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´╗┐Title: London's Underworld
Author: Holmes, Thomas, 1846-1918
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "London's Underworld" ***

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by Thomas Holmes

(Secretary of the Howard Association)



I am hopeful that some of the experiences given in the following
chapters may throw a little light upon some curious but very serious
social problems. Corporate humanity always has had, and always will
have, serious problems to consider.

The more civilised we become the more complex and serious will be our
problems--unless sensible and merciful yet thorough methods are adopted
for dealing with the evils. I think that my pages will show that the
methods now in use for coping with some of our great evils do not
lessen, but considerably increase the evils they seek to cure.

With great diffidence I venture to point out what I conceive to be
reasons for failure, and also to offer some suggestions that, if
adopted, will, I believe, greatly minimise, if not remove, certain

I make no claim to prophetic wisdom; I know no royal road to social
salvation, nor of any specific to cure all human sorrow and smart.

But I have had a lengthened and unique experience. I have closely
observed, and I have deeply pondered. I have seen, therefore I ask that
the experiences narrated, the statements made, and the views expressed
in this book may receive earnest consideration, not only from those who
have the temerity to read it, but serious consideration also from our
Statesmen and local authorities, from our Churches and philanthropists,
from our men of business and from men of the world.

For truly we are all deeply concerned in the various matters which are
dealt with in "London's Underworld."

                                                 THOMAS HOLMES.
12, Bedford Road,

Tottenham, N.






The odds and ends of humanity, so plentiful in London's great city,
have for many years largely constituted my circle of friends and

They are strange people, for each of them is, or was, possessed of some
dominating vice, passion, whim or weakness which made him incapable of
fulfilling the ordinary duties of respectable citizenship.

They had all descended from the Upper World, to live out strange lives,
or die early deaths in the mysterious but all pervading world below the

Some of them I saw, as it were, for a moment only; suddenly out of the
darkness they burst upon me; suddenly the darkness again received them
out of my sight.

But our acquaintance was of sufficient duration to allow me to acquire
some knowledge, and to gain some experience of lives more than strange,
and of characters far removed from the ordinary.

But with others I spent many hours, months, or years as circumstances
warranted, or as opportunities permitted. Some of them became my
intimates; and though seven long years have passed since I gave up
police-court duties, our friendship bears the test of time, for they
remain my friends and acquaintances still.

But some have passed away, and others are passing; one by one my list
of friends grows less, and were it not that I, even now, pick up a new
friend or two, I should run the risk of being a lonely old man. Let me
confess, however, that my friends have brought me many worries, have
caused me much disappointment, have often made me very angry. Sometimes,
I must own, they have caused me real sorrow and occasionally feelings
of utter despair. But I have had my compensations, we have had our happy
times, we have even known our merry moments.

Though pathos has permeated all our intercourse, humour and comedy have
never been far away; though sometimes tragedy has been in waiting.

But over one and all of my friends hung a great mystery, a mystery that
always puzzled and sometimes paralysed me, a mystery that always set me
to thinking.

Now many of my friends were decent and good-hearted fellows; yet they
were outcasts. Others were intelligent, clever and even industrious,
quite capable of holding their own with respectable men, still they were

Others were fastidiously honest in some things, yet they were persistent
rogues who could not see the wrong or folly of dishonesty; many of them
were clear-headed in ninety-nine directions, but in the hundredth they
were muddled if not mentally blind.

Others had known and appreciated the comforts of refined life, yet
they were happy and content amidst the horror and dirt of a common
lodging-house! Why was it that these fellows failed, and were content to
fail in life?

What is that little undiscovered something that determines their lives
and drives them from respectable society?

What compensations do they get for all the suffering and privations they
undergo? I don't know! I wish that I did! but these things I have never
been able to discover.

Many times I have put the questions to myself; many times I have put the
questions to my friends, who appear to know about as much and just as
little upon the matter as myself.

They do not realise that in reality they do differ from ordinary
citizens; I realise the difference, but can find no reason for it.

No! it is not drink, although a few of them were dipsomaniacs, for
generally they were sober men.

I will own my ignorance, and say that I do not know what that little
something is that makes a man into a criminal instead of constituting
him into a hero. This I do know: that but for the possession of a
little something, many of my friends, now homeless save when they are
in prison, would be performing life's duties in settled and comfortable
homes, and would be quite as estimable citizens as ordinary people.

Probably they would prove better citizens than the majority of people,
for while they possess some inherent weakness, they also possess in a
great degree many estimable qualities which are of little use in their
present life.

These friends of mine not only visit my office and invade my home, but
they turn up at all sorts of inconvenient times and places.--There is my
friend the dipsomaniac, the pocket Hercules, the man of brain and iron

Year after year he holds on to his own strange course, neither poverty
nor prison, delirium tremens nor physical injuries serve to alter him.
He occupies a front seat at a men's meeting on Sunday afternoon when the
bills announce my name. But he comes half drunk and in a talkative
mood, sometimes in a contradictory mood, but generally good tempered.
He punctuates my speech with a loud and emphatic "Hear! hear!" and often
informs the audience that "what Mr. Holmes says is quite true!" The
attendants cannot keep him silent, he tells them that he is my friend;
he makes some claim to being my patron.

Poor fellow! I speak to him kindly, but incontinently give him the slip,
for I retire by a back way, leaving him to argue my disappearance in no
friendly spirit with the attendants. Yet I have spent many happy hours
with him when, as sometimes happened, he was "in his right mind."

I, would like to dwell on the wonders of this man's strange and fearsome
life, but I hasten on to tell of a contrast, for my friends present many

I was hurrying down crowded Bishopsgate at lunch time, lost in thought,
when I felt my hand grasped and a well-known voice say, "Why! Mr.
Holmes, don't you know me?"

Know him! I should think I do know him; I am proud to know him, for I
venerate him. He is only a french polisher and by no means handsome, his
face is furrowed and seamed by care and sorrow, his hands and clothing
are stained with varnish. Truly he is not much to look at, but if any
one wants an embodiment of pluck and devotion, of never-failing patience
and magnificent love, in my friend you shall find it!

Born in the slums, he sold matches at seven years of age; at eight he
was in an industrial school; his father was dead, his mother a drunkard;
home he had none!

Leaving school at sixteen he became first a gardener's assistant, then
a gentleman's servant; in this occupation he saved some money with
which he apprenticed himself to french polishing. From apprentice
to journeyman, from journeyman to business on his own account, were
successive steps; he married, and that brought him among my many

He had a nice home, and two beautiful children, and then that great
destroyer of home life, drink! had to be reckoned with. So he came to
consult me. She was a beautiful and cultured woman and full of remorse.

The stained hands of the french polisher trembled as he signed
a document by which he agreed to pay L1 per week for his wife's
maintenance in an inebriate home for twelve months where she might have
her babe with her. Bravely he did his part, and at the end of the year
he brought her back to a new and better home, where the neighbours knew
nothing of her past.

For twelve months there was joy in the home, and then a new life came
into it; but with the babe came a relapse; the varnish-stained man was
again at his wits' end. Once more she entered a home, for another year
he worked and toiled to pay the charges, and again he provided a new
home. And she came back to a house that he had bought for her in a new
neighbourhood; they now lived close to me, and my house was open to
them. The story of the following years cannot be told, for she almost
ruined him. Night after night after putting the children to bed, he
searched the streets and public-houses for her; sometimes I went with
him. She pawned his clothes, the children's clothing, and even the
boy's fiddle. He cleaned the house, he cooked the food, he cared for the
children, he even washed and ironed their clothing on Saturday evening
for the coming Sunday. He marked all the clothing, he warned all the
pawnbrokers. At length he obtained a separation order, but tearing it up
he again took her home with him. She went from bad to worse; even down
to the deepest depths and thence to a rescue home. He fetched her out,
and they disappeared from my neighbourhood.

So I lost them and often wondered what the end had been. To-day he
was smiling; he had with him a youth of twenty, a scholarship boy, the
violinist. He said, "I am just going to pay for his passage to Canada;
he is going to be the pioneer, and perhaps we shall all join him, she
will do better in a new country!" On further inquiry I found that she
was trying hard, and doing better than when I lost them.

Thinking she needed greater interest in life, he had bought a small
business for her, but "Mr. Holmes, she broke down!"

Alas! I knew what "breaking down" meant to the poor fellow, the heroic
fellow I ought to have said. And so for her he will leave his kindred,
home and friends; he will forsake the business that he has so slowly and
laboriously built up, he will sacrifice anything in the hope that the
air of Canada "will do her good." let us hope that it may, for her good
is all he lives for, and her good is his religion.

Twenty years of heartbreaking misery have not killed his love or
withered his hope. Surely love like his cannot fail of its reward. And
maybe in the new world he will have the happiness that has been denied
him in the old world, and in the evening of his life he may have the
peaceful calm that has hitherto been denied him. For this he is seeking
a place in the new world where the partner of his life and the desire
of his eyes may not find it easy to yield to her besetting temptation,
where the air and his steadfast love will "do her good."

But all my acquaintances are not heroes, for I am sorry to say that
my old friend Downy has served his term of penal servitude, and is at
liberty once more to beg or steal. He is not ashamed to beg, but I know
that he prefers stealing, for he richly enjoys anything obtained "on the
cross," and cares little for the fruits of honest labour.

Downy therefore never crosses my doorstep, and when I hold communication
with him he stands on the doorstep where I bar his entrance.

Yet I like the vagabond, for he is a humorous rascal, and though I know
that I ought to be severe with him, I fail dismally when I try to exhort
him. "Now, look here, old man," he will say, "stop preaching; what are
you going to do to help a fellow; do you think I live this life for fun"
and his eyes twinkle! When I tell him that I am sure of it, he roars.
Yes, I am certain of it, Downy is a thief for the fun of it; he is the
worst and cleverest sneak I have the privilege of knowing; and yet
there is such audacity about him and his actions that even his most
reprehensible deeds do not disgust me.

He is of the spare and lean kind, but were he fatter he might well pose
as a modern Jack Falstaff, for his one idea is summed up in Falstaff's
words: "Where shall we take a purse to-night?" Downy, of course,
obtained full remission of his sentence; he did all that was required
of him in prison, and so reduced his five years' sentence by fifteen
months. But I feel certain that he did nor spend three years and nine
months in a convict establishment without robbing a good many, and the
more difficult he found the task, the more he would enjoy it.

I expect his education is now complete, so I have to beware of Downy,
for he would glory in the very thought of "besting" me, so I laugh and
joke with the rascal, but keep him at arm's length. We discuss matters
on the doorstep; if he looks ill I have pity on him, and subsidise him.
Sometimes his merry look changes to a half-pathetic look, and he goes
away to his "doss house," realising that after all his "besting" he
might have done better.

Some of my friends have crossed the river, but as I think of them they
come back and bid me tell their stories. Here is my old friend the
famous chess-player, whose books are the poetry of chess, but whose life
was more than a tragedy. I need not say where I met him; his face was
bruised and swollen, his jawbone was fractured, he was in trouble, so we
became friends. He was a strange fellow, and though he visited my house
many times, he would neither eat nor drink with us. He wore no overcoat
even in the most bitter weather, he carried no umbrella, neither would
he walk under one, though the rains descended and the floods came!

He was a fatalist pure and simple, and took whatever came to him in a
thoroughly fatalist spirit. "My dear Holmes," he would say, "why do you
break your heart about me? Let me alone, let us be friends; you are what
you are because you can't help it; you can't be anything else even if
you tried. I am what I am for the same reason. You get your happiness, I
get mine. Do me a good turn when you can, but don't reason with me; let
us enjoy each other's company and take things as they are."

I took him on his own terms; I saw much of him, and when he was in
difficulties I helped him out.

For a time I became his keeper, and when he had chess engagements to
fulfil I used to deliver him carriage paid to his destination wherever
it might be. He always and most punctiliously repaid any monetary
obligation I had conferred upon him, for in that respect I found him the
soul of honour, poor though he was! As I think of him I see him dancing
and yelling in the street, surrounded by a crowd of admiring East
Enders, I see him bruised and torn hurried off to the police station,
I see him standing before the magistrate awaiting judgment. What
compensation dipsomania gave him I know not, but that he did get some
kind of wild joy I am quite sure. For I see him feverish from one
debauch, but equally feverish with the expectation of another.

With his wife it was another story, and I can see her now full of
anxiety and dread, with no relief and no hope, except, dreadful as it
may seem, his death! For then, to use her own expression, "she would
know the worst." Poor fellow! the last time I saw him he was nearing the
end. In an underground room I sat by his bedside, and a poor bed it was!

As he lay propped up by pillows he was working away at his beloved
chess, writing chess notes, and solving and explaining problems for very
miserable payments.

I knew the poverty of that underground room; and was made acquainted
with the intense disappointment of both husband and wife when letters
were received that did not contain the much-desired postal orders. And
so passed a genius; but a dipsomaniac! A man of brilliant parts and a
fellow of infinite jest, who never did justice to his great powers, but
who crowded a continuous succession of tragedies into a short life. I am
glad to think that I did my best for him, even though I failed. He has
gone! but he still has a place in my affections and occupies a niche in
the hall of my memory.

I very much doubt whether I am able to forget any one of the pieces of
broken humanity that have companied with me. I do not want to forget
them, for truth to tell they have been more interesting to me than
merely respectable people, and infinitely more interesting than some
good people.

But I am afraid that my tastes are bad, and my ideals low, for I am
always happier among the very poor or the outcasts than I am with the
decent and well behaved.

A fellow named Reid has been calling on me repeatedly; an Australian
by birth, he outraged the law so often that he got a succession of
sentences, some of them being lengthy. He tried South Africa with a like
result; South Africa soon had enough of him, and after two sentences he
was deported to England, where he looked me up.

He carries with him in a nice little case a certified and attested copy
of all his convictions, more than twenty in number. He produces
this without the least shame, almost with pride, and with the utmost
confidence that it would prove a ready passport to my affection.

I talk to him; he tells me of his life, of Australia and South Africa;
he almost hypnotises me, for he knows so much. We get on well together
till he produces the "attested copy," and then the spell is broken, and
the humour of it is too much for me, so I laugh.

He declares that he wants work, honest work, and he considers that his
"certificate" vouches for his bona fides. This is undoubtedly true, but
nevertheless I expect that it will be chiefly responsible for his free
passage back to Australia after he has sampled the quality of English

My friends and acquaintances meet me or rather I meet them, in
undesirable places; I never visit a prison without coming across one or
more of them, and they embarrass me greatly.

A few Sundays ago I was addressing a large congregation of men in a
London prison. As I stood before them I was dismayed to see right in
the front rank an old and persistent acquaintance whom I thoroughly and
absolutely disliked, and he knew it, for on more than one occasion I
had good reason for expressing a decided opinion about him. A smile of
gleeful but somewhat mischievous satisfaction spread over his face; he
folded his arms across his breast, he looked up at me and quite held me
with his glittering eye.

I realised his presence, I felt that his eye was upon me, I saw that he
followed every word. He quite unnerved me till I stumbled and tripped.
Then he smiled in his evil way.

I could not get rid of his eyes, and sometimes I half appealed to him
with a pitiful look to take them off me. But it was no use, he still
gazed at me and through me. So thinking of him and looking at him I grew
more and more confused.

The clock fingers would not move fast enough for me. I had elected to
speak on sympathy, brotherhood and mutual help. And this fellow to whom
I had refused help again and again knew my feelings, and made the most
of his opportunity.

But my friend will come and see me when he is once more out of prison.
He will want to discuss my address of that particular Sunday afternoon.
He will quote my words, he will remind me about sympathy and mutual
help, he will hope to leave me rejoicing in the possession of a few

But that will be the hour of my triumph; for then I will rejoice in the
contemplation of his disappointment as my door closes upon him. But if I
understand him aright his personal failure will not lead him to despair,
for he will appear again and again and sometimes by deputy, and he will
put others as cunning as himself on my track.

Some time ago I was tormented with a succession of visitors of this
description; my door was hardly free of one when another appeared. They
all told the same tale: "they had been advised to come to me, for I was
kind to men who had been in prison."

They got no practical kindness from me, but rather some wholesome
advice. I found afterwards from a lodging-house habitue that this man
had been taking his revenge by distributing written copies of my name
and address to all the lodging-house inmates, and advising them to call
on me. And I have not the slightest doubt that the rascal watched
them come to my door, enjoyed their disappointment, and gloried in my

Yes, I have made the acquaintance of many undesirable fellows, and our
introduction to each other has sometimes been brought about in a very
strange manner. Sometimes they have forced themselves upon me and
insisted upon my seeing much of them, and "knowing all about them" they
would tell me of their struggles and endeavours to "go straight" and
would put their difficulties and hopes before me. Specious clever
rascals many of them were, far too clever for me, as I sometimes found
out to my cost. One young fellow who has served a well-earned and richly
merited sentence of five years' penal servitude, quite overpowered me
with his good intentions and professions of rectitude. "No more prison
for me," he would say; he brought his wife and children to see me,
feeling sure that they would form a passport to my sympathy and pocket.

He was not far wrong, for I substantially and regularly helped the wife.
I had strong misgivings about the fellow, consequently what help I gave
I took care went direct to his wife.

Sometimes he would call at my office, and with tears would thank me
for the help given to his wife and children. I noticed a continual
improvement in his clothing and appearance till he became quite a
swell. I felt a bit uneasy, for I knew that he was not at work. I soon
discovered, or rather the police discovered that he had stolen a lot of
my office note-paper of which he had made free use, and when arrested on
another charge several blank cheques which had been abstracted from my
cheque book were found upon him. He had made himself so well known to
and familiar with the caretaker of the chambers, that one night when
he appeared with a bag of tools to put "Mr. Holmes' desk right," no
questions were asked, and he coolly and quite deliberately, with the
office door open, operated in his own sweet way. Fortunately, when
trying the dodge in another set of chambers, he was arrested in the act,
and my blank cheques among many others were found upon him.

Another term of penal servitude has stopped his career and put an end
to, I will not say a friendship but an acquaintance, that I am not at
any rate anxious to renew.

They come a long way to see me do some of my friends, and put themselves
to some trouble in the matter, and not a little expense if they are to
be believed. Why they do so I cannot imagine, for sometimes after a long
and close questioning I fail to find any satisfactory reason for their
doing so. I have listened to many strange stories, and have received not
a few startling confessions! Some of my friends have gone comforted
away when they had made a clean breast and circumstantially given me
the details of some great crime or evil that they had committed. I never
experienced any difficulty, or felt the least compunction in granting
them plenary absolution; I never betrayed them to the police, for I knew
that of the crime confessed they were as guiltless as myself. Of course
there is a good deal of pathos about their actions, but I always felt a
glow of pleasure when I could send poor deluded people away comforted;
and I am sure that they really believed me when I told them that under
no circumstances would I betray their confidence, or acquaint the police
without first consulting them. I never had any difficulty in keeping my
promise, though sometimes my friends would, after a long absence, remind
me of it.

But occasionally one of my friends has compelled me to seek the advice
of an astute detective, for very clever rogues, real and dangerous
criminals, have been my companions and have boasted of my friendship,
whilst pursuing a deplorably criminal course. But I never had the
slightest compunction with regard to them when I knew beyond doubt what
they were at. Friends and associates of criminals have more than once
waited on me for the purpose of enlisting my sympathy and help for one
of their colleagues who was about to be released from prison, and the
vagabonds have actually informed detectives that "Mr. Holmes was going
to take him in hand." What they really meant was, that they had taken
Mr. Holmes in hand for the purpose of lulling the just suspicions of the
police. One day not long ago a woman, expensively dressed and possessed
of a whole mass of flaxen hair, burst into my office. She was very
excited, spoke good English with an altogether exaggerated French
accent, and her action was altogether grotesque and stereotyped. She
informed me that she had that morning come from Paris to consult me.
When I inquired what she knew about me and how she got my address, she
said that a well-known journalist and a member of Parliament whom she
had met in Paris had advised her to consult with me about the future of
a man shortly to be discharged from prison. As during the whole of my
life I had not met or corresponded with the brilliant gentleman she
referred to, I felt doubtful, but kept silent. So on she went with her
story, first, however, offering me a sum of money for the benefit of as
consummate a villain as ever inhabited a prison cell.

I declined the money and refused to have anything to do with the matter
till I had had further information. Briefly her story was as follows:
The man in whom she and others were interested was serving a term of
three years for burglary. He was an educated man, married, and father
of two children. His wife loved him dearly, and his two children were
"pretty, oh, so pretty!" They were afraid that his wife would receive
him back again with open arms, and that other children might result.
They were anxious that this should be prevented, for they felt, she
was sorry to say, that he might again revert to crime, that other
imprisonments might ensue, and that "the poor, poor little thing,"
meaning the wife, might be exposed to more and worse suffering than she
had already undergone.

Would I receive a sum of money on his account and arrange for him to
leave England? They felt that to be the wisest course, for "he is so
clever, and can soon build up a home for her when he is away from his
companions." Of his ability I had subsequently plenty of proof, and I
have no reason to doubt her statement that he could soon "build up a
home." He could very quickly--and a luxurious home, too!

The wife was not to be considered at all in the matter, but money would
be sent to me from time to time to help the "poor little thing and her
children!" I was interested, but I said to myself, "This is much too
good," and the ready journey from Paris rather staggered me. I put a few
simple questions, she pledged me to secrecy. I told her that I would ask
the prison authorities to send him to me on his discharge.

"I so please, I now go back to Paris; I come again and I bring you
money," she said, as she shook her furs and took herself and her flaxen
hair to somewhere else than Paris, so I felt persuaded.

Two days before the prisoner's discharge she burst in again, huffy head,
furs and gesticulation as before. "I come from Paris this morning, I
bring you money." I was not present, but I had previously warned my
assistant not to receive any money. The gay Parisian was informed that
no money could be received, but she promptly put two sovereigns on the
desk and disappeared---but not to Paris!

He stood before me at last, a little fellow, smart looking, erect,
self-satisfied and self-reliant. I told him of the two sovereigns and
the fluffy hair, of the good intentions of his Parisian friend. I spoke
hopefully of a new life in a new country and of the future of his wife
and children; he never blanched. He was quite sure he knew no French
lady with fluffy hair; he had no friends, no accomplices; he wanted
work, honest work; he intended to make amends for the past; he "would
build up a home" for his wife and children.

I saw much of him; we lunched together and we smoked together, and he
talked a good deal. His wife fell ill owing to very hard work, and I
befriended her. He accepted the two pounds and asked for more! He was
a citizen of the world, and spoke more than one language. Our
companionship continued for some months, and then my friend and myself
had to sever our connection.

He was one of a gang of very clever thieves, who operated on a large
scale, and who for cool audacity and originality were, I think, almost

They engaged expensive suites of rooms or flats, furnished them most
expensively on credit or the hire system, insured the goods against
burglary, promptly burgled themselves, sold the goods, realised the
insurance, and then vanished to repeat their proceedings elsewhere.

So clever were they at the business that costly but portable goods were
freely submitted to their tender mercies. They invariably engaged rooms
that possessed a "skylight." It was my friend's business to do the
burgling, and this he did by carefully removing the glass from the
skylight, being careful not to break it; needless to say, he removed
the glass from the inside and carefully deposited it on the roof, the
valuables making their exit through the room door and down the staircase
in broad daylight.

My friend, who spoke Dutch fluently and accurately, has, I understood,
sold to English merchants whose probity was beyond dispute the proceeds
of some of his "firm's" operations. This game went on for a time, the
Parisian lady with the false hair being one of the confederates. He
disappeared, however, and I am glad to think that for some considerable
time society will be safeguarded from the woman with the flaxen hair,
and the operations of a clever scoundrel.

I am glad to say that the number of my friends and acquaintances who
have seriously tried to "best" me form but a small proportion of
the whole. Generally they have, I believe, been animated with good
intentions, though the failure to carry them out has frequently been
manifest and deplorable.

I am persuaded that weakness is more disastrous to the world than
absolute wickedness, for nothing in the whole of my life's experience
has taken more out of me, and given me so much heartbreaking
disappointment as my continued efforts on behalf of really
well-intentioned individuals, who could not stand alone owing to their
lack of grit and moral backbone. For redemptive purposes I would rather,
a hundred times rather, have to deal with a big sinner than with a human
jellyfish, a flabby man who does no great wrong, but on the other hand
does not the slightest good.

But, as I have already said, though all my friends and acquaintances
were dwellers in a dark land, not all of them were "known to the
police"; indeed, many of them ought to be classified as "known to
the angels," for their real goodness has again and again rebuked and
inspired me.

Oh the patience, fortitude and real heroism I have met with in my
acquaintances among the poor. Strength in time of trial, virtue amidst
obscenity, suffering long drawn out and perpetual self-denial are
characteristics that abound in many of my poorest friends, and in some
of the chapters that are to follow I shall tell more fully of them, but
just now I am amongst neither sinners nor saints, but with my friends
"in motley." I mean the men and women who have occupied so much of my
time and endeavours, but whose position I knew was hopeless.

How they interested me, those demented friends of mine! they were a
perpetual wonder to me, and I am glad to remember that I never passed
hard judgment upon them, or gave them hard words. And I owe much to
them, a hundred times more than the whole of them are indebted to me;
for I found that I could not take an interest in any one of them, nor
make any fruitless, any perhaps foolish effort to truly help them,
without doing myself more good than I could possibly have done to them.
Fifteen years I stood by, and stood up for demented Jane Cakebread, and
we became inseparably connected. She abused me right royally, and her
power of invective was superb. When she was not in prison she haunted my
house and annoyed my neighbours. She patronised me most graciously when
she accepted a change of clothing from me; she lived in comparative
luxury when I provided lodgings for her; she slept out of doors when I
did not.

She bestowed her affections on me and made me heir to her non-existent
fortune; she proposed marriage to me, although she frequently met and
admired my good wife. All this and more, year after year!

Poor old Jane! I owe much to her, and I am quite willing, nay, anxious,
to say that in a great measure Jane Cakebread was the making of Thomas

Years have passed since we laid Jane gently to rest, but she comes back
to me and dominates me whenever I mentally call my old friends together.
Her voice is the loudest, her speech the most voluble, and her manner
the most assertive of all my motley friends. They are all gathering
around me as I write. My friend who teaches music by colour is here,
my friend with his secret invention that will dispense with steam and
electricity is here too; "Little Ebbs" the would-be policeman is here
too; the prima donna whose life was more than a tragedy, the architect
with his wonderful but never accepted designs, the broken artist with
his pictures, the educated but non-sober lady who could convert plaster
models into marble statuary are all with me. The unspeakably degraded
parson smoking cigarettes, his absence of shirt hidden by a rusty
cassock, lolls in my easy-chair; my burglar friend who had "done" forty
years and was still asking for more, they are all around me! And my
dipsomaniac friends have come too! I hear them talking and arguing, when
a strident voice calls out, "No arguing! no arguing! argument spoils
everything!" and Jane stops the talk of others by occupying the platform
herself and recites a chapter from the book of Job. I am living it all
over again!

And now troop in my suffering friends. Here is the paralysed woman of
thirty-five who has for twenty years lain in bed the whiles her sister
has worked incessantly to maintain her! Here is my widow friend who
after working fifteen hours daily for years was dragged from the Lea. As
she sits and listens her hands are making matchboxes and throwing them
over her shoulder, one, two, three, four! right, left! they go to the
imaginary heaps upon the imaginary beds. While blighted children are
crawling upon the floor looking up at me with big eyes. Here is my
patient old friend who makes "white flowers" although she is eighty
years of age, and still keeps at it, though, thank God, she gets the
old-age pension.

Now come in the young men and maidens, the blighted blossoms of humanity
who wither and die before the time of fruition, for that fell disease
consumption has laid its deadly hand upon them.

Oh! the mystery of it all, the sorrow and madness of it all! I open my
door and they file out. Some back to the unseen world, some back to the
lower depths of this world! Surely they are a motley lot, are my friends
and acquaintances; they are as varied as humanity itself. So they
represent to me all the moods and tenses of humanity, all its personal,
social and industrial problems. I have a pitiful heart; I try to keep a
philosophic mind; I am cheery with them; I am doubtful, I am hopeful!

I never give help feeling sure that I have done wisely, I never refuse
the worst and feel sure that I have done well. I live near the heart of
humanity, I count its heart-beats, I hear its throbs.

I realise some of the difficulties that beset us, I see some of the
heights and depths to which humanity can ascend or descend. I have
learned that the greatest factors in life are kindly sympathy, brotherly
love, a willingness to believe the best of the worst, and to have an
infinite faith in the ultimate triumph of good!


London's great underworld to many may be an undiscovered country. To
me it is almost as familiar as my own fireside; twenty-five years of
my life have been spent amongst its inhabitants, and their lives and
circumstances have been my deep concern.

Sad and weary many of those years have been, but always full of
absorbing interest. Yet I have found much that gave me pleasure, and it
is no exaggeration when I say that some of my happiest hours have been
spent among the poorest inhabitants of the great underworld.

But whether happy or sorrowful, I was always interested, for the
strange contrasts and the ever-varying characteristics and lives of the
inhabitants always compelled attention, interest and thought. There is
much in this underworld to terrorise, but there is also much to inspire.

Horrible speech and strange tongues are heard in it, accents of sorrow
and bursts of angry sound prevail in it.

Drunkenness, debauchery, crime and ignorance are never absent; and in it
men and women grown old in sin and crime spend their last evil days.
The whining voice of the professional mendicant is ever heard in its
streets, for its poverty-stricken inhabitants readily respond to every
appeal for help.

So it is full of contrasts; for everlasting toil goes on, and the hum
of industry ever resounds. Magnificent self-reliance is continually
exhibited, and self-denial of no mean order is the rule.

The prattle of little children and the voice of maternal love make
sweet music in its doleful streets, and glorious devotion dignifies and
illumines the poorest homes.

But out of the purlieus of this netherworld strange beings issue when
the shades of evening fall.

Men whose hands are against every man come forth to deeds of crime, like
beasts to seek their prey! Women, fearsome creatures, whose steps lead
down to hell, to seek their male companions.

Let us stand and watch!

Here comes a poor, smitten, wretched old man; see how he hugs the rags
of his respectability; his old frayed frock-coat is buttoned tightly
around him, and his outstretched hands tell that he is eager for the
least boon that pity can bestow. He has found that the way of the
transgressor is hard; he has kissed the bloom of pleasure's painted
lips, he has found them pale as death!

But others follow, and hurry by. And a motley lot they are; figure and
speech, complexion and dress all combine to create dismay; but they have
all one common characteristic. They want money! and are not particular
about the means of getting it. Now issue forth an innumerable band
who during the day have been sleeping off the effects of last night's
debauch. With eager steps, droughty throats and keen desire they seek
the wine cup yet again.

Now come fellows, young and middle-aged, who dare not be seen by day,
for whom the police hold "warrants," for they have absconded from wives
and children, leaving them chargeable to the parish.

Here are men who have robbed their employers, here young people of both
sexes who have drained Circe's cup and broken their parents' hearts.

Surely it is a strange and heterogeneous procession that issues evening
by evening from the caves and dens of London's underworld. But notice
there is also a returning procession! For as the sun sinks to rest,
sad-faced men seek some cover where they may lie down and rest their
weary bones; where perchance they may sleep and regain some degree of
passive courage that will enable them, at the first streak of morning
light, to rise and begin again a disheartening round of tramp, tramp,
searching for work that is everlastingly denied them. Hungry and
footsore, their souls fainting within them, they seek the homes
where wives and children await their return with patient but hopeless

Take notice if you will of the places they enter, for surely the
beautiful word "home" is desecrated if applied to most of their
habitations. Horrid places within and without, back to back and face to
face they stand.

At their doorway death stands ready to strike. In the murky light
of little rooms filled with thick air child-life has struggled into
existence; up and down their narrow stairs patient endurance and passive
hopelessness ever pass and repass.

Small wonder that the filthy waters of a neighbouring canal woo and
receive so many broken hearts and emaciated bodies.

But the procession now changes its sex, for weary widowed women are
returning to children who for many hours have been lacking a mother's
care, for mothers in the underworld must work if children must eat.

So the weary widows have been at the wash-tubs all day long, and are
coming home with two shillings hardly earned. They call in at the dirty
general shop, where margarine, cheese, bread, tinned meat and firewood
are closely commingled in the dank air.

A loaf, a pennyworth of margarine, a pennyworth of tea, a bundle of
firewood, half a pound of sugar, a pint of lamp-oil exhaust their list
of purchases, for the major part of their earnings is required for the

So they climb their stairs, they feed the children, put them unwashed to
bed, do some necessary household work, and then settle down themselves
in some shape, without change of attire, that they may rest and be ready
for the duties of the ensuing day. Perhaps sweet oblivion will come even
to them. "Blessings on the man who invented sleep," cried Sancho Panza,
and there is a world of truth in his ecstatic exclamation, "it wraps him
round like a garment."

Aye, that it does, for what would the poor weary women and men of
London's underworld do without it? What would the sick and suffering be
without it? In tiny rooms where darkness is made visible by penny-worths
of oil burned in cheap and nasty lamps, there is no lack of pain and
suffering, and no lack of patient endurance and passive heroism.

As night closes in and semi-darkness reigns around, when the streets are
comparatively silent, when children's voices are no longer heard, come
with me and explore!

It is one o'clock a.m., and we go down six steps into what is
facetiously termed a "breakfast parlour"; here we find a man and woman
about sixty years of age. The woman is seated at a small table on which
stands a small, evil-smelling lamp, and the man is seated at another
small table, but gets no assistance from the lamp; he works in
comparative gloom, for he is almost blind; he works by touch.

For fifty years they have been makers of artificial flowers; both are
clever artists, and the shops of the West End have fairly blazed with
the glory of their roses. Winsome lassie's and serene ladies have made
themselves gay with their flowers.

There they sit, as they have sat together for thirty years. Neither can
read or write, but what can be done in flowers they can do. Long hours
and dark rooms have made the man almost blind.

He suffers also from heart disease and dropsy. He cannot do much, but he
can sit, and sit, while his wife works and works, for in the underworld
married women must work if dying husbands are to be cared for.

So for fifteen hours daily and nightly they sit at their roses! Then
they lie down on the bed we see in the corner, but sleep does not come,
for asthma troubles him, and he must be attended and nursed.

Shall we pay another visit to that underworld room? Come, then. Two
months have passed away, the evil-smelling lamp is still burning, the
woman still sits at the table, but no rose-leaves are before her; she
is making black tulips. On the bed lies a still form with limbs decently
smoothed and composed; the poor blind eyes are closed for ever. He is
awaiting the day of burial, and day after day the partner of his life
and death is sitting, and working, for in this underworld bereaved wives
must work if husbands are to be decently buried. The black tulips she
will wear as mourning for him; she will accompany his poor body to the
cemetery, and then return to live alone and to finish her work alone.

But let us continue our midnight explorations, heedless of the men and
women now returning from their nightly prowl who jostle us as they pass.

We enter another room where the air is thick and makes us sick and
faint. We stand at the entrance and look around; we see again the
evil-smelling lamp, and again a woman at work at a small table, and she
too is a widow!

She is making cardboard boxes, and pretty things they are. Two beds are
in the room, and one contains three, and the other two children. On the
beds lie scores of dainty boxes. The outside parts lie on one bed, and
the insides on the other. They are drying while the children sleep; by
and by they will be put together, tied in dozens, and next morning taken
to the factory. But of their future history we dare not inquire.

The widow speaks to us, but her hands never rest; we notice the celerity
of her movements, the dreadful automatic certainty of her touch is
almost maddening; we wait and watch, but all in vain, for some false
movement that shall tell us she is a human and not a machine. But no,
over her shoulder to the bed on the left side, or over her shoulder to
the bed on her right side, the boxes fly, and minute by minute and hour
by hour the boxes will continue to grow till her task is completed. Then
she will put them together, tie them in dozens, and lay herself down on
that bed that contains the two children.

Need we continue? I think not, but it may give wings to imagination when
I say that in London's underworld there are at least 50,000 women whose
earnings do not exceed three halfpence per hour, and who live under
conditions similar to those described. Working, working, day and night,
when they have work to do, practically starving when work is scarce.

