Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  8 (1884), 67–82.


William H Rideing


Essay, Travelogue

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [15]


Pollution, Industry, Manufactories, Metallurgy, Imperialism, Artisans, Engineering, Engineers, Sociology, Public Health, Heroism, Wonder

    Describes the 'screen of torpid smoke' that 'seems to clot in the sultry air' above the ill-favoured industrial landscape of Sheffield and which constitutes the leading impression of the place formed by the 'uninformed traveller who glances through the town by railway without alighting' (67–68). Asserts, however, that the interest of the South Yorkshire city is 'invisible in the places to which a tourist usually looks for a city's attractions', and instead resides in 'the absolute excellence of its metallic manufactures, the knowledge of which is circulated everywhere by a medium less mutable than literature'. Indeed, the article 'question[s] if there is a savage so benighted who, however, ignorant he may be of its import, cannot see Sheffield deeply branded on his knife', and 'it is quite possible at this very moment, while the ink is drying on this manuscript, that with a Sheffield blade of one kind or another some fugitive Bannocks [a native American tribe] are hiding in the fastness of Montana, with a view to anatomic experiments upon the "whites"', and 'the readers of Harper's Magazine are cutting the leaves of the last number'. In fact, 'Scarcely any limitation can be set to the variety of purposes served by Sheffield manufactures'. (74) After noting that 'Sheffield has particular interest to the student of social science' because of the prevalence of 'destitution and immorality' (76), narrates a tour through the varied sites of Sheffield 'steel manufactures, electro-plating, and cutlery' production (77). Notes that the grinder in a Sheffield workshop 'suffers severely from a painful disease caused by the entrance of steel and stone dust into the lungs, and when fans were applied to create draughts that would suck the dust away, he objected to them because they would lengthen the average life of the trade, and lead to a surplus of labor!' (79). Concludes by observing that in a foundry, 'the labor assumes heroic proportions, which elevate it and fill an observer with the almost obsolete sense of amazement [...]. No wild vision of the supernatural, no Crystal Palace exhibition of pyrotechnics, no brilliant achievement of scenic art, could approach in weirdness, picturesqueness, and startling quality of effect the simple business of making Bessemer steel, which is a staple and everyday industry' (82).

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