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Title: Known to the Police
Author: Holmes, Thomas
Language: English
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[_All rights reserved_]



T. H.


The kind reception accorded to a previous book encourages me to believe
that another volume dealing with my experiences in the great under-world
of London may not prove unacceptable.

For twenty-five years I have practically lived in this under-world, and
the knowledge that I have obtained has been gathered from sad, and often
wearying, experience. Yet I have seen so much to encourage and inspire
me, that now, in my latter days, I am more hopeful of humanity's
ultimate good than ever. Hopeful--nay, I am certain, for I have felt the
pulse of humanity, and I know that it throbs with true sympathy. I have
listened to its heart-beats, and I know that they tell in no uncertain
manner that the heart of humanity is sound and true.

Most gladly do I take this opportunity of proclaiming--and I would that
I could proclaim it with a far-reaching voice--that, in spite of all
appearances to the contrary, in spite of apparent carelessness,
indifference, and selfishness, the rich are not unmindful of the poor;
they do not hate the poor, for I know--and no one knows it better--that
with many of the rich the present condition of the very poor is a matter
of deep and almost heartbreaking concern.

They will be glad--ay, with a great gladness--if some practical way of
ameliorating our present conditions can be shown.

But I can speak with more authority for the poor, whom I know, love, and
serve. The poor have no ill-feeling toward the rich; they harbour no
suspicions; no envy, hatred, or malice dwell in their simple minds.
Their goodness astonishes me, and it rebukes me.

Ah, when we get at the heart of things, rich and poor are very close
together, and this closeness makes me hopeful; for out of it social
salvation will come and the day arrive when experiences like unto mine
will be impossible, and mine will have passed away as an evil dream.

Sincerely and devoutly I hope that this simple record of some parts of
my life and my work may tend to bind rich and poor still closer.

One result of my former book, "Pictures and Problems from London Police
Courts," is to be found at Walton-on-the-Naze--a Home of Rest for
London's poorest toilers, which the readers of that book generously gave
me the means of establishing. During the present year five hundred poor
women have rested in it, some of them never having previously seen the
sea. Such profits as accrue to me from the sale of this book will be
devoted to the maintenance and development of this Home.

One word more. I want it to be distinctly understood that _I am no
longer a Police Court Missionary_. I resigned that position four years
ago that I might be free to devote my life to London's poorest toilers,
the home-workers, to whom frequent references are made in my pages, and
for whom I hope great things. But I am not free altogether of my old
kind of work, for, as secretary of the Howard Association, one half of
my life is still devoted to prisons and prisoners.



_September, 1908._


CHAPTER                                       PAGE
   I. MEMORIES AND CONTRASTS                     1

  II. SOME BURGLARS I HAVE MET                  33


  IV. POLICE-COURT MARRIAGES                    65

   V. EXTRAORDINARY SENTENCES                   74

  VI. DISCHARGED PRISONERS                      92

 VII. THE LAST DREAD PENALTY                   125

VIII. HOUSING THE POOR                         147

  IX. THE HOOLIGANISM OF THE POOR              166

   X. THE HEROISM OF THE SLUMS                 182

  XI. A PENNYWORTH OF COAL                     198

 XII. OLD BOOTS AND SHOES                      212


 XIV. PEOPLE WHO HAVE "COME DOWN"              243




During the summer of 1904 there were in London few men more unsettled in
mind and miserable than myself. I had severed my connection with London
police-courts--and well I knew it. I was not sure that I had done wisely
or well, and was troubled accordingly. I missed more than words can
express the miseries that had hitherto been inseparable from the routine
of my life. For twenty-one years, day after day at a regular hour, I had
turned my steps in one direction, and had gone from home morning by
morning with my mind attuned to a certain note. It was not, then, a
strange thing to find that mechanical habits had been formed, and that
sometimes I found myself on the way to the police-court before I
discovered my mistake. Still less was it a marvel to find that my mind
refused to accept all at once the fact that I was no longer a
Police-Court Missionary. I must in truth confess I felt a bit ashamed
that I had given up the work. I felt that I was something of a traitor,
who had deserted the poor and the outcast, many of whom had learned to
love and trust me.

I am not ashamed to say that I had been somewhat proud of my name and
title, for the words "Police-Court Missionary" meant much to me, and I
had loved my work and had suffered for it.

It was doubtless in accordance with the fitness of things that I should
retire from the work when I did, for I am getting old, and dead
officialism might have crept upon me, and whatever power for good I may
have might have been atrophied. Of such a fate I always felt afraid;
mercifully from such a fate I was prevented or delivered.

Still, I sorrowed till time lightened the sense of loss. By-and-by new
interests arose, new duties claimed me, and other phases of life
interested me. Four years have now lapsed, a length of time that allows
sufficient perspective, and enables me to calmly take stock of the
twenty-one years I spent in London police-courts. I do not in this
chapter, or in this book, intend to review the whole of those years, but
I do hope to make some comparisons of the things of to-day with those of
twenty-one years ago.

The comparisons will, I trust, be encouraging, and show that we have
progressed in a right direction, and that we are all still progressing.
Two days of those years will remain ever with me--the day I entered on
my work and the day I gave it up.

Of the latter I will not speak; but as the former opened my eyes to
wonders of humanity, and humanity being of all wonders the greatest, I
have something to say.

The conditions at London police-courts in those days were bad, past
conception. No words of mine can adequately describe them, and only for
the sake of comparison and encouragement do I attempt briefly to portray
some of the most striking features of those days. Even now I feel faint
when I recall the "prisoners' waiting-room," with its dirty floor, its
greasy walls, and its vile atmosphere.

The sanitary arrangements were disgusting. There was no female attendant
to be found on the premises.

Strong benches attached to the walls provided the only seats; neither
was there separation of the sexes. In this room old and young, pure and
impure, clean and verminous, sane and insane, awaited their turn to
appear before the magistrate; for the insane in those days were brought
by local authorities that the magistrate might certify them, and they
sat, too, amongst the waiting prisoners.

The sufferings of a decent woman who found herself in such company in
such a room may easily be imagined; but the sufferings of a pure-minded
girl, who for some trifling offence found herself in like position,
cannot be described. The coarse women of Alsatia made jests upon her,
and coarse blackguards, though sometimes well dressed, vaunted their
obscenity before her. Deformed beggars, old hags from the workhouse--or
from worse places--thieves, gamblers, drunkards, and harlots, men and
women on the verge of delirium tremens--all these, and others that are
unmentionable, combine to make the prisoners' room a horrid memory.
Things are far different to-day, for light and cleanliness, fresh air
and decency, prevail at police-courts. At every court there is now a
female attendant; the sexes are rigidly separated. Children's cases are
heard separately; neither are children placed in the cells or prisoners'

In those days policemen waited for the men and women who had been in
their custody, and against whom they had given evidence, and, after
their fines were paid, went to the nearest public-house and drank at
their expense. Hundreds of times I have heard prisoners ask the
prosecuting policeman to "Make it light for me," and many times I have
heard the required promise given and an arrangement made. Sometimes I am
glad to think that I have heard policemen give the reply: "I shall speak
the truth"; but not often was this straightforward answer given.

In this respect a great change has come about, for policemen do not hold
a conference with their prisoners in the waiting-room, and it is now a
rare occurrence for a policeman to take a drink at his prisoner's

And this improvement is to be welcomed, for it is typical of the
improvement that has been going on all round. Gaolers in those days were
"civil servants," and were not under police authority; now they are
sergeants of the police, and under police discipline and authority. The
old civil servant gaoler looked down from his greater altitude with
something like contempt upon the common policemen, and this often led to
much friction and unpleasantness. Now things work smoothly and easily,
for every police-court official knows his duties and to whom he is

But a great change has also come over the magistrates--perhaps the
greatest change of all. Doubtless the magistrates of those days were
excellent men, but they were not only officials, but official also.

It was their business to mete out punishment, and they did it. Some were
old--too old for the office. I have seen one sleeping on the bench
frequently, and only waking up to give sentence. Once while the justice
nodded his false teeth fell on his desk; he awoke with a start, and made
a frantic effort to recover them. No doubt these men were sound lawyers,
but they were representatives of the community as it then existed; there
was no sentimentality about them, but they were rarely vindictive.

The legal profession, too, has changed. Where are the greasy, drunken
old solicitors that haunted the precincts of police-courts twenty-five
years ago? Gone. But they were common enough in those days, and touted
for five-shilling jobs, money down, or higher prices when payment was
deferred. With droughty throats and trembling limbs, they hastened to
the nearest public-house to spend what payment had been given in
advance. Here they would remain till their clients were before the
magistrate, and would then appear just in time to say: "I appear for the
prisoner, your Worship." Horrid old men they were, the fronts of their
coats and vests all stained and shiny with the droppings of beer.
Frequently the magistrate, unable to tolerate their drunken or
half-drunken maunderings, would order them out of court; but even this
drastic treatment had little effect upon them, for the next day, or even
on the latter part of the same day, they, apparently without shame or
humiliation, would inform his Worship that they were in So-and-so's
case, and ask at what time it would be taken--as if, forsooth, their
engagements were numerous and important.

The bullying solicitor, too, has disappeared or mended his ways. No
longer is he allowed to bully and insult witnesses or prosecutors, and
cast scurrilous and unclean imputations on the lives and characters of
those opposed to him. Generally these fellows were engaged for the

They one and all acted on the principle that to attack was the best
defence. I once heard an athletic young doctor ask a solicitor of this
kind, who had been unusually insulting, to meet him when the case was
over, assuring him also that he would receive his deserts--a good
thrashing. The pompous, ignorant solicitor, with neither wit, words,
action, utterance, nor the power of speech--he, too, has gone. One
wondered at the strange fate that made solicitors of such men; wondered,
too, how they passed the necessary examinations; but wondered most of
all why people paid money for such fellows to defend them. Invariably
they made their client's case much worse; they always declined to let
"sleeping dogs lie," and were positively certain to reveal something or
discover something to the disadvantage of the person whose interests
they were supposed to be upholding. I remember one magistrate, sitting
impatient and fidgety while the weary drip of words went on, calling out
suddenly: "Three months' hard labour, during which you can ruminate on
the brilliant defence made by your solicitor!"

All these have passed, and police-courts have been civilized; for law is
more dignified, and its administration more refined. Magistrates are
up-to-date, too, and quite in touch with the new order of things and
with the aspirations of the community.

Bullying, drunken, and stupid solicitors have no chance to-day. In all
these directions great changes have come about, and great progress has
been made.

But the greatest change of all is that which has taken place in the
appearance of the prisoners and of police-court humanity generally.

Where are the "blue-bottle" noses now? Twenty-five years ago they were
numerous, but now London police-courts know them not.

Where are the reddened faces that told of protracted debauch? They are
seldom to be met with. Hundreds of times in the years gone by, in the
prisoners' waiting-room, I have heard the expression, "He's got them
on"; and I have seen poor wretches trembling violently with terror in
their faces, seeking to avoid some imaginary horror. But delirium
tremens seems to have vanished from London police-courts.

Do people drink less? is a question often asked. If I may be permitted
to reply, I would say they do, and very much less; but whether they are
more sober is another question.

Of one thing I am perfectly certain, and it is this: people are more
susceptible to the effects of drink than they were twenty-five years

Whether this susceptibility is due to some change in the drink or to
physiological causes in the drinkers I do not know, but of the result I
am, as I have said, quite sure.

I am inclined to believe that we possess less power to withstand the
effects of alcohol than formerly. We seem to arrive at the varying
stages of drunkenness with very much less trouble, and at very much less
cost. The reverse process, too, is equally rapid. Formerly there was not
much doubt about the guilt of a man or woman who was charged with being
drunk. If the policeman's word was not quite sufficient, the appearance
of the prisoner completed the evidence. But now men and women are mad
drunk one hour and practically sober the next. Red noses and inflamed
faces cannot be developed under these conditions. I have seen in later
years a long array of prisoners charged with being drunk, and no
evidence of tarrying long at wine upon any one of them, and no evidence
of drinking either, excepting the bruises or injuries received.

This ability to get drunk quickly and to recover quickly leads sometimes
to unexpected results; for some men, when released on bail, rush
promptly to their own doctor and get a certificate of sobriety, and then
bring the doctor as a witness.

His Worship is in a dilemma when the case is brought before him, for the
police state that the man was mad drunk at 1 a.m., while, on the other
hand, medical testimony is forthcoming that at 2 a.m. he was perfectly

Other men, when detained in the cells, get quickly sober. Nor can they
believe they have been drunk; indignantly they demand an examination by
the police divisional doctor, and willingly pay the necessary bill of
seven and sixpence for his attendance. This time it is the doctor who is
in a dilemma; he knows in his heart that the man _has been_ drunk; he
also naturally wishes to confirm the police evidence; still, he cannot
conscientiously say that the man _is_ drunk. "He appears to be
recovering from the effects of drink," is the testimony that he gives,
and his opinion is attached to the charge-sheet for the magistrate's
guidance. "No," says the prisoner, "I was not drunk; neither had I been
drunk; but I was excited at being detained in the cells on a false
charge." And he will call as witnesses friends who were in his company
during the evening, and from whom he had parted only a few minutes
previous to arrest. They declare that the prisoner was perfectly sober;
that he could not possibly have been drunk; that they had only a limited
number of drinks; that he was as sober as they were--the latter
statement being probably true!

What can the magistrate do under such circumstances but discharge the
prisoner?--and "Another unfounded charge by the police" is duly
advertised by the Press.

I believe this to be the secret of so much contradictory evidence, and
this new physiological factor must be taken into account when weighing
evidence, or much discredit will fall upon the police, when they have
but honestly done their duty. It ought no longer to avail a prisoner who
proves sobriety at one o'clock, sobriety at three o'clock, to contend
that he could not possibly have been drunk at two o'clock. I have seen
so much of drunkenness that I believe two hours a sufficient length of
time to allow many men to get drunk and to get sober too.

I must not enter on an inquiry as to why this change has come about; I
merely content myself with stating a fact, that must be recognized, and
which is as worthy of consideration by sociologists and politicians as
it is by judges and magistrates.

This facility of getting drunk means danger, for passions are readily
excited, and delusions readily arise, and are most tenaciously held in
brains so easily disturbed by drink. All sorts of things are possible,
from silly antics to frenzy and murder; but, as I have said, the varying
stages pass so quickly that only onlookers can realize the truth: for
the victim of this facility is nearly always sure that the evidence
given against him is absolutely false.

But prisoners generally have changed: I am not sure that the change is
for the better. Time was when prisoners had character, grit, pluck, and
personality, but now these qualities are not often met with. Formerly a
good number of the vagabonds were interesting vagabonds, and were
possessed of some redeeming features: they seemed to have a keen sense
of humour; but to-day this feature cannot often be seen.

Prisoners have put on a kind of veneer, for both youthful offenders and
offenders of older growth are better dressed.

They are cleaner, too, in person, for which I suppose one ought to be
thankful--even though, to a large extent, rags and tatters were
picturesque compared with the styles of dress now too often seen. Loss
of the picturesque has, I am afraid, been accompanied by loss of
individuality, and the processions that pass through London
police-courts now are not so striking as formerly. They are devoid of
strong personality, and the mass of people in many respects resembles a
flock of sheep. They have no desire to do wrong, but they constantly go
wrong; they have no particular wish to do evil, but they have little
inclination for good. In a word, weakness, not wickedness, is their
great characteristic.

But weakness is often more mischievous and disastrous in its
consequences than wickedness.

In the young offenders this lack of grit is combined with an absence of
moral principles, and though the majority of them appear to know right
from wrong, they certainly act as if they possess little moral

Again I content myself with merely stating a fact, for I must not be led
into philosophic inquiry or speculation as to the causes of this loss of
grit, though I hope to say something upon the subject later on.

Crime, too, has changed in some respects. There are fewer crimes of
violence; there is less brutality, less debauchery, less drinking;
but--and I would like to write it very large--there is more dishonesty,
which is a more insidious evil.

Here again I am tempted to philosophic inquiry, or to engage in some
attempt to answer the question--Are we as a nation becoming more
dishonest? I answer at once, We are.

For twenty-five years I have watched the trend of crime, for the past
ten years I have closely studied our criminal statistics, and I can say
that personal experience and a close study of our annual criminal
statistics confirm me in this matter.

Some explanation of the growth of dishonesty may be found in the social
changes that have been going on. As education advanced the number of men
and women employed as clerks, salesmen, and business assistants
multiplied, and it follows that the temptations to, and opportunities
for, dishonesty multiplied also. For years a large transference of boys
and young men from the labouring and artisan life to the clerk's desk or
to the shop-counter has been going on. The growth in the number of
persons employed as distributors of the necessaries of life, who day
after day receive, on behalf of their employers, payments for bread,
milk, meat, coal, etc., multiplies enormously the facilities for
dishonest actions.

Most of those engaged in this class of work come from the homes of the
poor, and in too many cases receive insufficient payment for arduous and
responsible services. Still, I am sure that we must not look for the
reason of this growing dishonesty in the multiplication of the
opportunities, or to sudden temptations caused by the stress of poverty.

To what, then, shall it be attributed? I do not hesitate to answer this
question, by replying at once: To that lack of moral backbone and grit
to which I have alluded; to the absence of direct principles; to the
desire of enjoying pleasures that cannot be afforded, and of spending
money not honestly acquired. Some people to whom I have spoken on this
subject have said to me: "But these are the faults of the rich; surely
they are not the sins of the poor." And I have said: "Well, you know
more of the rich than I do, so maybe they are characteristic of both."
Though I do not believe them to be national characteristics, sorrowfully
I say the trend is in that direction. I know perfectly well that some
people will say that this is the croaking of one who is growing old, and
that old men always did, and always will, believe in the decadence of
the present age.

But this is not so. I am a born optimist. I believe in the ultimate
triumph of good. I believe that humanity has within itself a sufficiency
of good qualities to effect its social salvation. Nevertheless, I am
afraid of this growing dishonesty, for I have seen something of its
consequences. Sneaking peculations, small acts of dishonesty, miserable
embezzlements, falsified accounts, and contemptible frauds, have damned
the lives of thousands, and the strands of life are covered by human
wrecks, whose anchorage has been so weak that the veriest puff of wind
has driven them to destruction.

I know something of the evils of drink; I have seen much of the
blighting influence of gambling; but dishonesty is more certain and
deadly in its effects among educated and ignorant alike: for it begins
in secrecy, it is continued in duplicity, it destroys the moral fibre,
and it ends with death.

I have said that the police-court processions are not so interesting as
in years gone by: probably that is a superficial view, for humanity is,
and must be always, equally interesting. It may not be as picturesque,
but that is a surface view only, and we really want to know what is
beneath. But the underneath takes some discovering, and when we get
there it is only to find that there is still something lower still.

Much has been said of late years about the increase of insanity. Whether
this increase is more apparent than real is a debatable point. I am glad
to know that more people are certified than formerly, and that greater
care is taken of them. This undoubtedly prolongs their existence, and
consequently adds to their number. But whatever doubt I may have about
the actually insane, I have no doubt whatever about the increase in the
number of those who live on the borderland between sanity and insanity,
and whose case is far more pitiful than that of the altogether mad.

Poor wretches! who are banged from pillar to post, helpless and
hopeless, they are the sport of circumstances; they are an eyesore to
humanity, a danger to the community, and a puzzle to themselves. For
such neither the State nor local authorities have anything to offer. If
committed to prison, they are certified as "unfit for prison
discipline." If they enter the workhouse, they are encouraged to take
their discharge at the earliest moment. They cannot work, but they can
steal, and they can beg. They have animal passions, but they have less
than animal control. They can perpetuate their species, and pile up
burdens for other generations to bear. Nothing in all my experiences
astonishes me so much as the continued neglect of these unfortunate
people. Prisons have been revolutionized; dealing with young offenders
has developed into a cult; prisoners' aid societies abound; the care,
the feeding, the education, the health, and the play of children have
become national or municipal business: but the nation still shirks its
responsibility to those who have the greatest claim upon its care; for
these people are still in as parlous condition as the lepers of old. My
memory recalls many of them, and profoundly do I hope that in the great
changes that are impending, and in the great improvements that are
taking place, consideration of the poor, smitten, unfortunate half-mad
will not be wanting.

Surely I am not wrong in affirming that, when the State finds in its
prisons a number of people who are constantly committing offences, who
are helpless and penniless, and whose mental condition is so low that
they are not fit to be detained even in prison, provision should be made
for their being permanently detained and controlled in institutions or
colonies, with no opportunity for perpetuating their kind. In our
dealings with the "unfit" we have, then, made no progress, and we are
still waiting and hoping for a solution of this distressing evil. To
show how this evil grows by neglect, I offer the following instance:

I happen to be a churchwarden, and when leaving church one Sunday
morning I was asked by the verger to speak to a man and woman who sat
by the door. They had come in during the service, and asked for the
Vicar, in the hope of obtaining relief.

The man was wretched in appearance--much below the usual size--and was
more than half blind; the woman was equally wretched in appearance, and
not far removed from imbecility. I knew the man at once, and had known
him for twenty years. I had met him scores of times at London
police-courts, where he had been invariably committed to prison,
although certified as "unfit." He had been in the workhouse many times.
In the workhouse he had met with the poor wretch that sat by his side.
They were legally and lawfully married, and were possessed of three
children--or, rather, they were the parents of three children, for other
folk possessed them; but doubtless they would make their losses good in
due time, the couple being by no means old.

The number of women charged with drunkenness has increased largely
during late years, and the list of those constantly charged has grown

From this it would appear safe to conclude that female intemperance
generally has largely increased.

Many people have come to this conclusion, and are very apt with figures
which seem to prove their case.

But even figures can lie, for a woman who has been convicted ten or
twelve times in the year has furnished ten or twelve examples of female
inebriety; but, after all, she is but one individual. And to get at
approximate truth, we must ascertain the number of separate individuals
who have been charged. Nor will this give us the whole truth, for it
must also be ascertained who are the women that are constantly charged.
To what class do they belong? What is the matter with them? Why are they
different from women generally? Such inquiries as these have been
conveniently avoided.

I will endeavour to supply the missing answers.

Eighty per cent. of the women charged repeatedly with drunkenness belong
to one class, and may be described as "unfortunates." The number of
these women has increased tremendously during the last twenty years. The
growth of London accounts partly for this increase in the number of
"unfortunates," and the growth of provincial towns supplements the
growth of London. In all our large centres we have, then, a large army
of women whose lives are beyond description, whose vocation renders
drinking compulsory, and whose habits bring them into conflict with the
police. Their convictions, which number many thousands, should be
charged to another evil.

Of the remaining twenty per cent. I must also give some description. Ten
per cent. of them are demented old women, who spend their lives in
workhouses or prisons, upon whom a small amount of drink takes great

The remaining ten per cent. may be considered more or less respectable,
but my experience has led me to believe that less rather than more would
be a fitting description. I want it to be clearly understood that I am
now speaking of women "repeaters," not of women who are occasionally
charged with drunkenness.

In considering female intemperance, the above must be eliminated, and
when this is done I think it will be found that the alleged increase of
drunkenness among women is not proved. At any rate, it is not proved by
criminal statistics. But a great change has come over women: they are no
longer ashamed of being seen in public-houses, for respectable women are
by no means careful about the company they meet and associate with in
the public-houses. In police-courts I have noticed this growing change.
Time was when few or no women were found among the audiences that
assembled day by day in the courts. It is not the case now. Formerly, if
women had any connection with cases that were coming on, they discreetly
waited in the precincts of the court till they were called by the police
or the usher.

It is very different now, for there is no scarcity of women, ready to
listen to all repulsive details of police-court charges. Sometimes, when
the order is given for women to leave the court, some women are ready to
argue the matter with the usher; and when ultimately compelled to leave,
it is evident they do so under protest, and with a sense of personal

Perhaps it may be natural for police-courts to supply to the poor and
the tradesman class that excitement and relish the higher courts and
divorce courts furnish to those better off.

In one direction I am able to bear direct testimony to the virtue of
women, for they are more honest than men, and their honesty increases
rather than diminishes. This is the more remarkable as opportunities for
dishonesty have become much more numerous among women. Still, in spite
of multiplied opportunities, dishonesty among women seems to be a
diminishing quantity. I am glad to find that our annual statistics for
some years past confirm me in this experience.

But my experiences do not furnish me with any reason for believing that
we have made any progress with the housing of the very poor. The State,
municipal authorities, and philanthropists still act upon the principle,
"To him that hath it shall be given." Consequently, they continue to
provide dwellings for those who can pay good rents. In another chapter
some of my experiences with regard to the housing of the very poor will
be found, so I content myself here with a few reflections and
statements. During the years covered by my experience the rents of the
very poor have increased out of all proportion to their earnings. I have
taken some trouble to inquire into this question, and when speaking to
elderly men and women living in congested streets, I have obtained much
information. "How long have you lived in this house?" I asked an elderly
widow. "Thirty years. I was here long before my husband died." "What
rent do you pay?" "Thirteen shillings per week." "But you can't pay
thirteen shillings." "No, I let off every room and live in this
kitchen." We were then in the kitchen, which was about nine feet square.
The house consisted of four rooms and a back-yard about the same size as
the kitchen; there was no forecourt. "What rent did you pay when you
first came here?" "Six shillings and sixpence." The rent had doubled in
thirty years.