The people of the underworld are not squeamish, they talk freely, and as
a matter of course about life and death. Their children are at an early
age made acquainted with both mysteries; a dead child and one newly born
sometimes occupy a room with other children.

People tell me of the idleness of the underworld and there is plenty of
it; but what astonishes me is the wonderful, the persistent, but almost
unrewarded toil that is unceasingly going on, in which even infants

Come again with me in the day-time, climb with me six dark and greasy
flights of stairs, for the underworld folk are sometimes located near
the sky.

In this Bastille the passages are very narrow, and our shoulders
sometimes rub the slimy moisture from the walls. On every landing in the
semi-darkness we perceive galleries running to right and to left. On the
little balconies, one on every floor, children born in this Bastille are
gasping for air through iron bars.

There are three hundred suites of box rooms in this Bastille, which
means that three hundred families live like ants in it. Let us enter No.
250. Time: 3.30 p.m. Here lives a blind matchbox-maker and his wife with
their seven children. The father has gone to take seven gross of boxes
to the factory, for the mother cannot easily climb up and down the stone
stairs of the Bastille. So she sits everlastingly at the boxes, the beds
are covered with them, the floor is covered with them, and the air is
thick with unpleasant moisture.

One, two, three, four, there they go over her shoulder to the bed or
floor; on the other side of the table sits a child of four, who, with
all the apathy of an adult if not with equal celerity, gums or pastes
the labels for his mother. The work must be "got in," and the child has
been kept at home to take his share in the family toil.

In this Bastille the children of the underworld live and die, for death
reaps here his richest harvest. Never mind! the funeral of one child
is only a pageant for others. Here women work and starve, and here
childhood, glorious childhood, is withered and stricken; but here, too,
the wicked, the vile, the outcast and the thief find sanctuary.

The strange mixture of it all bewilders me, fascinates me, horrifies
me, and yet sometimes it encourages me and almost inspires me. For I see
that suffering humanity possesses in no mean degree those three great
qualities, patience, fortitude and endurance.

For perchance these three qualities will feel and grope for a brighter
life and bring about a better day.

Though in all conscience funerals are numerous enough in this bit of
the underworld, and though the conditions are bad enough to destroy
its inhabitants, yet the people live on and on, for even death itself
sometimes seems reluctant to befriend them.

Surely there is nothing in the underworld so extraordinary as the
defiance flung in the face of death by its poor, feeble, ill-nourished,
suffering humanity.

According to every well-known rule they ought to die, and not to
linger upon the order of their dying. But linger they do, and in their
lingering exhibit qualities which ought to regenerate the whole race. It
is wonderful upon what a small amount of nourishment humanity can exist,
and still more wonderful under what conditions it can survive.

Shall we look in at a house that I know only too well? Come again, then!

Here sits an aged widow of sixty-four at work on infants' shoes, a
daughter about twenty-six is at work on infants' socks. Another daughter
two years older is lying on her back in an invalid's chair, and her deft
fingers are busily working, for although paralysis has taken legs, the
upper part of her body has been spared. The three live together and pool
their earnings; they occupy two very small rooms, for which they pay
five shillings weekly.

After paying twopence each to avoid parish funerals, they have five
shillings left weekly for food, firing, clothing and charity. Question
them, and you will learn how they expend those five shillings. "How much
butter do you allow yourselves during the week?" The widow answers: "Two
ounces of shilling butter once a week." "Yes, mother," says the invalid,
"on a Saturday." She knew the day of the week and the hour too, when her
eyes brightened at the sight of three-halfpenny worth of butter.
Truly they fared sumptuously on the Sabbath, for they tasted "shilling

But they refuse to die, and I have not yet discovered the point at
which life ebbs out for lack of food, for when underworld folk die
of starvation we are comforted by the assurance that they died "from
natural causes."

I suppose that if the four children all over eight years of age,
belonging to a widow machinist well known to me, had died, their death
would have been attributed to "natural causes." She had dined them upon
one pennyworth of stewed tapioca without either sugar or milk. Sometimes
the children had returned to school without even that insult to their
craving stomachs. But "natural causes" is the euphonious name given
by intelligent juries to starvation, when inquests are held in the
underworld. Herein is a mystery: in the land of plenty, whose granaries,
depots, warehouses are full to repletion, and whose countless ships are
traversing every ocean, bringing the food and fruits of the earth to its
shores, starvation is held to be a natural cause of death.

Here let me say, and at once, that the two widows referred to are
but specimens of a very large company, and that from among my own
acquaintances I can with a very short notice assemble one thousand women
whose lives are as pitiful, whose food is as limited, whose burdens are
as heavy, but whose hearts are as brave as those I have mentioned.

The more I know of these women and their circumstances, the more and
still more I am amazed. How they manage to live at all is a puzzle, but
they do live, and hang on to life like grim death itself. I believe I
should long for death were I placed under similar conditions to those my
underworld friends sustain without much complaining.

They have, of course, some interests in life, especially when the
children are young, but for themselves they are largely content to be,
to do, and to suffer.

Very simple and very limited are their ambitions; they are expressed in
the wish that their children may rise somehow or other from the world
below to the world above, where food is more plentiful and labour more
remunerative. But my admiration and love for the honest workers below
the line are leading me to forget the inhabitants that are far removed
from honesty, and to whom industry is a meaningless word.

There are many of them, and a mixed lot they are. The deformed, the
crippled and the half-witted abound. Rogues and rascals, brutes in human
form, and human forms that are harking back to the brute abound also.
With some we may sound the lowest depths, with others we may ascend
to glorious heights. This is the wonder of underworld. Some of its
inhabitants have come down, and are going lower still. Others are
struggling with slippery feet to ascend the inclined plane that leads to
the world above. Some in their misery are feebly hoping for a hand that
will restore them to the world they have for ever lost!

And there are others who find their joy in this netherworld! For here
every restraint may be abandoned and every decency may be outraged. Here
are men and women whose presence casts a blight upon everything fresh
and virtuous that comes near them.

Here the children grow old before their time, for like little cubs they
lie huddled upon each other when the time for sleep comes. Not for them
the pretty cot, the sweet pillow and clean sheets! but the small close
room, the bed or nest on the floor, the dirty walls and the thick
air. Born into it, breathing it as soon as their little lungs begin to
operate, thick, dirty air dominates their existence or terminates their

"Glorious childhood" has no place here, to sweet girlhood it is fatal,
and brave boyhood stands but little chance.

Though here and there one and another rise superior to environment
and conditions, the great mass are robbed of the full stature of their
bodies, of their health, their brain power and their moral life.

But their loss is not the nation's gain, for the nation loses too! For
the nation erects huge buildings falsely called workhouses, tremendous
institutions called prisons. Asylums in ever-increasing numbers are
required to restrain their feeble bodies, and still feebler minds!

Let us look at the contrasts! Their houses are so miserably supplied
with household goods that even a rash and optimistic man would hesitate
before offering a sovereign for an entire home, yet pawnshops flourish
exceedingly, although the people possess nothing worth pawning. Children
are half fed, for the earnings of parents are too meagre to allow a
sufficient quantity of nourishing food; but public-houses do a roaring
trade on the ready-money principle, while the chandler supplies scraps
of food and half-ounces of tea on very long credit.

Money, too, is scarce, very scarce, yet harpies grow rich by lending
the inhabitants small sums from a shilling up to a pound at a rate of
interest that would stagger and paralyse the commercial world. Doctors
must needs to content with a miserable remuneration for their skilled
and devoted services, when paid at all! but burial societies accumulate
millions from a weekly collection of ill-spared coppers. Strangest of
all, undertakers thrive exceedingly, but the butcher and baker find it
hard work to live.

Yes, the underworld of London is full of strange anomalies and queer
contradictions. When I survey it I become a victim to strange and
conflicting emotions.

Sometimes I am disgusted with the dirt and helplessness of the people.
Sometimes I burn with indignation at their wrongs. But when I enter
their houses I feel that I would like to be an incendiary on a wholesale
scale. Look again! I found the boot-machinist widow that I have
mentioned, in Bethnal Green; she was ill in bed, lying in a small room;
ill though she was, and miniature as the room was, two girls aged twelve
and fourteen slept with her and shared her bed, while a youth and a boy
slept in a coal-hole beneath the stairs. Nourishment and rest somewhat
restored the woman, and to give her and the children a chance I took for
them a larger house. I sent them bedding and furniture, the house being
repaired and repainted, for the previous tenant had allowed it to take
fire, but the fire had not been successful enough! I called on the
family at midday, and as I stood in the room, bugs dropped from the
ceiling upon me. The widow's work was covered with them; night and day
the pests worried the family, there was no escaping them; I had to
fly, and again remove the family. How can the poor be clean and
self-respecting under such conditions!

For be it known this is the normal condition of thousands of human
habitations in London's great underworld. How can cleanliness and
self-respect survive? Yet sometimes they do survive, but at a terrible
cost, for more and still more of the weekly income must go in rent,
which means less and still less for food and clothing. Sometimes the
grossness and impurity, the ignorance and downright wickedness of the
underworld appal and frighten me.

But over this I must draw a veil, for I dare not give particulars; I
think, and think, and ask myself again and again what is to be the end
of it all! Are we to have two distinct races! those below and those
above? Is Wells' prophecy to come true; will the one race become
uncanny, loathsome abortions with clammy touch and eyes that cannot face
the light? Will the other become pretty human butterflies? I hope not,
nay, I am sure that Wells is wrong! For there is too much real goodness
in the upper world and too much heroism and endurance in the underworld
to permit such an evolution to come about.

But it is high time that such a possibility was seriously considered.
It is high time, too, that the lives and necessities, the wrongs and the
rights of even the gross poor in the underworld were considered.

For the whole social and industrial system is against them. Though many
of them are parasites, preying upon society or upon each other, yet
even they become themselves the prey of other parasites, who drain their
blood night and day.

So I ask in all seriousness, is it not high time that the exploitation
of the poor, because they are poor, should cease. See how it operates:
a decent married woman loses her husband; his death leaves her dependent
upon her own labour. She has children who hitherto have been provided
with home life, food and clothing; in fact the family had lived a little
above the poverty line, though not far removed from it.

She had lived in the upper world, but because her husband dies, she
is precipitated into the lower world, to seek a new home and some
occupation whereby she and her children may live.

Because she is a widow, and poor and helpless, she becomes the prey
of the sweater. Henceforth she must work interminable hours for a
starvation wage. Because she is a mother, poor and helpless, she becomes
the prey of the house farmer. Henceforward half her earnings must go in
rent, though her house and its concomitants are detestable beyond words.

But though she is poor, her children must be fed, and though she is a
widowed mother, she, even she, must eat sometimes. Henceforward she must
buy food of a poor quality, in minute quantities, of doubtful weight, at
the highest price. She is afraid that death may enter her home and find
her unprepared for a funeral, so she pays one penny weekly for each of
her children and twopence for herself to some collection society.

All through this procedure her very extremities provide opportunities
to others for spoliation, and so her continued life in the underworld is
assured. But her children are ill-nourished, ill-clothed, ill-lodged
and ill-bathed, and the gutter is their playground. They do not
develop properly in mind or body, when of age they are very poor assets
considered financially or industrially. They become permanent residents
of the underworld and produce after their kind.

So the underworld is kept populated from many sources. Widows with their
children are promptly kicked into it, others descend into it by a
slow process of social and industrial gravitation. Some descend by
the downward path of moral delinquency, and some leap into it as if to
commit moral and social death.

And surely 'tis a mad world! How can it be otherwise with all this
varied and perplexed humanity seething it, with all these social and
industrial wrongs operating upon it. But I see the dawn of a brighter
day! when helpless widow mothers will no longer be the spoil of the
sweater and the house "farmer." The dawn has broke! before these words
are printed thousands of toiling women in London's underworld will
rejoice! for the wages of cardboard box-makers will be doubled. The sun
is rising! for one by one all the terrible industries in which the
women of the underworld are engaged will of a certainty come within the
operations of a law that will stay the hand of the oppressors. And there
will be less toil for the widows and more food for the children in the
days that are to be.

But before that day fully comes, let me implore the women of the upper
world to be just if not generous to the women below. Let me ask them
not to exact all their labours, nor to allow the extremities of
their sisters to be a reason for under-payment when useful service is
rendered. Again I say, and I say it with respect and sorrow, that many
women are thoughtless if not unjust in their business dealings with
other women.

I am more concerned for the industrial and social rights of women than I
am for their political rights; votes they may have if you please. But
by all that is merciful let us give them justice! For the oppression of
women, whether by women or men, means a perpetuation of the underworld
with all its sorrows and horrors; and the under-payment of women has a
curse that smites us all the way round.

And if a word of mine can reach the toiling sisters in the netherworld,
I would say to them: Be hopeful! Patient I know you to be! enduring you
certainly are! brave beyond expression I have found you. Now add to your
virtues, hope!

For you have need of it, and you have cause for it. I rejoice that so
many of you are personally known to me! You and I, my sisters, have had
much communion, and many happy times together; for sometimes we have had
surcease from toil and a breath of God's fresh air together.

Be hopeful! endure a little longer; for a new spirit walks this old
world to bless it, and to right your long-continued wrongs.

Oh! how you have suffered, sisters mine! and while I have been writing
this chapter you have all been around me. But you are the salt of the
underworld; you are much better than the ten just men that were not
found in Sodom. And when for the underworld the day of redemption
arrives, it will be you, my sisters, the simple, the suffering, enduring
women that will have hastened it!

So I dwell upon the good that is in the netherworld, in the sure and
certain hope, whether my feeble words and life help forward the time
or not, that the day is not far distant when the dead shall rise! When
justice, light and sweetness will prevail, and in prevailing will purify
the unexplored depths of the sad underworld.

I offer no apology for inserting the following selections from London
County Council proceedings. Neither do I make any comment, other than
to say that the statements made present matters in a much too favourable



"Disclosures in L.C.C. Report.

(From the Daily Press, December 1911)

"The comments passed by members of the L.C.C. at the Education Committee
meeting upon the annual report of the medical officer of that committee
made it clear that many very interesting contents of the report had not
been made public.

"The actual report, which we have now seen, contains much more that
deserves the serious attention of all who are interested in the problem
of the London school child.

"There is, for example, a moving page on child life in a north-west
poverty area, where, among other conditions, it is not uncommon to find
girls of ten doing a hard day's work outside their school work; they are
the slaves of their mothers and grandmothers.

"The great amount of anaemia and malnutrition among the children in this
area (says the report) is due to poverty, with its resultant evils of
dirt, ill-feeding and under-feeding, neglect and female labour.

"Cheap food.--The necessity for buying cheap food results in the
purchasing of foodstuffs which are deficient in nutrient properties. The
main articles of diet are indifferent bread and butter, the fag ends
of coarse meat, the outside leaves of green vegetables, and tea, and
an occasional pennyworth of fried fish and potatoes. Children who are
supplied with milk at school, or who are given breakfast and dinner,
respond at once to the better feeding, and show distinct improvement in
their class work. The unemployment among the men obliges the women to
seek for work outside the home, and the under-payment of female labour
has its effect upon the nutrition of the family.

"'Investigation in the senior departments of one school showed that 144
children were being supported by their mothers only, 57 were living on
their sisters, 68 upon the joint earnings of elder brothers and
sisters, while another 130 had mothers who went out to work in order to
supplement the earnings of the father.

"'Approximately one-third of the children in this neighbourhood are
supported by female labour. With the mother at work the children rapidly
become neglected, the boys get out of control, they play truant, they
learn to sleep out, and become known to the police while they are still
in the junior mixed department.'

"The Girl Housewife.--The maintenance of the home, the cooking and
catering, is done by an elderly girl who sometimes may not be more than
ten years of age. The mother's earnings provide bread and tea for the
family and pay the rent, but leave nothing over for clothing or boots.

"Many of the boys obtain employment out of school hours, for which they
are paid and for which they may receive food; others learn to hang about
the gasworks and similar places, and get scraps of food and halfpence
from the workmen. In consequence they may appear to be better nourished
than the girls 'who work beyond their strength at domestic work,
step cleaning, baby minding, or carrying laundry bundles and running
errands.' For this labour they receive no remuneration, since it is done
for the family.

"A remarkable paragraph of the report roundly declares--

"'The provision generally at cost price of school meals for all who
choose to pay for them would be a national economy, which would do
much to improve the status of the feeding centres and the standard of
feeding. This principle is applied most successfully in schools of
a higher grade, and might well be considered in connection with the
ordinary elementary schools of the Council. Such a provision would
probably be of the greatest benefit to the respectable but very poor,
who are too proud to apply for charity meals, and whose children are
often penalised by want, and the various avoidable defects or ailments
that come in its train.'

"Feeding wanted.--Of the children of a Bethnal Green school, the school
doctor is quoted as reporting that 'it was not hospital treatment but
feeding that was wanted.'

"Among curious oddments of information contained in the report, it is
mentioned that the children of widows generally show superior physique.

"The teeth are often better in children from the poorer homes, 'perhaps
from use on rougher food materials which leaves less DEBRIS to undergo

"'Children of poorer homes also often have the advantage of the fresh
air of the streets, whilst the better-off child is kept indoors and
becomes flabby and less resistant to minor ailments. The statistics of
infantile mortality suggest that the children of the poorer schools
have also gone through a more severe selection; disease weeding out by
natural selection, and the less fit having succumbed before school age,
the residue are of sturdier type than in schools or classes where such
selection has been less intense.'"


A considerable portion of the inhabitants of the world below the line
are wanderers, without home, property, work or any visible means of
existence. For twenty years it has been the fashion to speak of them
as the "submerged," and a notable philanthropist taught the public to
believe that they formed one-tenth of our population.

It was currently reported in the Press that the philanthropist I have
referred to offered to take over and salve this mass of human wreckage
for the sum of one million pounds. His offer was liberally responded to;
whether he received the million or not does not matter, for he has at
any rate been able to call to his assistance thousands of men and women,
and to set them to work in his own peculiar way to save the "submerged."

From a not unfriendly book just published, written by one who was for
more than twenty years intimately associated with him, and one of
the chief directors of his salvage work, we learn that the result has
largely been a failure.

To some of us this failure had been apparent for many years, and though
we hoped much from the movement, we could not close our eyes to facts,
and reluctantly had to admit that the number of the "submerged" did not
appreciably lessen.

True, shelters, depots, bridges, homes and labour homes were opened
with astonishing celerity. Wood was chopped and paper sorted in immense
quantities, but shipwrecked humanity passed over bridges that did
not lead to any promised land, and abject humanity ascended with the
elevators that promptly lowered them to depths on the other side.

Stimulated by the apparent success or popularity of the Salvation Army,
the Church Army sprang into existence, and disputed with the former the
claim to public patronage, and the right to save! It adopted similar
means, it is certain with similar results, for the "submerged" are still
with us.

I say that both these organisations pursued the same methods and worked
practically on the same lines, for both called into their service a
number of enthusiastic young persons, clothed them in uniforms, horribly
underpaid them, and set them to work to save humanity and solve social
and industrial problems, problems for which wiser and more experienced
people fail to find a solution. It would be interesting to discover what
has become of the tens of thousands of enthusiastic men and women who
have borne the uniform of these organisations for periods longer or
shorter, and who have disappeared from the ranks.

How many of them are "submerged" I cannot say, but I know that some have
been perilously near it.

I am persuaded that this is a dangerous procedure, very dangerous
procedure, and the subscribing public has some right to ask what has
become of all the "officers" who, drawn from useful work to these
organisations, have disappeared.

But as a continual recruiting keeps up the strength, the subscribing
public does not care to ask, for the public is quite willing to part
with its vested interests in human wreckage. All this leads me to say
once more that the "submerged" are still with us. Do you doubt it? Then
come with me; let us take a midnight walk on the Thames Embankment; any
night will do, wet or dry, winter or summer!

Big Ben is striking the hour as we commence our walk at Blackfriars; we
have with us a sack of food and a number of second-hand overcoats. The
night is cold, gusty and wet, and we think of our warm and comfortable
beds and almost relinquish our expedition. The lights on Blackfriars
Bridge reveal the murky waters beneath, and we see that the tide is
running out.

We pass in succession huge buildings devoted to commerce, education,
religion and law; we pass beautiful gardens, and quickly we arrive at
the Temple. The lamps along the roadway give sufficient light for our
purpose, for they enable us to see that here and there on the seats and
in the recesses of the Embankment are strange beings of both sexes.

Yonder are two men, unkempt and unshaven, their heads bent forward
and their hands thrust deep into their trousers pockets and, to all
appearance, asleep.

Standing in a sheltered corner of the Temple Station we see several
other men, who are smoking short pipes which they replenish from time to
time with bits of cigars and cigarettes that they have gathered during
the day from the streets of London.

I know something of the comedy and tragedy of cigar ends, for times and
again I have seen a race and almost a struggle for a "fat end" when some
thriving merchant has thrown one into the street or gutter. Suddenly
emerging from obscurity and showing unexpected activity, two half-naked
fellows have made for it; I have seen the satisfaction of the fellow who
secured it, and I have heard the curse of the disappointed; but there!
at any time, on any day, near the Bank, or the Mansion House, in
Threadneedle Street, or in Cheapside such sights may be seen by those
who have eyes to see.

These two fellows have been successful, for they are assuaging the pangs
of hunger by smoking their odds and ends. They look at us as we pass to
continue our investigation. Here on a seat we find several men of motley
appearance; one is old and bent, his white beard covers his chest, he
has a massive head, he is a picturesque figure, and would stand well
for a representation of Old Father Thames, for the wet streams from his
hair, his beard and his ample moustache. Beside him sits a younger
man, weak and ill. His worn clothing tells us of better days, and we
instinctively realise that not much longer will he sit out the midnight
hours on the cold Embankment.

Before we distribute our clothes and food, we continue our observation.
What strikes us most is the silence, for no one speaks to us, no hand is
held out for a gift, no requests are made for help.

They look at us unconcernedly as we pass; they appear to bear their
privations with indifference or philosophy. Yonder is a woman leaning
over the parapet looking into the mud and water below; we speak to her,
and she turns about and faces us. Then we realise that Hood's poem
comes into our mind; we offer her a ticket for a "shelter," which she
declines; we offer her food, but she will have none of it; she asks us
to leave her, and we pass on.

Here is a family group, father and mother with two children; their
attire and appearance tell us that they are tramps; the mother has a
babe close to her breast, and round it she has wrapt her old shawl; a
boy of five sits next to her, and the father is close up.

The parents evidently have been bred in vagrancy, and the children, and,
unless the law intervenes, their children are destined to continue the
species. The whining voice of the woman and the outstretched hands of
the boy let us know that they are eager and ready for any gift that pity
can bestow.

But we give nothing, and let me say that after years of experience,
I absolutely harden my heart and close my pocket against the tramping
beggar that exploits little children. And to those who drag children,
droning out hymns through our quiet streets on Sunday, my sympathies
extend to a horsewhip.

We leave the tramps, and come upon a poor shivering wretch of about
thirty-five years; his face presents unmistakable signs of disease more
loathsome than leprosy; he is not fit to live, he is not fit to die; he
is an outcast from friends, kindred and home. He carries his desolation
with him, and the infirmary or the river will be the end of him.

Here are two stalwart fellows, big enough and strong enough to do useful
work in the world. But they are fresh from prison, and will be back in
prison before long; they know us, for it is not the first time we have
made their acquaintance.

They are by no means backward in speaking and telling us that they want
"just ten shillings to buy stock in Houndsditch which they can sell
in Cheapside." As we move away they beg insistently for "just a few
shillings; they don't want to get back to prison."

Now we come to a youth of eighteen; he seems afraid, and looks at us
with suspicious eyes; what is he doing here? We are interested in him,
so young, yet alone on the Embankment. We open our bag and offer him
food, which he accepts and eats; as we watch him our pity increases:
he is thinly clad, and the night air is damp and cold; we select an old
coat, which he puts on. Then we question him, and he tells us that his
mother is dead, his father remarried; that his stepmother did not like
him, and in consequence his father turned him out; that he cannot get
work. And so on; a common story, no originality about it, and not much

We suddenly put the question, "How long have you lived in
lodging-houses?" "About three years, sir." "What did you work at?"
"Selling papers in the streets." "Anything else?" "No, sir." "You had
not got any lodging money to-night.?" "No." "Ever been in prison?"
"Only twice." "What for?" "Gambling in the streets," and we leave him,
conscious that he is neither industrious, honest nor truthful.

We come at length to Waterloo Bridge, and here in the corners and
recesses of the steps we find still more of the submerged, and a pitiful
lot they are.

We look closely at them, and we see that some are getting back to
primeval life, and that some are little more than human vegetables. We
know that their chief requirements are food, sleep and open air; and
that given these their lives are ideal, to themselves! But we distribute
our food amongst them, we part with our last old coat, we give tickets
for free shelters, but we get no thanks, and we know well enough
that the shelter tickets will not be used, for it is much easier for
philosophic vagabondage to remain curled up where it is than to struggle
on to a shelter.

So we leave them, and with a feeling of hopelessness hurry home to our

But let us revisit the Embankment by day at 11 a.m. We take our stand
right close to Cleopatra's Needle; we see that numbers of wretched
people, male and female, are already there, and are forming themselves
into a queue three deep, the males taking the Westminster side of the
Needle, the females the City side.

While this regiment of a very dolorous army is gathering together,
and forming silently and passively into the long queue, we look at the
ancient obelisk, and our mind is carried backward to the days of old,
when the old stone stood in the pride of its early life, and with its
clear-cut hieroglyphics spoke to the wonderful people who comprised the
great nation of antiquity.

We almost appeal to it, and feel that we would like to question it,
as it stands pointing heavenwards beside our great river. Surely the
ancient stone has seen some strange sights, and heard strange sounds in
days gone by.

Involuntarily we ask whether it has seen stranger sights, and heard more
doleful sounds than the sights to be seen under its shadow to-day, and
the sounds to be heard around it by night. Could it speak, doubtless
it would tell of the misery, suffering, slavery endured by the poor
in Egypt thousands of years ago. Maybe it would tell us that the great
empire of old had the same difficulties to face and the same problems to
solve that Great Britain is called upon to face and to solve to-day.

For the poor cried for bread in the days of the Pharaohs, and they were
crowded into unclean places, but even then great and gorgeous palaces
were built.

"Can you tell us, Ancient Stone, has there been an onward march of good
since that day? Are we much better, wiser, happier and stronger than the
dusky generations that have passed away?" But we get no response from
the ancient stone, as grim and silent it stands looking down upon us. So
we turn to the assembled crowd. See how it has grown whilst we have been
speculating. Silently, ceaselessly over the various bridges, or through
the various streets leading from the Strand they have come, and are
still coming.

There is no firm footstep heard amongst them as they shufflingly take
their places. No eager expectation is seen on any face, but quietly,
indifferently, without crushing, elbowing, they join the tail-end of the
procession and stand silently waiting for the signal that tells them to

Let us walk up and down to count them, for it is nearly twelve o'clock,
and at twelve o'clock the slow march begins. So we count them by threes,
and find five hundred men to the right and one hundred women to the
left, all waiting, silently waiting! Stalwart policemen are there to
keep order, but their services are not required.

In the distance the whirl of London's traffic raises its mighty voice;
nearer still, the passing tramcars thunder along, and the silence of the
waiting crowd is made more apparent by these contrasts.

Big Ben booms the hour! it is twelve o'clock! and the slow march begins;
three by three they slowly approach the Needle, and each one is promptly
served with a small roll of bread and a cup of soup; as each one
receives the bread and soup he steps out of the ranks, promptly and
silently drinks his soup, and returns the cup. Rank follows rank till
every one is served, then silently and mysteriously the crowd melts
away and disappears. The police go to other duties, the soup barrows are
removed; the grim ancient stone stands once more alone.

But a few hours later, even as Big Ben is booming six, the "Miserables"
will be again waiting, silently waiting for the rolls of bread and
the cups of soup, and having received them will again mysteriously
disappear, to go through the same routine at twelve o'clock on the
morrow. Aye! and to return on every morrow when soup and rolls are to be

It looks very pitiful, this mass of misery. It seems very comforting to
know that they are fed twice a day with rolls and soup, but after all
the matter wants looking at very carefully, and certain questions must
be asked.

Who are these miserables? How comes it that they are so ready to receive
as a matter of course the doles of food provided for them? Are they
really helped, and is their position really improved by this kind of
charity? I venture to say no! I go farther, and I say very decidedly
that so long as the bulk of these people can get food twice a day, and
secure some kind of shelter at night, they will remain content to be
as they are. I will go still farther and say, that if this provision
becomes permanent the number of the miserables will increase, and the
Old Needle will continue to look down on an ever-growing volume of
poverty and wretchedness.

For after receiving the soup and bread, these nomads disappear into the
streets and by-ways of London, there by hook or crook, by begging or
other means, to secure a few coppers, to pick up scraps of food, and to
return to the Embankment.

I have walked up and down the Embankment, I have looked searchingly
at the people assembled. Some of them I have recognised as old
acquaintances; many of them, I know, have no desire to be other than
what they are. To eat, to sleep, to have no responsibility, to be free
to live an uncontrolled life, are their ambitions; they have no other.
Some of them are young men, only twenty years of age, who have seen
the inside of prison again and again. Some of them are older, who have
tramped the country in the summer time and have been drawn to London by
the attraction of an easy feeding in the winter. Search their ranks! and
you will find very little genuine, unfortunate, self-respecting poverty.
They are what they are, and unless other means are adopted they will,
remain what they are!

And so they will eat the bread and drink the soup; they will come at
twelve o'clock noon; they will come at six o'clock in the evening. They
will sleep where they can, and to-morrow will be as to-day; and the next
day as to-morrow, unless some compulsion is applied to them.

All this is very sad, but I venture to say it is true, and it seems to
be one of the evils almost inseparable from our present life. Probably
in every clime and every age such women and men have existed. The savage
lives in all of us, and the simple life has its attractions. To be free
of responsibility is, no doubt, a natural aspiration. But when I see how
easy it is for this class of people to obtain food, when I see how easy
it is for them to obtain shelter, when I see and know how thousands of
the poor are unceasingly at work in order to provide a modicum of food
and the semblance of a shelter, then it occurs to me, and I am sure it
will to any one who thinks seriously upon the matter, that these men and
women, who are harking back to the life of the idle savage, are treated
better in Christian England than the industrious, self-respecting but
unfortunate poor. But come with me to see another sight! It is again
afternoon, and we take our stand at 3.30 p.m. outside a shelter for
women which every night receives, for fourpence each, some hundreds of
submerged women.

The doors will not be opened till six o'clock, so we are in time to
watch them as they arrive to take their places in the waiting queue. A
policeman is present to preserve order and keep the pavement clear; but
his service is not required, for the women are very orderly, and allow
plenty of room for passers-by.

As the time for opening approaches, the number of waiting women
increases until there is a waiting silent crowd. No photograph could
give the slightest idea of their appearance, for dirt and misery are not
revealed by photography.

Let us look at them, for the human eye sees most! What do we see?
Squalor, vice, misery, dementia, feeble minds and feeble bodies. Old
women on the verge of the grave eating scraps of food gathered from the
City dustbins. Dirty and repulsive food, dirty and repulsive women! who
have begged during the day enough coppers to pay for their lodging
by night. Girls of twenty, whose conduct in their homes has been
outrageous, and whose life in London must be left to imagination.
Middle-aged women, outcasts, whose day has past, but who have still
capabilities for begging and stealing. The whole company presents an
altogether terrible picture, and we are conscious that few of the women
have either the ability or the desire to render decent service to the
community, or to live womanly lives.

At length the door opens, and we watch them pass silently in, to sleep
during the night in the boxes arranged on the floors, their bodies
unwashed, and their clothing unchanged. Happy are such women when some
trumpery theft lands them in prison, for there at any rate a change of
clothing is provided, and a bath is compulsory.

If we stand outside a men's shelter, we see a similar state of things, a
waiting crowd. A passive, content, strange mixed lot of humans. Some of
them who have been well educated, but are now reaping the harvest that
follows the sowing of wild oats. The submerged males are, on the whole,
less repulsive than the women; dirt is less in evidence, and they
exhibit a better standard of health. But many of them are harking back
to nature, and remind us of the pictures we have seen of primeval man.

I want to say a few words about the submerged that congregate on
the Thames Embankment, and the humanity we have seen enter the cheap

My experience has shown me that they constitute the lowest grade and the
least hopeful class of the submerged. Amongst them there are very few
decent and helpable men and women who are capable of rising to a higher
life. Say what we will, be as pitiful as we may, those of us who have
much experience of life know perfectly well that there exists a large
class of persons who are utterly incapable of fulfilling the duties of
decent citizenship. It may be that they are wicked, and it is certain
that they are weak, but whether wicked or weak, they have descended by
the law of moral gravitation and have found their level in the lowest
depths of civilised life.

And they come from unexpected quarters, for some who have known comfort
and refinement are now quite content with their present conditions.
Whether born of refined parents, or of rude and ignorant parents,
whether coming from a tramping stock, or from settled home life, they
have one thing in common. It is this--the life they live has a powerful
attraction for them; they could not if they would, and would not if they
could, live lives that demand decency, discipline and industry. Nothing
but compulsion will ever induce them to submit themselves to disciplined
life. But let it be clearly understood that I am now speaking only of
the lowest class of the submerged. While my experience has taught me
that they, humanly speaking, are a hopeless lot, I have learned that
they have their qualities. They can endure if they cannot work; they can
suffer if they cannot strive. After all I am persuaded that they get a
fair amount of happiness. Simple pleasures are the greatest, perhaps the
only real pleasures. We all like to be free of responsibilities. There
is no rent-day coming round with dread certainty and irritating monotony
to the nomads. No rate collector irritates them with his imperious
"demand note." No school-board officer rouses them to a sense of duty by
his everlasting efforts to force their children to school. No butcher,
no baker, no milkman duns them for payment of bills long overdue!
They escape the danger of furniture on the "hire system." For them no
automatic gas meter grudgingly doles out its niggardly pennyworths of
gas. They are not implored to burden themselves with the ENCYCLOPAEDIA

They are free from the seductions of standard bread; paper-bag cookery
causes them no anxious thought. Even "sweet peas" do not enter into
their simple calculations. Finally no life assurance agent marks them
for his prey, and no income-tax tempts them to lie! From all these
things they are free, and I would like to know who would not wish to
be free of them and a thousand other worries I would escape them if I
could, but alas I cannot.

Decidedly there is much to be said for the life of a nomad, but whether
or not I should place him among the inhabitants of the underworld I
am not sure; for he toils not, neither does he spin, and his bitterest
enemies cannot accuse him of taking thought for the morrow. I had almost
forgotten one great advantage he possesses: he need not wash; and when
this distasteful operation becomes, for sanitary reasons, absolutely
necessary, why then he can take a month in one of our great sanatoria,
either prison or workhouse will do, and be thoroughly cleansed!

The idea of such free and easy folk being saved by a shelter and
wood-chopping is very funny.

But we are all tramps, more or less; it is only a question of degree!
Who would not like to tramp with George Borrow through Spain or Wales
I would like the chance! Who does not feel and hear the "call of the
wild"? Most certainly all Britons thrill with it. Who does not like to
feel the "wind on the heath" beat on his face and fill his nostrils!
Who does not love the sweetness of country lanes, or the solitude of
mountains, or the whispering mystery of the wood, or the terrors of the
sea, or the silence of midnight?

All these things are ingrained in us, part and parcel of our very
selves; we cannot get away from them if we would, and woe betide us if
we did! For this is a grand quality in itself, one that has made our
nation and our empire. But couple it with idleness, inertia, feebleness,
weak minds, and weaker bodies; why, then you get the complete article,
the vegetable human! the guinea-pig man; if you will, the "submerged,"
or at any rate a portion of them.

