I was suddenly diverted from my contemplation of this magnificent scenery, by a fall of heavy rain drops, as the prelude of an impending shower. Seeing a gate open, and hearing a familiar clicking behind the hedge, I stepped through into a little blacksmith’s shop, about as large an American smoke-house for curing bacon. The first object that my eyes rested on, was a full-grown man nine years of age, and nearly three feet high, perched upon a stone of half that height, to raise his breast to the level of his father’s anvil, at which he was at work, with all the vigor of his little short arms, making nails. I say, a full-grown man; for I fear he can never grow any larger, physically or mentally. As I put my hand on his shoulders in a familiar way, to make myself at home with him, and to remove the timidity with which my sudden appearance seemed to inspire him, by a pleasant word or two of greeting, his flesh felt case-hardened into all the induration of toiling manhood, and as unsusceptible of growth as the anvil block. Fixed manhood had set in upon him in the greenness of his youth; and there he was, by his father’s side, a stinted, premature man with his childhood cut off; with no space to grow in between the cradle and the anvil-block; chased, as soon as he could stand on his little legs, from the hearth-stone to the forge-stone, by iron necessity, that would not let him stop long enough to pick up a letter of the English alphabet on the way. O, Lord John Russell! think of this. Of this Englishman’s son, placed by his mother, scarcely weaned, on a high, cold stone, barefooted, before the anvil; there to harden, sear, and blister his young hands by heating and hammering ragged nailrods, for the sustenance those breasts can no longer supply! Lord John! look at those nails, as they lie hissing on the block. Know you their meaning, use and language? Please your lordship, let me tell you—I have made nails many a day and many a night—they are iron exclamation points, which this unlettered, dwarfed boy is unconsciously arraying against you, against the British government, and the government of British literature, for cutting him off without a letter of the English alphabet, when printing is done by steam; for incarcerating him for no sin on his parents’ side, but poverty, in a dark, six-by-eight prison of hard labor, a youthless being—think of it!—an infant hardened, almost in its mother’s arms, into a man, by toil that bows the sturdiest of the world’s laborers who come to manhood through the intervening years of childhood!
The boy’s father was at work with his back toward me, when I entered. At my first word of salutation to the lad, he turned around and accosted me a little bashfully, as if unaccustomed to the sight of strangers in that place, or reluctant to let them into the scene and secret of his poverty. I sat down upon one end of his nail-bench, and told him I was an American blacksmith by trade, and that I had come in to see