"Who is your landlord?" "I don't know who it is now, but a collector
calls every week."

"Why don't you go somewhere else?" "I can't get anything cheaper, and I
like the old place, and I don't have to climb a lot of stairs."

This little conversation exactly outlines the lot of the poor, so far as
their housing is concerned: they must either take a "little house and
let off," or make their homes in one or more of the very little rooms.
Let me be explicit. By the very poor I mean families whose income is
under twenty-five shillings weekly--women whose husbands have but fitful
work; women who have to maintain themselves, their children and sick
husbands, when those husbands are not in the infirmary; widows who have
to maintain themselves and their children, with or without parish
assistance; and elderly widows or spinsters who, by great efforts,
maintain themselves.

For these and similar classes no housing accommodation has yet been
attempted. Yet for them the need is greatest, and from neglecting them
the most disastrous consequences ensue.

The State will lend money to the man who has a fair and regular income;
municipal authorities and philanthropic trusts will build for those who
can regularly pay high rents; but the very poor are still hidden in
prison-houses, and for them no gaol deliverance is proclaimed, so they
huddle together, and the more numerous the building improvements, the
closer they huddle. The new tenements are not for them, neither is any
provision made for them before they are displaced, so a great deal of
police-court business arises in consequence, to say nothing of greater
and more far-reaching evils. But I deal more fully with housing in my
next chapter.

In dealing with child offenders, vast improvements have been made.
To-day rarely, indeed, are children sent to prison, and we appear to be
on the verge of the time when it will be impossible for anyone under the
age of fourteen to receive a sentence of imprisonment. The birch, too,
is more sparingly used, and only when there appears to be no other
fitting punishment. One magistrate quite recently, in ordering its
infliction, declared it was the first time he had done so for twelve
years. The courts do not run with the blood of naughty lads, as some
suppose; but the birch has not disappeared, and the lusty cries of
youthful delinquents are sometimes to be heard.

While I hate cruelty and do not love the birch, I would like to place on
record the fact that I have never known it administered too severely, or
any serious injury inflicted.

The statement that the most powerful policeman is selected for the duty
is fiction pure and simple. In London, at any rate, the sergeant-gaoler
or his deputy administers the birch. Whatever else may be charged
against the police, cruelty to children cannot be brought against them,
for the kindness of the Force to children is proverbial. And this
kindness is reflected in police-courts. Nowhere are children more
considerately treated. I agree with the movement in favour of separate
courts for children, because I would not have children's actions
considered as criminal; but, in the light of my experience, I am bound
to disagree with many of the statements made by some advocates of the
movement. Children are tenderly treated and considered in the London
police-courts of to-day.

But I am more concerned for the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys between fourteen
and twenty years of age, who, having little or no home accommodation,
crowd our streets, especially on Sunday evenings, and make themselves a
nuisance to the staid and respectable.

For these the bad old rule and simple plan of fines to be promptly paid,
or imprisonment in default of payment, still prevails; but of this I
have more to say in a chapter on Hooliganism.

Years ago the brute, coarse and cruel though he was, was different from
the brute of to-day; for, at any rate, he was an undisguised brute.
Youthful offenders, too, had more pluck and self-reliance; in fact,
while offences remain much the same, and the ways in which offences are
committed have not altered greatly, the bearing and appearance of the
offenders have completely changed. Rags are not so plentiful as they
were, and child offenders are very much better dressed; for civilization
cannot endure rags, and shoeless feet are an abomination. Veneer, then,
is very palpable to-day in police-courts. This may be indicative of good
or evil. It may have its origin in self-respect, in changing fashions,
or in deceit; it may be one of the effects of insufficient education, or
it may be a by-product of the general desire to appear respectable. It
may also be claimed as an outward and visible sign of the improved
social condition and the enlarged financial resources of the poor. The
change in speech, too, is strongly noticeable; the old blood-curdling
oaths and curses spiced with blasphemy are quite out of fashion.

Emphasis can only be given to speech to-day by interlarding it with
filthy words and obscene allusions. This method of expression is not
confined to the poorest, for even well-dressed men adopt it, and the
style and words have now passed on to thoughtless young people of both

There are no "women" to-day. Times have improved so greatly that every
woman has become "a lady." The term "woman" is one of reproach, and must
only be used as indicative of scorn or to impute immorality. Magistrates
have tried hard to preserve the good old word and give it a proper
place, but in vain. "Another woman" always means something very bad
indeed; she is one that must be spoken of with bated breath. Even the
word "female" carries with it an implication of non-respectability.

Indeed, so far have we progressed in this direction, and so far does the
politeness of the Force extend, that when giving evidence against a
woman of the worst possible character an officer will refer to her as
"the lady," not as the prisoner. Sometimes, as I have already hinted,
the magistrate intervenes at this point, and tries to preserve some of
the last shreds of respectability that still attach to the once-honoured

Here again one might speculate as to what has produced this change, and
ask whether the development of obscene language has anything to do with
the abandonment of the words "woman" and "female." Personally, I am
inclined to believe that it has. "What did he say?" peremptorily asked
an irate magistrate of a young and modest constable. "Your Worship, the
words were so bad that I don't like to repeat them." "Write them down,
then." The officer did so. "Well, they are pretty bad, but you will soon
get used to them. They don't shock me, for I hear them all the day, and
every day." The magistrate was correct, and, more the pity, his words
are true. The old oaths were far less disgusting and far less
demoralizing. The invocation of the Deity, either for confirmation of
speech or for a curse upon others, argued some belief in God, which
belief has probably suffered decay even among the coarse and ignorant.
Still, if police-court habitués and their friends continue to embellish
their speech with obscenity, then their last state will be worse than
their first. Likely enough, this fashion in speech has much to do with
the substitution of the word "lady" and the abandonment of the word
"woman." It may be, after all, only a clumsy attempt to speak
courteously, without casting any imputation on the moral character of
the person referred to. That, however, is the only redeeming feature I
can find in the matter, which is altogether too bad for words. I only
refer to the subject because I wish to be a faithful witness, and these
changes cannot be ignored, for they are full of grave portent.

Profoundly I hope this fashion will change, and if appeal were of any
use, I would honestly and earnestly appeal to all my poor and
working-class friends to set themselves against this vile method of
expression, and to encourage a higher standard of thought and speech.

But I must now give a little consideration to some legal changes that
have taken place, from which much was expected, and from which much has
followed. Whether the results have been exactly what were expected, and
whether the good has been as large as we looked for, are moot points. It
is, of course, true of social problems, and peculiarly true of humanity
itself, that evil defeated in one direction is certain to manifest
itself in another, so that standing still in social life, or in
individual life, must and does mean retrogression, when the old evils
assert themselves differently, but more speciously guised. Briefly, the
new Acts that have had most effect in London police-courts are the First
Offenders Act, the Married Women's Protection Act (1905), and some
clauses in the Licensing Act of 1902.

The former Act has undoubtedly kept thousands of young people from
prison, for which everyone ought to be supremely thankful. It was,
perhaps, impossible for us to have a reform of this magnitude without
some evil attaching to it, for we have not as yet discovered an unmixed
good. This beneficent Act has been much talked of and widely advertised.
The public generally have been enraptured with it, and magistrates have
not been slow to avail themselves of its merciful provisions, though
generally exercising a wise discretion as to their application.

But human nature is a strange mixture, for while excessive punishment
hardens and demoralizes a wrong-doer, leniency often confirms him. It
is, and must always be, a serious matter to interpose between a wilful
wrong-doer and the punishment of his deeds; but the punishment must be
just and sensible, or worse evils will follow. The utmost that can be
urged against this well-known Act is that it has not impressed on the
delinquent youth the heinousness of his wrong-doing, and this is the
case. True, he has been in the hands of the police, and he has been
admonished by the magistrate; he has also been in the gaoler's office,
and bound in recognizance to be of good behaviour. But this is all, for
nothing else has happened to him. He has not been made to pay back the
money stolen, neither has he been compelled to make any reparation to
those he has injured. The law, then, has considered his offence but
slight, and his dishonesty but a trivial matter. In his heart he knows
that, though he has purged his offence as far as the law is concerned,
he has not absolved his own conscience by any attempt to put the matter
right with the person he has wronged; consequently, he is quite right in
arguing that the law has condoned his offence. Frequently, then, he goes
from the court a rogue at heart. Hundreds of times I have tried to
persuade young persons, who have been charged with dishonesty and dealt
with as first offenders, of the duty and necessity of paying back the
money dishonestly obtained, but I never succeeded. The law had done with
them; nothing else mattered. The wrong to the individual and to their
own conscience was of no consequence.

Human nature being, then, so constructed, it cannot be a matter for
surprise that the First Offenders Act failed in conveying to young
persons who had fastened around themselves the deadly grip of dishonesty
that the law considered dishonesty a most serious matter. Many of the
young offenders could not realize this, for, to use their own
expression, "They got jolly well out of it." But such results might have
been foreseen, and ought to have been foreseen.

This matter is, however, now attended to, for Mr. Gladstone's Probation
Act (1908) empowers magistrates to compel all dishonest persons that are
dealt with under the Act to make restitution of stolen property or money
up to the value of £10. I have long advocated this course, which is both
just and merciful--just to the person who has been robbed and just to
the robber; merciful because it compels the wrong-doer in some degree to
undo the wrong, and enables him to break the chains of his deadly habit.
It will also prove to him that the law is not so tolerant of dishonesty
as he believed. Common-sense, too, says that the pardoned rogue ought
not to profit from his roguery, while the person he has robbed has to
suffer, not only the loss of goods or money, but also the trouble and
expense of prosecution.

Most respectfully, then, would I like to point out to all magistrates
that they may now order dishonest persons dealt with under this Act to
make restitution up to £10. It is to be hoped that our magistrates will
freely avail themselves of this permissive power, and make young rogues
"pay, pay, pay." It matters not how small the instalments nor how long a
time the payments may be continued, for I feel assured that nothing will
stem the onward sweep of dishonesty, and that nothing will bring home to
young offenders the serious character of dishonesty so much as the
knowledge that great inconvenience, but no pecuniary benefit, can come
to those who indulge in it.

The Married Women's Protection Act came at last. It was inevitable.
There was a horrible satire contained in the suggestion that in England,
with its humanity and civilization, after a thousand years of
Christianity an Act to protect women against their legal husbands should
be necessary; but it was.

This Act came in the very fulness of time. Everybody was tired and
altogether dissatisfied with the old and ineffectual plan of sending
brutal husbands to prison. This feeling arose not from sympathy with
brutal husbands, but from pity to ill-treated wives, for it was
recognized that sending brutal husbands to prison only made matters
worse. Briefly, the Act empowered married women who had persistently
cruel husbands to leave them, and having left them, to apply to the
magistrates for a separation and maintenance order, which magistrates
were empowered to grant when persistent cruelty was proved.

Police-courts then became practically divorce-courts for the poor, for
thousands of women have claimed and obtained these separation orders.
It seems just, and I have no hesitation in saying it is right, whatever
may be the consequences, that decent suffering women whose agony has
been long drawn out should be protected from and delivered out of the
power of human brutes. But in a community like ours we are bound to have
an eye to the consequences.

Women very soon found that it was much easier to get separation than it
was to get maintenance. However modest the weekly amount ordered--and to
my mind magistrates were very lenient in this respect--comparatively few
of the discarded husbands paid the amounts ordered: some few paid
irregularly, the majority paid nothing. The "other woman" became an
important factor, and the money that should have gone to the support of
the legal wife and legitimate children went to her and to illegitimate
children. Such fellows were, then, in straits. If they left the "other
woman," affiliation orders loomed over them; if they did not pay their
legalized wives, they might be sent to prison. Some men I know found
this the easiest way of paying their wives "maintenance," for they would
go cheerfully to prison, and when released would promptly start on the
task of again accumulating arrears.

Undoubtedly very many women were much better off apart from their
husbands--at any rate, they had some peace--but mostly they lived lives
of unremitting toil and partial, if not actual, starvation. On the
whole, this Act, which was quite necessary and inspired by good
intentions, has not proved satisfactory. But married men began to ask,
"Why cannot we have separation orders against habitually drunken

Why, indeed! The principle had been admitted, and "sauce for the goose
must be sauce for the gander." Joan had been protected; Darby must have
equal rights. And Darby got them, with something added. The Licensing
Bill of 1902 put him right, or rather wrong. Under some provisions of
this Act habitual drunkenness in case of either husband or wife became a
sufficient reason for separation, and police-courts became more than
ever divorce-courts for the poor. But Darby came best, or rather worst,
out of this unseemly matter, for there was no need for him to leave his
wife and his home before applying for a separation. He might live with
his wife in their home, and while living with her apply for a summons
against her, and this granted, he might continue to live with her right
up to the time the summons was heard--might even accompany her to the
court, and drink with her on the way thither. Then, proving her
drunkenness to the magistrate's satisfaction, he could get his order,
give her a few shillings, go home and close the door against her,
leaving her homeless and helpless in the streets. She may have borne him
many children, she might be about to become a mother once more; in fact,
the frequent repetition of motherhood might be the root-cause of her
drunkenness. No matter, the law empowers him to put her out and keep her
out. Such is the law, and to such a point has the chivalry of many
husbands come. But Darby may go still further, for he may call in
"another woman" to keep house and look after the children. In a sense
he may live in a sort of legalized immorality, and do his wife no legal
wrong; while, if she, poor wretched woman, with all her temptations and
weaknesses, yields but once to a similar sin, all claim to support is
forfeited, and she goes down with dreadful celerity to the lowest
depths. Plenty of good husbands, and brave men they are, refuse to take
advantage of this Act, and bear all the unspeakable ills and sorrows
connected with a drunken wife, bearing all things, enduring all things,
and hoping all things, rather than turn the mothers of their children
into the streets. But it is far different with some husbands, whose
lives and habits have conduced to, if they have not actually caused,
their wives' inebriety; to them the Act is a boon, and they are not
backward in applying for relief. I have elsewhere given my views as to
the working of these special clauses, but I again take an opportunity of
saying that the whole proceedings are founded in stupidity. In action
they are cruel, and in results they are demoralizing to the individuals
concerned, and to the State generally. All this is the more astounding
when one realizes that the Act might easily have been made a real
blessing; and it is more astounding still when the temper and tone of
society is considered.

We demand, and rightfully demand, that first offenders shall have
another chance. Has it come to this--that a wretched wife, who, through
suffering, worry, neglect, or ill-health or mental disturbance, has
given way to drink, shall have less consideration than the young thief?
So it appears. We scour London's streets, we seek out the grossest
women even civilization can furnish--women whose only hope lies with the
Eternal Father--and we put them in inebriates' reformatories, and keep
them there, at a great expense, for two or three years. Money without
stint is spent that they may have the shadow of a chance for
reclamation. Organized societies are formed for their after-care when
released from the reformatories. And yet we calmly contemplate married
women, otherwise decent but for drink, real victims of inebriety, being
thrust homeless into the streets, with the dead certainty that they will
descend to the Inferno out of which we are seeking to deliver the



The common London burglar is by no means a formidable fellow. Speaking
generally, there is nothing of Bill Sikes about him, for he has not much
stature, strength, courage, or brains. Most of those that I have met
have been poor specimens of manhood, ready alike to surrender to a
self-possessed woman or to a young policeman. Idle, worthless fellows,
who, having no regular work to do, and being quite indifferent as to
what happens to them, often attempt burglary, but of the crudest

These young fellows evince no skill, exhibit little daring, and when
caught show about as much pluck as a guinea-pig. For them one may feel
contempt, but contempt must be tempered by pity. Circumstances have been
against them. Underfed and undersized, of little intelligence, with no
moral consciousness, they are a by-product of our civilization, a direct
product of our slum-life. If caught young and given some years' manual
training and technical education, together with manly recreation and
some share in competitive games, many of them would go straight on
their release, provided a reasonable start in life were given them.

Idle liberty is dangerous to young men who have no desire for
wrong-doing, but who at the same time have little aspiration for
right-doing. Our prisons are crowded with them, and a series of short
imprisonments only serves to harden them, until they become confirmed
but clumsy criminals. But real burglars are men of different stamp, and,
if I may be pardoned, men of better metal, for at any rate they possess
nerve, brain, and grit. They may be divided into two classes: first, the
men who are at war with society, who live by plunder, and who mean to
live by plunder, who often show marvellous skill, energy, presence of
mind, and pluck; secondly, men who, having once engaged in burglary,
find it so thrilling that no other pleasure, passion, or sport has to
them one tithe of the joy and glamour that a midnight raid presents. Let
me give you one example of the former.

A well-dressed gentleman--frock-coat, silk hat, gold-rimmed eyeglasses,
etc.--took a house in a swell neighbourhood at £120 a year rental. His
references were to all appearances undeniable; his manner, speech, and
bearing were beyond reproach; so he obtained a lease of the premises,
and entered into possession. His next step was to call on the local
superintendent of the police and give him his address, asking also that
the police might keep a watchful eye upon the house till he took up his
residence in it. He was, he said, a practical consulting and analytical
chemist; he was fitting up an expensive laboratory on the premises, and
a good many things of value to him would be sent to the house. He
himself would be there during the day, but he would be grateful if the
police would, when on their beat at night, sometimes see that all was
right. The police were charmed with him. He was a small man, about 5
feet 4 inches in height. The same night a mean-looking little man was
converted at an open-air meeting of the Salvation Army. He wished for
lodgings for a time, that he might be shielded from temptation, for
which he was prepared to pay. So he went to lodge with the officer in
command, and donned a red guernsey. He was employed on night-work, he
told his landlady, but sometimes he had to go away for a day or two. His
friends were well pleased with him; his conversion seemed genuine, and
he gave but little trouble. Meanwhile, at the large house close by
consignments of goods were, constantly arriving, and sometimes the
frock-coated gentleman showed himself to the police. For many weeks this
went on, till one day the convert was missing from his lodging. He did
not return the next day, nor the day after that. They were anxious about
him; they were poor, too, and he owed money. But they could get no
tidings of him. Thinking something might have happened to him by way of
accident, they went to the police-station to inquire. A keen detective
heard their inquiry, and kept his own counsel; but next morning he went
to the remand prison, and sure enough he found the missing man there
among the prisoners. He had been arrested for "failing to report." He
was on "ticket-of-leave," and had to report himself once a month to the
police. Either his religious emotion or the interest of his night
employment had caused him to neglect this trivial matter.

About this time the consulting and analytical chemist disappeared, and
no more consignments of goods for the laboratory arrived. The little
convert was once more remanded, for the magistrate and the police wanted
to know what he had been doing. The police, too, had been keeping an eye
on the big house; they thought, too, that something had happened to the
chemist, so they forced the door and entered. It was verily a robbers'
cave they found. No trace of scientific implements, except burglars'
tools, no trace of chemicals or laboratory; but they found the proceeds
of many clever burglaries that had been committed in various parts of
London. The chemist and the convert were one; their identity was
established. When I spoke to him in the cells, he called himself an
"ass" for failing to report himself to the police. "If it had not been
for that, I should have been all right," he said.

In a previous book I have given at some length my experiences of a
burglar who is a living example of the second class; but I have
something to add to the story, for since "Pictures and Problems" was
issued his fifth term of penal servitude terminated, and the man came
back to me.

Twice had I given him a good start in life, for he was both clever and
industrious, and in many respects honest. I do not think he would have
cheated anyone, and I know that he would have scorned to pick anyone's
pocket. I had twice previously set him up in his business--bookbinding.
Twice had he appeared to be on the way to thorough reformation of
character and good social standing; but twice, when things were
prospering with him, and when he had acquired plenty of good clothing,
etc., and had saved at least £10, had he lapsed into burglary, with the
inevitable result--he was caught. Well under fifty years of age, yet his
accumulated sentences amounted to nearly forty years; but it must be
borne in mind that one-fourth of the time he had been on
"ticket-of-leave," for he behaved well in prison, and obtained every
possible mark for good conduct, etc. I had not expected to see any more
of him, for I knew that he had heart trouble, and, moreover, had been
ill in prison. The officials had, however, taken good care of him, and
during the months previous to his discharge he had been an occupant of
the prison hospital. He appeared to be in fair health. The hair on his
head had been allowed to grow; he had been decently shaved. His
clothing, however, betrayed him, for there was no mistaking it.

He had earned £6 in prison, which sum had been placed with the Church
Army for his benefit. Neither the Church Army nor the Salvation Army
could find or give him any employment, and the £6 was soon spent. I saw
much of him, and watched him closely, for he interested me. When he was
quite penniless and apparently hopeless, I obtained work for him with a
local tradesman, for which he was to receive £1 weekly, but was required
to do a certain amount of work every day; for I was anxious for him to
have regular work, and to be able to earn sufficient for his need, but
no more. I also agreed to find or procure sufficient work to keep him
going. This arrangement seemed likely to prosper, and I felt some hope.
There was no sign of repentance to be observed in him, neither was he in
the least ashamed of his past; indeed, he seemed to think, like a good
many other ex-convicts, that it was the duty of the community to help
him and compensate him for the years he had spent in prison. I soon had
cause for suspicion, but kept silent, till one day I saw him with
something that he could not possibly have purchased. I told him that I
should warn the police. He did not deny the impeachment, but he wanted
to argue the matter, and seemed to believe that in some way or other his
conduct was justifiable.

Within a fortnight from the time of this conversation he was again in
the hands of the police, who charged him with attempted burglary, and
once more he went back to penal servitude. He has not written to me; I
hope he will not write. I confess myself hopeless with such men. The
chances of their reformation are almost nil, and I for one welcome
heartily and unreservedly the proposals of the present Home Secretary,
and sincerely hope that those proposals will soon become part and parcel
of our penal administration. No Prisoners' Aid Society can help such
men, and those of us who are behind the scenes know perfectly that no
Prisoners' Aid Society tries to help them. They naturally prefer more
plastic material to work upon.

The strangest part of this matter is the undoubted fact that these men
have within them a great deal that is good, for sometimes I have known
them to be stirred by pity and animated by love; but it requires someone
in much worse plight than they themselves are to evoke that pity and
kindle that love.

The following story, true in all particulars, will be of interest:

In one of our large prisons I saw an old man acting as "orderly" in the
prison hospital. He was leaning over the bed of a young man who was
dying of consumption. He was pointed out to me as an "old lag"--that is,
an ex-convict. He was a habitual criminal, a sin-seared, oft-convicted,
hardened old man, of whom and for whom there was no hope; a danger to
the community and a pest to society, well known to prison officials. His
last offence being of a technical character, he was sent to prison for a
short term only. What could the Governor do with him? Solitude and
severity had proved ineffectual for his reformation; deadening and
soul-destroying monotony had failed to soften him; the good advice of
various chaplains had fallen like seed in a stony place. He seemed
impervious to feeling, not susceptible to kindness--a hopeless,
dead-alive man.

An inspiration came to the Governor. He made the "old lag" into a nurse,
and sent him into the hospital. Muttering and cursing, he went among the
sick and the weak. He was brought face to face with suffering and death.
Prison does not secure immunity from the fell scourge consumption, and
the old man's days had to be spent among some upon whom the scourge had
fixed its relentless grip. Sometimes death makes a long tarrying, and
the wheels of consumption's death-car are long delayed.

Suffering, waiting, hoping for the end, lay a young man who was alone in
the world. Too ill and too near death, he could not be discharged from
prison; he had no friends into whose care he could be committed; so he
must suffer, wait and hope for the end. And the old convict had to nurse
him. Soon strange sensations began to thrill the old man, for pity took
possession of him. By-and-by the old man's heart became tender again,
and the foundations of the frozen deep were broken up; the "old lag" had
learned to love! He had found someone in worse plight than himself,
someone who needed his care, and someone whom he could care for. As the
weary days passed, and the days lengthened into weeks, and the weeks
into weary months, the affection between the two men grew in intensity,
till the fear of separation filled their minds--a separation not caused
by death.

Would the old man's sentence expire before the young man died?

Would the young man die before the old man's time was up? Who would be
nurse for the young man when the old man was gone? Alas! the convict's
time was up first, and the day came when the prison-gates were opened
and he must go free, when he must say farewell to his friend. The day
came, but the old man refused to leave, and he implored the Governor to
let him stay "and see the last of him." Surely it was a beautiful
exhibition of the power of love. The old man had passed through love to
light, and the dear old sinner was ready to sacrifice himself for the
benefit of the dying lad. But it was not to be. Prison rules and prison
discipline could not be relaxed, and the old convict must needs go.
There was no place for him in the prison, so with sad heart he bade his
friend farewell and departed. But three days later he was back in the
same prison, and once more he was "orderly" in the hospital.

On leaving prison the convict said to the Governor: "You won't let me
stop, but you will soon have me back again, and you won't be able to
refuse me admission."

In prison he had earned a few shillings, so into the nearest
public-house he went, got drunk, came out and "went for" the first
policeman, who naturally took him into custody. When before the
magistrate he asked for three months, but the magistrate thought that
one month met the justice of the case. So back he went to prison, where
the Governor promptly gave him his "old job."

