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Title: Days and Nights in London - or, Studies in Black and Gray
Author: Ritchie, J. Ewing (James Ewing), 1820-1898
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.

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Transcribed from the 1880 Tinsley Brothers edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org



                             DAYS AND NIGHTS
                                IN LONDON;


                       _STUDIES IN BLACK AND GRAY_.

                                * * * * *

                                    BY
                            J. EWING RITCHIE,

                                AUTHOR OF
         “THE NIGHT SIDE OF LONDON,” “RELIGIOUS LIFE OF LONDON,”
                         “BRITISH SENATORS,” ETC.

                                * * * * *

                                 LONDON:
               TINSLEY BROTHERS, 8, CATHERINE ST., STRAND.
                                  1880.
                         [_All rights reserved_.]

                                * * * * *

                        CHARLES DICKENS AND EVANS,
                          CRYSTAL PALACE PRESS.



PREFACE.


London has vastly altered since the Author, some quarter of a century
ago, described some of the scenes which occurred nightly in its midst of
which respectable people were ignorant, which corrupted its young men and
young women, and which rendered it a scandal and a horror to civilisation
itself.  The publication of his work, “The Night Side of London”—of which
nearly eight thousand copies were sold—did something, by calling the
attention of Members of Parliament and philanthropists to the subject, to
improve the scenes and to abate the scandal.  As a further contribution
to the same subject, the present volume is published.  Every Englishman
must take an interest in London—a city which it has taken nearly two
thousand years to build; whose sons, to enrich which, have sailed on
every sea and fought or traded on every land; and which apparently, as
the original home and centre of English-speaking people, must grow with
the growth and strengthen with the strength of the world.

WRENTHAM HOUSE, HENDON,
         _February_, 1880.



CONTENTS.

                                                   PAGE
         I.  THE WORLD OF LONDON                      1
        II.  THE AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE            24
       III.  OUR MUSIC-HALLS                         39
        IV.  MORE ABOUT MUSIC-HALLS                  54
         V.  SUNDAYS WITH THE PEOPLE                 90
        VI.  THE LOW LODGING-HOUSE                  117
       VII.  STUDIES AT THE BAR                     155
      VIII.  IN AN OPIUM DEN                        170
        IX.  LONDON’S EXCURSIONISTS                 182
         X.  ON THE RIVER STEAMERS                  196
        XI.  STREET SALESMEN                        208
       XII.  CITY NUISANCES                         225
      XIII.  OUT OF GAOL                            261
       XIV.  IN A GIPSY CAMP                        271
        XV.  THE STREET BOYS OF LONDON              280



I.—THE WORLD OF LONDON.


London, for a “village,” as old Cobbett used to call it, is a pretty
large one; and, viewed from the lowest stand-point—that of the dull
gospel according to Cocker—may well be described as truly wonderful.  It
eats a great deal of beef, and drinks a great deal of beer.  You are
staggered as you explore its warehouses.  I stood in a granary the other
day in which there were some eighty thousand sacks of wheat; and in the
Bank of England I held in my hand, for a minute—all too brief—a million
of pounds.  It is difficult to realise what London is, and what it
contains.  Figures but little assist the reader.

Perhaps you best realise what the city is as you come up the Thames as
far as London Bridge.  Perhaps another way is to stand on that same
bridge and watch the eager hordes that cross of a morning and return at
night, and then, great as that number is, to multiply it a hundredfold.
A dozen miles off gardeners tell you that there are plants that suffer
from London air and London fog.  Indeed it is difficult to say where
London begins and where it ends.  If you go to Brighton, undoubtedly it
is there in all its glory; when yachting far away in the western islands
of Scotland and the Hebrides, the first signature I found in the
strangers’ book at a favourite hotel was that of Smith, of London.  There
he was, as large as life, just as we see him any day in Cheapside.  One
bitter cold winter day I revisited, not exactly my childhood’s happy
home, but a neighbouring sea port to which I was once much attached.
“Oh,” said I to myself, as I rushed along in the train, “how glad people
will be to see me; how bright will be the eyes into which I once loved to
look, and how warm the clasp of the hand which once thrilled through all
my being!”  Alas! a generation had risen who knew not Joseph.  I dined
sadly and alone at the hotel, and after dinner made my way to the pier to
mingle my melancholy with that of the melancholy ocean.  The wind was
high; the sand in clouds whirled madly along the deserted streets.  At
sea even nothing was to be seen; but at the far end of the pier, with his
back turned to me, gazing over as if he wanted to make out the coast of
Holland—some hundred and fifty miles opposite—was a short man, whom I
knew at once from his apoplectic back—Brown, of Fleet Street—come there
all the way from the congenial steak puddings and whisky toddy of The
Cheshire Cheese for a little fresh air!  I felt angry with Brown.  I was
ready almost to throw him over into the raging surf beneath, but I knew
that was vain.  There were “more to follow.”  Nowadays London and London
people are everywhere.  What is London?  It covers, says one, within a
fifteen-miles’ radius of Charing Cross, so many hundred square miles.  It
numbers more than four million inhabitants.  It comprises a hundred
thousand foreigners from every quarter of the globe.  It contains more
Roman Catholics than there are in all Rome; more Jews than there are in
all Palestine; and, I fear, more rogues than there are even in America.
On a Sunday you will hear Welsh in one church, Dutch in another, the
ancient dialect of St. Chrysostom in another; and on a Saturday you may
plunge into low dancing-houses at the East-End which put to shame
anything of the kind in Hamburg or Antwerp or Rotterdam.  In many of the
smoking-rooms bordering on Mark Lane and Cheapside you hear nothing but
German.  I know streets and squares inhabited by Dutch and German Jews,
or dark-eyed Italians, or excitable Frenchmen, where

    The tongue that Shakespeare spake

is as little understood as Sanscrit itself.  At any moment I like I can
rush away from all European civilisation, and sit in a little room and
smoke opium with the heathen Chinee—whose smile all the while is
“childlike and bland”—as if I were thousands of miles away.  On the other
side of St. Paul’s I have supped with hundreds of thieves at a time, who
carry on their work as if there was no such institution as that of the
police; I have listened to the story of the crowded lodgers, and I can
believe anything you like to tell me of the wealth, of the poverty, of
the virtue, of the vice of London.  People say the metropolis has seven
thousand miles of streets.  I have no doubt it has.  People say it has on
Sunday sixty miles of shops open, and they may be right; at least I have
neither the time nor the inclination to test these figures.  It also
rejoices, I hear, in as many public-houses as, if set in a line, would
reach from Charing Cross to Portsmouth.  The people of London read or
write in the course of a year as many as two hundred and forty millions
of letters.  All these letters are written, all these public-houses
supported, all these streets lined with houses inhabited by men who more
or less are connected with the city.  It is there they live, if they
sleep fifty miles away, and it is a hard life some of them have
assuredly.  A little while ago a poor woman was charged with pawning
shirts entrusted to her to make by an East-End merchant clothier.  The
woman pleaded that her children were so hungry that she was tempted to
pawn some of the work in the hope of being able to redeem it by the time
the whole was completed.  The work was machine-sewing.  She hired the
machine at half-a-crown a week, and was paid by the prosecutor a shilling
a dozen for his shirts.

“Nonsense,” said the magistrate; “that is only a penny each.”

“And that is all it is, sir,” said the poor woman.

“And you have to work a long day to make twelve.  And is it really a
fact,” said the magistrate, turning to the merchant clothier, “that this
kind of work has fallen into such a deplorable condition that you can get
it done at so poor a rate?”

“Your worship,” was the reply, “if I wanted a hundred hands at the price
I could get ’em by holding up my finger.”

Nowhere does life run to such extremes;—nowhere is there such pauperism
as in London; nowhere is there such wealth; nowhere does man lift a
sublimer face to the stars; nowhere does he fall so low.  In short,
London may be described as “one of those things which no fellah can
understand.”

In beauty London now may almost vie with fair bewitching Paris.  In all
other respects it leaves it far behind.  It is the brain of England, the
seat of English rule, whence issue laws which are obeyed in four quarters
of the globe, and the fountain of thought which agitates and rules the
world.  London is the head-quarters of commerce.  Tyre and Sidon and
Carthage, the republics of Italy, the great cities of the Hanseatic
Confederation, Flemish Ghent or Bruges, or Antwerp or busy Amsterdam,
never in their canals, and harbours, and rivers, sheltered such burdened
argosies; in their streets never saw such wealthy merchants; in their
warehouses never garnered up such stores of corn and wine and oil.
London prices rule the globe, and are quoted on every exchange.  It is a
city of contrasts.  It has its quarters where pale-eyed students live and
move and have their being, and factories where the only thought is how
best to drag out a dull mechanical life.  It has its underground cells
where misers hide their ill-gotten gains, and its abodes of fashion and
dissipation where the thoughtless and the gay dance and drink and sing,
as if time past taught them no lesson, and as if time to come could have
no terrors for them.  It is a city of saints and sinners, where God and
Mammon have each their temples and their crowds of worshippers.  Here lie
in wait the traffickers in men’s bodies and souls; and here live those
whose most anxious care is how best to assuage the pangs of poverty, how
best to cure the delirium of disease, how most successfully to reclaim
the fallen and the prodigal, how most assiduously to guard the young from
the grasp of the destroyer—how, in the language of the poet, to “allure
to brighter worlds and lead the way.”  If there be a fire in Chicago, a
famine in India, a tornado in the West Indies, a wail of distress from
the North or the South, or the East or the West, London is the first city
to send succour and relief.

In speaking of London we sometimes mean Smaller London and sometimes
Greater London.  To avoid confusion we must clearly understand what is
meant by each.  Smaller London comprises 28 Superintendent Registrars’
Districts, 20 of them being in Middlesex, 5 in Surrey, and 3 in Kent;
viz. Kensington, Chelsea, St. George, Hanover Square, Westminster,
Marylebone, Hampstead, Pancras, Islington, Hackney, St. Giles, Strand,
Holborn, London City, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, St. George
in the East, Stepney, Mile End and Poplar in Middlesex; St. Saviour,
Southwark, St. Olave, Southwark, Lambeth, Wandsworth, and Camberwell in
Surrey; and Greenwich, Lewisham, and Woolwich in Kent.  It had an
estimated population in the middle of 1878 of 3,577,304.  Greater London
comprises in addition to the above 14 Superintendent Registrars’
Districts, 6 of them being in Middlesex, 4 in Surrey, 2 in Kent, and 2 in
Essex; viz. Staines, Uxbridge, Brentford, Hendon, Barnet, and Edmonton in
Middlesex; Epsom, Croydon, Kingston, and Richmond in Surrey; Bromley and
Bexley in Kent; and West Ham and Romford in Essex.  It comprises the
whole of Middlesex, and such parishes of Surrey, Kent, Essex, and Herts
as are within 12 miles of Charing Cross.  These additional districts had
an estimated population of 872,711 in the middle of the year 1878, so
that Greater London has therefore at the present time a population of
4,450,015.  The population of the United Kingdom in the middle of 1878
was estimated at 33,881,966.  Greater London had therefore considerably
more than an eighth of the population of Great Britain and Ireland, and
more than a sixth of the population of England and Wales.  This large
population is constantly and rapidly increasing; the estimated increase
in 1878 being 82,468.  It is important to note that the increase is not
equal in all parts.  The population is decreasing within the City; within
Smaller London it goes on increasing but at a decreasing rate, and in the
outer ring the population increases steadily at an increasing rate.  The
population of the outer circle has increased more than 50 per cent. in
the last ten years.

Even in its narrowest definition—as the small plot of ground between
Temple Bar and Aldgate pump—what a history London has!  Of what scenes of
glory and of shame it has been the theatre!  What brave men and lovely
women have played their part, heroic or the reverse, upon its stage!
When the City’s greatest architect dug deep into the earth to build the
foundations of his matchless cathedral, he laid bare the remains of
nations and generations that one after another had held the City as its
own.  First he uncovered the graves of the early medieval Londoners; then
he came to the remains of our Saxon forefathers, of Ethelbert and St.
Augustine; next were found the remains of Romans and ancient Britons, and
last of all were found the mouldering remains of those who knew not Cæsar
and the city they call Rome.  Again, the London of Victoria faintly
resembles the London of Queen Anne, as faintly perhaps as does the
Jerusalem of to-day represent the city in which our Saviour dwelt.  No
wonder that our old chroniclers romanced not a little, and that many of
them did believe, as Geoffrey of Monmouth writes, that London was founded
by Brute, a descendant of Eneas, eleven hundred years before Christ, and
that he called it Troy Novant, whence came the name of the people to be
called Trinobantes.  Equally widespread and equally unfounded was the
belief that from London were shipped away eleven thousand—some say
seventy thousand—British virgins (as an admirer of the virtues of my
countrywomen I stick to the highest figure)—whose bones may yet be seen
in Cologne—to the British warriors compelled to settle in Armorica.  What
is clear, however, is that in London Diana had a temple, that the Saxons
won the city from the Britons, that the Tower of London is one of the
oldest buildings in Christendom, and that here Roman and Dane, and Saxon
and Norman have all more or less left their mark.  Our early monarchs
trembled as they saw how the great city grew.  When that slobbering James
came to the throne—whom his courtiers denominated the British Solomon—of
whom bishops and archbishops testified that his language was that of
inspiration, he exclaimed, “England will shortly be London, and London
England,” as he saw how people were adding house to house and street to
street, and flocking to them from all parts of England and Scotland; yet
the London of the Stuarts, neither in extent or magnificence or wealth,
bore the faintest resemblance to the London of to-day.

Londoners are well looked after in the matter of taxes.  The ratable
value of the metropolis, or rather the district of the Metropolitan
Board, is £23,960,109.  Last year it raised in this way £477,835.  The
School Board rate was something similar.  Besides, there is a sewer rate
of twopence in the pound; a paving, watering, etc. rate of probably
ninepence; a lighting rate of threepence; then there are rates to pay
interest on the debts of extinct paving trusts; a rate for baths and
wash-houses, police rate and county rate, making a total of almost five
shillings and sixpence in the pound on the value of a house.  While it
has an excess of beer-shops, gin-palaces, and music-halls, it has a great
deficiency as regards church and chapel accommodation.  In Inner London
it is calculated 955,060 sittings are required.  In Larger London the
deficiency, it is estimated, is much more.

The number of police, according to the last return, was 10,336 in the
metropolis, showing an increase of 0.5 per cent. over last year; and in
the City 798, being seven over the last returns.  The metropolitan police
are in the proportion of one for every 397 of the population of the
metropolitan police district; the City police of one for every 93 of the
population, as enumerated on the night of the census of 1871.  The cost
of the metropolitan police was £1,077,399, of which 39.9 per cent. was
contributed from public revenue; the cost of the City police was £85,231,
towards which no contribution was made.  From the criminal returns it
appears that for the metropolitan police district, with the City, the
number of known thieves and depredators, receivers of stolen goods, and
suspected persons, was 2,715, or one in 1,431 of the population, showing
an increase of 3.9 per cent. on the returns of the previous year.  The
rule which has been followed now for 14 years, that persons known to have
been living honestly for one year at least subsequently to their
discharge after any conviction, should not be returned in the class of
known thieves and depredators, has been adhered to.  The return of houses
of bad character in the metropolis, exclusive of those of ill-fame and of
those returned to Parliament under the Contagious Act, is 215, of which
66 are houses of receivers of stolen goods, showing a decrease of 22 in
the year.  The total number of cases tried at the Central Criminal Court
was 10,151.  From a classification of offences determined summarily we
learn that there were 5,622 persons proceeded against in the City, of
whom 1,093 were discharged, and the remainder convicted or otherwise
dealt with.  There were 191 offences against the Adulteration of Food Act
in the metropolitan police district, 7 in the City; 5,874 against the
Elementary Education Act, none in the City; 1,234 cases of cruelty to
animals in the metropolitan district, 823 in the City; 33,520 persons
were drunk and disorderly in the metropolitan district, 431 in the City,
being an increase over the numbers for the last year of about 1,000 in
the first instance, and 35 in the second.

From the prison returns we gather that the total of commitments to
Newgate for the year ended September 29th, 1877, was 1,394 males, and 218
females, being in the case of the males a reasonable decrease from the
last year’s numbers; to Holloway, 1,896 males, 281 females, the latter
returns including 841 males and 45 females to the civil side for debt.
Under the heading of expenses we have £127 19s. for new buildings,
alterations, etc., in Newgate; and in Holloway, £199; ordinary repairs in
Newgate came to £149 11s. 4d., rent, rates, taxes, etc., £121 7s.;
Holloway repairs, £121 4s. 5d., rent and taxes, £74 2s. 11d., with
various other charges, making a total of expenses at Newgate of £6,514
5s. 3d.; Holloway, £10,314 9s. 9d.  From the table of funds charged with
prison expenses we learn that at Holloway the net profit of prisoners’
labour was £2,038 1s. 9d.  The county or liberty rates contributed £83
16s. 8d. to Newgate; the City rate was £5,632 1s. 3d., the latter rate
was, in respect to Holloway, £6,239 5s.  The Treasury paid £347 0s. 9d.,
proportion of the charge for convicted prisoners at Newgate, £1,438 17s.
6d. for those at Holloway.

The charitable contributions of England are to-day in excess of what the
whole revenue of the British Crown was under the Stuarts, only two
hundred years ago; over £600,000 per annum is derived from all such
sources by the medical charities of London alone; more than 1,200,000
persons, exclusive of paupers, are annually recipient of assistance from
those medical charities.

In other ways also is London truly wonderful.  It seems as if the earth
toiled and moiled to simply supply her wants.  Sail up the Baltic and ask
whither those vessels laden with tallow and corn and flax are steering,
and the answer is, The Thames.  Float down the Mediterranean, and the
reply to the question would be still the same.  Ascend the grand rivers
of the New World, and the destination of the stores of beef and cheese
and wheat is still the same.  Canada supplies us with our deals; America
with half our food; Australia with our wool; the Cape with our diamonds;
the Brazils with coffee.  Havannah sends her choice cigars, China her
teas, Japan her lacquered and ingenious ware, Italy her silks; and from
the vineyards of France, or the green hills that border the Rhine and the
Moselle, we are supposed to draw our supplies of sparkling wine.  Spain
sends her sherry, Portugal her port.  For us the spicy breezes blow soft
on Ceylon’s isle, the turtle fattens languidly under burning suns, the
whale wallows in the trough of frozen seas, the elephant feeds in African
jungles, and the ostrich darts as an arrow across the plain.  In the
country village, in the busy mill, on sea or on land, it is the thought
of London that fires the brain and fills the heart, and nerves the muscle
and relieves the tedium of nightly or daily toil.  As Cowper writes:

             Where has commerce such a mart,
    So rich, so thronged, so drained, and so supplied,
    As London—opulent, enlarged, and still
    Increasing London?  Babylon of old
    Not more the glory of the earth than she,
    A more accomplished world’s chief glory now.

It is not our province to speculate as to the future.  There are men who
tell us that Babylon is about to fall, and that it is time for the elect
to be off.  It may be so.  Time, the destroyer, has seen many a noble
city rise, and flourish, and pass away; but London, it must be admitted
nevertheless, never more truly in any sense deserves the epitaph of
“wonderful” than at the present time.



II.—THE AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE.


The Middlesex magistrates have shut up the Argyle Rooms.  Mr. Bignell,
who has found it worth his while to invest £80,000 in the place, it is to
be presumed, is much annoyed, and has, in some respects, reason to be so.
Year after year noble lords and Middlesex magistrates have visited the
place, and have licensed it.  Indeed, it had become one of the
institutions of the country—one of the places which Bob Logic and
Corinthian Tom (for such men still exist, though they go by other names)
would be sure to visit, and such as they and the women who were
_habitués_ will have to go elsewhere.  It is said a great public scandal
is removed, but the real scandal yet remains.  It is a scandal that such
a place ever flourished in the great metropolis of a land which professes
Christianity—which pays clergymen and deans, and bishops and archbishops
princely sums to extirpate that lust of the flesh and lust of the eye and
pride of life, which found their lowest form of development in the Argyle
Rooms.  It was a scandal that men of position, who have been born in
English homes and nursed by English mothers, and been consecrated
Christians in baptism, and have been trained at English public schools
and universities, and worshipped in English churches and cathedrals,
should have helped to make the Argyle a flourishing institution.  Mr.
Bignell created no vice—he merely pandered to what was in existence.  It
was men of wealth and fashion who made the Argyle what it was.  The
Argyle closed, the vice remains the same, and it will avail little to
make clean the outside of the whited sepulchre if within there be
rottenness and dead men’s bones.  Be that as it may, there are few people
who will regret the defeat of Mr. Bignell and the closing of the Argyle.
It was not an improving spectacle in an age that has sacrificed
everything to worldly show, and that has come to regard brougham as the
one thing needful—as the outward and visible sign of an inward and
invisible grace—as a charter of respectability to everyone who rides in
it, whether purchased by the chastity of woman or the honour of man—to
see painted and bedizened females, most of them

    Born in a garret, in a kitchen bred,

driving up in broughams from St. John’s Wood or Chelsea or Belgravia,
with their gallants, or “protectors,” to the well-known rendezvous, at a
late hour, to leave a little later for the various oyster-rooms in the
district, through a dense crowd of lookers-on, drunk or sober, poor or
rich, old or young, as the case might be.  In no other capital in Europe
was such a sight to be seen.  The lesson taught by such a spectacle was
neither moral nor improving at first sight, and it was not well that a
young, giddy girl, with good looks, and wishing, above all things, for
fine dresses and gay society—sick at heart of her lowly home and the
dreary drudgery of daily poverty—should there practically have learnt
that if she could but make up her mind to give her virtue to the winds,
there awaited her the companionship of men of birth and breeding and
wealth, and the gaudy, if short-lived, pomps and splendours of successful
vice.  It is true that in the outside crowd there were, in rags and
tatters, in degradation and filth, shivering with cold, pale with want,
hideous with intemperance and disease, homeless and friendless and
destitute, withered hags old before their time, whom the policeman shrank
from touching as he bade them move on, who once were the admired of the
Argyle, and the pets and _protégées_ of England’s gilded youth; and here
and there in the crowd, with boots in holes and broken hat, and needy
coat buttoned as far as possible to the chin to conceal the absence of a
shirt, with hands thrust in empty pockets, sodden in face and feeble of
limb, were men who had been hauled from the Argyle to Bow Street and the
gaol.  It is true thus side by side were the bane and the antidote; but
when did youth, flushed with wine and pleasure, pause on the road to
ruin?  Young says:

    All men think all men mortal but themselves,

and in like manner each man or woman in the glow of youth feels confident
that he or she can never fall, and thus rushes madly on, ignoring the
eternal truth that there is a Nemesis ever tracking the steps of the
wrongdoer, one from whose grasp we can never escape, that the pleasures
of sin are but for a season, and that the wages of sin are death.  By the
beery dissipated crowd outside, I say, this obvious fact had been lost
sight of.  What they wanted to see was the women and the men as they
turned out into the streets or drove away.  Well, that sight exists no
longer, and to a certain extent it is a gain.  The Haymarket in these
latter days was very different and a much more sober place than it was
when the Marquis of Waterford played his drunken pranks at Bob Croft’s,
or when the simple Windham was in the habit of spending his time and
wasting his money and degrading an honoured name at such a place as
Barns’s or The Blue Posts.  Men not far advanced in life can remember the
Piccadilly Saloon, with its flashy women and medical students and
barristers from the Temple, and men about town and greenhorns from the
country—who in the small hours turned out into the streets, shouting
stentoriously, “We won’t go home till morning,” and putting their
decision into execution by repairing to the wine and coffee rooms which
lined both sides of the Haymarket and existed in all the adjacent
streets.  In some there was a piano, at which a shabby performer was
hired to keep up the harmony of the evening and to give an appearance of
hilarity to what was after all a very slow affair.  In others the company
were left to their own resources.  At a certain hour the police
inspector, with a couple of constables, would look in, and it was comic
to see how unconscious he was apparently that every trace of intoxicating
drink had been removed, as nothing remained on the tables but a few
harmless cups of coffee.  It was not till the industrious world had risen
to the performance of its daily task that the rag-tag and bob-tail of the
Haymarket retired to roost; and by the time that earls and holy bishops
and godly clergy were ready to drive down the Haymarket to take part in
meetings at Exeter Hall to send the Gospel to the heathen abroad, not a
trace was left of the outrageous display the night before of the more
fearful and sadder forms of heathenism at home.  Undoubtedly the
Haymarket thirty or forty years ago was an awful place; undoubtedly it
will be a little quieter now that the Argyle Rooms are closed, and as the
glory of Windmill-street has fled.  Undoubtedly we have gained a great
deal externally by magisterial action.  Yet it is evident we need
something more than magisterial sanction for the interference of the
police.  I am not partial to the men in blue.  I doubt their efficacy as
agents for moral reform or the introduction of the millennium.  They can
remove the symptoms, but they cannot touch the disease.  It seems to me
that they often interfere—especially in the case of poor women—when there
is no occasion to do so; and no one, when it is requisite, can be more
stolidly blind and deaf and dumb than your ordinary policeman.  Police
surveillance must mean more or less police bribery.  It was once my fate
to live in a country town and to belong to a library, which was also
supported by the superintendent of police.  On one occasion I had a book
which had previously been in that gentleman’s hands.  In opening it a
letter fell out addressed to him.  I did what I ought not to have done,
but as it was wide open, I read it, as anyone would.  It was from a
publican in the town, begging the superintendent’s acceptance of a cask
of cider.  Of course, on the next licensing-day no complaint would be
heard as to the character of that house.  A journeyman engineer, in his
“Habits and Customs of the Working Classes,” gives us similar testimony
as he describes a drinking party during prohibited hours disturbed by the
appearance of a policeman, but reassured when told by the landlord that
he is one of “the right sort;” which means, continues the author, that
“he is one of that tolerably numerous sort who, provided a publican
‘tips’ them a ‘bob’ occasionally, and is liberal in the matter of drops
of something short when they are on night duty, will not see any
night-drinking that may be carried on in his establishment as long as it
is done with a show of decency.”  I need say no more on that head; human
nature is the same all the world over.  Out of the heart are the issues
of life, and no policeman or magistrate can make a drunken people sober,
or a low, sordid, and sensual race of men and women noble and pure in
thought and beautiful in life.  For that we look to the Christian Church
in all its branches.  To its ministers especially we appeal.  Let them
leave theological wrangling, and the cloister where no living voice is
heard, and the well-lined study in which human nature, when it puts in an
appearance, has learned to assume a decent and decorous mask, and see
what are the amusements of the people, not so much on the Sabbath-day,
but on the week-night.  The Argyle was but one place out of many.  In our
great cities there are tens of thousands who live only for amusement,
whether they be the working classes or in the higher walks of life.  A
glance at some of these places of resort may help us to understand what
are the amusements of the people, and whether the Church does well and
wisely in stamping them with her approval, or regarding them with her
frown.  It is how a man spends his money, and not how he makes it, that
is the true index to his character.  It is really impossible to imagine
amusements more foolish or more indicative of a low tone of mind morally
and intellectually than those which are most patronised at the present
day.  What pleasure can there be in watching a man walking for a bet, or
in a woman risking her neck on a trapeze?  Yet thousands go to see such a
sight.  Even the theatres delight in displays equally revolting, perhaps
more so from a moral point of view.