Originally I have no doubt the human family were nomads, and many of our
good old instincts still survive, but civilisation has killed others.
In every cross-bred species of animals or plants there are "reverts"
or "throwbacks," and the human family produces plenty of them. Every
civilised country has its "throwbacks," and the more monotonous
civilisation becomes, the more cast-iron its rules, and the more
scientific and educated its people, the more onerous and difficult
become the responsibilities and duties of citizenship; and the greater
the likelihood of in increased number of reverts to undisciplined and
wild life. In this direction the sea and our colonies are the safeguard
of England. But to-day we pay in meal or malt for our civilisation,
for many brave lads, with thews and muscles, are chafing, fretting and
wearing out their hearts in dull London offices or stores, where they
feel choked, hampered, cabined and confined, for civilisation chains
them to their desks.

But I am wandering too! I will hark back. Another cause, and a fruitful
cause, of nomadic life is to be found in the ever-increasing number
of young incapables that our present-day life produces. Characterless,
backboneless, negative kind of fellows with neither wisdom nor stature
abound. Up to eighteen years they pass muster, but after that age they
are useless; in reality they need caring for all their lives. They
possess no initiative, no self-reliance, and little capability for
honest work, unless it be simple work done under close supervision. Our
industrial life is too strenuous for these young men; they are laggards
in life's race, they quickly fall behind, and ultimately become
disqualified altogether.

Many of their parents refuse them shelter, the streets become their
home; absolute idleness supervenes; their day is past. Henceforward they
are lodging-house habitues, or wanderers on the face of the earth.

More pitiable still is the case of those that may be classed as
feeble-minded, and who are just responsible enough to be quite
irresponsible. Idiots and imbeciles have largely disappeared from
country villages and small towns. They are well taken care of, for our
large asylums are full of them; they have good quarters, good food,
every attention, so they live long in the land.

But the case is very different with the half imbeciles or the half mad.
Short terms of imprisonment with short periods of hopeless, useless
liberty and an occasional spell in the workhouse constitute the circle
of their lives; and a vicious circle it is. Can any life be more
pitiable? Sane enough to know that they are not quite sane, insane
enough to have no wish to control their animal or vicious instincts.
Possessing no education, strength or skill, of no possible use in
industrial life, with no taste for decency or social life; sleeping by
day in our parks, and by night upon the Embankment. But they mate; and
as like meets with like the result may be imagined! Here again we
are paying for our neglect of many serious matters. Bad housing,
overcrowding, incessant work by the mothers whilst bearing children,
drinking habits among the parents, insufficient food for the children,
endless anxieties and worries. All these things and more amongst that
portion of the nation which produces the largest families; what wonder
that many incapable bodies and minds result!

But if civilisation allows all this, civilisation must pay the penalty,
which is not a light one, and continue to have the miserables upon the

Have we no pity! no thought for the next generation, no concern for
ourselves! No! I do not recommend a lethal chamber, but I do strongly
advise permanent detention and segregation for these low types of
unfortunate humanity. Nothing less will avail, and expensive though it
might be for a time, it would pay in the near future, and would be at
once an act of mercy and justice.

Yes, on the Thames Embankment extremes meet, the ages are bridged over,
for the products of our up-to-date civilisation stand side by side with
the products of primeval habits and nomadic life.


The inmates of the underworld lodging-houses are a queer and
heterogeneous lot; but they are much to be preferred to the sleepers
out; because rascally though many of them are, there is a good deal
of self-reliance and not a little enterprise amongst them. By hook and
crook, and, it is to be feared, mostly by crook, they obtain sufficient
money for food and lodging, and to this extent they are an improvement
upon the sleepers out. They have, too, some pluck, perseverance and
talents that, rightly applied, might be of considerable benefit to
the community. But having got habituated to the liberty of common
lodging-houses, and to the excitement of getting day by day just enough
for each day's need, though sometimes fasting and sometimes feasting,
the desire for settled home life and for the duties of citizenship has
vanished. For with the money to pay night by night for their lodgings,
responsibility to rent and tax collector ends.

I must allow some exceptions, for once every year there comes upon
thousands of them the burden of finding five shillings to pay for the
hawker's licence that provides them with the semblance of a living, or
an excuse for begging. After much experience of this class, including
many visits to common lodging-houses, and some friendships with the
inmates, I am sure that the desire to be untrammelled with social and
municipal obligation leads a great percentage of the occupants to prefer
the life to any other. They represent to some extent in this modern and
industrial age the descendants of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, with this
exception, they are by no means averse to the wine-cup. It is to be
feared that there is a growth in this portion of our community, for
every scheme for providing decent lodgings for casually homeless men
is eagerly taken advantage of by men who might and who ought to live in
homes of their own, and so fulfil the duties of decent citizenship. In
this respect even Lord Rowton's estimable lodging-houses, and those,
too, of our municipal authorities prove no exception, for they attract
numbers of men who ought not to be there, but who might, with just a
little more self-reliance and self-respect, live comfortably outside.

But I pass on to the common lodging-houses that accommodate a lower
class than is found in municipal or Rowton houses. Probably none, or
at any rate very few, of my readers have had a practical experience of
common lodging-houses. I have, so therefore I ask them to accompany me
to one of them.

In a dingy slum stand a number of grimy houses that have been converted
into one big house. The various doorways have been blocked and one
enlarged entrance serves.

As we enter, the money-taker in his office demands our business. We tell
him that we are anxious to have a look round, and he tells us that he
will send for the deputy. The deputy is the autocrat that governs with
undisputable sway in this domain of semi-darkness and dirt. We stand
aside in the half-lit passage, taking good care that we have no contact
with the walls; the air we breathe is thick with unpleasant odours,
and we realise at once, and to our complete satisfaction, the smell and
flavour of a common lodging-house. We know instinctively that we have
made its acquaintance before, it seems familiar to us, but we are
puzzled about it until we remember we have had a foretaste of it given
to us by some lodging-house habitues that we met. The aroma of a common
lodging-house cannot be concealed, it is not to be mistaken. The hour
is six o'clock p.m., the days are short, for it is November. The lodgers
are arriving, so we stand and watch them as they pass the little office
and pay their sixpences. Down goes the money, promptly a numbered ticket
takes its place; few words are exchanged, and away go the ticket-holders
to the general kitchen.

Presently the deputy comes to interview us, and he does not put us at
our ease; he is a forbidding fellow, one that evidently will stand no
nonsense. Observe, if you please, that he has lost his right hand, and
that a formidable iron hook replaces it. Many a time has that hook been
serviceable; if it could speak, many tales would it tell of victories
won, of rows quelled, and of blood spilled.

We have seen the fellow previously, and more than once, at the local
police-court. Sometimes he came as prosecutor, sometimes as prisoner,
and at other times as witness. When the police had been required to
supplement the power of his iron hand in quelling the many free fights,
he appeared sometimes in the dual capacity of prisoner and prosecutor.

We know that he retains his position because of his strength and the
unscrupulous way in which he uses it. He knows us too, but he is not
well pleased to see us! Nevertheless, he accedes to our request for
"just a look round." So through a large passage we pass, and he ushers
us into the lodging-house kitchen. As the door opens a babel of many
voices greets us, a rush of warm air comes at us, and the evidence of
our noses proclaims that bloaters and bacon, liver and onions, sausages
and fresh fish are being cooked. We look and see, we see and taste!
Strange eyes are turned upon us just for a moment, but we are not
"'tecs," so the eyes are turned back to the different frying-pans or
roasting-forks, as the case may be. See how they crowd round the huge
and open fire, for there is no cooking range. See how they elbow each
other as they want space for this pan or that fork. See how the bloaters
curl and twist as if trying to escape from the forks and the fire. See
how the sausages burst and splutter in their different pans. See how
stolidly the tough steaks brown, refusing either to splutter, yield fat,
or find gravy to assist in their own undoing.

Listen to the sizzling that pervades the place, acting as an orchestral
accompaniment to the chorus of human voices. Listen to it all, breathe
it all, let your noses and your ears take it all in. Then let your eyes
and your imagination have their turn before the pungency of rank tobacco
adds to the difficulty of seeing and breathing. And so we look, and we
find there are sixty human beings of both sexes and various ages in that
kitchen. Some of them we know, for have we not seen them in Cheapside,
St. Paul's Churchyard, or elsewhere acting as gutter merchants. Yonder
sit an old couple that we have seen selling matches or laces for many
years past! It is not a race day, and there being no "test match" or
exciting football match, a youth of sixteen who earns a precarious
living by selling papers in the streets sits beside them. To-day papers
are at a discount, so he has given up business for the day and sought
warmth and company in his favourite lodging-house.

Ah! there is our old friend, the street ventriloquist! You see the back
of his hand is painted in vivid colours to resemble the face of an old
woman. We know that he has a bundle that contains caps and bonnets,
dresses and skirts that will convert his hand and arm into a quaint
human figure. Many a droll story can he tell, for he has "padded the
hoof" from one end of England to the other; he knows every lodging-house
from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Plymouth. He is a graceless dog, fond of a
joke, a laugh and a story; he is honest enough and intelligent enough
for anything. But of regular life, discipline and work he will have
none. By and by, after the cooking is all done, he will want to give a
performance and take up a collection.

There are a couple, male and female, who tramp the country lanes; the
farm haystacks or outbuildings have been their resting-places during the
summer, but approaching winter has sent them back to London.

You see that they have got a tattered copy of Moody and Sankey's hymns,
which is their stock-in-trade. They have at different lodging-house
"services" picked up some slight knowledge of a limited number of tunes,
now they are trying to commit the words to memory.

To-morrow they will in quiet streets be whining out "Oh, where is my boy
to-night?" or "Will you meet me at the Fountain?"

Look again--here is a shabby-genteel man who lives by his wits. He is
fairly educated and can write a plausible letter. He is dangerous; his
stock-in-trade comprises local directories, WHO'S WHO, annual reports
of charitable societies, clergymen's lists, etc. He is a begging-letter
writer, and moves from lodging-house to lodging-house; he writes letters
for any of the inmates who have some particular tale of woe to unfold,
or some urgent appeal to make, and he receives the major part of the
resultant charity.

He is drunken and bestial, he is a parasite of the worst description,
for he preys alike on the benevolent and upon the poor wretches whose
cause he espouses.

He assumes many names, he changes his addresses adroitly, and ticks off
very carefully the names and addresses of people he has defrauded.
In fact, he is so clever and slippery that the police and the Charity
Organisation Society cannot locate him. So he thrives, a type of many,
for every one of London's common lodging-houses can provide us with one
or more such cunning rogues.

Yonder sits a "wandering boy" about twenty-eight years of age. He is not
thriving, and he must needs be content with simple bread and cheese. A
roll of cheap "pirated" music lies on his knee and proclaims his method
of living. His life has its dangers, for he has great difficulty in
providing five shillings for his pedlar's licence, and he runs great
risk of having his stock seized by the police, and being committed to
prison for a fine he cannot pay.

He has brought sorrow and disgrace upon his parents, no eye brightens at
the mention of his name. Alas! he is a specimen of the "homeless boy" of
whom his neighbours the minstrels will sing to-morrow. He is silent and
moody, for he is not in funds. Are there none among the company whom
sheer misfortune has brought down into this underworld? we ask. Aye,
there are, for in this kitchen there are representatives of all sorts
and conditions. See that man in the corner by himself, speaking to no
one, cooking nothing, eating nothing; he is thinking, thinking! This
is his first night in a common lodging-house; it is all new to him, he
thinks it all so terrible and disgusting.

He seems inclined to run and spend his night in the streets, and perhaps
it will be well for him to do so. He looks decent, bewildered and
sorrowful; we know at a glance that some misfortune has tripped him
up, we see that self-respect is not dead within him. We know that if he
stays the night, breathing the foul air, listening to the horrid talk,
seeing much and realising more, feeling himself attacked on every side
by the ordinary pests of common lodging-houses, we know that tomorrow
morning his self-respect will be lessened, his moral power weakened, and
his hope of social recovery almost gone. Let him stay a few weeks, then
the lodging-house will become his home and his joy. So we feel inclined
to cry out and warn him to escape with his life. This is the great evil
and danger of common lodging-houses; needful as they undoubtedly are for
the homeless and the outcast, they place the unfortunate on an inclined
plane down which they slide to complete demoralisation.

I am told that there are four hundred large common lodging-houses in
London, many of them capable of holding several hundred lodgers, and
which night after night are filled with a weird collection of humanity.
And they cast a fatal spell upon all who get accustomed to them. Few,
very few who have become acclimatised ever go back to settled home
life. For the decencies, amenities and restraints of citizenship
become distasteful. And truly there is much excitement in the life for
excitement, at any rate, abounds in common lodging-houses.

Nothing happens in them but the unexpected, and that brings its joys and
terrors, its laughter and its tears. Here a great deal of unrestrained
human nature is given free play, and the results are exciting if not
edifying. Let us spend an evening, but not a night--that is too much to
ask-with the habitues.

We sit apart and listen to the babel of voices, but we listen in vain
for the lodging-house slang of which we are told so much. They speak
very much like other people, and speak on subjects upon which other
people speak. They get as excited as ordinary people, too.

Yonder is a lewd fellow shouting obscenities to a female, who, in an
equally loud voice and quite as unmistakable language, returns him a
Roland for every Oliver.

Here are a couple of wordy excitable fellows who are arguing the pros
and cons of Free Trade and Tariff Reform. They will keep at it till the
lights are put out, for both are supplied with a plentiful supply of
contradictory literature. Both have fluent tongues, equally bitter,
and, having their audience, they, like other people, must contend for
mastery. Not that they care for the rights or wrongs of either question,
for both are prepared, as occasion serves, to take either side.
Religion, too, is excitedly discussed, for an animated couple are
discussing Christian Evidences, while the ventriloquist gives parsons
generally and bishops in particular a very warm time; even the Pope and
General Booth do not escape his scurrilous but witty indictments.

Meanwhile the street singers are practising songs, sacred and secular,
and our friend the street minstrel produces an old flute and plays an
obbligato, whilst the quivering voice of his poor old wife again wants
to know the whereabouts of her wandering boy.

There will be a touching scene when they do meet--may I be there! but
I hope they will not meet in a common lodging-house. Another street
minstrel is practising new tunes upon a mouth-organ, wherewith to soften
the hearts of a too obdurate public.

What a babel it all makes; now groups of card-players are getting
quarrelsome, for luck has been against some, or cheating has been
discovered; blows are exchanged, and blood flows! As the night advances,
men and women under the influence of drink arrive. Some are merry,
others are quarrelsome, some are moody and lachrymose. The latter become
the butt of the former, the noise increases, confusion itself becomes
confounded, and we leave to avoid the general MELEE, and to breathe the
night air, which we find grateful and reviving. Phew! but it was hot and
thick, we don't want to breathe it again. It is astonishing that people
get used to it, and like it too! But it leaves its taint upon them, for
it permeates their clothing; they carry it about with them, and any
one who gets a whiff of it gets some idea of the breath of a common
lodging-house. And its moral breath has its effect, too! Woe to all that
is fresh and fair, young and hopeful, that comes within its withering
influence. Farewell! a long farewell to honour, truth and self-respect,
for the hot breath of a common lodging-house will blast those and every
other good quality in young people of either sex that inhale it. Its
breath comes upon them, and lo! they become foul without and vile
within, carrying their moral and physical contagion with them wherever
they go.

A moral sepulchre, or rather crematorium, is the common lodging-house,
for when its work is done, nothing is left but ashes. For the old
habitues I am not much concerned, and though generally I hold a brief
for old sinners, criminals and convicts, I hold no brief for the old and
middle-aged habitues of a common lodging-house.

Can any one call the dead to life? Can any one convert cold flesh into
warm pulsing life? Nay, nay! Talk about being turned into a pillar of
salt! the common lodging-house can do more and worse than that! It can
turn men and women into pillars of moral death, for even the influence
of a long term of penal servitude, withering as it is, cannot for one
moment be compared with the corrupting effect of common lodging-house

So the old minstrels may go seeking their wandering boy! and the
begging-letter writers may go hang!

The human vultures that prey upon the simple and good-natured may, if
middle-aged, continue in their evil ways. But what of the young people
of whom there ought to be hope? What of them? how long are these "lazar
houses" to stand with open door waiting to receive, swallow, transform
and eject young humanity? But there is money in them, of course there
is; there always is money to be made out of sin and misery if the
community permits.

Human wreckage pays, and furnishes a bigger profit than more humdrum
investments. I am told by an old habitue with whom I have had endless
talks and who has taught me much, although he is a graceless rascal,
that one man owns eight of these large establishments, and that he and
his family live in respectability and wealth.

I have no reason to doubt his statement, for these places are mines of
wealth, but the owners take precious good care not to live in them. And
infinite care that their families do not inhabit them. Some day when we
are wise--but wisdom comes so slowly--these things will not be left to
private enterprise, for municipalities will provide and own them at no
loss to the ratepayers either.

Then decency, though homeless, will have a chance of survival, and
moral and physical cleanliness some chance to live, even in a common

Sadly we need a modern St. George who will face and destroy this
monstrous dragon with the fiery breath.

Let it not be said that I am unduly hard upon them who from choice or
misfortune inhabit these places. From my heart I pity them, but one
cannot be blind to the general consequences. And these things must be
taken into consideration when efforts are made, as undoubtedly efforts
will some day be made, to tackle this question in a reasonable way.

It is high time, too, that the public understood the difficulties that
attend any effort to lift lodging-house habitues to a higher form of

I am bold enough to hazard the statement that the number of these
people increases year by year, and that no redemptive effort has had the
slightest effect in checking the continual increase. As Secretary of
the Howard Association, it is my business year by year to make myself
acquainted with the criminal statistics, and all matters connected with
our prisons. These statistics more than confirm my statement, for they
tell us that while drunkenness, brutality, crimes of violence show
a steady decrease, vagabondage, sleeping out, begging, etc., show a
continual increase as years roll by.

Of course many of them appear again and again in the prison statistics,
nevertheless they form a great and terrible army, whose increase bodes
ill for dear and fair old England.

Like birds they are migratory, but they pour no sweetness on the morning
or evening air. Like locusts they leave a blight behind.

Like famished wolves when winter draws near they seek the habitations of
men. Food they must have! There is corn in Egypt!

When gentle spring returns, then heigho! for the country lanes, villages
and provincial towns, and as they move from place to place they leave
their trail behind them.

And what a trail it is! ask the governors of our local prisons, ask the
guardians of any country districts, ask the farmers, aye, and ask the
timid women and pretty children, and, my word for it, they will be able
to tell you much of these strange beings that returning summer brings
unfailingly before them. Their lodging is sometimes the cold hard
ground, or the haystack, or perchance, if in luck, an outbuilding.

The prisons are their sanatoria, the workhouses their homes of rest, and
the casual ward their temporary conveniences. But always before them
is one objective, for a common lodging-house is open to them, and its
hypnotism draws them on and on.

So on they go, procreating as they go. Carrying desolation with them,
leaving desolation behind them. The endurance of these people--I suppose
they must be called people--is marvellous and their rate of progression
is sometimes astonishing; weary and footsore, maimed, halt or blind they
get over the ground at a good uniform pace.

Look at that strange being that has just passed us as we sat on the bank
of a country lane; he goes along with slouching gait and halting steps;
he has no boots worthy of the name, his tattered trousers, much too
long, give us glimpses of his flesh. He wears an old frock-coat that
hangs almost to his heels, and a cloth cap, greasy and worn, upon
his head. His beard is wild and abundant, and his hair falls upon his
shoulders in a way worthy of an artist or poet.

Follow him, but not too closely, and you will find it hard to keep up
with him, he knows what he is making for. Neither George Borrow nor
Runciman would hold him for a week, for George would want to stop and
talk, but this fellow is silent and grim. A lazar house draws him on,
and he needs must reach it, weak and ill-fed though he is! And he will
reach others too, for he is on a circular tour. But next winter
will find him in a Westminster lodging-house if he has luck, on the
Embankment if he has not.

He has an easy philosophy: "All the things in the world belong to all
the men in the world," is his outspoken creed, so he steals when he can,
and begs when he cannot steal.

But think of this life when women share it, and children are born into
it, and lads and lassies are on the tramp. Dare we think of it? We dare
not! If we did, it would not be tolerated for a day. Neither dare I
write about it, for there are many things that cannot be written. So I
leave imagination to supply what words must not convey.

But it is all so pitiful, it is too much for me, for sometimes I feel
that I am living with them, tramping with them, sleeping with them,
eating with them; I am become as one of them. I feel the horror, yet I
do not realise the charms.

I am an Englishman! I love liberty! I must be free, or die! I want to
order my own life, to control my own actions, to run on my own lines;
I would that all men should have similar rights. But, alas! it cannot
be--civilisation claims and enchains us; we have to submit to its
discipline, and it is well that it should be so. We do not, cannot live
to ourselves, and for ourselves. Those days have long passed, and for
ever. Orderly life and regular duties are good for us, and necessary for
the well-being of the nation.

A strong robust: nation demands and requires a large amount of freedom,
and this it must have, or perish! The individual man, too, requires a
fair amount if he is to be a man. But we may, and we do in some things
extend freedom beyond the legitimate bounds. For in a country of limited
area where the bulk of the people live onerous lives, and manfully
perform their duties, we allow a host of parasites to thrive and swarm.

The more this host increases, the weaker the nation becomes, and its
existence may ultimately become not a sign of freedom but a proof of
national decay. For parasites thrive on weakly life, be it individual
or national. So while we have a profound pity for the nomads, let us
express it with a strong hand. They cannot care for themselves in any
decent way. Let us care for them, and detain them in places that will
allow permanent detention and segregation. And the results will be
surprising, for prisons will be less numerous, workhouses, casual wards
and asylums less necessary, lazar houses with their pestilential breath
will pass away, and England will be happier, sweeter and more free!


What fell power decreed that certain streets in London should be devoted
to the purpose of providing "furnished apartments" for the submerged
I do not know. But I do know that some streets are entirely devoted to
this purpose, and that a considerable amount of money is made out of
such houses.

I ask my readers to accompany me for a visit to one of these streets,
and make some acquaintance with the houses, the furniture and the

The particular streets we select run at a right-angle from a main
thoroughfare, a railway divides them from a beautiful park, and on this
railway City merchants pass daily to and from their suburban homes.

I question whether in the whole of London more misery, vice and poverty
can be found located in one limited area than in the streets we are
about to visit. I know them, and I have every reason for knowing them.
We make our visit in summer time, when poverty is supposed to be less
acute. As we enter the street we notice at once that a commodious
public-house stands and thrives at the entrance. We also notice
that there are in the street several "general" shops, where tea and
margarine, firewood, pickles, paraffin oil and cheese, boiled ham and
vinegar, corned beef and Spanish onions, bread and matches are to be

We stand in the middle of the roadway, in the midst of dirt and refuse,
and look up and down the street. Innumerable children are playing in
the gutter or on the pavements, and the whole place teems with life. We
observe that the houses are all alike, the shops excepted. They stand
three-storey high; there are nine rooms in each house. We look in vain
for bright windows and for clean and decent curtains.

Every room seems occupied, for there is no card in any window announcing
"furnished apartments." The street is too well known to require
advertisement, consequently the "furnished apartments" are seldom
without tenants.

The street is a cave of Adullam to which submerged married couples
resort when their own homes, happy or otherwise, are broken up.

We notice that it is many days since the doors and window-frames of the
different houses made acquaintance with the painter. We notice that
all doors stand open, for it is nobody's business to answer a knock,
friendly or otherwise. We look in the various doorways and see in each
case the same sort of staircase and the same unclean desolation.

Who would believe that Adullam Street is a veritable Tom Tiddler's
Ground? Would any one believe that a colony of the submerged could prove
a source of wealth?

Let us count the houses on both sides of the street. Forty-five houses!
Leave out the two "general" shops, the greengrocer's and the "off
licence"; leave out also the one where the agent and collector lives,
that leaves us forty-one houses of nine rooms let out as furnished

If let to married couples that means a population of seven hundred
and thirty-eight, if all the rooms are occupied, and supposing that no
couple occupies more than one room. As for the children--but we dare not
think of them--we realise the advantage of the open street of which we
freely grant them the freehold. But we make the acquaintance of a tenant
and ask some questions. We find that she has two children, that they
have but one furnished room, for which they pay seven shillings and
sixpence weekly in advance! Always in advance!

She further tells us that their room is one of the best and largest; it
faces the street, and is on the first floor. She says that some rooms
are let at six shillings, others at six shillings and sixpence, and some
at seven shillings. We ask her why she lives in Adullam Street, and she
tells us that her own furniture was obtained on the "hire system," and
when it was seized they came to Adullam Street, and they do not know how
they are to get out of it.

That sets us thinking and calculating; three hundred and sixty-nine
rooms, rent always payable in advance--from the submerged,
too!--average six shillings and sixpence per week per room, why, that
is L120 per week, or L6,240 annually from forty-one houses, if they are
regularly occupied. Truly furnished apartments specially provided for
the submerged are extra specially adapted to the purpose of keeping them

As no deputy disputes our entrance, we enter and proceed to gain
some knowledge of the tenants, and take some stock of their rooms and

The rooms are simply but by no means sweetly furnished! Here is an
inventory and a mental picture of one room. A commodious bed with dirty
appointments that makes us shudder! A dirty table on which are some
odds and ends of unclean crockery, a couple of cheap Windsor chairs, a
forbidding-looking chest of drawers, a rusty frying-pan, a tin kettle,
a teapot and a common quart jug. He would be a bold man that bid ten
shillings for the lot, unless he bought them as a going concern. A cheap
and nasty paper covers the wall, excepting where pieces have been torn
away, and the broken walls are made of lath and plaster, to provide
splendid cover for innumerable insects which remain in undisputed

One floor much resembles another, but the basement and the top storey
rooms are the worst of all. We look through the window of a second floor
back room, and see the out premises, but one look is sufficient.

We want to know something of the tenants, so we enter into conversation
with them, and find them by no means reserved.

Room 1. Husband and wife about thirty-five years of age, no children;
husband has been ill for some months, during which the rent got behind.
When he was taken to the infirmary they lost their home altogether; she
did washing and charing for a time, but ultimately got into the "House."

When her husband got better, and was discharged from the infirmary, his
old mates collected ten shillings for him, he took the room in which
they now lived, and of course she joined him.

How did they live? Well, it was hardly living; her husband looked round
every day and managed to "pick up something," and she got a day or
two days' work every week--their rent was always paid in advance. What
happened when her husband did not "pick up something" she did not say,
but semi-starvation seemed the only alternative.

No. 2. Husband, wife and a girl of seven engaged in making coarse paper
flowers of lurid hue. They had been in that room for six months; they
sold the paper flowers in the streets, but being summer time they did
not sell many. At Christmas time people bought them for decorations;
sometimes people gave the girl coppers, but did not take the flowers
from her. The police watched them very closely, as they required a
licence for selling, and if they took the girl out in the wet or dark
the police charged them.

It was very difficult to live at all, owing to police interference. The
girl did not go to school, but they had been warned that she must go;
they did not know what they should do when she could not help them.

Room 3. A strong man about thirty, his wife and two young children. The
remains of a meal upon the table, a jug of beer and a smell of tobacco.
The man looks at us, and a flash of recognition is exchanged. He had
been released from prison at 8.30 that morning after serving a sentence
of nine months for shop robbery.

We asked how much gratuity he had earned. Eight shillings, he told us.
His wife and children had met him at the prison gate; they had come
straight to that room, for which the wife had previously arranged;
they had paid a week in advance. "What was he going to do?" "He did not
know!" He did not appear to care, but he supposed he "must look round,
he would get the rent somehow." We felt that he spoke the truth, and
that he would "get the rent somehow" till the police again prevented

We know that prison will again welcome him, and that the workhouse gates
will open to receive his wife and children, the number of which will
increase during his next detention in prison.

Room 4. Two females under thirty. No signs of occupation; they are not
communicative, neither are they rude, so we learn nothing from them
except that they were not Londoners.

Room 5. A family group, father, mother and four children; they had come
to Adullam Street because they had been ejected from their own home.
Their goods and chattels had been put on the street pavement, whence the
parish had removed them to the dust destructor, probably the best thing
to do with them.

The family were all unhealthy and unclean. The parents did not seem to
have either strength, grit or intelligence to fit them for any useful
life. But they could creep forth and beg, the woman could stand in the
gutter with a little bit of mortality wrapped in her old shawl, for
tender-hearted passers-by to see its wizened face, and the father could
stand not far away from her with a few bootlaces or matches exposed, as
if for sale. They managed to live somehow.

Room 6. An elderly couple who had possessed no home of their own for
years past, but who know London well, for the furnished lodgings of the
east, west, north and south are familiar to them.

He sells groundsel, she sells water-cress, at least they tell us so,
and point to baskets as evidence. But we know that groundsel business
of old. We have seen him standing in a busy thoroughfare with his
pennyworth of groundsel, and we know that though he receives many
pennies his stock remains intact, and we know also that pennyworths
of water-cress in the dirty hands of an old woman serve only the same

Room 7. Here we find a younger but not more hopeful couple; she is
fairly well dressed, and he is rather flashy. They have both food
and drink. We know that when the shades of night fall she will be
perambulating the streets, and he like a beast of prey will be watching
not far away. So we might go through the whole of the colony. There is
a strange assortment of humanity in Adullam Street. Vice and misery,
suffering and poverty, idleness and dishonesty, feeble-mindedness and
idiocy are all blended, but no set-off in virtue and industry is to be

The strong rogue lives next to the weak and the unfortunate, the
hardened old sinner next door to some who are beginning to qualify for a
like old age. The place is coated with dirt and permeated with sickening
odours. And to Adullam Street come young couples who have decided to
unite their lives and fortunes without any marriage ceremony; for in
Adullam Street such unions abound.

Young fellows of nineteen earning as much as twelve shillings a week
couple with girls of less age earning ten shillings weekly. It looks so
easy to live on twenty-two shillings a week and no furniture to buy, and
no parson to pay.

So a cheap ring is slipped on, and hand in hand the doomed couple go
to Adullam Street, which receives them with open arms, and hugs them
so long as six shillings and sixpence weekly is forthcoming in advance.
Their progress is very rapid; when the first child arrives, the woman's
earnings cease, and Adullam Street knows them no more.

Ticket-of-leave men, ex-convicts, heroes of many convictions, come
to Adullam Street and bring their female counterparts with them.
They flourish for a time, and then the sudden but not unexpected
disappearance of the male leads to the disappearance of the female. She
returns to her former life; Adullam Street is but an incident in her

So there is a continual procession through Adullam Street; very little
good enters it, and it is certain that less good passes out.

Where do its temporary inhabitants go? To prisons, to workhouses, to
hospitals, to common lodging-houses, to shelters, to the Embankment and
to death.

Although those who seek sanctuary in Adullam Street are already
inhabitants of the underworld, a brief sojourn in it dooms them to lower
depths. I suppose there must be places of temporary residence for the
sort of people that inhabit it, for they must have shelter somewhere.
But I commend this kind of property to the searching eyes of the local
authorities and the police.

But furnished apartments can tell another tale when they are not
situated in Adullam Street. For sometimes a struggling widow, or wife
with a sick husband, or a young married couple seek to let furnished
apartments as a legitimate means of income. When they do so, let them
beware of the underworld folk who happen to be better clothed and more
specious than their fellows, or they will bitterly rue it.

Very little payment will they get. Couples apparently married and
apparently respectable, but who are neither, are common enough, who are
continually on the look-out for fresh places of abode, where they may
continue their depredation.

They are ready enough with a deposit, but that is all the money they
mean to part with, and that has probably been raised by robbing their
last landlady. They can give references if required, and show receipts,
too, from their last lodgings, for they carry rent-books made out
by themselves and fully paid up for the purpose. They are adepts at
obtaining entrance, and, once in, they remain till they have secured
another place and marked another prey.

Meanwhile their poor victims suffer in kind and money, and are brought
nearer destitution. I have frequently known a week's rent paid with the
part proceeds of articles stolen from either the furnished apartments,
or some other part of the house just entered.

I could tell some sad stories of suffering and distress brought to
struggling and decent people by these pests, of whom a great number are
known to the police.

And so the merry game goes on, for while vampires are sucking the impure
blood of the wretched dwellers in Adullam Street lodgings, the dwellers
in Adullam Street in their turn prey on the community at large.

Meanwhile the honest and unfortunate poor can scarcely find cover, and
when they do, why, then their thin blood is drained, for they have to
pay exorbitantly.

It is apparently easy to transmute wretched humanity into gold. But who
is going to call order out of this horrid chaos? No one, I am thinking,
for no one seems to dare attempt in any thorough way to solve the
question of housing the very poor, and that question lies at the root of
this matter.

Let any one attempt it, and a thousand formidable vested interests rise
up and confront him, against which he will dash himself in vain. As to
housing the inhabitants of the underworld at a reasonable rental, no one
seems to have entertained the idea.

Lease holders and sub-lease holders, landlords and ground landlords,
corporations and churches, philanthropists and clergymen have all got
vested interests in house property where wretchedness and dirt are
conspicuous. "But," said a notable clergyman in regard to some horrid
slum, "I cannot help it, I have only a life-interest in it," as if,
forsooth, he could have more; did he wish to carry his interests beyond
the grave? I would give life-interest in rotten house property short
shrift by burning the festering places. But such places are not burned,
though sometimes they are closed by the order of the local authorities.
But oftener still they are purchased by local authorities at great
public cost, or by philanthropic trusts. Then the human rabbits are
driven from their warrens to burrow elsewhere and so leave room for

Better-looking and brighter buildings are erected where suites of rooms
are to let at very high prices. Then a tax is placed upon children, and
a premium is offered to sterility. Glowing accounts appear in the Press,
and royalty goes to inspect the new gold mine! We rub our hands with
complacent satisfaction and say, "Ah! at last something is being done
for housing the very poor!" But what of the rabbits! have they ascended
to the seventh heaven of the new paradise? Not a bit; they cannot offer
the required credentials, or pay the exorbitant rent! not for them seven
flights of stone stairs night and morning; it is so much easier for
rabbits to burrow underground, or live in the open. So away they
scuttle! Some to dustheaps, some back to Adullam Street, some to nomadic
life. But most of them to other warrens, to share quarters with other
rabbits till those warrens in their turn are converted into "dwellings,"
when again they must needs scuttle and burrow elsewhere.

Can it be wondered at that these people are dirty and idle; and that
many of them ultimately prefer the settled conditions of prison or
workhouse life, or take to vagrancy?

I cannot find a royal specific for this evil; humanity will, under any
conditions, have its problems and difficulties. Vagrants have always
existed, and probably will continue to exist while the human race
endures. But we need not manufacture them! Human rookeries and rabbit
warrens must go; England, little England, cannot afford them, and
ought not to tolerate them. But before we dispossess the rooks and the
rabbits, let us see to it that, somewhere and somehow, cleaner nests and
sweeter holes are provided for them. The more I think upon this question
the more I am convinced that it is the great question of the day, and
upon its solution the future of our country depends.

See what is happening! Thousands of children born to this kind of
humanity become chargeable to the guardians or find entrance to the
many children's homes organised by philanthropy. One course is taken the
bright and healthy, the sound in body and mind, are emigrated; but the
smitten, the afflicted, the feeble and the worthless are kept at home
to go through the same life, to endure the same conditions as their
parents, and in their turn to produce a progeny that will burrow in
warrens or scuttle out of them even as their parents did before them.

But the feebler the life, the greater the progeny; this we cannot
escape, for Nature will take care of herself. We, may drive out the
rabbits, we may imprison and punish them, we may compel them to live
in Adullam Street or in lazar houses, we may harry them and drive them
hither and thither, we may give them doles of food on the Embankment or
elsewhere. We may give them chopping wood for a day, we may lodge them
for a time in labour homes; all this we may do, but we cannot uplift
them by these methods. We cannot exterminate them. But by ignoring them
we certainly give them an easy chance of multiplying to such a degree
that they will constitute a national danger.


In this chapter I want to speak of those who suffer from physical
disabilities, either from birth, the result of accident, or disease.
If this great army of homeless afflicted humanity were made to pass in
procession before us, it would, I venture to say, so touch our hearts
that we should not want the procession repeated.

Nothing gives us more pleasure than the sight of a number of people who,
suffering from some one or other physical deprivation, are being taught
some handicraft by which they will be able to earn a modest living.

