The primary historical context for interpretations of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Cry of the Children” (1843) has long been the 1842–43 Children’s Employment Commission reports. Examining the poem in light of Barrett Browning’s prior attempt to address working-class suffering in “O pardon dear lady” (1842) offers new evidence for her engagement with the reports. It also, however, underscores the effects of the anti-Corn Law movement and of what Barrett Browning termed “agricultural-evil” on her “factory-evil” poem. An unfinished ballad in the voice of a starving rural child, “O pardon” exhibits multiple features connecting it to Ebenezer Elliott’s Corn Law Rhymes (1830–31), some of which appear also in “The Cry of the Children.” The first part of this essay considers literary engagement with the anti-Corn Law movement initiated by Elliott, his connections with Barrett Browning, and her intensifying interest in anti-Corn Law politics and in Chartism in 1842. The second part analyzes images, echoes, and rhetorical strategies connecting “O pardon” to “The Cry of the Children” and both to Corn Law Rhymes. It also explores similarities between the poems and witness narratives as these are conceptualized in contemporary life-writing and human rights studies.


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pp. 616-643
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