When General Grant was in Moscow lately, an acrobat placed four bottles
on a high table, and on top of these a chair, which he balanced sideways
while he stood on his head on one corner of it.  He kept repeating this,
adding one chair at a time, until he got five on top of each other, and
still showed no signs of stopping; but General Grant got up and walked
away, saying he would rather read the death in the papers than witness
it.  Our music-hall audiences are far more appreciative of the amusements
provided for them.

The stage, I have said, may not escape censure.  It has its illustrious
exceptions, but, as Mr. Chatterton has shown us, Shakespeare means
bankruptcy, and the majority of adaptations from the French are, it is
admitted on all hands, not of an improving character.  The way also in
which the powers of the licenser are administered is, to say the least,
puzzling.  It is impossible to represent some subjects on the stage
without injury to the morals and the manners of the spectators.  In Mr.
Arthur Matthison’s adaptation of “Les Lionnes Pauvres,” the sin of
adultery was, it is true, held up to execration; but the license was
withheld because it was deemed undesirable to turn the English theatre
into a spectacular divorce court.  Another prohibited play was founded on
“La Petite Marquise,” in which faithlessness to the marriage vow becomes
a fine art, and virtue and honour and purity in woman is held up to
ridicule.  A lady who has married a man very much her senior, is
represented as encouraging the advances of a seducer, who, when she
throws herself in his arms, to avoid the expense of having to keep her,
sends her back to her husband; and yet the man who forces this filth on
the stage complains that he is badly treated, and questions whether the
world has ever given birth, or ever will give birth, to any conception as
obscene as that of the old man in “The Pink Dominoes”—a play which, it
must be remembered, has had a most successful run upon the stage.  At the
theatre, the same writer observes, “I have beheld a young man hidden in a
chest spring out upon a woman half dressed, while from her lips broke
words I shudder to repeat.  In peril I have watched with bated breath an
attempt to commit a rape elaborately represented before the public.  In
‘Madame! attend Monsieur,’ I have seen a woman take a shirt in one hand,
and a shift in the other, and, standing in the very centre of the stage,
walk up to the float, deliberately put the two together, then with a wild
shriek, etc.;” and here the writer stops short.  No one, of course,
expects people will stop away from the theatre; but why cannot the tone
of the place be a little higher, and the whole style of the amusement
more worthy of a civilised community?  Why cannot we have a less liberal
display of legs and bosoms, and more generally in the matter of wit?
There have always been admirers of good acting.  Why should they be
ignored, and the stage lowered to the level of the country bumpkin, the
imbecile youth of the day, and his female friends?



III.—OUR MUSIC-HALLS.


I fear the first impression made upon the mind of the careful observer is
that, as regards amusements, the mass of the people are deteriorating
very rapidly, that we are more frivolous and childish and silly in this
way than our fathers.  One has no right to expect anything very
intellectual in the way of amusements.  People seek them, and naturally,
as a relief from hard work.  A little amusement now and then is a
necessity of our common humanity, whether rich or poor, high or low,
sinner or saint; and of course, in the matter of amusements, we must
allow people a considerable latitude according to temperament and age and
education, and the circumstances in which they are placed.  In these days
no one advocates a Puritanical restraint and an abstinence from the
pleasures of the world.  We have a perfect right to everything that can
lighten the burden of life, and can make the heart rejoice.  It was not a
pleasant sign of the times, however, when the people found an amusement
in bull-baiting, cock-fighting, boxing, going to see a man hanged; nor is
it a pleasant sign of the tunes when, night after night, tens of
thousands of our fellow-countrymen are forced into shrieks of laughter by
exhibitions as idiotic as they are indecent.  A refined and educated
people will seek amusements of a refining character.  If the people, on
the contrary, rejoice in the slang and filthy innuendoes, and low dancing
and sensational gymnastics of the music-hall, what are we to think?  The
music-hall is quite an invention of modern days.  In times not very
remote working men were satisfied with going into a public-house—having
there their _quantum suff._ of less adulterated beer than they can get
now—and sometimes they got into good society at such places.  For
instance, we find Dr. Johnson himself a kind of chairman of an ale-house
in Essex Street, Strand, where, for a small fee, you might walk up and
see the Doctor as large as life and hear him talk.  At a later day the
bar-parlour, or whatever it might be called, of the public-house, was the
place in which men gathered to talk politics, and to study how they could
better themselves.  When Bamford, the Lancashire Radical, came to town in
1817, the working men were principally to be found discussing politics in
all the London public-houses.  One such place he visited and describes:
“On first opening the door,” he writes, “the place seemed dimmed by a
suffocating vapour of tobacco curling from the cups of long pipes, and
issuing from the mouths of the smokers in clouds of abominable odour,
like nothing in the world more than one of the unclean fogs of the
streets, though the latter were certainly less offensive and probably
less hurtful.  Every man would have his half-pint of porter before him;
many would be speaking at once, and the hum and confusion would be such
as gave an idea of there being more talkers than thinkers, more speakers
than listeners.  Presently, ‘order’ would be called, and comparative
silence restored; a speaker, stranger, or citizen would be announced with
much courtesy or compliment.  ‘Hear, hear, hear,’ would follow, with
clapping of hands and knocking of knuckles on the tables till the
half-pints danced; then a speech with compliments to some brother orator
or popular statesman; next a resolution in favour of Parliamentary
reform, and a speech to second it; an amendment on some minor point would
follow; a seconding of that; a breach of order by some individual of warm
temperament, half-a-dozen would rise to set him right, a dozen to put
them down; and the vociferation and gesticulation would become loud and
confounding.”  Such things are out of fashion nowadays.  Political
discussion requires a certain amount of intellectual capacity.  In London
there are but few discussion forums now, and the leading one is so
fearfully ventilated and so heavily charged with the fumes of stale
tobacco and beer, that it is only a few who care to attend.  I remember
when there were three very close together and well attended.  I remember
also when we had a music-hall in the City.  It was not a particularly
lively place of resort.  We used to have “The Bay of Biscay” and “The
Last Rose of Summer,” and now and then a comic song, while the visitor
indulged in his chop or beef-steak and the usual amount of alcoholic
fluid considered necessary on such occasions.  But now we have changed
all that, and the simple-hearted frequenter of Dr. Johnson’s Tavern
half-a-century back would be not a little astonished with the modern
music-hall, which differs _in toto cælo_ from the public-house to which
in old-fashioned days a plain concert-room was attached.

A glance at the modern music-hall will show us whether we have improved
on our ancestors.  In one respect you will observe it is the same.
Primarily it is a place in which men and women are licensed to drink.
The music is an after-thought, and if given is done with the view to keep
the people longer in these places and to make them drink more.
Externally the music-hall is generally a public-house.  It may have a
separate entrance, but it is a public-house all the same, and you will
find that you can easily go from one to the other.  In the music-hall
itself the facilities for drink are on every side.  There are generally
two or three bars at which young ladies are retained to dispense whatever
beverages may be required.  In the stalls there are little tables on
which the patrons of the establishment place their glasses of grog or
beer.  A boy comes round with cigars and programmes for sale.  All the
evening waiters walk up and down soliciting your orders.  It is thus to
the drink, and not to the payment made for admission, that the proprietor
looks to recoup himself for his outlay—and that is considerable.  A
popular music-hall singer makes his forty pounds a week; not, however, by
singing at one place all the week, but by rushing from one to the other,
and the staff kept at any music-hall of any pretensions is considerable.
Internally, the music-hall is arranged as a theatre—with its stage,
orchestra, pit, galleries, and boxes.

“Don’t you think,” said the manager of one of the theatres most warmly
patronised by the working classes, to a clerical friend of mine, “don’t
you think I am doing good in keeping these people out of the
public-houses all night?”

My clerical friend was compelled to yield a very reluctant assent.  In
the case of the music-hall nothing of the kind can be said in
extenuation.  It is only a larger and handsomer and more attractive kind
of drinking shop.  In one respect it may be said to have an advantage.
Mostly of a night, about the bars of common public-houses and
gin-palaces, there are many unfortunate women drinking either by
themselves or with one another, or with their male companions.  In the
music-hall “the unfortunate female” element—except in the more central
ones, where they swarm like wolves or eagles in search of their prey—is
absent, or, at any rate, not perceptible.  The workman takes there his
wife and family, and the working man the young woman with whom he keeps
company.  There can be no harm in that? you say.  I am not quite sure.
Let me give one case as an illustration of many similar which have come
under my own observation.

A girl one evening went with a friend, an omnibus conductor, to a
music-hall.  She was well plied with drink, which speedily took an effect
on her brain, already affected by the gas and glare, and life and bustle
of the place.  The girl was a fine, giddy, thoughtless girl of the
maid-of-all-work order.  In the morning when she awoke she found herself
in a strange room with her companion of the preceding night.  What was
the result?  She dared not go back to her place.  She was equally afraid
to go home.  I need not ask the reader to say what became of her.  Let
him question the unfortunate women who crowd the leading thoroughfares of
a night how they came to be what they are.  It is a fact, I believe, that
no censorship is applied to music-hall performances, and that the only
censorship is that of the audience.  The audience, be it remembered,
begins to drink directly the doors are opened, and remains drinking all
the time till they are closed; and you may be sure that in a mob of two,
or sometimes, as is the case, three thousand people, that the higher is
the seasoning and the lower the wit, and the more abundant the _double
entendre_, the greater is the applause, and the manager, who sits in an
arm-chair at the back of the orchestra and in front of the audience,
takes note of that.  In the days of the Kembles, Mrs. Butler notes how
the tendency of actors was not so much to act well as to make points and
bring down the house.  Especially does she deplore Braham’s singing as
much to be censured in this respect, and as unworthy of his high powers
and fame.  In the music-hall this lower style of acting and singing
becomes a necessity.  The people go to be amused, and the actor must
amuse them.  If he can stand on his head and sing, immense would be the
applause.  If he is unequal to this, he must attempt something equally
absurd, or he must have dogs and monkeys come to his aid; and perhaps
after all he will find himself outrivalled by a Bounding Brother or a
wonderful trapeze performer.  If the music-hall proprietor in a northern
city had prevailed on Peace’s mistress, Miss Thompson, to have appeared
on his stage, what a fortune he would have made.

The other night I went into one of the largest of our music-halls, not a
hundred miles away from what was once Rowland Hill’s Chapel.  There must
have been more than three thousand people present.  Not a seat was to be
had, and there was very little standing room.  I paid a shilling for
admission, and was quite surprised to see how entirely the shilling seats
or standing places were filled with working men, many of whom had their
wives and sweethearts with them.  The majority, of course, of the
audience was made up of young men, who, in the course of the evening
spent at least another shilling in beer and “baccy.”  In these bad times,
when people, in the middle ranks of life are in despair at the hard
prospect before them, here were these working men spending their two
hundred pounds a night at the least at this music-hall.

When I managed to squeeze my way in it was about the hour of ten, when
men who have to get up early to work ought to be in bed.  The
performances were in full swing, and the enthusiasm of the audience,
sustained and stimulated by refreshment, was immense.  A female or two
were the worse for liquor, but otherwise by that time the intoxicating
stage had not been gained.  After some very uninteresting bicycling by
riders in curious dress, a man disguised as a nigger sang a lot of low
doggerel about his “gal.”  In the course of his singing he stopped to
tell us that his “gal” had a pimple and that he liked pimples, as they
were signs of a healthy constitution.  He then, amidst roars of laughter,
pretended to catch a flea.  He liked fleas, he said; a flea came in the
daylight and looked you in the face like a man as it bit you; but a bug
he hated.  It crawled over your body in the dark and garroted you.  Then
he went on to speak in a mock-heroic style of the rights of women.  He
“spotted” some naughty ones present—an allusion received with laughter.
He loved them all, male or female, married or single, and advised all the
young men present to get married as soon as possible and then hang
themselves.  Ballet dancing of the usual character followed, and I came
away.

It is said a paper recently sent a special correspondent to describe a
London music-hall; the description was refused admission into the paper
on the ground of indecency, and I can well believe it.

As to the profit made by the music-halls there can be no doubt.  Take for
instance the London Pavilion.  I find the following newspaper paragraph:
Sir Henry A. Hunt, C.B., the arbitrator in the case of the London
Pavilion Music Hall, has sent in his award.  M. Loibl claimed £147,000
for the freehold and goodwill, the building being required for the new
street from Piccadilly to Oxford Street.  The award is £109,300.  The
freehold cost M. Loibl £8,000, and his net profits in 1875 were £10,978;
in 1876, £12,083; and in 1877, £14,189.  Let me give another
illustration.  When the proprietor of Evans’ Supper Rooms was refused his
license, his loss was estimated at £10,000 per annum.  It surely
evidently is more ready to pay liberally for the gratification of its
senses, than for the promotion of its virtues.



IV.—MORE ABOUT MUSIC-HALLS.


The journeyman engineer tells us one day as he was walking along with a
mate in the country, he spoke of the beauty of the surrounding scenery
and of the magnificent sight which met their eyes.  “Oh, blow the sights
of the scenery,” said his companion, “the sight for me is a
public-house.”  It is the same everywhere.  I was once travelling in a
third-class carriage from Newry to Belfast, when I heard the most
atrocious exclamations from a party of young men seated at the other end,
all offering to break each other’s heads in the name of the Holy Father.
On my intimating that it was a pity young men should thus get into that
state to a respectable farmer by my side, his only reply was, “Sure,
what’s the good of a drop of drink if it don’t raise something?”  Once
upon a time I spent a Sunday in a little village inn in North Wales.  To
my disgust there stumbled into the little parlour a young man, dressed
respectably, who had evidently been heavily drinking.  As he lay there
with his stertorous snore, all unconscious of the wonder and the beauty
of the opening day, it seemed to me that it was a sad misuse of the term
to say, as his friends would, that he had been in search of amusement.
As a reverend divine took his seat in a train the other day there
stumbled into it a couple of young fellows, one with his face very much
bruised and cut about—who soon went off to sleep—while his companion
explained to the minister that they had both of them been enjoying
themselves.  In the more densely populated and poorer districts of the
metropolis there is an immense deal of this kind of enjoyment.

To see the people enjoying themselves, I went the other night down the
Whitechapel and Commercial Road district.  As I turned the corner of
Brick Lane I asked a tradesman of the better class if he could direct me
to a very celebrated music-hall in that neighbourhood.  “It is over that
way,” said he with a strong expression of disgust.  “It’s a regular sink
of iniquity,” he added.  As I was not aware of that, I merely intimated
my regret that it was so largely patronised by working men, and that so
much money was thus wasted, which might be applied to a better purpose.
“Well, you see,” said my informant, “they don’t think of that—they know
there is the hospital for them when they are ill.”  On my remarking that
I was going to Brick Lane prior to visiting the music-hall, he intimated
that I had better button up my coat, and when I said that when out on
such expeditions as I was then engaged in, I never carried a watch and
chain worth stealing, he remarked that if the people did not rob me, at
any rate they might knock me down.  However, encouraged by his remarks
that the people were not so bad as they were, I went on my way.

Apparently the improvement of which my informant spoke was of a very
superficial character.  Coming from the Aldgate Station at the early hour
of six, I found every drinking shop crammed, including the gaudy
restaurant at the station, and descending to the filthiest gin-palace,
there were the men drinking, and if they were not drinking they were
loafing about in groups of by no means pleasant aspect.  When at a later
hour I returned, the sight was still sadder, as hordes of wild young
girls, just emancipated from the workshop, were running up and down the
streets, shrieking and howling as if mad.  As most of the shops were then
closed, the streets seemed almost entirely given over to these girls and
their male friends.  In the quarter to which I bent my steps the naval
element was predominating, and there were hundreds of sailors cruising,
as it were, up and down, apparently utterly unconscious that their
dangers at sea were nothing to those on land.  Men of all creeds and of
all nations were to be encountered in search of amusement, while hovered
around some of the most degraded women it is possible to imagine—women
whose bloated faces and forms were enough to frighten anyone, and to whom
poor Jack, in a state of liquor, is sure to become a prey.  To the low
public-houses of this district dancing-rooms are attached, and in them,
as we may well suppose, vice flourishes and shows an unabashed front.  I
must say it was with a feeling of relief that I found a harbour of refuge
in the music-hall.  Compared with the streets, I must frankly confess it
was an exchange for the better.  On the payment of a shilling I was
ushered by a most polite attendant into a very handsome hall, where I had
quite a nice little leather arm-chair to sit in, and where at my ease I
could listen to the actors and survey the house.  The place was by no
means crowded, but there was a good deal of the rough element at the
back, to which, in the course of the evening’s amusement, the chairman
had more than once to appeal.  From the arrangements made around me, it
was evident that there was the same provision which I have remarked
elsewhere for the drinking habits of the people.  There was a side bar at
which the actors and actresses occasionally appeared on their way to or
from the stage, and affably drank with their friends and admirers.  The
other day I happened to hear a thief’s confession, and what do you think
it was?  That it was his mingling with the singers off the stage that had
led to his fall.  He was evidently a smart, clever, young fellow, and had
thought it a sign of his being a lad of spirit to stand treat to such
people.  Of course he could not afford it, and, of course, he had a fond
and foolish mother, who tried to screen him in his downward career.  The
result was he embezzled his employer’s money, and, when that was
discovered, imprisonment and unavailing remorse were the result.  To the
imagination of raw lads there is something wonderfully attractive in the
music-hall singer, as, with hat on one side and in costume of the loudest
character, and with face as bold as brass, he sings, “Slap, bang! here we
are again!” or takes off some popular theatrical performer or some
leading actor on a grander stage.  On the night in question one singer
had the audacity to assume as much as possible the character of the
Premier of our day, not forgetting the long gray coat by which the Earl
of Beaconsfield is known in many quarters.  Comic singing, relieved by
dancing, seemed to be the staple amusement of the place, and when one of
the female performers indecently elevated a leg, immense was the
applause.  All the while the performances were going on, the waiters were
supplying their customers with drink, and one well-dressed
woman—evidently very respectable—managed a couple of glasses of grog in a
very short while.  But mostly the people round me were quiet topers, who
smoked and drank with due decorum, and who seemed to use the place as a
kind of club, where they could sit comfortably for the night, and talk
and listen, and smoke or drink, at their pleasure.  It is hardly
necessary to say that the majority of the audience were young men.  The
attendance was not crowded.  Perhaps in the east of London the pressure
of bad times is being felt.  The mock Ethiopian element, next to the
dancing, was the feature of the evening’s amusements which elicited the
most applause.  It is a curious thing that directly a man lampblacks his
face and wears a woollen wig, and talks broken English, he at once
becomes a popular favourite.

A few nights after I found myself in quite another part of London—in a
music-hall that now calls itself a theatre of varieties.  It was a very
expensive place, and fitted up in a very costly manner.  You enter
through an avenue which is made to look almost Arcadian.  Here and there
were little rustic nooks in which Romeo and Juliet would make love over a
cheerful glass.  Flunkeys as smart almost as Lord Mayors’ footmen took
your orders.  It was late when I put in an appearance, and it was useless
to try and get a seat.  It was only in the neighbourhood of the
refreshment bar that I could get even standing room, and being a little
taller than some of the stunted half-grown lads around me, could look
over their heads to the gaudy and distant stage.  I did not hear much of
the dialogue.  Old Astley, who years before had lived in that
neighbourhood, and knew the art of catering for the people, used to
remark when the interest of the piece seemed to flag, “Cut the dialogue
and come to the ’osses,” and here the stage direction evidently was to
set the ballet-girls at work, and it seemed to me that the principal aim
of the piece was to show as many female arms and legs as was possible.  I
am not of Dr. Johnson’s opinion that it is indecent for a woman to expose
herself on the stage, but I was, I own, shocked with the heroine of the
evening, whose too solid form in the lime-light—which was used,
apparently, to display all her beauties—was arrayed in a costume, which,
at a distance, appeared to be of Paradisaical simplicity, more fitted for
the dressing-room of the private mansion than for the public arena of the
stage.  There was, I doubt not, animated dialogue, and the swells in the
stalls, I daresay, enjoyed it; but for my shilling I could see little,
and hear less; and weary of the perpetual flourish of female arms and
legs, I came away.  What I did most distinctly hear were the orders at
the bar for pale ale and grog, and the cry of the waiter, as he pushed on
with his tray well filled, of “By your leave,” to the crowd on each
side—all of whom had, of course, a cigar or short pipe in their mouths,
and were evidently young men of the working class.  That evening’s
amusement, I am sure, must have taken some two or three hundred pounds
out of their pockets.  But I saw no one the worse for liquor, though the
public-houses all round were crowded with drunken men and women; for the
morrow was Sunday, and who can refuse the oppressed and over-taxed
working man his right to spend all his week’s wages on a Saturday night?

One night last winter I was at a meeting held in the Mission Hall, Little
Wild Street, at which some three hundred thieves had been collected
together to supper.  One of them, who had seen the evil of his ways,
said: “The greatest curse of my life was the music-halls.  They have been
the means of my ruin;” and the way in which that speech was received by
his mates evidently testified to the fact that the experience of many was
of a similar character.  I said to him afterwards that I knew the
music-hall to which he referred, and that I had calculated that on an
average each man spent there two shillings a night.  “Oh sir,” was the
reply, “I spent a great deal more than that of a night.”  If so, I may
assume that he spent as much as four shillings a night—and that, as the
place was his favourite haunt after office-hours, he was there every
night in the week, this would make an expenditure of one pound four
shillings—a sum, I imagine, quite as much as his wages as a poor clerk.
What wonder is it that the silly youth became a thief, especially when
the devil whispers in his ear that theft is easy and the chance of
detection small?  The one damning fact which may be charged against all
music-halls is that their amusements are too high in price, and that
every device is set to work to make people spend more money than the cost
of the original admission.  In the theatre you may sit—and most people do
sit all the evening—without spending a penny.  In the music-hall a man
does not like to do that.  He drinks for the sake of being sociable, or
because the waiter solicits him, or because he has drunk already and does
not like to leave off, or because he meets doubtful company at the bar,
or because the burden of every song is that he must be a “jolly pal” and
that he must enjoy a cheerful glass.  I can remember when at one time the
admission fee included the cost of a pint of beer or some other fluid.
Now drink is an extra, and as the proprietor of the music-hall, to meet
the competition all round him, has to beautify his hall as much as
possible, and to get what he calls the best available talent, male or
female—whether in the shape of man or ass, or dog or elephant, or
monkey—he is of course put to a considerable extra expense; and that of
course he has to get out of the public the best way he can.  No one loves
to work for nothing, and least of all the proprietor of a music-hall.

Talking of “pals” and “a cheerful glass” reminds me of a scene which made
me sick at the time, and which I shall not speedily forget.  On the night
of the Lord Mayor’s Show, I entered a music-hall in the north of
London—in a region supposed to be eminently pious and respectable, and
not far from where Hick’s Hall formerly stood.  As I saw the thousands of
people pushing into the Agricultural Hall, to see the dreary spectacle of
an insane walking match, and saw another place of amusement being rapidly
filled up, I said to myself: “Well, there will be plenty of room for me
in the place to which I am bound;” and it was with misgiving that I paid
the highest price for admission—one shilling—to secure what I felt, under
the circumstances, I might have had at a cheaper rate.  Alas! I had
reckoned without my host.  The hour for commencing had not arrived, and
yet the place was full to overflowing.  Mostly the audience consisted of
young men.  As usual, there were a great many soldiers.  It is wonderful
the number of soldiers at such places; and the spectator would be puzzled
to account for the ability of the private soldier thus to sport his
lovely person did not one remember that he is usually accompanied by a
female companion, generally a maid-of-all-work of the better class, who
is too happy to pay for his aristocratic amusements, as she deems them,
on condition that she accompanies him in the humble capacity of a friend.
Soldiers, I must do them justice to say, are not selfish, and scorn to
keep all the good things to themselves.  As soon as they find a
neighbourhood where the servant “gal” is free with her wages, they
generally tell each other of the welcome fact, and then the Assyrian
comes down like the wolf on the fold.

Well, to continue my story.  On the night, and at the place already
referred to, they were a very jolly party—so far as beer and “baccy” and
crowded company and comic singing were concerned.  They had a couple of
Brothers, who were supposed to be strong in the delineation of Irish and
German character, but as their knowledge of the language of the latter
seemed simply to be confined to the perpetually exclaiming “Yah, yah!” I
had misgivings as to their talents in that respect, which were justified
abundantly in the course of the evening.  Dressed something in the style
of shoeblacks, and wearing wooden shoes, which made an awful noise when
they danced, the little one descries his long-lost elder brother, to whom
his replies are so smart and witty that the house was in a roar of
laughter, in which I did not join, as I had heard them twice already.