Probably nothing causes us greater sadness than the sight of deformed
and crippled men and women who are utterly unable to render any useful
service to the community, and who consequently have to depend upon
their wits for a miserable living. It is a very remarkable thing that an
accident which deprives a man of a leg, of an arm, or of eyesight,
not only deprives him of his living, but also frequently produces a
psychological change. And unless some counterbalancing conditions serve
to influence in an opposite direction he may become dangerous. It was
not without reason that our older novelists made dwarfs and hunchbacks
to be inhuman fiends. Neither was it without reason that Dickens, our
great student of human nature, made of Quilp a twisted dwarf, and Stagg
a blind man his most dangerous characters. Some years ago I was well
acquainted with a very decent man, a printer; he had lived for years
beyond reproach; he was both a good workman, husband and father. But
he lost his right arm, the result of an accident at his work, and his
character changed from that day. He became morose, violent and cruel,
and obsessed with altogether false ideas. He could not reason as other
men, and he became dangerous and explosive. Time after time I have seen
him committed to prison, until he became a hopeless prison habitue.
My experience has also shown me that physical deprivations are equally
likely to lead to sharpened wits and perverted moral sense as to
explosive and cruel violence. Probably this is natural, for nature
provides some compensation to those who suffer loss.

This is what makes the army of the physically handicapped so dangerous.
The disabled must needs live, and their perverted moral sense and
sharpened wits enable them to live at the expense of the public.

Very clever, indeed, many of these men are; they know how to provoke
pity, and they know how to tell a plausible tale. Many of them can get
money without even asking for it. They know full well the perils that
environ the man who begs. I am not ashamed to say that I have been
frequently duped by such fellows, and have learned by sad experience
that my wits cannot cope with theirs, and that my safety lies in
hasty retreat when they call upon me, for I have always found that
conversation with them leads to my own undoing.

Witness the following. One winter night my eldest son, who lives about
a mile away, went out to post a letter at midnight. After dropping his
letter in the pillar-box, he was surprised to hear a voice say, "Will
you kindly show me the way to Bridlington?" "Bridlington! why, it is
more than two hundred miles away." The request made my son gasp, for, as
I have said, it was winter and midnight.

The audacity of the request, however, arrested his attention, and that
doubtless was the end to be secured. So a conversation followed. The
inquirer was a Scotchman about thirty years of age; he wore dark glasses
and was decently clad; he had been discharged from St. Bartholomew's
Hospital. He was a seaman, but owing to a boiler explosion on board he
had been treated in the hospital. Now he must walk to Bridlington, where
an uncle lived who would give him a home. He produced a letter from his
uncle, but he had either lost or torn up the envelope. All this and more
he told my son with such candour and sincerity, that he was soon the
poorer by half-a-crown. Then, to improve the fellow's chance of getting
to Bridlington, he brought him to me. I was enjoying my beauty sleep
when that ill-fated knock aroused me. Donning a warm dressing-gown and
slippers, I went down to the front door, and very soon the three of us
were shivering round the remains of a fire in my dining-room.

Very lucidly and modestly Angus repeated the above story, not once did
he falter or trip. He showed me the letter from his uncle, he pointed
out the condition of his eyes and the scars on his face; with some demur
he accepted my half-crown, saying that he did not ask for anything, and
that all he wanted was to get to Bridlington.

In my pyjamas and dressing-gown I explored the larder and provided him
with food, after which my son escorted him to the last tramcar, saw him
safely on his way to the Seamen's Institute with a note to the manager
guaranteeing the expense of his bed and board for a few days.

Next day my son visited the Seamen's Institute, but alas! Angus was not
there, he had not been there. Nevertheless the manager knew something of
him, for three separate gentlemen had sent Angus to the institute. One
had found him in the wilds of Finchley looking for Bridlington! Another
had found him pursuing the same quest at Highgate, while still another
had come on him, with his dark glasses, bundle and stick, looking for
Bridlington on the road to Southgate.

I do not know whether the poor fellow ever arrived at Bridlington, but
this I do know, that he has found his way northwards, and that he is now
groping and inquiring for Dawlish in Devonshire.

The Manchester Guardian tells us that one silent evening hour poor
Angus was discovered in several different places in the vicinity of
Manchester. The same paper of the next day's date stated that eleven out
of the twelve who met poor Angus were so overcome by the poignancy
of his narrative and the stupendous character of his task, that they
promptly gave him financial assistance. I am strongly of the opinion
that the twelfth man was entirely without money at the time he met
Angus, or I feel that he would have proved no exception to the rule. In
my heart I was glad to find that the hard-headed citizens of Manchester
are just as kind-hearted and likely to be imposed upon as we are in

But Angus has been playing his fame for six years at least, for one
gentleman who gave him explicit directions more than five years ago
writes to the Manchester Guardian saying, "I am afraid he took a wrong

It is evident that Angus has done fairly well at his business, and yet
it would appear that he never asked for a single penny since he first
started on his endless search. He always accepts money reluctantly,
and I much question whether the police have right to arrest him, or the
gulled public any ground to complain.

But if Angus should ever get to his kind uncle at Bridlington, and that
respected gentleman should return the five shillings we gave to help his
unfortunate nephew, I will promise to be more careful in pressing money
upon strangers in future. But whether the money comes to hand or not I
have made myself a promise, and it is this: never more to get out of a
warm bed on a cold night to open the house and entertain a half-blind
man that speaks with a rich Scotch accent.

But how clever it all is! Why, its very audacity ensures its success,
and Angus, for aught I know, has many fellow-craftsmen. Certainly if he
is alone he must be almost ubiquitous. But Angus and such-like are not
to be wondered at, for Nature herself endows all living things with
the powers to adapt themselves to circumstances and obtain the means
of defence and offence from their conditions. So Nature deals with
the human family, in whom the struggle for existence develops varied,
powerful and maybe dangerous characteristics.

At present it is nobody's business to see that the maimed, the halt,
the blind are taught and trained to be of some service, and made able
in some way to earn a subsistence. Philanthropy, it is true, does
something, and also those blessed institutions, the schools for
the blind, and training homes for the crippled. I never see such
institutions without experiencing great gladness, for I know how much
evil they avert. But the great body of the physically afflicted are
without the walls and scope of these institutions, consequently tens of
thousands of men and women, because of their afflictions, are enabled to
prey upon the community with a cunning that other people cannot emulate.

We hear daily of accidents. We learn of men and women losing arms, legs
and hands; our hearts are touched for a brief moment, then we remember
the particulars no more. The ultimate consequences are unseen, but they
are not to be avoided, for every cripple left uncared for may become a
criminal of dangerous type.

Their elemental needs and passions still exist, notwithstanding their
physical deprivations. They claim the right to eat and drink, they claim
the right of perpetuating their kind.

Some day perhaps the community will realise what the exercise of the
latter right means. Some day, and Heaven send that day soon, we shall be
horrified at the thought that a vast number of unfortunates exist among
us who, demanding our pity and our care, are going down to the grave
without that care to which their physical disabilities entitle them.

As we look at these unfortunates, feelings of pity, disgust or amusement
may be aroused, but one moment's reflection would convince us that these
afflicted homeless creatures manage to exist and extort an expensive
living from the community.

I have said that every disabled man is a potential criminal, and that
unless he receives some compensation giving him the means of earning
honestly his living, he is certain to be a danger or a parasite. This is
but natural, for in the first place his physical nature has received a
shock, has sustained an outrage, Nature strikes back, and some one has
to suffer. The loss of a limb means severed muscles, bones and nerves.
Nature never forgets that they ought to be there, but as they are
not there she does without them; but none the less she feels for them
instinctively, and becomes disappointed and bitter because she is
refused the use of them.

Add to this the anxiety, the sufferings the amputated man feels when he
is also deprived of his means of livelihood, as well as his limb, and
from comfort comes down to penury. Perhaps he has been able hitherto
to keep his wife and children with a fair amount of comfort; now he is
helpless and has to depend upon them.

He may be of proud spirit, but he has to endure mortification by seeing
his wife labour and slave for him. He becomes moody, then passionate, a
little drink maddens him, then comes the danger. He does something,
then the police are required, and prison awaits him. There he thinks and
broods over his wrong, with bitterness and revengeful spirit. Perhaps
his wife has been compelled to give evidence against him; he remembers
that, he scores it up, and henceforth there is no peace for either of

Frequent convictions follow, ultimately the wife has to claim the
protection of the law, and gets a separation order on account of his
cruelty. Henceforward he is an outcast, his children and friends cast
him off, for they are afraid of him. But he lives on, and many have to
suffer because he has lost a limb.

We read a great deal about the development of character through
suffering, and well I know the purifying effects suffering has upon our
race; but it is well sometimes to look at the reverse side, and consider
what evil follows in the wake of suffering.

Blind men, the deaf and the dumb and the physically disabled need our
pitiful consideration. Some of the sweetest, cleverest, bravest men I
know suffer from great physical disabilities, but they have pleasures
and compensations, they live useful lives, their compensations have
produced light and sweetness, they are not useless in a busy world, they
are not mere cumberers of the ground. They were trained for usefulness
whilst they were young.

But a far different case is presented with the disabled among the very
poor. What chance in life is there for a youth of twenty who loses an
arm or leg? He has no friends whose loving care and whose financial
means can soften his affliction and keep him in comfort while training
for service. Who in this rich, industrial England wants such service as
he can render? Very few! and those who do make use of him naturally feel
that his service is not worth much.

Numbers of my acquaintances like Angus half lose their sight! Who
requires their service? No one! But these men live on, and they mean to
live on, and Nature furnishes them with the means by giving them extra
cunning. Many of these fellows, poor disabled fellows, inhabit the dark
places of the underworld. Let us call them out of their dark places and
number them, classify them, note their disabilities!

Truly they came down to the underworld through great afflictions. They
form the disabled army of civilisation's industrial world who have been
wounded and crippled in the battle. All sorts of accidents have happened
to them: explosions have blinded them, steam has scalded them, buffers
have crushed them, coal has buried them, trains have run over them,
circular saws have torn them asunder. They are bent and they are
twisted, they are terrible to look at; as we gaze at them we are
fascinated. March! now see them move! Did you ever see anything like
this march of disabled men from the gloom of the underworld?

How they shuffle and drag along; what strange, twisted and jerky
movements they have; what sufferings they must endure, and what pain
they must have had. All these thoughts come to us as we look at the
march of the disabled as they twist and writhe past us.

The procession is endless, for it is continually augmented by men and
women from the upperworld, who as conscripts are sent to the army below,
because they have sustained injuries in the service of the world above.

So they pass! But the upperworld has not done with them; it does not get
rid of its natural obligations so easily. It suffers with them, and pays
dearly for its neglect of them. The disabled live on, they will not die
to please us, and they extract a pretty expensive living from the world
above. The worst of it is that these unfortunates prey also upon those
who have least to spare, the respectable poor just above the line. They
do not always sit at the gates of the rich asking for crumbs, for the
eloquence of their afflictions and the pity of their woes strike home
to the hearts and pockets of the industrious poor who have so little to
spare. But it is always much easier to rob the poor!

It is our boast that Englishmen love justice, and it is a true boast!
But when we read of accidents and of surgical operations, does our
imagination lead us to ask: What about the future of the sufferers? Very
rarely, I expect.

The fact is, we have got so used to this sight of maimed manhood that it
causes us but little anxious thought, though it may cause some feelings
of revulsion.

But there is the Employers' Liability Act! Yes, I admit it, and a
blessed Act it is. But the financial consideration given for a lost limb
or a ruined body is not a fortune; it soon evaporates, then heigho! for
the underworld, for bitterness and craft.

But all accidents do not come within the scope of that Act, not by any
means. If a married woman about to become a mother falls or rolls
down the stairs, when climbing to her home in the seventh heaven of
Block-land, if she sustains long injuries, who compensates her? If the
child is born a monstrosity, though not an idiot, who compensates for
that? If the poor must be located near the sky, how is it that "lifts"
cannot be provided for them? Who can tell the amount of maimed child,
middle-aged and elderly life that has resulted from the greasy stairs
and dark landings of London dwellings. Industrial life, commercial life
and social life take a rare toll of flesh and blood from the poor. For
this civilisation makes no provision excepting temporary sustentation in
hospitals, workhouses or prisons. Even our prison commissioners tell us
that "our prisons are largely filled with the very poor, the ignorant,
the feeble, the incapable and the incapacitated."

It would appear that if we can make no other provision for the disabled,
we can make them fast in prison for a time. But that time soon passes,
and their poor life is again resumed. But the disabled are not the only
suffering unfortunates in the netherworld who, needing our pity, receive
the tender mercies of prison. For there epileptics abide or roam in
all the horror of their lives "oft-times in water and oft-times in
the fire," a burden to themselves, a danger to others. Shut out from
industrial life and shut out from social life. Refused lodgings here
and refused lodgings there. Sometimes anticipating fits, sometimes
recovering from fits; sometimes in a semi-conscious state, sometimes in
a state of madness. Never knowing what may happen to them, never knowing
what they may do to others. Always suffering, always hopeless! Treated
as criminals till their deeds are fatal, then certified to be "criminal
lunatics." Such is the life of the underworld epileptic. Life, did I
call it?--let me withdraw that word; it is the awful, protracted agony
of a living death, in which sanity struggles with madness, rending and
wounding a poor human frame. Happy are they when they die young! but
even epileptics live on and on; but while they live we consign them to
the underworld, where their pitiful cry of "Woe! woe!" resounds.

Do not say this is an exaggeration, for it is less than truth, not
beyond it. Poe himself, with all his imagination and power, could not do
full justice to this matter.

Mendicity societies in their report tell of cunning rascals who impose
on the public by simulating "fits"; they tell of the "king of fits," the
"soap fits king," and others. They point with some satisfaction to the
convictions of these clever rogues, and claim some credit in detecting

Their statements are true! But why are they true? Because real
epileptics are so common in the underworld, and their sufferings so
palpable and striking, that parasites, even though afflicted themselves,
nay, because of their own disabilities, can and do simulate the weird
sufferings of epileptics. Will mendicity societies, when they tell us
about, enumerate for us, and convict for us the hoary impostors, also
tell us about and enumerate for us the stricken men and women who are
not impostors, and whose fits are unfortunately genuine?

If some society will do this, they will do a great public service;
but at present no one does it, so this world of suffering, mystery and
danger remains unexplored.

I do not wonder that the ancients thought that epileptics suffered from
demoniacal possessions; perhaps they do, perhaps we believe so still.
At any rate we deal with them in pretty much the same way as in days
of old. The ancients bound them with chains; we are not greatly
different--we put them in prison. The ancients did allow their
epileptics to live in the tombs, but we allow them no place but prison,
unless their friends have money!

But let me end the subject by stating that the non-provision for
epileptics is a national disgrace and a national danger. That
incarceration of epileptics in prison and their conviction as criminals
is unjust and cruel. That it is utterly impossible for philanthropy to
restrain, detain and care for epileptics. That the State itself must see
to the matter!

But just another word: epileptics marry! Imagine if you can the life of
a woman married to an epileptic.

Epileptics have children of a sort! Can you imagine what they are likely
to be? You cannot! Well, then, I will tell you. Irresponsible beings,
with abnormal passions, but with little sense of truth and honour, with
no desire for continuous labour, but possessed of great cunning. The
girls probably immoral, the boys feckless and drunken.

We have to pay for our neglect; we have no pity upon epileptics. He and
his children have no pity for us!


The women of the underworld may be divided into three great classes.
Those who by reason of their habits or mental peculiarities prefer to
live homeless lives. Secondly, those whom misfortune has deprived of
settled home life. Thirdly, those who, having settled homes, live at
starvation point.

In London there is a great number of each class. With class one I shall
deal briefly, for they do not form a pleasant theme. The best place to
study these wild homeless women is Holloway Prison, for here you will
find them by the hundreds any day you please. In Holloway Prison during
one year 933 women who had been in that gaol more than ten times were
again received into it.

I am privileged sometimes to address them. As I write I see them sitting
before me. After one of my addresses I was speaking to one of the
wardresses about their repeated convictions, when the wardress said--

"Oh, sir, we are glad to see them come back again, for we know that they
are far better off with us than they are at liberty. They go out clean
and tidy with very much better health than they came in. It seems cruel
to let them out, to live again in dirt and misery, and though we have an
unpleasant duty to perform in cleansing them when they return, we feel
some comfort in the thought that for a short time they will be cared
for. Why, sir, it is prison and prison alone that keeps them alive."

Now this army of women is a dolorous army in all truth, for their faces,
their figures are alike strange and repulsive, and many of them seem
to be clothed with the cerements of moral and spiritual death. They are
frequently charged with drunkenness, stealing, begging, or sleeping out.

Their names appear on the "Black List," for the law says they are
"habitual inebriates," yet drink has little or nothing to do with their
actual condition.

Let any one look them in the face as I have looked them in the face,
study their photographs as I have studied them, and I venture to affirm
that they will say with me, "These women are not responsible beings."
For years I have been drumming this fact into the ears of the public,
and at length the authorities acknowledged it, for in 1907 the Home
Office Inspector issued a report on inebriate reformatories, and gave
the following account of those who had been in such institutions: 2,277
had been treated in reformatories; of these he says 51 were insane
and sent to lunatic asylums, 315 others were pronounced defectives or
imbeciles. Altogether he tells us that 62 out of every hundred were
irresponsible women and unfit for social and industrial life.

My many years' experience of London's underworld confirms the testimony
of the Home Office, for I am persuaded that a very large proportion
of homeless women on our streets are homeless because they are quite
unfitted for, and have no desire for decent social life.

Should I be asked about the birth and parentage of these women, I reply
that they come from all classes. Born of tramps and of decent citizens,
born in the slums and sometimes in villas, almost every rank and station
contributes its quota to this class of wild, hopeless women.

But I pass on to the second class, those who by misfortune have become
submerged. This, too, is a large class, and a class more worthy of
sympathy and consideration than the others, for amongst them, in spite
of misfortune and poverty, there is a great deal of womanliness and
self-respect. Misfortune, ill-health, sorrow, loss of money, position or
friends, circumstances over which they have had but little or no control
have condemned them to live in the underworld. Such women present a
pitiful sight and a difficult problem. They cling to the relics of their
respectability with a passionate devotion, and they wait, hope, starve
and despair.

Often misfortune has come upon them when the days of youth were passed,
and they found themselves in middle age faced with the grim necessity of
earning a living. I have seen many of them struggle with difficulty, and
exhibit rare courage and patience; I have watched them grow older and
feebler. Sometimes I have provided glasses that their old eyes might be
strengthened for a little needlework, but I have always known that it
was only helping to defer the evil day, when they would no longer be
able to pay the rent for a little room in a very poor neighbourhood. My
mind is charged with the memory of women who have passed through this
experience, who from comfortable homes have descended to the underworld
to wander with tired feet, weary bodies and hopeless hearts till they
lie down somewhere and their wanderings cease for ever.

But before we consider these women, let us take a peep at the lower
depths. Come, then! Now we are in a charnel house, for we are down
among the drunken women, the dissolute women that stew and writhe in the
underworld, for whom there is no balm in Gilead and no physician. Now we
realise what moral death means.

Like the horde of Comus they lie prone, and wallow in their impurity.
Hot as the atmosphere is, feverish though their defiled bodies be,
they call for no friendly hand to give them water to cool their parched
throats. The very suggestion of water makes them sick and faint.

But a great cry smites us: "Give us drink! and we will forget our
misery; give us drink, and we will sing and dance before you! give us
drink, and you may have us body and soul! Drink! drink!" A passionate,
yearning, importunate cry everlastingly comes from them for drink.

Now with Dante we are walking in Hell; see, there is a form, half human
and half animal, creeping towards us with lewd look and suggestion.
Yonder is an old hag fearful to look upon. Here a group of cast-off
wives, whom the law has allowed outraged husbands to consign to this
perdition; but who, when sober enough, come back to the upperworld and
drag others down to share their fate.

Does any one want to know what becomes of the wives who, having
developed a love of drink, have been separated from their husbands, and
cast homeless into the streets? Here in this circle of Hell you may find
them, consigned to a moral death from which there is no resurrection.

And the idle, the vicious, the lustful and the criminal are here too.
But we leave them, and get back to the everlasting workers, the
sober and virtuous women of whom I have told. What a contrast is here
presented! Drunkenness, vice, bestiality and crime! Virtue, industry,
honesty and self-respect condemned to live together! But let us look and
listen; we hear a voice speaking to us--

"Dear Mr. Holmes, I am deeply interested in your work, and feel one with
you in mind and heart in the different troubles of human life, and of
their causes and consequences. I feel that if only my health was better,
and I was placed in some other sphere of life, that I would do something
to help on your good work. But, alas! I shall never be strong again;
the hard grinding for a miserable pittance gives me no chance to get
nourishing food and recover my strength. Some people say to me, 'Why
don't you go into the workhouse or the infirmary?' This I bear in
silence, but it is simply killing me in a slow way. Oh! that it should
take so long to kill some of us. It makes me sad to think that so many
lives are wrecked in this way, that so many are driven to wrong, that
so many others should drift away into lives of hopelessness. I have been
stripped of all, and I am waiting for the worst."

Can any language beat that for lucidity and pathos? My readers will, I
am sure, recognise that those are the words of an educated woman. Yes,
her education was begun in England and finished on the Continent. Were I
to mention the name of the writer's mother, hearts would leap, for that
name lives in story and song.

But her parents died and left no competence, her health failed, and
teaching became impossible. All she now requires is an out-patient's
ticket for a chest hospital.

She is a "trouser finisher," and earns one penny per hour; sometimes
she lies on her bed while at work. But by and by she will not be able to
earn her penny per hour; then there will be "homelessness," but not the
workhouse for her.

But the voice speaks again: "Dear Mr. Holmes, please excuse me not
thanking you sooner for offering me a hospital letter. I shall, indeed,
be very grateful for one when able to get about, for I shall need
something to set me up a bit.

"At present I am very sadly indeed; my foot seems very much better, yet
not right, the sister thinks. To make matters worse, I have a very bad
gathered finger, and this week I have not been able to do a stitch of
work; indeed, it is very little that I have been able to do this last
ten weeks. Oh, the cruel oppression of taking advantage and putting
extra work for less pay, because I cannot get out to fetch it myself!

"The most I get is a penny per hour; it is generally less. Sister Grace
was so vexed by the rude message he sent to-day while she was here,
because I could not do the work, that she sent a letter to him telling
him the fact of my suffering. She thinks I am in a very bad state
through insufficient food, and, Mr. Holmes, it is true! for no one but
God and myself really know how I have existed. I rarely know what it is
to get a proper meal, for often I do not expend a sixpence on food in a
week when I pay my way, and thank God I have been able to do this up to
the present somehow or other; but all my treasures are gone, and I look
round and wonder what next!

"My eyes rest on my dear old violin, which is a memory of the past,
although long silent. It has been a great grief to me the parting with
one thing after another, but I go on hoping for better days that I may
regain them; alas! many are now beyond recall.

"The parish doctor has been suggested again, but I feel I would
rather die than submit, after all this long struggle and holding out,
especially, as I have been able to keep things a little near the mark;
when they get beyond me, rather than debt I must give in!

"Still, I hope for better days, and trust things will brighten for me
and others, for God knows there are many silent sufferers ebbing their
lives away, plodding and struggling with life's battle. My heart bleeds
for them, yet I am powerless to help them or myself."

Time and space do not avail, or I could tell story after story of such
lives, for in the underworld they are numerous enough. Who can wonder
that some of them "are made bitter by misfortune"? Who can wonder that
others "are driven to wrong"? Who can be surprised that "many drift
into lives of hopeless uselessness"? Surely our friend knew what she was
talking about, in the underworld though she be. She sees that there are
deeps below the depths, that she herself is in. Though ill, starving and
hopeless about her own future, she is troubled for others, for she adds,
"since I have known the horror of this life, my heart goes out to others
that are enduring it."

Now this class of woman is not much in evidence till the final
catastrophe comes, when the doors of a one-roomed home are closed
against them. Even then they do not obtrude themselves on our
observation, for they hide themselves away till the river or canal gives
up its dead.

But it is not every woman that maintains such a high tone, for once in
the underworld the difficulty of personal cleanliness confronts them,
and dirt kills self-respect. Poverty makes them acquainted with both
physical and moral dirt, and the effect of one night in a shelter or
lodging-house is often sufficient to destroy self-respect and personal
cleanliness for life.

I am quite sure that I am voicing the opinion of all who have knowledge
of the underworld in which such women are compelled to live, when I say
that the great want in London and in all our large towns is suitable
and well-managed lodging-houses under municipal control and inspection,
where absolute cleanliness and decency can be assured. Lodging-houses to
which women in their hour of sore need may turn with the certainty
that their self-respect will not be destroyed. But under the present
conditions decent women have no chance of retaining their decency or
recovering their standing in social life.

Listen again! a widowed tooth-brush maker speaks to us: "Dear Mr.
Holmes, I feel that I must thank you for still allowing me a pension,
and I do thank you so much in increasing it. When I received it my heart
was so full of joy that I could not speak. My little boys are growing,
and they require more than when my husband died six years ago. I am sure
it has been a great struggle, but I have found such a great help in you,
I do not know how to thank you for all that you have done for me and
many poor workers.

"I do hope that God will still give you health and strength to carry
on the good work which you are doing for us. When I last spoke to you I
thought my little boys were much better, but I am sorry to say that when
I took them to Great Ormond Street Hospital, they said they were both
suffering from heart disease, and I was to keep them from school for a
time; and they also suffer from rheumatics. They are to get out all they
can. I have been taking them to the hospital for over two years, and
sometimes I feel downhearted, as I had hoped they would have improved
before this.

"The eldest boy does not have fits now, and this I am thankful for. But
I feel that I am wasting a lot of your time reading this letter, so I
must thank you very much for all your great goodness to me."

But one of the boys is now dead, to the other "fits" have returned, and
the widow still sits, sits and sits at her tooth-brushes in poverty and

Listen to an old maid's story; she is a shoe machinist: "Yes, sir, I
have kept them for six years, and I hope to keep them till they can keep
themselves, and then perhaps they will help to keep me."

The speaker was a worn and feeble woman of fifty-five years, at least
that was the age she gave me, and most certainly she did not look less.
We were talking about her two boys, her nephews, whose respective ages
were eleven and thirteen.

"Both their parents died six years ago; their father was my only
brother, and their mother had neither brothers nor sisters! Of course I
took them; what else could I do? What! Send them to the workhouse? Not
while I can work for them. Ah, sir! you were only joking!" In this she
was partly right, for I had merely offered the suggestion in order to
draw her out.

"So after the double funeral they came to live with you?" "Yes." "Did
their parents leave any money?" "Money, no! How can poor people leave
any money? their club money paid for the funeral and the doctor's bill."
"So they owed nothing?" "Not a penny; if they had, I should have paid it

And doubtless she would, though how, it passes my wit to conceive. But
there, it would have meant only a few more hours' work daily for the
brave old spinster, but not for the boys, for they would have been fed
while she fasted, they would have slept while she worked.

"Yes," she continued, "I am a boot machinist, and it is pretty hard
work; we had a tough time when I had to pay two shillings weekly for
that machine, but we managed, and now you see it is paid for, it is my
own; but really, times are harder for us. The boys are growing and want
more food and clothing; they go to school, and must have boots; it's the
boots that floor me, they cost a lot of money."

I called the boys to me and examined their boots; their old aunt looked
as if she was going to prevent me, but presently she said, "I had no
work last week, or I should have got him a pair." "Him" was the younger
boy, whose boots, or the remains of them, presented a deplorable
appearance; and, truth to tell, the elder boy's were not much better. So
I said to the brave old soul, "Look here, I will give these boys a good
new pair of boots each on one condition!" "What is that." "That you
allow me to buy you a pair." Again there was a look of resentment, but
I continued, "I am quite sure that you require boots as badly as
your boys, and I cannot think of them having nice boots and you going
without, so I want you to all start equal; kindly put out your foot
and let me look." In a shamefaced sort of a way she put her left foot
forward; a strange, misshapen, dilapidated apology of a boot covered the
left foot. "Now the right," I said. "Never mind looking at the other, it
does not matter, does it?" she said. "Yes, it does," so the right foot
was presented; one glance was enough! "That will do; come along for
three pairs of boots."

They returned home, the boys rejoicing in their new boots, and their
feeble old aunt tolerating hers for the sake of her boys. Dear, brave,
self-denying, indomitable old maid. She had visited the fatherless in
their afflictions, she had toiled unceasingly for six long years, she
had taken willingly upon her weak shoulders a heavy burden; a burden
that, alas! many strong men are only too willing to cast upon others.
She had well earned her pair of boots, and sincerely do I hope that
when her poor feet get accustomed to their circumscribed area, and the
pressure of well-made boots has become comforting, that she will derive
pleasure from them, even though they represent "the first charity that I
have ever received."

But is it not wonderful, this marvellous self-denial of the very poor!
Other spheres of life doubtless produce many noble lives and heroic
characters, but was ever a braver deed done than this feeble and weary
old maid did?

And it was all so natural, so commonplace, so very matter-of-fact, for
when I spoke warmly of her deed she said very simply, "Well, what else
could I do!"

And in the underworld, amidst the dirt and squalor, the poverty, the
high rents, and the poor, poor earnings of poor, poor women, there are
plenty like her.

God grant that when the lads can work they will lighten her burdens and
cheer her heart by working for her who had worked so hard for them.

Listen also to the story of the blouse-makers disclosed to the upper
world by the Press.

"A pathetic story of poverty was told to the Hackney coroner, who held
an inquiry into the death of Emily Langes, 59, a blouse-maker of Graham
Road, Dalston. Death was due to starvation.

"Annie Marie, an aged sister, said they had both been in great poverty
for a very long time. They had worked at blouse-making as long as they
could, but that work had fallen off so much that really all they had got
to live on was by selling off their home.

"They had not enough to live on, and had to pay four shillings and
sixpence rent.

"The coroner: 'Selling your home will soon come to an end. You had best
apply in the proper direction for help; the parish must bury her. Don't
go on ruining yourself by selling off things.'

"Mr. Ingham, relieving officer for the No. 7 ward at Hackney, said that
he knew the old couple. He remembered giving relief to both sisters
about two months ago, but had had no application since. He offered the
'House' to the living sister.

"A juror: 'Are questions put which might upset a proud respectable old
couple when they ask for relief?'

"Witness: 'Of course we have to inquire into their means pretty

"The coroner: 'It seems pretty clear that the old couple were too proud
to ask for help.'

"The jury returned a verdict that Emily Langes died from exhaustion
caused by want of food."

But listen again! as we stand in the land of crushed womanhood and
starving childhood. We hear a gentle voice, "Mother, it is nearly one
o'clock, the men have gone by from the public-house; you go to bed,
dear, and I will finish the work." A feeble woman, with every nerve
broken, rises from her machine, shakes her dress and lies down on her
bed, but her daughter sits on and on.

Oh the sighs and groans and accents of sorrow that come upon our
listening ears! Oh the weariness, the utter weariness of this land below
the line!

Midnight! and thousands of women are working! One o'clock, and thousands
are still at it! Two o'clock, the widows are still at work! Thank God
the children are asleep. Three o'clock a.m., the machines cease to
rattle, and in the land of crushed womanhood there is silence if not
peace. But who is to pay? Shall we ultimately evolve a people that
require no sleep, that cannot sleep if they would? Is crushed womanhood
to produce human automatic machines? Or is civilisation generally to pay
the penalty for all this grinding of human flesh and blood? Let me tell
the story of an old machinist! I have told part of it before, but the
sequel must be told. I had made the acquaintance and friendship of three
old women in Bethnal Green who lived together, and collaborated in their
work. They made trousers for export trade; one machined, one finished,
and one pressed, brave old women all! They all worked in the machinist's
room, for this saved gas and coal, and prevented loss of time. At night
they separated, each going to her own room. The machinist was a widow,
and her machine had been bought out of her husband's club and insurance
money when he died twenty-one years before. I had often seen it, heard
its rattle, and witnessed its whims.

She once told me that it required a new shuttle, and I offered to pay
for one; but she said, "I cannot part with it; it will last my time, for
I want a new shuttle too!"

Six months after she was found dead in her bed by her partners when they
came to resume work.

Her words had come true! The old machine stood silent under the little
window; its old shuttle no longer whirred and rattled with uncertain
movements. It was motionless and cold. On a little bed the poor old
brave woman lay cold and motionless too! for the shuttle of her life had
stopped, never to move again.

The heroic partnership of the old women was broken, never in this world
to be resumed, and so two old hearts sorrowed and two troubled minds
wondered how they would be able to live without her.

I knew her well; it was my privilege to give her some happiness and some
change from grime and gloom, to take her away sometimes from the wayward
shuttle and rattling machine. I knew that she would have selected such
a death could she have chosen, for she dreaded the parish. I think, too,
that she would have wished for her old machine to be buried with her,
and for its silent shuttle to be beside her in her coffin. To her it was
a companion, and for it her husband died. Twenty-one years the machine
and herself had lived with each other and for each other. Sharing
with each other's toil, if not each other's hopes and fears! Working!
working! unceasingly through life--in death and rest they were not

It was a blessed thing that her machine partner required no food, or
life would have been even more serious than it was. But it had its
whims and its moods, sometimes it resented everlasting work at
three-half-pence per hour for the pair of them, and it "jibbed." But a
little oil and a soothing word, and, it must be feared, sometimes with a
threat, and the old thing went again.

Surely it will be sacrilege for any one else to sit upon that old chair
and try to renew the life and motion of the old machine!

It is strange that this oppression of women which is the cause of my
greatest sorrow should also be the cause of my keenest joy. But it is
so! And why? Because I number two thousand of these underworld women
slaves among my personal friends, and I am proud of it! The letters I
have given are a few out of hundreds that I have received. I know these
women as few know them. I know their sufferings and their virtues, their
great content and their little requirements. I know that they have the
same capabilities for happiness as other people, and I know that they
get precious little chance of exercising those capabilities. Strange
again, I get no begging letters from them, though I do from others who
are better placed. I declare it to be wonderful! This endurance and
patience of London's miserably paid women. I tell you that I am the
happiest man alive! Why? Because during the present year a thousand
of my poor friends from the underworld came up for a time and had a
fortnight, a whole fortnight's rest each with food and comfort in a
beautiful rest home by the sea. For kind friends have enabled me to
build one for them and for them alone!

And I was there sometimes to see, and it was good for me. So Mrs. Holmes
and myself make frequent visits to the rest home, and every time we
visit it we become more and more convinced that not only is it a "Palace
Beautiful," but that it is also a joy to the slave women who have the
good fortune to spend a holiday (all too short) in it.

Gloom cannot enter "Singholm" or, if it does enter, it promptly and
absolutely disappears. Ill-temper cannot live there, the very flowers
smile it away. The atmosphere itself acts like "laughing gas." So the
house fairly rings with merry laughter from elderly staid women equally
as from the younger ones, whose contact with serious and saddening life
has not been so paralysing to joyous emotions.

It did us good to hear such jolly laughter from throats and organs that,
but for Singholm, must have rusted and decayed.

One of our trustees was with us, it being his first visit to the home.
I know that he was surprised at the size, the beauty, the comfort and
refinement of the whole place. The garden filled him with delight,
the skill of the architect in planning the building, together with the
style, gave him increased pleasure.

The great drawing-room and the equally large dining-room rather
astonished him. The little bedrooms he declared perfect. But what
astonished him most of all was the unaffected happiness of the women;
for this I do not think he was prepared. Well, as I have said,
gloom cannot live in Singholm, and this I have found out by personal
experience, for if I am quite cross and grumpy in London, I cannot
resist the exhilaration that prevails at Singholm among London's
underworld women.

I think I may say that our trustee was surprised at something else! But
then he is a bachelor, and so of course does not understand the infinite
resources of femininity.

"How nice they look," he said. "How well they dress"; and, once again,
"How clean and tidy they are; how well their colours blend!"