When I saw the old man, his month was running out.

I have since learnt that when he was again discharged, he said to his
friend, "Cheer up! I shall soon be back." But the dying youth lingers
on, and waits for him in vain.

Eagerly he scans every fresh comer, but no glint of recognition lights
up his poor face. The officials, too, scan every list that comes with a
fresh consignment of prisoners, but the "old lag's" name has not
appeared. Neither do the police know anything of him. What has happened
to the old convict? Perhaps, after all, his time was up first. Maybe he
waits in the spirit-world for the coming of his friend. Maybe the young
man will plead for the old convict, and say: "Lord, I was sick and in
prison, and he came unto me." And the Lord will answer and say:
"Inasmuch as ye did it unto him, ye did it unto Me."

The police effect many smart and plucky captures. Sometimes they are
aided by a stupid oversight on the part of the criminal, but quite as
often by some extraordinary piece of luck. Let me give an instance of
the latter.

A six-foot fellow from the country joined the London police-force. He
also, as soon as possible, joined himself in matrimony to a servant-girl
living in London. Her health proved to be very bad, but this did not
prevent her having children quickly, and so it came about that, before
he had been in the police-force many years he was in debt and
difficulties. Four young children and a wife constantly ill do not help
to make a policeman's life a happy one. His friends made a collection
for him on the quiet, but it had little beneficial effect. The children
became ill, the wife became worse, the debts heavier, and exposure
threatened. It was winter-time. He left his ailing wife and crying
children to go on night-duty, wishing he was dead and out of it all. As
he went quietly to his beat, his step became slower and slower, until it
stopped altogether, and he found himself standing with his back to the
wall thinking of suicide.

Some months afterwards he gave me this account of what happened.

"Mr. Holmes, pluck and courage had nothing to do with it, for I had
just made up my mind to make a hole in the water, when I happened to
look at the window of a jeweller's shop, in which a light was burning.

"I saw somebody move in the shop, so I took out my truncheon and went
softly into the shop door. I had an idea it was unfastened, so I stood
still for a minute or two, hardly breathing, and then I rushed at the
door, and sure enough it opened, and in I went.

"The three fellows were just packing up the jewellery. One of them came
for me with a pistol, but before he could get it to fire I caught him on
the head with my truncheon, and down he went. Another made for the door,
but he had to pass me, and I laid him out. The third came at me with a
big jemmy, and we had a fight, but I was too big and quick for him. I
almost broke his arm. So I took the lot; but I should not have cared if
they had killed me. I was just in a mad fury, and it was nothing but a
piece of luck."

Yes, it was a bit of luck. A large sum of money was collected for him by
the public. His praises were duly sung in the Press, his debts were
paid, and his wife sent for a time to a convalescent home. He might have
made headway in the Force, but he was no scholar. I went sometimes to
give him lessons in arithmetic, spelling, etc., but it was of no use. He
wanted to catch more thieves, and sometimes made the terrible mistake of
arresting an innocent person. The last time I saw him he told me that
his wife was no better, but that she had had another child.

Not long ago a singular mistake occurred in North London. Burglars had
infested a respectable road for some time. An attempt to enter had
evidently been made at one house without success, for they had left
jemmy-marks upon the door, but did not enter. The police resolved to
watch this house from the outside. The owner and his stalwart son
resolved to watch inside, but neither communicated with the other. At
midnight two men were seen by the police to enter the garden and go to
the front door, so the constables softly followed and listened at the
door, which was closed. Evidently there was someone inside, so they
cautiously opened the door, when suddenly they were set on by two men
armed with heavy hammers. A severe blow fell on the shoulder of one of
the officers, who responded with a crack on the head with a truncheon,
and the man inside fell on the floor. Poor fellow, he was the owner! The
son also got injured, and when the police were about to handcuff him,
the affair was explained. Meanwhile the thieves went higher up the road,
made a real attempt, and were caught. But the owner of the house lay ill
for some days, suffering from concussion of the brain, while the officer
was incapacitated from duty for some weeks.



In my opening chapter a slight reference was made to the Habitual
Inebriates Act of 1898.

I now wish to deal more fully with this subject, for it has occupied
much time in police-courts, and has held a large place in the public
mind and interest.

The uselessness of short terms of imprisonment for persons frequently
charged with drunkenness had been fully proved; they had not been found
deterrent or reformative, the only practical result being that the lives
of those constantly committed were considerably lengthened.

Sometimes I have felt that it would be good if the women to whom I now
refer could have gone quietly out of existence, for I believe that the
All-Merciful would extend greater mercy to them than they show to

But life has a firm grip upon women; and when it is devoted to animalism
and idleness, when the cares and worries of home, children, and
employment do not concern them, then indeed those lives are often
lengthened out beyond the lives of their more virtuous and industrious

For these women prisons had proved useful sanatoria, and frequent
sentences times of recuperation.

Small wonder, then, that new methods should at length be tried. The
Habitual Inebriates Act came into being in 1898.

The Act adopted the definition of a much earlier Act as to what
constituted the habitual inebriate, which was as follows:

"Those who, by the excessive use of intoxicating drink, are unable to
control their affairs or are dangerous to themselves or others."

I quite believe that if the framers of this Act had realized the
character of those who would come within its provisions, a far different
definition would have been found. But the Act also conditioned that only
those who were charged four times during the year with drunkenness
should be dealt with, the great mistake being that no attempt was made
previously to inquire into the character and condition of those that
happened to be charged four times in the year. I suppose it was a
natural inference that anyone so frequently charged must be of necessity
a confirmed and regular inebriate. But the reverse proved true, for the
worst inebriates, dipsomaniacs, and sots, escaped the meshes of the net
so carefully spread.

They at any rate did not fall into the hands of the police so
frequently; indeed, many of them did not at all. But the Act netted a
very different kind of fish--a kind that ought to have been netted many
years previously, and dealt with in a far more effectual manner than was
now proposed.

The Act gave power to local authorities and philanthropic societies to
establish inebriates' reformatories, which, after satisfying the
requirements of the Home Office, were to be duly licensed to receive
habitual inebriates qualified under the new law. These institutions were
to be supported by an Imperial capitation grant for every inebriate
committed, the local authorities being empowered to draw upon the rates
for the balance.

Magistrates were given power to commit to these establishments for one,
two, or three years, when the persons charged before them pleaded guilty
to being habitual inebriates, and desired the question settled without
reference to a higher court; but magistrates could not deal with them
until they had been charged four times within the year.

If consent was refused, magistrates were empowered to send them for
trial before the Judge and jury. Early in 1898 I took considerable pains
to ascertain the exact character and condition of the persons who came
within the provision of the Act. I found, as I expected to find, that
they were idle and dissolute persons, nearly all of them women, and such
women as only the streets of our large towns could furnish.

So much misapprehension and uncertainty prevailed as to the kind and sex
of the persons who would be affected by the new law that the London
County Council, after acquiring a valuable property in Surrey for the
purposes of the Act, prepared for the reception of males. For this there
was no excuse. A glance at the annual criminal statistics would have
shown to what sex the oft-convicted inebriates belonged, and an inquiry
among the police would have revealed their true character and condition.
A considerable time elapsed before these reformatories were ready, local
authorities being very reluctant to use their powers, but at length the
task of trying to cure London's grossest women of inebriety began. It
was a hopeless task from the first. After eight years' experience its
futility has been fully demonstrated.

In the _Contemporary Review_ of May, 1899, I ventured to give a
description of the men and women who would be dealt with. The women, I
said, would consist of 80 per cent. of gross unfortunates, dominated by
vice or mental disease, homeless and shameless women; 10 per cent. old
women who live alternately in workhouses and prisons, with occasional
spells of liberty and licence; and 10 per cent. of otherwise decent
women, the majority of whom would be mentally weak.

The men I described as idle, dissolute, and dishonest fellows, or worse.
Eight years' experience of the working of the Act has verified my
analysis. The report of the Government Inspector for 1906 amply proves
it. Dr. Branthwaite (the Government Inspector), a properly qualified
medical officer, has taken infinite pains to ascertain the mental
condition of those committed to certified reformatories, and who became
his special charge. I quote from his report for 1906:

"During the eight years the Act has been in operation 2,277 men and
women had been committed to reformatories. Of these, 375 were men and
1,902 were women." He thus classifies them as to mental condition: 16·1
per cent. as insane, defective, imbecile, or epileptic; 46·5 per cent.
as eccentric, dull, or senile; 37·4 per cent. as of average mental
capacity. This means that out of the total admissions for the eight
years, 62·6 per cent. were practically insane, and therefore hopeless
from a reformatory point of view. The remaining 37·4 per cent. were, he
says, of average mental capacity. But the Inspector can only speak of
them as he finds them; he cannot speak of their mental capacity when
outside his reformatories. I can; therefore I wish to say here something
about them. There exists a large class of men and women who, when placed
under absolute control in prisons or reformatories, submit themselves
quietly to the authority that controls and the conditions that environ
them. They obey orders, they display no anger, they offer no violence;
they are not moody or spiteful, but they fulfil their duties with some
degree of cheerfulness and alacrity. Those who have charge of them
naturally look upon them as the most hopeful of their prisoners. A
greater mistake could not be made. It may be vice, it may be drink, it
may be dishonesty, that is the master passion of their lives; it may be,
for aught I know--and in reality I believe that it is--some inscrutable
mental disease that causes their passions or weaknesses; but whatever
the passion, and however caused or controlled, when these people are
under absolute authority in places where the vice, passion, or weakness
cannot possibly be indulged, then that passion, vice, or weakness is
absolutely non-existent for the time, and its victims appear as normal

But a far different state of mind and body exists when they are released
from authority, for with liberty the old instinct or passion comes into
fierce existence, and instantly demands gratification. While the
released person has on the one hand gained considerably in health of
mind and body, the sleeping passion too has gained in strength during
the time it has hibernated. These persons, I am happy to believe, are
not of normal mind, for they are helpless before the stress of
temptation. In fact, decent as they may seem while in custody, the
gratification of their particular vice is the only thing of importance
in life to them. These unfortunate people, when at liberty, are in
reality under authority of a different kind, and their obedience to the
dark, mysterious authority that controls them is as implicit as if they
were detained in prison or reformatory, for they do not question or
gainsay its imperious demands. Small wonder, then, that nearly all the
women who have been committed to inebriate reformatories revert to their
old habits of life. To speak of their relapse is wrong, for in reality
there is no relapse about it; they have only been held by force from
their old life, which they resume when that preventive force is

But it has been a costly experience so far, at any rate, as London is
concerned. The Government led off with a capitation grant of 10s. 6d.
weekly. For the first few years it cost about £1 10s. per week, in
addition to the outlay on land, buildings, and appointments, to keep
each of these demented women. Though this cost has now been
considerably reduced, it is even now about £1 weekly. No one, I feel
sure, would begrudge this outlay if there was the remotest chance of
these extraordinary women living decently when released from the

Sadly, but emphatically, I say no such chance exists. Let it be clearly
understood that I am not making this terrible statement about inebriates
generally, but only with regard to those women who fall into the hands
of the police four times in one year, thus qualifying for committal
according to the Act. The very hopelessness of these women excites my
deepest pity, and because I pity them I point out plainly their
condition, in the sincere hope that more satisfactory methods of dealing
with them may be provided. The Inspector claims that it is better for
these women to be detained in inebriate reformatories than to undergo a
continual round of short terms of imprisonment, varied by spells of
liberty spent in gross orgies upon the street. He says, too, that it is
the cheaper course. There is some truth in his contention. Of the exact
proportion of the monetary cost of the two methods I am not concerned,
but undoubtedly, for the good of the community and the purity of our
streets, lengthened detention in inebriate reformatories is infinitely
better than short detention in prisons. I am not objecting to their
lengthened detention, but to the method and objects of detention. If
their detention is to be for the good of the public, let it be
understood that the common weal demands it. But as they are a class
altogether apart from ordinary women, even from ordinary drunken women,
they ought to be detained in institutions adapted for women of their
condition only, and the absurdity of trying to cure vice-possessed women
of the drink habit ought to cease.

But the legal advantages attaching to the life of a gross and disorderly
woman are considerable--far greater than the advantages that are
attached to a life of virtue and honest toil. "Only be bad enough, gross
enough, violent enough, and you shall have your reward. Only get into
conflict with the guardians of law and order four times in one year, and
three years' comfort in an inebriate reformatory shall be your reward.
There your work shall be limited, your leisure shall be certain, your
food shall be plentiful and varied, and your recreation, indoors and out
of doors, shall not be forgotten. There you shall live lives of comfort
and comparative ease." So the State seems to say to the women of the
class who at present fill our inebriate reformatories. And some are not
slow to accept the invitation. I remember one massive young Irishwoman,
who had a strong aversion to anything like honest work, saying to me one
morning when she was again in custody: "Mr. Holmes, I am about sick of
this: I'll go to a home for a year. Ask the magistrate to send me; it
will do me good."

I declined to be the intermediary, so she appealed to the magistrate to
send her away under the Act.

There being some doubt as to the requisite number of convictions, the
magistrate added to the list by giving her fourteen days. At the
expiration of her sentence--indeed, on the very day of her discharge
from prison--she got into collision with the police, and next day was
again before the magistrate. She again asked the magistrate to send her
to a reformatory. But she had another grievance this time: she told the
magistrate that Mr. Holmes had insulted her. On being asked for
particulars, she said that I had refused to help her to get into an
inebriate reformatory, and further (and this was the insult), that I had
said that she was big enough, strong enough, and young enough to work
for her living. I pleaded guilty to the insult, and pointed out to the
magistrate the physical dimensions of the prisoner. He smiled, and said
there was some truth in my statement; but as the prisoner was young,
there was hope of her reformation, so he committed her for two years. I
ventured respectfully to tell him that he had but allowed her one of the
legal advantages of an idle and disorderly woman.

Drink had no more to do with her condition than it has with mine, though
to some extent it was useful to her; but vice and idleness were the
dominant factors in her life, not drink.

The Habitual Inebriates Act of 1898 was followed by the Licensing Act of
1902, some clauses of which dealt with habitual inebriates, and provided
for the compilation of a Black List.

Every person, male or female, charged with drunkenness, or some crime
connected with drunkenness, four times in one year, was to be placed on
an official list, whether sent or not sent to an inebriate reformatory.
Their photographs were to be taken and circulated to the police and to
the publicans. Publicans were prohibited under a severe penalty from
serving the "listed" with intoxicating drink within a period of three
years. If the "listed" persons procured, or attempted to procure, any
drink during that time they, too, were liable to a penalty not exceeding
£1 or fourteen days. There was considerable fear and a strange anxiety
among many of the repeatedly convicted as to what would happen to them
when this Act began its operations.

But this wholesome dread soon disappeared. When its operations became
known, the lists were duly made and circulated; the photographs were
accurately, if not beautifully, taken; the police were supplied with the
lists and the publicans with the photographs. But very soon the "listed"
proceeded to procure drink and get drunk as usual, for a wonder had come
to light. When charged under the new Act, instead of getting their usual
month they received but a fortnight, for the Act did not allow a more
severe punishment. True, they had committed more heinous offences, for
they had defied the law, which said they must not procure drink, and
their offences had been _dual_, for they had been drunk, too, and
disorderly and disgusting as of yore. Nevertheless, their double offence
entitled them to but half their former reward. Magistrates soon saw the
humour of it, and soon got tired of it, and sometimes, when a charge was
preferred against a "lister" under the Act, they ordered the police to
charge the prisoners under the old Act, that more punishment might be
given. But if these clauses were not successful from a legal point of
view, they were from another.

The Act came into force on January 1, 1902. At the beginning of May in
the same year--that is, in four months from commencing operations--339
names, mostly women, were on that List. I sometimes have the privilege
of looking at the List, which has now grown to a portentous length. It
is an education to look at those hundreds of portraits. I look at them
with fear and wonderment, for they are a revelation--an awe-inspiring
picture-gallery! I would like every student of humanity and every lover
of his kind to have a copy of that List, to study those photographs, and
ponder the letterpress description that accompanies each photograph. It
would almost appear that we are getting back to primeval man, the faces
are so strange and weird. Different as the faces are, one look is
stamped upon them all--the look of bewilderment. They one and all seem
to think that there is something wrong, and they wonder what it is. No
one can glance for a single moment at those terrible photographs without
seeing that there is something more than drink at the root of things. No
one can meet them, as I have met them, face to face, can look into their
eyes, and know, as I know, how pitifully sad, yet how horrible, are
their lives, without affirming, as I affirm, that the State proclaims
its ignorance when it classifies them as inebriates, and its impotence
when it asks others to cure them of the love of drink. These are the
women that fill our inebriate reformatories, and of whom the Home Office
Inspector reports that 62·6 per cent. are not sane. Certainly they are
not sane, and it is high time that the truth was realized and the fact
faced. Is it scientific to call their disease inebriety, when in sober
truth it is something far worse--something that comes down through the
ages, and in all climes and at all times has seized hold upon certain
women--a something that never releases its hold till the portals of
death are open for its victims? Oh, I could almost laugh at the irony of
it all! Cure them of animal passion elemental in its intensity? Cure
them of diseased minds and disordered brains, by keeping them for two or
three years without drink? It cannot be done. But something can be done;
only it is so simple a thing that I feel sure it will not be done. Yet
if we had any thought for the purity of our streets, any concern for
public morality and public decency, any consideration for the public
weal, we should take these women aside, and keep them aside--not for
one, two, or three years, but for the remainder of their natural lives,
justified by the knowledge that they are not responsible creatures, and
that pity itself demands their submission to kindly control and to
strong-handed restraint.

But the Licensing Act of 1902 dealt with another class of women
inebriates, and dealt with them in a drastic but unsatisfactory way. The
law got hold of really drunken women this time, but it did not give them
half the consideration extended to gross and demented unfortunates. It
empowered magistrates to grant separation orders between married couples
when either husband or wife became habitually drunken. In this Act the
same definition of habitual inebriety that governed the 1898 Act was
adopted, and husbands very promptly began to demand separation orders
on account of their wives' drunkenness. My experiences of the result of
this Act are sorrowful to a degree; but I expected those results, for I
knew that the clauses that empowered separation orders must be either
inoperative or disastrous. Alas! they did not remain inoperative, for
the number of discarded wives began quickly to multiply.

When the Bill was before Parliament I spent some weeks in a vain
endeavour to prevent some of the worst consequences that I knew would
follow, and have followed. I contributed several articles to leading
reviews; I wrote to _The Times_ and scores of other influential papers;
I wrote to leaders of temperance societies; I circularized the Members
of both Houses, pointing out the enormity and the absurdity of putting
drunken wives homeless on the streets; I pleaded, I begged, with heart,
voice, and pen, for just one chance to be given the miserable women. My
efforts were vain. No one supported me. I was a voice crying in the
wilderness. It might be thought that I was asking for some great thing
or some silly thing. I asked for neither. Let my readers judge. We had
established inebriate reformatories at the public cost. We were filling
them with the grossest unfortunates, of whom there was no hope of
redemption; these women we were maintaining for two or three years in
comfort. Will it be believed? I asked that drunken, but not immoral,
women should be given equal chances of reformation. I asked that when a
wife's drunkenness was proved, that she should, whether she consented or
not, be committed for one year to an inebriate reformatory, and that
the husband's contribution for her support should be paid to the
institution that controlled her. But the House of Commons would have
none of it; the House of Lords would not entertain it; the Christian
Churches would not support it; the guardians of public morality ignored
it. Drunken wives, though physically weak and ill, though mothers of
young children, though decent in other ways, were not to be allowed one
chance of reformation, were not to be considered for one moment worthy
of treatment equal to that given to demented and gross women of the
streets. "Pitch them out!" said our lords and gentlemen of both Houses.
"Get rid of them!" said the Christian Churches. Husbands have not been
slow in taking this advice, for they have been pitching wives out and
have been getting rid of wives ever since. But the public do not get rid
of them so easily. It has to bear the burden that cast-off wives bring,
and that burden grows with every separation granted; so wives hitherto
moral are fast qualifying for the legal advantages given to unspeakable
women, and by-and-by, when the cast-out women behave themselves
sufficiently badly, and the police take them into custody four times in
a year--then, and not till then, when it is too late, both Houses of
Parliament, the Christian Churches, and the guardians of public morality
offer them the reforming influences of an institution for the cure of


One of the first men to apply for a separation order under the Act was a
thriving commission agent--_i.e._, a bookmaker--who had married a
barmaid. His jewellery was massive, and there was all over him the
appearance of being extremely well-to-do. He brought with him a
solicitor to advocate his cause, and witnesses, too, were forthcoming.
His young wife, when asked for her statement, did not attempt to deny
that she was sometimes the worse for drink, but contented herself by
saying that her husband drank a great deal more than she did, but it
took less effect. She also said if she did drink, her husband was the
cause of it, for he was unfaithful to her. She readily agreed to her
husband's offer of £1 weekly, so the order was promptly granted, and she
went her way alone. The husband, I noticed, was not so lonely, being
accompanied by a well-dressed female.

The second act of this unseemly farce was played before the same court
after a three months' interval. The commission agent, again fortified by
his solicitor's presence, applied for an abrogation of the order made
upon him for his wife's maintenance. Her lapse into immorality was duly
proved, her defence--which, of course, was no defence at all--being that
her husband was worse than herself, for he had been living with the
woman now in court for some months. The magistrate had no option--for
private opinion must not prevent the due fulfilment of the law--so the
order was quashed. Henceforth the husband was free of all obligations,
pecuniary or otherwise, excepting that he might not legally marry till
his wife's death. Whatever her faults were, I must confess that I felt
very sorry for her. Young, friendless, and homeless, she was already on
that polished, inclined plane down which many are precipitated to the
lowest depths, from which nothing short of a miracle could save her. A
few minutes later I was speaking to her outside the court, and asking
about her future, when the opulent commission agent and his expensively
dressed but non-legalized wife passed us. Triumph was written on his
coarse face, and, turning to his cast-off wife, he snapped his fingers
in her face, and said: "I knew I should soon get rid of you!" using, of
course, vulgar embellishment. To such contemptible blackguards, men
without an atom of decency, this Act has provided a ready means for
getting rid of wives when their company proves distasteful. But oh the
chivalry of it, especially when the fellow who participated in the
wife's wrong-doing comes cheerfully to give evidence against her! When I
think on these things, I believe that I have some faith still in
physical chastisement.

But I turn gladly--nay, eagerly--to another side of the question; for
all men are not made on the same lines as the opulent bookie, for which
we have need to be thankful. Among some of the men who, driven almost
distraught by the misery they had endured--and only those who have to
endure it can tell how great that misery is--have applied for separation
orders on account of their wives' habitual drunkenness, I have met some
that shone resplendent amid the moral darkness so often connected with
police-court cases.

A sorrowful-faced old man, nearly seventy years of age, applied to the
magistrate for advice. His wife for some years had been giving way
constantly to drink. His home was ruined; he was in debt. He produced a
bundle of pawn-tickets, etc. "Have you any sons and daughters? Cannot
they influence her?" "They are married, and are all abroad. They cannot
help me; but they send me money when I require any. They want me to go
to them, but I cannot leave her." "Do you earn any money?" "Oh yes!
quite sufficient to keep us. I have had a good place for forty years."
"Well," said the magistrate, "I cannot advise you, but you can have a
summons against her for habitual drunkenness. Will you have one?" "Yes,
sir," said the bewildered old man. The summons was served upon the wife,
and in due time they appeared before the court.

A pathetic couple they were; neither of them appeared to exactly
understand why they were there. He knew that he had to prove his wife's
drunkenness, and he did it simply enough. It was the old, old story of
drink, neglect, waste, and dirt--no food provided, no house made tidy,
no beds made, no washing of clothes. That was the negative side. The
pawnings and debts, and cuts and wounds she had received from falling,
formed the positive.

The old woman denied nothing, but said it was all true. When asked for
her defence, she could only reiterate: "He's been very good to me; he's
been very good to me." When asked about his means, the old man said he
thought that he could allow his wife 10s. a week. The magistrate thought
that 7s. was as much as he could afford, and made the order accordingly.
The couple waited in court till the separate orders were delivered to
them, and then tremblingly rose to go, he to his lonely home and she to
----. I accompanied them into the streets, and said to the old woman:
"Where are you going to live?" She replied: "I am going home." "But you
are separated. The magistrate has given your husband an order which says
that you must no longer live with him." "Not live with my husband! Where
am I to live, then?" I do not think that either of them understood till
that moment what a separation order meant, for the old man said: "You
can't live anywhere else." Then, turning to me, he said half defiantly:
"I suppose I can take her back home if I like?" "Certainly," I said;
"but you cannot come to the magistrate for another order." "I will never
ask for another. I don't want this"; and he tore it in twain.

"Come on." And he offered his arm to his old and bewildered partner, and
away they went--he to endure patiently and still to hope; she, touched
by his faithful love, to struggle and, perchance, to conquer. He was a
brave old man--a Sir Galahad with bent back and frosty locks. I watched
them as they slowly disappeared along the street. Old as they were, they
were passing through love to light. For I saw them many times after
that day; I made it my business to see them, and to give them such
encouragement as I could: they sorely needed it. So I learned the story
of their lives.