After they had finished we had a disgustingly stout party, who was full
of praise of all conviviality, and who, while he sang, frisked about the
stage with wonderful vivacity and with as much grace as a bull in a
china-shop, or a bear dancing a hornpipe.  As he sang, just behind me
there was all at once a terrible noise; the chairman had to call out
“Order,” the spectators began howling, “Turn him out;” the singer had to
stop, the roughs in the gallery began to scream and cheer, and the bars
were for a wonder deserted.  In so dense a crowd it was so difficult to
see anything, that it was not at once that I discovered the cause of the
disorder; but presently I saw in one of the little pews, into which this
part of the house was divided (each pew having a small table in the
middle for the liquor) a couple of men quarrelling.  All at once the
biggest of them—a very powerful fellow of the costermonger type—dealt his
opponent—a poor slim, weedy lad of the common shop-boy species—a
tremendous blow.  The latter tried to retaliate, and struggled across the
table to hit his man, but he merely seemed to me to touch his whiskers,
while the other repeated his blow with tremendous effect.  In vain the
sufferer tried to get out of the way; the place was too crowded, and with
a stream of blood flowing from his nose he fell, or would have fallen, to
the earth had not some of the bystanders dragged him a few yards from his
seat.  Then as he lay by me drunk, or faint, or both, unable to sit up or
to move, with the blood pouring down his clothes and staining the carpet
all round, I saw, as the reader can well believe, a commentary on the
singer’s Bacchanalian song of a somewhat ironical character; but business
is business, and at the music-hall it will not do to harrow up the
feelings of the audience with such sad spectacles.  Perfectly insensible,
the poor lad was carried out, while a constable was the means of inducing
his muscular and brutal-looking opponent to leave the hall.  Order
restored, the stout party bounded on to the stage, and the hilarity of
the evening—with the exception of here and there a girl who, evidently
not being used to such places, was consequently frightened and pale and
faint for awhile—was as great as ever.  The comic singer made no
reference to the unfortunate incident; all he could do was to say what he
had got by heart, and so he went on about the cheerful glass and the fun
of going home powerfully refreshed at an early hour in the morning, and
much did the audience enjoy his picture of the poor wife waiting for her
husband behind the door with a poker, assisting him upstairs with a pair
of tongs, and after she had got him sound asleep meanly helping herself
to what cash remained in his pocket.

For my part, I candidly own I felt more inclined to sympathise with the
wife than with her husband; but the music-hall is bound to stand up for
drinking, for it is by drinking that it lives.  If people cared for music
and the drama, they would go to the theatre; but that declines, and the
music-hall flourishes.  Astley’s Theatre is a case in point.  That has
been an old favourite with the public.  At one time, I should imagine,
few places paid better—does not Ducrow sleep in one of the most
magnificent monuments in Kensal Green, and did he not make his money at
Astley’s?—but now there are two flourishing music-halls one on each side
of Astley’s, and as I write I see one of the proprietors, as a plea why
he should be given more time for the payment of a debt, admits that
sometimes they lose at Astley’s as much as forty pounds a week.  If
Astley’s is to be made to pay, evidently the sooner it is turned into a
music-hall the better.

Will the London School Boards raise the character of the future public?
is a question to be asked but not to be answered in our time.  The real
fact is that amusements have a deteriorating effect on the character of
those who devote themselves to them, and become more frivolous as they
become more popular.  This is the case, at any rate, as regards
music-halls.  A gentleman the other day, as we were speaking of one of
the most successful of them, said how grieved he was on a visit to it
lately to see the generally lowered tone of entertainment.  At one time
the attempt was made to give the people really good music, and there were
selections of operas of first-rate character.  Now all that is done away
with, and there is nothing but silly comic singing of the poorest kind.

In another respect also there has been a deterioration—that is, in the
increased sensationalism of the performance.  A music-hall audience
requires extra stimulus—the appetite becomes palled, and if a leap of
fifty feet does not “fetch the public,” as Artemus Ward would say, why
then, the leap must be made a hundred; and really sometimes the
spectacles held up for the beery audience to admire are of the most
painful character.  I have said that the doubtful female element is not
conspicuous in the music-hall—that is the case as regards those on the
outskirts of London, but the nearer you approach the West-End the less is
that the case; and there is more than one music-hall I could name which
is little better than a place of assignation and rendezvous for immoral
women, and where you may see them standing at the refreshment bars
soliciting a drink from all who pass.  Such music-halls are amongst the
most successful of them all, and the proprietor reaps a golden harvest.

I presume it is impossible to tell the number of our metropolitan
music-halls, or to give an idea of the numbers who frequent them, and of
the amount of money spent in them during the course of a single night.
Apparently they are all well supported, and are all doing well.  If you
see a theatre well filled, that is no criterion of success.  It may be,
for aught you know, well filled with paper, but the music-hall is a
paying audience, and it is cash, not paper, that is placed in the
proprietor’s hands.  In the east of London I find that both as regards
the theatres and music-halls the proprietors have a dodge by means of
which they considerably increase their profits, and that is to open a
particular entrance a little before the time for admission, and to allow
people to enter on payment of a small extra fee.  It was thus the other
night I made my way into a music-hall.  I paid an extra twopence rather
than stand waiting half an hour outside in the crowd.  Another thing I
also learned the other night that must somewhat detract from the
reputation of the theatre, considered in a temperance point of view, and
that is the drinking customs are not so entirely banished as at first
sight we may suppose.  The thousands who fill up the Vic., and the
Pavilion in Whitechapel, perhaps do not drink quite as much as they would
had they spent the evening at a music-hall, but they do drink,
nevertheless, and generally are provided with a bottle of liquor which
they carry with them, with other refreshment, down into the pit, or up
where the gods live and lie reclined.

If it is impossible to reckon the number of music-halls in London, it is
equally impossible to denote the public-houses with musical performances.
In Whitechapel the other night I discovered two free-and-easies on my way
to one of the music-halls of that district.  They were, in reality,
music-halls of a less pretentious character, and yet they advertised
outside the grand attractions of a star company within.  Prospects may be
cloudy, trade may be bad, and, as a slang writer remarks, things all
round may be unpromising, but the business of the music-hall fluctuates
very little.  Enter at any time between nine and ten and you have little
chance of a seat, and none whatever of a good place.  As to numbers it is
difficult to give an idea.  Some of the officials are wisely chary in
this matter, and equally so on the subject of profits.  The Foresters’
Hall in Cambridge Heath Road advertises itself to hold four thousand
people, and that does not by any means strike me as one of the largest of
the music-halls.  Last year the entire British public spent £140,000,000,
or eight shillings a week for each family, in drink, and the music-halls
help off the drink in an astonishing way.  As I went into a music-hall
last autumn I saw a receipt for £51 as the profit for an entertainment
given there on behalf of the Princess Alice Fund, and if the attendance
was a little greater, and the profit a little larger than usual, still a
fair deduction from £51 for bad nights and slack times will make a pretty
handsome total at the end of the year after all.  Now and then the
music-hall does a little bit of philanthropy in another way, which is
sure to be made the most of in the papers.  For instance, last year Mr.
Fort, of the Foresters’ Music Hall, invited some of the paupers from a
neighbouring workhouse to spend the evening with him.  I daresay he had a
good many old customers among the lot, whereupon someone writes in _Fun_
as follows: “The Bethnal Green Guardians showed themselves superior to
the Bath Guardians the other day, and in response to the offer of Mr.
Fort, proprietor of the Foresters’ Music-hall, rescinded the resolution
prohibiting the paupers from partaking of any amusement other than that
afforded within the workhouse walls.  So the inmates of the union had a
day out, and, we trust, forgot for awhile their sorrows and troubles.  It
is whispered that, in addition to pleasing the eye and the ear, the
promoter of the entertainment presented each of his visitors with a
little drop of something of an equally Fort-ified character.”  I may add
that the Foresters’ Music-hall claims to be a celebrated popular family
resort, and that evening I was there the performance was one to which a
family might be invited.  Of course the family must have a turn for
drink.  They cannot go there without drinking.  There is the public-house
entrance to suggest drink, the bar at the end of the saloon to encourage
it, and the waiters are there expressly to hand it round, and a
good-natured man of course does not like to see waiters standing idle,
and accordingly gives his orders; and besides, it is an axiom in
political economy that the supply creates the demand.

Here are some of the verses I have heard sung with immense applause:

    The spiritualists only can work by night,
             They keep it dark;
    For their full-bodied spirits cannot stand the light,
             So they keep it dark;
    They profess to call _spirits_, but I call for _rum_
    And _brandy_ or _gin_ as the best medi_um_
    For raising the spirits whenever I’m glum;
             But keep it dark.

The utter silliness of many of the songs is shown by the following, “sung
with immense success,” as I read in the programme, by Herbert Campbell:

    I’ve read of little Jack Horner,
       I’ve read of Jack and Jill,
    And old Mother Hubbard,
    Who went to the cupboard
       To give her poor dog a pill;
    But the best is Cowardy Custard,
       Who came to awful grief
    Through eating a plate of mustard
       Without any plate of beef.

                                  _Chorus_.

    Cowardy Cowardy Custard, oh dear me,
       Swallowed his father’s mustard, oh dear me—
    He swallowed the pot, and he collared it hot;
       For, much to his disgust,
    The mustard swelled, Cowardy yelled,
       Then Cowardy Cowardy bust.

This is supposed, I presume, to be a good song.  What are we to think of
the people who call it so?  It is difficult to imagine the depth of
imbecility thus reached on the part of singer and hearers, and is a fine
illustration of the influence of beer and “baccy” as regards softening
the brain.  The music-hall singer degrades his audience.  Even when he
sings of passing events he panders as much as possible to the passions
and prejudices of the mob.  His words are redolent of claptrap and fury,
and are a mischievous element in the formation of public opinion.  Heroes
and patriots are not made in music-halls.  But rogues and drunkards and
vagabonds—and lazy, listless lives, destitute of all moral aim.  There
are respectable people who go to music-halls—women as well as men—but
they get little good there.  Indeed, it would be a miracle if they did.

But the great fact is that the music-hall makes young men indulge in
expensive habits—get into bad company, and commence a career which ends
in the jail.  Amusement has not necessarily a bad effect, or else it
would be a poor look-out for all.  It is as much our duty to be merry as
it is to be wise.  It is the drinking at these places that does the
mischief.  It is that that leads to a low tone of entertainment, and
deadens the conscience of the young man who thinks he is enjoying life,
and makes the working man forget how the money he squanders away would
make his home brighter, and his wife and children happier, and would form
a nice fund to be drawn on when necessary on a rainy day.  The great
curse of the age is extravagant and luxurious living, always accompanied
with a low tone of public intelligence and morality and thought.  In the
present state of society we see that realised in the men and women who
crowd our music-halls, and revel in the songs the most improper, and in
the dances the most indelicate.

As I write, another illustration of the pernicious influence of
music-halls appears in the newspapers.  At the Middlesex Sessions, John
B. Clarke surrendered to his bail on an indictment charging him with
attempting to wound his wife, and with having wounded George Marshall,
police constable, in the execution of his duty.  When Marshall was on
duty in Jubilee Street on the night of November 28th, he heard loud cries
of “Murder” and ‘“Police,” and went to the prisoner’s house.  He found
the prisoner and his wife struggling in the passage, and the wife, seeing
him, cried out, “Policeman, he has a knife and has threatened to cut my
throat.”  The police-constable closed with the prisoner and endeavoured
to wrest the knife from him, when the prisoner made two stabs at his wife
which fortunately missed her, and another stab which cut the hand of
Marshall, who succeeded in wresting the knife from the prisoner, and took
him to the station.  In cross-examination it was elicited that prisoner’s
wife had gone to a music-hall; that her husband, returning home, found
her with two or three young men and women sitting together in his
parlour; that one of the young men kissed her, and that the prisoner,
seeing this, became mad with jealousy, and seized the first thing that
came to his hand.  A gentleman, in whose employment the prisoner was,
gave him an exceptionally high character for more than eighteen years,
and expressed his perfect willingness to have him back into his service
and to become security for his good behaviour.  The jury convicted the
prisoner of causing actual bodily harm, strongly recommending him to
mercy, and expressing their belief that he had no intention to wound the
policeman.  Mr. Prentice said this was a peculiarly sad and painful case.
To wound or even obstruct a policeman in the execution of his duty was a
serious offence; but looking at all the circumstances of the case, the
finding of the jury, and their recommendation to mercy, he sentenced him
to one month’s hard labour, and accepted his employer’s surety that he
would keep the peace for the next three months.  The grand jury commended
Marshall for his conduct in the case.

Another thing also may be said.  The other evening I was dining with a
lawyer with a large police practice, in what may be called, and what
really is, a suburb of London.  My friend is what may be described as a
man of the world, and of course is anything but a fanatic in the cause of
temperance.  I spoke of a music-hall in his immediate neighbourhood, and
said I intended dropping in after dinner.  “Well,” he said, “the worst of
the place is that if we ever have a case of embezzlement on the part of
some shop-boy or porter, it is always to be traced to that music-hall.  A
lad goes there, is led into expenses beyond his means, thinks it manly to
drink and to treat flash women, and one fine morning it is discovered
that he has been robbing the till, and is ruined for life.”

With these words of an experienced observer, I conclude.



V.—SUNDAYS WITH THE PEOPLE.


It is said—and indeed it has been said so often that I feel ashamed of
saying it—that one half the world does not know how the other half lives.
I am sure that whether that is true or not, few of my City readers have
any idea of what goes on in the City while they are sitting comfortably
at home, or are sitting equally comfortably at church or chapel (for of
course the denunciations of the preacher when he speaks of the depravity
of the age do not refer to them).  Suppose we take a stroll in the
eastern part of the City, where the dirt is greatest, the population most
intense, and the poverty most dire.  We need not rise very early.  On a
Sunday morning we are all of us a little later at breakfast than on
ordinary occasions.  We sit longer over our welcome meal—our toilette is
a little more elaborate—so that we are in the City this particular Sunday
about half-past nine—a later hour than most of the City-men patronise on
the week-day.  In the leading thoroughfares shops are shut and there are
few people about, and in the City, especially these dark winter mornings,
when the golden gleam of sunshine gilds the raw and heavy fog which in
the City heralds the approach of day, very few signs of life are visible,
very few omnibuses are to be seen, and even the cabs don’t seem to care
whether you require their services or whether you let them alone.  Here
and there a brisk young man or a spruce maiden may be seen hastening to
teach at some Sunday school; otherwise respectability is either asleep or
away.

As we pass along, the first thing that strikes the stranger is a dense
unsavoury mob to be met outside certain buildings.  We shall see one such
assemblage in Bell Alley, Goswell Street; we shall see another in
Artillery Street; there will be another at the Cow Cross Mission Hall,
and another in Whitecross Street, and another in a wretched little hovel,
you can scarcely call it a building, in Thaull Street.  Just outside the
City, at the Memorial Hall, Bethnal Green, and at the Rev. W. Tyler’s
Ragged Church in King Edward Street, there will be similar crowds.  Let
us look at them.  It is not well to go too near, for they are unsavoury
even on these cold frosty mornings.  Did you ever see such wretched,
helpless, dirty, ragged, seedy, forlorn men and women in all your life?
I think not.  Occasionally on a week-day we see a beggar, shirtless and
unwashed and unkempt, shivering in the street, but here in these mobs we
see nothing else.  They have tickets for free breakfasts provided for
them under the care of Mr. J. J. Jones and the Homerton Mission.  How
they crowd around the doors, waiting for admission; how sad and
disconsolate those who have not tickets look as they turn away!  What a
feast of fat things, you say, there must be inside.  My dear sir, it is
nothing of the kind.  All that is provided for them is a small loaf of
bread, with the smallest modicum of butter, and a pint of cocoa.  Not
much of a breakfast that to you or me, who have two or three good meals a
day, but a veritable godsend to the half-starved and wretched souls we
see outside.  Let us follow them inside.  The tables and the long forms
on which they are seated are of the rudest kind.  The room, as a rule, is
anything but attractive, nor is the atmosphere very refreshing.  A City
missionary or an agent of the Christian community, or a devoted Christian
woman or a young man, whose heart is in the work—is distributing the
materials of the feast, which are greedily seized and ravenously
devoured.  Let us look at them now they have taken their hats off.  What
uncombed heads; what dirty faces; what scant and threadbare garments!
There are women too, and they seem to have fallen lower than the men.
They look as if they had not been to bed for months; as if all pride of
personal appearance had long since vanished; as if they had come out of a
pigstye.

Well, the world is a hard one for such as they, and no one can grudge
them the cheap meal which Christian charity provides.  It seems a mockery
to offer these waifs and strays of the streets and alleys and
disreputable slums of the City a Gospel address till something has been
done to assuage the pangs of hunger, and to arouse in them the dormant
and better feelings of their nature.  It is thus these mission-halls are
enabled to do a little good, to go down to the very depths, as it were,
in the endeavour to reform a wasted life, and to save a human soul.  As
you look at these men and women you shudder.  Most of them are in what
may be called the prime of life; able-bodied, ripe for mischief, fearing
not God, regarding not man.  It must do them good to get them together at
these Sunday morning breakfasts, where they may realise that Christian
love which makes men and women in the middle and upper classes of society
have compassion on such as they.

Getting out into the open air, or rather into the open street, I heard a
band of singers advance.  It is a procession, but not a very dangerous
one.  The leader walks with his back to us, an act rarely exercised out
of royal circles.  It is thus he guides the vocalists before him, who go
walking arm-in-arm singing with all their might; while at the rear a
pleasant-looking man follows, giving papers to the people.  I take one,
and learn that this is Mr. Booth’s Allelujah Band, and that a seat is
kindly offered me in his tabernacle, where I can hear the Gospel.  I
don’t accept the invitation; I can hear the Gospel without going to
Whitechapel, and Mr. Booth’s extravagances are not to my taste.
Apparently this Sunday morning the people do not respond to the
invitation.  It is evident that in this part of the City the novelty of
the thing has worn off.

I scarce know whether I am in the City or not.  I plunge into a mass of
streets and courts leading from Artillery Street to King Edward Street at
one end, and Bethnal Green at the other.  Here is a market in which a
brisk provision trade is carried on, and men and women are purchasing all
the materials of a Sunday dinner.  Outside Rag-fair a trade similar to
that which prevails there seems also to be carried on.  I see no
policemen about, and the people apparently do just as they like; and the
filth and garbage left lingering in some of the narrow streets are
anything but pleasant.  As a I rule, I observe the policemen only
patronise the leading thoroughfares, and then it seems to me they act in
a somewhat arbitrary manner.  For instance, opposite the Broad Street
Terminus a lad is cleaning a working man’s boots.  While he is in the
middle of the operation the policeman comes and compels him to march off.
I move on a dozen steps, and there, up Broad Street—just as you enter the
Bishopsgate Station of the Metropolitan Railway—is another lad engaged in
the same work of shoe or boot cleaning.  Him the policeman leaves alone.
I wonder why.  Justice is painted blind, and perhaps the policeman is
occasionally ditto.  In Bishopsgate Street itself the crowd was large of
idle boys and men, who seemed to have nothing particular to do, and did
not appear to care much about doing that.  They took no note of the
Sabbath bells which called them to worship.  To them the Sunday morning
was simply a waste of time.  They had turned out of their homes and
lodgings, and were simply walking up and down the street till it was time
to open the public-house.  In that street, as the reader may be aware,
there is the Great Central Hall, and as its doors were open, I went in.
The audience was very scanty, and apparently temperance does not find
more favour with the British working man than the Gospel.  Mr. Ling was
in the chair.  There was now and then a hymn sung or a temperance melody,
and now and then a speech.  Indeed, the speeches were almost as numerous
as the hearers.  It seems the society keeps a missionary at work in that
part of the City, and he had much to say of the cases of reformation
going on under his care.  The best speech I heard was that of a working
builder, who said for years he had been in the habit of spending eight
shillings a week in the drink, and how much better off he was now that he
kept the money in his pocket.  I wished the man had more of his class to
hear him.  Of course he rambled a little and finished off with an attack
on the bishops, which the chairman (Mr. Ling) very properly did not allow
to pass unchallenged, as he quoted Bishop Temple as a teetotaler, and
referred to the hearty way in which many of the clergy of the Church of
England supported the temperance cause.

I hasten to other scenes.  I next find myself in Sclater Street, and here
up and down surges a black mob, sufficient at any rate, were it so
disposed, to fill St. Paul’s Cathedral.  This mob is composed entirely of
working men—men who are amused with anything, and hurry in swarms to a
hatter’s shop, who simply throws out among them pink and yellow cards,
indicating the extraordinary excellence and unparalleled cheapness of the
wares to be sold within.

Foreigners say Sunday is a dull day; that then there is no business doing
in London; and that everyone is very sad on that day.  In Sclater Street
they would soon find out their mistake.  There, it is evident, little of
Sunday quiet and Sunday dulness exists.  On each side of me are shops
with birds; and if there is not a brisk trade going on, it is certainly
not the fault of the tradesmen.  We have just had what the bird-catchers
call the November flight of linnets, and in Sclater Street the market
overflows with them.  The London and suburban bird-catchers, who are not
to be put down by Act of Parliament, have had a fine time of it this
year.  The principal part of the linnets are bred on the wild gorse
lands, and it is the wild weather such as we have had of late that drives
them into the nets of the suburban fowler, who this year has been so
lucky as to take five dozen of them at one pull of the clap-net.
Goldfinches also are abundant, in consequence of the provision of the
Wild Birds Preservation Act.  On Sunday a bird-dealer offers me them at
threepence each, or four for a shilling.  It is sad to see the poor
little things shut up in their bits of cages in the dirty shops of
Sclater Street.  The proprietor with his unwashed hands takes them out
one by one and holds them out in vain.  The British workman crowds round
and admires, but he does not buy, as he is keeping his money in his
pocket till 1 P.M., when the “public” opens its congenial doors, and his
unnatural thirst is slaked.  It is really shocking, this display of these
beautiful little songsters.  What crime have they committed that they
should be imprisoned in the dirt and bad air and uncongenial fog of
Sclater Street?  What are the uses of the Wild Birds Preservation Act if
the only result is the crowding the shops of the bird-dealers in Sclater
Street?  I felt indeed indignant at the sight thus permitted, and at the
trade thus carried on.  Cocks and hens, ducks and rabbits, are proper
subjects of sale, I admit, though I see no particular reason why, when
other shops are closed, shops for the sale of them are permitted to
remain open; but blackbirds, linnets, thrushes, goldfinches,
bullfinches—the ornaments of the country, the cheerful choristers of the
garden and the grove—deserve kinder treatment at our hands, even if the
result be that Sclater Street does less business and is less of an
attractive lounge to the British operative on a Sabbath morn.  Away from
Sclater Street and Bishopsgate Street the crowd thins, and the ordinary
lifeless appearance of the Sunday in London is visible everywhere.  Here
and there a gray-headed old gentleman or an elderly female may be seen
peeping out of a first-floor window into the sad and solitary street, but
the younger branches of the family are away.  Now and then you catch a
crowd of workmen who are much given to patronise the showy van which the
proprietor of some invaluable preparation of sarsaparilla utilises for
the sale of his specific for purifying the blood and keeping off all the
ills to which flesh is heir.  Such shops as are open for the sale of
cheap confectionery I see also are well patronised, and in some quarters
evidently an attempt made to dispose of ginger-beer.  On the cold frosty
morning the hot-chestnut trade appears also to be in demand, though I
question whether all who crowd round the vendors of such articles are
_bonâ-fide_ buyers; rather, it seems to me, that under the pretence of
being such they are taking a mean advantage of the little particle of
warmth thrown out by the charcoal fire used for the purpose of roasting
chestnuts.  Well, I can’t blame them; it is cold work dawdling in the
streets, and if I were a British workman I fancy I should find a little
more interest in church than in the idle walk and talk of some, or in the
habit others have of standing stock still till The Pig and Whistle or the
Blue Lion open their doors.  It is well to be free and independent and
your own master, but that is no reason why all the Sunday morning should
be spent in loafing about the streets.

But what about the many?  Well, the public-houses are open, and it is
there the British workman feels himself but too much at home.  And then
there is the Hall of Science, in Old Street, which is generally crowded
by an audience who pay gladly for admission to hear Mr. Bradlaugh, who is
a very able man, lecture, in a style which would shock many good people
if they were to hear him.  I must candidly admit that in that style he is
far outdone by Mrs. Besant, who takes the Bible to pieces, and turns it
inside out, and holds up to ridicule all its heroes and prophets, and
kings and apostles, and Christ himself, with a zest which seems perfectly
astonishing when we remember how much Christianity has done for the
elevation of the people in general and woman in particular.  Mrs. Besant
is a very clever woman, and she means well I daresay, still it is not
pleasant to see the Hall of Science so well filled as it is on a Sunday
night.

The Hall of Science in the Old Street Road is not an attractive place
outside, and internally it is less of a hall and more of a barn than any
public building with which I chance to be familiar.  And yet, Sunday
night after Sunday night, it is well filled, though the admission for
each person is from threepence to a shilling, and there is no attempt by
music or ritual to attract the sentimental or the weak.  The lectures
delivered are long and argumentative, and it is worth the study,
especially of the Christian minister who complains that he cannot get at
the working man, how it is that the people prefer to pay money to hear
the lectures at Old Street, while he offers them the Gospel without money
and without price and often with the additional attraction of a free tea.
With that view I went to hear Mrs. Besant one Sunday night.  I know
little of Mrs. Besant, save that she has been made the subject of a
prosecution which, whatever be its results, whether of fine or
imprisonment to herself or of gain to her prosecutors, is one deeply to
be deplored.  If a clergyman of the Established Church of England
established or attempted to establish the fact that mankind has a
tendency to increase beyond the means of existence, a woman, on behalf of
the sex that has the most to suffer from the misery of overpopulation,
has a right in the interests of humanity to call attention to the
subject.  In a very old-fashioned couplet it has been remarked of woman—

    That if she will, she will, you may depend on’t;
    And if she won’t, she won’t, and there’s an end on’t.

To that class of female Mrs. Besant emphatically belongs.  She is one of
those rare ones who will say what she thinks.  There is a great deal of
firmness in her face.  Such a woman always goes her own way.  It was a
pleasant change from the strong meat of the Hall of Science—the withering
scorn and contempt there poured on all that the best men in the world
have held to be best—to the mild excitement of a Shakespearian reading in
a public-house.  Could there be a fitter teacher for the people who do
not go to church, and, let me add, also for those who do?  There could be
no negative reply to such a question, and surely if Shakespeare is quoted
in the pulpit on a Sunday morning, the people may hear him read on a
Sunday evening.