Thank God for this! we hold no truce with dirt at Singholm; we bid
dowdyism begone! avaunt! I will tell you a secret! Singholm demands
respect for itself and self-respect for its inmates.

Our trustee's testimony is true; the women belonging to our association
do look nice; when they are at Walton they rise to the occasion as if
they were to the manner born.

When, with their cheap white or blue blouses, they sit under the palms
in our drawing-room, all, even the oldest and poorest, neat--nay, smart
if you will--they present a picture that can only be appreciated by
those who know their lives. Some people might find fault, but to me the
colour and tone of the picture is perfect.

As there were seventy of them, there was room for variety, and they gave
it! Look at them! There they sit as the shades of night are falling.
They have been out all day long, and have come in tired. Are they
peevish? Not a bit! Are they downhearted? No!

There is my friend who makes no secret about it, and tells us that she
is forty-six years of age; this is the first time she has ever seen the
sea, and she laughs at the thought. The sun has browned, reddened and
roughened her face, and when I say, "How delicate you look," she bursts
again into merry laughter, and the whole party join her. Mrs. Holmes and
myself join in, and our worthy trustee, bachelor and Quaker though he
be, laughs merriest of all.

Aye! but this laughter was sweet music, but somehow it brought tears to
my eyes.

Now just look at my friend over there beside one of the palms, her
feet resting so naturally on the Turkey carpet! You observe she sits
majestically in a commodious chair; she needs one! For she is five
feet eleven inches in height, and weighs sixteen stone. I call her "The
Queen," for when she stands up she is erect and queenly with a noble
head and pleasing countenance.

She makes no secret about her age; "I am sixty, and I have been here
four times, and, please God, I'll come forty-four more times," and she
looks like it. But what if there had been no Singholm to look forward to
year by year? Why, then she would have been heavy in heart as well as in
body, and her erect form would have been bent, for she is a hard worker
from Bethnal Green.

The idea of coming forty-four more times to Singholm, and she sixty-six,
was the signal for more laughter, and again Singholm was tested; but our
builder had done his work well.

"Turn on the electric light, matron!" There is a transformation scene
for you! Now you see the delicate art colours in the Turkey carpets, and
the subdued colours in the Medici Society's reproduced pictures.

See how they have ranged their chairs all round by the walls, and the
centre of the room is unoccupied, saving here and there maidenhair ferns
and growing flowers. Now look at the picture in its fulness! and we see
poor old bent and feeble bodies bowed with toil, and faces furrowed by
unceasing anxiety; but the sun, the east wind, the sea air and Singholm
have brightened and browned them.

There is my poor old friend, long past threescore and ten, to whom
Singholm for a time is verily Heaven; but--"Turn on the gramophone,
please, matron." Thanks to a kind friend, we have a really good one,
with a plentiful supply of records. The matron, in the wickedness of
her heart, turns on an orchestral "cakewalk." The band plays, old bodies
begin to move and sway, and seventy pair of feet begin unconsciously to
beat the floor. Laughter again resounds; our Quaker himself enters into
the spirit of it, so I invite him to lead off with the "Queen" for his
partner, at which he was dismayed, although he is a veritable son of

But to my dismay the bent and feeble septuagenarian offered to lead off
with myself as partner, at which I collapsed, for alas, I cannot
dance. Then our trustee led the roars of laughter that testified to my

So we had no dancing, only a cakewalk. But we had more merriment and
music, and then our little evening service. "What hymn shall we have?"
Many voices called out, "Sun of my soul," so the matron went to the
piano, and I listened while they sang "Watch by the sick, enrich the
poor," which for me, whenever the poor, the feeble and aged sing it,
has a power and a meaning that I never realise when the organ leads a
well-trained choir and a respectable church congregation to blend their

Then I read to them a few words from the old, but ever new, Book, and
closed with a few simple, well-known prayers, and then--as old Pepys has
it--"to bed."

We watch them file up the great staircase one by one, watch them
disappear into their sweet little rooms and clean sheets. To me, at any
rate, the picture was more comforting and suggestive than Burne Jones's
"Golden Stairs." In fifteen minutes the electric light was switched off,
and Singholm was in darkness and in peace. But outside the stars were
shining, the flowers still blooming, the garden was full of the mystery
of sweet odours; close by the sea was singing its soothing lullaby, and
God was over all!

But let us get back to the underworld!

"How long have we lived together, did you ask? well, ever since we were
born, and she is sixty-seven," pointing to a paralysed woman, who was
sitting in front of the window. "I am two years younger," she continued,
"and we have never been separated; we have lived together, worked
together, and slept together, and if ever we did have a holiday, we
spent it together. And now we are getting old, just think of it! I am
sixty-five, isn't it terrible? They always used to call us 'the girls'
when mother, father and my brothers were alive, but they have all
gone--not one of them left. But we 'girls' are left, and now we are
getting old--sixty-five--isn't it terrible? We ought to be ashamed of
it, I suppose, but we are not, are we, dear? For we are just 'the girls'
to each other, and sometimes I feel as strong and as young as a girl."

"How long have you lived in the top of this four-storey house?" I asked.
"Sixteen years," came the reply. "All alone?" "No, sir, we have been
together." "And your sister, how long has she been paralysed?" "Before
we came to this house." "Does she ever go out?" "Of course she does;
don't I take her out in the bath-chair behind you?" "Can she wash and
dress herself, do her hair, and make herself as clean and tidy as she
is?" "I do it for her."

"But how do you get her down these interminable stairs?" I asked.

"She does that herself, sitting down and going from step to step," she
said, and then added, "but it is hard work for her, and it takes her a
very long time."

"Now tell me," I said, "have you ever had a holiday?" "Yes, we have had
one since my sister became paralysed, and we went to Herne Bay." "Did
you take the bath-chair with you?" "Of course we did; how could she go
without it?" "And you pushed her about Herne Bay, and took her on the
sands in it?" I said. "Of course," she said quite naturally, as if she
was surprised at my question. "Now tell me how much rent do you pay for
these two rooms?" "Seven shillings and sixpence per week; I know it is
too much, but I must have a good window for her, where she can sit and
look out." "How do you do your washing?" "I pay the landlady a shilling
a week to do it." "How long have you worked at umbrella covering?" "Ever
since we left school, both of us; we have never done anything else."
"How long have your parents been dead" "More than forty years," was the

To every one of the replies made by the younger sister, the paralytic
at the window nodded her head in confirmation as though she would say,
"Quite true, quite true!"

"Forgive me asking so many questions, but I want to understand how you
live; you pay seven-and-six rent, and one shilling for washing every
week; that comes to eight shillings and sixpence before you buy food,
coal, and pay for gas; and you must burn a lot of gas, for I am sure
that you work till a very late hour," and the elder sister nodded her
head. "Yes, gas is a big item, but I manage it," and then the elder one
spoke. "Yes, she is a wonderful manager! a wonderful manager! she is
better than I ever was." "Well, dear, you managed well, you know you
did, and we saved some money then, didn't we!"

"Ah! we did, but mine is all gone, and I can't work now; but you are a
good manager, better than I ever was."

I looked at the aged and brave couple, and took stock of their old but
still good furniture that told its own story, and said, "You had two
accounts in the Post-Office Savings Bank, and when you both worked
you saved all you could?" "Yes, sir, we worked hard, and never wasted
anything." Again the sixty-seven old girl broke in: "But mine is all
gone, all gone, but she is a wonderful manager." "And mine is nearly all
gone, too," said the younger, "but I can work for both of us," and the
elder sister nodded her head as if she would say, "And she can, too!" I
looked at the dozen umbrellas before me, and said, "What do you get for
covering these?" "Ah! that's what's called, vulgarly speaking, a bit of
jam! they are gents' best umbrellas, and I shall get three shillings for
them. I got them out yesterday from the warehouse, after waiting there
for two hours. I shall work till twelve to-night and finish them by
midday to-morrow; they are my very best work." Three shillings for
a dozen! her very best work! and she finding machine and thread, and
waiting two hours at the factory!

"Come," I said, "tell me what you earned last week, and how many hours
you worked?" "I earned ten shillings and sixpence; but don't ask me how
many hours I worked, for I don't know; I begin when it is light, because
that saves gas, and I work as long as I can, for I am strong and have
good health." "But," I said, "you paid eight shillings and sixpence for
rent and washing; that left you with two shillings. Does your sister
have anything from the parish?" I felt sorry that I had put the
question, for I got a proud "No, sir," followed by some tears from the
sixty-five-year-old "girl." Presently I said, "However do you spend
it?" "Didn't I tell you that I had saved some, and was drawing it? But
I manage, and get a bit of meat, too!" Again from the window came the
words, "She is a good manager."

"What will you do when you have drawn all your savings?" "Oh! I shall
manage, and God is good," was all I could get.

A brave, heroic soul, surely, dwells in that aged girl, for in her I
found no bitterness, no repining; nay, I found a sense of humour and
the capability of a hearty laugh as we talked on and on, for I was in

When I rose to leave, she offered to accompany us--for a friend was with
me--downstairs to the door; I said, "No, don't come down, we will find
our way; stop and earn half-a-crown, and please remember that you are
sixty-five." "Hush!" she said, "the landlady will hear you; don't tell
anybody, isn't it awful? and we were called the girls," and she burst
into a merry laugh. During our conversation the paralysed sister had
several times assured me that she "would like to have a ride in a
motor-car." This I am afraid I cannot promise her, much as I would like
to do so; but the exact object of my visit was to make arrangements for
"the girls" to go to our home of rest for a whole fortnight.

And they went, bath-chair as well. For sixteen long years they had not
seen the sea or listened to its mighty voice, but for a whole fortnight
they enjoyed its never-ending wonder and inhaled its glorious breath.
And the younger "girl" pushed the chair, and the older "girl" sat in it
the while they prattled, and talked and managed, till almost the days of
their real girlhood came back to them. Dull penury and sordid care were
banished for a whole fortnight and appetite came by eating. The older
"girl" said, "If I stop here much longer, I know I shall walk," and she
nearly managed it too, for when helped out of her chair, she first began
to stand, and then to progress a little step by step by holding on
to any friendly solid till she almost became a child again. But the
fortnight ended all too soon, and back to their upper room, the window
and the umbrellas they came, to live that fortnight over and over again,
and to count the days, weeks and months that are to elapse before once
again the two old girls and an old--so old--bath-chair will revel and
joy, eat and rest, prattle and laugh by the sea.

But they have had their "motor ride," too! and the girls sat side by
side, and although it was winter time they enjoyed it, and they have a
new theme for prattle.

I have since ascertained that the sum of ten shillings, and ten
shillings only, remained in the Post-Office Savings Bank to the credit
of the managing sister.

But I have also learned something else quite as pitiful--it is this: the
allowance of coal during the winter months for these heroic souls
was one half-hundredweight per week, fifty-six lb., which cost them


Young folk marry and are given in marriage at a very early age in the
underworld. Their own personal poverty and thousands of warning examples
are not sufficient to deter them. Strange to say, their own parents
encourage them, and, more strange still, upperworld people of education
and experience lend a willing hand in what is at the best a deplorable

Under their conditions it is perhaps difficult to say what other
course can or ought to be taken, for their homes are like beehives,
and "swarming" time inevitably comes. That oftentimes comes when young
people of either sex are midway in their "teens." The cramped little
rooms or room that barely sufficed for the parents and small children
are altogether out of the question when the children become adolescent.
The income of the family is not sufficient to allow the parents, even
if they were desirous of doing so, taking larger premises with an extra
bedroom. Very few parents brace themselves to this endeavour, for it
means not only effort but expense. So the young folks swarm either to
lodgings, or to marriage, and the pretence of home life.

Private lodgings for girls are dangerous and expensive, while public
lodgings for youths are probably a shade worse. So marriage it is, and
boys of nineteen unite with girls one or two years younger.

I have no doubt that the future looks very rosy to the young couple
whose united earnings may amount to as much as thirty shillings weekly,
for it is an axiom of the poor that two can live cheaper than one.

It is so easy to pay a deposit on a single room, and so easy, so very
easy, to purchase furniture on the hire system. Does not the youth give
his mother ten shillings weekly? Why not give it to a wife? Does not the
girl contribute to her mother's exchequer? Why may not she become a wife
and spend her own earnings? Both are heartily sick of their present home
life, any change must be for the better! So marriage it is! But they
have saved nothing, they are practically penniless beyond the current
week's wages. Never mind, they can get their wedding outfit on the pay
weekly rule, the parson will marry them for nothing. "Here's a church,
let's go in and get married." Christmas, Easter or Bank Holiday comes to
their aid, and they do it! and, heigho! for life's romance.

The happy bride continues at the factory, and brings her shillings to
make up the thirty. They pay three shillings and sixpence weekly for
their room, one-and-six weekly for their household goods, two more
shillings weekly are required for their wedding clothes, that is all!
Have they not twenty-three shillings left!

They knew that they could manage it! All goes merrily as a marriage
bell! Hurrah! They can afford a night or two a week at a music-hall; why
did they not get married before? how stupid they had been!

But something happens, for the bride becomes a mother. Her wages cease,
and thirty shillings weekly for two is a very different matter to twenty
shillings for three!

They had to engage an old woman for nurse for one week only. But
that cost seven shillings and sixpence. A number of other extras are
incurred, all to be paid out of his earnings. They have not completed
the hire purchase business; they have even added to that expense by
the purchase of a bassinet at one shilling weekly for thirty weeks. The
bassinet, however, serves one useful purpose, it saves the expense of a

In less than a fortnight the girl mother is again knocking at the
factory door. She wishes to become an "out-worker"; the manager, knowing
her to be a capable machinist, gives her work, and promises her a
constant supply.

Now they are all right again! Are they? Why, she has no sewing-machine!
Stranded again! not a bit of it. The hire purchase again comes to her
help. Eighteenpence deposit is paid, a like weekly payment promised,
signed for and attended to; and lo! a sparkling new sewing-machine is
deposited in their one room. Let us take an inventory of their goods:
one iron bedstead, flock mattress, two pairs of sheets, two blankets and
a common counterpane, a deal chest of drawers, a deal table, two Windsor
chairs, a bassinet carriage, a sewing-machine, fire-shovel, fender and
poker, some few crocks, a looking-glass, a mouth-organ and a couple of
towels, some knives, forks and spoons, a tea-pot, tea-kettle, saucepan
and frying-pan. But I have been very liberal! They stand close together,
do those household goods; they crowd each other, and if one moves, it
jostles the other. The sewing-machine stands in front of the little
window, for it demands the light. It took some scheming to arrange this,
but husband and wife ultimately managed it. The bassinet stands close to
the machine, that the girl mother may push it gently when baby is cross,
and that she may reach the "soother" and replace it when it falls from
baby's mouth.

Now she is settled down! off she goes! She starts on a life of toil,
compared to which slavery is light and pleasant. Oh, the romance of it;
work from morn till late at night. The babe practically unwashed, the
house becomes grimy, and the bed and bassinet nasty. The husband's wages
have not risen, though his expenses have; other children come and some
go; they get behind with their rent; an "ejectment order" is enforced.
The wretched refuse of the home is put on the street pavement, the door
is locked against them, and the wretched couple with their children
are on the pavement too! The only thing to survive the wreck is the
sewing-machine. The only thing that I know among the many things
supplied to the poor on the hire system that is the least bit likely to
stand the wear and tear is the machine. Doubtless the poor pay highly
for it; still it is comforting to know that in this one direction
the poor are supplied with good articles. And the poor respect their
machines, as the poor always respect things that are not shoddy.

I have drawn no fancy picture, but one that holds true with regard to
thousands. Evils that I cannot enumerate and that imagination cannot
exaggerate wait upon and attend these unfortunate, nay, criminal
marriages; which very largely are the result of that one great
all-pervading cause--the housing of the poor.

But in the underworld there are much worse kinds of married life than
the one I have pictured, for those young people did start life with
some income and some hopes. But what can be said about, and what
new condemnation can be passed upon, the marriage of feeble-minded,
feeble-bodied, homeless wanderers? United in the bonds of holy matrimony
by an eager clergy, and approved in this deplorable step by an all-wise
State, thousands of crazy, curious, wretched, penniless individuals, to
whom even the hire system is impossible, join their hopeless lives.

Half idiots of both sexes in our workhouses look at each other, and then
take their discharge after a mutual understanding. They experience no
difficulty in finding clergymen ready to marry them and unite them in
the bonds of poverty and the gall of wretchedness. The blessing of the
Church is pronounced upon this coupling, and away they go!

Over their lives and means of living I will draw a veil, for common
decency forbids me to speak, as common decency ought to have forbidden
their marriage.

But down in the underworld, and very low down, too, are numberless
couples whose plight is perhaps worse, for they have at any rate known
the refined comfort of good homes, but remembrance only adds poignancy
to suffering and despair.

Read the following story, and after condemnation upon condemnation has
been passed upon the thoughtless or wicked marriages of the poor, tell
me, if you will, what condemnation shall be passed upon the educated
when they, through marriage, drag down into this inferno innocent,
loving and pure women?

It was Boxing Day in a London police-court. Twenty-five years have
passed, but that day is as fresh in my memory as though it were
yesterday. The prisoners' rooms were filled, the precincts of the court
were full, and a great crowd of witnesses and friends, or of the curious
public, were congregated in the street.

Yesterday had been the great Christian festival, the celebration of the
birth of the Prince of Peace, when the bells had rang out the old story
"Peace on earth, good-will to men." To-day it looked as though Hell had
been holding carnival!

Nearly one hundred prisoners had to come before the magistrate. I can
see them now! as one by one they passed before him, for time has not
dimmed the vivid picture of that procession. I remember their stories,
and think still of their cuts and wounds. Outside the court the day was
dull, and inside the light was bad and the air heavy with the fumes of
stale debauch and chloride of lime. And yesterday had been Christmas Day
in the metropolis of Christendom.

Hours passed, and the kindly magistrate sat on apportioning punishment,
fitting the sentence as it were by instinct. At two o'clock he rose for
a short recess, a hasty luncheon, and then back to his task.

At the end of the long procession came a smitten woman. Darkness and
fog now enveloped the court as the woman stood in the dock. Her age
was given as twenty-eight; her occupation pickle-making. First let me
picture that woman and then tell her story, for she represents a number
of women into whose forlorn faces I have looked and of whose hopeless
hearts I have an intimate knowledge.

Some men have conquered evil habits, helped by the love of a pure
woman, without which they would have vainly struggled or have readily
succumbed. But while I know this, I think of the women who have fastened
the tendrils of their heart's affection round unworthy men, and have
married them, hoping, trusting and believing that their love and
influence would be powerful enough to win the men to sobriety and
virtue. Alas! how mistaken they have been! What they have endured! Of
such was this woman! There she stood, the embodiment of woe. A tall,
refined woman, her clothing poor and sparse, her head enveloped in
surgical bandages.

In the darkness of the Christmas night she had leaped from the wall of a
canal bridge into the murky gloom, her head had struck the bank, and she
rolled into the thick, black water.

It was near the basin of the Surrey Canal, and a watchman on duty had
pulled her out; she had been taken to a hospital and attended to. Late
in the afternoon the policeman brought her to the court, where a charge
of attempted suicide was brought against her. But little evidence was
taken, and the magistrate ordered a week's remand. In the cells I had a
few moments' conversation with her, but all I could get from her was the
pitiful moan, "Why didn't they let me die? why didn't they let me die?"

In a week's time I saw her again; surgical bandages were gone, medical
attention and a week's food and rest had done something for her, but
still she was the personification of misery.

I offered to take charge of her, and as she quietly promised not to
repeat the attempt, the magistrate kindly committed her to my care.
So we went to her room: it was a poor place, and many steps we climbed
before we entered it. High up as the room was, and small as were its
dimensions, she, out of the nine shillings she earned at the pickle
factory paid three and sixpence weekly for it. I had gathered from what
she had told me that she was in poverty and distress. So on our way I
brought a few provisions; leaving these and a little money with her, I
left her promising to see her again after a few days. But before leaving
she briefly told me her story, a sad, sad story, but a story to be read
and pondered.

She was the only daughter of a City merchant, and had one brother. While
she was quite a child her mother died, and at an early age she managed
her father's household. She made the acquaintance of a clever and
accomplished man who was an accountant. He was older than she, and
of dissipated habits. Her father had introduced him to his home and
daughter, little thinking of the consequences that ensued. She had no
mother to guide her, she was often lonely, for her father was immersed
in his business.

In a very short time she had fixed her heart on to the man, and when
too late her father expostulated, and finally forbade the man the house.
This only intensified her love and led to quarrels with her father.
Ultimately they married, and had a good home and two servants. In a
little over three years two children added to her joys and sorrows.
Still her husband's faults were not amended, but his dissipation
increased. Monetary difficulties followed, and to avoid disgrace her
father was called upon to provide a large sum of money.

This did not add to his sympathy, but it estranged the father and child.

Then difficulties followed, and soon her husband stood in the dock
charged with embezzlement. Eighteen months' imprisonment was awarded
him, but the greater punishment fell upon the suffering wife. Her father
refused to see her, so with her two little ones she was left to face the
future. Parting with most of her furniture, jewellery, servant, she gave
up her house, took two small rooms, and waited wearily for the eighteen
months to pass.

They passed, and her husband came back to her. But his character was
gone, the difficulty of finding employment stared him in the face.

He joined the ranks of the shabby-genteel to live somehow by bits of
honest work, mixed with a great deal of dishonest work. Four years of
this life, two more children for the mother, increasing drunkenness,
degenerating into brutality on her husband's part. Her father's death
and some little money left to her gave momentary respite. But the money
soon went. Her brother had taken the greater portion and had gone into
a far country. This was the condition of affairs when her husband was
again arrested; this time for forgery. There was no doubt about his
guilt, and a sentence of five years' penal servitude followed. Again she
parted with most of her home, reducing it to one room.

With her four children round her she tried to eke out an existence. She
soon became penniless, and ultimately with her children took refuge in
a London workhouse. After a time the guardians sent the four children
to their country school and nursing home, when she was free to leave the
workhouse and get her own living.

She came out with a letter of introduction to the pickle factory, and
obtained employment at nine shillings a week. The weeks and months
passed, her daily task and common round being a mile walk to the
factory, ten hours' work, and then the return journey. One week-end on
her homeward journey she was attracted and excited by a fire; when she
resumed her journey she was penniless, her week's wages had been stolen
from her. Her only warm jacket and decent pair of boots then had to
be pawned, for the rent must be paid. Monday found her again at the
monotonous round, but with added hardships.

She missed the jacket and the boots, and deprived herself of food
that she might save enough money wherewith to take them out of pawn.
Christmas Eve came, and she had not recovered them. She sat in her room
lonely and with a sad heart, but there was mirth and noise below her,
for even among the poor Bacchus must be worshipped at Christmas time.

One of the women thought of the poor lone creature up at the top of the
house, and fetched her down. They had their bottles of cheap spirits,
for which they had paid into the publican's Christmas club. She drank,
and forgot her misery. Next morning, when the bells of a neighbouring
church were ringing out, they awoke her as she lay fully dressed on her
little bed. She felt ill and dazed, and by and by the consciousness came
to her of fast night's drinking. Christmas Day she spent alone, ill,
miserable and ashamed. "I must have been drunk!" she kept repeating to
herself, and on Christmas night she sought her death.

I wrote to kind friends, and interested some ladies in her welfare.
Plenty of clothing was sent for her; a better room, not quite so
near the sky, was procured for her. Her daily walk to the factory was
stopped, for more profitable work was given to her. Finally I left her
in the hands of kind friends that I knew would care for her.

Two years passed, and on Christmas Eve I called with a present and a
note sent her by a friend. She was gone--her husband had been released
on ticket-of-leave, had found her and joined her, and for a time she
kept him as well as herself. He was more brutal than before, and in his
fury, either drunk or sober, he frequently beat her, so that the people
of the house had to send them away. Where they had moved to, I failed to
find out, but they had vanished!

Fourteen months passed, and one bitterly cold day in February at the
end of a long row of prisoners, waiting their turn to appear before
the magistrate, stood the woman wretched and ill, with a puling bit of
mortality in her arms.

She was a "day charge," having been arrested for stealing a pot of
condensed milk. At length she stood before the magistrate, and the
evidence was given that she was seen to take the milk and hurry away.
She was arrested with the milk on her.

It was believed that she had taken milk from the same place at other
times. When asked what she had to say in extenuation, she held her child
up and said, "I did not take it for myself, I took it for this!" She did
not call it her child. The magistrate looked, shuddered, and sentenced
her to one day.

So once again I stood face to face with her, and face to face with a big
man who had been waiting for her, who insolently asked me what I wanted
with his wife. I turned from him to the woman, and asked if she would
leave him, for if so I would provide for her.

Mournfully she shook her head; leave him, no!--to the bitter end she
stood by him.

So they passed from my view, the educated brute and the despairing,
battered, faithful drudge of a woman, to migrate from lodging-house to
lodging-house, to suffer and to die!

If all the girls of England could see what I have seen, if they could
take, as I have taken, some measure of the keen anguish and sorrow that
comes from such a step, they would never try the dangerous experiment
of marrying a man in the hope of reforming him. Should, perchance, young
women read this story, let me tell them it is true in every particular,
but not the whole truth, for there are some things that cannot be told.

Again and again I have heard poor stricken women cry: "How can you! how
can you!" More than once my manhood has been roused, and I have struck a
blow in their defence.

If there is one piece of advice that, in the light of my experience,
I would like to burn into the very consciousness of young women, it is
this: if they have fastened their heart's love about a man, and find
that thorough respect does not go with that love, then, at whatever
cost, let them crush that love as they would crush a serpent's egg.

And the same holds good with men: I have known men in moments of passion
marry young women, trusting that a good home and an assured income would
restore them to decency and womanhood--but in vain! I saw a foul-looking
woman far from old sent again to prison, where she had been more than
a hundred times. She had also served two years in an inebriate
reformatory. Fifteen years ago, when I first met her, she was
a fair-looking young woman. Needless to say, I met her in the
police-court. A short time afterwards she came to tell me that she was
married. She had a good home, her husband was in good circumstances, and
knew of her life. A few years of home life, two little children to
call her mother; then back to her sensual ways. Prisons, rescue homes,
workhouses, inebriate reformatories, all have failed to reclaim her, and
she lives to spread moral corruption.


I hope that, in some of my chapters, I have made it clear that a large
proportion of the underworld people are industrious and persevering.
I want in this chapter to show that many of them have also ability and
brains, gifts and graces. This is a pleasant theme, and I would revel in
it, but for the sorrowful side of it.

It may seem strange that people living under their conditions should
possess these qualities, but in reality there is nothing strange
about it, for Nature laughs at us, and bestows her gifts upon whom she
pleases, though I have no doubt that she works to law and order if we
only understood.

But we do not understand, and therefore she appears whimsical and
capricious. I rather expect that even when eugenists get their way and
the human race is born to order, that Dame Nature, the mother of us all,
will not consent to be left out of the reckoning. Be that as it may, it
is certain she bestows her personal gifts among the very poor equally
with the rich. She is a true socialist, and, like Santa Claus, she
visits the homes of the very poor and bestows gifts upon their children.

Some of the most perfect ladies I have ever met have been uneducated
women living in poverty and gloom. I do not say the most beautiful, for
suffering and poverty are never beautiful. Neither can rings of care
beneath the eyes, and countless furrows upon the face be considered
beautiful. But, apart from this, I have found many personal graces
and the perfection of behaviour among some of the poorest. All this I
consider more wonderful than the possession of brains, though of brains
they are by no means deficient.

Have you ever noticed how pretty the healthy children of the very poor
are? I am not speaking of unhealthy and feeble children, who are all too
numerous, but of the healthy; for, strange as it may appear, there are
many such, even in the underworld. Where do you find such beautiful
curly hair as they possess? in very few places! It is perfect in its
freedom, texture, colour and curl. Dame Nature has not forgotten
them! Where do you find prettier faces, more sparkling eyes and eager
expressions? Nowhere! And though their faces become prematurely old,
and their eyes become hard, still Dame Nature had not forgotten them at
birth; she, at any rate, had done her best for them.

Search any families, bring out the hundreds of pretty children, and I
will bring hundreds of children from below the line that will compare
with them in beauty of body, face and hair. But they must be under four
years of age! No! no! the children of the upperworld have not a monopoly
of Dame Nature's gifts.

And it is so with mental gifts and graces; the poor get a good share of
them, but the pity is they get so little chance of exercising them.
For many splendid qualities wither from disuse or perish from lack of
development. But some survive, as the following stories will prove.

It was a hot day in June, and, in company with a friend who wished to
learn something about the lives of the very poor, I was visiting in the
worst quarters of East London.

As we moved from house to house, the thick air within, and the dirt
within and without were almost too much for us. The box-like rooms, the
horrible backyards, the grime of the men, women and children, combined
with the filth in the streets and gutters, made us sick and faint. We
asked ourselves whether it was possible that anything decent, virtuous
or intelligent could live under such conditions?

The "place" was dignified by the name of a street, although in reality
it was a blind alley, for a high wall closed one end of it. It was very
narrow, and while infants played in the unclean gutters, frowsy women
discussed domestic or more exciting matters with women on the opposite

They discussed us too as we passed, and audibly commented, though not
favourably, on our business. I had visited the street scores of times,
and consequently I was well known. Unfortunately my address was also
well known, for every little act of kindness that I ventured to do
in that street had been followed by a number of letters from jealous

I venture to say that from every house save one I had received begging
or unpleasant letters, for jealousy of each other's benefits was a
marked characteristic of that unclean street. As we entered the house
from which no letter had been received, we heard a woman call to her
neighbour, "They are going to see the old shoemaker." She was correct in
her surmise, and right glad we were to make the old man's acquaintance;
not that he was very old, but then fifty-nine in a London slum may
be considered old age. He sat in a Windsor arm-chair in a very small
kitchen; a window at his back revealed that abomination of desolation, a
Bethnal Green backyard. He sat as he had sat for years, bent and doubled
up, for some kind of paralysis had overtaken him.

He had a fine head and a pointed beard, his thin and weak neck seemed
hardly able to bear its heavy burden. He was not overclean, and his
clothes were, to say the least, shabby. But there he sat, his wife at
work to maintain him. We stood, for there was no sitting room for us.
Grime, misery and poverty were in evidence.

He told us that his forefathers were Huguenots, who fled from France
and settled as silk weavers in Spitalfields. He had been apprenticed to
boot- and shoe-making, his particular branch of work having been boots
and shoes for actresses and operatic singers. That formerly he had
earned good money, but the trade declined as he had grown older, and now
for some years he had been crippled and unable to work, and dependent
upon his wife, who was a machinist.

There did not seem much room for imagination and poetry in his home and
life, but the following conversation took place--

"It is a very hard life for you sitting month after month on that chair,
unable to do anything!" "It is hard, I do not know what I should do if
I could not think." "Oh, you think, do you well, thinking is hard
work." "Not to me, it is my pleasure and occupation." "What do you think
about?" "All sorts of things, what I have read mostly." "What have you
read" "Everything that I could get hold of, novelists, poetry, history
and travel." "What novelist do you like best" The answer came prompt
and decisive: "Dickens," "Why?" "He loved the poor, he shows a greater
belief in humanity than Thackeray." "How do you prove that?" "Well, take
Thackeray's VANITY FAIR, it is clever and satirical, but there is only
one good character, and he was a fool; but in Dickens you come across
character after character that you can't help loving."

"Which of his books do you like best?" "A TALE OF TWO CITIES." "Why?"
"Well, because the French Revolution always appeals to me, and secondly
because I think the best bit of writing in all his books is the
description of Sydney Carton's ride on the tumbrel to the guillotine."
"Have you ever read Carlyle's FRENCH REVOLUTION?" "No" "I will lend it
to you." "If you do, I will read it."

"How about poetry, what poets do you like?" "The minor poets of two
hundred years ago, Herrick, Churchill, Shenstone and others." "Why do
you like them?" "They are so pretty, so easy to understand, you know
what they mean; they speak of beauty, and flowers and love, their
language is tuneful and sweet." Thus the grimy old shoemaker spoke, but
I continued: "What about the present-day poets?" Swift came the reply,
"We have got none." This was a staggerer, but I suggested: "What about
Kipling?" "Too slangy and Coarse!" "Austin?" "Don't ask me." "What of
Wordsworth, Tennyson and Browning?" "Well, Wordsworth is too prosy, you
have to read such a lot to get a little; Tennyson is a bit sickly
and too sentimental, I mean with washy sentiment; Browning I cannot
understand, he is too hard for me."

"Now let us talk: about dramatists; you have read Shakespeare?" "Yes,
every play again and again." "Which do you like best?" "I like them all,
the historical and the imaginative; I have never seen one acted, but to
me King Lear is his masterpiece."

So we left him doubled up in his chair, in his grime and poverty,
lighting up his poor one room with great creations, bearing his heavy
burdens, never repining, thinking great thoughts and re-enacting great
events, for his mind to him was a kingdom.

The next day my friend sent a dozen well-selected books, but the old
shoemaker never sought or looked for any assistance.

Only a few doors away we happened on a slum tragedy. We stood in a queer
little house of one room up and one down stairs. Let me picture
the scene! A widow was seated at her machine sewing white buckskin
children's boots. Time, five o'clock in the afternoon; she had sat there
for many hours, and would continue to sit till night was far advanced.

Suddenly a girl of twelve burst in and threw herself into her mother's
arms, crying, "Oh, mother, mother, I have lost the scholarship! Oh,
mother, the French was too hard for me!" To our surprise the mother
seemed intensely relieved, and said, "Thank God for that!"

But the girl wept! After a time we inquired, and found that the girl,
having passed the seventh standard at an elementary school, had been
attending a higher grade school, where she had been entered for a
competitive examination at a good class secondary school. If she
obtained it, the widow would have been compelled to sign an agreement
for the girl to remain at school for at least three years. But the widow
was practically starving, although working fourteen hours daily. Verily,
the conflict of duties forms the tragedy of everyday life. The widow was
saved by the advanced French; poor mother and poor girl!

By and by the girl was comforted as we held the prospective of a bright
future before her, and got her to talk of her studies; she recited for
us a scene from AS YOU LIKE IT, and also Portia's speech, "The quality
of mercy is not strained."

Standing near was a boy of not more than ten years, who looked as if he
would like to recite for us, and I asked him what standard he was in.
"The sixth, sir." "And do you like English Literature?" He did not
answer the question exactly, but said, "I know the 'Deserted Village,'
by Oliver Goldsmith."

"Where was the 'Deserted Village'?" "Sweet Auburn was supposed to be
in Ireland, but it is thought that some of the scenes are taken from
English villages."

"Can you give us the 'Village Schoolmaster'?" And he did, with point
and emphasis. "Now for the 'Village Parson.'" His memory did not fail
or trip, and the widow sat there machining; so we turned to her for more
information, and found that she was a Leicester woman, and her parents
Scots; she had been a boot machinist from her youth.

Her husband was a "clicker" from Stafford; he had been dead eight years.
She was left with four children. She had another daughter of fourteen
who had done brilliantly at school, having obtained many distinctions,
and at twelve years had passed her "Oxford Local." This girl had picked
up typewriting herself, and as she was good at figures and a splendid
writer, she obtained a junior clerk's place in the City at seven
shillings and sixpence per week. Every day this girl walked to and from
her business, and every day the poor widow managed to find her fourpence
that the girl might have a lunch in London City.

I felt interested in this girl, so I wrote asking her to come to lunch
with me on a certain day. She came with a book in her hand, one of
George Eliot's, one of her many prizes. A fourpenny lunch may be
conducive to high thinking, may even lead to an appreciation of great
novels: it certainly leaves plenty of time for the improvement of the
mind, though it does not do much for nourishing the body. I found
her exceedingly interesting and intelligent, with some knowledge of
"political economy," well up in advanced arithmetic, and quite capable
of discussing the books she had read. Yet the family had been born in
an apology of a house, they had graduated in the slums, but not in the
gutter. Their widowed mother had worked interminable hours and starved
as she worked, but no attendance officer had ever been required to
compel her children to school. It would have taken force to keep them
away. But what of their future? Who can say? But of one thing I am very
sure, and it is this: that, given fair opportunity, the whole family
will adorn any station of life that they may be called to fill.