She had been a good wife and mother till late in life. Then her children
had all dispersed, and great loneliness came upon her. She had not even
the prattle of a grandchild to cheer her. Her husband was away so much
from home, for he worked many hours.

Old age steals away the power of self-control, and loneliness is hard to
bear, and drink promised to cheer her. The old man's faithfulness was
her only anchorage, but it held. The battle went sometimes against her,
but from the day they stood before the magistrate the old woman began to
gain strength, and with strength came hope and happier days.

I have selected these two instances because they fully illustrate the
dangers and the weakness of this system. But these two by no means stand
alone, and I am not exaggerating when I say that hundreds of men have
consulted me about their wives' drunkenness, all of them expecting some
help or relief from the Act. When I have explained to them exactly how
it affected them and what a separation order meant, by far the greater
number went away sorrowing, and most of them have added: "I thought she
would be put in a home for a time, where I could pay a little for her. I
cannot put her homeless into the streets; I should not be able to sleep
if I knew she was out." Of course not; what decent husband could? And
this feeling has, I am glad to say, been characteristic of husbands who
have suffered intensely and long, and who through it all have been good
and patient husbands. I do not wish it to be understood that I think
evil of every husband who enforces a separation order on account of his
wife's habitual drunkenness--far from it; for I know only too well that
with some it has been a bitter and last resource, nothing else being
apparently possible. But I do say this, and for this reason I have told
the above stories: that this law places it in the power of a worthless
husband, who cares not what becomes of his wife, to get rid of her and
his responsibilities at practically the same time, but does nothing for
the unfortunate husband who hopes for his wife's reformation, and who
has still some respect for her; also that it consigns wretched women to
a position that is certain to bring about their complete demoralization,
for it submits them to temptations they cannot withstand.



The fashion that has arisen of late years of judges or magistrates
engineering weddings among the wretched and often penniless people who
sometimes come before them savours of indecency. Such proceedings ought
to have no place in our courts of penal administration. The effects of
thriftless and ill-assorted marriages are so palpable in police-courts
that one wonders to what malign source of inspiration the suggestion
that some criminal youth or some vicious young woman can be reincarnated
by marriage is to be attributed.

Some of the most effective and eloquent homilies I have ever listened to
have been delivered from the bench upon youthful and thriftless
marriages, and upon the folly of obtaining household goods by the
hire-purchase system.

In spite, however, of the well-known results of such marriages--for
squalor and misery inevitably attend them--educated gentlemen of
position and experience appear to take pleasure in arranging them, and
Police-Court Missionaries find occupation and joy in seeing the
arrangements duly carried out.

The altogether unwholesome effect of arranging these marriages is
considerably enhanced by the press, which duly chronicles in heavy type
and sensational headings a "Police-Court Romance."

Romance! I would like to find the romance. I have seen much of the
results of such marriages, but I never discovered any romance; they were
anything but romantic. While I have seen the results, and have had to
alleviate some of the miseries following such marriages, I am thankful
to say that I never did anything quite so foolish as to take part in
arranging or giving any assistance in carrying out the arrangements for
a single marriage of this description.

Many years ago I was asked by a worthy magistrate to see that the
arrangements for a marriage of this kind were duly carried out; I told
him that I must respectfully decline.

He reminded me, with a humorous twinkle in the eye, "that marriages were
made in heaven." The reply was obvious: "Sometimes in hell, your
Worship." And the sequel proved my reply to be true. Magistrates seldom
see the after-results, but those results are far-reaching. From this one
case alone grievous burdens have already been cast upon the public, and
future generations will be called upon to bear an aggravated burden. For
in a short time the couple were homeless, with three young children, and
were found sleeping, or trying to sleep, in a van one winter's night.

It requires no prophetical vision to see the consequences of these
marriages, but a few instances may stimulate imagination.

Three years ago a decent-looking young woman of twenty was charged in
one of our courts with abandoning her illegitimate child. She was young,
pretty, and told a sad tale about her wrongs.

The press account of the matter appeared with such embellishment as
befitted a "romance," for a young man had risen in court and offered to
marry the girl, and make her into an "honest woman." Now, this
chivalrous young man had not seen the girl previously--they were
complete strangers; nevertheless, the magistrate adjourned the case, and
offered a sovereign towards the wedding expenses. The hero in this
business--the chivalrous young man!--was penniless and out of work; in
fact, if he himself spoke truly, he had done no work for a year; but,
seeing publicity had been gained and interest excited, he wrote a letter
to the press, asking the public to supplement the magistrate's
contribution, and supply him with funds to furnish a home for himself
and future wife His letter was not published, but it was sent in to me
by the editor, for I had written to the press on the subject.

I have said that he was out of work, and certainly he was likely to
remain out of work, for he was one of the audience to be seen regularly
at the police-court, many of whom never seem to seek for work. I have no
hesitation in saying that the man who comes forward in a police-court
and offers to marry a young woman to whom he is a complete stranger, and
who is, moreover, charged with serious crime, is either a fool or a
rogue--probably both.

Why magistrates should smile on these impromptu proposals, and order
remands that the consummation may take place, I cannot possibly
understand. If I were a magistrate and a fellow came forward with a like
proposal, I would order him out of court; in fact, I should experience
some pleasure in kicking him out. But in this case the magistrate gave a
fatherly benediction and twenty shillings. The missionary, too, was by
no means out of it, for he afterwards took some credit for this sorry

The true story of the girl came out afterwards. It was not one to excite
pity, for it was a shameful one to a degree. But morbid, and I think I
may say maudlin, sympathy is one of the prevailing evils of the day, and
is not founded in real pity or love, or controlled by common-sense or by
the least discretion, as the following will show:

The case of a young woman in whom I was interested was placed before the
public as a "romance," and consequently well advertised. She was by no
means a desirable person; as a matter of fact, there was nothing to be
said in her favour. The untrue statement she made before the magistrate
was, however, duly circulated. In a few days I received a large number
of letters, many of them from men with proposals of marriage. I did the
best thing possible by burning the latter, with one exception, for this
interested me, as it contained a membership ticket of a religious

The writer told me that he was a God-fearing man, a Church member for
many years, a carpenter in business on his own account, a widower with
several children; that he had prayed over the matter, and it was laid
upon his conscience that he must marry the young woman and save her. He
also enclosed a postal order for 10s., and asked me to pay her rail-fare
and send him a telegram. I returned his membership ticket, his letter,
and his postal order, and some words of my own--brief and pointed:


     "You may be a well-meaning man, but you are an ass. What right have
     you to submit your children to the care of an abandoned woman?
     Marry some decent woman you are acquainted with, and save them and

     "Yours truly,

     "T. HOLMES."

Quite recently a Police-Court Missionary told us through the press that
he had arranged seventy such weddings, that he raised £200 to give the
various couples a start in life, many of whom were so poor that he
loaned them a wedding-ring for the ceremony, as he always kept one by
him for emergencies. Yet he assured us, in spite of the poverty of the
persons concerned, and notwithstanding the disgraceful circumstances
that had brought them within his province, all these marriages had
turned out happily. I sincerely wish that I could believe in the
happiness of couples of this description, married under such
circumstances, but I cannot, for my experience of them has been so very
different. Indeed, I was not surprised to read an account in the press
of the trial of a young man for the murder of his wife, when the wife's
mother stated that the marriage had been arranged by a Police-Court

When I reflect upon this subject, I must confess myself astonished that
our Bishops and clergy, who insist so strongly on the sacredness of
marriage and of its indissolubility, are silent upon the matter, and
have no advice to give to their representatives upon it.

Especially am I surprised that our good Bishop of London, who is
conversant with every phase of London life, and who has spoken so
fearlessly upon the extent and evils of immorality, is silent on
police-court marriages and police-court separations; for these marriages
are none the less immoral though they be legalized by the State and
blessed by the Church, and the evils of them will not bear
recapitulation. On divorce our leaders have much to say; on marriage
with deceased wives' sisters they have advice to give. Are the poor to
have no guidance? Are penniless, ignorant, and often gross young people
to be engineered into promiscuous marriage without a protest? Is the
widespread evil that attaches to wholesale "separation" of no
consequence? Are these and suchlike arrangements good enough for the

But there is another light in which these engineered marriages must be
considered. Not very long since one of our judges had before him a young
man charged with the attempted murder of the girl with whom he had kept
company. His jealousy and brutality had alarmed her, so she had given
him up. But he was not to be got rid of so easily, for he waylaid her
and attempted to murder her by cutting her throat. He was charged, but
the charge was reduced to one of grievous bodily harm. At the trial the
young woman was asked by the judge whether she would consent to marry
the prisoner, adding that if she would consent it would make a
difference in the sentence imposed. The matter was adjourned to the next
session, the prisoner being allowed his liberty that the marriage might
be effected. During the adjournment they were married, and when next
before the magistrate the marriage certificate was produced. She saved
the man from prison, and the judge bestowed his benediction in the
following words: "Take her away" (as if, forsooth, she had been the
prisoner) "and be good to her. You have assaulted her before: don't do
it again"--thus giving him every opportunity of doing at his leisure
what he had barely failed to do in his haste. I ask, Is not a procedure
of this kind a grave misuse of the power of the courts? Is there any
justice about it? Is it fair to place on a young and inexperienced girl
the onus of deciding whether or not her would-be murderer shall be
punished? Is there any sense of propriety in holding a half-veiled
threat over her, and inducing her, against her better judgment, to marry
a jealous and murderous brute? I can find no satisfactory answers to
these questions, and contend such proceedings ought to be impossible in
our courts of justice.

If our penal administrators think that brutality, jealousy, and
murderous instincts can be cured by matrimonial ties, especially when
these ties are forged and riveted under such circumstances, then their
knowledge of human nature is small indeed.

The jealous brute when single is in all conscience bad enough, but when
married he is infinitely worse; for with him jealousy becomes an
absolute mania, and tragedy is almost inevitable. It must not be
understood that all magistrates and judges bring pressure to bear on
wretched or sinning couples for the purpose of compelling matrimony, for
this is not the case. We have need to be thankful that comparatively few
do so. But there is enough of this business done to warrant my calling
attention to it, and in expressing the hope that "romance" of this kind
may speedily die a death from which there is no resurrection. It may be
that among the long list of sordid cases that come before the courts
there are some in which marriage seems the best way out of the tangle,
financial or otherwise. Sometimes, perhaps, it is the only honourable
course, especially where the mother of a child is desirous of it. But it
must be remembered that in these cases the parties have had plenty of
opportunity for marriage previous to appearing before the court, and
would have like opportunities after going from the court, without
magistrates intervening.

But it becomes a public matter when judges or magistrates use their
positions and the power of the law to compel young people, sometimes
mere boys and girls, to marry.

Better a thousand times that many should bear the ills and sorrows that
they have, and go through life with the shadow of disgrace over them,
rather than take as partners those that have been either forced by
circumstances or terrorized by representatives of the law into the
unhappy position.

It may seem strange that, while some of our judges, magistrates, and
missionaries betray anxiety to hurry on these indecent marriages, and to
coerce penniless young people into them, the State should find ready
means for undoing them. It is no uncommon thing for very young women who
have been married but a few months to apply for separation orders and
maintenance orders. I may add also that it is no uncommon thing for
magistrates to grant them. The extent to which separation prevails may
be gathered from the fact that under the Summary Jurisdiction (Married
Women) Act, 1895, there have been granted up to the end of 1906 (the
latest date for which statistics are available) 72,537 separation
orders; and, assuming the average for the years 1902 to 1906 to be
maintained, up to the end of 1907 there would have to be added a further
1,048 separation orders, making a total since the Act came into force of
79,583 such orders.

Surely these figures ought to compel serious thought.



I owe my readers an apology for introducing this chapter, inasmuch as it
does not deal chiefly with my own experiences, but with two
extraordinary sentences recently given, and made public through the
press; though it is fair to say that I know something of the friends in
the one case and the victims in the other of the prisoners who received
those sentences. I have seen nothing during my personal experiences to
cause me any misgivings as to the administration of justice. I have not
seen people punished for crimes they had not committed, but I have seen
a large number of prisoners discharged about whose guilt there was no
moral doubt. It stands to the credit of our penal system that it is much
easier for a guilty man to escape than it is for an innocent man to be
punished. This is a just and safe position. I would like also to say
that among all the sentences that I have known imposed upon prisoners,
there have been very few--indeed, scarcely any--that I have thought did
not meet the justice of the case. I have, therefore, no sympathy with
the organized outcries that are from time to time raised against our
judges and magistrates and the police. Judges and magistrates are but
human, and that they will err sometimes in their judgments is certain.
We censure them sometimes because their sentences are too severe; we
blame them sometimes because they have been too lenient; but it is
always well to remember that judges and magistrates see and know more of
the attendant circumstances of a case than the press and the public
possibly can see or know. This knowledge, of course, cannot have any
bearing on the question of guilt or innocence; but it can have, and
ought to have, some effect upon the length of sentence imposed.

Within limits, then, judges and magistrates must be allowed latitude
with regard to degrees of sentence, for a cast-iron method allowing no
latitude would entail a tremendous amount of injustice.

Nine times out of ten, when a judge or magistrate errs in the imposition
of sentence, he errs on the side of leniency, and it is right that it
should be so. But an error on the side of mercy does not create a public
sensation; and this speaks well for the public, for it is good to know
that the community is better pleased to hear of leniency than of
severity. Nevertheless, an error on the side of leniency is an error,
and may be followed with results as disastrous as those that follow from
an error on the side of severity; for while those results are not so
quickly palpable, they may be more extensive.

I want, then, in this chapter to select two sentences--one given by a
judge, the other by a magistrate: the judge erring, in my opinion, on
the side of severity; the magistrate erring, in my judgment, on the side
of leniency.

Neither of these sentences seems to have attracted public attention,
though both are of recent date.

Let me quote from a letter received on June 4, 1907:

     "DEAR SIR,

     "I hope you will excuse me writing to you about my son, who is a
     young man not twenty-three years of age.

     "He is a carpenter and joiner, and has a good little business of
     his own, with a shop and yard.

     "On January 4, 1906, there was a burglary at the house next to
     mine, and in a fortnight after my son was arrested on suspicion.
     The people--very old friends of ours--being awake, heard voices,
     but did not recognize one of the voices as that of my son.

     "At the trial there was no evidence produced to prove that my son
     was in the house. My wife and myself are prepared to say that he
     went to bed at ten o'clock, and that we called him at seven o'clock
     next morning.

     "The jury brought my son in guilty, and the judge gave him
     _fourteen years' penal servitude_. The whole court was shocked; no
     one could understand it. I cannot understand it, for I have read
     many instances of real old criminals, after committing robberies,
     being sentenced to a few months or a year or so. But fourteen years
     for a young man! Oh, sir, my family have lived in this old town
     for nearly three hundred years, and no member of it had ever been
     in a prisoner's dock till now. I have written to the Home
     Secretary, and his answer was that he could not at present
     interfere. I pray to Heaven that you will be kind enough to write
     to him and beg of him to pardon my son. I am sending to you a paper
     with a full account of the trial.

     "I remain,

     "Yours truly,


I have that paper now before me--the _Coventry Times_, dated Wednesday,
December 12, 1906. The trial took place on the previous Friday at
Warwick Assizes. Taylor was charged with breaking and entering, and
feloniously stealing twenty-four farthings, one gold locket, one metal
chain, and ten spoons; to make assurance doubly sure, he also was
charged with receiving the same property. Taylor had been in custody
since January 23, 1906. On December 7 of the same year he received his
extraordinary sentence, after being detained in prison nearly eleven
months. Everything seems extraordinary about this case--the long delay
before trial, the severe sentence, the trumpery character of the
articles stolen. I express no opinion about the prisoner's guilt. Some
of the articles were found in his possession, and it was proved that he
had been spending farthings. That the people whose house had been
entered did not suspect the prisoner was clear, as they sent for him
next morning to repair the door that had been broken. But, at any rate,
the jury believed Taylor guilty, for, without leaving the box, they
gave their verdict to that effect.

One of the objects of the burglary appears to have been the acquisition
of the silver teaspoons.

Mrs. Wilson, the prosecutor's wife, had been previously married to a man
named Vernon, and the spoons in question belonged to him. It was said
that the friends of Vernon wanted the spoons, and Mrs. Wilson admitted
that "they would like them; but they had let her alone for twenty

These spoons disappeared. They were not found in Taylor's possession,
but someone had undoubtedly taken them. Mrs. Wilson stated in her
evidence that after the burglary there was a piece of paper left on the
parlour table, on which was written in pencil the words, "Mrs. Vernon,
after twenty years"; but this paper was missing, and the prisoner's
mother had been in the parlour and had seen the paper, which could not
be found after she left.

Whether Taylor committed a trumpery burglary, or whether he did the
thing out of mean spirit, or whether he was in collusion with others,
does not matter very much. Punishment he doubtless deserved, but
fourteen years for a young man for a silly offence seems beyond the
bound of credibility. But it is true; for in June, 1907, I approached
the Home Secretary, begging for a revision of the sentence, and received
a reply similar to that sent to the prisoner's father--that it was too
early a date for interference. It is only fair to assume that the judge
was in possession of knowledge that justified his words, if not his
sentence, for in addressing the prisoner he said: "You have been
convicted, and properly convicted; but I know the sort of man you are,
from this case and from the fact that there is another charge against
you in this calendar. Fourteen years' penal servitude!"

I am not surprised to read that "The prisoner appeared to be stunned
when he heard the sentence, and fell into the warders' arms who
surrounded him!" I am not surprised to read that the prisoner's father
and mother rose to their feet, and that the one shouted, "He is
innocent!" and that the other went into hysterics; but I am surprised to
read that an English judge could not allow something for parental
feelings, and that he said fiercely: "Take those people away!" and when
the prisoner's father shouted, "I can go out, but he is innocent!" that
the judge instantly retorted: "If you don't go out, I will commit you to
prison." Fourteen years for a young man of twenty-two! Fourteen years
for a first offender! It requires an effort to make oneself believe it,
but it is a fact.

I should like to know what was at the back of Mr. Justice Ridley's mind
when he gave that sentence. Surely he had some reasons that he, at any
rate, considered sufficient to justify it. It is difficult to imagine
what they were, for no personal violence had been offered, no firearms
had been carried, no burglar's tools had been discovered. Taylor was not
even suspected of connection with any professional criminals. It was,
moreover, the first time he had been in the hands of the police. Taylor
seems to have been industrious, for at twenty-two years of age he was
in business on his own account. I can't help thinking that there was
something wrong with Taylor, some mental twist or peculiarity; for,
admitting him to be guilty, he acted like a fool. To leave a piece of
paper, in his own handwriting, referring to matters of which only
intimate friends could have knowledge, was of itself an extraordinary
thing; but to go spending openly at public-houses stolen farthings was
more extraordinary still. So the responsibility for his conviction rests
largely with himself.

But fourteen years even for a fool is unthinkable, and the
responsibility for that rests with his judge.

This leads me to say that stupid and half-witted criminals are often
more severely dealt with than clever and dangerous rogues. The former
"give themselves away" in such sweetly simple fashion that they appear
hardened and indifferent, and are punished accordingly. I am afraid,
too, that sometimes judges and magistrates cannot attain to Pauline
excellence and "suffer fools gladly." Hundreds of times I have heard the
expression about someone who had received a severe sentence: "Well, he
deserved it for being such a fool!" Even the public is more prepared to
tolerate severe punishments for the men whose crimes savour of crass
folly, if not of downright idiocy, than it is for dangerous, clever
daring, and calculating rogues. My second example will tend to show that
magistrates are not exempt from this kind of feeling, but when led by
it, rush to the other extreme, and inflict no punishment whatever. The
hearing of the case I am about to relate took place at Tower Bridge
Police-Court in July, 1908.

A young married woman was charged with obtaining by false pretences £75
in cash and £15 worth of jewellery from an old woman who had been a
domestic servant, but who at the age of seventy had given up regular
work, and was hoping to make her little savings suffice for the
remainder of her days. The prisoner was also charged with obtaining by
fraud £10 5s. from a working man in whose house she had lodgings.

Evidence was given that the prisoner had an uncle abroad, but nothing
had been heard of him for a very long time. Two years ago the prisoner
spread a report that he had died immensely rich, and had left her
thousands of pounds. In order to pay legal expenses, she said, she
borrowed money from her aunt, an old woman of eighty. Having exhausted
her aunt's money, and leaving her to the workhouse authorities, the
prisoner then proceeded to draw upon the retired domestic, who parted
with every penny of her savings and her jewellery.

In due time she was penniless also, and had again to seek work, at
seventy years of age, having no friends to help her. The prisoner then
turned her attention to her landlord, and obtained £10 5s. from him; but
he became suspicious, and wanted to see some documents or solicitors.
She gave him the address of her solicitors in Chancery Lane. Then he
insisted upon her accompanying him to see them; he compelled her to go,
and, on arriving, found the address to be a bank. The landlord then
communicated with the police, and she was arrested. The prisoner
admitted that the whole story was false, and that she was very wicked.
It was stated in evidence that the prisoner had an illegitimate child,
which she said was the child of a gentleman, and that she had persuaded
a young man to marry her by promising him £300 from the child's father,
when the wedding took place; but the young husband had never received
the money.

The lady missionary told the magistrate that she had received a letter
from the prisoner, whilst under remand in Holloway Prison, expressing
her deep sorrow, and promising to work hard and pay the money back.

Mr. Hutton bound the prisoner over under the Probation Act! I wonder
what was at the back of Mr. Hutton's mind when he practically discharged

If the Probation Act is to bring us such judgments as this, it would
have been well if we had never heard of it.

I can imagine no more heartless and cruel series of frauds than those
perpetrated in this case.

The prisoner seems to have pursued her victims with unerring instinct
and skill: the old aunt was robbed and ruined; the old domestic, after a
long life of hard work and economy, was robbed and ruined; then, with
confidence in her own powers, she proceeded to rob her landlord. A
continual succession of lies, deceptions, and frauds, extending over
years! And then bound over! Herein is a problem: If ten teaspoons, one
metal chain, and one gold locket are equal to fourteen years' penal
servitude, what are some hundreds of pounds, obtained by two years'
fraud, and entailing the ruin of two decent old women, equal to?

The answer, according to the magistrate, is, Nothing! A great deal has
been said, and not without some show of justice, about there being one
law for the rich and another for the poor. In this case it is positively
true, though in an opposite sense to the generally accepted meaning of
the words.

I have no hesitation in saying that if the prosecutors had been in more
influential circumstances, and had employed a solicitor to put their
case, the law would not have been satisfied by accepting the prisoner's
recognizances. Are we to accept the principle that punishment must be in
inverse ratio to the seriousness of the offence? It appears so!

The innocent young man she decoyed into marriage has not received his
£300--he never will--but he received what he might have expected, and at
least he got his deserts.

I ask my readers to ponder this decision: Bound over! I ask them to
ponder this sentence: Fourteen years' penal servitude! There is an
eternity between the two sentences; the one is permitted to go on her
guileless way. The other is sent to confinement, monotony, and
degradation for fourteen years. The latter was at the worst a foolish,
clumsy rogue; the other was a consummate and accomplished artist in

Whether the old women would have received any benefit from the
imprisonment of the younger woman is beside the question. I am sure they
will receive no benefit from her liberty, though she says she will work
hard and repay them!

On what principle can she be called a first offender? If rogues are to
be imprisoned at all, by what process of reasoning can it be argued that
she ought to go free?

Surely the time is come when other people as well as prisoners must be
considered. What will be the effect of a judgment like this? It can have
but one effect: it will encourage similar young women in their lives of
deception and fraud.

I may here stop to ask whether a young _man_ charged with similar
offence would have been dealt with at Tower Bridge Police-Court, or at
any other court, in a similar way. My own conviction is that he would
not have been so dealt with.

This raises the question whether there is or ought to be equality, or
something approximating to equality, of punishment for the sexes.

This being the day of women's rights, I would say that certainly there
ought to be something like equality even in the imposition of sentences;
but the law and its administrators do not hold this view. I do not
remember any case of a man and woman being jointly charged, both being
jointly and equally guilty, in which the man did not receive much the
heavier sentence.

I can understand it in the case of husband and wife, for the law
considers husband and wife as one; but, unfortunately for the husband,
it considers the male person as that particular one. But, with regard to
unmarried couples, I can see no general reason for severity to the man
and leniency to the woman.

At the risk of appearing ferocious, I must say that I was taken aback
at the Tower Bridge Police-Court decision, for I confess that I would
have preferred the magistrate giving the prisoner six months' hard
labour, or sending her for trial before judge and jury. Not that I want
either men or women to be detained in prison--I hate the thought of
it--but I happen to hate something else much more, and that is the idea
that plausible and crafty young women can rob and ruin decent old women
with impunity.