“Sunday evening readings for the people!”  Only think of that!  What a
gain from the tap-room and the bar-parlour.  Such was the announcement
that met my eye the other night in a street not a hundred miles from
King’s Cross railway station.  Mr. So-and-So, the bill proceeded to
state, had the pleasure to inform his friends that, with a view to oblige
the public, he had secured the services of a celebrated dramatic reader,
who would on every Sunday evening read or recite passages from
Shakespeare, Thackeray, Dickens, Hood, Thornbury, Sketchley, etc.
Further, the bill stated that these readings would commence at a
quarter-past seven, and terminate at a quarter-past ten.  Could I resist
such an intellectual treat?  Could I deny myself such an exquisite
gratification?  Forgive me, indulgent reader, if for once I made up my
mind I could not.  The difficulty was where to find the place, for, in my
delight at finding a publican so public-spirited—so ready to compete with
the attractions of St. George’s Hall—I had unfortunately failed to make a
note of the house thus kindly thrown open to an intelligent public.  The
difficulty was greater than would at first sight appear, for on Sunday
night shops are mostly closed, and there are few people in a position to
answer anxious inquirers.  Great gin-palaces were flaring away in all
their glory, and doing a roaring trade at the time when church-bells were
ringing for evening service, and decent people were hastening to enter
the sanctuary, and for awhile to forget earth with its care and sin.  In
vain I timidly entered and put the query to the customers at the crowded
bar, to potman over the counter, to landlord, exceptionally brilliant in
the splendour of his Sunday clothes.  They knew nothing of the benevolent
individual whose whereabouts I sought; and evidently had a poor opinion
of me for seeking his address.  Sunday evening readings for the people!
what cared they for them?  Why could I not stand soaking like the others
at their bar, and not trouble my head about readings from Shakespeare and
Dickens?  Such evidently was the train of thought suggested by my
questions.  Just over the way was a police-station.  Of course the police
would know; it was their duty to know what went on in all the
public-houses of the district.  I entered, and found three policemen in
the charge of a superior officer.  I put my question to him, and then to
them all.  Alas! they knew as little of the matter as myself; indeed,
they knew less, for they had never heard of such a place, and seemed
almost inclined to “run me in” for venturing to suppose they had.  What
wonderful fellows are our police!  I say so because all our
penny-a-liners say so; but my opinion is, after all, that they can see
round a corner or through a brick wall just as well as myself or any
other man, and no more.  Clearly this was a case in point, for the
public-house I was seeking was hardly a stone’s-throw off, and I was
directed to it by an intelligent greengrocer, who was standing at his
shop-door and improving his mind by the study of that fearless champion
of the wrongs of the oppressed and trodden-down British working man,
_Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper_.  It was he who put me on the right scent—not
that he was exactly certain—but he indicated the house at which such
proceedings were likely to take place, and as he was right in his
conjecture, I take this opportunity of publicly returning him my thanks.
Had it not been for him I should have had no Shakespeare, no Thackeray,
no Hood, no Dickens, no feast of reason and flow of soul that Sunday
night.  As it was, it turned out as I expected, and I had very little of
either to reward my painful search.  As I have said, the nominal hour at
which proceedings commenced was a quarter-past seven; in reality, it was
not till nearly half-past eight that the celebrated dramatic reader
favoured us with a specimen of his powers.  It was true he was in the
house, but he was down in the bar with a select circle, indulging in the
luxuries generally to be found in such places.  In the meantime I took
stock leisurely of the room upstairs in which we assembled, and of its
occupants.  At that early hour the latter were not numerous.  A little
foreigner with his wife was seated by the fire, and him she led off
before the dramatic readings commenced.  Reasons, which a sense of
delicacy forbids my mentioning, suggested the wisdom and the prudence of
an early retirement from a scene rather dull—at any rate, quite the
reverse of gay and festive.  As to the rest of us, I can’t say that we
were a particularly lively lot.  A stern regard to truth compels me
reluctantly to remark that we were unprepossessing looking rather than
otherwise.  The majority I of us there were lads with billycock hats and
short pipes, who talked little to each other, but smoked and drank beer
in solemn silence.  The cheerfulest personage in the room was the potboy,
who, as he stalked about with his apron on and his shirt-sleeves tucked
up, seemed to be quite at home with his customers.  Some of the lads had
their sweethearts with them; at any rate I presume they were such from
the retiring way in which they sat—she, after the manner of such young
people in a large room, chiefly occupied in counting the ten fingers of
her red and ungloved hands, while her male admirer sat smoking his short
pipe and spitting on the sanded floor in a way more suggestive of perfect
freedom than of grace.  I could see but two decent-looking girls in the
room, which, by the time the entertainment was over, contained as many as
sixty or seventy.  Evidently the class of customers expected was a low
one, greengrocers’ and costermongers’ boys apparently, and such like.
The tables were of the commonest order, and we had no chairs, nothing but
long forms, to sit on.  In the middle by the wall was a small platform,
carpeted; on this platform was a chair and table, and it was there the
hero of the evening seated himself, and it was from thence that at
intervals he declaimed.  As to the entertainment, if such it may be
called, the less said about it the better.  A more fifth-rate,
broken-down, ranting old hack I think I never heard.  Even now it puzzles
me to think how the landlord could have ever had the impudence to attach
the term “celebrated” to his name.  It seemed as if the reader had an
impediment in his speech, so laughable and grotesque was his enunciation,
which, however, never failed to bring down an applause in the way of raps
on the tables which caused the glasses to jingle—to the manifest danger
of spilling their contents.  We had a recitation about Robert Bruce, and
other well-known readings; then he bellowed and tossed his arms about and
screamed!  How dull were his comic passages!  How comic was his pathos!
Surely never was good poetry more mangled in its delivery before.  I can
stand a good deal—I am bound to stand a good deal, for in the course of a
year I have to listen to as much bad oratory as most; but at last I could
stand it no longer, and was compelled to beat a precipitate retreat,
feeling that I had over-estimated the public spirit of the landlord and
his desire to provide intellectual amusement for his friends—feeling that
these readings for the people are nothing better than an excuse for
getting boys and girls to sit smoking and drinking, wasting their time
and injuring their constitutions, on a night that should be sacred to
better things, in the tainted atmosphere of a public-house.



VI.—THE LOW LODGING-HOUSE.


Is chiefly to be found in Whitechapel, in Westminster, and in Drury Lane.
It is in such places the majority of our working men live, especially
when they are out of work or given to drink; and the drinking that goes
on in these places is often truly frightful, especially where the sexes
are mixed, and married people, or men and women supposed to be such,
abound.  In some of these lodging-houses as many as two or three hundred
people live; and if anything can keep a man down in the world, and render
him hopeless as to the future, it is the society and the general tone of
such places.  Yet in them are to be met women who were expected to shine
in society—students from the universities—ministers of the Gospel—all
herding in these filthy dens like so many swine.  It is rarely a man
rises from the low surroundings of a low lodging-house.  He must be a
very strong man if he does.  Such a place as a Workman’s City has no
charms for the class of whom I write.  Some of them would not care to
live there.  It is no attraction to them that there is no public-house on
the estate, that the houses are clean, that the people are orderly, that
the air is pure and bracing.  They have no taste or capacity for the
enjoyment of that kind of life.  They have lived in slums, they have been
accustomed to filth, they have no objection to overcrowding, they must
have a public-house next door.  This is why they live in St. Giles’s or
in Whitechapel, where the sight of their numbers is appalling, or why
they crowd into such low neighbourhoods as abound in Drury Lane.  Drury
Lane is not at all times handy for their work.  On the contrary, some of
its inhabitants come a long way.  One Saturday night I met a man there
who told me he worked at Aldershot.  Of course to many it is convenient.
It is near Covent Garden, where many go to work as early as 4 A.M.; and
it is close to the Strand, where its juvenile population earn their daily
food.  Ten to one the boy who offers you “the Hevening Hecho,” the lass
who would fain sell you cigar-lights and flowers, the woman who thrusts
the opera programme into your carriage as you drive down Bow Street, the
questionable gentleman who, if chance occurs, eases you of your
pocket-handkerchief or your purse, the poor girl who, in tawdry finery,
walks her weary way backwards and forwards in the Strand, whether the
weather be wet or dry, long after her virtuous sisters are asleep—all
hail from Drury Lane.  It has ever been a spot to be shunned.  Upwards of
a hundred years ago, Gay wrote in his “Trivia”—

    Oh, may thy virtue guard thee through the roads
    Of Drury’s mazy courts and dark abodes.

It is not of Drury Lane itself, but of its mazy courts that I write.
Drury Lane is a shabby but industrious street.  It is inhabited chiefly
by tradespeople, who, like all of us, have to work hard for their living;
but at the back of Drury Lane—on the left as you come from New Oxford
Street—there run courts and streets as densely inhabited as any of the
most crowded and filthy parts of the metropolis, and compared with which
Drury Lane is respectability itself.  A few days since I wanted to hear
Happy William in a fine new chapel they have got in Little Wild Street.
As I went my way, past rag-shops and cow-houses, I found myself in an
exclusively Irish population, some of whom were kneeling and crossing
themselves at the old Roman Catholic chapel close by, but the larger
number of whom were drinking at one or other of the public-houses of the
district.  At the newspaper-shop at the corner, the only bills I saw were
those of _The Flag of Ireland_, or _The Irishman_, or _The Universe_.  In
about half an hour there were three fights, one of them between women,
which was watched with breathless interest by a swarming crowd, and which
ended in one of the combatants, a yellow-haired female, being led to the
neighbouring hospital.  On his native heather an Irishman cares little
about cleanliness.  As I have seen his rude hut, in which the pigs and
potatoes and the children are mixed up in inextricable confusion, I have
felt how pressing is the question in Ireland, not of Home Rule, but of
Home Reform.  I admit his children are fat and numerous, but it is
because they live on the hill-side, where no pestilent breath from the
city ever comes.

In the neighbourhood of Drury Lane it is different; there is no fresh air
there, and the only flowers one sees are those bought at Covent Garden.
Everywhere on a summer night (she “has no smile of light” in Drury Lane),
you are surrounded by men, women, and children, so that you can scarce
pick your way.  In Parker Street and Charles Street, and such-like
places, the houses seem as if they never had been cleaned since they were
built, yet each house is full of people—the number of families is
according to the number of rooms.  I should say four-and-sixpence a week
is the average rent for these tumble-down and truly repulsive apartments.
Children play in the middle of the street, amidst the dirt and refuse;
costermongers, who are the capitalists of the district, live here with
their donkeys; across the courts is hung the family linen to dry.  You
sicken at every step.  Men stand leaning gloomily against the sides of
the houses; women, with unlovely faces, glare at you sullenly as you pass
by.

The City Missionary is, perhaps, the only one who comes here with a
friendly word, and a drop of comfort and hope for all.  Of course the
inhabitants are as little indoors as possible.  It may be that the
streets are dull and dirty, but the interiors are worse.  Only think of a
family, with grown-up sons and daughters, all living and sleeping in one
room!  The conditions of the place are as bad morally as they are
physically.

It is but natural that the people drink more than they eat, that the
women soon grow old and haggard, and that the little babes, stupefied
with gin and beer, die off, happily, almost as fast as they are born.
Here you see men and women so foul and scarred and degraded that it is
mockery to say that they were made in the image of the Maker, and that
the inspiration of the Almighty gave them understanding; and you ask is
this a civilised land, and are we a Christian people?

No wonder that from such haunts the girl gladly rushes to put on the
harlot’s livery of shame, and comes here after her short career of gaiety
to die of disease and gin.  In some of the streets are forty or fifty
lodging-houses for women or men, as the case may be.  In some of these
lodging-houses there are men who make their thirty shillings or two
pounds a week.  In others are the broken-down mendicants who live on
soup-kitchens and begging.  You can see no greater wretchedness in the
human form than what you see here.  And, as some of these lodging-houses
will hold ninety people, you may get some idea of their number.  When I
say that the sitting-room is common to all, that it has always a roaring
fire, and that all day, and almost all night long, each lodger is cooking
his victuals, you can get a fair idea of the intolerable atmosphere, in
spite of the door being ever open.  It seemed to me that a large number
of the people could live in better apartments if they were so disposed,
and if their only enjoyment was not a public-house debauch.  The keepers
of these houses seemed very fair-spoken men.

I met with only one rebuff, and that was at a model house in Charles
Street.  As I airily tapped at the window, and asked the old woman if I
could have a bed, at first she was civil enough, but when I ventured to
question her a bit she angrily took herself off, remarking that she did
not know who I was, and that she was not going to let a stranger get
information out of her.

As to myself, I can only say that I had rather lodge in any gaol than in
the slums of Drury Lane.  The sight of sights in this district is that of
the public-houses and the crowds who fill them.  On Saturday every bar
was crammed; at some you could not get in at the door.  The women were as
numerous as the men; in the daytime they are far more so; and as almost
every woman has a child in her arms, and another or two tugging at her
gown, and as they are all formed into gossiping knots, one can imagine
the noise of such places.

D.D.—City readers will know whom I refer to—has opened a branch
establishment in Drury Lane, and his place was the only one that was not
crowded.  I can easily understand the reason—one of the regulations of
D.D.’s establishment is that no intoxicated person should be served.  I
have reason to conclude, from a conversation I had some time ago with one
of D.D.’s barmen, that the rule is not very strictly enforced; but if it
were carried out at all by the other publicans in Drury Lane I am sure
there would be a great falling off of business.  Almost every woman had a
basket; in that basket was a bottle, which, in the course of the evening,
was filled with gin for private consumption; and it was quite appalling
to see the number of little pale-faced ragged girls who came with similar
bottles on a similar errand.  When the liquor takes effect, the women are
the most troublesome, and use the worst language.

On my remarking to a policeman that the neighbourhood was, comparatively
speaking, quiet, he said there had been three or four rows already, and
pointed to a pool of blood as confirmation of his statement.  The men
seemed all more or less stupidly drunk, and stood up one against another
like a certain Scotch regiment, of which the officer, when complimented
on their sobriety, remarked that they resembled a pack of cards—if one
falls, down go all the rest.

Late hours are the fashion in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane.  It is
never before two on a Sunday morning that there is quiet there.  Death,
says Horace, strikes with equal foot the home of the poor and the palace
of the prince.  This is not true as regards low lodging-houses.  Even in
Bethnal Green the Sanitary Commission found that the mean age at death
among the families of the gentry, professionalists, and richer classes of
that part of Loudon was forty-four, whilst that of the families of the
artisan class was about twenty-two.

Everyone—for surely everyone has read Mr. Plimsoll’s appeal on behalf of
the poor sailors—must remember the description of his experiences in a
lodging-house of the better sort, established by the efforts of Lord
Shaftesbury in Fetter Lane and Hatton Garden.  “It is astonishing,” says
Mr. Plimsoll, “how little you can live on when you divest yourselves of
all fancied needs.  I had plenty of good wheat bread to eat all the week,
and the half of a herring for a relish (less will do, if you can’t afford
half, for it is a splendid fish), and good coffee to drink, and I know
how much—or, rather how little—roast shoulder of mutton you can get for
twopence for your Sunday’s dinner.”

I propose to write of other lodging-houses—houses of a lower character,
and filled, I imagine, with men of a lower class.  Mr. Plimsoll speaks in
tones of admiration of the honest hard-working men whom he met in his
lodging-house.  They were certainly gifted with manly virtues, and
deserved all his praise.  In answer to the question, What did I see
there? he replies:

“I found the workmen considerate for each other.  I found that they would
go out (those who were out of employment) day after day, and patiently
trudge miles and miles seeking employment, returning night after night
unsuccessful and dispirited, only, however, to sally out the following
morning with renewed determination.  They would walk incredibly long
distances to places where they heard of a job of work; and this, not for
a few days, but for many, many days.  And I have seen such a man sit down
wearily by the fire (we had a common room for sitting, and cooking, and
everything), with a hungry, despondent look—he had not tasted food all
day—and accosted by another, scarcely less poor than himself, with ‘Here,
mate, get this into thee,’ handing him at the same time a piece of bread
and some cold meat, and afterwards some coffee, and adding, ‘Better luck
to-morrow; keep up your pecker.’  And all this without any idea that they
were practising the most splendid patience, fortitude, courage, and
generosity I had ever seen.”

Perhaps the eulogy is a little overstrained.  Men, even if they are not
working men, do learn to help each other, unless they are very bad
indeed; and it does not seem so surprising to me as it does to Mr.
Plimsoll that even such men “talk of absent wife and children.”
Certainly it is the least a husband and the father of a family can do.

The British working man has his fair share of faults, but just now he has
been so belaboured on all sides with praise that he is getting to be
rather a nuisance.  In our day it is to be feared he is rapidly
degenerating.  He does not work so well as he did, nor so long, and he
gets higher wages.  One natural result of this state of things is that
the class just above him—the class who, perhaps, are the worst off in the
land—have to pay an increased price for everything that they eat and
drink or wear, or need in any way for the use of their persons or the
comfort and protection of their homes.  Another result, and this is much
worse, is that the workman spends his extra time and wages in the
public-houses, and that we have an increase of paupers to keep and crime
to punish.  There is no gainsaying admitted facts; there is no use in
boasting of the increased intelligence of the working man, when the facts
are the other way.  As he gets more money and power, he becomes less
amenable to rule and reason.  Last year, according to Colonel Henderson’s
report, drunk and disorderly cases had increased from 23,007 to 33,867.
It is to be expected the returns of the City police will be equally
unsatisfactory.  As I write, I take the following from _The Echo_: In a
certain district in London, facing each other, are two corner-houses in
which the business of a publican and a chemist are respectively carried
on.  In the course of twenty-five years the houses have changed hands
three times, and at the last change the purchase money of the
public-house amounted to £14,300, and that of the chemist’s business to
only £1,000.  Of course the publican drives his carriage and pair, while
the druggist has to use Shanks’s pony.

But this is a digression.  It is of lodging-houses I write.  It seems
that there are lodging-houses of many kinds.  Perhaps some of the best
were those of which Mr. Plimsoll had experience.  The Peabody buildings
are, I believe, not inhabited by poor people at all.  The worst, perhaps,
are those in Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields, and the adjacent
district.  One naturally assumes that no good can come out of Flower and
Dean Street, just as it was assumed of old that no good could come out of
Nazareth.  This was illustrated in a curious way the other day.  One of
the earnest philanthropists connected with Miss Macpherson’s Home of
Industry at the corner, was talking with an old woman on the way of
salvation.  She pleaded that on that head she had nothing to learn.  She
had led a good life, she had never done anybody any harm, she never used
bad language, and, in short, she had lived in the village of Morality, to
quote John Bunyan, of which Mr. Worldly Wiseman had so much to say when
he met poor Christian, just as he had escaped with his heavy burden on
his shoulder out of the Slough of Despond, and that would not do for our
young evangelist.

“My good woman,” said he sadly, “that is not enough.  You may have been
all you say, and yet not be a true Christian after all.”

“Of course it ain’t,” said a man who had been listening to the
conversation.  “You’ll never get to heaven that way.  You must believe on
the Lord Jesus Christ, and then you will be saved.”

“Ah,” said the evangelist, “you know that, do you?  I hope you live
accordingly.”

“Oh yes; I know it well enough,” was the reply; “but of course I can’t
practise it.  I am one of the light-fingered gentry, I am, and I live in
Flower and Dean Street;” and away he hurried as if he saw a policeman,
and as if he knew that he was wanted.

The above anecdote, the truth of which I can vouch for, indicates the
sort of place Flower and Dean Street is, and the kind of company one
meets there.  It is a place that always gives the police a great deal of
trouble.  Close by is a court, even lower in the world than Flower and
Dean Street, and it is to me a wonder how such a place can be suffered to
exist.  What with Keane’s Court and Flower and Dean Street the police
have their hands pretty full day and night, especially the latter.
Robbery and drunkenness and fighting and midnight brawls are the regular
and normal state of affairs, and are expected as a matter of course.
When I was there last a woman had been taken out of Keane’s Court on a
charge of stabbing a man she had inveigled into one of the houses, or
rather hovels—you can scarcely call them houses in the court.  She was
let off, as the man refused to appear against her, and the chances are
that she will again be at her little tricks.  They have rough ways, the
men and women of this district; they are not given to stand much upon
ceremony; they have little faith in moral suasion, but have unbounded
confidence in physical force.  A few miles of such a place, and London
were a Sodom and Gomorrah.

But I have not yet described the street.  We will walk down it, if you
please.  It is not a long street, nor is it a very new one; but is it a
very striking one, nevertheless.  Every house almost you come to is a
lodging-house, and some of them are very large ones, holding as many as
four hundred beds.  Men unshaven and unwashed are standing loafing about,
though in reality this is the hour when, all over London, honest men are
too glad to be at work earning their daily bread.  A few lads and men are
engaged in the intellectual and fashionable amusement known as pitch and
toss.  Well, if they play fairly, I do not know that City people can find
much fault with them for doing so.  They cannot get rid of their money
more quickly than they would were they to gamble on the Stock Exchange,
or to invest in limited liability companies or mines which promise cent.
per cent. and never yield a rap but to the promoters who get up the
bubble, or to the agent who, as a friend, begs and persuades you to go
into them, as he has a lot of shares which he means to keep for himself,
but of which, as you are a friend, and as a mark of special favour, he
would kindly accommodate you with a few.

But your presence is not welcomed in the street.  You are not a lodger,
that is clear.  Curious and angry eyes follow you all the way.  Of course
your presence there—the apparition of anything respectable—is an event
which creates alarm rather than surprise.

In the square mile of which this street in the centre, it is computed are
crowded one hundred and twenty thousand of our poorest population—men and
women who have sunk exhausted in the battle of life, and who come here to
hide their wretchedness and shame, and in too many cases to train their
little ones to follow in their steps.  The children have neither shoes
nor stockings.  They are covered with filth, they are innocent of all the
social virtues, and here is their happy hunting-ground; they are a people
by themselves.

All round are planted Jews and Germans.  In Commercial Street the chances
are you may hear as much German as if you were in Deutschland itself.
Nor is this all; the place is a perfect Babel.  It is a pity that Flower
and Dean Street should be, as it were, representative of England and her
institutions.  It must give the intelligent foreigner rather a shock.

But _place aux dames_ is my motto, and even in the slums let woman take
the position which is her due.  In the streets the ladies are not in any
sense particular, and can scream long and loudly, particularly when under
the influence of liquor.  They are especially well developed as to their
arms, and can defend themselves, if that be necessary, against the
rudeness or insolence or the too-gushing affection of the other sex.  As
to their manners and morals, perhaps the less said about them the better.

Let us step into one of the lodging-houses which is set apart exclusively
for their use.  The charge for admission is threepence or fourpence a
night, or a little less by the week.  You can have no idea of the size of
one of these places unless you enter.  We will pay a visit in the
afternoon, when most of the bedrooms are empty.  At the door is a
box-office, as it were, for the sale of tickets of admission.  Behind
extends a large room, provided at one end with cooking apparatus and well
supplied with tables and chairs, at which are seated a few old helpless
females, who have nothing to do, and don’t seem to care much about
getting out into the sun.  Let us ascend under the guidance of the female
who has charge of the place, and who has to sit up till 3 A.M. to admit
her fair friends, some of whom evidently keep bad hours and are given
rather too much to the habit of what we call making a night of it.  Of
course most of the rooms are unoccupied, but they are full of beds, which
are placed as close together as possible; and this is all the furniture
in the room, with the exception of the glass, without which no one, male
or female, can properly perform the duties of the toilette.  One woman is
already thus occupied.  In another room, we catch sight of a few still in
bed, or sitting listlessly on their beds.  They are mostly youthful, and
regard us from afar with natural curiosity—some actually seeming inclined
to giggle at our intrusion.  As it is, we feel thankful that we need not
remain a moment in such company, and we leave them to their terrible
fate.

A few hours later they will be out in the streets, seeking whom they may
devour.  Go down Whitechapel way, and you will see them in shoals
haunting the public-houses of the district, or promenading the pavement,
or talking to men as sunk in the social scale as themselves.  They are
fond of light dresses; they eschew bonnets or hats.  Some are
half-starved; others seem in good condition; and they need be so to stand
the life they have to lead.  Let us hope Heaven will have more mercy on
such as they than man.  It cannot be that decent respectable women live
in Flower and Dean Street.

But what of the men?  Well, I answer at the first glance, you see that
they are a rough lot.  Some are simply unfortunate and friendless and
poor; others do really work honestly for their living—as dock labourers,
or as porters in some of the surrounding markets, or at any chance job
that may come in their way; many, alas, are of the light-fingered
fraternity.  The police have but a poor opinion of the honesty of the
entire district—but then the police are so uncharitable!  The members of
the Christian community and others who come here on a Sunday and preach
in more than one of the lodging-houses in the street have a better
opinion, and certainly can point to men and women reclaimed by their
labours, and now leading decent godly lives.  It requires some firmness
and Christian love to go preaching in these huge lodging-houses, in which
one, it seemed to me, might easily be made away with.  Even in the
daytime they have an ugly look, filled as they are with idle men, who are
asleep now, but who will be busy enough by-and-by—when honesty has done
its work and respectability is gone to bed.  As commercial speculations I
suppose money is made by these places.  The proprietor has but little
expense to incur in the way of providing furniture or attendance, and in
some cases he supplies refreshments, on which of course he makes a
profit.  But each lodger is at liberty to cater for himself, or to leave
it alone if times are bad and money is scarce.  At any rate there is the
fire always burning, and the locker in which each lodger may stow away
what epicurean delicacy or worldly treasure he may possess.  I have been
in prisons and workhouses, and I can say the inmates of such places are
much better lodged, and have better care taken of them, and are better
off than the poor people of Flower and Dean Street.  The best thing that
could happen for them would be the destruction of the whole place by
fire.  Circumstances have much to do with the formation of character, and
in a more respectable neighbourhood they would become a little more
respectable themselves.

In the lodging-houses at Westminster the inhabitants are of a much more
industrious character.  In Lant Street, Borough, they are quite the
reverse.  A man should have his wits about him who attempts to penetrate
into the mysteries or to understand the life of a low lodging-house
there.