But will they have that opportunity? Well, the friend that was with me
says they will, and he has commissioned me to act for him, promising
me that if I am taken first and he is left, the cultured family of the
slums shall not go uncared for. And amidst the sordid life of our mean
streets, there are numbers of brilliant children whose God-given talents
not only run to waste, but are actually turned into evil for lack of

Here and there one and another rise superior to their environment, and
with splendid perseverance fight their way to higher and better life.
And some of them rise to eminence, for genius is not rare even in

One of our greatest artists, lately dead, whose work all civilisation
delights to honour, played in a slum gutter, and climbed a lamp-post
that he might get a furtive look into a school of art.

All honour and good wishes to the rising young, but all glory to the
half-starved widows who shape their characters and form their tastes.
To the old shoemaker good wishes; may the small pension that a friend
of mine has settled on him add to his comfort and his health, may his
beloved minor poets with Dickens and Shakespeare long be dear to him,
and may his poor little home long continue to be peopled with bright
creations that defy the almost omnipotent power of the underworld.

If any who may read these words would like to do a kind action that will
not be void of good results and sure reward, I would say lend a
helping hand to some poor family where, in spite of their poverty and
surroundings, the children are clean and intelligent, and have made
progress at school. For they are just needing a hand, it may be to help
with their education, or it may be to give them a suitable start in
life. If the mother happens to be a widow, you cannot do wrong.

If one half of the money that is spent trying to help unhelpable people
was spent in helping the kind of families I refer to in the manner I
describe, the results would be surprising.

If there is any difficulty in finding such families, I would say apply
to the head mistress or master of a big school in a poor neighbourhood,
they can find them for you. If they cannot, why then I will from among
my self-supporting widow friends.

But do not, I beseech you, apply to the clergyman of the parish, for he
will naturally select some poor family to whom he has charitably acted
the part of relieving officer. Remember it is brains and grit that you
are in search of, and not poor people only.

If in every neighbourhood a few people would band themselves together
for this purpose and spend money for this one charitable purpose, it
would of itself, and in reasonable time, effect mighty results. Believe
me, there is plenty of brain power and grit in the underworld that
never gets a chance of developing in a useful direction. Boys and girls
possessing such talents are doomed, unless a miracle happens, for they
have to start in life anyhow and anywhere.

Nothing is of more importance than a correct start in life for any boy
or girl; but a false start, a bad beginning for the children of the very
poor who happen to possess brain power is fatal. Their talents get no
chance, for they are never used, consequently they atrophy, or, worse
still, are used in a wrong direction and possibly for evil. Good is
changed into evil, bright and useful life is frustrated, and the State
loses the useful power and influence that should result from brains and

How can my widow friends, who are unceasingly at work, have either
the time, opportunity or knowledge to find proper openings for their
children? The few shillings that a boy or girl can earn at anything,
or anyhow that is honest, are a great temptation. The commencement
dominates the future! Prospective advantage must needs give place to
present requirements.

So we all lose! The upperworld loses the children's gifts, character and
service. The underworld retains their poor service for life.

"It is better," said Milton, "to kill a man than a book." Which may be
true, but probably the truth depends upon the quality of the man and the
book. But what about killing mind, soul, heart, aspirations and every
quality that goes to make up a man? "Their angels do always behold the
face of my Father"; yes, but we compel them to withdraw that gaze, and
look contentedly into the face of evil.

I am now pleading for the gifted boys and girls of the underworld, not
the weaklings, for of them I speak elsewhere. But I will say, that while
the weaklings are the more hopeless, it is the talented that are the
most dangerous. Let us see to it that their powers have some chance of
developing in a right direction. When by some extraordinary concurrence
of circumstances a Council School boy passes on to a university and
takes a good degree, it is chronicled all over the world; the school,
the teacher, the boy and his parents are all held up for show and
admiration. I declare it makes me ill! Why? Because I know that in the
underworld thousands of men are grubbing, burrowing and grovelling who,
as boys, possessed phenomenal abilities, but whose parents were poor, so
poor that their gifted children had no chance of developing the talent
that was in them. Let us give them a chance! Sometimes here and there
one and another bursts his bonds, and, rejoicing in his freedom, does
brilliant things. But in spite of Samuel Smiles and his self-help they
are but few, though, if the centuries are searched, the catalogue will
be impressive enough.

Of course there must be self-help. But there must be opportunity also.
There is a great deal of talk about the children of the poor being
"over-educated," and the delinquencies of the youthful poor are
attributed to this bogy. It is because they are under-educated, not
over-educated, that the children of the very poor so often go wrong.

But the attempt to cast them all in the same mould is disastrous; there
is an over-education going on in this direction. Not all the children of
the poor can be great scholars, but some of them can! Let us give them a
chance. Not all of them can be scientists and engineers, etc., but some
of them have talents for such things! Give them a chance! A good many of
them have unmistakably artistic gifts! Why not give them a chance too!
And the mechanically inclined should have a chance! Why can we not
differentiate according to their tastes and gifts?

For even then we shall have enough left to be our hewers of wood and
carriers of water; an abundance will remain to do all the work that
requires neither brains nor gifts.

But let us stop at once and for ever trying to cram thick heads and poor
brains with stuff that cannot possibly be appreciated or understood. Let
us teach their mechanical fingers to do something useful, and give them,
even the degenerates, some chance!

And we must stop our blind alley occupation for growing lads, for at the
end of the alley stands an open door to the netherworld, and through it
youthful life passes with little prospect of return.


It may seem a strange thing, but children do play in the underworld.
They have their own games and their times and seasons too!

Yet no one can watch them as they play without experiencing feelings
more or less pathetic. There is something incongruous about it that may
cause a smile, but there is also something that will probably cause a

For their playgrounds are the gutters or the pavements. Happy are
the children when they can procure a spacious pavement, for in the
underworld wide pavements are scarce; still narrow pavements and gutters
are always to hand.

It is summer time, the holidays have come! No longer the hum, babble
and shouts of children are heard in and around those huge buildings, the
County Council schools.

The sun pours its rays into the unclean streets, the thermometer
registers eighty in the shade. Down from the top storey and other
storeys of the blocks the children come, happy in the consciousness that
for one month at least they will be free from school, without dodging
the school attendance officer.

"Hop-scotch" season has commenced, and as if by magic the pavements of
the narrow streets are covered with chalked lines, geometrical figures
and numerals, and the mysterious word "tod" confronts you, stares at
you, and puzzles you.

Who can understand the intricacies of "hop-scotch" or the fascination
of "tod"? None but the girls of the underworld. Simple pleasures please
them--a level pavement, a piece of chalk, a "pitcher," the sun overhead,
dirt around, a few companions and non-troublesome babies, are their
chief requirements; for few of these girls come out to play without the
eternal baby.

Notice first, if you will, how deftly these foster-mothers handle the
babies; their very method tells of long-continued practice. What slaves
these girls are! But they have brought the baby's feeding-bottle, and
also that other fearsome indispensable of underworld infant life, "the

They are going to make a day of it, a mad and merry day, for they have
with them some pieces of bread and margarine to sustain them in the toil
of nursing and the exhaustion of "hop-scotch."

The "pitcher" is produced, and we notice how punctiliously each girl
takes her proper turn and starts from the correct place; we notice also
the dilapidated condition of their boots, that act as golf clubs and
propel the "pitcher." We wonder how with such boots, curled and twisted
to every conceivable shape, they can strike the "pitcher" at all. There
is some skill in "hop-scotch" played as these girls play it, and with
their "boots" too!

A one-legged game is "hop-scotch," for the left foot must be held clear
of the pavement, and the "pitcher" must be propelled with the right foot
as the girl "hops."

If she hops too high and misses it, she is "out"; if she strikes too
hard, and it travels beyond one of the boundaries, she is "out" too; if
she does not propel it far enough, again "out."

Why, of course there is skill and fascination in it, for it combines the
virtues of golf and baseball, and "tod" is quite as good as a football
goal. And there is good fellowship and self-denial going on, too; not
quite every girl, thank Heaven, is hampered or blessed with a baby,
and we notice how cheerfully they take their turn in nursing while the
foster-mother arrives at "tod."

The substitute, too, understands the use of the "comforter," for should
it roll in the dirty gutter she promptly returns it to its proper
place, the baby's mouth. Untidy, slatternly girls, not over-clean, not
over-dressed, and certainly not over-fed, we leave them to their play
and their babies.

Here are a lot of half-naked boys, some standing, some sitting on the
hot pavement; they are playing "cherry hog"; why "hog" I don't know!
Their requisites are a pocketful of cherry stones and a small screw, not
an expensive outfit, for they save the "hogs" when they are permitted
to eat cherries, as sometimes, by the indulgence of a kindly fruiterer,
they are, for he kindly throws all his rotten or unsaleable fruit into
the gutter.

If these are not to hand, there are plenty of "hogs" to be picked up. As
to the little screw, well, it is easy to get one or steal one.

The advantage of a screw is that it possesses a flat end, on which it
will stand erect. In this position it is delicately placed so that when
struck by a cherry "hog" it falls. Each boy in turn throws a certain
number of "hogs" at the screw, the successful thrower gathers in the
spoil and goes home with his pocket bursting with cherry "hogs."

It's an exciting game, but it is gambling nevertheless; why do not the
police interfere?

Here are some boys playing "buttons"--gambling again! This game is
good practice, too, and a capital introduction to that famous game of
youthful capitalists, "pitch and toss," for it is played in precisely
the same way, only that buttons take the place of half-pennies.

The road, gutter or pavement will do for "buttons"; a small mark
or "jack" is agreed upon, a line is drawn at a certain distance;
alternately the lads pitch their buttons towards the "jack," three
buttons each. When all have "pitched," the boy whose button is nearest
the "jack" has first toss, that is, he collects all the pitched buttons
in his hand and tosses them; as the buttons lie again on the ground the
lads eagerly scan them, for the buttons that lie with their convex side
upwards are the spoil of the first "tosser." The remaining buttons are
collected by the second, who tosses, and then collects his spoil, and
so on till the buttons are all lost and won. The boy whose buttons are
farthest from "jack" of course gets the last and least opportunity. When
playing for halfpence, "heads or tails" is the deciding factor.

Why, you say, of course it is a game of skill, just as much as bowls or
quoits; but there are also elements of luck about "pitch and toss" which
gives it an increased attraction.

Sunday in the underworld is the great day for "pitch and toss," for many
boys have halfpence on that day. They have been at work during the week,
and, having commenced work, their Sunday-school days are at an end. And
having a few halfpence they can indulge their long-continued and fervent
hope of discarding "buttons" and playing the man by using halfpence.

But how they enjoy it! how intent they are upon it. Sunday morning will
turn to midday, and midday to evening before they are tired of it! Meal
times, or the substitute for meal times, pass, and they remain at it!
always supposing their halfpence last, and the police do not interfere,
the latter being the most likely.

It takes an interminably long time to dispossess a lad of six halfpence
at this game; fortune is not so fickle as may be supposed. The unskilled
"pitcher" may have luck in "tossing," while the successful "pitcher" may
be an unlucky "tosser." If at the end of a long day they come off pretty
equal, they have had an ideal day.

But they have had their ups and downs, their alternations of joy and
despair. Sometimes a boy may win a penny; if so, it is evident that
another boy has lost one, and this is sad, though I expect they lose
more coppers to the police than they do to their companions, for the
police harry them and hunt them. Special constables are put on to detect
them, and they know the favourite resorts of the incipient gamblers.
They hunt in couples, too, and they enter the little unclean street at
each end.

Now for the supreme excitement; they are observed by the watchful eye of
a non-player, who is copperless. There is a rush for the halfpence,
some of which the non-player secures. There's a scamper, but there is no
escape; the police bag them, and innocent boys who join in the scamper
are bagged too. The police search the ground for halfpence, find a few
which they carefully pack in paper, that they may retain some signs
of dirt upon them, for this will be invaluable legal evidence on the
morrow. There is a procession of police, prisoners and gleeful lads who
are not in custody to the nearest police-station.

On Monday they stand in the dock, when the police with the halfpence and
the dirt still upon them give evidence against them.

One worthy magistrate will ask them why they were not at home or school.
Another will sternly admonish them upon the evils of street gambling. A
third will tell them that it would have paid them better in health and
pocket to have taken a country walk. But all agree on one point, "that
this street gambling must be put down," and they "put it down," or
attempt to do so, by fining the young ragamuffins five shillings each.

The excitement of the cells then awaits them, to be followed by a free
ride in "Black Maria," unless "muvver" can pawn something and raise the
money, But many mothers cannot do this, others do not trouble; as to
"farver," well, he does not come in at all, unless it is to give a
"licking" to the boy when he comes out of prison for losing his job and
his wages.

Truly, the play of the underworld children is exciting enough: there is
danger attaching to it; perhaps that gives a piquancy to it.

The fascination of "pitch and toss" is felt not only all over England,
where it holds undisputed sway, for it has no real rival, but in America
too! Whilst in America last summer I explored the mean streets of New
York, and not far from the Bowery I found lots of lads at the game. It
was Sunday morning, too, and having some "nickels," I played several
games with them. I was but a poor pitcher, the coins were too light for
me--perhaps I could do better with solid English pennies--but what I
lost in pitching I gained in tossing, so I was not ruined, neither did
the Bowery lads sustain any loss.

But I found the procedure exactly the same as in England, and I felt the
fascination of it; and some day when I can afford it, I will have a lot
of metal counters made, and I will organise lads into a club; I will
give them "caps," and they shall play where the police won't interfere.

I will give them trophies to contend for, and Bethnal Green shall
contend with Holloway; a halfpenny "gate" would bring its thousands, and
private gain would give place to club and district "esprit de corps,"
for the lads want the game, not the money; the excitement, not the
halfpence. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about "pitch and toss,"
only the fact that ragamuffins play it.

There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the game by superior
people who pose as authorities upon the delinquencies of ragamuffin
youth, and who declaim upon the demoralisation attending this popular
game of poor lads.

I heard at a meeting of a rich Christian Church, held in a noble hall
in the heart of London's City, one gentleman declare that a smart
ragamuffin youth of his acquaintance possessed a penny with a "head" on
each side for the purpose of enabling him to cheat at this game.

He did not know what he was talking about, for such pennies would be
as useless for this game as the stones in the streets, for "heads and
tails" are the essence of the game. The boys of the underworld must
play, and ought to play; if those above them do not approve of their
games, well, it is "up to them," as the Americans have it, to find
them better games than pitch and toss, and better playing grounds than
unclean streets.

Of public parks we have enough; they are very well for sedate and
elderly people. They are useful to foster-mothers, slave girls hugging
babies about, and a boon for nurses with perambulators. But what of
Tom, Dick and Harry, who have just commenced work; what of them? "Boy
Scouting," even with royal patronage, is not for them, for they have
no money to buy uniforms, nor time to scour Epping Forest and Hampstead
Heath for a non-existent enemy.

Church Lads' Brigade with bishops for patrons, did I hear some one
say? Well, blowing a bugle, no matter how discordantly, is certainly
an attraction for a boy; and wearing a military cap set jauntily on
one side of the head is attractive, too, while the dragging of a
make-believe cannon through the streets may perhaps please others. But
Tom, Dick and Harry from below care for none of these things, for they
are "make-believes," and Tom, Dick and Harry want something real, even
if it is vulgar, something with a strong competitive element in it, even
if it is a little bit rough or wicked.

Besides Tom, Dick and Harry are not over-clean in person, nor nice
in speech, so they are not wanted. Boy Scouts and Boys' Brigades are
preached at, but Tom, Dick and Harry do not want to be preached at by a
parson, or coddled by a curate.

They want something real, even though it be punching each other's head,
for that at any rate is real. Give us play, play, real play! is the
cry that is everlastingly rising from the underworld youth. But
the overworld gives them parks and gardens, which are closed at a
respectable hour. But the lads do not go to bed at respectable hours,
for their mothers are still at work and their fathers have not arrived
home. So they play in the streets; then we call them "hooligans," and of
course they must be "put down."

There is a good deal of "putting down" for the underworld, but it is all
of the wrong sort. For there is no putting down of public playgrounds
for lads of fifteen and upwards open in the evening, lighted by
electricity, and under proper control. Not one in the whole underworld.
So they play in the streets, or rather indulge in what is called

But there are youths' clubs! Yes, a few mostly in pokey places, yet they
are useful. But Tom, Dick and Harry want space, room and air, for they
get precious little of these valuable commodities at their work, and
still less in their homes. Watch them if you will, as I have watched
them scores of times in the streets, how foolish, yet how pitiable their
conduct is; you will see that they walk for about two hundred yards and
then walk back again, and then repeat the same walk, till the hours have
passed; they seem to be as circumscribed as caged animals. They walk
within bounds up and down the "monkey's parade."

How inane and silly their conversation is! Sometimes a whim comes upon
them, and one runs for a few yards; the whim takes possession of others,
and they do exactly the same. One seizes another round the body and
wrestles with him. Immediately the others begin to wrestle too; their
actions are stereotyped, silly and objectionable, even when they do not

They bump against the people, women included, especially young women.
They push respectable people into the gutters, and respectable people
complain to the police. An extra force is told off to keep order, and to
put Tom, Dick and Harry down.

Sunday night is the worst night of all! for now these youths are out
in their thousands; certain streets are given up to them, and become
impassable for others. Respectable folk are shocked, and church-going
folk are scandalised! Surely the streets are the property of respectable
people! and yet they cannot pass through them without annoyance.

At length the street is cleared and patrolled, for respectability must
be protected, not that there has been either violence or robbery. Oh
dear, no! There has only been foolish horse-play by the Toms, Dicks and
Harrys who, having nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do, having,
moreover, been joined by their female counterparts, have been enjoying
themselves in their own way, for they have been "at play."

It is astonishing how fond of water the unwashed children of the
underworld are! It has an attraction for them, often a fatal attraction,
even though it be thick with dirt and very malodorous. During the summer
time the boys' bathing lakes in Victoria Park are crowded and alive with
youngsters, who splash and flounder and choke, splutter and laugh
in them. They present a sight worth seeing, and teach a lesson worth

The canals of Hoxton, Haggerston and Islington, too, dirty and dangerous
as they are, prove seductive to the boys who live close to them. Now the
police have an anxious time. Again they must look after Tom, Dick and
Harry, for demure respectability must not be outraged by a sight of
their naked bodies.

So the police keep a sharp outlook for them. Some one kindly informs
them that a dozen boys are bathing in the canal near a certain bridge,
and quickly enough they find them in the very act. There the little
savages are! Some can swim, and some cannot; those that cannot are
standing in the slime near the side, stirring up its nastiness. They see
the policeman advancing, and those that can swim get ashore and run
for their little bits of clothing, tied up in a bundle ready for
emergencies. Into the water again they go for the other side! But, alas!
another policeman is waiting on the other side at the place where they
expected to land, so they must needs swim till another landing place
offers security. But even here they find that escape is hopeless, for
yet another policeman awaits them.

Those who cannot swim seize their bundles, and, without waiting to
dress, run naked and unashamed along the canal, side, to the merriment
of the bargees, and the joy of the women and girls who happen to have no
son or brother amongst them, for the underworld is not so easily shocked
as the law and its administrators imagine.

Ultimately they, too, find a policeman waiting for them, and a "good
bag" results. But the magistrate is very lenient; with a twinkle in his
eye he reproves them, and fines them one shilling each, which with great
difficulty their "muvvers" pay.

But it has been a good day for the police, for four of them have helped
to convey six shillings from the wretchedly poor to the coffers of the
police-court receiver. But when the school holidays come round, that is
the time for the dirty canal to tell its tale, and to give up its dead,

Read this from the Daily Press, July 16th, 1911--

"A remarkable record in life-saving was disclosed at a Bethnal Green
inquest to-day on a child of six, named Browning, who was drowned in the
Regent's Canal on Bank Holiday.

"Henry H. Terry, an out-of-work carman, said he was called from his
home near by, and raced down to the canal. There was a youth on the bank
holding a stick over the water, apparently waiting for the child to come
up to the surface.

"The coroner: 'How old was the youth?' 'Well, he stood five feet six
inches, and might have gone in without getting out of his depth. I heard
a woman cry, "Why don't you go in!" I dived in five or six times, but
did not bring up the body.' The witness added that he and his brother
had saved many lives at this spot, the latter having effected as many
as twenty-five rescues in a year. Alfred Terry, a silk weaver, described
the point at which the child was drowned as a veritable death-trap, and
mentioned that he had been instrumental during the past twelve years in
saving considerably over one hundred lives at that spot.

"'One hot July afternoon in 1900,' he added,'my mother and I had five of
them in the kitchen at one time with a roaring fire to bring them round.
That was during the school holidays; they dropped in like flies.'

"Accidental death was the verdict."

But when the little ones play in the gutter, danger lurks very near, as
witness the extract of the same date--

"At an inquest at the Poplar coroner's court to-day, on a
three-years'-old girl named Bertiola, it was stated that while playing
with other children she was struck on the head with a tin engine. Three
weeks later she was playing with the same children, and one of them hit
her on the head with the wooden horse.

"The coroner: 'Two similar blows in a few days, that is very strange.'

"Dr. Packer said that death was due to cerebral meningitis, the result
of a blow on the head.

"The coroner: 'I suppose you can't tell which blow caused the trouble'
'No, sir, I am afraid not.'

"The jury returned a verdict of accidental death."

But sometimes the boys and girls of the underworld collaborate in their
play, for just now (July) "Remember the grotto! please to remember the
grotto!" is a popular cry. Who has not seen the London grottos he who
knows them not, knows nothing of the London poor.

I was watching some girls play "hop-scotch" when a boy and girl with
oyster shells in their hands came up to me preferring the usual request,
"Please to remember the grotto!" Holding out their shells as they spoke.

"Where is your grotto?" I said. "There, sir, over there; come and see
it." Aye! there is was, sure enough, and a pretty little thing it was
in its way, built up to the wall in a quiet corner, glistening with its
oyster shells, its bits of coloured china and surmounted with a little

"But where are the candles?" "Oh, sir, we haven't got any yet; we shall
get candles when we get some money, and light them to-night; we have
only just finished it." "Where did you get your shells?" "From the
fish-shops." "Where did you get the pretty bits of china from?" "We
saved them from last year." "Does grotto time come the same time every
year, then" "Oh yes, sir." "How is that?" "'Cos it's the time for it."
"Why do you build grottos" "To get money." "Yes, but why do people give
you money; what do grottos commemorate, don't you know?" "No, sir."

I looked at a poor half-paralysed boy with sharp face and said, "Well,
my boy, you ought to know; do you go to Sunday School?" "Yes, sir, both
of us; St. James the Less." "Well, I shall not tell you the whole story
to-day, but here is sixpence for you to buy candles with; and next
Sunday ask your teacher to tell you why boys and girls build grottos;
I shall be here this day week, and if you can tell me I will give you a

There were at least six grottos in that street when I got there on
the appointed day. A large crowd of children with oyster shells were
waiting; evidently the given sixpence and the promised shilling had
created some excitement in that corner of Bethnal Green.

They were soon all round me, and a general chorus arose with hands
outstretched, "Please to remember the grotto! please to remember the
grotto!" I called them to silence, and said, "Can any one tell me why
you build grottos?" There was a general chorus, "To get money, sir."
That was all they knew, and it seemed to them a sufficient reason.

Turning to the little cripple, I said, "Did you ask your teacher?"
"Yes, sir, but she said it was only children's play; but I bought some
candles, and they are lighted now."

I said, "Now, children, listen to me, for I am going to tell you about
the beginning of grottos.

"A good many hundred years ago, when Jesus was on earth, He had two
disciples named James; in after years one was called 'James the Greater'
and the other 'James the Less.' After the death of Jesus, James the
Greater was put to death, and the disciples were scattered, and wandered
into many far countries. James the Less wandered into Spain, telling the
people about Jesus. He lived a good and holy life, helping the poor and
the afflicted.

"When he died, the people who loved him and reverenced him made a
great funeral, and built him a costly tomb, but instead of putting up a
monument to him, they built a large and beautiful grotto over the place
where his body lay. They lined it with beautiful and costly shells and
other rich things, and lit it with many candles.

"Thousands of people came to see the grotto, and gave money to buy
candles that it might always be lighted.

"Every year, on the anniversary of St. James's death, the people came
by thousands to the grotto. One year it was said that a crippled man had
been made quite well while praying at the grotto. This event was told
everywhere, and from that day forth on St. James's Day people came from
many countries, many of them walking hundreds of miles to the grotto.

"Some of these people were ill and diseased, and others were sick and
blind, and some were cripples.

"It is said that a good many of them were cured of their afflictions.

"Now all these poor people that walked slowly and painfully to St.
James's tomb carried big oyster shells, in which they made holes for
cords to pass through, and they placed the cords round their necks.

"When they came near to people they would hold out their shells and say,
'Please to remember the grotto!' And people gave them money to help them
on their way and to buy candles for the grotto, hoping that the poor
people would get there safely and come back cured.

"So it came to pass that whenever people saw a man with an oyster shell,
they knew he was going or returning from St. James's tomb in Spain,
and they helped him. The custom of building grottos on St. James's Day
spread to many countries besides Spain. In Russia they build very fine
grottos. At length the custom came to England, and you boys and girls do
what other boys and girls have done for many years in other countries,
and in reality you celebrate the death of a great and good man."

The children were very silent for a while; the cripple boy looked at me
with tears in his eyes, and I knew what his tears expressed. I gave
him a shilling, but he did not speak; to all the other children who had
built grottos I gave threepence each, and there was joy in that corner
of Bethnal Green.

There is always something pathetic about play in the underworld. We feel
that there is something wanting in it, perhaps that something would come
into it, if there were more opportunities of real and competitive play.
Keeping shops, or teaching schools may do for girls to play at, but a
lad, if he is any good, wants something more robust.

I often find cripple boys playing "tip-cat," another game upon which
the law has its eye, or hurrying along on crutches after something that
serves as a football, and getting there in time, too, for a puny kick.
But that kick, little as it is, thrills the poor chap, and he feels that
he has been playing. I am sure that football is going to play a great
part in the physical salvation of Tom, Dick and Harry, but they must
have other places than the streets in which to learn and practise the

We have heard a great deal about the playing-fields of public schools;
we are told that we owe our national safety to them; perhaps it
is correct, but I really do not know. But this I do know, that the
non-provision of playing-fields, or grounds for the male youthful poor,
is a national danger and a menace to activity, endurance, health and

Nothing saves them now but the freehold of the streets. Rob them of this
without giving them something better, and we shall speedily have a race
of flat-footed, flat-chested, round-shouldered poor, with no brains for
mental work, and no strength for physical work. A race exactly qualified
for the conditions to which we so freely submit it in prison. And above
those conditions that race will have no aspirations. So give them play,
glorious play, manly strife; let their hearts beat, and their chests
expand that they may breathe from their bottom lungs, that their limbs
may be supple and strong, for it will pay the nation to give Tom, Dick
and Harry healthy play.

And they long for it, do Tom, Dick and Harry! Did you ever see hundreds
of them on a Sunday morning coming up from their lairs in Hoxton,
Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Bethnal Green, to find a field or open
space in the suburbs where they might kick a football? I have seen it
scores of times. A miserable but hopeful sight it is; hopeful because
it bears testimony to the ingrained desire that English lads have for
active healthy play. Miserable because of their appearance, and because
of the fact that no matter what piece of open ground or fields they
may select, they are trespassers, and may be ejected, or remain on
sufferance only.

Happy are they if they can find a piece of land marked for sale, where
the jerry-builder has not yet commenced a suburban slum. Like a swarm
of locusts they are down on it, and quickly every blade of grass
disappears, "kicked off" as if by magic.

Old walking-sticks, pieces of lath or old coats and waistcoats serve as
goal-posts. Touch-lines they have none, one playing-ground runs across
the other, and a dozen teams are soon hard at it. They have no caps to
distinguish them, no jerseys or knickers of bright hues. There are no
"flannelled fools" among them, but quickly there are plenty of "muddied
oafs." Trousers much too long are rolled up, coats and vests are
dispensed with, braces are loosed and serve as belts. There is running
to and fro, mud, and poor old footballs are kicked hither and thither.
They knock, kick and shoulder each other, their bare arms and faces are
coated with mud, they fall over the ball and over each other. If they
cannot kick their own ball, they kick one that belongs to another team.
There is much shouting, much laughter and some bad language! and so they
go at it till presently there is a great cheer, for Hoxton has got a
second goal, and Haggerston is defeated. And they keep at it for two
long hours, if they are not interfered with, then back to their lairs
and food.

All this time good people have been in the churches close by, and the
shouting of the Hoxtonians has disturbed them, and the gentle whisper of
the Haggerstonians has annoyed them. Some of them are scandalised, and
say the police ought to stop such nuisances; perhaps they are right, for
there is much to be said against it. But there is something to be said
on the other side, too; for the natural instinct of English boys must
have an outlet or perish. If it perish they perish too, and then old
England would miss them.

So let them play, but give them playgrounds! For playgrounds will pay
better than nice, respectable parks. The outlay will be returned in
due time in a big interest promptly paid from the increased vitality,
energy, industry and honesty of our Toms, Dicks and Harrys. So let them

With much pleasure I quote from the Daily Press, November 24th, the



"It is good news that arrangements are being made by the Office of
Works for the use of a part of Hyde Park for organised games under the
direction of the London County Council. Hitherto the only royal parks
in which space has been allotted for this purpose are Regent's Park and
Greenwich Park. But the King, as is well known, takes a keen interest in
all that concerns the welfare of the children, and has gladly sanctioned
the innovation.

"During the year an increasing number of the elementary schools in
London have taken advantage of the article in the code of regulations
which provides that, under certain conditions, organised games may, if
conducted under competent supervision and instruction, be played during
school hours. Up to the present the London County Council has authorised
the introduction of organised games by 580 departments, 295 boys', 225
girls', and 60 mixed.

"The games chiefly played by boys are football, cricket and rounders,
according to the season. Girls enjoy a greater variety, and in addition
to cricket and rounders, are initiated into the mysteries of hockey,
basket ball, target ball, and other ball games.

"The advantages of the children being taught to get the best exercise
out of the games, and to become skilful in them, are obvious.

"Arrangements have been made with the various local athletic
associations and consultative committees whereby in each metropolitan
borough there are hon. district representatives (masters and mistresses)
in connection with organised games. Pitches are reserved in over
thirty of the L.C.C. parks and open spaces for the use of schools. The
apparatus required is generally stored at the playing-fields for the
common use of all schools attending, but small articles such as balls,
bats, sticks are supplied to each school.

"The Council has decided that, so far as practicable, the apparatus for
organised games shall be made at the Council's educational institutes,
and, as a result of this decision, much of it is fashioned at the
handicraft centres."

This is all for good. But I am concerned for adolescent youth that
has left school--the lads whose home conditions absolutely prevent the
evening hours being spent indoors. Is there to be no provision for them?


Charles Dickens has somewhere said, "The ties that bind the rich to
their homes may be made on earth, but the ties that bind the poor to
their homes are made of truer metal and bear the stamp of Heaven." And
he adds that the wealthy may love their home because of the gold, silver
and costly things therein, or because of the family history. But that
when the poor love their homes, it is because their household gods
are gods of flesh and blood. Dickens's testimony is surely true, for
struggle, cares, sufferings and anxieties make their poor homes, even
though they be consecrated with pure affection, "serious and solemn

To me it has always been evident that the heaviest part of the burden
inseparable from a poor man's home falls upon the wife.

Blessed is that home where the wife is equal to her duties, and doubly
blessed is the home where the husband, being a true helpmate, is anxious
to carry as much of the burden as possible. For then the home, even
though it be small and its floors brick, becomes in all truth "a sweetly
solemn place." It becomes a good training ground for men and women that
are to be. But I am afraid the working men do not sufficiently realise
what heavy, onerous and persistent duties fall upon the wife. With
nerves of brass they do not appreciate the fact that wives may be, and
are, very differently constituted to themselves. Many wives are lonely;
but the husbands do not always understand the gloomy imaginations that
pervade the lonely hours. The physical laws that govern women's personal
health make periods of depression and excitement not only possible, but

Let us consider for a moment the life of a poor man's wife in London,
where her difficulties are increased by high rent and a long absence
of the husband. She has the four everlasting walls to look at, eternal
anxieties as to the future, the repeated weekly difficulties of making
ends meet, and too often the same lack of consideration from the

The week's washing for the family she must do, the mending and darning
for the household is her task, the children must be washed and clothed
and properly cared for by her. Of her many duties there is no end.

Sickness in the family converts her into a nurse. She herself must bear
the pangs and sufferings of motherhood, and for that time must make
preparation. For death in the family she must also provide, so the
eternities are her concern. Things present and things to come leave her
little time to contemplate the past.

Ask me the person of many duties, and I point to the wife of a poor man.

Thank God, the law of compensation rules the universe, and she is not
exempt from its ruling. She has her compensations doubtless, but I am
seriously afraid not to the extent to which she is entitled, though,
perhaps, they are greater than we imagine.

Her duties are not always pleasant, for when her husband falls out of
work the rent must be paid, or she must mollify a disappointed landlord.
In many of our London "model" dwellings, if she is likely to have a
fourth child, three being the limit, she must seek a new home. And it
ought to be known that on this account there is a great exodus every
year from some of our London "dwellings."

It seems scarcely credible, but it is nevertheless a fact, that in some
dwellings she may not keep a cat, a dog, or even a bird, neither may
she have flowers in pots on her window-sills. She is hedged round with
prohibitions, but she is expected to be superior and to abide in staid
respectability on an income of less than thirty shillings per week. And
she does it, though how she does it is a marvel.

Come with me to visit Mrs. Jones, who lives at 28, White Elephant
Buildings. Mr. Jones is a painter at work for eight months in the year,
if he has good luck, but out of work always at that time of the year
when housekeeping expenses are highest. For every working man's wife
will tell you that coal is always dearer at the time of the year when it
is most required. In White Elephant Buildings there is no prohibition as
to the number of children, or the Jones family would not be there, for
they number eight all told. It is dinner time, and the children are all
in from school, and, being winter time, Jones is at home too! He has
been his wearying round in search of work earlier in the day, and has
just returned to share the midday meal which the mother serves. In all
conscience the meal is limited enough, but we notice that Jones gets an
undue proportion, and we wonder whether the supply will go round.

We see that the children are next served in their order, the elder
obtaining just a little more food than the younger, and, last of
all--Mrs. Jones.

It is true that self-denial brings its own reward, for in her case there
is little to reward her in the shape of food.

To me it is still astonishing, although I have known it for years,
that thousands of poor men's wives go through years of hard work,
and frequent times of motherhood on an amount of food that must be
altogether inadequate.

Brave women! Aye, brave indeed! for they not only deny themselves food,
but clothing, and all those little personal adornments that are so dear
to the heart of women. There is no heroism to equal it. It only ends
when the children have all passed out of hand, and then it is too late,
for in her case appetite has not been developed with eating, so that
when the day comes that food is more plentiful, the desire for it is

It is small wonder, then, that Mrs. Jones has a careworn look, and does
not look robust. She has been married twelve years, so that every second
year she has borne a child. The dark rings beneath her eyes tell of
protracted hours of work, and the sewing-machine underneath the window
tells us that she supplements the earnings of her husband by making old
clothes into new, and selling them to her neighbours, either for their
children's wear or their own. This accounts for the fact that her
own children are so comfortably clothed. The dinner that we have seen
disappear cost ninepence, for late last evening, just before the cheap
butchers close by shut up for the night, Mrs. Jones bought one pound
and a half of pieces, and, with the aid of two onions and some potatoes,
converted them into a nourishing stew.

Many times near midnight I have stood outside the cheap butchers' and
watched careful women make their purchases. It is a pitiful sight, and
when one by one the women have made their bargains, we notice that the
shopboard is depleted of its heap of scrags and odds and ends.