I hold--though in this I may be wrong--that if the law cannot compel
fraudulent persons to restore their ill-gotten gains--and in the case of
the prisoner at Tower Bridge this was, of course, impossible--then at
least it ought to administer in such cases a decent amount of
punishment. But the course adopted did not uphold the dignity of the
law; it did not in the least help those that have suffered; it did not
punish the prisoner; neither did it serve to act as a warning to others.
But while, as I have previously said, justice is, on the whole, fairly
administered, there is still a wide difference in the sentences given
for like offences. The demeanour of a prisoner before the magistrate may
easily add to or lessen the length of his sentence; crocodile tears and
a whining appeal for mercy generally have an opposite effect to that the
prisoner wishes.

A scornful, defiant, or violent attitude is almost certain to increase
the length of sentence. The plausible, cunning, and somewhat clever man,
who cross-examines with the skill of an expert, is sure to be hardly
judged and appraised when sentence is given; but the devil-may-care
fellow, who bears himself a bit jauntily, and who, moreover, has
considerable humour and a dash of wit, is almost sure by a few witty or
humorous quips to partially disarm justice and secure for himself more
lenient punishment. I suppose we all have a sneaking kindness for the
complete vagabond; we instinctively like the fellow who can make us
laugh; we do not want to believe that the man who is possessed of humour
is altogether bad, and when we have to punish him we let him off as
lightly as possible. But the stubborn thick-head does not excite either
our risible faculties or our heart's sympathy; nevertheless, that
thick-head may be far less guilty than the complete vagabond--in truth,
he is often a far better fellow--but his thick-headedness is against
him, and we punish him accordingly. And here I draw upon my own
experiences, for I have known complete vagabonds that were also absolute
scoundrels, who, by their apparent candour, jollity, and flashes of
humour, continually saved themselves from anything approaching long

One fellow in particular took at least twelve years in qualifying for
penal servitude, though he was a thorough rogue and a vagabond
absolutely. He was a printer and a clever workman; but he never
worked--not he! He would steal anything. Several times he had called on
clergymen, and while conversing with them in their halls had
appropriated their best silk umbrellas. On one occasion he had gone away
without booty, but he returned five minutes afterwards, and rang the
bell, which, being answered by the servant, he said: "I am very sorry
to trouble, but I forgot my umbrella. Ah! here it is." And he went away
with the parson's best.

"Give me another chance," I have heard him say. "You know you like me: I
am not a bad fellow at heart." He saved himself from penal servitude
many times, but he got it at last, after several narrow escapes.

One winter night I was told he was at my front-door, where he had been
many times, for I never asked him in: I am sure he would have robbed me
if I had. "Well, old man, how are you?" he said, for he always
patronized me in a delightful manner. "Oh, it is you, Downy, is it?"
"Ah, it is me. I say, Holmes, I am starving!" "There is some comfort in
that," I said. "Bah! you don't mean it; you are too good-hearted. Give
us a cup of tea." I declined his invitation, and told him that I had no
umbrellas to spare. "Well, that's a bit thick," he said; "I did not
expect that from you. Well, I'm off." Then, as an afterthought, he said:
"What's the time?" "Five minutes past six," I said. "Why, I have been on
this doorstep quite five minutes." "Quite ten minutes," I said.

Away he went to the parish clergyman, who did not know him, and
delivered some imaginary messages from myself. He got two shillings and
a meal from the clergyman.

To my surprise, I saw him in the dock next day, charged with stealing a
valuable fur-lined overcoat. He had called at a gentleman's house to ask
for employment. The servant had admitted him, and left him standing in
the hall while she summoned the master. It was dark, but he discovered
the valuable coat and put it on. There was no work for him, and the
gentleman, who knew Downy well, showed him out promptly. He afterwards
missed his coat, and quickly gave information to the police. Downy was
as light-hearted as usual, denied his guilt, and closely examined the
prosecutor as to the exact time he (Downy) called on him. The
magistrate, having had depositions taken, was about to commit him for
trial, when the prisoner said: "I have a witness to call." "You can call
him at your trial," the magistrate said. "Who is your witness?" "Mr.
Holmes." "What can he prove?" "That I was at his house at exactly the
same time that it is said I was at the prosecutor's." I declined to give
evidence, for I believed the fellow had the overcoat, though he was
without a coat when I saw him. He was duly committed for trial, but
before leaving the dock he turned to the magistrate and said: "You have
made up your mind that I am to get five years, but you are mistaken this
time: no jury will convict on the evidence." The grand jury threw out
the bill, so I was saved the pleasure of giving evidence for him. In a
few days he appeared at the court desiring to speak to the magistrate.
When given the chance, he said: "Well, I'm here again. I thought you
might be pleased to know that no true bill was found against me; my case
did not go to the jury. You haven't done with me yet." "I am sorry,"
said the magistrate. "But you will not be disappointed many more times.
You will get your five years." "Probably, but not at your suggestion.

He was on my doorstep again that evening. "Come to see you again,
Holmes, my boy. Lend us half a crown!" I declined. "Ha!" he said, "you
would lend it me soon enough if you knew what a lark I have had. I can't
help laughing. Why, I have been to old ---- and offered to give him back
his fur coat for a quid." And the rascal roared at the thought of it.
"What did he say to you?" "Well, he rather hurt my feelings, for his
language was not polite." "I suppose you have not restored it?" "What do
you think?"

But Downy got his five years within a few weeks. He removed a big marble
clock from the bar of a public-house, and got away with it, too, in
broad daylight; but Fate tripped him at last, and he got his well-earned
five years. As he is still under forty years of age, I have no doubt but
that in prison his talent will be developed. Not that he has much to
learn, but even Downy may gather a few wrinkles when given proper

Now, Downy represents a very numerous class of men and women, though few
of them have his cool assurance and originality, but, like him, live to
a large extent by thieving and general dishonesty. These people can
seldom furnish _bona-fide_ addresses, or give any proof that they have
been doing honest work. Yet they go on from year to year, in and out of
prison, undergoing small sentences--first a few days, then a few weeks,
followed by a few months, then committal to trial, when sentences of one
or two years are passed upon them. Some of them, though their lives are
devoted to criminality, never arrive at the dignity of penal servitude.

With due respect, there is, I submit, even now room for improvement
with regard to the infliction of sentences. A large amount of latitude
must be allowed, for judges and magistrates ought not, must not, be
automatic; a certain amount of liberty must be granted to them. But when
that latitude includes the right and the power to give fourteen years'
penal servitude to a young man of twenty-two for a trumpery offence, and
that his first offence; when it includes the right and the power to
practically discharge a clever and dangerous woman who has lived by
fraud, and whose frauds brought untold suffering upon innocent and aged
victims--when this latitude allows cool and calculating rogues to
continue interminably their lives of roguery, alternated with very small
and insufficient sentences, it is evident that the liberty and latitude
allowed require in some way to be circumscribed.

Judges and magistrates are human, and I for one would keep them human,
with the power to sympathize and the power to laugh, for these things
are altogether good, and to a reasonable extent it is right that these
wholesome qualities should exercise some influence; but even these
faculties require some restraint, or injustice instead of justice will
be done. I am afraid there is some truth in what many discharged
prisoners have told me--that the length of sentence depends on the whim
of the judge, and that on some days it appears evident that a crumb of
undigested cheese impairs the temper and judgment, and adds appreciably
to the length of the sentences given.

If this is in the least degree true, it is a matter for profound
regret. In spite of temper, pain, or indigestion, the balance of justice
ought to be fairly held. I am glad to think that I have sometimes known
pain and suffering to have the opposite effect when judgment has been
given. A magistrate of my acquaintance, noted for good temper and
courteous urbanity, was one morning in a very unpleasant frame of mind.
Everything went wrong with him, and, as a consequence, with everyone who
had to deal with him. He was cross, peevish, and rude. The police knew
it, for he was not civil to them; witnesses knew it, for he was rough
with them. On one occasion when he had been at his worst he caught my
eye. After the court was over he said to me: "You thought me very
ill-tempered this morning?" "Indeed I did, your Worship, for you were
rough to everyone." "Ah!" he said, "I have neuralgia frightfully; I have
had no sleep all night." I said: "I am very sorry, your Worship; but I
noticed another thing." "What was that?" "Why, you let all the prisoners
down lightly." "Oh," he said, "you noticed it, did you? I had to let
myself go sometimes, for I could hardly bear it, so I let go when it did
not matter very much; but I kept a tight hand over myself when it came
to sentences. I was determined that the prisoners should not suffer for
my neuralgia."

He was wise, and he did nobly. It would be well if all our judges and
magistrates kept a tight hand on themselves when it comes to sentences;
for everyone must admit a cruel wrong is done when prisoners are awarded
heavier sentences because the judge is either in ill-health or out of



It was, of course, inevitable, considering the large space prison reform
and discharged prisoners have occupied in the public mind, that some
influence, not altogether healthy, would be exercised on both prisoners
and public. The leniency of sentences, or of treatment whilst undergoing
sentences, has upon most prisoners a humanizing and softening effect. On
others it produces a very different feeling, for in a measure it
confirms them in wrong-doing. Personally, I have great faith in wise and
discriminate leniency, preferring the risk of confirming the few to the
certainty of hardening the many. Still, it is worth while, in our
efforts for prison reform and for ex-prisoners' social salvation, to
pause sometimes and inquire not only what success is being achieved, but
also what is the general effect of our efforts. The constant stream of
appeals on behalf of discharged prisoners that flows throughout the
length and breadth of our land, while productive of good, is of a
certainty productive of much evil. The efforts made in prison to get
prisoners to attach themselves to some recognized Prisoners' Aid Society
before discharge, good as they are, are not without some ill
consequences. The sympathy of the community for men and women who have
broken their country's laws, and who are undergoing, or have undergone,
terms of imprisonment, has been so often and so earnestly proclaimed
that even this expression of sympathy has had consequences that were not
anticipated, but which might have been expected if a little more thought
had been given to the matter. It is, I know, impossible that any
movement or trend of thought can be absolutely free from evil, and every
influence for good has something connected with it that acts in an
opposite direction. One result of all this public sympathy and effort
has been to lead a large number of people to think and believe that
because they have been criminals, and have suffered just punishment for
their evil-doing, it is someone's bounden duty to help them, and provide
them not only with the means of living when discharged from prison, but
also with suitable employment.

So far has this kind of belief permeated, that several of my
acquaintances, educated men who have suffered well-merited terms of
imprisonment, contend that the community ought to receive them back with
open arms, and not only restore them to a position, but give them again
the confidence and respect they had forfeited. Their offences having
been purged, they argue, by the term of imprisonment suffered, the law
has been satisfied; and the law now holding them guiltless, nothing else
ought to be considered. These men, as I have said, were educated men,
and well able to win back the public confidence if they set themselves
to the task. But I am more concerned for the effect of this belief upon
the ordinary prisoners, who have but little education, and for them it
has disastrous effects. If there is one virtue that is absolutely
necessary to a discharged prisoner, it is the virtue of self-reliance.
Without it he is nothing. No matter what sympathy and what aid be
extended to him from societies or individuals, without self-reliance he
is a certain failure. Anything that tends to lessen self-reliance in
discharged prisoners has, then, a tendency to reduce their chances of
reformation. After all has been done that can possibly be done for
discharged prisoners, one is compelled--reluctantly compelled--to the
conclusion that the only men who can be rescued are those who possess
grit and self-reliance. Many--I think that I can with safety say
most--discharged prisoners appear to believe that assistance once given
gives them a claim to other assistance. I have met with very few to whom
I have given material help who thought that the help given them was
exceptional and given with the view of helping them to a little start,
that they might afterwards rely upon themselves. On the other hand, I
have met with hundreds who actually believed that help previously given
constituted an absolute claim to continued assistance. Sometimes it has
taken much persuasion, and occasionally a display of physical force,
before I have been able to get some discharged prisoners to accept my
view of the matter.

The complete assurance with which many of them present themselves at my
door and inform me that they are "Just come out of prison, sir," is of
itself astounding, but a little conversation with them reveals more
surprising things still. About eleven o'clock one winter night there was
a loud rap at my front-door, to which I responded. When I opened the
door, a big man stood before me, and he promptly put his foot across the
doorstep, and the following conversation took place: "What do you want?"
"Oh, you are Mr. Holmes. I want you to help me." "Why should I help you?
I know nothing of you." "I have just come out of prison." "Well, you are
none the better for that." "Well, you help men that have been in
prison." "Sometimes, when I see they are ashamed of having been in."
"Well, I don't want to get in prison again." "How do I know you have
been in prison?" "Why, didn't you speak to us like a man last Sunday?"
"Yes, I was at Pentonville last Sunday, and I hope I spoke like a man."
"Ah, that you did! And when I heard you, I said: 'I'll see him when I
come out. He will be sure to give me half a dollar.'" "How did you get
my address?" "From another chap." "When did you come out?" "This
morning." "How long have you been in?" "Six months." "Got all your
conduct marks?" "Every one." "Then you had eight shillings when you left
the prison. How much have you got left?" "Never a sou!" "What have you
done with it?" "I bought a collar, a pocket-handkerchief, a necktie, and
a bit of tobacco, and a good dinner." "You saved nothing for your
lodging?" "No; I thought you would see me right." "I see! How old are
you?" "Thirty-four." "How tall?" "Six feet one." "What is your weight?"
"Fourteen stone." "My friend, you are big enough, strong enough, and
young enough to help yourself. You seem to be making a bad job of it;
but you will get no help from me." "Not half a dollar?" "Not half a
penny." "What are you for?" "Well," I said, "I appear to exist for a
good many purposes, but at the present time I am for the purpose of
telling you to move off. Take your foot from my doorstep and clear!"
"Not without half a dollar." "Take your foot away!" "No fear! I am going
to have some money for my lodgings." "You will get no money here. Clear
off!" "You don't mean to say that, after speaking to us like a man, you
won't give me any money?" "That is exactly what I do mean to say." "What
are you for?" "I will show you what I am for"; and I called three
stalwart sons. "I ask you once more to withdraw your foot, or we shall
be compelled to put you as gently as possible in the gutter." He then
left us, muttering as he went: "I wonder what he's for?"

The sight of an ashamed and broken ex-prisoner touches me, and my heart
goes out to him. Neither sympathy nor help will I deny him. But when
unabashed fellows confront me, and show not the slightest evidence of
sorrow or shame, but trade, as far as they can trade, upon the shameful
fact that they have been rogues and vagabonds, very different feelings
are evoked. My experience leads me to the belief that the greater
majority of ex-prisoners are by no means ashamed of having been in
prison, or of the criminal actions that preceded prison; neither are
they anywise reticent about their actions or thoughts.

So well is the public desire to help prisoners understood that I have
sometimes been the victim of specious scoundrels who probably had never
been in prison, but who richly deserved the unenviable distinction.

One morning, when I was leaving home for the day, I saw on the opposite
side of the street a young man, who looked intently at me when I bade my
wife good-bye. As he was an entire stranger to me, I did not speak to
him, but went about my business. During the evening my wife said to me:
"Oh, you owe me ten shillings!" "What for?" I inquired. "I gave young
Brown his fare to Birmingham." "What young Brown?" I inquired. "That
nice young fellow that got into trouble two years ago, and you helped
him when he came out of prison. He kept the place you got for him, and
now he has got a much better one at Birmingham." I tried to recall young
Brown, but my memory was vacant on the matter. At length I asked for his
description, when the young man I had seen in the morning was revealed.
He noted my departure, and when quite sure that I was not in the way, he
came to the door and asked to see me. He told my wife a long tale about
his imprisonment and of my kindness to him, of his struggle for two
years on a small salary, and of the good position open for him in
Birmingham; and also of his certainty that I would, had I been at home,
have advanced his fare, and wound up by expressing the great sorrow that
he had missed me. He did wish so much to tell me of his success, for it
was all due to my kindness. He got his fare, and I sincerely hope that
by this time he has got his deserts too.

But, independently of specious rogues, it is high time the fact was
recognized that a feeling does largely exist among prisoners and
ex-prisoners that the fact of having been in prison is a sure passport
to public sympathy, and constitutes a claim upon public assistance. A
large proportion of prisoners are, of course, people of low
intelligence, who cannot estimate things at a proper value or see things
as ordinary-minded people see them, and to these the belief becomes a
certainty and the hope almost a realization. Let me repeat, then, that
the duty of the community to help and "rescue" discharged prisoners has
been so insistently and persistently proclaimed that prisoners now quite
believe it, and are eagerly ready to leave to societies, organizations,
or individuals other than themselves those efforts that are undoubtedly
necessary for their own reformation and re-establishment.

I hold, and very strongly hold, that there is no hope of any prisoner's
reformation who has no sorrow for the wrong he has done, and no sense of
shame for the disgrace he has brought upon himself and others. I am not
sure which is the more hopeless and repulsive kind of an individual--the
man who blatantly demands assistance because he has been a rogue, or the
fawning hypocrite who professes repentance, tells of his conversion,
and thanks God that he has been in prison; but I do know that both have
the same object in view, and that both are but specimens of a numerous

While giving a course of lectures in our large prisons I had
opportunities of becoming acquainted with many of the prisoners. At the
conclusion of each lecture those prisoners who had expressed during the
week a wish to consult me were allowed to do so in strict privacy. I had
some very interesting talks with them. For many of them I felt
profoundly sorry, and made some arrangement to meet with them when they
were once more at liberty. For others I felt no pity, for I realized
that they were barely receiving a just reward for their deeds.

One young man, with a heavy face and a leering kind of a look, came to
me, and informed me that he had asked permission to see me, because he
wanted my help in a fortnight's time, when he would be at liberty. Clad
in khaki and marked with broad arrows, there was nothing to
differentiate him from the ordinary prisoner, excepting, perhaps, that
his face was duller and less intelligent than the majority. I asked him
how long he had been in prison. "Six months." "What are you in for?"
"Forgery." "How much money did you get by it?" "Five hundred pounds."
"You were a bank clerk, then?" "Yes." "Is your father alive?" "No."
"Have you a mother?" "Yes, and two sisters." "In what way do you want me
to help you?" "I want to go to Canada." I looked at him closely and
said, "Tell me what you did with the five hundred pounds." For the
first time I saw brightness in his eyes and face, and he promptly
replied, "Oh, I had a high old time." I saw sensual enjoyment written
very largely about his lips and eyes; but I repeated his words, "A high
old time?" "Yes; a good time, you know." So I enumerated drink,
gambling, women, and to each of them he replied, "Yes." He evidently
looked back to that wicked period with great pleasure. I felt that he
was far beyond my prentice hand, for I thought of his mother and
sisters, of the employer he had so ruthlessly robbed, and of his own
certain future. So I said to him, "My son, I cannot help you; no one can
help you. It is no use wasting money in sending you to Canada. Canada is
no place for you, for you cannot get away from yourself." He said, "I
shall be away from temptation in Canada." "No," I said; "that is
impossible: the devil is always to hand, even in Canada." "Won't you
help me to get away from London?" "No," I said. "Stop in London, where
you have been a wicked rogue; face life where you are known; show
yourself a man by living decently and working honestly at anything you
can get. Try and win back your mother's and sisters' respect. Write to
your employer and ask his forgiveness; tell him that at some time in
life you will endeavour to repay him. Feel ashamed that you have been a
disgusting rogue; don't rejoice in having a 'high old time.'" He did not
blush, or appear in any way concerned, but said: "If you won't help me,
others will." It needs no great knowledge of life to forecast that young
man's future. I often feel dismayed when I consider some of the
present-day tendencies. There is such a feverish and manifest desire
among thousands of people to stand between a prisoner and the law, and
to relieve him at any cost from the legal consequence of his

Indeed, some folk would move heaven and earth, if it were possible, to
keep a heartless young rogue out of prison. I would not lift my finger;
to me it seems a most serious matter, for the consequences of criminal
actions ought to be certain as daylight. I would, however, do much to
make those consequences, not only certain, but swift, reasonable, and
dignified, but not vindictive or revengeful. Punishment should be severe
enough to convey an important and a lasting lesson. There ought to be no
element of chance about it, but at present there is a great deal of
uncertainty whether a prisoner, even if found guilty, will receive any
punishment or be merely admonished.

I am aware that the views I have just expressed are not held by many
people, but I am speaking from a long experience, during which I have
dealt personally with individuals, and have taken infinite pains to
learn something of those individuals. From this knowledge and experience
I am forced to the conclusion that, as a rule, it is not a wise or a
good thing to prevent the consequence of crime falling upon the
criminal; but, as I have previously said, those consequences ought to be
reasonable and sensible. We need a healthier public feeling on this
question, and I earnestly long for the time when we shall all feel and
acknowledge that the real disgrace lies in the action, and not in the
degree of punishment awarded the perpetrator.

A thief discharged on "probation" is still a thief equally with the one
who had received a term of imprisonment, but the community thinks
otherwise. I am quite sure that I shall be hardly judged and condemned
for giving expression to this opinion; it will doubtless be said that I
have grown hard-hearted late in life, and have lost my sympathy for
unfortunate people. I ask my readers to accept my assurance that this is
not the case; my sympathy is larger than ever, for poor broken humanity
is with me an ever-present sorrow. I never refuse assistance to a
hard-up scoundrel without a heart-wrench and subsequent feelings of
uneasiness. I love men, but I hate the very thought of "coddling"
humanity. I know what it leads to, and I think how poor broken humanity
catches on to the process, and becomes more and more willing to be
"coddled." But poor humanity is the poorer for the process.

A man that has committed some crime, and has then taken his gruel in
both senses, who faces the world, and by pluck, perseverance, and
rectitude regains his footing in life, is to me a hero; for I can
appreciate his difficulties, and appreciate, too, his moral worth. It is
my privilege to know such men, and it is my joy sometimes to meet them.
When I pass one of them in the street, I always feel inclined to cry,
"There goes a man." Thank God, men of this sort are more numerous than
might be expected, and it is only fair to our prison authorities to say
that among a number that I know none complain of their treatment. Whilst
undergoing sentence they did not like prison, of course, but they had to
put up with it, and made the best of it. But while I am writing
this--on July 16, between 9 and 10 p.m.--I have been called three times
to speak to young men who claimed--and I have no doubt in their cases
truly claimed--to be discharged prisoners. Each time it was a young man
under thirty that required help; two were absolute strangers to me; one
I had known previously, for, unfortunately, six years ago I met him
before he was consigned to prison, and also after he came out. At that
time I did my best for him, and gave him a suit of clothes, and procured
him, after great difficulties, some employment. During the last year he
had called on me several times, when I had resolutely declined to assist
him. He seemed astonished, and said, "But you helped me before."
To-night I was a bit angry, and said, "Oh, is it you again? You are
troubling me too often; I can do nothing for you." He resented the idea
that he was a too frequent visitor. "Why, it is six weeks since I was
here." My next visitor was a strong, healthy young man, who promptly
touched his forehead with his fingers by way of salute. "Just come out
of prison, sir." "Well, what of that?" "I am a married man, with two
children." "I am sorry for your wife and children." He misunderstood me.
"I thought you would be. We must pay our rent to-night, or we shall be
put out in the street." "Where are you living?" "In Campbell Road,
Finsbury Park. We have furnished apartments; we have been there one
week, and they want the rent." I said, "You came out of prison a week
ago, and paid a deposit on your room?" "Yes, sir." "You pay, or should
pay, seven shillings a week for that wretched room. You have not paid,
so you ask me to help you; but I cannot do it: I know nothing whatever
of you. Please go away: I am busy." He looked at me and said: "But I
stole boots, you know, and I got three months. What are my wife and
children to do?" "Well," I said, "if you did steal boots, you were a
thief, and I cannot think the better of you on that account. You may or
may not have a wife and two children; I do not know. Furnished
apartments in Campbell Road are too dear and too nasty. I cannot give
away money to keep the landlord of Campbell Road." With great difficulty
I got rid of him, and I am afraid that my temper was not sweetened in
the endeavour.

I had just settled down at my work when once more I was informed that a
man wished to see me. The inevitable front-door again. I sometimes
wonder how many silent vows I have registered on my own doorstep. The
broken ones, I know, have been numerous enough to condemn me.

Another old acquaintance this time. As I stand on the doorstep, the rain
sweeps in at the open door. The poor fellow is soaked through; it is
nearly ten o'clock; he is homeless and penniless. I can spare half a
crown; he has it, and I direct him to the nearest lodging-house--not
that he needed directions--feeling quite sure that he will there meet
with my two previous visitors; possibly, too, will tell them of his
success, and chaff them about their failure. But it was the rain that
did it, and I hope that fact may be taken into consideration when
judgment is delivered. True, by their continual coming they had wearied
me, and by their persistence they had annoyed me; but the sight of a
homeless vagabond in the pelting rain acted as a counter-irritant, and
pity had to triumph over censorious judgment. So I went back to my desk
knowing that I had done wrong; but somehow I had received satisfaction,
for my temper was soothed. Perhaps it was good for me that I was not
visited again that night by any discharged prisoners. For, poor fellows!
they demand our pity; but how to transmute that pity into practical help
is a difficult problem.