For ages the Mint in the Borough has gained an unenviable name, not only
as the happy hunting-ground of the disreputable, the prostitute, the
thief, the outcast, the most wretched and the lowest of the poor, yet
there was a time when it was great and famous.  There that brave and
accomplished courtier, the Duke of Suffolk, brought his royal bride, the
handsome sister of our Henry VIII.  It was there poor Edward VI. came on
a visit all the way from Hampton Court.  It was the goodly gift of Mary
the unhappy and ill-fated to the Archbishop of York.  Somehow or other
Church property seems to be detrimental to the respectability of a
neighbourhood, hence the truth of the old adage, “The nearer the church,
the farther from God.”  At any rate this was the case as regards the Mint
in the Borough, which in Gay’s time had sunk so low that he made it the
scene of his “Beggar’s Opera,” and there still law may be said to be
powerless, and there still they point out the house in which lived
Jonathan Wild.  In the reign of William, our Protestant hero, and George
I., our Hanoverian deliverer, a desperate attempt was made to clear the
place of the rogues and vagabonds to whom it afforded shelter and
sanctuary; but somehow or other in vain, though all debtors under fifty
pounds had their liabilities wiped off by royal liberality.  The place
was past mending, and so it has ever since remained.  It is not a
neighbourhood for a lady at any time, but to inhabit it all that is
requisite is that, by fair means or foul (in the Mint they are as little
particular as to the way in which money is made as they are in the City
or on the Stock Exchange), you have fourpence to pay for a night’s
lodging.  All round the place prices may be described as low, to suit the
convenience of the customer.  You are shaved for a penny.  Your hair is
cut and curled for twopence.  The literature for sale may be termed
sensational, and the chandlers’ shops, which are of the truest character
if I may judge by the contents, do a trade which may be described as
miscellaneous.

It is sad to see the successive waves of pauperism rise and burst and
disappear.  On they come, one after another, as fast as the eye can catch
them, and far faster than the mind can realise all the hidden and complex
causes of which they are the painful result.  One asks, Is this always to
be so?  Is there to be no end to this supply, of which we see only the
surface, as it were?  Are all the lessons of the past in vain?  Cannot
Science, with all its boasted arts, remove the causes, be they what they
may, and effect a cure?  Is the task too appalling for philanthropy?
Some such thoughts came into my head as I looked upon the dense mass of
men and women, destitute of work and food, who, at an early hour on the
first Sunday in the New Year were collected from all the lodging-houses
in the unpretentious but well-known building known as the Gray’s Yard
Ragged Church and Schools, in a part of London not supposed, like the
Seven Dials, to be the home of the wretched, and close by the mansions of
the rich and the great.  When I entered, as many as seven hundred had
been got together, and there was a crowd three hundred strong, equally
hungry, equally destitute, and equally worthy of Christian benevolence.
On entering, each person, as soon as he or she had taken his or her seat,
was treated to two thick slices of bread-and-butter and a cup of coffee,
and at the close of the service there was the usual distribution of a
pound meat-pie and a piece of cake to each individual, and coffee _ad
libitum_.  It may be added that the cost of this breakfast does not come
out of the funds of the institution, but is defrayed by special
subscriptions, and that Mr. John Morley had sent, as he always does, a
parcel of one thousand Gospels for distribution.  But what has this got
to do, asks the reader, with the thought which, as I say, the sight
suggested to me?  Why, everything.  In the course of the morning, Mr. F.
Bevan, the chairman, asked those who had been there before to hold up
their hands, and there was not one hand held up in answer to the
question.  There was a similar negative response when it was asked of
that able-bodied mass before me—for there were no very old men in the
crowd—as to whether any of them were in regular work.  This year’s
pauperism is, then, but the crop of the year.  Relieved to-day, next year
another crowd will follow; and so the dark and sullen waves, mournfully
moaning and wailing, of the measureless ocean of human sorrow and
suffering, and want and despair, ever come and ever go.  The Christian
Church is the lifeboat sailing across this ocean in answer to the cry for
help, and rescuing them that are ready to perish.  There are cynics who
say even all this Christmas feasting does no good.  It is a fact that on
Christmas week there is a sudden and wonderful exodus from the workhouses
around London.

We cannot get improved men and women till we have improved
lodging-houses.  Recently it was calculated that in St. Giles’s parish
(once it was St. Giles’s-in-the-Fields), there were no less than 3,000
families living in single rooms.  Again, in the parish of Holborn, there
were quite 12,000, out of a population of 44,000, living in single rooms.
Under such circumstances, what can we expect but physical and moral
degradation?  Healthy life is impossible for man or woman, boy or girl.
A Divine Authority tells us, men do not gather grapes of thorns or figs
of thistles.  As I write, however, a ray of light reaches me.  It appears
nearly 10,000 persons are now reaping the benefit of the Peabody Fund.
In the far east there are buildings at Shadwell and Spitalfields; in the
far west at Chelsea, in Westminster, and at Grosvenor Road, Pimlico—the
latter perfectly appointed edifice alone accommodating 1,952 persons.  As
many as 768 are lodged in the Islington block, and on the south side of
the Thames there are Peabody buildings at Bermondsey, in the Blackfriars
Road, Stamford Street, and Southwark Street.  One room in the Peabody
buildings is never let to two persons.  A writer in _The Daily News_
says: Advantage has been taken by the Peabody trustees to purchase land
brought into the market by the operation of the Artisans and Labourers’
Dwellings Act.  At the present moment nineteen blocks of building are in
course of removal either by the City or the Metropolitan Board of Works.
They are situate at Peartree Court, Clerkenwell; Goulston Street,
Whitechapel; St. George the Martyr, Southwark; Bedfordbury; Whitechapel
and Limehouse, near the London Docks; High Street, Islington; Essex Road,
Islington; Whitecross Street; Old Pye Street, Westminster; Great Wild
Street, Drury Lane; Marylebone, hard by the Edgware Road; Wells Street,
Poplar; Little Coram Street; and Great Peter Street, Westminster.  All
these are under the control of the Metropolitan Board of Works.  The
remaining three—at Petticoat Square, at Golden Lane, and at Barbican—are
being removed by the Corporation of the City of London.  It is estimated
that forty-one acres of land will be laid bare by this clearance—a space
capable of lodging properly at least as many thousand people.  There are
of course other helpers in the same direction as the Peabody trustees,
without being quite in the same sense public bodies administering a large
fund for a special purpose, with the single object of extending its
sphere of usefulness in accordance with public policy.  Some of the
companies, however, work for five per cent. return, and their efforts to
construct suitable dwellings for workpeople and labourers are very
valuable.  The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company has buildings at
Bethnal Green Road, at Shoreditch, at Willow Street, and close to the
goods station of the Great Northern Railway, besides two blocks near the
City Road.  The Metropolitan Association has blocks of buildings in
Whitechapel, and in many spots farther west, as have the Marylebone
Association, the London Labourers’ Dwellings Society, and other bodies of
similar kind.  The success of Miss Octavia Hill in encouraging the
construction of dwellings of the class required is well known, as are the
buildings erected by Sir Sydney Waterlow, Mr. G. Cutt, and Mr. Newson.
It is almost needless to add that the Baroness Burdett-Coutts has taken a
warm interest in this important movement, as a building at Shoreditch now
accommodating seven hundred persons will testify.



VII.—STUDIES AT THE BAR.


On Christmas Eve, in the midst of a dense fog that filled one’s throat
and closed one’s eyes, and rendered the vast City one huge sepulchre, as
it were, peopled by ghosts and ghouls, I spent a few hours in what may be
called studies at the bar.

First, I turned my steps down Whitechapel way.  It is there the pressure
of poverty is felt as much as anywhere in London, and as it was early in
the evening I went there, I saw it under favourable circumstances, for
the sober people would be shopping, and the drunken ones would scarcely
have commenced that riot and quarrelling which are the result in most
cases of indulgence in alcohol.  From the publican’s point of view, of
course, I had nothing to expect but unmitigated pleasure.  The stuff they
sell, they tell us, is the gift of a good Providence, sent us in order to
alleviate the gloom and lighten the cares of life.  “It is a poor heart
that never rejoices,” and on Christmas Eve, when we are thinking of the
birth of Him who came to send peace on earth and goodwill amongst men, a
little extra enjoyment may be expected.  In some bars ample provision had
been made for the event; decorations had been freely resorted to, and
everything had been done to give colour to the delusion that Christmas
jollity was to be produced and heightened by the use of what the publican
had to sell.  Almost the first glimpse I got of the consequences of
adherence to this doctrine was at a corner house in Whitechapel, before I
got as far as the church, where from the side-door of a gin-palace rushed
out a little dirty woman with a pot of beer in her hand, followed by a
taller one, who, catching hold of her, began to hit her.  On this the
attacked woman took a savage grip of the front hair of her opponent, who
began to scream “Murder!” with might and main.  A crowd was formed
immediately, in the expectation of that favourite entertainment of a
certain section of the British public—a free fight between two tipsy
women; but, alas! they were too far gone to fight, and, after a good deal
of bad language, the woman with the porter pursued her victorious way,
while the other, almost too drunk to stand, returned to the bar, to
rejoin the dirty group she had left, and to be served again—contrary, as
I understand, to the law of the land—with the liquor of which she had
already had more than enough.  In that compartment everything was
dirty—the women at the bar and the man behind it, nor was there a spark
of good feeling or happiness in the group.  There they were—the wives and
mothers of the people—all equally besotted, all equally wretched.  Oh
heavens, what a sight!

And this reminds me of what I saw at a bar in the Gray’s Inn Road, in one
of the largest of the many houses opened for refreshment, as it is
called.  In one compartment there were some thirty or forty wretched,
dirty, ragged people, mostly women.  One of them was in a state of
elevation, and was dancing to a set who were evidently too far gone to
appreciate her performance.  With tipsy gravity, however, she continued
her self-appointed task.  Ah, poor thing! thought I, you are gay and
hilarious now—to-morrow you will lie shivering in the cold—possibly
crying for a morsel of bread.  You have a garret to sleep in, and nothing
to look forward to but the hospital or the workhouse.  Heaven wills it,
says the pietist.  Heaven does nothing of the kind.  In the mad
debauchery I saw in that bar I am sure there must have been spent money
that would have given the wretched topers happier homes, better dinners,
and a future far happier than that which I saw hanging over them.

In Chancery Lane I came on several illustrations of the joyous
conviviality of the season.  One poor fellow just before me came down
with a tremendous crash.  Another nearly ran me down as he steered his
difficult way along the slippery street and through the gloomy fog.
Another merry old soul had given up all attempt to find his way home, and
had seated himself on a doorstep, planted his hat on one side of his
head, put his hands in his pockets to keep them warm, and there, asleep,
with a short pipe in his mouth, and his legs stretched out, looked as
mournful and seedy an object as anyone could desire to contemplate.  He
had evidently been having a pleasant evening with his companions over a
social glass, merely keeping up good old English customs, wishing himself
and everyone he knew a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

At the gin-palaces near the railway termini, and in those bordering on
any place of general marketing, the crowd of customers was enormous, and
the class was far superior to those I saw in Drury Lane or Whitechapel,
or the Gray’s Inn Road.  They were real respectable working men and their
wives, who had been out marketing for the morrow, and who, proud of their
success in that direction, and of the store of good things they had
collected for the anticipated dinner, had to treat themselves with a
parting glass ere they went home.  It was a busy time for the men at the
bar.  In one large public with four or five compartments, I reckoned
there must have been nearly a hundred customers.  It was quite an effort
for anyone to get served; he had to fight his way through the mob to pay
his money and get his glass, and then to struggle back to a quiet corner
to drink off its contents with a friend or his wife, but there was no
drunkenness.

The men and women of the respectable working class are not drunkards.
They have too much sense for that, but they were merry, and a little
inclined to be too talkative and heedless.  For instance, a party of four
went straight from a public-house to a railway station at which I
happened to be waiting.  One couple were going by the train home—another
couple had come to see them off.  The wife of the travelling party was
fat and heavy, and in her jolly, careless mood, induced by the evening’s
conviviality, as the train came up she missed her step and fell between
the wheels and the platform.  Fortunately the train had come to a
standstill, or that woman and her husband and her family would have had
anything but a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

In one place, patronised by navvies and their wives, there was such a
hideous exhibition of indecency that I may not record it.  “Why don’t you
interfere?” said a gentleman to the pot-boy.  “Oh,” was the reply, “you
can’t say anything at this season of the year.  It is best to leave them
alone.”

In such low neighbourhoods as Drury Lane it seemed to me that the men
preponderated; indeed, at many places they were the only customers.  One
could not much wonder to find them in such places.  Either they live in
the low lodging-houses close by, where they pay fourpence a night for a
bed, or they have a room for themselves and families in the
neighbourhood.  In neither case is there much peace for them in what they
call their home.  They are best out of doors, and then comes the
attraction of the public-house, and on Christmas Eve in the dull raw fog
almost the only bright spot visible was the gleam of its gaudy splendour,
and as a natural consequence bars were pretty well filled.  They always
are in poor neighbourhoods of a night, and especially such as have a
corner situation.  It is always good times with the proprietors of such
places, even if trade be bad and men are out of work, and little children
cry for bread and old people die of starvation and want.  A corner
public-house is never driven into the bankruptcy court.

But let me change the scene.  These low neighbourhoods are really
disgusting to people of cultivated minds and refined tastes.  I am
standing in a wonderfully beautiful hall.  On one side is a long counter
filled with decanters and wineglasses.  Behind these are some lively
young ladies, fashionably dressed, and with hair elaborately arranged.
The customers are chiefly young men, whom Albert Smith would have
described as gents.  They mostly patronise what they call “bittah” beer,
and they are wise in doing so, as young men rarely can afford wine, and
“bittah” beer is not so likely to affect the few brains they happen to
have about them.  Of course a good deal of wine is drunk, and there is a
great demand for grog, but beer is the prevailing beverage; and as to tea
and coffee and such things, they are unfairly handicapped, as the Hebe at
the bar charges me sixpence for a small cup of coffee, while the gent by
my side pays but twopence for his beer; nor can I say that he pays too
much, as he has the opportunity thus afforded to him of talking to a
young lady who has no refuge from his impertinence, and who is bound to
be civil unless the cad is notoriously offensive, as her trade is to sell
liquor, and the more he talks the more he drinks.  But the mischief does
not end here.  Many a married man fancies it is fun to loll over the
counter and spoon with the girls behind.  He has more cash than the gent,
and spends more.  If he is not a rich man he would pass himself off as
such; he drinks more than is good for him; he makes the young ladies
presents; he talks to them in a sentimental strain, and it may be he has
a wife and family at home who are in need of almost the necessaries of
life.

In many cases the end of all this is wretchedness at home and loss of
character and means of subsistence; if he is in a house of business he
lives beyond his income, and embezzlement is the result.  If he be in
business on his own account his end is bankruptcy, at any rate his health
is not benefited by his indulgence at the bar, and to most men who have
to earn their daily bread loss of health is loss of employment and
poverty, more or less enduring and grinding and complete.  What the
gin-shop is to the working man, the restaurant and the refreshment bar
are to the middle classes of society.  There is no disgrace in dropping
in there, and so the young man learns to become a sot.  Planted as they
are at all the railway termini, they are an ever-present danger; they are
fitted up in a costly style, and the young ladies are expected to be as
amiable and good-looking as possible, and thus when a young man has a few
minutes to spare at a railway terminus, naturally he makes his way to the
refreshment bar.

Dartmoor was full, writes the author of “Convict Life,” with the men whom
drink had led into crime—from the mean wretch who pawned his wife’s boots
for ninepence, which he spent in the gin-shop, to the young man from the
City who became enamoured “with one of the painted and powdered
decoy-ducks who are on exhibition at the premises of a notorious publican
within a mile of Regent Circus.”  At first he spent a shilling or two
nightly; but he quickly found that the road to favour was at bottle of
Moët, of which his _inamorata_ and her painted sisters partook very
freely.  The acquaintance soon ripened under the influence of champagne
till he robbed his employer, and was sent to Dartmoor.  “He told me
himself,” writes our author, “that from the time he first went to that
tavern he never went to bed perfectly sober, and that all his follies
were committed under the influence of champagne.”

Another case he mentions was even worse.  At the time of his conviction
the young man of whom he writes was on the eve of passing an examination
for one of the learned professions; but be had been an _habitué_ of the
buffet of let us call it the Royal Grill Room Theatre and a lounger at
the stage door of that celebrated establishment, and had made the
acquaintance of one of the ladies of the ballet.  Under the influence of
champagne he also soon came to grief.  “In the name of God,” says the
writer to young men in London, “turn up taverns.”

But what is to be done?  The publican, whether he keeps a gin-palace or a
refreshment bar, must push his trade.  The total number of public-houses,
beershops, and wine-houses in the Metropolitan Parliamentary boroughs is
8,973, or one to each 333 persons.  This is bad; but Newcastle-on-Tyne is
worse, having one public-house to 160 inhabitants, and Manchester has one
to every 164 inhabitants.  The amount paid in license-fees by publicans
in the Metropolitan district last year amounted to £108,316; the total
for the kingdom being £1,133,212.  But great as is the number of these
places, the trade flourishes.  A licensed house in one of the finest
parts of London (Bethnal Green), lately sold for upwards of £22,000.
Another, a third or fourth rate house in North London, sold for £18,000;
other licensed houses sell for £30,000, £40,000, £50,000, and even more.
As to the refreshment bars, it lately came out in evidence that a partner
in one of the firms most connected with them stated his income to be
£40,000 a year.  It is said one firm, whose business is chiefly devoted
to refreshment bars, pays its wine merchants as much as £1,000 a week.



VIII.—IN AN OPIUM DEN.


An effort is being made by a band of British philanthropists, of which
the Rev. Mr. Turner is secretary, to put down, if not the opium traffic,
at any rate that part of it which is covered by the British flag.  Opium
is to the Chinese what the quid is to the British tar, or the gin-bottle
to the London charwoman.  But in reality, as I firmly believe, for the
purpose of opening the door to all sorts of bribery and corruption, the
traffic is prohibited as much as possible by the Chinese Government, for
the ostensible object of preserving the health and morals of the people.
This task is a very difficult one.  A paternal Government is always in
difficulties, and once we Christian people of England have gone to war
with the Chinese in order to make them take our Indian-grown opium—a
manufacture in which a large capital is invested, and the duty of which
yields the British Government in India a magnificent revenue.  It is a
question for the moralist to decide how far a Government is justified in
saying to a people: “We know so and so is bad, but as you will use it,
you may as well pay a heavy tax on its use.”  That is the practical way
in which statesmen look at it, and of course there is a good deal to be
said for that view.  But it is not pleasant to feel that money, even if
it be used for State purposes, is made in a dirty manner; though I have
been in countries where the minister of the religion of holiness and
purity is content to take a part of his living from the brothel-keeper
and the prostitute.  Evidently there are many men as ready to take the
devil’s money as was Rowland Hill to accept the Bible at his hands.

But I am touching on questions not to be settled in the twinkling of an
eye, or by a phrase or two in print.  Perhaps I may best serve the cause
of humanity if, instead of saying what I think and feel, I merely content
myself with describing what I saw in the East-End of London, one Saturday
night, in this year of grace one thousand eight hundred and seventy-five.

Have my readers ever been in Bluegate Fields, somewhere down Ratcliffe
Highway?  The glory of the place is departed.  I am writing _more
Americano_, where the wickedest man in the town is always regarded as a
hero.  The City missionary and the East London Railway between them have
reformed the place.  To the outward eye it is a waste howling spot, but
it is a garden of Eden to what it was when a policeman dared not go by
himself into its courts, and when respectability, if it ever strayed into
that filthy quarter, generally emerged from it minus its watch and coat,
and with a skull more or less cracked, and with a face more or less
bloody.

“Thanks to you,” said a surgeon to a City missionary who has been
labouring in the spot some sixteen years, and is now recognised as a
friend wherever he goes, “thanks to you,” said the surgeon, “I can now
walk along the place alone, and in safety, a thing I never expected to
do;” and I believe that the testimony is true, and that it is in such
districts the labours of the City missionary are simply invaluable.  Down
in those parts what we call the Gospel has very little power.  It is a
thing quite outside the mass.  There are chapels and churches, it is
true, but the people don’t go into them.  I pass a great Wesleyan I
chapel.  “How is it attended?” I ask; and the answer is: “Very badly
indeed.”  I hear that the nearest Independent chapel is turned into a
School Board school; and there is Rehoboth,—I need not say it is a hyper
place of worship, and was, when Bluegate Fields was a teeming mass of
godless men and women, only attended by some dozen or so of the elect,
who prayed their prayers, and read their Bible, and listened to their
parsons with sublime indifference to the fact that there at their very
door, under their very eyes, within reach of their very hands, were souls
to be saved, and brands to be snatched from the burning, and jewels to be
won for the Redeemer’s crown.  I can only hear of one preacher in this
part who is really getting the people to hear him, and he is the Rev.
Harry Jones, who deserves to be made a bishop, and who would be, if the
Church of England was wise and knew its dangers, and was careful to avert
the impending storm, which I, though I may not live to see the day, know
to be near.  But let us pass, on leaving Rehoboth, a black and ugly
carcass, on the point of being pulled down by the navvy.  I turn into a
little court on my right, one of the very few the railway has spared for
the present.  It may be there are some dozen houses in the court.  The
population is, I should certainly imagine, quite up to the accommodation
of the place.  Indeed, if I might venture to make a remark, it would be
to the effect that a little more elbow-room would be of great advantage
to all.  From every door across the court are ropes, and on these ropes
the blankets and sheets and family linen are hanging up to dry.  These I
have to duck under as I walk along; but the people are all civil, though
my appearance makes them stare, and all give a friendly and respectful
greeting to the City missionary by my side.

All at once my conductor disappears in a little door, and I follow,
walking, on this particular occasion, by faith, and not by sight; for the
passage was dark, and I knew not my way.  I climb up a flight of stairs,
and find myself in a little crib—it would be an abuse of terms to call it
a room.  It is just about my height, and I fancy it is a great deal
darker and dingier than the room in which a first-class misdemeanant like
Colonel Baker was confined.  The place is full of smoke.  It is not at
first that I take in its contents.  As I stand by the door, there are two
beds of an ancient character; between these beds is a very narrow
passage, and it is in this passage I recognise the master of the house—a
black-eyed, cheerful Chinaman, who has become so far naturalised amongst
us as to do us the honour of taking the truly British name of Johnson.
Johnson is but thinly clad.  I see the perspiration glistening on his
dark and shining skin; but Johnson seems as pleased to see me as if he
had known me fifty years.  In time, through the smoke, I see Johnson’s
friends—dark, perspiring figures curled on the beds around, one, for want
of room, squatting, cross-legged, in a corner—each with a tube of the
shape and size of a German flute in his hands.  I look at this tube with
some curiosity.  In the middle of it is a little bowl.  In that little
bowl is the opium, which is placed there as if it were a little bit of
tow dipped in tar, and which is set fire to by being held to the little
lamps, of which there are three or four on the bed or in the room.  This
operation performed, the smoker reclines and draws up the smoke, and
looks a very picture of happiness and ease.  Of course I imitate the bad
example; I like to do as the Romans do, and Johnson hands me a tube which
I put into my mouth, while, as I hold it to the lamp, he inserts the
heated opium into the bowl; and, as I pull, the thick smoke curls up and
adds to the cloud which makes the room as oppressive as the atmosphere of
a Turkish bath.  How the little pig-eyes glisten! and already I feel that
I may say: “Am I not a man and a brother?”  The conversation becomes
general.  Here we are jolly companions every one.  Ching tells me the
Chinese don’t send us the best tea; and grins all across his yellow face
as I say that I know that, but intimate that they make us pay for it as
if they did.  Tsing smiles knowingly as I ask him what his wife does when
he is so long away.  Then we have a discussion as to the comparative
merits of opium and beer, and my Chinese friends sagely observe that it
is all a matter of taste.  “You mans like beer, and we mans in our
country like opium.”  All were unanimous in saying that they never had
more than a few whiffs, and all that I could learn of its effects when
taken in excess was that opium sent them off into a stupid sleep.  With
the somewhat doubtful confessions of De Quincey and Coleridge in my
memory, I tried to get them to acknowledge sudden impulses, poetic
inspirations, splendid dreams; but of such things these little fellows
had never conceived; the highest eulogium I heard was: “You have
pains—pain in de liver, pain in de head—you smoke—all de pains go.”  The
most that I could learn was that opium is an expensive luxury for a poor
man.  Three-halfpenny-worth only gives you a few minutes’ smoke, and
these men say they don’t smoke more at a time.  Lascar Sall, a rather
disreputable female, well known in the neighbourhood, would, they told
me, smoke five shillings-worth of opium a day.  Johnson’s is the
clubhouse of the Chinese.  He buys the opium and prepares it for smoking,
and they come and smoke and have a chat, and a cup of tea and a slice of
bread and butter, and go back and sleep on board ship.  Their little
smoking seemed to do them no harm.  The City missionary says he has never
seen them intoxicated.  It made them a little lazy and sleepy—that is
all; but they had done their day’s work, and had earned as much title to
a little indulgence as the teetotaler, who regales himself with coffee;
or the merchant, who smokes his cigar on his pleasant lawn on a summer’s
eve.  I own when I left the room I felt a little giddy, that I had to
walk the crowded streets with care; but then I was a novice, and the
effect would not be so great on a second trial.  I should have enjoyed a
cup of good coffee after; but that is a blessing to which we in London,
with all our boasted civilisation, have not attained.  I frankly avow, as
I walked to the railway station, I almost wished myself back in the opium
den.  There I heard no foul language, saw no men and women fighting, no
sots reeling into the gutters, or for safety shored up against the wall.
For it was thus the mob, through which I had to pass, was preparing
itself for the services of the sanctuary, and the rest of the Sabbath.



IX.—LONDON’S EXCURSIONISTS.


Most of my London readers know Southend.  It is as pretty a place, when
the tide is up and the weather is fine, as you can find anywhere near
London.  Standing on the cliff on a clear day it is a lovely panorama
which greets your eye.  At your feet rolls the noble river, to which
London owes its greatness, and on which sail up and down, night and day,
no matter how stormy the season may be, the commercial navies of the
world.  On the other side is the mouth of the Medway, with its docks and
men-of-war; and farther still beyond rise those Kentish hills of which
Dickens was so fond, and on the top of one of which he lived and died.
Look to the right, and you see over the broad expanse of waters and the
marshy land, destined, perhaps, at some distant day to be formed into
docks and to be crowded with busy life.  Look at your left, and the old
town, with its pier a mile and a quarter long, really looks charming in
the summer sun.  Or you see the shingly beach, at one end of which—you
learn by report of artillery-firing and the cloud of blue smoke curling
to the sky—is Shoeburyness.  Far away on the open sea, and on the other
side, the tall cliffs of the Isle of Sheppey loom in the distance.

