back to home
(Muir icon)1913

The Ploughboy

from The Story of My Boyhood and Youth
by John Muir   1913

Even when sick we were held to our tasks as long as we could stand. Once in harvest-time I had the mumps and was unable to swallow any food except milk, but this was not allowed to make any difference, while I staggered with weakness and sometimes fell headlong among the sheaves. Only once was I allowed to leave the harvest-field--when I was stricken down with pneumonia. I lay gasping for weeks, but the Scotch are hard to kill and I pulled through. No physician was called, for father was an enthusiast and always said and believed that God and hard work were by far the best doctors.

We were all made slaves through the vice of over-industry.... It often seemed to me that our fierce, over-industrious way of getting the grain from the ground was too closely connected with gravedigging. The staff of life, naturally beautiful, oftentimes suggested the grave-digger's spade. Men and boys, and in those days even women and girls, were cut down while cutting the wheat. The fat folk grew lean and the lean leaner, while the rosy cheeks brought from Scotland and other cool countries across the sea faded to yellow like the wheat. . . We were called in the morning at four o'clock and seldom got to bed before nine, making a broiling, seething day seventeen hours long loaded with heavy work, while I was only a small stunted boy; and a few years later my brothers David and Daniel and my older sisters had to endure about as much as I did. In the harvest dog-days and dog-nights and dog-mornings, when we arose from our clammy beds, our cotton shirts clung to our backs as wet with sweat as the bathing-suits of swimmers, and remained so all the long, sweltering days.

Muir, John. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1917. 177-179
From the UW Madison Memorial Library: Y M896 /1