When a discharged prisoner possesses health, skill, and self-reliance,
he has a hard battle to fight, one that will call forth either the best
or the worst that is in him. But the great bulk of discharged prisoners
have but indifferent health, and possess no technical skill or
self-reliance; any service they can render to the community is but poor
service, and of a kind that many thousands of honest men are only too
anxious to secure for themselves. If the great bulk of them could, when
discharged, be put into regular employment, and be enabled to earn a
living, they would, if under a mild compulsion, conduct themselves
decently; but if work and reasonable payment were provided, compulsion
would still be necessary, for the greater part of them have no
continuity of purpose, and are as thoughtless of to-morrow as
butterflies, and they would very soon, were it possible, revert to an
aimless, wandering life. It is the lack of grit, of continuity of
purpose, of moral principles, combined with inferior physical health and
a low standard of intelligence, that renders the position of many
discharged prisoners so hopeless. We may blame them--perhaps it is right
to blame them--for not exercising qualities they do not possess, but it
is certain they do not possess the qualities I have named. They do,
however, possess qualities that are not quite so estimable, for
irresponsibility and low cunning are their chief characteristics. These
men are nomads: settled life, regular work, the patient bearing of
life's burden, and the facing of life's difficulties, are foreign to
their instincts and nature. This kind of character is developed at an
early age, for it is very prevalent in our growing youths; it is one of
the signs of our times, and it bodes no good to our future national

After giving the last of a course of weekly lectures to youths under
twenty-one in one of our provincial prisons, I spoke a few friendly
words to them, and asked those to put up their hands who had been
previously in prison. A number of hands were put up. On questioning
them, I found that they by no means resented short terms of imprisonment
alternated with irresponsible liberty.

During the present summer, when commencing a similar course of lectures
in one of our large London prisons, I asked the youthful prisoners who
had previously met me to put up their hands. Here again a number of
hands went up. I found, to my astonishment, at least six youths who had
listened to my lectures in other prisons were detained in this
particular prison. I could not help telling them that I thought my
lectures had not done them much good. "We liked them, sir," was the
response. "Well," I said, "I wish those addresses had been a great deal
better or a great deal worse; they were not good enough to keep you out
of prison, neither were they bad enough to frighten you away."

What place is there in strenuous life for such young fellows? The
difficulties outside a prison's wall are so great that they cannot face
them. But the saddest part of it is that they do not want to face them,
and it must be confessed that they have not the slightest idea how to do

Weakness, then, not wickedness, is the great characteristic of what are
termed "the criminal classes." Who can rescue them? Who can reform them?
No one, unless they can infuse into their very bones, blood, and marrow
the essence of vigour and the germ of self-reliance. Prisoners' Aid
Societies are powerless with them. Church Army and Salvation Army and
all the Labour Homes combined can do nothing with them or for them; for
prison life is easier than wood-chopping, and the comforts of prison are
superior to those of a Labour Home. The Borstal system is good, so far
as it goes, but it does not go half far enough; it is not vigorous
enough. Possibly, if these young men were detained three times as long
as they are at present, and given three times the amount of work they
have to do at the present time, with the rough up-to-date technical
training, many of them would profit; but I am certain that no
half-measures can be effectual with the large army of young prisoners
who have either acquired or inherited the love of an idle and
irresponsible life.

I was speaking a short time ago to a young man whom I knew had been
several times in prison, and asked him: "What are you in for this time?"
"For making a false attestation," was his reply. He had tried to enlist
under false pretences. But he is now in the army, for I have received
letters from him. Three other young fellows whom I had met in prison
when at liberty consulted me about joining the army. I warned them of
the risk, and told them they would have to tell lies. Nevertheless, they
are now in the army. Why there should be any difficulty about such
fellows joining the army I don't understand. They are animals, and they
can fight! If their teeth are not good, what does it matter? They are
not now required to bite cartridges. They can be taught to discharge
rifles, and a bullet from one of their rifles may prove as deadly as a
bullet from the rifle of a better man. "The character of the army must
be maintained." By all means keep up the character of the army. Some
people are advocating conscription. Well, here is a chance. Form a
regiment, or two regiments, of young men who have been three times in
prison. Give them ten years of thorough discipline and sound manual and
technical training. Under discipline they will be obedient, and at the
worst they will be as good men as those that manned Nelson's ships, and
would prove quite as good as those that fought at Waterloo, or captured
India for the East India Company.

I am no advocate of war, but I am afraid that the prospect of universal
peace is remote. Devoutly I wish that it was close at hand. We must
look at things as they are. Let me state the case: Here are thousands of
young men who have no settled places of abode, no technical skill, no
great physical strength, no capabilities, and no desire for continuous
honest labour. No one can provide them with employment. There is no
place for them in industrial life. They are content to spend their lives
in cheap lodging-houses or in prison. They beg or they steal when at
liberty. Occasionally they do a little work, when that work does not
require much strength or brains. They graduate in idleness and crime;
they become habituated to prison, and finally they become hopeless
criminals. Large sums of money are expended in a vain endeavour to
reform them; larger sums still are expended in maintaining public
institutions that we call prisons, in which they are kept for a short
period, and in which they are submitted to lives of semi-idleness. Large
numbers of warders are maintained to look after them when in prison;
large numbers of police are required to look after them when they are at
liberty. Innocent people suffer through their depredations; innocent
people, honest and hardworking people, have to keep them when they are
submitted to the comparatively comfortable life of prison. They become
fathers of children, and future generations will be compelled to bear
heavy burdens because of them.

Many of them, when young, join local regiments of militia. Once a year
they are called up for training, but their few weeks of training soon
pass, after which they hark back to lodging-houses or prisons.

They get some liking for a soldier's life; but if they have been in
prison, there is no honest place for them in the army. They are not good
enough to be shot at! They are not good enough to shoot at others! It
would appear that a large amount of moral excellence is required before
a man can be allowed to be the recipient of a bullet, or before he can
receive a State licence to kill.

I am persuaded that nothing but a long period of strict discipline will
avail the mass of young men who constantly find their way into prison.
At present prison discipline is too short to be effectual, too deadening
to be useful, too monotonous to be elevating. Compulsory discipline,
with a fair degree of liberty, a reasonable remuneration for their
services, and a lengthened training, are the only things that are at all
likely to be effectual with young men who will not, cannot, submit
themselves to the higher discipline that is self-imposed.

Failing the army, there is but one alternative--national workshops, with
manual and technical training. But that means socialism pure and simple;
for if workshops were provided for young criminals, there could be no
possible objection against a similar provision for the children of the
industrious poor.

The State needs to be careful not to hold out any inducements to
youthful criminality, for of a surety it will be a bad day for England
when idle and dishonest youth stands a better chance in life than youth
that is industrious and honest. Even now certain signs point to danger
in that direction.

Prisoners' Aid Societies have an impossible task when they attempt to
reform these young men. They are heavily handicapped from the start,
inasmuch as they cannot enforce discipline even in a Labour Home;
neither can they compel continuity of work; neither can they secure
regular employment for any that might be inclined to perseverance and
industry. No Prisoners' Aid Society can do this, and it would be well
for everybody concerned if this fact were honestly admitted and the
truth fairly faced. In justice to many of the societies, it is only fair
to say that they freely admit that they have nothing to offer to those
that have been several times convicted.

During 1906, 10,700 men and women, each of whom had already been in
prison more than twenty times, were again received into the local
prisons of England and Wales.

Think of it. In one year only, and that the very last year for which
criminal statistics are available, 10,700 men and women who had been
committed to prison more than twenty times each were again sent to
prison in England and Wales alone!

These official figures not only bring a grave indictment against our
prison system, but they also serve to show the inability of Discharged
Prisoners' Aid Societies to deal with the bulk of discharged prisoners
in ways that can be called satisfactory. The fault does not lie with the
societies, for they are all animated with an earnest desire to help
discharged prisoners. Every society that exists, and every individual
member of every society, would be more than delighted--they would be
thankful to God--if they could in some effectual way help every
discharged prisoner. But they cannot. The difficulties are too great,
too stupendous. Of a truth, they have no work to offer discharged
prisoners; for they cannot create work at will, neither can they produce
from some mysterious and inexhaustible store situations to suit the
varying capabilities of ex-prisoners.

Social conditions are dead against the work of these societies, though
the sympathy--that is, the abstract sympathy--of the public is with
them. For every situation that is vacant, or likely to be vacant, where
skill and experience are not required, a hundred honest men are
waiting--waiting to fight each other for a remote chance of getting it.
Employers will not hold situations in abeyance till some Prisoners' Aid
Society can supply them with a doubtful servant. They would act
foolishly--I might say wickedly--if they did. Again I say--for I would
have this fact emphasized--no organization, be it large or small, can
offer situations to discharged prisoners. Certain things they can do.
But what avails intermittent wood-chopping? Of what use is casual
bill-distributing? Can an irregular supply of envelope-addressing,
continued for a few weeks, be considered work? Paper and rag sorting,
and the carrying of advertising boards at intervals, must not be
dignified by the word "work." All these things are useful to a limited
extent and to a certain class. They suit those men, and those men only,
who have no desire for the discipline of real work, by which I mean
regular and continuous labour. Any discharged prisoner who possesses a
fair amount of health and strength and an atom of grit stands a much
better chance when he relies upon himself than when he seeks the aid of
an organization; for life in a Labour Home does not procure him, or help
him to procure, honest and continuous work. Even a lengthened stay in a
Labour Home leaves him in the same position as when he left prison.
Relying on himself, an ex-prisoner can take his chance among the hundred
who are scrambling or fighting for the coveted job; and if his health
and appearance are satisfactory, he is as likely to get it as any other
man. But even though a large number of discharged prisoners enter Labour
Homes, the managers have no power to compel them either to work or
remain in the home. As a consequence, the majority depart in a very
short time, preferring liberty and semi-starvation to the non-compulsory
restraint of the home. So they pass into freedom, glorious freedom!
Free, but with no desire, and with very little chance, of doing right;
free, with little desire and no ability to live by honest labour.
Freedom to them means liberty or licence to do wrong, and only serves to
give them opportunities of getting once more into prison.

It follows, then, as a matter of course, that Aid Societies concern
themselves, and rightly concern themselves, with first-time prisoners.
They are younger; they are not so hopeless; they stand a much better
chance in the labour world; they have not been so often through the
deadening mill of prison. All these things are true, but with all these
things in their favour, only a very limited amount of success is
obtained in the reformation of first-time prisoners. The reasons are
obvious. First, no society has the power to enforce any discipline or
impose any restraint upon them; secondly, no society can procure, even
for young ex-prisoners, continuous and progressive employment. I know
the difficulties, and something of the anxieties that societies
experience in this direction, for I have shared them. Honesty is
essential even for porters, vanmen and milkmen. The choice of occupation
for ex-prisoners under twenty-one is very limited. The pick and shovel
are of no use to them. Trades they have none. Clerkships are out of the
question. Positions--even humble positions--of trust are not for them.
Too old for boys' work, yet not fitted for men's, although first-time
prisoners, they are in a difficult position. So are those who try to
help them. "Send them to sea!" Well, we are a nation of sailors, but
those who go down to the sea in ships do so of their own choice. For
them the sea has an attraction; they love it--or they think they love it
when they enter on the life. But all English youths do not love the sea;
neither are all fitted for a sailor's life.

But supposing the sea be decided upon, in what capacity are they to go?
They cannot go as sailors, nor yet as apprentices; neither can they go
as stewards or cooks. The difficulty of sending them to sea is scarcely
less than that of finding them occupation ashore. Numbers of them are
put on coasting vessels, it is true; but this course is certain to
fail--and it does fail. Their first voyage, in sight of land all the
time, may last a week--maybe a fortnight. At the end of the voyage they
are paid off at the port where the ship discharges its cargo. During the
time aboard they have had a rough time. The voyage has lasted long
enough to make them heartily and bodily sick of the sea; but it has not
lasted long enough to inure them to the life and give them a liking for
it, while the comfort aboard a "collier" makes them sigh for the
comforts of prison. If not paid off at the first port, a good many
youths, to use their own expression, "can't stick it," so they "bunk" at
the first opportunity. Still, they have been "sent to sea," and figure
accordingly in the published report and statistics. This course is, I
contend, unfair even to discharged prisoners. It is not only a
foredoomed failure, but it lands youths in positions where they are
certain to get into mischief. Some of them tramp back to London, after
having sold their "kit," which had been bought for them out of their
prison earnings. No; it is idle to suppose that youths who have been
subject to no discipline other than that of prison will be reformed and
induced to work steadily and persistently by a few days' unpleasant
experience on a coasting vessel.

Quite recently a strong youth came to see me. I had met him in prison,
where the Governor quite wisely had him trained for a ship's cook. He
had behaved well in prison and obtained all his marks, and his sentence
was long enough to allow him to earn a substantial gratuity. This was
spent by an agent of a society in buying a very meagre outfit and a
railway-ticket to Hull. The youth supposed that he was going to have a
berth on an ocean-going steamer, but no such berth was forthcoming.
Ultimately he was shipped aboard a small coaster with a cargo of coals
for Southend. At the end of seventeen days he was paid off at Southend.
By arrangement, he was to receive 30s. per month for his services, and
should therefore have received at least 17s. He was considerably
surprised to find that only 9s. was forthcoming, the skipper telling
him, and producing a document to that effect, that there was a lien upon
his first wages of 8s. for a "shipping fee" which he, the skipper, had
paid to the man who introduced him. He stayed in Southend for a short
time looking for another berth, for his discharge-note was in order, and
his conduct appears to have been satisfactory. But berths are not to be
had at Southend, so with his last money he paid his fare to London,
where he landed penniless. This custom of paying "hangers-on" at the
docks of large seaports a sum of money for "shipping" youths prevails
largely, and a most unsatisfactory practice it is. I have personally
known several men engaged in what is termed rescue work resort largely
to this method of getting rid of responsibilities they themselves have
undertaken, and which they ought to bear, or honestly say at the outset
that they cannot undertake them. The fact is that prison youths are not
wanted even at sea, or, if they are, it is under such circumstances that
the hope of their doing any good for themselves must be abandoned. "Send
them to sea" has too long been a catchword. Whether it ever did cure
youths of idleness and dishonesty I am doubtful, but I am certain, at
any rate, that it does not at the present time act as the grand

The navy will not accept prison youths; the mercantile marine will have
none of them, and short coasting voyages are worse than useless; for
honesty and industry are estimable qualities even at sea. It would be
well indeed if all Prisoners' Aid Societies and all those engaged in
similar work would plainly and unmistakably state the difficulties they
experience when called on to find situations or employment for
discharged prisoners, be they young, middle-aged, or old; well for the
discharged prisoners themselves to know the truth at once, rather than
that they should go on calling day after day at any office, and waiting
hour after hour among many others to see if anything has "come in," for
nothing with the least resemblance to regular work can "come in" well,
too, for the public if they could understand the difficulties under
which societies labour, and the difficulties which ex-prisoners have to
face. Better still would it be for our authorities to clearly understand
these matters, for then surely more effectual methods would be found for
dealing with those who, either from incapacity, desire, or social
circumstances, appear quite willing to spend their days in prison. With
the older prisoners I am not now concerned, for the Home Secretary and
his advisers fully recognize that for them new methods must be tried,
and their Bill now before Parliament makes it sufficiently evident; but
why not begin with them earlier in life? Surely, if the fact of an
elderly man having been committed four times on indictment is sufficient
to stamp him as "habitual," for whom a more drastic treatment must be
provided, then the fact of a youth or young man under twenty-five having
been in prison an equal number of times, coupled with the fact that he
is homeless and workless, ought to be quite sufficient to ensure him a
long period of useful discipline in some place other than prison. By
some such means the supply of young criminals, that at present seems
inexhaustible, would be stopped, and the difficulty with regard to older
criminals would almost vanish. And pity demands it, for the bulk of
these young men have had but little chance in life. Birth and
environment have been against them; of home life in its full sense they
have known nothing; to discipline they have been strangers, and they are
a product of our present civilization. Can we expect them to exhibit the
rarer qualities of human nature? Temptation is, I know, no respecter of
persons, for not seldom do young men of good parentage and splendid
environment fail; but to the young of whom I write temptation is as
nothing, for they do not understand the beauty of moral worth, the
dignity of man, and the virtue of honest labour. For the future they
care nothing; they live in the present, content to be idle. To eat, to
sleep, to enjoy themselves in an animal way, is their idea of life.
Their wits are only sharpened to deceive. To get the better--or, as they
put it, "to best"--others is their one aim, and a shilling obtained by
the "besting" process is worth ten obtained by honest work.

Honesty! They have heard of it, but to them it has no meaning. They
have no moral sense, or at the best but very little. Preach to them! You
might as well preach to the east wind. But they have one soft spot, for,
as young cubs have an affection for their dams, so have these youths
some affection for their "muvvers"; but that affection does not prevent
them striking or kicking their mothers. Oh no, for every passion and
whim must be indulged. Oh, the pity of it all! Shall we deny these
youths the greatest blessing given to humanity--discipline? Punish them,
you say. My friend, you cannot confer moral worth with stripes. Longer
terms of imprisonment! They will eat your food, lie in your beds, and
make themselves as comfortable as possible. Like animals, they will
"nestle down." But they behave themselves in prison. Ay, they do that,
for they want all the advantages they can obtain. But they behave
themselves principally because they are under authority, and obedience
means to them some creature comfort. Discipline! They understand it only
when it is compulsory. Let us give these lads a chance; let us make up
to them the loss society has inflicted on them by refusing them
opportunities of wholesome discipline; let us stop for ever the
senseless round of short terms of imprisonment; let us find some method
for giving them lengthened--wholesome manual and technical training--for
their own sakes, if you will; if not, then for our own.

I have mentioned the army for them, not because I am enamoured of the
army, but because it appears to offer at once restraint and discipline,
with a measure of freedom, and opportunities for technical training. But
wiser heads than mine may formulate a better plan; if so, I am for it.
My heart goes out to the lads, though they sometimes weary me, for I
know--and no one knows better--that they have had as yet no fair chance
in life.

The following account, given to me by a young man who had served a
sentence of six months' hard labour in one of our large prisons, may
prove interesting, for it will serve to show the exact life of a
prisoner treated under the Borstal system. I give it as written by the
ex-prisoner himself. He was twenty-one years of age, was 5 feet 11
inches in height. As a boy he had been a telegraph messenger, and
afterwards a postman; but having stolen postal orders, he received the
above sentence. It will be observed that he was placed in the
bookbinding department, and that the greatest amount of hard labour he
performed was three and three-quarter hours per day, and this at a trade
of which he had not the slightest previous knowledge--a trade, too, that
requires not only skill, but celerity of movement, and, moreover, a
trade at which there was not the slightest chance of his obtaining
employment when at liberty. He did not average three hours' real work
per day, and this works out at forty-three days' work of ten hours per
day for the whole six months. It is obvious that no one can get a useful
knowledge of bookbinding in forty-three days of real hard work. In his
case, the "trade" taught proved of no use whatever on his discharge. He
was very quickly in another prison, again for dishonesty; but his
previous sentence not being discovered, his sentence was a very light
one. If I am to believe a letter that I received from him, he is now in
the army, and, of course, had to make a false attestation when he

It will be noticed that he speaks well of the treatment received in
prison, and testifies to the kindness of all the officials. On this
point I can corroborate him, for I know something of those who had
charge of him, and feel sure that it would have been a great
disappointment to them had he on a second occasion been committed to
their charge. His failure cannot be charged to the prison officials.
They honestly did their best, for they were genuinely interested in him.
Neither do I say that any prison system would have saved him, but I do
say--and in this I think most reasonable people will agree with me--that
very light work done at a very deliberate pace is not sufficient, even
in prison, for a young man of his health, build, and capacity. I think,
too, most people will agree that if young men are to be taught trades in
prison, they should be taught under conditions that approximate to
outside conditions so far as style, pace, and hours of work are

Prison industries present a very difficult problem. I believe the
officials would be glad to give prisoners twice the amount of work they
are at present given; but they have not the work to give them, so a life
of semi-idleness results.

Finally, it is to be hoped that the new probation system will be so
thoroughly worked that large numbers of young men will be kept out of
prison, for at present prisons do not punish, neither do they reform in
the majority of cases.

I now give the ex-prisoner's statement:


_By a Juvenile Adult._

"Four o'clock was just striking, and there I stood in the prisoners'
dock at the Old Bailey. The judge, having considered the case,
pronounced the sentence: 'Six months' hard labour.' I was then taken
back and put into a cell, and was given a hunch of bread and a piece of
cheese. About six o'clock I was taken in a prison-van to prison, where I
arrived about 7.15. I was then taken to the reception-hall, and after
being searched and all particulars taken, I was told to strip, and all
my property was entered in a large book, and I had to sign to
acknowledge that all my belongings were duly entered. I then had a bath,
and was given my prison attire. I was then given a tin containing a pint
of porridge and 8 ounces of bread. After having eaten part of this--for
I tackled it--I was given two sheets, a pillow-sheet, and towel, and
then taken into a large hall containing 352 cells, and put into one of
them. Thus my arrival at that large establishment.

"My daily duty for the first fourteen days was: Arise at 6 a.m. and
clean my cell; breakfast at 7.15 a.m., and then I had to scrub and sweep
my cell on alternate days. At 8.30 I had to put out my dust or bucket,
and at 8.45 I went to chapel. At 9.40 to 10.40 drill, then back in my
cell for the rest of the day, having to work in my cell. Dinner was
given me at twelve o'clock, and supper at five o'clock. At seven o'clock
I had to put out my work.

"After the first fourteen days I was put into the J.A. bookbinders'
shop, and my days were then changed. I arose at 6 a.m., shop at 6.30 to
7.15, breakfast 7.15 to 8.30, chapel at 8.45 to 9.20, drill 9.40 to
10.40, school 10.45 to 11.45, dinner 12 o'clock to 1.30, shop 1.45 to
4.45, supper at 5 o'clock. Thus my change till the first of March. After
this I went to drill before breakfast, and my duties were as follows:
Arise 6 a.m., drill 6.30 to 7.15, breakfast 7.15 to 8.30, chapel 8.45 to
9.20, shop 9.30 to 10.30, school 10.45 to 11.45, dinner 12 o'clock to
1.30, shop 1.45 to 4.45, and back to my cell for that day.

"On Wednesday I went to the schoolroom, where a lecture was given by
gentlemen to all the J.A. prisoners who had done more than one month.
This was from 5.30 to 6.30, and on Friday there was a choir-practice at
the same time for the same prisoners.

"The food I could not get on with at all at first, but gradually I had
to eat, till after three months, when I did not find it enough; but when
I had done five months, I seemed perfectly satisfied with it. I found
that the Sundays were the worst of all prison life. I was awakened at 7
a.m., breakfast 7.15 to 8.30, chapel 8.50 to 10.30, exercise 10.50 to
11.20 (if weather permitted), dinner 12 o'clock to 1.30, chapel 1.45 to
2.45, and supper at about 4.15 to 4.30; and, as I could not bear to sit
about, I went to bed every Sunday by five o'clock the latest. I was
searched three times a day, but not on Sundays, and a general search
once a fortnight, when I was kept in my cell all the afternoon. The last
of every month I was weighed.

"I had obtained all good marks that could be given me, and had earned
twenty shillings whilst doing my six months. The Governor, the chaplain,
and all the officials were good to me. I was confirmed in prison. The
long nights and insufficiency of work were the hardest things to bear."



For more than half a century I have taken a great interest in those who,
of malice aforethought, and after considerable pains, succeed in taking
the lives of others. I remember as if it were to-day the excitement that
arose when William Palmer was charged with the murder of John Parsons
Cook. For fifty years a vivid impression of all the events and episodes
connected with the remarkable trial of that remarkable man has remained
with me. I was then a boy of eleven, but Palmer was well known to the
boys of Rugeley, and to myself amongst them. Palmer attended church on
Sundays, when racing engagements allowed, and sat in his family pew,
fairly close to the schoolboys, of whom I happened to be one. He was
most particular about behaviour in church--not only his own, but that of
the schoolboys also. Even now I can see him coming into church with some
member of his family, with firm walk and clanging heel. I can remember
how he stood up to pray into his top-hat a lengthened prayer on entering
his pew. I remember, too, that his clothing was always black, and that
a crape mourning band was always in evidence on his hat, for funerals
were numerous in the Palmer family. But we lads thought nothing of the
funerals; but we knew that Palmer's eye was upon us, if we did not
behave discreetly in church; we knew he had more than once pulled the
ears of boys that misbehaved. We knew, too, that Palmer's mother had an
easily accessible garden, in which were plenty of juicy apples and
toothsome cherries.