Lie down on the grass and enjoy yourself.  What ozone there is in the
atmosphere!  What brightness in the scene!  What joy seems all around!
Is it not pleasant, after the roar and bustle and smoke and dirt of
London, to come down here and watch the clouds casting their dark shadow
on the blue waters; or to follow the gulls, dipping and darting along
like so many white flies; or to see the feathery sails of yachts and
pleasure-boats, floating like flakes of snow; or to mark the dark track
from the funnel of yon steamer, on her way (possibly with a cargo of
emigrants, to whom fortune had been unfriendly at home) to some
Australian El Dorado—to which, if I only knew of it, I might probably go
myself—

       Where every man is free,
    And none can be in bonds for life
       For want of £ s. d.

Well, you say, this is a fairy spot, a real Eden, where life is all
enjoyment, where health and happiness abound, if you could live but
always there.  My dear sir, in a few hours such a change will come over
the spirit of the dream, such a diabolical transformation will be
effected, so foul will seem all that now is so bright and fair, that you
will flee the place, and, as you do so, I indignantly ask, What is the
use of British law? and wherein consists the virtue of British
civilisation? and of what avail is British Christianity, if in broad
daylight, in the principal thoroughfares of the town, your eyes and ears
are to be shocked by scenes of which I can only say that they would be
deemed disgraceful in a land of savages?  Let us suppose it midday, and
the usual excursion trains and steamboats have landed some few thousand
men, women, and children, all dressed in their best, and determined, and
very properly, to enjoy themselves.  What swarms you see everywhere!  One
day actually, I am told, the railway brought as many as eleven thousand.
You say you are glad to see them; they have worked hard for a holiday;
and, shut up in the factories, and warehouses, and workshops of the
East-End, none have more of a right to, or more of a need of, the
enjoyment of a sea air.  Dear sir, you are right; and for a little while
all goes on as you desire.  The enjoyment is varied, and seems to consist
of wading up to the knees in the sea, in listening to Ethiopian
serenaders, in the consumption of oysters and apples, in donkey-riding,
in the purchase of useless ware at the nearest caravan or booth, in being
photographed, in taking a sail, or in strolling about the beach, and, as
regards the male part of the excursionists, smoking tobacco more or less
indifferent.  But unfortunately the trains do not return before seven or
eight o’clock, and of course the excursionists must have a drop of beer
or spirits to pass away the time, many of them have no idea of a holiday,
and really and truly cannot enjoy themselves without; and the publicans
of Southend lay themselves out for the gratification of the excursionist
in this respect.  They have monster taps and rooms in which the
excursionists sit and drink and make merry according to their custom.  As
the day wears on the merriment becomes greater, and the noise a little
less harmonious.  The fact is, all parties—men and women alike—have taken
a drop too much; the publican begins to feel a little anxious about his
property, especially as the two or three policemen belonging to the
place—wisely knowing what is coming, and their utter inability to cope
with a drunken mob, and the ridiculousness of their attempting to do
so—manage to get out of the way, and to hide their diminished heads in a
quieter and more respectable quarter of the town.

At length quarrels arise, oaths and coarse language are heard, and out in
the street rush angry men to curse, and swear, and fight.  The women, it
must be confessed, are ofttimes as bad as the men, and I have seen many a
heavy blow fall to the lot even of the sucking babe!  In the brief
madness of the hour, friends, brothers, relatives rush at each other like
so many wild beasts, much to the amusement of the throng of inebriated
pleasure-seekers around.  No one tries to interfere, as most of the men
and cardrivers, who make up the aboriginal population of the place,
evidently enjoy the disgusting spectacle.  Once I stopped four weeks in
this place, and I began to tremble at the very sight of an excursionist.
I knew that the chances were that before the day was over my little ones
would have to look on the worst of sights.  I saw one powerful fellow in
three fights in the course of one day; in one he had kicked a man in a
way which made him shriek and howl for an hour afterwards; in another
case he had knocked a woman down; and I left him on the railway platform,
stripped, and offering to fight anyone.  I begged a policeman to
interfere and take the brute into custody, and in reply was told that
their rule was never to take a man into custody unless they saw the
assault committed, a thing the Southend police very properly take care
never to do; and yet on the occasion to which I refer the landlord of one
of the best hotels in the place was in vain, for the sake of his
respectable guests, begging the police to put a stop to the scene which
he himself rightly described as pandemonium.  I must admit the police are
not inactive.  There was a crowd round the beershop, from which a man
hopelessly intoxicated was being ejected.

“Here, policeman,” said the beershop-keeper, “take this man away, he has
insulted me.”  And the policeman complied with his request, and the poor
fellow, who was too drunk to stand upright, speedily embraces mother
earth.  On another occasion a policeman displayed unusual activity.  He
was after a man who had stolen actually an oyster, and for this the
policeman was on his track, and the man was to be conveyed at the expense
of the country to Rochford gaol.  Let me draw a veil over the horrors of
the return home of an excursion train with its tipsy occupants, swearing
eternal friendship one moment while trying to tear each other’s eyes out
the next.  It is bad enough to see the excursionists making their way
back to the railway station; here a couple of men will be holding up a
drunken mate, there are flushed boys and girls yelling and shrieking like
so many escaped lunatics.  Now let us retrace our steps.  You can tell by
the disorder and ruin all around where the excursionists have been, their
steps are as manifest to the observer as an invading army.  Is there no
remedy for this state of things?  Is a quiet watering-place, to which
people go to recover health and strength, to be at the mercy of any
drunken swarms who happen to have the half-crowns in their pockets
requisite for the purchase of an excursion ticket?  Of course this is a
free country, and the right of a man to go to the devil his own way is a
right of which I would be the last to deprive my fellow citizens; but an
excursion train is a monster nuisance, of which our ancestors never
dreamed, and for which in their wisdom they made no provision.  Of course
total abstinence is a remedy; but then the British workman is not a total
abstainer, and that is a question which I am not about to discuss.  All I
want is to call attention to what is a daily scandal in the summer-time;
and to bid good people remember—while they are talking of heathenism
abroad—that heathenism at home, which, under the influence of strong
drink threatens to destroy all that is lovely and of good report in our
midst.

Lest it be said that I exaggerate, that I give an erroneous idea of the
drinking customs of the working classes, let me quote the following
confession of a working man, when examined before a coroner’s jury, as to
the way in which he had spent his holiday last Good Friday:

“We went for a walk, and had two pints of beer on the road.  We got as
far as the Holloway Road Railway Station, and turned back.  Deceased saw
me home, and then left me.”

“Did he again call on you?”

“Yes; at about twenty minutes to three o’clock.”

“By appointment?”

“Yes, to go to the Alexandra Palace.  We left my place about a quarter to
three o’clock, and just had time for a drink at the public-house next
door to where I am living.  We had two half-quarterns of whisky neat.  I
there changed a sovereign.  We then walked up the Holloway Road, and I
called on my father-in-law.  He asked me to stop to tea, but I said I was
engaged to go to the Palace.  Deceased and I then got as far as The Manor
House, where we had two glasses of bitter beer.  We went on farther to
The Queen’s Head, which is the next public-house, and had some more
drink.  From there we went to Hornsey, stopped at a public-house, and had
some whisky.  We stopped again at The Nightingale, and had
half-a-quartern of whisky each.  We could see the Palace from where we
then were, but did not know how to get there.  We inquired the way, and
as we were going along we met the deceased’s younger brother, with a lot
of other boys, and we said a few words to them.  Afterwards we went into
a public-house just opposite the Palace gates, and had either some brandy
or whisky, I don’t know which.  We got chaffing with the man at the
pay-office, saying that he ought to let us in at half-price, as it was so
late, but he did not do so.  We paid one shilling each to go in.  We went
into the building and strolled about, looking at different things, and
had three pints of bitter ale at one of the stands.  We then walked about
again, and afterwards had some brandy.  We then began to get rather
stupefied, and after waiting about a little longer we had some more
brandy.  I know we stopped at almost every buffet there was in the
Palace, and had something to drink at each of them.  The lights were
being put out as we left the Palace.  Deceased had hold of my arm, and we
went up to one of the buffets for the purpose of getting some cakes, or
something to eat, but the barmaid refused to serve us.  Deceased said to
me, ‘I feel rather tidy, Joe,’ so I took hold of his arm, but in moving
away we both fell over some chairs.  We left the Palace, and deceased
said to me, ‘Have you got any money?’  I said, ‘Yes; what I have got you
are welcome to.’  I then gave him a two-shilling piece, out of my purse,
which he put with the money he already had of his own.  It must have been
very late then.  We lost our way, but I think I said to the deceased,
‘This is the way we came in.’  Then we both fell down again.  I don’t
remember getting away from there, or how I left deceased.  I remember
nothing else that took place.  I don’t know how we got on the steps of
the Grand Stand.  I cannot remember seeing the boy Braybrook, nor how I
got out of the grounds, or to my own home.”

“You say that you were drunk?”

“Yes, we were both drunk, almost before we got to the Palace.”

“You say that the deceased was also drunk?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t remember leaving the deceased upon the ground?”

“No, I cannot remember how I got my hands cut, or the bruise on the back
of my head.  I found my hat broken in the next morning, and my wife put
it right for me.”



X.—ON THE RIVER STEAMERS.


One fine summer day a friend agreed with me to go down the river.
Sheerness was fixed on, not on account of its beauty, for that part near
the harbour is by no means attractive, and like most of our naval and
military stations it is full of low public-houses, which by no means add
to its attractions, but simply on account of the fact that the place
could be reached and the return journey made in the course of a day; that
we could be on the water all the while, and that we should have a
pleasant breathing space in the midst of a life more or less necessarily
of toil.  For people who cannot get away for a few weeks, who cannot rush
off to Brighton, or Margate, or Scarborough, or Scotland for a month, it
is a great treat to be able to go down to Sheerness and back for a day in
a luxurious steamer, where everyone has elbow-room.  And on the day in
question it was a treat to us all in many respects; the day was fine, the
boat in which we sailed was that favourite one the _Princess Alice_—now,
alas! a name which sends a thrill of tragic horror through the land.  To
us and the public at that time she was known merely as the safest, and
fastest, and pleasantest vessel of her class.

We had beautiful views of marshes well filled with cattle, and of fields
waving with yellow corn, and with hills and green parks, and gentlemen’s
seats and churches afar off; the river with its craft great and small
going up or coming down is always a source of interesting study; and as
the fine fresh air, to be encountered below Gravesend, gave us an
appetite, we had a good dinner on board, well served and at a very
moderate price; tea and shrimps at a later period of the day were equally
acceptable; and many were the ladies and gentlemen who had come and found
what they sought, a pleasant outing.  There were also many little
children who enjoyed themselves much, and the sight of whose pleasure was
an unmitigated enjoyment to old stagers, like myself and my friend.
Altogether it was a very agreeable day so far as the outward passage was
concerned.  It was true that there was an unnecessary demand for beer,
even from the moderate drinker’s point of view, before the dinner hour.
Bottled ale and stout may not be taken with impunity on an empty stomach;
smoking may also be carried to excess, and as there are many persons who
dislike the very smell of it, the mixture in the atmosphere was certainly
far more than was desirable; but on a holiday on a Thames excursion boat
one must give and take, and not be too prone to find fault.  People often
act differently abroad to what they do at home; we must allow for a
little wildness on such an occasion on the part of the general public.
It is not every day a man takes a holiday.  It is not everyone who knows
how to use it when he has it.  To many of us a holiday rarely comes more
than once a year, and gentlemen of my profession, alas! often do not get
that.

Altogether we must have had at the least some seven or eight hundred
people on board.  They swarmed everywhere; indeed, at times there was
little more than comfortable standing room, and the only locomotion
possible seemed to be that directed towards the cabins fore and aft in
pursuit of bottled beer.

In the morning we were not so crowded, but in the evening we began to
experience inconvenience of another kind.  It was at half-past ten A.M.
that we left the lower side of London Bridge; it was nine o’clock in the
evening when we arrived there again.  All that time we had been on board
the steamer, with the exception of an hour and a half spent at Sheerness,
and all that time the demand for beer had been incessant.  I never in all
my life saw such a consumption.  I remarked to a friend enough beer had
been drunk to have floated apparently the _Princess Alice_ herself.
Everybody was drinking beer or porter, and the bottles were imperial
pints and held a good deal.  Of course there were music and dancing; and
the girls, flushed and excited, drank freely of the proffered beverage,
each moment getting wilder and noisier.  Old ladies and old gentlemen
complacently sipped their glass.  It seemed to do them no harm.  Their
passions had long been extinct.  They had long outlived the heyday of
youth.  All that the beer seemed to do for them was to give them a bit of
a headache, or to make them feel a little more tired or sleepy, that was
all.  On the deck was a party of thirty or forty men who had come for a
day’s outing; decent mechanics evidently, very respectably dressed.  They
kept themselves to themselves, had dined on board together, had taken tea
together, and now sat singing all the way home, in dreadfully melancholy
tones, all the old songs of our grandfathers’ days about “Remembering
those out,” “The Maids of merry, merry England,” and then came a yell in
the way of a chorus which would have frightened a Red Indian or a Zulu
Kaffir.  After every song there was a whip round for some more beer, till
the seats underneath seemed to be choked up with empty bottles.  They
were all a little under the influence of liquor, not unpleasantly so, but
placidly and stupidly; and as they listened with the utmost gravity while
one or another of the party was singing, you would have thought they were
all being tried for manslaughter at least.  It is true they had a comic
man in the party, with a green necktie and a billycock hat, and a
shillalagh, who did his best under the circumstances, but he had to fight
at tremendous odds, as hilarity was not the order of the day on that part
of the deck.

I went down into the cabin in search of it there, but was equally
unsuccessful.  Every table was crammed with bottles of beer.  Opposite me
was a picture indeed; a respectable-looking man had drunk himself into a
maudlin state, from which his friends were in vain endeavouring to arouse
him.  He was a widower, and was muttering something unpleasant about
_her_ grave, which did not seem to accord with the ideas of two
gaily-dressed females—one of them with a baby in her arms—who hovered
around him, as if desirous to win him back to life and love and duty, his
male friends apparently having got tired of the hopeless task of making
him understand that he had been brought out with a view to being
agreeable, and to spending a happy day, and that he had no right to
finish up in so unreasonable a manner.  Now and then he appealed to me,
declaring that he had no friends, or promising in reply to the playful
appeal of his female friends to be a good boy and not to give them any
more trouble, that it was no use trying.  It was the women who stuck to
him alone, now and then suggesting lemonade, and then forcing him up on
deck with a view to a dance or a promenade.  Some of the passengers
around, as tipsy as himself, interfered; one of them, evidently a
respectable tradesman, with his wife and children around, requesting the
widower to sing “John Barleycorn,” assuring him that as he had lost his
teeth it would have to be sung with a _false set oh_, a joke which the
widower could not see, and the explanation of which at one time seemed
about to end in a serious misunderstanding.  Other parties besides
interfered, and the confusion became hopeless and inexplicable.  It ended
in the weeping widower wildly embracing the female with the baby, and
then making a mad rush on deck with a view to jump over—a feat, however,
which he was easily prevented from accomplishing; and as I landed I saw
the would-be suicide with his male and female friends contemplating a
visit to the nearest public-house.  It was really a melancholy spectacle,
and one that ought not to have been permitted in the cabin of a saloon
steamer.  Quite as pitiable in its way was the sight of a couple who had
unwarrantably intruded into that part of the steamer which is presumed to
be kept solely for the use of those who pay first-class fares.  One of
them was indeed a study; he had been out for a day’s pleasure, and he
showed in his person traces of very severe enjoyment; his clothes had
been damaged in the process, and an eye had been brought into close
contact with some very hard substance, such as a man’s fist, and the
consequence was it was completely closed, and the skin around discoloured
and swollen.  He had never, so he said, been so insulted in his life, and
once or twice he reascended the stairs with a short pipe in his hand, a
picture of tipsy gravity, in order that he might recognise the ticket
collector, with a view apparently to summon him before the Lord Mayor.
His companion was a more blackguard-looking object still.  A couple of
the officers attached to the ship soon sent him forward, to mingle with a
lot of men as disgusting in appearance and as foul in language as
himself, but who had sense enough not to intrude where they had no right,
and to keep their proper places.  And thus the hours passed, and the sun
sank lower in the horizon, and we rushed up the mighty river past
outward-bound steamers on their way to all quarters of the globe, and
found ourselves once more in town.  The day had been a pleasant one had
it not been for the indulgence in bottled beer, which seems to be the
special need of all Londoners when they go up or down the river.  If this
state of things is to be allowed, no decent person will be enabled to
take a passage on a river steamer on a St. Monday or a Saturday,
especially if he has ladies or children with him.  It does seem hard that
people on board river steamers may drink to excess, and thus prove a
nuisance to all who are not as beery as themselves.  It may be, however,
that the steam-packet companies promote this sale of intoxicating liquor
in order to promote the cause of true temperance; if so, one can
understand the unlimited activity of the ship stewards, as it becomes at
once apparent to the most superficial observer that he who tastes the
charmed cup has

             Lost his upright shape,
    And downwards falls into a grovelling swine.

If anyone doubts this let him proceed to Sheerness in a river steamer on
a people’s day.



XI.—STREET SALESMEN.


That we are a nation of shopkeepers I believe, not only on the evidence
of the first Napoleon, but from what I see and hear every day.  There are
few people in the City who are born wealthy, compared with the number who
do manage in the course of a successful mercantile career to win for
themselves a fair share of this world’s goods.  The other night I was
spending the evening at the West-End mansion of a City millionaire.  As I
left, I asked a friend what was the secret of our host’s success, “Why,”
was the answer, “I have always understood he began life with borrowing
ten shillings.”

If that is all, thought I to myself, it is not difficult to make a
fortune, after all.  Accordingly, I negotiated a loan of a sovereign,
thinking that if I failed with ten shillings I should be sure to succeed
with double that number.  At present, I regret to say, the loan has not
been so successful in its results as I anticipated, and fortune seems as
far off as ever.  Should it turn out otherwise, and my wild expectations
be realised, I will publish a book, and let the reader know how a
sovereign became ten thousand pounds.  And yet I believe such a feat has
been often accomplished in the City and by City men.  Everybody knows a
man who walked up to town with twopence-halfpenny in his pocket, who
lived to enjoy a nice fortune himself, and to leave his wife and family
well provided for.

I met the other day in the Gray’s Inn Road a master-builder, who told me
that he was going to retire from business and pass the evening of his
days in quiet.  I had known the man since he was a boy.  I knew his
father and his mother and all his family.  If ever a fellow had a chance
of going to the bad that poor boy had.  His father was a drunkard; the
poverty of the family was extreme; of schooling he had none whatever; yet
he left the little village in Suffolk where he was born, resolved, as he
told me, to be either a man or a mouse; and fortune favoured him beyond
his most sanguine expectations.  Yes, the streets of London _are_ paved
with gold, but it is not everyone who has sense to see it or strength to
pick it up.

It is to be feared the large class who come into the streets to deal are
not of the class who mean to rise, but who have seen better days.  For
instance, I often meet a porter selling Persian sherbet in the City, who
seems to have dropped into that situation from mere laziness.   He had a
fair chance of getting on in life, but he never seems to have had pluck
enough to succeed.  Another man I know held a respectable situation as
clerk; he appeared to me economical in his habits, he was always neatly
dressed, he was never the worse for liquor, nor did he seem to keep bad
company.  All at once he left his situation, and rapidly went to the
dogs.  For a little while he borrowed of his friends; but that was a
precarious source of existence, and now he may be seen dealing in small
articles, on which it is to be hoped for his own sake the profits are
large, as I fear the demand for them is small.  Then there are the
restless characters who take up street-selling partly because they like
to gammon the public, partly because they dislike steady industry, and
partly because I fancy they cherish expectations of another sort.  These
are the men who give away gold rings, who exhibit mice that have a
wonderful way of running up and down the arms, who sell gutta-percha
dolls which seem in their hands to have a power of vocalisation which
leaves them at once and for ever as soon as you have purchased the puppet
and paid for it and made it your own, who deal in cement which will make
an old jug better than new, who retail corn-plasters which are an
inevitable cure, and who occasionally deal in powders which are a sure
means of getting rid of certain objectionable specimens of the insect
tribe.

“But how do you use the powder?” asked a flat of a countryman who had
been deluded into the purchase of sixpenny-worth of the invaluable
powder.  “How do you use it?” repeated the purchaser.

“Well, you see, you catch the animal and hold him by the back of the
neck, and then when his mouth opens, just shove in the powder, and he’ll
die fast enough.”

“But,” said the countryman, “I suppose I could kill the insect at once
when I’ve caught him?”

“Well,” said the salesman, “of course you can, but the powder is, I
repeat, fatal nevertheless.”

A little while ago there was an illustrated paper presumedly more fitted
for the moral atmosphere of New York than London.  Its chief sale, before
it was suppressed by the law, was in the streets, where, with its
doubtful engravings, it was a bit of a nuisance.  Of course, the sale of
Evening _Hechoes_, and _H_extra _Standards_, is a thing one is obliged to
put up with; nevertheless, one must often regret that so useful a trade
cannot be pushed in a quieter and less ostentatious way.  The ingenious
youth, who devote themselves to the sale of a paper especially devoted to
the interests of matrimony, are a real nuisance.  How they pester many a
lad that passes with their intimation that, by the purchase of their
trumpery paper, they can secure an heiress with a thousand a year, as if
such bargains were to be had any day, whereas, the truth is, that they
are rather scarce, and that—whether with that sum or without—matrimony is
a very serious affair.  Unprotected females have to suffer a deal of
impudence from these fellows.  I saw a respectable, decently-dressed,
manifest old maid, exceedingly annoyed and shocked by one of these
fellows pursuing her half way up Cheapside, with his shouts, “Want a
’usband, ma’am?”  “Here’s a chance for you, ma’am,” “Lots of ’usbands to
be had,” and so on, in a way which she seemed to feel—and I quite
understood her feelings—was singularly indelicate.  What an insult to
suppose that any virtuous and accomplished lady is in seed of a husband,
when she has only to raise a finger and she has, such is the chivalry of
the age, a score of adorers at her feet!

The newsboys are, of course, the most prominent of our street salesmen,
and they affect the City for many reasons.  In the first place, in and
around the Mansion House there is a finer opening for business than
anywhere else; and in the second place, a City business is often a very
remunerative one.  City men who have made their thousands on the Stock
Exchange or elsewhere are not particular in the matter of change; and a
fourpence or a sixpence is often the reward of the lad who is the first
to rush up to a City swell as he leaves his office with a “third hedition
of the _Hecho_” or a special _Standard_ with some important telegram.  In
wet weather times go very hard with these poor fellows.  On the contrary,
when it is fine, business is brisk.  They rely much on sensational
telegrams.  A war is a fine thing for them, and so is a case like that of
the Claimant, or a spicy divorce case, or an atrocious murder.  It is
when such things as these occur that they flourish, and that their joy is
abounding.  They must make a good deal of money, but it goes as fast as
it comes.  An attempt was made to establish a news-room for these boys,
and very nice premises were taken in Gray’s Inn Lane.  The coffee and
bread and butter were excellent, and the arrangements were all that could
be desired.  Nevertheless the undertaking was a failure, because it was
not supported by the class for whose benefit it was especially intended.
The news-boys did not like the confinement, the regular hours, the decent
behaviour, the cleanliness and attention to little things required.  They
wanted beer and ’baccy, and other little amusements, more in accordance
with their independent position in fife.  As a rule I fancy they are
honest; they certainly never cheat a man if they think they will be found
out.  I never had any difficulty in getting my change but once, and then
I was in an omnibus, and the chances were in the boy’s favour.  What is
wonderful is that they do not meet with more accidents.  How they rush
after omnibuses as they urge on their wild career!  Some of them are
great radicals.  “Allus reads _The Hecho_ of a Saturday,” said one of
them to me, “to see how it pitches into the haristocracy,” when the
articles signed “NOBLESSE OBLIGE” were being published.  It is to be
wondered at now and then that their impertinence does not get them into
grief.  For instance, to the young man who has any respect for the fair
sex, how disgusting to be told of women, good-looking, amiable and
accomplished, well-to-do, and apparently possessed of every virtue under
heaven, advertising for husbands.  I suppose _The Matrimonial __News_ is
a success; but, if so, certainly that is not a pleasant sign of the
times.  If people will buy it, the newsboys are not to be blamed for
hawking it about.  They take up what they think the public will buy.
Last year they were retailing “The Devil,” price one penny, and this year
they have taken up _Town Talk_, and an ingenious puzzle, called, “How to
find out Lord Beaconsfield.”  I wonder some of our publishers of real
good illustrated literature do not try to push the sale of it in this
way.  I think it would pay.  The public would then have the bane and the
antidote side by side.  Mr. Smithies might do much to increase the sale
of _The British Workman_ if he had it hawked about the streets.

As to the costermongers, their name is legion; and that they are a real
service to the community must be evident to anyone who sees what their
prices are and what are those of the fruiterers in the shops.  They bring
fruit within the reach of the community.  In the summer-time we naturally
require fruit.  It is good for grown-up men and women, it is good for
little children.  In London they have no chance of tasting it were it not
for the costermonger who floods the streets with all that is desirable in
this respect; one day he has West India pineapples for sale; another
bananas or shaddocks; another grapes, and apples, and pears, and
apricots, and greengages, and plums.  One day he deals in strawberries
and another in cherries; and then, when the autumn comes on, what a
tempting display he makes of filberts, and walnuts, and chestnuts!  The
amount of fruit thus poured in upon the market, much of which would have
perished had it not been sold off at once, is really prodigious; and
infinitely indebted to him are the poor clerks who lay in a pennyworth of
apples or pears as they leave the office for the little ones at home.  At
one time I had a prejudice against these rough and noisy dealers; that
prejudice has vanished since I have taken to dining in the City and
indulging in “a penny lot” after dinner.  What I admire is the way in
which they do up strawberries, and cherries, and plums in little paper
bags, which seem to contain as much again as they really do.
Occasionally a man gets cheated, but that is when there is a woman in the
case.

Oh, the flower-girls of the streets, what deceiving creatures they are!
It is not that, like the flower-girls of Paris, they spoil a romance with
pecuniary views, but it is that they cheat you through thick and thin,
and sell you camellias made of turnips, and roses and azaleas equally
fair to see and equally false and vain.  Can I ever forget my friend Dr.
R. and the little mishap that befell him when he assisted at a little
dinner—at which I had the honour to be a guest—given by a Scotch poet to
Scotch poets, and press-men, and barristers, in honour of the immortal
Robert Burns?  Crossing by the Mansion House, in the dim light of a
winter evening, the doctor was accosted by a handsome lass, who offered
to sell him a camellia.  The lady pressed her suit, and the doctor fell.
Granite in the discharge of duty, the doctor has a soft place in his
heart, and that woman finds out at once.  It is the old tale—the woman
tempted and the doctor gave way.  As he came proud and smiling into the
drawing-room, the splendour of the doctor’s camellia arrested every eye.
A near scrutiny was the result, and at length the doctor had to confess
that he had been the victim of misplaced confidence in a London street
flower-girl.

