A life of labour was undoubtedly the principle method of acquiring income for the working-class during the 19th century. Little had the money or intellect to pursue an education or any other ambitious lines of work especially in Britain’s villages due to the high demand for agricultural workers; however in rare cases there are those who manage to break free of this life and go on to greater things.
Originating from Tavistock, a small town within West Devon this restricted the line of work
Thomas’ family could pursue. Due to being uneducated, Thomas’ father operated his own farrier business (a smith who shoes horses) with ‘the ups and downs of fair prosperity and dire poverty.’ (3). His grandfather on the other hand, was in the ‘boot-and-shoe line of business’ (3) which I imagine to be a being a vender seeing as Tavistock is known for being a market-town.
Not much little information is given about the ins and outs of what a life of labour was like for these gentleman as Thomas chooses to focus on the account of his own life. Thomas did not pursue a life of manual labour like his father and grandfather, instead he continued his studies into later life when he was appointed ’Master of Method’ in 1890, which he considered to be ‘the real beginning of my professional career’ (14) when he began to study to an M.A in philosophy.
Thomas makes himself stand out from the vast amount of memoirs available by establishing himself as a man of study. He seems to take great pride in devo0ting a large proportion of his account to describing his academic career, he has ‘self-consciously distinguished (himself) in order to establish subjects’ (340). Thomas – much like many writers – is ‘more concerned with their image and status as atoms of the masses.’ (340). Considering Thomas believes that his life is of ‘little importance.’ (1). I believe that this is how Thomas wishes to set himself apart from other writers due to his intellect.
After becoming a Professor in Cardiff, Thomas expresses a desire to travel to London as he believed ‘my children would have a wider outlook in life if they were brought up in London instead of a provincial city’ (16) an opinion shared by his wife. Thomas’ ‘labour’ in life comes from his journeying between cities to further his career including a visit to America in later life as he was asked to lecture as part of a summer course in Greeley, Colorado after a short trip through Canada and various places in America. At no point does Thomas express any negative thoughts about his career, he is provided with opportunities that most working-class men could only dream of who are restricted to a repetitive lifestyle of poverty and hard work.
Thomas’ life is unique. He overcomes his working-class roots and manages to establish himself in the educational work. If he did not manage to achieve this, he would have been forced to continue the career of his father and his memoir would have had a different story.
Thomas Raymont. Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949. Found at The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, at Brunel University.