Apart from his staid and correct manner at church, Palmer was a bluff,
hearty fellow, well known and well liked in our little town, where he
frequently doctored the poor for nothing; and it was always understood
that Palmer's brother George, a solicitor, was also equally ready to
give his services free of charge to the poor. It was only natural, then,
that the Palmers were liked in our town--for it was a very small town.
Grave faces, I remember, had been plentiful in Rugeley for some weeks
and things had been going on that we boys did not understand. We knew
the names of Palmer's horses, and felt any amount of interest in
Blinkbonny and Goldfinder; but we did not understand the gloom that had
settled on the town, for older people spoke with bated breath, and when
boys drew near the conversation ceased or the lads were driven away. We
knew the name of Palmer was whispered continuously. What did it all
mean? At length mystery, reticence, and whispered suspicions were
useless. Palmer had been arrested for the murder of John Parsons Cook,
whose body lay in our churchyard, and whose funeral we had witnessed.
Now the excitement began. Rugeley became almost the hub of the universe.
Strange people arrived from everywhere, and the quiet town became a

I remember with what awe we gazed at Cook's grave after the body had
been exhumed and returned to its resting-place. We knew that some part
of the body had been taken away and sent to London for great men to
examine. We boys even discussed the ultimate destination of the parts
taken away, and wondered if they would ever get back to poor Cook. How
well I remember the exciting events of that long and dramatic trial in
London! Rugeley people were poor in those days, and newspapers were
dear, so we borrowed where we could, and lent to others when we
possessed. I read aloud the records of that trial to all sorts of poor
people, so I have cause to remember it. I prosecuted Palmer, and I
defended him; I was witness, and I was judge; I claimed a triumphant
acquittal, and I demanded his condemnation; I cross-examined the great
analyst, and even at that age began to learn something of the nature and
effects of strychnine. I thrilled with it all, but I believed Palmer to
be innocent, and in a measure I was proud of a townsman who could stand
up bravely against all the big men in London and show no fear. Oh, but
he was a brave man! He must be innocent! And when the trial was all
over, and Palmer was brought to Stafford to pay the penalty of his
crime, do I not remember how all the world rushed to Stafford to see him
hanged? Ay, I remember how people tramped all day through Rugeley to
Stafford, and how they stood all through the night in Stafford streets
waiting, waiting for eight o'clock the next morning. Yes, I remember it
all; and I remember, too, that the cherries in a certain garden
nevermore had any attractions! But I remember, too, that Palmer died
game, showing no fear, betraying no anxiety, with a good appetite to the
last and a firm step to the scaffold.

Surely Palmer was innocent, and was supported by the knowledge of his
innocence. Murderers had fearsome consciences; they were haunted by a
sense of their guilt, and by the eyes or the spirits of their victims.

So I felt and so I reasoned about murderers when I was a boy. I have
since those days had many opportunities of correcting my judgment, and
now I no longer believe that a bold, cool, collected behaviour, together
with the possession of a good appetite, is synonymous with innocence.
For I have seen enough to justify me in saying that a calm and brave
bearing is more likely to be indicative of guilt than of innocence. But
the public and certain portions of the press still translate callous
behaviour into a proof of innocence, and sometimes convert prisoners
into heroes.

No greater mistake could be made, for a prisoner's behaviour has nothing
do with to his guilt or innocence. On the whole, fear or distress are
far more likely to indicate innocence than they are to denote guilt.
This I believe to hold good of all prisoners, not only of those charged
with the capital offence. I have failed to observe in prisoners who
were undoubtedly guilty the furtive look that is supposed to be peculiar
to guilt. I have watched closely and have spoken confidentially to many
hundreds, but their eyes met mine as naturally as those of a child. I
have been compelled to the conclusion that not only is a bold bearing
consistent with the deepest guilt, but also that a natural bearing and a
childlike trustfulness are by no means to be taken as signs of
innocence. Of the behaviour of innocent people when charged with crime,
fortunately, we do not get many opportunities of observation; still, I
have seen some, and can bear testimony that they were a great deal more
confused, excited, and unreliable than prisoners who were undeniably
guilty. Such prisoners often contradict themselves, and sometimes depart
from the truth when attempting to defend themselves. It is palpable to
everyone that they feel their position, and fear the consequences. I
have seen such astounding coolness and presence of mind, coupled with
apparent candour and sincerity, among guilty prisoners that when I know
of a prisoner exhibiting these qualities I almost instinctively suspect
him. An innocent man, in his anxiety, may prevaricate through fear and
confusion; but the veritably guilty man is careful in these matters,
though he may be sometimes a little too clever.

The psychology of prisoners has, then, for years been a favourite study
with me, and a very interesting study I have found it. In my endeavours
to discover the state of mind that existed and caused certain prisoners
to commit serious crimes, I have sometimes discovered, almost hidden in
the dark recesses of the mind, some little shadow of some small thing
that to me seemed quite absurd, but which to the prisoner loomed so
large, so real, and so important, that he regarded it as a sufficient
justification for his deed. To myself the crime and the something in the
prisoner's mind appeared to have no possible connection, yet
unmistakably, if the prisoners were to be believed, they were cause and
effect. Now, from this kind of mania--for such it undoubtedly is--small
and ridiculous as it seems--and I have met it too often not to be
certain as to its existence--a double question is presented: What is the
cause of that little something in the prisoner's mind? and why has it
caused the prisoner to commit a certain action? I have never been able
to get any light upon these questions, but have had to content myself
with the knowledge that the mental equipment of that class of criminals
is altogether different to that of ordinary individuals. I am not here
speaking of a defined mania that dominates the life, stirs the passions,
and leads directly to the perpetration of a crime--cause and effect in
such a case are obvious, though, of course, the cause of the cause is
still obscure--but I am speaking of silly little somethings that float
about in certain minds, that refuse to be ejected, that entail much
misery and suffering, and finally crime. Possibly this state of mind may
be the outcome of indigestion, even as an extra severe sentence upon a
prisoner may be the outcome of indigestion in a judge: for it is quite
possible to suppose a case in which judge and prisoner suffered from a
like cause; but the one has committed a crime because of it, and the
other inflicts unmerited punishment because of it. Two things are very
clear to me: first, that our judges and magistrates ought to be in the
very best of health when performing their duties; secondly, that
pathological causes enter very largely into the perpetration of crime.
Ill-health may make a judge irritable and severe, and so distort his
judgment, and excuses are made for him; for it is whispered he is a
martyr to gout, indigestion, or some equally trying malady. If so, he
certainly ought not to be a judge, for health and temper are absolutely
necessary for one who has to administer justice and act as the arbiter
of other people's fate. But this excuse is not made for prisoners. Yet
in hundreds of cases it might honestly be made; for while they may not
have been influenced by gout or indigestion, they have been influenced
by pathological causes, and the two things are equal.

I am persuaded, after many years' close observation and many years'
friendship with criminals, that disease, mental or physical, is a
tremendous factor in the causation of crime. The "criminal class" is
often spoken of, and it might be supposed that there is a distinct class
of people to whom the appellation applies. My experience teaches me that
there is no "criminal class," but there are plenty of criminals. The low
forehead and the square jaw, the scowling eye and the stubbly beard, do
not denote criminality; the receding forehead, the weak eye, and the
almost absence of chin, do not indicate criminal instincts. Nothing of
the sort. All these things are consistent with decent living, a fair
amount of intelligence, and some moral purpose. On the other hand, a
well-built body, a well-shaped head, a handsome face, a clean skin, and
a bright eye are consistent with the basest criminality. Some of the
worst criminals I have met--real and dangerous criminals--were handsome
as Apollo. But there does exist a class--and, unfortunately, a very
large class--who have very limited intelligence, who appear to be
retrogressing physically, mentally, and morally, of whom a large
proportion commit various kinds of offences--not from criminal
instincts, but from stunted or undeveloped intelligence and lack of
reasoning power.

But I am digressing, for it is not my purpose in this chapter to speak
of criminals in general, but rather of those whom I have personally met
charged with murder, and who were convicted, some paying the full
penalty. These I want to consider more fully. From this list I must
eliminate man-slayers who had killed in the heat of passion or in a
drunken quarrel, for they were not murderers at heart. Their mental
condition was understandable, and their bearing while undergoing trial
is beside the question. Neither do I wish to include married or single
women who had killed their offspring at childbirth or soon after, for
they are outside my consideration. But I want to speak plainly about
those who had committed prearranged murders, and carried them out with
considerable skill.

In refreshing my memory about these, I find that they held several
characteristics in common:

1. Not one of them exhibited any sense of shame, no matter how
disgraceful the attendant circumstances.

2. Not one of them exhibited any nervousness or fear of the

3. Those who admitted their guilt justified their actions, and appeared
to believe that they had done the right thing.

4. Those who denied their guilt, denied it with cool and positive
assurance, and denied it to the last with almost contempt, as if the
charge was more an insult than anything serious.

5. None of them betrayed the slightest sorrow.

6. Every one of them appeared of sound mind so far as reasoning powers
were concerned, for they were quite lucid, and remarkably quick to see a
point in their favour.

7. None of them were fully able to realize the position in which they
stood, as ordinary people must have realized it.

Of course, everyone will admit that the man or woman who can plan and
carry out a murder, whether that murder is likely to be detected or not,
is not, and cannot be, a normal person; but what we require to know is
where they depart from the normal, and how and why they depart from the

I would like to say that the particulars just given are the results not
only of my observation of prisoners when in the dock, but also of many
personal and private conversations with them. In a word, I do not
consider that any of these prisoners were thoroughly sane. It may be
said--it is often said--that in human nature "we find what we look
for," and there is truth in the saying; but when trying to understand
these people, I had not the slightest idea of what I was seeking. I knew
there must be some cause that led to the crime, something out of the
ordinary in their minds, but what it was and how to find it was more
than I could tell. So I have watched, have talked and listened. For
these prisoners were always ready to talk: there was no secrecy with
them, excepting with regard to the crime; otherwise they were talkative
enough. It takes some time and patience to discover whether or not in
people there is a suspicion of brain trouble. They appear so natural
that several lengthened conversations may be required before anything at
all is revealed. I trust that it will not be thought that I am betraying
confidences that poor wretches have given to me, for no prisoner, guilty
or innocent, ever confided in me without such confidences being
considered sacred; but as their cases are not of recent date, no harm
can be done, and possibly good may ensue, if I give some particulars
that I gained regarding their mental peculiarities. Being anxious to
ascertain how far my experience was confirmed by the experience of
others, quite recently I put a question to the chaplain of one of our
largest prisons, and whose experience was much greater than my own in
this particular direction. I asked him whether he had ever known anyone
who was about to suffer the death penalty for a premeditated and
cleverly contrived murder exhibit any sense of remorse, sorrow, or fear.
His answer was exactly what I expected--"that he had performed his last
sad offices for a considerable number of such prisoners, and that he
had discovered neither fear nor remorse in any of them; with one
exception, they all denied their guilt." I want it to be perfectly clear
that I am speaking now about murderers who committed premeditated crimes
that had been cleverly carried out, impromptu murders not being

I now propose to give a sufficient number of examples to prove my point.
In a poor street within two hundred yards of my own door I had
frequently seen a beautiful boy of about four years old. His appearance,
his clothing, his cleanliness, and even his speech, told unmistakably
that he was not belonging to the poor. I knew the old people that he
lived with, and felt quite sure that it was not owing to their exertions
that he was so beautifully dressed and kept so spotlessly clean, for
they were old, feeble, and very poor. But the old people had a daughter
living with them, and it was the daughter who had charge of the child,
for the little fellow was a "nurse-child." Good payment must have been
given for the care of the child, for it was the only source of income
for the household. The foster-mother was devoted to the boy, and he
reflected every credit upon her love and care. Many times when I have
met them I have spoken a cheery word to the little fellow, never
dreaming of the coming tragedy, or that I should meet his real mother
and discuss his death with her. The dead body of a boy between four and
five years of age had been discovered in the women's lavatory of a North
London railway-station. Without doubt the child had been ruthlessly
murdered. His head had been smashed; his face was crushed beyond
recognition. A calcined brick lay close by the body, and had evidently
been used for perpetrating the deed. No other trace of the murder was
forthcoming, and the body was taken to the nearest mortuary. Meanwhile
the foster-mother and her aged parents were mourning the loss of the
bonny boy, for the boy's mother had taken him from them that he might
begin his education in a boarding-school for young children at Brighton.
They had learned to love the child, and now he was gone. The old people
missed him sadly, and the nurse-mother wept for him. The house seemed so
dull without him. The murder occurred on a Saturday. On one of the early
days of the ensuing week a neighbour chanced to tell the nurse-mother
that she had read in a Sunday paper about the discovery of a child's
mangled body at a North London railway-station, and also that the body
remained unidentified at the mortuary. Although the nurse had not the
slightest suspicion--for on the Saturday morning she had accompanied the
boy and his mother to London Bridge, where tickets had been taken for
Brighton, and the nurse had seen them safely on the correct platform and
the train waiting--yet the loss of her nurse-child had so affected her
that she wept as her neighbour told her of the newspaper account, and
they went together to the mortuary, which was some miles away, to see
the "other little dear." It was some years before the nurse recovered
from the shock she sustained on her visit to the mortuary, for the
mangled and disfigured body was that of her late charge--her "dear
Manfred." I question whether even now she has recovered, for several
times I know that she has been ill, and sometimes when I have been sent
for, she seemed likely to lose her reason, the one and only thing that
occupied her mind being the tragic discovery of her dear boy's maimed
body. But the child's mother undoubtedly went to Brighton on that
particular Saturday afternoon. She intended to go to Brighton, not for
the purpose of placing her child in a school, but for another purpose by
no means so praiseworthy, yet for a purpose that was esteemed by her a
sufficient justification for the murder of the child. She had lured a
young man into a promise to spend the week-end with her at Brighton, and
some reason had to be found and given for her visit. Placing the child
in a suitable school seemed a sufficient reason, so the nurse was
instructed to get the boy's clothing ready and accompany her to London
Bridge. This was accordingly done, and the nurse returned home, fully
believing that the boy and his mother were on the way to Brighton. But
the mother did not go to Brighton by that train. She allowed it to go
without her, and when the nurse was safely away she left the platform,
saying that she had missed it, but would return and go by a later train.
She then took a bus for Broad Street Station, there taking a return
ticket for Dalston, where she alighted. The lavatory in question was on
the platform, consequently she did not pass the ticket-barrier. After
accomplishing her object with the brick I have referred to, and which
she had carried in her reticule all day for the purpose--for she had
taken it from the garden of the house where she lived--she returned to
Broad Street, giving her correct ticket up, and then on to London Bridge
and Brighton early enough to meet the young man, who was about half her
own age, and who spent the week-end with her.

I have given briefly the particulars of this gruesome affair because
they lead up to the mental conditions of the murderess. It will be
noticed that the murder was skilfully contrived beforehand; that the
object to be gained was indulgence with a young man but little more than
half her age; that within a few hours of killing her own boy she
smilingly met the young man as if nothing had happened. All these things
are extraordinary, but when to these some particulars regarding the
murderess are added, the character of the whole affair becomes more
extraordinary still. She was a governess, clever and exceedingly well
educated, with scientific accomplishments. She was about thirty-six
years of age, by no means soft or voluptuous in appearance, but with a
hard, strong cast of face. She was doing well in a pecuniary sense, and
her friends were also in good circumstances.

In considering the case, the first thing that strikes me is that when a
woman of her character, standing and appearance gives birth to an
illegitimate child, at an age when girlhood has long passed, there is an
absolute departure from the normal, there is something wrong. I need not
give any details of her trial, only to say the facts I have given were
fully proved, and to add that she was found guilty, sentenced, and

It is of her bearing and demeanour that I wish to speak. Of course, she
protested her innocence; any other person might be guilty, but it was
absurd to hint that she was guilty. Yet she betrayed no indignation. To
her it was Euclid over again, with _quod erat faciendum_, as the result
of the problem. She was cool, alert, and fearless; she showed no
emotion, no anxiety, no feeling. The killing of a sheep could not have
been a matter of less importance to her than was the murder of her own
child. Such was her demeanour at the inquest and at the police-court
proceedings, and this attitude she maintained to the end.

In her private conversation with me she was clear, animated, and
apparently calm and frank. I never saw the least symptoms of
nervousness, and her eyes met mine as naturally and unconcernedly as if
the charge she had to meet had not the remotest connection with herself.
Her last words to me were: "When I am discharged, I shall invite myself
to tea with Mrs. Holmes and yourself, for I am supported by the thought
that you firmly believe in my innocence." I had never told her this, for
I had not discussed her guilt or innocence. She had talked to me, and I
had listened, putting a question occasionally to her. I could believe no
other than that she was verily guilty, but I did not tell her so--I had
no right to tell her so--but I listened and waited for an admission that
would throw some little light upon the state of her mind, and give me a
faint idea of the cause that led her to plan and execute the terrible
deed. This she did, and I am persuaded that she took away the boy to
furnish her with some excuse for spending the week-end at Brighton. I
leave it to others to decide upon her sanity, though personally I am
charitable enough to think she was insane. It is certain that she was
animated with fierce passion; it is also certain that in other respects
she was cold as an iceberg. For the death of her beautiful boy, whether
she was guilty or innocent of it, never troubled her for a moment. Does
a lust for blood accompany an excess of the other passion in a woman of
her temperament and characteristics? This I do not know, but I have no
doubt that wiser people do know. At any rate, with hands that had
cruelly battered the life out of her own child, and while the blood of
that child was still hot upon them, she welcomed her male friend. I
profess that I find some comfort in the belief that she was insane. Had
her insanity been just a little more obvious, she might have escaped the
death penalty and ended her days in a criminal lunatic asylum.

But I do not think the question of her sanity was ever raised. He would
have been a bold man that raised it, in the face of her accomplishments
and self-control. Some day we shall, perhaps, apply different methods to
test sanity than those now employed, and we shall look for other
symptoms in diagnosis than those we look for now. The most dangerous
madness is not that which is patent to everybody--the wild or vacant
eyes, the inconsequent or violent speech, the manifest delusions, and
the inability to conduct one's own affairs. These are simple enough; but
the possessors of these characteristics are often harmless to the
community. But when the madness is half madness, and is covered with a
show of reason, it is then that danger is to be feared.

In the case I am now about to give insanity was just a little more
apparent, though I do not think it was more real. But its manifestation
was of sufficient magnitude to prevent capital punishment.

A young woman whose character was beyond reproach, and whose ability and
business aptitude gave the greatest pleasure to her employer and his
wife, was engaged as the manageress of a department in a drapery and
millinery shop in North London. She had been in the situation for some
months, and perfect confidence existed between the different parties.
One hot Sunday afternoon she suddenly awoke from an afternoon nap with
the conviction that she had been criminally assaulted by her employer.
The fact that she was in her own room with the door fastened did not
weigh with her at all. She declared that her employer was the guilty
person. The fact that he and his wife spent the afternoon out of doors
was nothing to her. Possessed with this extraordinary idea, she left
London at once for a town on the South Coast, where her brother lived.
Her brother appears to have accepted her statement without question or
demur, and to him the delusion became as real as to his sister. He armed
her with an exquisitely made and very formidable dagger, and provided
himself with an equally dangerous pistol and cartridges. Thus armed,
they came to London--he to take vengeance upon the man who had
dishonoured his sister, she to point out the man, and to be ready with
the dagger if the pistol failed to take effect. The brother did not
fail, for he shot the man dead. Now that vengeance was satisfied, the
couple were again harmless, for neither brother nor sister attempted to
do any more injury. They were arrested, and gave up their arms willingly
enough. They declared that they had done the deed, and that they
intended to kill the man; that they procured the weapons and came to
London for the express purpose. They claimed to be perfectly justified
in their joint action. This attitude they maintained before the court,
for when asked if they wished to put any questions to the witnesses, "Oh
no!" was the reply. "Of what use would they be? We did it; we are glad
that we did it. The consequences do not matter." There was quite a
little dispute between the sister and brother. He declared that as he
killed the man he alone was entitled to the glory and the punishment;
but the sister declared that it was done at her request, and also that
she was prepared to kill if her brother had failed. Both were found
guilty, and both were committed to a criminal lunatic asylum. Yet they
had every appearance of being thoroughly sane; their manner, their
speech, their reasoning powers, and everything appertaining to them,
savoured of clear reason, their delusion alone excepted. If that
delusion had not been so manifest, undoubtedly they would have been
hanged. There seems to me to be no point from which a line can be drawn
to divide insanity from sanity. At present we have but clumsy,
uncertain, and very speculative methods of deciding upon a prisoner's
sanity--methods that must often result in the punishment, if not the
death, of the prisoners who suffer from some kind of mental disease. I
am inclined to believe that the more all traces of madness are hidden by
clever murderers, the stronger is the probability of that madness
existing, for the very essence of cunning is employed in hiding it. They
will cheerfully contemplate the executioner's rope rather than be
considered mad. The brother and sister to whom I have referred would
have cheerfully accepted the death penalty in preference to committal to
a lunatic asylum. In one of my conversations with the brother, I
suddenly asked him: "Have any of your relations been detained in lunatic
asylums?" He was quite ready for me, and he replied: "I am as sane as
you are; and if you are ever placed in a similar situation to mine, I
hope you will prove as sane as I have."

The more I think over the two cases--one woman found sane and hanged,
the other declared insane and sent to a lunatic asylum--the more I am
convinced that equal justice has not been done. Probably the madness in
both women proceeded from the same cause, and it is clear that neither
of them had the slightest compunction about shedding blood.

I will deal briefly with my next case, and of a truth there is not much
to be said. He was a clerk about twenty-six years of age. He had married
a decent young woman, for whom he had made no provision other than a
loaded pistol. He had no home and no money, excepting a few pounds that
he had embezzled, and with this he had paid the marriage expenses. With
his last few shillings he hired a cab; drove, accompanied by his wife,
from place to place, in pretence of finding a home for her; and,
finally, while still in the cab, he did the deed for which he had
prepared--he shot her. He made no attempt to escape; he offered no
reason for his deed; he was quite satisfied with his action; and when
before the court he was absolutely unconcerned. I had several
conversations with him, and as he had publicly owned to the deed, there
was no harm in my assumption of his guilt. I said to him: "Tell me why
you did this cruel deed?" He said: "I don't consider it a cruel deed.
What else could I do? You would have done the same." Argument, of
course, was out of the question, but I did venture to express the hope
that I might not have done what he had done, when he again replied: "You
think so now; but if you had to do it, you would do it!" And this frame
of mind he maintained to the end--for he was hanged.

I do not say that he ought not to have been hanged, for it is difficult
to point out in what other way he could have been dealt with; but so
long as insanity is considered a sufficient reason for preventing the
death penalty, I do say that every possible means should be taken to
test a prisoner's sanity before a final decision is arrived at; and,
further, that the appearance of positive sanity is under such
circumstances an indication of insanity. Every criminal, in addition to
murderers, ought to be subjected to a careful and prolonged scrutiny
and mental examination by experts. The cost would not be great, and I am
fully sure the results would compensate if the expense was great.
Prisons ought to become psychological observatories, and be made to
furnish us with a vast amount of useful information. There are so many
things we ought to know, and might know if we would only take pains to
know. It might be that the information obtained would make us sad and
excite our fear; it might be that our pity would be deeply stirred, and
that we should have a whole army of human beings upon our hands, for
whom we might feel hopeless and helpless. But we have these even now,
and for them imprisonment or hanging is a ready and simple plan that
suffices us! But ought they to suffice in these enlightened days? I
think not. At any rate, we ought to gather knowledge. With knowledge
will come power, and with power better methods of dealing with erring or
afflicted humanity. For the days will surely come when the hangman's
rope will be seldom in requisition; when all the unhealthy and
demoralizing publicity attaching to a murder trial will be a thing of
the past; when criminals will not be made into public heroes, because of
the speculative and perhaps equal chances of life or death; when morbid
and widespread sentiment will not be created by public appeals to the
Home Secretary; and, perhaps best of all, when diseased minds will be no
longer influenced by the unhealthy publicity of the details pertaining
to a death sentence to commit the other crimes for which no motives have
been apparent.

Since writing the above chapter, the following appeared in the daily
papers of August 5, 1908:

     "Thomas Siddle, a bricklayer, was yesterday executed at Hull for
     the murder of his wife in June last. The crime was a particularly
     callous one. Siddle was to have gone to prison for not paying his
     wife's maintenance under a separation order. On the day, however,
     he visited her, and after some conversation savagely attacked her
     with a razor. _Before his execution_ the prisoner _ate a hearty
     breakfast, and smiled at the warders as he walked firmly to the



And now, so far as this book is concerned, I have done with prisoners
and criminals, so I turn right gladly to the other side of my life. For
my life is dual, one half being given to sinners and the other to
saints. I have spoken freely about the difficulties of prisoners and
with prisoners; let me now tell of the struggles, difficulties, and
virtues of the industrious poor. I will draw a veil over the ignorance,
the drunkenness, the wastefulness, and the cupidity of the very poor.
Other people may find these matters congenial, and may dilate upon them,
but such a task is not for me. I know these things exist--I do not
wonder at their existence--but other things exist also--things that warm
my heart and stir my blood--and of them I want to tell. And I have some
right to speak, for I know the very poor as few can know them. From
personal touch and friendly communion my experience has been acquired,
and I am proud to think that at least twelve hundred of London's poorest
but most industrious women look upon me as their friend and adviser.

