William Wright (b.1846): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

William Wright (b.1846): Purpose and Audience

From the title of William Wright’s memoir, ‘From Chimney-Boy to Councillor’, we know his life is work-focused. There is also going to be a class shift, which can show how hard work pays off. Since it was published, by The Azania Press, we know William intended this to be read by the public. Overall, there is a sense of pride in William’s life and he is inviting us to explore it.

Writing Desk, 1520. Via Perhaps William used one similar as he wrote this memoir.

In his later life, William ensures that we know his religion is part of his story: ‘my dear readers who know my life will see that God has been with me; and I am still carrying on at the age of eighty-four’ (15). Perhaps his story is a way of showing how life can have positives, or it could mean that his life has made him so positive. Either way, his beliefs affect how he writes. So much so, that I believe William also tries to use his memoir as a means to confess: ‘I want to give you the truth of all my bad deeds as well as my good ones.’ (16). William does state bluntly ‘I want to’, already giving his memoir a purpose. It is in the phrase, ‘give you the truth of all my bad deeds’, where the language reflects that of a confession. Just like anyone’s life, William is showing us how his life also had negatives. 

His memoir is also a way for William to remember his life more in depth, ‘As I go through my life it reminds me of more than one incident that I had almost forgotten to mention’ (28). He now has his memories preserved in writing. William’s memories he has ‘almost forgotten to mention’ are now immortalised in text, and being brought to light more by this blog.

William wants his life to seem exciting: ‘I asked them to pull gently – and I give you my word that they did!’ (29). Just a simple exclamation mark shows how emotionally invested he is in this moment. The following sentence, ‘They pulled with all their strength’ (29), juxtaposes this, with the oxymoron between ‘gently’ and ‘all their strength’. It creates humour, it entertains, it helps the reader invest themselves into the story. William seems to be aware of this, going even further with the following sentence, ‘and down came poor William’ (29). Simply speaking in the third person continues this idea of having fun with his writing. Kylie Cardell and Kate Douglas claim that: ‘Life writing aims to make the productive relationship (and indeed tensions) between literature and creative writing more visible’ (205). We see how William has taken some creative liberties, but I would call it an attempt to make the ‘relationship between literature and creative writing more visible’ since it is rare he makes these writing choices.

An excerpt of the opening lines to ‘A Little Sweep Song’. © The British Library

In the next chapter, William provides us with the lyrics of a song, ‘A Little Sweep Song’. It is unclear whether or not this is William’s own song or one many chimney sweeps sung. Either way, William has provided us with these lyrics for a reason: ‘Till a kind-hearted damsel by chance heard him weep, And her heart bled with sorrow for that poor little sweep’ (31). Usually a song is for entertainment purposes, but ‘A Little Sweep Song’ tells of how debilitating being a sweep boy was. As my introduction post explores, William hated the conditions of being a sweep boy, making this song quite personal to him. By sharing this song, he is opening up to his readers.

He seems to think fondly of his audience: ‘Dear readers, this is where my troubles began’ (36). With saying ‘Dear’ and then approaching a serious topic, William conveys an intimate relationship between himself and his audience. This is a much different approach than showing pain through a song. Just like life, the tone of William’s writing goes up and down. At one point he has fun telling part of his story which should have been frightening: ‘Now here comes the time of my life!’ (48). Perhaps it is the relief of responding well to radium treatment, William seems to be enjoying his old age. According to the Office for National Statistics, men lived shorter lives than woman (see previous blog), at around forty years. He has come from a time where child mortality and the average lifespan was a more serious statistic. Like my Home and Family blog touches on, he has witnessed many loved ones die. At this point in his life, William must be grateful for every day he lives.

In his retrospective narrative, William quotes something which finishes with the lines ‘And live every day in a sensible way and then leave to God all the rest’ (54). This brings us back to the beginning, where William says God has always been with him. To end his memoir with a reference to God shows he kept his word and that he wants his reader to feel a similar connection like he did.


Wright, William. ‘From chimney-boy to councillor – The Story of my Life’. See John Burnett, David Vincent, David Mayall. The Autobiography of the working class; an annotated critical bibliography. Vol. 1 1790-1900. 1st Pub. 1984. Item: 777.


“How Has Life Expectancy Changed Over Time? – Office For National Statistics”. Ons.Gov.Uk, 2015, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/lifeexpectancies/articles/howhaslifeexpectancychangedovertime/2015-09-09. Accessed 8 Apr 2019.

Cardell, Kylie, and Douglas, Kate. “Why Literature Students Should Practise Life Writing.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, vol. 17, no. 2, 2018, pp. 204–221.

Images used from:

Writing Desk, 1520. Via:

Wright, William. ‘From chimney-boy to councillor – The Story of my Life’. See John Burnett, David Vincent, David Mayall. The Autobiography of the working class; an annotated critical bibliography. Vol. 1 1790-1900. 1st Pub. 1984. Item: 777. – ‘A Little Sweep Song’ page 31. Copyright held by The British Library.

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