So day by day Mrs. Jones feeds her family, limiting her expenditure to
her purse. And, truth to tell, Jones and the little Joneses look well
on it. But two things in addition to the rent test her managing powers.
Boots for the children! and coal for the winter! The latter difficulty
she gets over by paying one shilling per week into a coal club all the
year through. When Jones is in work she buys extra coal, but when the
winter comes she draws upon her reserves at the coal merchant's.

But the boots are more difficult. To his credit let it be said that
Jones mends the family's boots. That is, he can "sole and heel," though
he cannot put on a patch or mend the uppers. But with everlasting
thought for the future, Mrs. Jones makes certain of boots for the
family. Again a "club" is requisitioned, and by dint of rigid management
two shillings weekly pass into a shoemaker's hands, and in their turn
the family gets boots; the husband first, the children one by one,
herself last--or never!

Week by week she lives with no respite from anxiety, with no surcease
from toil. By and by the eldest boy is ready for work, and Mrs. Jones
looks forward to the few shillings he will bring home weekly, and builds
great things upon it. Alas! it is not all profit; the boy must have
a new suit, he requires more food, and he must have a little spending
money, "like other boys"; and though he is a good lad, she finds
ultimately that there is not much left of Tom's six shillings.

Never mind! on she goes, for will he not get a rise soon and again
expectation encourages her.

So the poor woman, hampered as she is with present cares, looks forward
to the time when life will be a bit easier, when the united earnings of
the children will make a substantial family income. Oh, brave woman! it
is well for her to live in hope, and every one who knows her hopes too
that disappointment will not await her, and that her many children will
"turn out well."

Mrs. Jones is typical of thousands of working men's wives, and such
women demand our admiration and respect. What matter though some of them
are a bit frowsy and not over-clean? they have precious little time
to attend to their personal adornment. I ask, who can fulfil all their
duties and remain "spick-and-span"?

"Nagging," did I hear some one say? My friend, put yourself in her
place, and imagine whether you would remain all sweetness and courtesy.
Again I say, that I cannot for the life of me understand how she can
bear it all, suffering as she does, and yet remain so patient and so

Add to the duties I have enumerated the time when sickness and death
enter the home. Mrs. Grundy has declared that even poor people must put
on "mourning," and must bury their dead with excessive expenditure, and
Mrs. Grundy must be obeyed.

But what struggles poor wives make to do it! but a "nice" funeral is
a fascinating sight to the poor. So thousands of poor men's wives deny
themselves many comforts, and often necessaries, that they may for
certain have a few pounds, should any of their children die. Religiously
they pay a penny or twopence a week for each of their children to some
industrial insurance company for this purpose.

A few pounds all at once loom so large that they forget all the toil,
stress and self-denial they have undergone to keep those pence regularly
paid. Decent "mourning" and "nice funerals" are greatly admired, for if
a working man's wife accepts parish aid at such time, why then she has
fallen low indeed.

And for the time when a new life comes into light, the poor man's wife
must make provision. At this time anxiety is piled upon anxiety. There
must be no parish doctor, no parish nurse; out of her insufficient
income she makes weekly payments to a local dispensary that during
sickness the whole household may be kept free of doctor's bills. An
increased payment for herself secures her, when her time comes, from
similar worry. But the nurse must be paid, so during the time of her
"trouble" the poor woman screws, schemes and saves a little money; money
that ought in all truth to have been spent upon herself, that a weekly
nurse may attend her. But every child is dearer than the last, and the
wonderful love she has for every atom of humanity born to her repays all
her sufferings and self-denial.

So I ask for the poor man's wife not only admiration and consideration,
but, if you will, some degree of pity also. I would we could make her
burdens easier, her sorrows less, and her pleasures more numerous. Most
devoutly I hope that the time may soon arrive when "rent day" will
be less dreaded, and when the collector will be satisfied with a less
proportion of the family's earnings. For this is a great strain upon
the poor man's wife, a strain that is never absent! for through times
of poverty and sickness, child birth and child death, persistently and
inexorably that day comes round. Undergoing constant sufferings and
ceaseless anxieties, it stands to the poor man's wife's credit that
their children fight our battles, people our colonies, uphold the credit
of our nation, and perpetuate the greatness of the greatest empire the
world has ever known.

But Mrs. Jones' eldest girl has a hard time too! for she acts as nurse
and foster-mother to the younger children. It was well for her that Tom
was born before her or she would have nursed him. Perhaps it was well
for Tom also that he got the most nourishment. As it is the girl has her
hands full, and her time is more than fully occupied. She goes to
school regularly both Sunday and week-day. She passes all her standards,
although she is not brilliant. She washes the younger children, she
nurses the inevitable baby, she clears the "dinner things" away at
midday, and the breakfast and tea-cups in their turn. She sits down to
the machine sometimes and sews the clothing her mother has cut out and
"basted." She is still a child, but a woman before her time, and Mrs.
Jones and all the young Joneses will miss her when she goes "out."

When that time comes, Mrs. Jones will not be so badly put to it as
she was when Tom went "out." For she has been paying regularly into a
draper's club, and with the proceeds a quantity of clothing material
will be bought. So Sally's clothing will be made at home, and Sally and
her mother will sit up late at night to make it.

It is astonishing how "clubs" of all descriptions enter into the lives
of the poor. There is, of course, the "goose club" for Christmas, for
the poor make sure of one good meal during the year. Some of them are
extravagant enough to join "holiday clubs," but this Mrs. Jones cannot
afford, so her clubs are limited to her family's necessities, excepting
the money club held at a neighbour's house into which she pays one
shilling weekly. This club consists of twenty members, who "draw"
for choice. Thus once in twenty weeks, sooner or later, Mrs. Jones is
passing rich, for she is in possession of twenty shillings all at once.

There is some discussion between Sally and her mother as to the spending
of it; Tom's first suit was bought by this means, and Jones himself is
not forgotten; but for Mrs. Jones no thought is given.

The planning, scheming and contrivance it takes to run a working man's
home, especially when the husband has irregular work, is almost past
conception, and the amount of self-denial is extraordinary.

But it is the wife who finds the brains and exercises the self-denial.
Her methods may be laughed at by wiser people, for there is some
wastage. The friendly club-keeper must have a profit, and the possession
of wealth represented by a whole sovereign costs something. But when
Mrs. Jones gets an early "draw," she exchanges her "draw" for a later
one, and makes some little profit.

Oh, the scheming and excitement of it all, for even Mrs. Jones cannot do
without her little "deal." But what will Sally settle down to? Now comes
the difficulty and deciding point in her life, and a critical time it

Mrs. Jones has not attended a mother's meeting, she has been too busy;
church has not seen much of her except at the christenings; district
visitors and clergymen have not shown much interest in her; Jones
himself is almost indifferent, and quite complacent.

So Sally and her mother discuss the matter. The four shillings weekly
to be obtained in a neighbouring factory are tempting, but the girls are
noisy and rude; yet Sally will be at home in the evenings and have
time to help her mother, and that is tempting too! A neighbouring
blouse-maker takes girls to teach them the trade, and Sally can machine
already, so she will soon pick up the business; that looks nice too, but
she would earn nothing for the first three months, so that is ruled out.
Domestic service is thought of, but Sally is small for her age, and
only fourteen; she does not want to be a nurse girl; she has had enough
nursing--she has been a drudge long enough.

So to the factory she goes, though Mrs. Jones has her misgivings, and
gives her strong injunctions to come straight home, which of course
Sally readily promises, though whether that promise will be strictly
kept is uncertain. But her four shillings are useful in the family
exchequer; they are the deciding factor in Sally's life!

So on through all the succeeding years of the developing family life
comes the recurring anxiety of getting her children "out." These
anxieties may be considered very small, but they are as real, as
important, and as grave as the anxieties that well-to-do people
experience in choosing callings or professions for sons and daughters to
whom they cannot leave a competency.

And all this time the family are near, so very near to the underworld.
The death of Jones, half-timer as he is, would plunge them into it; and
the breakdown or death of Mrs. Jones would plunge them deeper still.

What an exciting and anxious life it really is! Small wonder that
many descend to the underworld when accident overtakes them. But for
character, grit, patience and self-denial commend me to such women. All
honour to them! may their boys do well! may their girls in days to come
have less anxieties and duties than fall to the lot of working men's
wives of to-day.


If every chapter in this book is ignored, I hope that this one will be
read thoughtfully. For I want to show that a great national wrong, a
stupidly cruel wrong, exists.

Probably all injustice is stupid, but this wrong is so foolish, that
any man who thinks for one moment upon it will wonder how it came into

I have written and spoken about it so often that I am almost ashamed of
returning to the subject. Yet all our penal authorities, from the Home
Secretary downwards, know all there is to be known about it.

I am going, then, to reiterate a serious charge! It is this: no boy from
eight years of age up to sixteen, unless sound in mind and body, can
find entrance into any reformatory or industrial school! No matter how
often he falls into the hands of the police, or what charges may be
brought against him, not even if he is friendless and homeless. Again,
no youthful prisoner under twenty-one years of age, no matter how bad
his record, is allowed the benefit of Borstal training unless he, too,
be sound in mind and body. This is not only an enormity, but it is also
a great absurdity; for it ultimately fills our prisons with weaklings,
and assures the nation a continuous prison population.

It seems very extraordinary that prison and prison alone should be
considered the one and only place suitable for the afflicted children of
the poor when they break any law, but so it is.

The moral hump is tolerated, even patronised in reformative
institutions, but the physical hump, never!

Cunning, dishonesty and rascality generally may be tolerated, but
feebleness of mind or infirmity of body never! All through our penal
administration and prison discipline this principle prevails, and is
strictly acted upon.

Let me put it briefly; prison, and prison only, is the one and only
place for afflicted youth when it happens to break one or the other of
our laws.

We have numerous institutions, half penal and half educative, that exist
absolutely for the purpose of receiving homeless, wayward or criminally
inclined youthful delinquents.

These institutions, I say, although kept going from public funds,
refuse, absolutely refuse, to give training to any youthful delinquent
who suffers from physical infirmity or mental weakness.

Think of it again! all youthful delinquents suffering from any infirmity
of body or mind, are refused reformative treatment or training in all
publicly supported institutions established for delinquent youth.

He may be a thief, but if he is a hunchback they will have none of him.
He may be a danger to other children, if he has fits he will not be
received. He may rob the tills of small shopkeepers, but if he is lame,
half-blind, has heart disease, or if his brain is not sound and his body
strong, if he has lost a hand, got a wooden leg, if he suffers from any
disease or deprivation, prison, and prison only, is the place for him.
So to prison the afflicted one goes if over fourteen; if under fourteen
back to his home, to graduate in due time for prison.

This is no exaggeration, it is a true picture, and this procedure has
gone on till our prisons have become filled with broken and hopeless

Could any one ever suggest a more disastrous course than this? Why,
decency, pity, or just a grain of common sense ought to teach us, and
would teach us if we thought for a moment, that it is not only wrong but
supremely foolish.

For there is a very close connection between neglected infirmity, mental
or physical, and crime, a connection that ought to be considered, and
few questions demand more instant attention. Yet no question is more
persistently avoided and shelved by responsible authorities, for no
means of dealing with the defective in mind or body when they commit
offences against the law, other than by short terms of useless
imprisonment, have at present been attempted or suggested. It seems
strange that in Christianised, scientised England such procedure should
continue even for a day, but continue it does, and to-day it seems as
little likely to be altered as it was twenty years ago. Let me
then charge it upon our authorities that they are responsible for
perpetuating this great and cruel wrong. They are not in ignorance,
for the highest authorities know perfectly well that every year
many hundreds of helpless and hopeless degenerates or defectives are
committed to prison and tabulated as habitual criminals. Our authorities
even keep a list on which is placed the names of these unfortunates who,
after prolonged experience and careful medical examinations, are found
to be "unfit for prison discipline."

This list is of portentous length, and to it four hundred more names are
added every year. This is of itself an acknowledgment by the State that
every year four hundred unfortunate human beings who cannot appreciate
the nature and quality of the acts they have committed, are treated,
punished and graded as criminals. Now the State knows perfectly well
that these unfortunates need pity, not punishment; the doctor, not the
warder; and some place where mild, sensible treatment and permanent
restraint can take the place of continual rounds of short imprisonment
alternated with equally senseless short spells of freedom.

No! not freedom, but a choice between starvation, prison or workhouse.
Now this list grows, and will continue to grow just so long as the
present disastrous methods are persisted in!

Why does this list grow? Because magistrates have no power to order
the detention of afflicted youthful offenders in any place other than
prison; they cannot commit to reformatory schools only on sufferance and
with the approval of the school managers, who demand healthy boys.

So ultimately to prison the weaklings go, and an interminable round
of small sentences begins. But even in prison they are again punished
because of their afflictions, for only the sound in mind and body are
given the benefit of healthy life and sensible training.

Consequently in prison they learn little that can be of service to
them; they only graduate in idleness, and prison having comforts but
no terrors, they quickly join the ranks of the habitues. When it is too
late they are "listed" as not suitable for prison treatment. Year by
year in a country of presumably sane people this deplorable condition
of things continues, and I am bold enough to say that there will be no
reduction in the number of our prison population till proper treatment,
training, and, if need be, detention, is provided in places other than
prison for our afflicted youthful population when they become offenders
against the law.

But reformatory and industrial schools have not only power to refuse
youthful delinquents who are unsound in mind or body; they have also the
power to discharge as "unfit for training" any who have managed to
pass the doctor's examination, whose defects become apparent when under

From the last Official Report of Reformatory Schools in England and
Wales I take the following figures--

During the years 1906-7-8 14 imbeciles (males) were discharged on
licence from reformatory schools; and during the same three years no
less than 93 (males) were discharged by the Home Secretary's permission
as "unfit for physical training." The 14 imbeciles in the Official
Report are classified as dead, and the 93 physically unfit are included
among them "not in regular employment."

For the same period of years I find that 28 (girls) were discharged from
English reformatory schools as being physically unfit.

The Official Report of Industrial Schools includes England, Wales and
Scotland, and for the same three years I find that 13 (males) were
discharged from industrial schools as being imbeciles, and 116 (males)
as being "unfit for physical training."

Strange to say, in the Annual Report the physically unfit are included
among those "in casual employment," and the imbeciles are included among
the "dead."

From the same Official Report we have the statement that in one year,
1909, in England and Scotland 991 (males) and 20 (females) who had been
discharged from reformatory schools were re-convicted and committed to

How many of them were mentally or physically defective we have no means
of knowing, for no information is given upon this point; but there is
not the slightest doubt that a large number of them were weak-minded,
though not sufficiently so to allow them being classified as imbeciles.

The terrible consequence of this procedure may also be gathered from
the Report of the Prison Commissioners for England and Wales 1910, from
which it appears that during the year 157 persons were certified
insane among the prisoners in the local and convict prisons, Borstal
institutions and of State reformatories, during the year ending March
31, 1910.

In addition to the above there were 290 (213 males and 77 females)
cases of insanity in remanded and other unconvicted prisoners dealt
with during the year, including 14 males and 2 females found "insane on
arraignment," and 173 males and 65 females found insane on remand
from police or petty sessional courts. There were 30 (20 males and 10
females) prisoners found "guilty" but "insane" at their trial.

But the most illuminating report comes from the medical officer at
Parkhurst Convict Prison; these are his words--

Weak-minded convicts and others whose mental state is doubtful continue
to be collected here. The special rules for their management are adhered
to. The number classified as weak-minded at the end of the year was
117, but in addition there were 34 convicts attached to the parties of
weak-minded for further mental observation.

"The conduct and tractability of these prisoners naturally vary with the
individual; a careful consideration of the history of each of the 117
classified weak-minded convicts indicates that about 64 are fairly
easily managed, the remainder difficult to deal with, and a few are
dangerous characters.


     (a) Congenital deficiency:-
         1. With epilepsy   .  .  .  .  .  .     9
         2. Without epilepsy.  .  .  .  .  .    46
     (b) Imperfectly developed stage of insanity      18
     (c) Mental debility after attack of insanity      8
     (d) Senility           .  .  .  .  .  .     2
     (e) Alcohol            .  .  .  .  .  .     6
     (f) Undefined          .  .  .  .  .  .    28

"The following is a list of the crimes of the classified weak-minded for
which they are undergoing their present sentences of penal servitude,
and the number convicted for each type of crime--

     False pretences     .  .  .  .  .  .  .        3
     Receiving stolen property   .  .  .  .  .      3
     Larceny             .  .  .  .  .  .  .       18
     Burglary            .  .  .  .  .  .  .        7
     Shop-breaking, house-breaking, etc. .  .  .   19
     Uttering counterfeit coins  .  .  .  .  .      1
     Threatening letters     .  .  .  .  .  .       4
     Threatening violence to superior officer.  .   1
     Robbery with violence   .  .  .  .  .  .       3
     Manslaughter        .  .  .  .  .  .  .        6
     Wounding with intent.  .  .  .  .  .  .        8
     Grievous bodily harm.  .  .  .  .  .  .        2
     Attempted murder    .  .  .  .  .  .  .        1
     Wilful murder   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .         7
     Rape        .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .          5
     Carnal knowledge of little girls.  .  .  .     8
     Arson       .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .         15
     Cattle maiming  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .         1
     Placing obstruction on railway  .  .  .  .     2
     Unnatural offences  .  .  .  .  .  .  .        3

"During the year 35 convicts were certified insane; of these 27 were
removed to the criminal asylum at Parkhurst, 2 to Broadmoor asylum, 3 to
county or borough asylums, and 3 remained in the prison infirmary at the
end of the year.

"The average length of the last sentences for which these unfortunates
were committed was seven years' penal servitude each. That their mental
condition was not temporary but permanent may be gathered from their
educational attainments, for 12 had no education at all, 18 were only in
Standard I, 29 in Standard II, 15 in Standard III, and 12 others were of
poor education."

The statement that the average length of the last sentences of these
unfortunates was seven years' penal servitude is appalling. It ought to
astound us! But no one seems to care. Penal servitude is good enough
for them. Perhaps it is! But it ought to be called by another name,
and legally signify the inmates to be "patients," not criminals. Let us
visit a prison where we shall find a sufficient number of prisoners to
enable us to form an idea as to their physical and mental condition.

Come, then, on Sunday morning into a famous prison that long stood as a
model to the world. We are going to morning service, when we shall have
an opportunity of seeing face to face eight hundred male prisoners. But
before we enter the chapel, let us walk round the hospital and see those
who are on the sick list.

One look as we enter the ward convinced us that some are lying there
whose only chance of freedom is through the gates of death.

In yonder corner lies a young man of twenty-one years; the governor
tells us that he is friendless, homeless, and a hopeless consumptive. He
says, "We would have sent him out, but he has nowhere to go, for he
does not know his parish, so he must lie here till he dies, unless his
sentence expires first."

We speak to the young man a few kindly words, but he turns his face from
us, and of his history we learn nothing.

On another bed we find an old man whose days also will be short; of
his history we learn much, for he has spent a great deal of his life in
prison, and now, aged, feeble and broken, there is nothing before him
but death or continued imprisonment. We pass by other beds on which
prisoners not so hopeless in health are lying. We see what is the matter
with most of them: they are not strong enough for ordinary prison work,
or indeed for any kind of vigorous labour. So they remain in prison well
tended in the hospital. But some of them pass into freedom without
the slightest ability or chance of getting a living otherwise than by
begging or stealing.

What strikes us most about the inmates of the prison hospital is the
certainty that many of the prisoners have not sufficient health and
strength to enable them to be useful citizens.

So we pass through the hospital into the chapel, and find eight hundred
prisoners before us. The organ plays, the morning service is read by the
chaplain; the prisoners sing, and as they sing there is such a volume of
sound that we cannot fail to be touched with it.

We enter the pulpit, and as we stand and look down upon that sea of
upturned faces, we see a sight that is not likely to be forgotten.
There, in front of us, right underneath the pulpit, are rows of young
men under twenty-two years of age; we look at them; they are all clad in
khaki, and we take a mental sketch of them.

One or two among them are finely developed young men, but the great
bulk we see are small in stature and weak in body. Some of them have
a hopeless expression of countenance that tells us of moral and mental

We note that most of them can have had but little chance in life, and
that their physical or mental infirmities come from no fault of their
own. They have all been to school; they have started in life, if it can
be called starting, as errand boys, paper sellers in the streets, or
as street merchants of some description. They have grown into early
manhood, but they have not increased in wisdom or stature. They have
learned no occupation, trade or handicraft; they have passed from school
age to early manhood without discipline, decent homes or technical

When at liberty their homes are lodging-houses or even less desirable
places. So they pass from the streets to the police, from police-courts
to prison, with positive regularity.

They behave themselves in prison, they obey orders, they do the bit
of work that is required of them, they eat the food, and they sleep
interminable hours away.

At the back of the young men we see row after row of older men, and
their khaki clothing and broad arrows produce a strange impression upon
us; but what impresses us most is the facial and physical appearance of
the prisoners.

Cripples are there, twisted bodies are there, one-armed men are there,
and blind men are there. Here and there we see a healthy man, with
vigour and strength written on his face; but the great mass of faces
strikes us with dismay, and we feel at once that most of them are
handicapped In life, and demand pity rather than vengeance.

We know that they are not as other men, and we realise that their
afflictions more than their sins are responsible for their presence in
that doleful assembly.

Yet some of them are clever in crime, and many of them persistent in
wrong-doing, but their afflictions were neglected in days when those
afflictions should have been a passport to the pity and care of the

We see men who have grown old in different prisons, and we know that
position in social and industrial life is impossible for them.

We see a number whom it is evident are not mentally responsible, for
whom there is no place but the workhouse or prison; yet we realise that,
old as they are, the day of liberty must come once more, and they will
be free to starve or steal!

We know that there are some epileptics among them, and that their dread
complaint has caused them to commit acts of violence.

We see among them men of education that have made war upon society.
Drunkards, too, are there, and we know that their overmastering passion
will demand gratification when once again the opportunity of indulging
in its presented to them. So we look at this strange mass of humanity,
and as we look a mist comes over our eyes, and we feel a choking
sensation in our throats.

But we look again, and see that few throughout this great assembly show
any sense of sorrow or shame. As we speak to them of hope, gladness, of
manliness, and of the dignity of life, we feel that we are preaching to
an east wind. Come round the same prison with me on a week-day; in
one part we find a number of men seated about six feet from each other
making baskets; warders are placed on pedestals here and there to keep

We walk past them, and notice their slow movements and see hopelessness
written all over them. They are working "in association," they are
under "observation," which, the governor tells us, means that they are
suspected of either madness or mental deficiency.

As we look at them we are quite satisfied that this suspicion is true,
and that, if not absolutely mad, they are mentally deficient.

If absolute madness be detected, they will be sent to asylums. If
feeble-mindedness be proved, they will again be set at liberty. Their
names will be placed on a list, and they will be declared "unfit
for prison discipline," but nothing more will be done. They will be
discharged to prowl about in the underworld, to commit other criminal
acts and to be returned again and again to prison, to live out hopeless

And there is another cause, almost as prolific in producing a prison
population. For while the State has been, and still is, ready to thrust
afflicted youth into prison, it has been, and still is, equally ready to
thrust into prison the half-educated, half-fed, and half-employed young
people who break its laws or by-laws. It is true that the State in its
irony allows them the option of a fine; but the law might as well ask
the youths of the underworld to pay ten pounds as ask them to pay ten
shillings; nor can they procure all at once the smaller sum, so to
prison hundreds of lads are sent.

Does it ever occur to our esteemed authorities that this is a most
dangerous procedure! What good can possibly come either to the State or
to the youthful offender?

What are the offences of these boys? Disorder in the streets, loitering
at railway stations, playing a game of chance called "pitch and toss,"
of which I have something to say in another chapter, gambling with a
penny pack of cards, playing tip-cat, kicking a football, made of old
newspapers maybe, playing cricket, throwing stones, using a catapult,
bathing in a canal, and a hundred similar things are all deemed worthy
of imprisonment, if committed by the youngsters of the world below the

Thousands of lads have had their first experience of prison for
trumpery offences that are natural to the boys of the poor. But a first
experience of prison is to them a pleasant surprise. They are astonished
to find that prison is not "half a bad place." They do not object to
going there again, not they! Why? Because the conditions of prison life
are better, as they need to be, than the conditions of their own homes.
The food is better, the lodging is better, the bed is decidedly better,
and as to the work, why, they have none worthy of the name to do. They
lose nothing but their liberty, and they can stand that for a week or
two, what matters!

Well, something does matter, for they lose three other things of
great moment to them if they only knew; but they don't know, and our
authorities evidently consider these three things of no moment. What do
they lose? First, their fear of prison; secondly, their little bit
of character; thirdly, their work, if they have any. What eventuates?
Idleness, hooliganism and repeated imprisonments for petty crime, until
something more serious happens, and then longer sentences. Such is the
progress of hundreds whom statisticians love to call "recidivists."

Am I wrong when I say that the State has been too ready, too prompt in
sending the youths of the ignorant poor to prison? Am I wrong in saying
that the State has been playing its "trump ace" too soon, and that it
ought to have kept imprisonment up its sleeve a little longer? These
lads, having been in prison, know, and their companions know, too, the
worst that can happen to them when they commit real crime. Prison has
done its worst, and it cannot hurt them.

If prisons there must be, am I wrong in contending that they should be
reserved for the perpetrators of real and serious crime; and that the
punishment, if there is to be punishment, should be certain, dignified
and severe, educational and reformative? At present it includes none of
these qualities.

To such a length has the imprisonment of youths for trumpery offences
gone, not only in London, but throughout the country, that visiting
justices of my acquaintance have spent a great deal of money in part
paying the fines of youths imprisoned under such conditions, that they
might be released at once. Here we have a curious state of affairs,
magistrates generally committing youths to prison in default for
trumpery offences, and other magistrates searching prisons for
imprisoned youths, paying their fines, setting them free, and sending on
full details to the Home Secretary.

It would be interesting to know how many "cases" of this kind have been
reported to the Home Secretary during the last few years. Time after
time the governors of our prisons have called attention to this evil in
their annual reports. They know perfectly well the disaster that attends
the needless imprisonment of boys, and it worries them. They treat
the boys very kindly, all honour to them! But even kindness to young
prisoners has its dangers, and every governor is able to tell of the
constant return of youthful prisoners.

I do not like the "birch" or corporal punishment at all. I do not
advocate it, but I am certain that the demoralising effect of a few'
days' imprisonment is far in excess of the demoralisation that follows a
reasonable application of the birch.

But the birch cannot be applied to lads over fourteen years of age, so
it would be well to abolish it altogether, except in special cases,
and for these the age might with advantage be extended. And, after all,
imprisonment itself is physical punishment and a continued assault
upon the body. But why imprison at all for such cases? We talk about
imprisonment for debt; this is imprisonment for debt with a vengeance.
Look! two lads are charged with one offence or two similar offences;
one boy is from the upperworld, the other from below the line. The same
magistrate fines the two boys an equal amount; the one boy pays, or
his friends pay; but the other goes of a certainty to prison. Is it not
absurd! rather, is it not unjust?

But whether it is absurd or unjust the result is certain--mathematically
certain--in the development of a prison population.

During my police-court days I have seen hundreds of youths sitting
crying in their cells consumed with fear, waiting their first experience
of prison; I have seen their terror when first entering the prison van,
and I know that when entering the prison portals their terror increased.
But it soon vanished, for I have never seen boys cry, or show any signs
of fear when going to prison for the second time. The reason for this
I have already given: "fear of the unknown" has been removed. This fear
may not be a very noble characteristic, but it is part of us, and it has
a useful place, especially where penalties are likely to be incurred.

For many years I have been protesting against this needless imprisonment
of youths, and now it has become part of my duty to visit prisons and to
talk to youthful prisoners, I see the wholesale evil that attends this
method of dealing with youthful offenders. And the same evils attend,
though to perhaps a less degree, the prompt imprisonment of adults, who
are unable to pay forthwith fines that have been imposed upon them.

It is always the poor, the very poor, the people below the line that
suffer in this direction. Doubtless they merit some correction, and the
magistrates consider that fines of ten shillings are appropriate, but
then they thoughtlessly add "or seven days."

Think of the folly of it! because a man cannot pay a few shillings
down, the State conveys him to prison and puts the community to the
very considerable expense of keeping him. The law has fined him, but he
cannot pay then, so the law turns round and fines the community.

What sense, decency, or profit can there possibly be in committing women
to prison, even for drunkenness, for three, five or seven days? How can
it profit either the State or the woman? It only serves to familiarise
her with prison.

I could laugh at it, were it not so serious. Just look at this
absurdity! A woman gets drunk on Thursday, she is charged on Friday.
"Five shillings, or three days!" On Friday afternoon she enters prison,
for the clerk has made out a "commitment," and the gaoler has handed
her into the prison van. Her "commitment" is handed to the prison
authorities; it is tabulated, so is she; but at nine o'clock next
morning she is discharged from prison, for the law reckons every part of
a day to be a complete day; and the law also says that there must be no
discharge from prison on a Sunday, and to keep her till Monday would be
illegal, for it would be "four days." How small, how disastrous, and how
expensive it is!

If offenders, young or old, must be punished, let them be punished
decently. If they ought to be sent to prison, to prison send them.
But if their petty offences can be expunged by the payment of a few
shillings, why not give them a little time to pay those fines? Such
a course would stop for ever the miserable, deadly round of short
expensive imprisonments. I have approached succeeding Home Secretaries
upon this matter till I am tired; succeeding Home Secretaries have sent
memorandums and recommendations to courts of summary jurisdiction till,
I expect, they are tired, for generally they have had no effect in
mitigating the evil.

Magistrates have the power to grant time for the payment of fines, but
it is optional, not imperative. It is high time for a change, and surely
it will come, for the absurdity cannot continue.

Surely every English man and woman who possesses a settled home ought
to have, and must have, the legal right of a few days' grace in which to
pay his or her fine. And every youthful offender ought to have the same
right, also, even if he paid by instalments.

But at present it is so much easier, and therefore so much better, to
thrust the underworld, youthful and adult, into prison and have done
with them, than it is to pursue a sane but a little bit troublesome
method that would keep thousands of the poor from ever entering prison.


My life has been one of activity; from an early age I have known what it
was to be constantly at work. To have the certainty of regular work, and
to have the discipline of constant duty, seem to me an ideal state
for mind and body. Labour, we are sometimes told, is one of God's
chastisements upon a fallen race; I believe it to be one of our choicest
blessings. I can conceive only one greater tragedy than the man who
has nothing to do, and that is the man who, earnestly longing for work,
seeks it day by day, and fails to find it.

Imagine his position, and imagine also, if you possibly can, the great
qualities that are demanded if such a man is to go through a lengthened
period of unemployment without losing his dignity, his manhood and his
desire for work.

I can tell at a glance the man who has had this experience. There is
something about his face that proclaims his hopelessness, the very
poise of his body and his peculiar measured step tell that his heart is
utterly unexpectant. To-morrow morning, and every morning, thousands
of men will rise early, even before the sun, and set out on their
weary tramp and hopeless search for work. To-morrow morning, and every
morning, thousands of men will be waiting at various dock-gates for a
chance of obtaining a few hours' hard work. And while these wait, others
tramp, seeking and asking for work.

Wives may be ill at home, children may be wanting food and clothing, but
every day thousands of husbands set out on the interminable search for
work, and every day return disappointed. Small wonder that some of them
descend to a lower grade and in addition to being unemployed, become

Look at those thousands of men clamouring daily at our dock-gates; about
one-half of them will obtain a few hours' hard work, but the other half
will go hopeless away. They will gather some courage during the night,
for the next morning they will find their way to, and be knocking once
more at, the same dock-gates. It takes sterling qualities to endure this
life, and there can be no greater hero than the man who goes through it
and still retains manhood.

But it would be more than a miracle if tens of thousands of men could
live this life without many of them becoming wastrels, for it is certain
that a life of unemployment is dangerous to manhood, to character and

As a matter of fact the ranks of the utterly submerged are being
constantly recruited from the ranks of those who have but casual
work. During winter the existence of the unemployed is more amply
demonstrated, for then we are called upon to witness the most depressing
of all London's sights, a parade of the unemployed. I never see one
without experiencing strange and mixed emotions. Let me picture a
parade, for where I live they are numerous, and at least once a week one
will pass my window.

I hear the doleful strains of a tin whistle accompanied with a
rub-a-dub-dub of a kettledrum that has known its best days, and whose
sound is as doleful as that of the whistle. I know what is coming, and,
though I have seen it many times, it has still a fascination for me,
so I stand at my window and watch. I see two men carrying a dilapidated
banner, on which is inscribed two words, "The Unemployed." The man with
the tin whistle and the man with the drum follow the banner, and behind
them is a company of men marching four abreast. Two policemen on the
pavement keep pace with the head of the procession, and two others
perform a similar duty at the end of it.

On the pavement are a number of men with collecting boxes, ready to
receive any contribution that charitably inclined people may bestow.
They do not knock at any door, but they stand for a moment and rattle
their boxes in front of every window.

The sound of the whistle and the drum, and the rattle of boxes is,
in all conscience, depressing enough, but one glimpse at the men is
infinitely more so.

Most of them are below the average height and bulk. Their hands are in
their trousers pockets, their shoulders are up, but their heads are
bent downwards as if they were half ashamed of their job. A peculiar
slouching gait is characteristic of the whole company, and I look in
vain for a firm step, an upright carriage, and for some signs of alert
manhood. As they pass slowly by I see that some are old, but I also see
that the majority of them are comparatively young, and that many of them
cannot be more than thirty years of age. But whether young or old, I
am conscious of the fact that few of them are possessed of strength,
ability and grit. There are no artisans or craftsmen among them, and
stalwart labourers are not in evidence.

Pitiful as the procession is, I know that it does not represent the
genuine and struggling unemployed. They pass slowly by and go from
street to street. So they will parade throughout the livelong day. The
police will accompany them, and will see them disbanded when the evening
closes in. The boxes will be emptied, the contents tabulated, and a pro
rata division will be made, after which the processionists will go home
and remain unemployed till the next weekly parade comes round.

Unemployable! yes, but so much the greater pity; and so much more
difficult the problem, for they represent a very large class, and it is
to be feared a growing class of the manhood of London's underworld.

We cannot blame them for their physical inferiority, nor for their lack
of ability and grit. To expect them to exhibit great qualities would
be absurd. They are what they are, and a wise country would ponder the
causes that lead to such decadent manhood. During my prison lectures
I have been frequently struck with the mean size and appearance of the
prisoners under twenty-two years of age, who are so numerous in our
London prisons. From many conversations with them I have learned that
lack of physical strength means also lack of mental and moral strength,
and lack of honest aspiration, too! I am confirmed in this judgment by
a statement that appeared in the annual report of the Prison
Commissioners, who state that some years ago they adapted the plan in
Pentonville prison of weighing and measuring all the prisoners under the
age of twenty-two.

The result I will tell in their own words: "As a class they are
two-and-a-half inches below the average height of the general youthful
population of the same age, and weigh approximately fourteen pounds

Here, then, we have an official proof of physical decadence, and of its
connection with prison life. For these young men, so continuously
in prison, grow into what should be manhood without any desire or
qualification for robust industrial life.

I never speak to them without feeling a deep pity. But as it is my
business to interest them, I try to learn something from them in return,
as the following illustration will show.

I had been giving a course of lectures on industrial life to the young
prisoners in Wormwood Scrubbs, who numbered over three hundred. On my
last visit I interrogated them as follows--

"Stand up those of you that have had regular or continuous work." None
of them stood up! "Stand up those of you who have been apprentices."
None of them stood up! "Stand up those of you who sold papers in the
street before you left school." Twenty-five responded! "How many sold
other things in the streets before leaving school?" Thirty! Seventeen
others sold papers after leaving school, and thirty-eight sold various
articles. Altogether I found that nearly two hundred had been in street

To my final question: "How many of you have met me in other prisons?"
Thirty-five stood up! I give these particulars because I think my
readers will realise the bearing they have on unemployment.

Surely it is obvious that if we continue to have a growing number of
physically inferior young men, who acquire no technical skill and have
not the slightest industrial training, that we shall continue to have an
increasing number of unemployed unemployables.


