“I served my apprenticeship in the country as a carpenter, but have been 49 years in London this July. I am now 79. I have worked all the 49 years in London, except six months. Of course I can’t work now as well as I could. I was obliged about five years ago to wear spectacles, as my eyesight wasn’t as good. I could do the rougher work of carpentering as well as some years before, but then I can’t lift heavy weights up aloft as I could. In most shops the moment a man puts the glasses on it’s over with him. It wasn’t so when I first knew London. Masters then said, ‘Let me have an old man, one who knows something.’ Now it’s, ‘Let me have a young man, I must have a strong fellow, an old one won’t do.’ One master discharged two men when he saw them at work in glasses, though the foreman told him they worked as well with them, and as well every way as ever they did, but it was all no use; they went. I used to wear glasses in one employ, and others did the same, and the foreman was a good man to the men as well as to the master; and if the master was coming, he used to sing out ‘Take those sashes out of the way,’ and so we had time to whip off our glasses, and the master didn’t know we were forced to use them; but when he did find it out, by coming into the shop unawares, he discharged two men. I now work at jobbing and repairing in buildings. It’s no use my going to ask for work of any master, for if I hadn’t my glasses on he’d see from my appearance I was old, and must wear them, and wouldn’t hear of giving an old man a job. One master said to me, ‘Pooh, you won’t do – you were born too soon.’ ”
– From letter LXI, July 18, 1850, quoted in Henry Mayhew’s “London Labor and the London Poor”
13 thoughts on “You Were Born Too Soon”
So, a visit to the eye doctor this week?
That would have doomed me having worn glasses since 11 and it should have been much earlier. I am quite short sighted and when one gets older one becomes long sighted, so my sight is actually getting better. I don’t need glasses for reading now. I think that if I live to 120 I will probably be able to discard them entirely.
I would have been gone a long time ago. To think now, the first thing I do when I get out of
the van is to put on my safety glasses. (They are prescription now, but no one has to know!)
They have saved my vision many times, and no one sees them as a sign of weakness, as they
did back then.
DeWalt sells safety glasses with bifocals of varying strengths. I find them helpful for outdoor work but use a full face shield over reading glasses when using power tools in the shop.
London Labour and the London Poor (subtitled “A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings of Those that will work, Those that cannot work, and Those that will not work”) is a fascinating read! Some 25 years ago or so, I bought a set of all four volumes in the 1967 facsimile edition published by Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., a London publishing house with what appears to have been at least some ideas in common with LAP, because the set I got was not a used one, but copies from the 1967 printing that they had simply kept in stock because it had not yet sold out. If my memory serves me, I bought it directly from the editors, too.
I’m 74 and have 15 of these LED strips on the gloss white ceiling of my 24 x 24 shop, plus adjustable LED floods above benches, table saw and band saw. Easy to install and link together. Highly recommended to all who work in 1/64″ increments and/or want to cast aside gloomy days.
I have a variety of bifocals safety glasses in different strength, depending on how much magnification I need. I couldn’t be without them.
Age discrimination is a thing, the struggle is real. It hurts to realize your skills are no longer valued in the marketplace, even when they are current and relevant. I realize the old eventually gives way to the new, as has been true throughout time. In the abstract, that’s fine — but when it happens to individuals, it can be devastatinig.
Oh, to be 30 again knowing what I know now.
At now 52, I agree with you. When I interview for jobs, I dye my hair. Otherwise it is about 90% grey. Of course, this is sillly, because just about everyone over 30 is dying their hair; well, at least those that have hair remaining.
Wasn’t this letter in the jointer and cabinet maker?
Yup. That’s why it’s in “The Joiner & Cabinet Maker” category of the blog….
I wasn’t born a minute too soon by my own tastes. In fact, I would have liked to be born a lot later, given the option. But not recently though. Nevertheless, here we all are together now, and there’s nothing can be done about it.
When I started out all the older guys wore glasses, so I fit right in. The one exception was a fellow who couldn’t read. I only found out when he handed me a note saying he forgot his glasses and asked me to read it, to knowing smiles from his coworkers.
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