Then there are the men who deal in what they call pineapple sweetmeat;
their barrows are adorned with paintings representing dimly the riches
and luxuriance of the East.

Sunday brings with it its own peculiar dealers and trades.  One of the
sights of poor neighbourhoods is that of a large barrel, painted red, on
wheels.  At the top is a seat for the driver; at the other end there is a
small shelf on which are placed a tray of water and a row of glasses.
Some of these glasses look like porter with a head, and are retailed at
prices varying from a penny to twopence.  Outside, in great gilt letters,
I read, “The Great Blood Purifier;” then we have another line,
“Sarsaparilla, Hilder, King’s Road, Chelsea.”  Another line is devoted to
the announcement of “Dandelion and Sarsaparilla Pills.”  Another
intimates that sarsaparilla is the “Elixir of Life.”  At the back, the
door over the shelf contains a portrait of apparently a fine gay person,
female of course, who has received signal benefit from the ardour with
which she has swallowed the dandelion and sarsaparilla pills; and around
her, as witnesses and approvers of such conduct on her part, shines a row
of stars.  The salesman is assisted by a small boy, who washes the
glasses and places them on the rack, and in other ways makes himself
generally useful.  The salesman is by no means guilty of the trick of
underrating his wares.  Accordingly, he lifts up his voice like a trumpet
as he deals out his pennyworths of the Elixir of Life.  In some cases he
is familiar, in others argumentative, in others bold as brass; and he
gets a good many customers.  The race of fools who rush in where angels
fear to tread is by no means extinct.  As I watched the poor skinny
quadruped, groggy and footsore, I felt how hard it was that Sunday should
shine no day of rest for him; but he had a good deal more go in him than
you would have imagined from his appearance.  All at once in the far
distance appeared two respected members of the City police; the gentleman
with the Elixir of Life closed his door, jumped up into his seat, pulled
his small boy up after him, and was off like lightening.  This Arab steed
could run after him.



XII.—CITY NUISANCES.


There are some people who are always grumbling.  Hit them high or hit
them low, you can’t please them.  I don’t think I belong to that class.
I like to look on the sunny side, remembering as the poet used to say
when I was a good deal younger than I am now—

    ’Tis wiser, better far.

In the words of a still greater poet—

    I take the goods the gods provide me.

And if the lovely Thais sits beside me, provided she does not lay a
stress upon my head and purse (I am a married man, and the father of a
family, and always hope to behave as such), I don’t object.  He is not a
wise man who quarrels with his bread and butter; he is a fool who expects
to find no thorns amongst his roses.  What I have gone through, dear
madam—for it is to the ladies I appeal—what I have gone through, dear
madam, is really astounding, at any rate to myself.  How I have survived
at all is “one of those things no fellah can understand.”  Repeatedly
ruin has stared me in the face.  Repeatedly have my young affections run
to waste.  Repeatedly have I been crossed in love, and tramped up and
down Cheapside and Fleet Street, a blighted being.  At this very moment,
if I may trust to my medical knowledge, I am now suffering from three
distinct diseases, any one of which is mortal; and yet if you were to
meet me in the street, or have a chat with me in a quiet café over a
cigar, or sit next me at a City dinner, you would swear that I was one of
those old fogies whom nothing troubles, without nerves or feelings, who
vegetated rather than lived in the little tragi-comedy we call life.  It
may be that little personal details are uninteresting.  I admit they are
not matters of transcendent importance.  You do not need master them if
you are going up for your degree, or going in for a Civil Service
examination.  I mention these merely to show that I can put up with a
good deal—that I am not easily put out of the way; and that I should be
one of the last persons in the world to call anything a nuisance, unless
it were really such.  Under these circumstances, I may claim a right to
be heard; and, when I state that I have no private aim, that, laying my
hand upon my heart, my only motive is the public good, I believe that I
shall not lift up my voice in vain.

Well, to waste no more words about it, of the nuisances of London it may
be said their name is legion.  In the first place, there are the streets.
If you get out at Farringdon Street Station, and walk towards the Holborn
Viaduct, it is of little use your having had your boots cleaned that
morning—a little shower of rain, and the pavement is covered with mud.
This ought not to be.  Let us take another nuisance.  All at once, as you
walk along, you see a chimney vomiting forth clouds of smoke.  This is a
great nuisance, especially on a fine summer day, when the atmosphere of
the City may be said to be almost clear; and this nuisance is the more
unbearable as there is a law to put it down, which law is actually to a
certain extent carried out.  Let anyone take his stand on some spot where
he can get a good view around him, and he will be sure to see some
chimney, in spite of the law, darkening the sky and poisoning the air.
Then there is the orange-peel, which has shortened many a valuable life,
and quenched the light of many a home.  Then there is the crowded traffic
of the streets, which renders all locomotion impossible, and keeps you
sitting, angry and fuming, in a cab, when it may be you are hurrying off
to save a bill from being dishonoured, to keep an appointment with a rich
aunt or uncle from whom you have great expectations, to have a last fond
look at someone whom you dearly love.  As to the disputed points as to
the pavements, I have nothing to offer.  To those who have to live and
sleep in the City, asphalte, I should say, must be the greatest boon
devised by the art of man.  With asphalte you may talk pleasantly to a
friend in Cheapside, you may get a reasonable night’s sleep in St. Paul’s
Churchyard, or you may crack a joke without bursting a blood-vessel
opposite the Mansion House itself.  Be that as it may, as the question as
to the comparative merits of asphalte, or granite, or wood will be
settled by wiser heads than mine, I say no more; but what I complain of,
and what is a nuisance to everyone, is the perpetual tinkering and
repairing always going on in the streets, and the consequent blockade for
a time of certain important thoroughfares.  What with the drainage, and
the water, and the gas pipes, and the telegraph wires, there is in most
of the City ways as much bustle almost under the street as on it, and an
ominous board with a notice from the Lord Mayor turns aside a tremendous
traffic, and is a terrible nuisance as long as it lasts.  Surely this
waste of time and annoyance is, a great deal of it, unnecessary.  All
that is wanted is a little more contrivance and forethought.  I was once
discussing the subject with a leading City man and an M.P., as we were
travelling together in a railway carriage on our way to a pleasant
gathering of City people many miles away beyond the sound of Bow Bells.
“Well,” said he, with a suggestive wink, “the thing is easily explained;
the rule is, for the surveyor’s son to marry the contractor’s daughter,
or something of that sort, and so between them they manage to play into
each other’s hands, and always have done so.”  Of course the M.P. was
joking.  No one could conceive it possible that our civic guardians, our
common councilmen, our aldermen, our City officers, would allow
themselves to be imposed on, and the public to be robbed in this way;
but, alas! it is a pity that there should be ground for such a joke, that
it should seem in any way to be founded on a fact.  We are not so bad as
we were, I admit, but that is no reason why we should not be better.
Even now there are parts of London to which Gay’s lines are applicable
when he writes:

Though expedition bids, yet never stray
Where no ranged post defends the rugged way;
Here laden carts with thundering waggons meet,
Wheels clash with wheels, and bar the narrow street,
The lashing whip resounds, the horses strain,
And blood in anguish bursts the swelling vein.

Something like this may be met with any day when the stones are greasy on
Fish Street Hill, as the waggons turn up from Thames Street laden with
the heavy merchandise of that quarter of the town.  As I have quoted Gay,
let me give another quotation from him.  In one of his fables he writes:

    How many saucy airs we meet
    From Temple Bar to Aldgate Street.
    Proud rogues who shared the South Sea prey,
    And spring like mushrooms in a day,
    They think it mean to condescend
    To know a brother or a friend.
    They blush to hear their mother’s name,
    And by their pride expose their shame.

There are just such men as Gay wrote of to be met in our streets, and
they are a nuisance, but the law of libel, in the interest of rogues who
live by getting up bubble companies, is hard on the press, and I prefer
to quote Gay to making original remarks of my own, remarks which may be
true, which may be useful, but for which the proprietor of any paper that
would publish them would have to pay heavily, at any rate in the way of
costs.

Later in the day, one of the nuisances in the streets is “Those horrid
boys.”  They have come home from work, or school; they have had their
tea, it is too early for them to go to bed, their fathers and mothers
don’t know what to do with them at home, and so they loiter about the
streets, and carry on their little games in them, much to their own
satisfaction, but very much to the annoyance of everyone else.  One of
their favourite amusements is to run in groups, like so many wild Indians
or a pack of wolves, howling and shrieking in a way very alarming.  It is
no use talking to them.  It is no use putting the police on after them.
The belated citizen, on his way home to the inevitable suburb, is
frightened into fits ere he reaches his much-hoped-for haven of rest.
And the small shopkeepers in the quiet streets—which they more especially
affect—in terror rush to the door, believing either that there is a fire,
or that Bedlam has broken loose, or that the Fenians have come.  In some
parts, as in Whitechapel, the wild girls of the streets are even worse.

There are many local nuisances in London; one of the chief of these is
the conduct of the watermen about the landing-places near the Custom
House.  Females and foreigners, who have to take boats to the large
steamers lying in the river, are frightfully plundered in this way.
These men feel that they can rob you with impunity, and they abuse their
privileges.

“Ah,” said one, after he had squeezed a five-shilling piece out of a poor
foreigner for rowing him a few yards, “I’ll put up with it this time, but
don’t do it again,” as if he, the boatman, and not the poor foreigner,
had been the victim of a most atrocious fraud.  Such fellows as these
should be kept honest somehow.  Who does not recollect that chapter in
“Vilette,” in which Charlotte Brontë has recorded her waterside
experiences?  How she was landed by the coachman in the midst of a throng
of watermen, who gathered around her like wolves; how she stepped at once
into a boat, desiring to be taken to the _Vivid_; how she was fleeced by
the waterman, as she paid an exorbitant sum, as the steward, a young man,
was looking over the ship’s side, grinning a smile in anticipation of the
row there would have been had she refused to pay.  I had an experience
somewhat similar myself.  Perhaps I got off easily.  In those dark
wharves on that black river, here and there lit by a distant and
dimly-burning lamp—at that midnight hour, when all good people are in
bed, it is well that there is nothing going on worse than robbery in such
a mild form.  Had I been dropped overboard, I am sure few people would
have known it; and I am not certain that I have no reason to be grateful
to the lot amongst whom I found myself that they attempted nothing of the
kind.  Late at night there are many dark and lonely spots in the City
suggestive of dark deeds.  In some one walks with fear and trembling.
Suspicious people have a knack of turning up in such dark places; and the
police can’t be everywhere.

Then there is the water supply.  It is all very well to have a spirited
foreign policy abroad, but we do want a little common sense at home; and
the sanitary state of the nation is of the first importance.  You cannot
blame a man that he refuses to drink bad water, and takes beer instead;
and if anything be clearer than another, it is that the water supplied to
the working man is bad; for whilst the rich man can have his cisterns
regularly cleaned out, and his water filtered, the working man, as a
rule, uses the water as he can get it, and suffers in consequence, both
in person and in pocket.  Under the influence of this state of things, it
is not surprising to find mothers refusing to allow their children to
drink water on the plea that it is bad for their health.  Nor are these
mothers to be blamed.  It is a fact that in England and Wales alone
upwards of eight hundred persons die every month from typhoid fever; a
disease which is now believed to be caused almost entirely through
drinking impure water.  It is a fact that in London we have little pure
water to drink, the companies are put to a great expense to filter their
water, and yet every week we read such reports as the following from Dr.
Frankland, the official to whom is entrusted the analysing of such
matters: “The Thames water, delivered by the West Middlesex, Southwark,
and Grand Junction Companies, was so much polluted by organic matter as
to be quite unfit for dietetic purposes.”  The other day I had to pay my
water rates; imagine my disgust at having to do so when the Government
inspector in the daily papers informed me that the water supplied by the
company was totally unfit for dietetic purposes!  The evil is no new one.
It has been ventilated in every way; and yet in London, the wealthiest
city in the world, we cannot get a cup of pure water.  People can have it
in Manchester and Glasgow and New York; but in London—which claims to be
the capital of commerce, the seat of Legislation, the model city—we have
poison in the cup—as science tells us that we cannot take with impunity
the living organisms and fungoid growths with which London water more or
less abounds.  Lately the working men met at Exeter Hall to say that it
was time to put a stop to this disgraceful state of things.  As Cardinal
Manning said, if they wanted to give a subject the slip, the proper way
was to get a committee of inquiry, and if they wanted to bury it
altogether the right thing to do was to have a Royal Commission.  Action
is what is wanted.  There are ten Parliamentary boroughs, and it was
proposed to hold public meetings in each of them, to form a central
committee, and thus to create a public pressure to which Parliament would
have to give way.  As it is, as Sir Charles Dilke pointed out, we have
eight water companies in London who have increased the cost of water all
round without improving the quality.  What is to be asked is, that a body
of men be formed in London to have the care of the water supply; and, as
Mr. J. Holms, M.P., pointed out, the sooner this is done the better, as
every year the companies’ properties increase in value, and there will
have to be paid to them additional compensation.  The importance of the
subject was, perhaps, most pointedly brought out by Dr. Lyon Playfair,
who argued that, as in each average individual there were 98 lb. of water
to 40 lb. of flesh and bone, he calculated that there were before him at
that time as many as 25,000 gallons of water; and if that water was
impure it must vitiate the blood and lower the health of all.  We must
have, he said, a good supply of water, pure at the source.  We must have
good receptacles for storing it, and we must have a constant system of
supply.

What great events from little causes spring!  Last year a gentleman was
run over by a butcher’s cart through the careless driving of the butcher;
and finding that accidents of that nature were of frequent occurrence and
were increasing, he, with other gentlemen, obtained a return of the
number of accidents from Sir Edmund Henderson, the chief of the
Metropolitan Police, which showed that, in 1878, 124 persons were killed
and 3,052 run over in the Metropolitan districts.  But this is not all.
The return only showed such accidents as came under the knowledge of the
Metropolitan police.  Accordingly application was made to the
Registrar-General of Deaths, and from him it was ascertained that 237
persons were killed by vehicles and 3,399 run over during that year in
and around London; and hence the formation of the society for the
prevention of street accidents.  Further researches made by the secretary
among the London hospitals resulted in learning that run-over cases
formed the most common class of accidents.  The house surgeon of the
principal hospital wrote that he computed there was an average of thirty
“run-over” cases a week brought there for treatment, which, in that one
hospital alone, would make 930 accidents attended to there yearly.  The
result of the society’s operations are satisfactory.  At any rate this
year the returns show one death less, and a falling off in run-over cases
to the number of 517.  Such decrease the society claims to be the result
of its labours, on the ground that every year during the last ten years
has showed an increase of six per cent.  If this be so, it was well that
the secretary was run over, especially as apparently he was not much hurt
by the operation.  Physically he is as fine a man as you would wish to
see; and though undoubtedly the sensation at the time was not an
agreeable one, yet, if it has led to the reduction of street accidents,
how much cause have we to rejoice.  It seems almost as if Mr. Buckle were
right when he questions the beneficial effect of morality on national
progress.  At any rate, if I were a lover of paradox I would quote
Mandeville to show how private vices become public benefits.  A butcher
boy recklessly ran over Mr. Keevil, and the result is a decrease of
street accidents and mortality.  Statues have been erected to men who
have less benefited the public than that butcher boy.

But accidents will happen, and I fear, as the Lord Mayor truly said at
the first annual meeting of the society held in the Egyptian Hall of the
Mansion House, it is to be feared most of them are really accidents, that
is, things that cannot be prevented.  The society aims to prevent
accidents by enforcing existing laws; by petitioning Parliament to amend
them; by prosecuting offenders for furious driving; by granting donations
or loans to sufferers; by compulsory carriage of a lamp on all vehicles,
trimmed and lighted after sunset; by compulsory use of brake-power; and
by stationing the society’s mounted and other officers in the leading
thoroughfares of the metropolis, and other towns, to check and pursue
offenders, and to enforce the claims of the society.  At its first
meeting we had an array of elderly peers and distinguished persons, that
was really overpowering.  One reverend speaker looked quite pathetic, as,
with an arm in a sling, he narrated how he had been the victim of a
street accident.  Let it not be thought that I am inclined to write of
the reverend gentleman and the society with levity.  I, too, have
suffered.  The other night in the fog, in a street-crossing, I
experienced a disagreeable sensation on the side of my head—which
fortunately nature has made thick enough for ordinary wear and tear—and
in the gloaming found that a cab had driven up against me.  Fortunately,
I escaped with a slight contusion, but it would have been a sad thing for
my small home circle had it been a serious matter.  Alas! to men every
day accidents occur that are serious; and there are women white with
terror, and children struck dumb with an undefined sense of impending
ill, as the news comes to them that the husband and father is in the
hospital.  Sometimes the agony is prolonged, as they do not even learn
that; and who can tell the bitterness as the weary hours of the night
pass away and the cold gray of morn reappears, as the watchful ear tries
to fancy in every sound of the passing footstep the return of one never
to come home more?  By all means let us, if we can, prevent street
accidents.  Life is not so bright, earth is not so full of joy, that we
may neglect, when an opportunity occurs, to save one breaking heart, to
prevent one solitary tear.

Sir Arthur Helps, just before his death, published another of his popular
volumes, “Friends in Council,” in which certain friends—men of the world
and of high position—are supposed to discuss the several problems of the
day.  The scene is laid in a villa on the banks of the Thames.  The host
is Sir John Ellesmere—not Mr. Milverton.  The subject is “Social
Pressure,” a subject which may certainly be said to come home to our
businesses and bosoms.  The aim of all the speeches is how we are to be
comfortable; and, as citizens of this great city, as was to be expected,
London occupies the chief place in their thoughts, is referred to in all
the arguments—in short, points the moral and adorns the tale.  Milverton
reads an essay on the subject, which lays it down as an indisputable
truth that one of the greatest evils of modern life is the existence of
great towns.  The metropolis is pointed out as an illustration.  First we
are told the loss of animal power is enormous.  Four or five hundred
horses are carried to the knacker’s yard each week in London.  After a
day’s business it is a pleasure to take a walk in the country; but, it is
asked, Who can do that in London, where there are, in several directions,
ten continuous miles of houses?  Then, as to the pleasures of society,
these are destroyed by the immense extent of the metropolis.  Even the
largest houses are not, relatively speaking, large enough for the town in
which they are situated.  As regards questions of health, Dr. Arnott,
whom Sir Arthur terms one of the greatest sanitary reformers of the age,
remarked that though London is a place where the rate of mortality is not
exceedingly high, yet it is a place where nobody except butchers’ boys
enjoy perfect health—the full state of health that they are capable of
enjoying.

In spite of the somewhat extreme notions of the “Friends,” who seem to
forget that men are driven into cities by the necessity which compels
most of them to earn their daily bread, it must be admitted that in the
question of air they have hit a blot.  The first article of food, namely,
fresh air, is that which is least under the command of man.  Mr.
Milverton says there is no danger of London being starved for want of
animal food.  There is more and more danger every year of its health
being diminished from the want of a supply of fresh air.  It is stated,
in confirmation of this fact, that every year the hospital surgeons in
London find it more difficult to cure wounds and injuries of all kinds to
the human body, on account, it is supposed, of the growing impurity of
the London air.  This bad air kills off the cows.  A London cow does not
last a third part of the time one does in the country.  On this head much
more might have been said.  The author might have referred to the
mournful fate of the fine cattle, who, recently, on the field of their
triumph, the Smithfield Club Show, found, not laurels and rewards, but a
grave, in consequence of the fog.  We read that that famous man, Count
Rumford, used to estimate the number of millions of chaldrons of coals
which were suspended in the atmosphere of London, and to dwell upon the
mischief which was caused to furniture by the smoke when it descended.
But there are other special causes of injury, such as dust and chemical
emanations of all kinds.  The result is that everything in such a city as
London soon loses all bloom and freshness, and, indeed, is rapidly
deteriorated.  The more beautiful the thing, the more swift and fatal is
this deterioration.  The essayist calculates the injury of property in
London, caused, not by reasonable wear and tear, but by the result of the
agglomeration of too many people upon one spot of ground, as not less
than three or four millions of pounds per annum.  It is to be feared the
estimate is not exaggerated.

There is a further illustration.  Sir Rutherford Alcock, as we all know,
represented our interests in China.  While there he visited the Chinese
Wall, and brought back two specimens from it in the way of bricks.  These
bricks must have been many centuries old, but they had kept their form
and betrayed no signs of decay in that atmosphere.  Sir Rutherford put
these two bricks out in the balcony of his house in London.  This was
about two years ago.  One of these bricks has already gone to pieces,
being entirely disintegrated by the corrosive influence of the London
atmosphere.

In another way we also suffer.  Certain kinds of architecture are out of
place in London, says our essayist: “All that is delicate and refined is
so soon blurred, defaced, and corroded by this cruel atmosphere, that it
is a mockery and a delusion to attempt fine work.”  There ought to be a
peculiar kind of architecture for such a metropolis—large, coarse, and
massive, owning neither delicacy nor refinement, and not admitting minute
description of any kind.  And, again, that coarse work requires to be
executed in the hardest material, otherwise the corrosion is so great as
to cause the need for constant repair.

Another danger is pointed out in the following anecdote.  At a former
time, when this country was threatened with an invasion of cholera, the
speaker (Milverton) was one of a committee of persons appointed by
Government supposed to have some skill in sanitary science.  “We found,”
he remarks, “that a most deadly fever had originated from the premises of
one of the greatest vendors of oysters in the centre of the metropolis.
Attached to his premises there was a large subterranean place where he
deposited his oyster shells; this place was connected with the sewers.
The small portion of animal matter left in the under shells became
putrescent; and from the huge mass of them that had accumulated in that
subterranean place there finally arose a stench of the most horrible
nature, which came up through all the neighbouring gratings, and most
probably into some of the neighbouring houses.”

My readers need not be alarmed.  Such a nuisance would not be permitted
now; and as oysters are getting dearer and scarcer every day, it is to be
questioned whether these shells will be ever again in sufficient numbers
as to form a putrid and pernicious heap.  But that the air is polluted by
noxious substances and trades is one of the greatest and most pressing
evils of the ever-threatening perils of such a Babylon as that in which
we live.  We suggest, advisedly, the removal of all noxious trades from
London, in spite of all that the political economists can say to the
contrary.  This, however, is of course but a small part of the question.
The main object is to see what can be done to render this vast
agglomeration of animate and inanimate beings less embarrassing and
injurious.  The first thing that must occur to almost every mind is the
necessity for preserving open spaces, and even of creating them, a
necessity of which the Corporation of London is at any rate aware.

There is more of novelty in the following: “Another evil of great towns
is noise.  There is the common proverb that half the world does not know
how the other half lives, which, perhaps, would be a more effective
saying if the word ‘suffers’ were substituted for ‘lives.’  It is
probable that there is no form of human suffering which meets with less
sympathy or regard from those who do not suffer from it, than the
suffering caused by noise.  The man of hard, healthy, well-strung nerves
can scarcely imagine the real distress which men of sensitive nerves
endure from ill-regulated noise—how they literally quiver and shiver
under it.  Now, of course, the larger the town, the more varied and the
more abundant is the noise in it.  Even the domestic noises are dreadful
to a man of acute nervous sensibility.”

In the City we have done much to remove this evil.  The asphalte pavement
has wrought wonders; the police have been also efficacious in putting a
stop to some of our roughest and most discordant cries; and yet there is
a volume of noise, ever rising up and filling the air, which must shorten
many a life, and which must be a permanent source of misery.  There are
few of us who have not realised what Sir Arthur Helps describes as the
terrors and horrors of ill-regulated noise, or have not wondered that so
much intellectual work is done so well as it is in these great cities.
Now that Sir Arthur has called attention to the subject, it may be other
people will think it worth consideration.

Damascus and Babylon are referred to for the purpose of drawing a
comparison to the disadvantage of London.  Babylon, we are told, had in
its densest parts what is deficient in London.  Babylon contained within
its walls land sufficient for agricultural purposes, to enable the
inhabitants of the city to be fed by those resources during a siege.
Well, of course, that is quite out of question as regards London.  Then
comes Damascus, which, “from the presence of large gardens, forms a most
pleasing contrast to London and other large cities;” but Damascus has the
plague, and that London, with all its magnitude, escapes.  Then we are
told London is built so badly that were it to be abandoned by its
population it would fall during that time into a state of ruin which
would astonish the world.  This, it is to be feared, is true of the
suburbs, where builders are allowed to scamp their work just as they
please, but certainly cannot be said of the City, where there is proper
superintendence and most vigilant care.  Another evil to which the
“Friends” refer, is the absence of raised buildings, partially covered
in, which should enable those in the neighbourhood to take exercise with
freedom both from bitter winds and driving rains; in fact, an elevated
kind of cloister—where it is suggested recreation and amusement might be
provided, especially of a musical kind.  It is to be feared space is too
valuable for this in the City; and, until our roughs are educated under
the new School Board, we know no part of the metropolis where such a
thing is practicable, even though, as hinted, the attractions of such a
place would counteract those of the gin palace.  There was a Piazza in
Regent Street, which was removed on account of the shelter it gave to
improper characters.  One suggestion is made, which is really
practicable, and which would be a great boon to Londoners.  Ellesmere
wishes that he were a Lord of the Woods and Forests, as, if he were, he
would add to Kew Gardens the eight hundred acres now lying waste between
them and Richmond; he wants a vegetable-garden there, and a
recreation-ground for the people, and the ground, he argues, is admirably
adapted for such purposes.