I propose in this last chapter to make some suggestions, which, I
venture to hope, will be found worthy of consideration and adoption.

The causes of so much misery, suffering and poverty in a rich and
self-governing country are numerous; and every cause needs a separate
consideration and remedy.

There is no royal road by which the underworld people can ascend to
the upperworld; there can be no specific for healing all the sores from
which humanity suffers.

Our complex civilisation, our industrial methods, our strange social
system, combined with the varied characteristics mental and physical
of individuals, make social salvation for the mass difficult and quite
impossible for many.

I shall have written with very little effect if I have not shown what
some of these individual characteristics are. They are strange, powerful
and extraordinary. So very mixed, even in one individual, that while
sometimes they inspire hope, at others they provoke despair.

If we couple the difficulties of individual character with the social,
industrial and economic difficulties, we see at once how great the
problem is.

We must admit, and we ought frankly to admit the truth, and to face it,
that there exists a very large army of people that cannot be socially
saved. What is more important, they do not want to be saved, and will
not be saved if they can avoid it. Their great desire is to be left
alone, to be allowed to live where and how they like.

For these people there must be, there will be, and at no far distant
date, detention, segregation and classification. We must let them
quietly die out, for it is not only folly, but suicidal folly to allow
them to continue and to perpetuate.

But we are often told that "Heaven helps those who help themselves";
in fact, we have been told it so often that we have come to believe it,
and, what is worse, we religiously or irreligiously act upon it when
dealing with those below the line.

If any serious attempt is ever made to lessen the number of the homeless
and destitute, if that attempt is to have any chance of success, it
will, I am sure, be necessary to make an alteration in the adage and a
reversal of our present methods.

If the adage ran, "Heaven helps those who cannot help themselves," and
if we all placed ourselves on the side of Heaven, the present abominable
and distressing state of affairs would not endure for a month.

Now I charge it upon the State and local authorities that they avoid
their responsibilities to those who most sorely need their help, and
who, too, have the greatest claim upon their pity and protecting care.
Sometimes those claims are dimly recognised, and half-hearted efforts
are made to care for the unfortunate for a short space of time, and to
protect them for a limited period.

But these attempts only serve to show the futility of the efforts, for
the unfortunates are released from protective care at the very time when
care and protection should become more effectual and permanent.

It is comforting to know that we have in London special schools for
afflicted or defective children. Day by day hundreds of children are
taken to these schools, where genuine efforts are made to instruct them
and to develop their limited powers. But eight hundred children leave
these schools every year; in five years four thousand afflicted children
leave these schools. Leave the schools to live in the underworld of
London, and leave, too, just at the age when protection is urgently
needed. For adolescence brings new passions that need either control or

I want my reader's imagination to dwell for a moment on these four
thousand defectives that leave our special schools every five years;
I want them to ask themselves what becomes of these children, and to
remember that what holds good with London's special schools, holds good
with regard to all other special schools our country over.

These young people grow into manhood and womanhood without the
possibility of growing in wisdom or skill. Few, very few of them,
have the slightest chance of becoming self-reliant or self-supporting;
ultimately they form a not inconsiderable proportion of the hopeless.

Philanthropic societies receive some of them, workhouses receive others,
but these institutions have not, nor do they wish to have, any power of
permanent detention, the cost would be too great. Sooner or later the
greater part of them become a costly burden upon the community, and
an eyesore to humanity. Many of them live nomadic lives, and make
occasional use of workhouses and similar institutions when the weather
is bad, after which they return to their uncontrolled existence.
Feeble-minded and defective women return again and again to the
maternity wards to deposit other burdens upon the ratepayers and to add
to the number of their kind.

But the nation has begun to realise this costly absurdity of leaving
this army of irresponsibles in possession of uncontrolled liberty. The
Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-minded, after
sitting for four years, has made its report. This report is a terrible
document and an awful indictment of our neglect.

The commissioners tell us that on January 1st, 1906, there were in
England and Wales 149,628 idiots, imbeciles, and feeble-minded; in
addition there were on the same date 121,079 persons suffering from some
kind of insanity or dementia. So that the total number of those who came
within the scope of the inquiry was no less than 271,607, or 1 in every
120 of the whole population.

Of the persons suffering from mental defect, i.e. feeble-minded,
imbeciles, etc., one-third were supported entirely at the public cost in
workhouses, asylums, prisons, etc.

The report does not tell us much about the remaining two-thirds; but
those of us who have experience know only too well what becomes of them,
and are painfully acquainted with the hopelessness of their lives.

Here, then, is my first suggestion--a national plan for the permanent
detention, segregation and control of all persons who are indisputably
feeble-minded. Surely this must be the duty of the State, for it is
impossible that philanthropic societies can deal permanently with them.

We must catch them young; we must make them happy, for they have
capabilities for childlike happiness, and we must make their lives
as useful as possible. But we must no longer allow them the curse of
uncontrolled liberty.

Again, no boy should be discharged from reformatory or industrial
schools as "unfit for training" unless passed on to some institution
suitable to his age and condition. If we have no such institutions,
as of course we have not, then the State must provide them. And the
magistrates must have the power to commit boys and girls who are charged
before them to suitable industrial schools or reformatories as freely,
as certainly, as unquestioned, and as definitely as they now commit them
to prison.

At present magistrates have not this power, for though, as a matter
of course, these institutions receive numbers of boys and girls from
police-courts, the institutions have the power to Refuse, to grant
"licences" or to "discharge." So it happens that the meshes of the net
are large enough to allow those that ought to be detained to go free.

No one can possibly doubt that a provision of this character would
largely diminish the number of those that become homeless vagrants.

But I proceed to my second suggestion--the detention and segregation
of all professional tramps. If it is intolerable that an army of poor
afflicted human beings should live homeless and nomadic lives, it
is still more intolerable that an army of men and women who are not
deficient in intelligence, and who are possessed of fairly healthy
bodies should, in these days, be allowed to live as our professional
tramps live.

I have already spoken of the fascination attached to a life of
irresponsible liberty. The wind on the heath, the field and meadow
glistening with dew or sparkling with flowers, the singing of the bird,
the joy of life, and no rent day coming round, who would not be a tramp!
Perhaps our professional tramps think nothing of these things, for
to eat, to sleep, to be free of work, to be uncontrolled, to have no
anxieties, save the gratification of animal demands and animal passions,
is the perfection of life for thousands of our fellow men and women.

Is this kind of life to be permitted? Every sensible person will surely
say that it ought not to be permitted. Yet the number of people who
attach themselves to this life continually increases, for year by year
the prison commissioners tell us that the number of persons imprisoned
for vagrancy, sleeping out, indecency, etc., continues to increase, and
that short terms of imprisonment only serve as periods of recuperation
for them, for in prison they are healed of their sores and cleansed from
their vermin.

With every decent fellow who tramps in search of work we must have the
greatest sympathy, but for professional tramps we must provide very
simply. Most of these men, women and children find their way into
prison, workhouses and casual wards at some time or other. When the man
gets into prison, the woman and children go into the nearest workhouse.
When the man is released from prison he finds the woman and children
waiting for him, and away they go refreshed and cleansed by prison and
workhouse treatment.

We must stop for ever this costly and disastrous course of life. How?
By establishing in every county and under county authorities, or, if
necessary, by a combination of counties, special colonies for vagrants,
one for males and another for females. Every vagrant who could not give
proof that he had some definite object in tramping must be committed to
these colonies and detained, till such time as definite occupation or
home be found for him.

Here they should live and work, practically earning their food and
clothing; their lives should be made clean and decent, and certainly
economical. For these colonies there must be of course State aid.

The children must be adopted by the board of guardians or education
authorities and trained in small homes outside the workhouse gates this
should be compulsory.

These two plans would certainly clear away the worst and most hopeless
tribes of nomads, and though for a short time they would impose
considerable pecuniary obligations upon us, yet we should profit even
financially in the near future, and, best of all, should prevent a
second generation arising to fill the place of those detained.

The same methods should be adopted with the wretched mass of humanity
that crowds nightly on the Thames Embankment. Philanthropy is worse than
useless with the great majority of these people. Hot soup in the small
hours of a cold morning is doubtless comforting to them, and if the
night is wet, foggy, etc., a cover for a few hours is doubtless a
luxury. They drink the soup, they take advantage of the cover, and go
away, to return at night for more soup and still another cover. Oh, the
folly of it all!

We must have shelters for them, but the County Council must provide
them. Large, clean and healthy places into which, night by night, the
human derelicts from the streets should be taken by special police.

But there should be no release with the morning light, but detention
while full inquiries are made regarding them. Friends would doubtless
come forward to help many, but the remainder should be classified
according to age and physical and mental condition, and released only
when some satisfactory place or occupation is forthcoming for them.

The nightly condition of the Embankment is not only disgraceful, but it
is dangerous to the health and wellbeing of the community.

It is almost inconceivable that we should allow those parts of London
which are specially adapted for the convenience of the public to be
monopolised by a mass of diseased and unclean humanity. If we would
but act sensibly with these classes, I am sure we could then deal in an
effectual manner with that portion of the nomads for whom there is hope.

If the vast amount of money that is poured out in the vain effort to
help those whom it is impossible to help was devoted to those that are
helpable, the difficulty would be solved.

So I would suggest, and it is no new suggestion, that all philanthropic
societies that deal with the submerged should unite and co-ordinate
with the authorities. That private individuals who have money, time
or ability at their command should unite with them. That one great
all-embracing organisation, empowered and aided by the State, should
be formed, to which the man, woman or family that is overtaken or
overwhelmed by misfortune could turn in time of their need with the
assurance that their needs would be sympathetically considered and their
requirements wisely attended to.

An organisation of this description would prevent tens of thousands from
becoming vagrants, and a world of misery and unspeakable squalor would
be prevented.

The recent Report on the Poor Law foreshadows an effort of this
description, and in Germany this method is tried with undoubted success.

Some day we shall try it, but that day will not come till we have
realised how futile, how expensive our present methods are. The Poor
Law system needs recasting. Charity must be divorced from religion.
Philanthropic and semi-religious organisations must be separated from
their commercial instincts and commercial greed. The workhouse, the
prison, the Church Army and the Salvation Army's shelters and labour
homes must no longer form the circle round which so many hopelessly

No man or set of men must be considered the saviour of the poor, and
though much knowledge will be required, it perhaps will be well not to
have too much.

Above all, the desire to prevent, rather than the desire to restore,
must be the aim of the organisation which should embrace every parish in
our land.

Finally, and in a few words, my methods would be detention and
protective care for the afflicted or defective, detention and
segregation for the tramps, and a great charitable State-aided
organisation to deal with the unfortunate.

Tramps we shall continue to have, but there need be nothing degrading
about them, if only the professional element can be eliminated.

Labour exchanges are doing a splendid work for the genuine working man
whose labour must often be migratory. But every labour exchange should
have its clean lodging-house, in which the decent fellows who want
work, and are fitted for work, may stay for a night, and thus avoid the
contamination attending the common lodging-houses or the degradation and
detention attending casual wards.

There exists, I am sure, great possibilities for good in labour
exchanges, if, and if only, their services can be devoted to the
genuinely unemployed.

Already I have said they are doing much, and one of the most useful
things they do is the advancement of rail-fares to men when work is
obtained at a distance. A development in this direction will do much
to end the disasters that attend decent fellows when they go on tramp.
Migratory labour is unfortunately an absolute necessity, for our
industrial and commercial life demand it, and almost depend upon it.
The men who supply that want are quite as useful citizens as the men
who have permanent and settled work. But their lives are subject to
many dangers, temptations, and privations from which they ought to be

The more I reflect upon the present methods for dealing with
professional tramps, the more I am persuaded that these methods are
foolish and extravagant. But the more I reflect on the life of the
genuinely unemployed that earnestly desire work and are compelled
to tramp in search of it, the more I am persuaded that such life is
attended by many dangers. The probability being that if the tramp and
search be often repeated or long-continued, the desire for, and the
ability to undergo, regular work will disappear.

But physical and mental inferiority, together with the absence of moral
purpose, have a great deal to say with regard to the number of our

If you ask me the source of this stunted manhood, I point you to the
narrow streets of the underworld. Thence they issue, and thence alone.

Do you ask the cause? The causes are many! First and foremost stands
that all-pervading cause--the housing of the poor. Who can enumerate
the thousands that have breathed the fetid air of the miserable
dwelling-places in our slums? Who dare picture how they live and sleep,
as they lie, unripe sex with sex, for mutual taint? I dare not, and if I
did no publisher could print it.

Who dare describe the life of a mother-wife, whose husband and children
have become dependent upon her earnings! I dare not! Who dare describe
the exact life and doings of four families living in a little house
intended for one family? Who can describe the life, speech, actions
and atmosphere of such places? I cannot, for the task would be too

For tens of thousands of people are allowed, or compelled, to live and
die under those conditions. How can vigorous manhood or pure womanhood
come out of them? Ought we to expect, have we any right to expect,
manhood and womanhood born and bred under such conditions to be other
than blighted?

Whether we expect it or not matters but little, for we have this mass
of blighted humanity with us, and, like an old man of the sea, it is a
burden upon our back, a burden that is not easily got rid of.

What are we doing with this burden in the present? How are we going
to prevent it in the future? are two serious questions that must be
answered, and quickly, too, or something worse will happen to us.

The authorities must see to it at once that children shall have as much
air and breathing space in their homes by night as they have in the
schools by day.

What sense can there be in demanding and compelling a certain amount
of air space in places where children are detained for five and a half
hours, and then allow those children to stew in apologies for rooms,
where the atmosphere is vile beyond description, and where they are
crowded indiscriminately for the remaining hours?

This is the question of the day and the hour. Drink, foreign invasion,
the House of Lords or the House of Commons, Tariff Reform or Free Trade,
none of these questions, no, nor the whole lot of them combined, compare
for one moment in importance with this one awful question.

Give the poor good airy housing at a reasonable rent, and half the
difficulties against which our nation runs its thick head would
disappear. Hospitals and prisons would disappear too as if by magic, for
it is to these places that the smitten manhood finds its way.

I know it is a big question! But it is a question that has got to be
solved, and in solving it some of our famous and cherished notions will
have to go. Every house, no matter to whom it belongs, or who holds the
lease, who lets or sub-lets, every inhabited house must be licensed by
the local authorities for a certain number of inmates, so many and no
more; a maximum, but no minimum.

Local authorities even now have great powers concerning construction,
drains, etc. Let them now be empowered to make stringent rules about
habitations other than their municipal houses. The piggeries misnamed
lodging-houses, the common shelters, etc., are inspected and licensed
for a certain number of inmates; it is high time that this was done with
the wretched houses in which the poor live.

Oh, the irony of it! Idle tramps must not be crowded, but the children
of the poor may be crowded to suffocation. This must surely stop; if
not, it will stop us! Again I say, that local authorities must have
the power to decide the number of inhabitants that any house shall
accommodate, and license it accordingly, and of course have legal power
to enforce their decision.

The time has come for a thorough investigation. I would have every room
in every house visited by properly appointed officers. I would have
every detail as to size of room, number of persons and children, rent
paid, etc., etc.; I would have its conditions and fitness for human
habitation inquired into and reported upon.

I would miss no house, I would excuse none. A standard should be set as
to the condition and position of every house, and the number it might be
allowed to accommodate. This would bring many dark things into the light
of day, and I am afraid the reputation of many respectable people would
suffer, and their pockets too, although they tell us that they "have but
a life-interest" in the pestiferous places. But if we drive people out
of these places, where will they go?

Well, out they must go! and it is certain that there is at present no
place for them!

Places must be prepared for them, and local authorities must prepare
them. Let them address themselves to this matter and no longer shirk
their duty with regard to the housing of the poor. Let them stop for
ever the miserable pretence of housing the poor that they at present
pursue. For be it known that they house "respectable" people only, those
that have limited families and can pay a high rental.

If local authorities cannot do it, then the State must step in and
help them, for it must be done. It seems little use waiting for private
speculation or philanthropic trusts to show us the way in this matter,
for both want and expect too high an interest for their outlay. But a
good return will assuredly be forthcoming if the evil be tackled in a
sensible way.

Let no one be downhearted about new schemes for housing the poor not
paying! Why, everything connected with the poor from the cradle to the
grave is a source of good profit to some one, if not to themselves.

Let a housing plan be big enough and simple enough, and I am certain
that it will pay even when it provides for the very poor. But old ideals
will have to be forsaken and new ones substituted.

I have for many years considered this question very deeply, and from
the side of the very poor. I think that I know how the difficulty can
be met, and I am prepared to place my suggestions for housing the poor
before any responsible person or authority who would care to consider
the matter.

Perhaps it is due to the public to say here that one of the greatest
sorrows of my life was my inability to make good a scheme that a rich
friend and myself formulated some years ago. This failure was due to the
serious illness of my friend, and I hope that it will yet materialise.

But, in addition to the housing, there are other matters which affect
the vigour and virility of the poor. School days must be extended till
the age of sixteen. Municipal playgrounds open in the evening must be
established. If boys and girls are kept at school till sixteen, older
and weaker people will be able to get work which these boys have, but
ought not to have. The nation demands a vigorous manhood, but the nation
cannot have it without some sacrifice, which means doing without child
labour, for child labour is the destruction of virile manhood.

Emigration is often looked upon as the great specific. But the
multiplication of agencies for exporting the young, the healthy, and
the strong to the colonies causes me some alarm. For emigration as at
present conducted certainly does not lessen the number of the unfit and
the helpless.

It must be apparent to any one who thinks seriously upon this matter
that a continuance of the present methods is bound to entail disastrous
consequences, and to promote racial decay at home. The problem of the
degenerates, the physical and mental weaklings is already a pressing
national question. But serious as the question is at the present moment,
it is but light in its intensity compared with what it must be in
the near future, unless we change our methods. One fact ought to
be definitely understood and seriously pondered, and it is this: no
emigration agency, no board of guardians, no church organisation and no
human salvage organisation emigrates or assists to emigrate young
people of either sex who cannot pass a severe medical examination and
be declared mentally and physically sound. This demands serious thought;
for the puny, the weak and the unfit are ineligible; our colonies will
have none of them, and perhaps our colonies are wise, so the unfit
remain at home to be our despair and affliction.

But our colonies demand not only physical and mental health, but moral
health also, for boys and girls from reformatory and industrial schools
are not acceptable; though the training given in these institutions
ought to make the young people valuable assets in a new country.

The serious fact that only the best are exported and that all the
afflicted and the weak remain at home is, I say, worthy of profound

Thousands of healthy working men with a little money and abundant grit
emigrate of their own choice and endeavour. Fine fellows they generally
are, and good fortune attends them! Thousands of others with no money
but plenty of strength are assisted "out," and they are equally good,
while thousands of healthy young women are assisted "out" also. All
through the piece the strong and healthy leave our shores, and the
weaklings are left at home.

It is always with mixed feelings that I read of boys and girls being
sent to Canada, for while I feel hopeful regarding their future, I know
that the matter does not end with them; for I appreciate some of the
evils that result to the old country from the method of selection.

Emigration, then, as at present conducted, is no cure for the evil it
is supposed to remedy. Nay, it increases the evil, for it secures to our
country an ever-increasing number of those who are absolutely unfitted
to fulfil the duties of citizenship.

Yet emigration might be a beneficent thing if it were wisely conducted
on a comprehensive basis, which should include a fair proportion of
those that are now excluded because of their unfitness.

Are we to go on far ever with our present method of dealing with those
who have been denied wisdom and stature? Who are what they are, but
whose disabilities cannot be charged upon themselves, and for whom there
is no place other than prison or workhouse?

Yet many of them have wits, if not brains, and are clever in little
ways of their own. At home we refuse them the advantages that are
solicitously pressed upon their bigger and stronger brothers. Abroad
every door is locked against them. What are they to do? The Army and
Navy will have none of them! and industrial life has no place for them.
So prison, workhouse and common lodging-houses are their only homes.

Wise emigration methods would include many of them, and decent fellows
they would make if given a chance. Oxygen and new environment, with
plenty of food, etc., would make an alteration in their physique, and
regular work would prove their salvation. But this matter should, and
must be, undertaken by the State, for philanthropy cannot deal with it;
and when the State does undertake it, consequences unthought-of will
follow, for the State will be able to close one-half of its prisons.

It is the helplessness of weaklings that provides the State with more
than half its prisoners. Is it impossible, I would ask, for a Government
like ours, with all its resources of wealth, power and influence to
devise and carry out some large scheme of emigration? If colonial
governments wisely refuse our inferior youths, is it not unwise for our
own Government to neglect them?

In the British Empire is there no idle land that calls for men and
culture? Here we in England have thousands of young fellows who, because
of their helplessness, are living lives of idleness and wrongdoing.

Time after time these young men find their way into prison, and every
short sentence they undergo sends them back to liberty more hopeless
and helpless. Many of them are not bad fellows; they have some qualities
that are estimable, but they are undisciplined and helpless. Not all the
discharged prisoners' aid societies in the land, even with Government
assistance, can procure reasonable and progressive employment for them.

The thought of thousands of young men, not criminals, spending their
lives in a senseless and purposeless round of short imprisonments,
simply because they are not quite as big and as strong as their
fellows, fills me with wonder and dismay, for I can estimate some of the
consequences that result.

Is it impossible, I would ask, for our Government to take up this matter
in a really great way? Can no arrangement be made with our colonies for
the reception and training of these young fellows? Probably not so long
as the colonies can secure an abundance of better human material. But
has a bona-fide effort been made in this direction? I much doubt it
since the days of transportation.

Is it not possible for our Government to obtain somewhere in the whole
of its empire a sufficiency of suitable land, to which the best of them
may be transplanted, and on which they may be trained for useful service
and continuous work?

Is it not possible to develop the family system for them, and secure
a sufficient number of house fathers and mothers to care for them in a
domestic way, leaving their physical and industrial training to others?
Very few know these young fellows better than myself, and I am bold
enough to say that under such conditions the majority of them would
prove useful men.

Surely a plan of this description would be infinitely better than
continued imprisonments for miserable offences, and much less expensive,

I am very anxious to emphasise this point. The extent of our prison
population depends upon the treatment these young men receive at the
hands of the State.

So long as the present treatment prevails, so long will the State be
assured of a permanent prison population.

But the evil does not end with the continuance and expense of prison.
The army of the unfit is perpetually increased by this procedure.
Very few of these young men--I think I may say with safety, none
of them--after three or four convictions become settled and decent
citizens; for they cannot if they would, there is no opportunity. They
would not if they could, for the desire is no longer existent.

We have already preventive detention for older persons, who, having
been four times convicted of serious crime, are proved to be "habitual
criminals." But hopeless as the older criminals are, the country is
quite willing to adopt such measures and bear such expense as may be
thought requisite for the purpose of detaining, and perchance reforming

But the young men for whom I now plead are a hundred times more numerous
and a hundred times more hopeful than the old habitual criminals, whose
position excites so much attention. We must have an oversea colony for
these young men, and an Act of Parliament for the "preventive detention"
of young offenders who are repeatedly convicted.

A third conviction should ensure every homeless offender the certainty
of committal to the colony. This would stop for ever the senseless short
imprisonment system, for we could keep them free of prison till their
third conviction, when they should only be detained pending arrangement
for their emigration.

The more I think upon this matter the more firmly I am convinced that
nothing less will prevail. Though, of course, even with this plan, the
young men who are hopelessly afflicted with disease or deformity must
be excluded. For them the State must make provision at home, but not in

A scheme of this character, if once put into active and thorough
operation, would naturally work itself out, for year by year the number
of young fellows to whom it would apply would grow less and less; but
while working itself out, it would also work out the salvation of many
young men, and bring lasting benefits upon our country.

Vagrancy, with its attendant evils, would be greatly diminished, many
prisons would be closed, workhouses and casual wards would be less
necessary. The cost of the scheme would be more than repaid to the
community by the savings effected in other ways. The moral effect also
would be equally large, and the physical effects would be almost past
computing, for it would do much to arrest the decay of the race that
appears inseparable from our present conditions and procedure.

But the State must do something more than this; for many young habitual
offenders are too young for emigration. For them the State reformatories
must be established, regardless of their physical condition. To these
reformatories magistrates must have the power of committal as certainly
as they have the power of committal to prison. There must be no "by your
leave," no calling in a doctor to examine the offender. But promptly
and certainly when circumstances justify the committal to a State
reformatory, the youthful offender should go. With the certainty that,
be his physique and intellect what they may, he would be detained,
corrected and trained for some useful life. Or, if found "quite unfit"
or feeble-minded, sent to an institution suitable to his condition.

Older criminals, when proved to be mentally unsound, are detained in
places other than prisons till their health warrants discharge. But
the potential criminals among the young, no matter how often they are
brought before the courts, are either sent back to hopeless liberty or
thrust into prison for a brief period.

I repeat that philanthropy cannot attempt to deal with the habitual
offenders, either in the days of their boyhood or in their early
manhood. For philanthropy can at the most deal with but a few, and those
few must be of the very best.

I cannot believe that our colonies would refuse to ratify the
arrangement that I have outlined, if they were invited to do so by our
own Government, and given proper security. They owe us something; we
called them into existence, we guarantee their safety, they receive
our grit, blood and money; will they not receive, then, under proper
conditions and safeguards, some of our surplus youth, even if it be
weak? I believe they will!

In the strictures that I have ventured to pass upon the methods of the
Salvation Army, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I make
no attack upon the character and intentions of the men and women who
compose it. I know that they are both earnest and sincere. For many of
them I have a great admiration. My strictures refer to the methods and
the methods only.

For long years I have been watchful of results, and I have been so
placed in life that I have had plenty of opportunities for seeing and
learning. My disappointment has been great, for I expected great things.
Many other men and women whose judgment is entitled to respect believe
as I do. But they remain silent, hoping that after all great good may
come. But I must speak, for I believe the methods adopted are altogether
unsound, and in reality tend to aggravate the evils they set out to
cure. In 1900 I ventured to express the following opinion of shelters--


"I look with something approaching dismay at the multiplication of
these institutions throughout the length and breadth of our land. To
the loafing vagrant class, a very large class, I know, but a class not
worthy of much consideration, they are a boon. These men tramp from one
town to another, and a week or two in each suits them admirably, till
the warm weather and light nights arrive, and then they are off.

"This portion of the 'submerged' will always be submerged till some
power takes hold of them and compels them to work out their own

"But there is such a procession of them that the labour homes, etc., get
continual recruits, and the managers are enabled to contract for a great
deal of unskilled work.

"In all our large towns there are numbers of self-respecting men, men
who have committed no crime, save the unpardonable crime of growing
old. Time was when such men could get odd clerical work, envelope and
circular addressing, and a variety of light but irregular employment,
at which, by economy and the help of their wives, they made a sort of
living. But these men are now driven to the wall, for their poorly paid
and irregular work is taken from them."

In 1911 A. M. Nicholl, in his not unfriendly book on GENERAL BOOTH
AND THE SALVATION ARMY, makes the following statement, which I make no
apology for reproducing.

His judgment, considering the position he held with the Army for so many
years, is worthy of consideration. Here are some of his words--

"From an economic standpoint the social experiment of the Salvation
Army stands condemned almost root and branch. So much the worse for
economics, the average Salvation Army officer will reply. But at the
end of twenty years the Army cannot point to one single cause of social
distress that it has removed, or to one single act which it has promoted
that has dealt a death-blow at one social evil....

"A more serious question, one which lies at the root of all
indiscriminate charity, is the value to the community of these shelters.
So far as the men in the shelters are benefited by them, they do
not elevate them, either physically or morally. A proportion--what
proportion?--are weeded out, entirely by the voluntary action of the
men themselves, and given temporary work, carrying sandwich-boards,
addressing envelopes, sorting paper, etc.; but the cause of their
social dilapidation remains unaltered. They enter the shelter, pay their
twopence or fourpence as the case may be (and few are allowed to enter
unless they do), they listen to some moral advice once a week, with
which they are surfeited inside and outside the shelter, they go to bed,
and next morning leave the shelter to face the streets as they came in,
The shelter gets no nearer to the cause of their depravity than it does
to the economic cause of their failure, or to the economic remedy which
the State must eventually introduce....

"The nomads of our civilisation wander past us in their fringy, dirty
attire night by night. If a man stops us in the streets and tells us
that he is starving, and we offer him a ticket to a labour home or a
night shelter, he will tell you that the chances are one out of ten if
he will procure admission. The better class of the submerged, or those
who use the provision for the submerged in order to gratify their own
selfishness, have taken possession of the vacancies, and so they wander
on. If a man applies for temporary work, the choice of industry
is disappointingly limited. One is tempted to think that the
whole superstructure of cheap and free shelters has tended to the
standardisation of a low order of existence in this netherworld that
attracted the versatile philanthropist at the head of the Salvation Army
twenty years ago....

"The general idea about the Salvation Army is, that the nearer it gets
to the most abandoned classes, the more wonderful and the more numerous
are the converts. It is a sad admission to pass on to the world that the
opposite is really the case. The results are fewer. General Booth would
almost break his heart if he knew the proportion of men who have been
'saved,' in the sense that he most values, through his social scheme.
But he ought to know, and the Church and the world ought to know, and in
order that it may I will make bold to say that the officials cannot put
their hands on the names of a thousand men in all parts of the world who
are to-day members of the Army who were converted at the penitent form
of shelters and elevators, who are now earning a living outside the
control of the Army's social work."

But the public appear to have infinite faith in the multiplication and
enlargement of these shelters, as the following extract from a daily
paper of December 1911 will show--

"'Since the days of Mahomet, not forgetting St. Francis and Martin
Luther, I doubt if there is any man who has started, without help from
the Government, such a world-wide movement as this.'

"This was Sir George Askwith's tribute to General Booth and the
Salvation Army at the opening of the new wing of the men's Elevators
in Spa Road, Bermondsey, yesterday afternoon. The task of declaring the
wing open devolved upon the Duke of Argyll, who had beside him on the
platform the Duchess of Marlborough, Lady St. Davids, Lord Armstrong,
Sir Daniel and Lady Hamilton, Alderman Sir Charles C. Wakefield, Sir
Edward Clarke, K.C., Sir George Askwith, and the Mayor of Bermondsey and
General Booth.

"The General, who is just back from Denmark, spoke for three-quarters
of an hour, notwithstanding his great age and his admission that he was
'far from well.' The Elevator, as its name implies, seeks to raise men
who are wholly destitute and give them a fresh start. The new wing has
been erected at a cost of L10,000, and the Elevator, which accommodates
590 men and covers two-and-a-half acres, represents an expenditure of
L30,000, and is the largest institution of its kind in the world.

"'The men,' said the General, 'are admitted on two conditions only, that
they are willing to obey orders, and ready to work. Before he has his
breakfast a man must earn it, and the same with each meal, the ticket
given him entitling him to remuneration in proportion to the work he has
done. If the men's conduct is good, they are passed on to another of
the Army's institutions, and ultimately some post is secured for them
through the employers of labour with whom the Army is in touch.'"

I believe General Booth to be sincere, and that he believes exactly what
he stated. But even sincerity must not be allowed to mislead a generous
public. Employers of labour do not, cannot, and will not keep positions
open for General Booth or any other man. Employers require strong,
healthy men who can give value for the wages paid. Thousands of men who
have never entered shelters or prison are not only available but eager
for positions that show any prospect of permanence, whether the work be
heavy or skilled. For work that requires neither brains, skill or much
physical strength, thousands of men whose characters are good are also
available. I venture to say that General Booth cannot supply the public
with a reasonable list of men who, having passed through the shelters,
have been put into permanent work.

For every man and woman who is seeking to uplift their fellows I have
heartfelt sympathy. For every organisation that is earnestly seeking to
alleviate or remove social evils I wish abundant success. Against the
organisations named I have not the slightest feeling. If they were
successful in the work they undertake, no one in England would rejoice
more than myself. But they are not successful, and because I believe
that their claim to success blinds a well-intentioned and generous
public, and prevents real consideration of deep-seated evils, I make
these comments and give the above extracts.

I question whether any one in London knows better than myself the
difficulty of finding employment for a man who is "down," for I have
written hundreds of letters, I have visited numerous employers for this
one purpose; I have begged and pleaded with employers, sometimes I have
offered "security" for the honesty of men for whom I was concerned.

Occasionally, but only occasionally, was I successful. I have advertised
on men's behalf frequently, but nothing worthy of the name of "work" has
resulted. I know the mind of employers, and I know their difficulties; I
have been too often in touch with them not to know. I have also been in
touch with many men who have been in the shelters, elevators, bridges,
labour homes and tents; I know their experience has been one
of disappointment. I have written on behalf of such men to the
"head-quarters," but nothing has resulted but a few days' work at
wood-chopping, envelope addressing, or bill distributing, none of which
can be called employment.

Day after day men who have been led to expect work wait, and wait in
vain, in or about the head-quarters for the promised work that so
rarely comes. For these men I am concerned, for them I am bold enough to
risk the censure of good people, for I hold that it is not only cruel,
but wicked to excite in homeless men hopes that cannot possibly be

This point has been driven home to my very heart, for I have seen
what comes to pass when the spark of hope is extinguished. Better, far
better, that a man who is "down" should trust to his own exertions and
rely upon himself than entertain illusions and rely upon others.

And now I close by presenting in catalogue form some of the steps that
I believe to be necessary for dealing with the terrible problems of our
great underworld.

First: the permanent detention and segregation of all who are classified
as feeble-minded. Second: the permanent detention and segregation of all
professional tramps. Third: proper provision for men and women who
are hopelessly crippled or disabled. Fourth: establishment by the
educational authorities, or by the State of reformatory schools,
for youthful delinquents and juvenile adults regardless of physical
weakness, deprivations or disease. Fifth: compulsory education,
physical, mental and technical, up to sixteen years of age. Sixth: the
establishment of municipal play-grounds and organised play for youths
who have left school. Seventh: national and State-aided emigration
to include the best of the "unfit." Eighth: the abolition of common
lodging-houses, and the establishment of municipal lodging-houses for
men and also for women. Ninth: the establishment of trade boards for all
industries. Tenth: proper and systematic help for widows who have young
children. Eleventh: thorough inspection and certification by local
authorities of all houses and "dwellings" inhabited by the poor.
Twelfth: housing for the very poor by municipal authorities, with
abolition of fire-places, the heating to be provided from one central
source. The housing to include a restaurant where nourishing but
simple food may be obtained for payment that ensures a small profit.
Thirteenth: more abundant and reasonable provision of work by the State,
local authorities and for the unemployed. Fourteenth: a co-ordination
of all philanthropic and charity agencies to form one great society with
branches in every parish.

Give us these things, and surely they are not impossible, and half
our present expensive difficulties would disappear. Fewer prisons,
workhouses and hospitals would be required. The need for shelters and
labour homes would not exist. The necessity for the activities of
many charitable agencies whose constant appeals are so disturbing and
puzzling, but whose work is now required, would pass away too.

But with all these things given, there would be still great need for the
practice of kindness and the development of brotherly love. For without
brotherly love and kindly human interest, laws are but cast-iron rules,
and life but a living death. What is life worth? What can life be worth
if it be only self-centred? To love is to live! to feel and take an
interest in others is to be happy indeed, and to feel the pulses thrill.

And I am sure that love is abundant in our old country, but it is
largely paralysed and mystified. For many objects that love would fain
accomplish appear stupendous and hopeless. What a different old
England we might have, if the various and hopeless classes that I have
enumerated were permanently detained. For then love would come to
its own, the real misfortunes of life would then form a passport to
practical help. Widows would no longer be unceremoniously kicked into
the underworld; accidents and disablements would no longer condemn men
and women to live lives of beggary. Best of all, charitable and
kindly deeds would no longer be done by proxy. It is because I see how
professional and contented beggary monopolises so much effort and costs
so much money; because I see how it deprives the really unfortunate and
the suffering poor of the practical help that would to them be such a
blessed boon, that I am anxious for its days to be ended. May that day
soon come, for when it comes, there will be some chance of love and
justice obtaining deliverance for the oppressed and deserving poor who
abound in London's dark underworld.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "London's Underworld" ***

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