labour. Then, as regards spinning. Many a time has the picture been painted for me. Grandmother with the “lasses” busy every night with their wheels.
As a picture of hard labour, it does not impress me at all — quite the contrary. She was spared much. She never had to get up a stall for a bazaar. When you are doing one thing, you cannot be doing another, and I never heard that spinning, either with the wee wheel or the muckle wheel, brought on nervous exhaustion.
That is how it is with all appliances and contrivances for lessening labour. They set free our hands for other kinds of work. I have no doubt that the inventor of the sewing machine imagined he was conferring a boon on toiling needlewomen. But the most obvious result is that we have more clothes; they are more elaborately made, and we change them oftener.
It is true that a machine does the work more quickly, but it is harder labour than with the needle and thimble. The labour saving machinery that has been adopted on the farm steading in my day has eased the servants and added to our own responsibility.
Let me particularise. The separator dispenses with the setting of milk and the skimming night and morning; but whereas one could, with occasional surveyance, leave the milk basins in charge of a maid, we have always felt that one of ourselves should assist with the washing of the separator at one end of the day, at least to make sure that every part is thoroughly cleansed. It is easier for her than scalding heavy milk pans, but it is additional labour for us.
Again, mechanical power relieves the servants of the toilsome task of driving the separator, churn, etc. But an engine is an extra charge on the time, labour, and brains of the master, and sometimes of others of the family. I shall never forget the first two or three months of our experience with a large oil engine. Many of my leisure hours were spent in the engine room as I was anxious to be able to take charge when necessary and to know how to put things right when they went wrong — As they too frequently do with new things.
It is much the same with the milking machine. It relieves the milkers of all hard labour, but it is no trifling straw when added to the load which the master or mistress or both, have already to bear with all these “labour-saving appliances.” I do not know so well how the comparison may stand with men, but nobody could convince me that our spinning grandmothers had not a much easier life than we have to-day if we do our duty.