Ah! these poor Londoners.  They fare but poorly at the hands of the
“Council.”  “Hail a cab in any part of London where there is a large
stream of passers-by, you will observe that several grown-up persons and
a large number of boys will stop to see you get in the cab.  That very
commonplace transaction has some charm for them—their days being passed
in such continuous dulness.”  Thus, says one speaker: “At Dresden or
Munich, on their holidays, the whole population flock out to some
beautiful garden a mile or two from the town, hear good music, imbibe
fresh air, and spend only a few pence in those humble but complete
pleasures;” and then this picture is contrasted with that of the head of
the family here, who spends his holiday at the neighbouring gin-palace
round the corner.  Certainly this is a very unfair comparison, as anyone
knows who visits our public gardens and parks and health resorts on the
occasion of a national holiday.  There is another picture, which it is to
be feared is more common.  It tells of a sanitary reformer who noticed
how a young woman who had come from the country and was living in some
miserable city-court or alley, made, for a time, great efforts to keep
that court or alley clean.  But gradually, day by day, the efforts of
that poor woman were less and less vigorous, until in a few weeks she
became accustomed to and contented with the state of squalor which
surrounded her, and made no effort to remove it.  It is true, as
Milverton remarks: “We in London subside into living contentedly amidst
dirt, and seeing our books, our pictures, our other works of art, and our
furniture become daily more dirty, dusty, and degenerate.”

Our grandfathers lived in the City, and were glad to do so.  It is a pity
one has to waste so much time travelling backward and forward between
one’s shop and country house, and office and one’s home, but if you can’t
get fresh air in the City—if you can’t rear children in its atmosphere—if
its soot is fatal to your health—if its fogs carry one off to a premature
grave—if its noises wear out your nerves—one has no alternative.  Is it a
dream to look forward to a time when beggars and rogues shall disappear
from its streets—when it shall be the home of a peaceful, virtuous, and
enlightened community—when in the summer-time as you look up you will be
able to see the sun—when you will be able to drink pure water—when,
within the sound of Bow Bells, you shall be able to live to a good old
age—and when, on the Sabbath, its churches and chapels, now empty of
worshippers, shall be filled with devout men and women?  Or is it to go
on daily becoming more gorgeous to the eye and more desolate to the
heart?  Alas! it seems nothing but a deluge can save the City, and as
much now as ever the wearied citizen will have to sing:

    Oh, well may poets make a fuss
    In summer time, and sigh _O rus_.

And ask,

    What joy have I in June’s return?
    My feet are parched; my eyeballs burn;
    I scent no flowery gust.
       But faint the flagging Zephyr springs,
       With dry Macadam on its wings,
    And turns me dust to dust.



XIII.—OUT OF GAOL.


“Shall I wait to bring you back, sir?” said a cabman to me the other
morning, as he landed me at an early hour before the gloomy pile, which
has hitherto been known as the Middlesex House of Correction, placed, as
my readers may know well, on Mount Pleasant, just out of Gray’s Inn Road.
On a dull, dreary morning, it is anything but pleasant, that Mount, in
spite of its name, and yet I dismissed the cabman and got out into the
street, not to enjoy the view, or to inhale the raw fog, which threw a
misty gloom over everything, nor even to admire the architecture of the
substantial plain brick-wall-order of the building, which, erected in
1794, and greatly enlarged since, occupies no less than nine acres, and
was devoted to the maintenance of a thousand male persons belonging to
the small but thickly-inhabited county of Middlesex.  Government, in its
wisdom, has altered all that, and it is not exactly clear to what
purposes the Middlesex House of Correction will be applied in the future,
or to whom it will belong.  Imperialism requires centralisation, and thus
it is local government gradually disappears.

But I am not standing out here in the raw gloomy November morning to
write a political disquisition which few will read, and which they will
forget the next minute, but I am come to see the prisoners released from
gaol.  There is a little mob outside, who stand close, apparently to keep
each other warm, and who regard me evidently with not a little suspicion
as I light up a cigar to keep the cold out and prepare for the worst.
Every now and then a “Favourite” omnibus rumbles past with its load of
clerks and warehousemen to their places of business, while a perpetual
stream of pedestrians, aiming at the same destination, passes on.
Evidently, they regard us with pity, and one sees that in the casual
glance, even if there be no language escaping from the lips.  It does not
seem to me that we are a very showy lot.  A little way off a dark and
dingy brougham drives up as if it were ashamed of the job and only put in
an appearance under protest, as it were; but all around me are wretchedly
poor, and chiefly of the costermonger class, whose language is more
expressive than refined.  There are sorrowful women in the group—mothers
who have come for sons who have been, not to put too fine a point on it,
unfortunate; wives with babies in their arms, perhaps born since the
husband was in “trouble,” and sisters who wait to take their brothers
where they can have something better than prison fare and a lighter life
than that which exists within the four walls of a prison.  Some of the
women are to be pitied—one, in a widow’s garb, with a tear-stained face,
particularly attracts my attention.  She has brought all her family with
her as she comes to take back from the hands of justice her erring son,
who, let us hope, may yet live to be a comfort to the poor mother, who
evidently needs it so much; and who, perhaps, reproaches herself that she
has been a little to blame in the matter.  It is hard work to train up
young ones, whether they be rich or poor; but the children of the latter
in the filthy lodging-houses in low districts have little, alas! to lead
them right, and much in the way of precept and example to lead them
wrong.  With Board schools to teach honesty is the best policy, we may
expect better things in the days to come; and, if that be done, I feel
certain the Board will have deserved well of the country; if it fails in
imparting that higher instruction which some of its leading members seem
to think the one thing needful, and to be gained for the poor man’s child
at any cost to the unfortunate ratepayer of the class immediately above.
But this is a digression—and it only helps to pass away the time which
here this cold, raw morning appears to have quite forgotten to fly.  It
seems to me an age since I heard the neighbouring chimes indicate that it
was a quarter to nine, and now at length they strike nine, and still the
big gates are closed, and we are silent with expectation—as if, at least,
we expected the arrival of a Lord Mayor or a Prince of Wales.  A few
policemen have now come up to keep the crowd back, whilst a quiet,
respectable, unassuming individual comes to the gate, ready to give each
prisoner a ticket to a little breakfast in a Mission Hall close by.  Mr.
Wheatley, the individual referred to, has his heart in the work, and I
see he has friends and assistants in the crowd, such as Mr. Hatton, of
the Mission Hall in Wylde Street, and others.  In a few minutes they will
be hard at work, for the big gates suddenly are wide apart, and a couple
of lads appear with a smile on their pale countenances, for they are
free.  Face to face with the crowd outside they seem a little amazed, and
scarce know which way to turn.  Mr. Wheatley gives them a card of
invitation, and Mr. Hatton and his friends outside follow it up with
pressing remarks, which lead them to march off to a neighbouring Mission
Hall.  Again the doors are closed, and we are silent.  Then the gates fly
apart, and out come two or three more, who seem to wish to slink away
without being remarked by anyone.  However, a little pale-faced girl
cries, “Charley!” in a soft trembling voice, and Charley looks, and as
the girl leaves the rank he takes her hand, and goes his way rejoicing.
A big bullet-headed fellow has no cap as he comes out, and a friend in
the crowd chucks him one, which he puts on his head, and is soon lost to
sight.  Another one appears at the gate, and a pal comes up to him, and
offers him a pipe, which he straightway begins to smoke, with a gusto
easier imagined than described.  One old man as he hobbles out refuses
the proffered card, saying that he was quite wicked enough, and did not
want none of that.  Evidently he is a hardened sinner, and I fear the
chaplain has found him rather a bad subject.  One man, a bit of a wag,
creates a laugh, as, looking at the women in the crowd, he calls out,
“Come along, my dears,” and away he goes to his own place.

Again there is another pause, and then a respectable-looking man makes
his appearance.  Suddenly his wife clasps his hand, and leads him off.
There is irrepressible emotion in her face, though she does not say a
word, nor he either.  It does not seem to me that he is a hardened
criminal, and he may yet retrieve the blot on his character.  Order again
prevails, and a voice out of the middle of the gate asks if anyone is
waiting for Jones and Robinson.  That means Jones and Robinson have
behaved well—have earned a little money, which is to be handed over to
their friends.  And thus half an hour passes away, and as I look at the
crowd I see that it has partly changed, and is composed more of casual
street boys and pedestrians who have stopped to look.  I miss almost all
the women who were there an hour ago, and most of the costermonger class
have disappeared, though a few still linger on.  The voice from the
closed doors says that there are no more to come out to-day, and slowly
the crowd melts away.  Some are evidently sad.  They had expected a
father, a brother, a husband, and now they have to wait awhile.  On our
right, as we make our way to Gray’s Inn Road, there is a little Mission
Hall, and I turn in.  Already the place is full, and as the gas falls on
their faces as they devour the morning meal provided for them by Mr.
Hatton and his friends, it seems to me that I never saw a more
ill-favoured lot.  There was not a pleasant face among them—not a man or
a lad that I would have cared to set to work in my garden or house; and
as to their poverty, that was indescribable.  These are the men whom none
had come to meet—the waifs and strays, without money or friends or work,
with that defiant scowl which denotes how low the man has sunk, and how
little it matters to him whether he spend his days in the workhouse or
the gaol.  Mr. Wheatley talks kindly to them, and after singing—not by
them, for they all sit glum and silent—Mr. Hatton prays, and the meeting
is over.  A good many then come forward to sign the pledge, and I leave
them as they explain their position and their need.  I see Mr. Wheatley
gives a few a trifle; but a trifle, alas! won’t keep a man in London long
out of gaol.



XIV.—IN A GIPSY CAMP.


The other day I was witness to a spectacle which made me feel a doubt as
to whether I was living in the nineteenth century.  I was, as it were,
within the shadow of that mighty London where Royalty resides; where the
richest Church in Christendom rejoices in its abbey and cathedral, and
its hundreds of churches; where an enlightened and energetic Dissent has
not only planted its temples in every district, but has sent forth its
missionary agents into every land; where the fierce light of public
opinion, aided by a press which never slumbers, is a terror to them that
do evil, and a praise to them that do well; a city which we love to boast
heads the onward march of man; and yet the scene before me was as
intensely that of savage life as if I had been in a Zulu kraal, and
savage life destitute of all that lends it picturesque attractions or
ideal charms.  I was standing in the midst of some twenty tents and vans,
inhabited by that wandering race of whose origin we know so little, and
of whose future we know less.  The snow was on the ground, there was
frost in the very air.  Within a few yards was a great Board school;
close by were factories and workshops, and the other concomitants of
organised industrial life.  Yet in that small area the gipsies held
undisputed sway.  In or about London there are, it is calculated, some
two thousand of these dwellers in tents.  In all England there are some
twenty thousand of these sons of Ishmael, with hands against everyone,
or, perhaps, to put it more truly, with everyone’s hands against them.
In summer-time their lot is by no means to be envied; in winter their
state is deplorable indeed.

We entered, Mr. George Smith and I, and were received as friends.  Had I
gone by myself I question whether my reception would have been a pleasant
one.  As gipsies pay no taxes they can keep any number of dogs, and these
dogs have a way of sniffing and snarling anything but agreeable to an
unbidden guest.  The poor people complained to me that no one ever came
to see them.  I should be surprised if anyone did; but Mr. George Smith,
of Coalville, is no common man; and having secured fair-play for the poor
children of the brick-fields—he himself was brought up in a
brick-yard—and for the poor and sadly-neglected inmates of the canal
boats, he has now turned his attention to the gipsies.  His idea is—and
it is a good one—that an Act of Parliament should be passed for their
benefit, something similar to that he has been the means of carrying for
the canal and brick-field children.  In a paper read before the Social
Science Congress at Manchester, Mr. Smith argued that all tents, shows,
caravans, auctioneer vans, and like places, used as dwellings, should be
registered and numbered, and under proper sanitary arrangements, with
sanitary inspectors and School Board officers in every town and village.
Thus in every district the children would have their names and attendance
registered in a book, which they could take with them from place to
place, and, when endorsed by the schoolmaster, it would show that the
children were attending school.  In carrying out this idea, it is a pity
that Mr. Smith should have to bear all the burden.  As it is, he has
suffered greatly in his pocket by his philanthropic effort.  At one time
he had a well-paid situation, which he had to relinquish, as he declined
to keep silence when the wrongs of the children of the brick-yards were
to be proclaimed and redressed.  He not only did this, but he parted with
what little property he had rather than the battle should be lost; and I
am glad to see that a George Smith Fund has been formed, of which Lord
Aberdeen is chairman; and as Mr. Smith is now without business or
occupation, or means of livelihood, if I had five pounds to spare—which,
alas! I have not—I know where it would go.  As to the gipsies, they
evidently hail Mr. Smith as a friend in need and a friend indeed.

It is no joke, going into a gipsy yard, and it is still less so when you
go down on your hands and knees and crawl into the gipsy’s wigwam; but
the worst of it is, when you have done so there is little to see after
all.  In the middle, on a few bricks, is a stove or fireplace of some
kind.  On the ground is a floor of wood-chips, or straw, or shavings, and
on this squat some two or three big, burly men, who make linen-pegs and
skewers, and mend chairs and various articles, the tribe, as they wander
along, seek to sell.  The women are away, for it is they who bring the
grist to the mill, as they tell fortunes, or sell their wares, or follow
their doubtful trade; but the place swarms with children, and it was
wonderful to see with what avidity they stretched out the dirtiest little
hand imaginable as Mr. Smith prepared to distribute some sweets he had
brought with him for that purpose.  As we entered, all the vans were shut
up, and the tents only were occupied, the vans being apparently deserted;
but presently a door was opened half-way, and out popped a little gipsy
head, with sparkling eyes and curly hair; and then another door opened,
and a similar spectacle was to be seen.  Let us look into the van, about
the size of a tiny cabin, and chock full, in the first place, with a
cooking-stove; and then with shelves, with curtains, and some kind of
bedding, apparently not very clean, on which the family repose.  It is a
piteous life, even at the best, in that van; even when the cooking-pot is
filled with something more savoury than cabbages or potatoes, the usual
fare; but the children seem happy, nevertheless, in their dirty rags, and
with their luxurious heads of curly hair.  All of them are as ignorant as
Hottentots, and lead a life horrible to think of.  I only saw one woman
in the camp, and I only saw her by uncovering the top and looking into
the tent in which she resides.  She is terribly poor, she says, and
pleads earnestly for a few coppers; and I can well believe she wants
them, for in this England of ours, and especially in the outskirts of
London, the gipsy is not a little out of place.  Around us are some
strapping girls, one with a wonderfully sweet smile on her face, who, if
they could be trained to domestic service, would have a far happier life
than they can ever hope to lead.  The cold and wet seem to affect them
not, nor the poor diet, nor the smoke and bad air of their cabins, in
which they crowd, while the men lazily work, and the mothers are far
away.  The leading lady in this camp is absent on business; but she is a
firm adherent of Mr. George Smith, and wishes to see the children
educated; and as she is a Lee, and Lee in gipsy annals takes the same
rank as a Norfolk Howard in aristocratic circles, that says a good deal;
but then, if you educate a gipsy girl, she will want to have her hands
and face, at any rate, clean; and a gipsy boy, when he learns to read,
will feel that he is born for a nobler end than to dwell in a stinking
wigwam, to lead a lawless life, to herd with questionable characters, and
to pick up a precarious existence at fairs and races; and our poets and
novelists and artists will not like that.  However, just now, by means of
letters in the newspapers, and engravings in the illustrated journals, a
good deal of attention is paid to the gipsies, and if they can be
reclaimed and turned into decent men and women, a good many farmers’
wives will sleep comfortably at night, especially when geese and turkeys
are being fattened for Christmas fare; and a desirable impulse will be
given to the trade in soap.



XV.—THE STREET BOYS OF LONDON.


One of the comic sights of the City is that of a guardian of the streets
making an attack upon a bevy of small boys, who are enjoying themselves
in their own wild way in some quiet corner sacred to the pursuits of
trade.  It may be that the ragged urchins are pretending to be engaged in
business, but X. Y. Z. knows better, and, remembering that order is
heaven’s first law, and that the aim of all good men and true is to make
London as much as possible like the New Jerusalem, he dashes in amongst
the chaotic mob in the vain hope that he shall be able to send them about
their business.  Alas! London in one respect resembles a place not
mentioned in ears polite, in that it is paved with good intentions.  X.
Y. Z. is a case in point.  In a fair field the chances would be in his
favour.  He has long legs, he is well made, he has more than an average
amount of bone and muscle, but he is not fairly matched.  Indeed, he is
as much out of his element in the contest as a bull in a china shop.  He
can’t dodge under horses’ bellies; he can’t crawl between the wheels of
an omnibus or railway waggon; he can’t hide his portly form behind a
letter pillar; and his pursuit is as vain as that of a butterfly by a
buffalo; and generally he does but put to rout the juvenile mob, and
resolve it into its component parts only for a time.  It is not always
so.  A. B. C. comes to the aid of X. Y. Z., and captures the small boy,
who, to avoid Charybdis, falls a prey to Scylla, and then the precious
prize is borne away before the bench, and Old Jewry rejoices, for there
is one little pest the less.  Of course the policeman is right.  He does
what I could not do.  I am not a millionaire, but it would require a very
handsome sum to get me to go boy-hunting down Cheapside or in any of its
adjacent streets.  X. Y. Z. has less sense of incongruity than I have, or
he sees the eternal fitness of things from a different point of view.
Let me observe here the boy has also a standpoint differing from either.

Let me take a single case.  Jack Smith, as we will call him, was the son
of a Scotch piper.  He was born—or he has heard his mother say so—in one
of the vast number of the courts that lead out of the Strand.  His father
was in the army, but on his discharge took to playing in the streets and
in public-houses for his living till his death a few years back.  As to
his mother—hear this, ye sentimentalists who say pretty things about a
mother’s love!—she deserted the boy, and left him to shift for himself.
He took, of course, to selling lights and newspapers.  When he got money
he lodged in the Mint, when he had not, he slept in the barges off Thames
Street.  At last one morning he was caught by a policeman, and hauled
before the Lord Mayor.  The latter let him off that time, but warned the
boy that if he were caught again it would be the duty of society to send
him to gaol.  What can such a boy think of society?  Will he be very
grateful for its kindness, or very anxious for its welfare?  I think not.
London, it is calculated, contains ten thousand of these shoeless,
homeless, friendless, forsaken, ragged, unwashed, uncombed young urchins
of doubtful antecedents.  It is difficult to trace their genealogies, and
it is still more difficult to understand why they ever came into
existence at all.  They are not a blessing either to father or mother,
and as a rule may be said to deny the existence of parental authority
altogether.  “Mother dead; father gone for a soldier—a sailor”—as the
case may be—is the common result of all inquiry; and, when it is not so,
when father and mother do “turn up”—“turn up” from the nearest gin-shop,
all redolent of its perfume—it is not always to the boy’s advantage.
Solomon says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;” he might
have said the same of many who are not children; and what is to be
expected of a boy who is born and bred, as it were, in the streets of
London?  I have known wise fathers have foolish sons.  I have seen the
children of what are called pious people go astray.  In the very city of
London many are the ministers’ and clergymen’s sons who kick over the
traces.  The crop of wild oats sown by some of these young fellows is
really astonishing.  It was only the other day that the son of the
foremost baronet in Evangelical circles, the last scion as it were of a
noble house, stood trembling at the bar of the Old Bailey.  But these
children of the gutter have never had a chance of going right.  No mother
has watched their every step—no father has held up to them a living
example of truth and integrity and right—no teacher has waited the
dawning of their young intellect—no Christian minister has moulded and
guided the workings of their young hearts—the atmosphere in which they
live and move and have their being as of poverty and crime.  Mostly they
run away from home, the home of the thief and the harlot and the
drunkard, and what they learn they learn in the back streets of
Whitechapel, in the filthy courts of Drury Lane, in the purlieus of St.
Giles.  Like perpetuates its like.  The seed of the serpent is always
venomous; the tiger’s cub is always thirsting for blood.  There are
gutter children in London who have risen to be merchant princes, but they
have come of an honest good family stock.  As to those of whom I write,
there is a curse on them from their very birth.  Happily for them, they
are unconscious of it, and yet in some undefined way it treads upon their
steps.  Like Gray’s naughty schoolboys:

    They hear a voice in every wind,
       And catch a fearful joy.

As I say, they are secretly conscious of a war between themselves and all
that is deemed respectable.  They feel that society, in the shape of the
policeman, has its eye upon them.  They have very restless eyes and very
restless legs.  They are as unlike the primitive ploughboy of the fat
fields of Suffolk, of the swamps of Essex, of the fens of Lincolnshire,
of the Sussex Downs, as can well be imagined.  You can scarcely fancy
they belong to the same species; yet, at the same time, the street boy of
the city is the same all the world over.  In Paris, in London, in
Edinburgh, in Dublin, and Belfast, the dirty little ragged rascals are
intrinsically one and the same—barring the speech.  It is wonderful this
oneness of sentiment, the bonds of brotherhood.  The other day, on the
pier at Boulogne, I lit a fusee for the purpose of having a smoke.
Before I could say Jack Robinson, I was beset with hordes of ragged,
shoeless, unwashed urchins, just the same as those you see in Cheapside;
and it was only by bribery and corruption that I could emancipate myself.
In London, as is to be expected, we have more of the commercial element;
there is less freedom for them here.  They must turn traders, and hawk
_Echos_ and cigar-lights, or sweep crossings.  As to miscellaneous and
irregular talent, society fosters it no more in the ragged boy than it
does in the well-clad man, and so we have got rid of the Catherine-wheel
business and dangerous gymnastics of that kind.  Many boys have the vices
of their breed—the vices engendered by a life of poverty and of fear.
They are afraid to be honest in their answers.  They are afraid, when you
talk to them, you have got some end in view.  They will watch you, when
you question them, to see how they can best please you.  If you want to
see what they are, catch them flattening their noses against the
eating-house shop windows just about pudding time.  That’s human nature,
and a wonderful thing is human nature.  It would be well if society would
take the trouble to recognise that fact.  It was the want of the
recognition of that fact in the good old times, when wild lawlessness was
tempered with Draconian severity, that has entailed on the present
generation the difficult problem as to what is to be done with our street
boys.

Two solutions of the problem are offered us—the Reformatory School and
the Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children.  According to our
statisticians, in the former seventy per cent. are reclaimed and
reformed.  According to the latter, eighty per cent. are similarly
improved.  Mr. Williams, of Great Queen Street, claims for his
institutions that they have an advantage over the reformatories, inasmuch
as the taint of a prison attaches to the former; and that the fact of a
boy having been an inmate of one of them exerts very often a most
unfavourable influence over his prospects in life, however desirous he
may be of acting honestly and industriously.  For years and years he
becomes marked, and is treated with more or less suspicion; and, when
this is the case, it is not to be wondered at if he returns to a life in
which the standard of action is very different to that of good society,
and in which the most successful criminals are the most highly envied and
applauded.  The returns of the Great Queen Street Refuge show, however,
much may be done to cure the evils arising from suffering the street boys
of our day to ripen under the devil’s guidance into depravity and crime.
Last year, there were admitted there 445 boys, as follows: From various
casual wards and other night-shelters, 63; on the application of parties
interested in their welfare, 95; on their own application, 98; sent in by
the secretary and subscribers from the street, 76; brought in by the
boys’ beadle (that is, a person employed to hunt up needy cases), 17;
sent by magistrates and policemen, as being utterly destitute, 17; sent
by London City missionaries, ragged-school teachers, and others, 44;
readmitted from the ship, 60; sent from Newsboys’ Home, 29.  The benefit
of such an agency is still more apparent when we remember that it is not
much more than five years since the _Chichester_ training-ship has been
established, and that during that time, upwards of one thousand boys have
been placed on board, and in little more than four years and a half the
committee have trained and placed out in the Mercantile Marine and Royal
Navy as many as seven hundred boys, all of whom, it is to be remembered,
were bound to be, from necessity, as it were, the criminal classes of
society.  But, after all, this is but a drop in the bucket.  It is
something to do; it is a great deal to do.  England requires good sailor
lads; and these lads generally, according to the testimony of their
masters, turn out such.  At Farningham, the secretary, Mr. A. O. Charles,
will show you any day three hundred street arabs all growing respectable.
England is already overstocked with incapables and scoundrels; and these
boys would have been such had not kindly hearts and friendly hands come
to the rescue.  That they can be trained and made useful we see in the
number of well-conducted blacking boys, of whom, I believe, the number is
three hundred and sixty-two, and in the little scavengers who pursue
their calling almost at the very peril of their life.  In 1851 the first
Shoe-black Society was formed.  There are now eight, and last year the
earnings of the boys amounted to upwards of £11,000.  Only think of all
this money made by London mud!

Clearly the street boy can be elevated in the scale of being.  The vices
of his early life may be eradicated.  The better part of him may be
strengthened and called into existence.  He is not all bad, nor
altogether incurable.  He is what you and I might have been, good or bad,
had we been left to ourselves.  It is hard work winning him over.  It
requires a patience and a wisdom such as only a few possess, but it can
be done, and it must be done, if the future of our country is to be
brighter and better than its past.  Ah, he is very human, that little
unwashed, uncombed, unfed, untended nobody’s child.  Leave him alone, and
he will be cunning as a serpent, cruel as a wolf, like a roaring lion,
ever hungering for its prey.  Grown up to a man, and not hung, he will
cost the State a great deal of money, for no man wastes property like the
thief, and to try him and shut him in prison is very costly work.  It is
infinitely cheaper to make an honest man of him.  For ten pounds you may
plant him with a Canadian settler, who will make a man of him, in a very
few years.  At any rate it is unwise to treat him unkindly, to keep him
moving on, to chivy him for ever along the streets, much to the disgust
of old ladies, who are always “dratting” those horrid boys.  It is to be
feared their number is on the increase, and this, I regret to write, is
the testimony of one who ought to know.  What is the reason?  My
informant tells me it is diminished parental authority.  Every day,
mothers and fathers come to him with boys of tender years, whom they
declare to be utterly unmanageable.  Another cause undoubtedly is our
cheap and trashy literature.  Recently, a great newsvendor stated before
a committee of the House of Commons, that he sold weekly one hundred of
“The Black Monk,” one hundred of “Blighted Heart,” five hundred and fifty
of “Claude Duval,” fifty of “The Hangman’s Daughter,” and three hundred
and fifty of “Paul Clifford.”  If you want to see what these boys read,
visit Kent Street or the New Cut.  Look at the sensational pictures of
the cheap illustrated journals, in which murder, suicide, and crime are
the staple commodities treated of.  Read some of the journals professedly
written for boys, and which you will see the boys read if you happen to
pass any large establishment at the dinner hour, and it will not be
difficult to understand what street boys, if left to themselves, are sure
to become.

                                * * * * *

                                 THE END.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

             CHARLES DICKENS AND EVANS, CRYSTAL PALACE PRESS.





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