When I gave up police-court work, I thought to devote the remainder of
my days absolutely to the London home-workers; but Providence willed it
otherwise, so only one-half of a very busy life is at their service. Of
what that half reveals I cannot be silent, though I would that some far
abler pen than mine would essay the task of describing the difficulties
and perils that environ the lives of the industrious poor. I want and
mean to be a faithful witness, so I will tell of nothing that I have not
seen, I will describe no person that does not exist, and no narrative
shall sully my pages that is not true in fact and detail. Imagination is
of no service to me. I am as zealous for mere facts as was Mr. Gradgrind
himself, and my facts shall be real, self-sufficing facts, out-vying
imagination, and conveying their own lesson. If I carry my readers with
me, we shall go into strange places and see strange sights and hear
piteous stories; but I shall ask my readers to be heedless of all that
is unpleasant, not to be alarmed at forbidding neighbourhoods or
disgusted with frowzy women, but to contemplate with me the difficulties
and the virtues of the industrious poor, and then, if they will, to
worship with me at the shrine of poor humanity.

Quite recently I was invited to take sixty of my poor industrious women
to spend a day at Sevenoaks. Among the party was a widow aged sixty and
her daughter of thirty-five. They were makers of women's costumes, and
had worked till half-past four that very morning in order to have the
day's outing. I had known them for years, and many times had I been in
their poor home watching them as, side by side, they sat at their
machines. Happy were they in recent years when their united earnings
amounted to twenty-one shillings for a week's work of eighty hours.
"Tell me," I said to the widow, "how long have you lived in your present
house?" "Forty years," said the widow. "Emmy was born in it, and my
husband was buried from it. I have been reckoning up, and find that I
have paid more than twelve hundred pounds in rent, besides the rates."
"Impossible," I said, "out of your earnings!" She said: "We let off part
of the house, and that pays the rates and a little over, but we always
have to find ten shillings a week for rent." Ten shillings out of
twenty-one shillings, when twenty-one was forthcoming, which was by no
means the case every week. "We cannot do with less than three rooms--one
to work in, one to sleep in, and the little kitchen. I cannot get
anything cheaper in the neighbourhood."

Here we come at once upon one of the greatest difficulties of the
industrious poor. If they wish to live in any way decently, one-half
their earnings disappears in rent.

"We have nowhere to go." The difficulties the poor have in finding
suitable--or, indeed, any--rooms that may serve as a shelter for
themselves and their children, and be dignified by the name of "home,"
are almost past belief. All sorts of subterfuges are resorted to, and it
is no uncommon thing for a woman, when applying for one or more rooms,
to state the number of her children to be less than half what it is in
reality. Sometimes, it must be confessed, the people who obtain rooms
by such means are not desirable tenants; but it is also true that even
decent people have to resort to some kind of deception if they are to
find shelter at all.

Day after day in London police-courts the difficulty is made manifest.
Houses altogether unfit for human habitation have to be closed by order
of the authorities; but, wretched and insanitary as those dwellings are,
dangerous to the health and well-being of the community as they may be,
they are full to overflowing of poor humanity seeking some cover. But
they must "clear out." Their landlords say so, the sanitary authorities
say so, and the magistrate confirms the landlord and the sanitary
authorities. The one cry, the one plea of all the poor who are to be
ejected is: "Where are we to go? We can't get another place." The kindly
magistrate generally allows a few weeks' grace, and tells them to do
their best meanwhile to procure other rooms. For some this is a
possibility, but for others the period of grace will pass, and on an
appointed day an officer of the court will be in Paradise Row or Angel
Court, as the case may be, to see that the tenants are ejected without
undue violence, and that their miserable belongings are deposited safely
in the street.

On dark November days, with the rain coming steadily down, I have
frequently seen the débris of such homes, the children keeping watch,
and shivering as they watched. I have spoken to the children, asked them
about their mother, and their reply has been: "Mother has gone with the
baby to look for another place."

Heaven help that mother in her forlorn hope and desperate search! I can
imagine her clutching the babe tightly to her, holding in her closed
hand the shilling that is to act as a deposit for binding a tenancy, her
last rent-book in her bosom to show her _bona fides_, going from street
to street, from house to house, climbing staircase after staircase,
exploring and appealing time after time. She will stoutly declare that
she has but two children, when she has six; she will declare that her
husband is a good, sober man, and in regular work, neither of which will
be true. Ultimately, she will promise to pay an impossible rent, and
tremulously hand over the shilling to bind the contract; then she will
return to the "things," and tell the children of their new home. This is
no imaginary picture. It is so very true, so very common, that it does
not strike our imagination. The cry of the very poor is ever sounding in
our ears: "We have nowhere to live! We don't know where to go!"

This fear of being homeless, of not being allowed to live in such
wretched places as they now inhabit, haunts the very poor through life,
and pursues them to the grave. And this worry, anxiety, and trouble
falls upon the woman, adding untold suffering to her onerous life; for
it is the woman that has to meet the rent-collector, whose visits come
round all too quickly; she has to mollify him when a few shillings
remain unpaid. The wife has to procure other rooms when her husband has
fallen out of work, and she receives the inevitable notice to quit when
there appears to be a possibility of the family becoming still more
numerous. If sickness, contagious or otherwise, comes upon any of the
children, and the shadow of death enters the home, upon the wife comes
the heart-breaking task of seeking a new home and conveying her children
and "things" to another place. This is no light task. The expense is a
consideration, and the old home, bad as it was, had become in many ways
dear to her. What more pitiful sight can be imagined than the removal?
No pantechnicon is required--a hired barrow is sufficient; and when
night has well advanced the goods are conveyed in semi-darkness from the
old home to the new.

Think for a moment what a life she lives, to what shifts she is reduced,
what privations she endures! Is it any wonder that the children born of
her have poor bodies and strange minds?

     "The children born of thee are fire and sword,
     Red ruin, and the breaking up of laws,"

Tennyson makes King Arthur to say. In many respects these words are true
of poor mothers in London. The houses in which they live, the conditions
under which they exist, the ceaseless worries and nameless fears they
endure, make it absolutely certain that many of the children born will
be strange creatures.

And right up to the verge of eternity the fear of being homeless haunts
the poor. Let one instance suffice. I was visiting a young married woman
whose husband had been sent to prison for some months. She lived in one
room, for which she paid, or should have paid, four shillings and
sixpence weekly. The street was a very poor street, and the house a very
small house. It stood, without any forecourt, close up to the street
pavement. While I was speaking to the young woman a message came that
the landlady, who lived downstairs, wanted to speak to me; so down the
narrow stairs I went. There being only one room below, I rapped at the
door, and a very queer voice told me to "Come in." I went in, and found
a very small room, occupied chiefly by a bed, a small table, and several
broken chairs. On the bed lay an old woman. Her face was puckered with
age, her forehead was deeply furrowed, her eyes were dim, and the hands
lying on the quilt were more like claws than human hands. As I stood
over her, she looked up and said: "Are you Mr. Holmes? I want my rent."
Her voice was so strange and thin that I had some difficulty in
understanding her, but I found that the tenant upstairs owed her five
weeks' rent, and that, now her husband was in prison, the poor old woman
was afraid of losing it. As the matter seemed to trouble her greatly, I
told her that I would pay the arrears of her rent. "But I want it now,"
she went on. "The collector is coming to-morrow, and I shall be put
out--I shall be put out." I stroked her thin hair, and told her that I
would call early the next morning and give her the money. But the poor
woman looked worried and doubtful. I called early the next morning, and
found the old woman expecting me. "Have you brought my rent?" were the
first words I heard on entering the room. I took up one of her thin
hands and opened it, and put a sovereign in it. "That is a sovereign," I
said. She held it up, and tried to look at it; but she was not
satisfied, for she said to her daughter, who was standing by: "Jane, is
this a sovereign?" When Jane assured her that it was, the old hand
closed convulsively upon it. "Hold out your other hand," I said. She
held it open, and I counted five shillings into it. Then that hand
closed, and the old head lay a bit closer to the pillow, and an
expression of restful satisfaction passed over her withered face. A week
later I called at the same house, but the old woman was not there,
neither had she been "put out." She had paid the rent-collector when he
called, and her rent-book was duly signed; but the Great Collector had
not forgotten her, for He also had called and given her a receipt in
full. Her worries were ended.

If we would but think--think of the effect that such anxieties must have
upon the present and future generations--I believe that we should
realize that first and foremost of all questions affecting the health
and happiness of the nation stands the one great question of "housing
the very poor"; for the chivalry of our men, the womanliness of our
women, the sweetness of our daughters, and the brave hearts of our lads
depend upon it.

But if the fear of being "put out" has its terrors, none the less has
the continuous occupation of one room its attendant evils. It is so easy
for humanity to get used to wretched homes and vile environments, so
easy to get accustomed to dirt, thick air, and insanitary conditions,
that one does not wonder that poor people who have lived for years under
such conditions prefer those conditions to any other. And this holds
true even with those who have known the bracing effect of cold water on
their bodies, and have felt the breath of God in their lungs. The return
path to dirt is always alluring to the human body. Time and again I have
gone into places where I hardly dared to breathe, and in which I could
only with the greatest difficulty stay for a few minutes; and when I
have sometimes ventured to open a window a look of astonishment crossed
the faces of those I had called on, for even the thick atmosphere had
become natural.

And other results follow--mental as well as physical. To become, through
bad but frightfully dear housing, gradually used to dirt and bad air,
till these are looked upon as natural, carries along with it, as part
and parcel of itself, another deadening influence. Filth raises no
feeling of disgust; high rents produce no sense of injustice, no
feelings of resentment: for the poor become absolutely passive. Yes, and
passive in more ways than one; for they, without question or demur,
accept any payment that may be given them for such services as they can
render. Inevitably, they become the prey of the sweater, and work for
endless hours at three halfpence per hour; and if the payment for the
work they do should, without their permission, be reduced, it only means
that a couple of hours more must be added to the long day already

It is this passivity of the poor that appals me. Their negative virtues
astonish me, for I find in them no bitterness, no sense of wrong, no
idea of rebellion, no burning resentment--not even the feeling that
something is wrong, though they know not what. Their only ambition is
to live their little lives in their very little homes; to be ready
weekly with their four shillings for their wretched room in a wretched
house; to have plenty of poorly-paid work, though they sit up all night
to do it; and to sit in poverty and hunger when sufficient work is not
to hand, to suffer silently, to bear with passive heroism, and to die
unburied by the parish.

Such is the life of many London home-workers, of whom some are my
personal friends. But what becomes of this life? The death of
aspiration. A machine-like perseverance and endurance is gradually
developed; but the hope of better things dies: hope cannot exist where
oxygen is absent. Then comes the desire to be let alone, and alone to

I have met women who had become so used to the terrible conditions under
which they lived that no amount of persuasion could induce them to move
out of those conditions. Again I draw upon my experience.

One cold day in February a young married man was charged with stealing a
piece of pork. I had some conversation with him, and he told me that he
was out of work, that his wife and children were starving, and that his
widowed mother, who lived in the same house, was in much the same
condition. He gave me their address--a poor street in Haggerston--so I
visited the family. It was a terrible street even for Haggerston, but it
was crowded with humanity. I found the house, and went up the rotten
staircase to the first-floor back. There I found the prisoner's wife,
sitting at a machine making babies' boots. In the room was an old
broken perambulator, in which were two children, one asleep and the
other with that everlasting deceit, a "baby's comforter," in its mouth.
As the child fed on the thick air it looked at me with wondering eyes,
and the mother kept on working. Presently she stopped and answered my
questions. Yes, it was true her husband was out of work. He was good to
her, and a sober, industrious man. They paid three and sixpence weekly
for their room, when they could. Would I excuse her? She must get on
with her work; she wanted to take it in. I excused her, and, leaving her
a few shillings, went in search of the older woman.

I found her in another small room; but, small as the room was, there
were two beds in it, which were covered with match-boxes. A small table
and two old chairs completed the furniture. She was seated making
match-boxes as I entered, and I saw her hands moving with that
dreadfully automatic movement that has so often made me shudder.

She looked up at me, but on she went. I spoke to her of her son, told
her my business, and ultimately sat down and watched her. Poor old
woman! She was fifty-six, she told me. She might have been any age over
seventy. She was a widow. She had lived in that room thirteen years,
having come to it soon after her husband's death. Whilst I was speaking
to her she got up from her boxes, took a small saucepan off the
miserable fire, and out of it took some boiled rice, put it in an old
saucer, sat down, and ate it. It was her dinner.

Afterwards she put the remaining rice in a saucer, covered it with
another, and placed it in front of the fire. I soon saw why. A lanky boy
of nearly fourteen came in from school, and she pointed to the saucer.
He took it, and swallowed the rice, and looked at me. I looked at the
boy, and read the history of his life in his face and body. He had been
born in that room; that was his bed in the corner covered with
match-boxes. The old woman was his mother. Three and sixpence every week
had she paid for that room. Nearly three days of the week she had worked
for interminable hours to earn the money that paid for the shelter for
herself and the boy.

I will not describe the boy. Was he a boy at all? All his life he had
lived, moved, and had his being in that room; had fed as I saw him feed,
and had breathed the air I was breathing.

He went back to school, and I talked to his mother. She owed no rent;
she had received no parish help. She never went to church or chapel. She
wanted nothing from anybody. That little room had become her world, and
her only recreation was taking her boxes to the factory. Grimy and
yellow were the old hands that kept on with the boxes. I offered her a
holiday and rest. There was the rent to be paid. I would pay the rent.
She had no clothes suitable. Mrs. Holmes would send her the clothes.
There was the boy to be seen to. I would arrange for him. No; she would
not go. Her last word was that she did not wish or care to leave her
home. Neither did she. And though years have passed since my first
visit to that one-roomed house, out of it the old woman has not passed,
excepting on her usual errand. And fresh air, clean sheets, and
relaxation meant nothing to her.

I sat in the dark, damp kitchen of a house in one of the narrow streets
of Hoxton. Over my head some very poor clothing was hanging to dry. It
was winter-time, and the gloom outside only added to the gloom within,
and through a small window the horrors of a London back-yard were
suggested rather than revealed.

As I sat watching the widow at her work, and wondered much at the
mechanical accuracy of her movements, I felt something touch my leg,
and, looking down, found a silent child, about three years of age, on
the floor at my feet. I had been in the room some few minutes, and had
not previously seen or heard the child, it was so horribly quiet. I
picked it up, and placed it on my knee, but it was passive and open-eyed
as a big doll. The child had been born in that kitchen on a little
substitute for a bed that half-filled the room. Its father was dead, and
the widowed mother got a "living" for herself and her children by
attaching bits of string to luggage labels, for which interesting work
she got fourpence per thousand. In her spare time she took in washing,
and the clothes over my head belonged to neighbours.

Fifteen years she had lived in that house. It was her first home after
marriage. Till his death, which occurred three years before, her husband
had been tenant of the whole house, but always "let off" the upper part,
which consisted of two rooms, it being a two-storied house.

He died of consumption in the other room on the ground-floor, which
abutted the street pavement. Her child was born in the kitchen as her
husband lay dying a few feet away in the front-room. So that wretched
house was dear to her, for love, death, and life had been among its
visitants, and it became to her a sacred and a solemn place. She became
tenant of the house, and continued to let off the two upper rooms; and
with her children round her she continued her life in the lower rooms.
The rent was 13s. weekly. She received 7s. 6d. weekly for the two upper
rooms, leaving 5s. 6d. weekly to be the burden and anxiety of her life;
so she tied knots and took in washing. The very sight of the knot-tying
soon tired me, and the dark, damp atmosphere soon satisfied me. As I
rose to leave, the widow invited me to "look at her boy in the other
room." We went into the room in front. It was now quite dark, and the
only light in the room came through the window from a street-lamp. The
widow spoke to someone, but no answer came. I struck a wax match and
held it aloft. A glance was enough. I asked the widow to get a lamp, and
one of those cheap, dangerous abominations provided for the poor was
brought to me.

On the bed lay a strange-looking boy of nine, twisted and deformed in
body, wizened in features, suffering writ all over him, yet
apathetically and unconcernedly waiting for the end. With the lamp in my
hand, I bent over him and spoke kindly to him. He looked at me, then
turned away from me; he would not speak to me. Poor little fellow! He
had suffered so long and so much that he expected nothing else. He knew
that he was dying. What did it matter? The mothers in London streets are
not squeamish, and their young children are very soon made acquainted
with the mysteries of life and death.

"He has been in two hospitals, and I have fetched him home to die," said
the widow to me. "How long has he lain like this?" I asked. "Three
months." "Who sleeps in that bed with him?" "I do, and the little boy
you saw in the kitchen." "Who sleeps in the kitchen?" "Only George: he
is fourteen."

On inquiry, I was told that the dying boy had always been weak and
ailing, and also that, when five years of age, he had been knocked down
in the street by a cyclist, and that he had been crippled and twisted
ever since.

Nearly five years of suffering, and now he had "come home to die." Poor
little fellow! What a life for him! What a death for him! Born in a dark
kitchen while his father lay dying; four years of joyless poverty in a
London street; five years of suffering, in and out of hospitals; and now
"home to die." And he knew it, and waited for the end with contemptuous
indifference. But he had not much longer to wait, for in three weeks'
time the blessed end came.

But the widow still takes in washing, damp clothes still hang in her
dark kitchen, and by the faint light of her evil-smelling lamp she
continues to "tie her knots"; and the silent child is now acquiring some
power of expression in the gutter.

Slum property sometimes gets into queer hands. Sometimes it is almost
impossible to find the real owners, and the fixing of responsibility
becomes a great difficulty.


An old woman, dressed in greasy black silk, with a bonnet of ancient
date, often appeared in one of our courts for process against some of
her many tenants. Her hair, plastered with grease, hung round her head
in long ringlets; her face never showed any signs of having been washed;
a long black veil hung from her old bonnet, and black cotton gloves
covered her hands. She was the widow of a well-to-do jeweller, and owned
some rows of cottage property in one of our poorest neighbourhoods.
After her husband's death, she decided to live in one of her cottages
and collect her own rents. She brought with her much jewellery, etc.,
that had not been sold, and there in the slums, with her wealth around
her, and all alone, lived the quaint old creature. Week by week she
appeared at the court for "orders" against tenants who had not paid
their rent. Though seventy-three, she would have no agent; she could
manage her own business. Suddenly she appeared as an applicant for
advice. She had married: her husband was a carpenter, aged twenty-one.
They had been married but a few days, and her husband refused to go to
work--so she told the magistrate. "Well, you know, madam, that you have
plenty for both," said the magistrate. "That's what he says, but I tell
him that I did not marry him that I might keep him." She got neither
help nor comfort from the magistrate, so she tottered out of the court,
grumbling as she went. In a few days she appeared again. "My husband has
stolen some of my jewellery." Again she got no comfort. Still again she
complained. "My husband has been collecting my rents." "Send a notice to
your tenants warning them not to pay your husband." She did so; the
husband did the same, warning the tenants not to pay his wife. This
suited the tenants admirably: they paid neither. Never were such times
till the old woman applied for ejectment orders wholesale. While these
things were going on the youthful husband wasted her substance in
riotous living, and showed a decided preference for younger women. This
aroused the old woman's jealousy; she couldn't put up with it. Packing
her jewels and valuables in a portmanteau, she left her house. When her
husband returned at night the wife of his bosom was gone; neither did
she return. He was disconsolate, and sought her sorrowing. Some miles
away she had a poor widowed sister, and there the old woman found

But there paralysis seized her, and a doctor had to be called in. He
acted in the double capacity of doctor and lawyer, for he drew up a
will, put a pen into her hands, and guided her gently while she signed
it. "All her worldly goods were left to her sister." Ultimately the
husband found out where she was located, and frequently called at the
house, but the door was barred against him. It was winter-time, and the
snow lay on the ground. At midnight a cab drew softly up to the house
where the old woman lay. Suddenly there was a loud knock at the door,
and the sister came down to answer. Thoughtlessly she opened the door,
when she was seized by two men, who locked her in the front parlour
while they ran upstairs, rolled the old woman in warm blankets, carried
her to the cab, and away they went. A nice room and another doctor were
awaiting her. Another will was drawn up, which the old woman signed.
"All her worldly goods were left to her dear husband." Next morning the
sister applied for a summons against the young husband, but the
magistrate decided that the man had a right to run away with his own
wife. All might have gone merrily for the husband, but the old lady
died. The sister went to the police, who arrested him for causing his
wife's death. For many days the case was before the court, half a dozen
doctors on each side expressing very decided opinions. Ultimately he was
committed for trial. Doctors and counsel galore were concerned, but the
jury acquitted him at last. And then came another trial. Counsel and
doctors were again concerned. Which will was to stand? I don't know how
they settled it, but one thing I am sure about--when the doctors and
lawyers had got their share, and the counsel had had a good picking,
there was not much left for the loving husband and the dear sister.

Since writing the above, the following paragraphs have appeared in the
daily press:


"'My wife is lying dead in the house, and the landlord threatens to
eject me at twelve o'clock if I am not out. What can I do?' Thus asked a
respectable-looking working man of Mr. d'Eyncourt at Clerkenwell
Police-Court. 'Has he given you notice?' 'Yes; but how can I go just
now? The funeral is to-morrow, and I have offered to go on Wednesday,
but he says he will put me in the street to-day.' 'Well, he's legally
entitled to do so, I am afraid. I can do nothing.' 'I thought that
perhaps you might ask him to let me stay for a day or two.' 'No, that is
a matter for you. I cannot interfere,' the magistrate observed in


"Mr. H. Sherwin White requested Mr. Marsham at Bow Street Police-Court
to appoint someone under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act to
determine the value of the forecourts of five houses in Coldharbour
Lane, Brixton, which had been required for tramway purposes. He added
that the owner of the houses could not be found. Mr. Marsham appointed
Mr. A. L. Guy to be valuer."



Present-day excitements have killed the "hooligan" scare. Good nervous
people now sleep comfortably in their beds, for the cry of "The
hooligans! the hooligans!" is no longer heard in our land. Yet, truth to
tell, the evil is greater now than when sensational writers boomed it.
It grows, and will continue to grow, until the conditions that produce
it are seriously tackled by the State. I must confine myself to the
hooliganism of the poor. Of the hooliganism of undergraduates, medical
students, stockbrockers, and politicians I say nothing. Of Tommy Atkins
on furlough or of Jack ashore I wish to be equally silent. But of the
class, born and bred in London slums, who do no regular work, but who
seem to live on idleness and disorder, I desire to speak
plainly--plainly, too, as to the conditions that are largely responsible
for the disorderly conduct of the rising youth.

A large number of undoubtedly good people think it is easy to cure by
punitive methods. I do not. "A policeman behind every lamp-post and the
lash--the lash!" cried a notable divine during a never-to-be-forgotten
week when he edited an evening paper. Such was his recipe! For months
the cat with nine tails was a favourite theme, and all sorts of people
caught the infection, and there was a great cry and commotion raised and
sustained by a sensational but altogether inaccurate press. Every
assault committed by a labouring man, every bit of disorder in the
streets, if caused by the poor and ignorant, was a signal for the cry
"The hooligan again!" Rubbish! But the people believed it, and so to
some extent our level-headed and kind-hearted magistrates caught the
spirit of the thing, and proceeded to impose heavier sentences on boys
charged with disorderly conduct in the streets. But this was not enough,
for the Home Secretary (Mr. Ritchie) in the House of Commons, in reply
to a question about youthful hooligans, said it was thought that the
magistrates had been too lenient with them, and stated that the police
had orders to charge those young gentlemen on indictment, so that they
might not be dealt with summarily, but committed for trial. In other
words, they were to take from the magistrates the power of so-called
lenient punishment, and have them tried by judge and jury. Very good,
but what good longer terms of imprisonment would do, the Home Secretary
did not say; and as to the magistrates, they can be severe enough,
though they do know when to be lenient, and in aggravated cases they
already commit for trial.

Profoundly I wish that all Home Secretaries would exercise their minds
on the causes that lead to youthful hooliganism, and do something to
remove them. It were better far than taking steps to secure more severe
punishment. Such talk to me seems callous and cruel, for punitive
methods will never eradicate the instincts that lead to disorderly
conduct in the streets among the "young gentry" of the poor. I must
confess to a feeling of discomfort when I see a boy of sixteen sent to a
month's imprisonment for disorderly conduct in the streets. It is true
that he has been a nuisance to his elders, and has bumped against them
in running after his pals. Equally true that he uses language repulsive
to ears polite; but to him it is ordinary language, to which he has been
accustomed his life through. But I am afraid it is equally true that
similar offences committed by others in a better position would be more
leniently dealt with. Would anyone suggest that a public-school boy, or
a soldier on furlough, or a young doctor, or an enthusiastic patriot,
should be committed for trial on a like charge? I trow not. Allowances
are made, and it is right they should be made. I claim these allowances
for the poor and the children of the poor.

Moreover, if these "young gentry" are to be consigned in wholesale
fashion to prison, will it lessen the evil? I think not. On the
contrary, it will largely increase it. Some of them will have lost the
moderate respectability that stood for them in place of character; many
of them will lose their work, and will join the increasing army of
loafers; but all of them will lose their fear of prison, that fear of
the unknown that is the greatest deterrent from crime and disorder.
Familiarize these "young gentry" with prison, and it is all over with
them. The sense of fear will depart, and to a dead certainty more
serious disorder and grosser crime will follow. Undoubtedly many of them
will find prison quarters preferable to their own homes, and though they
may resent the loss of liberty, they will find some comfort in the fact
that they do not have to share with four others an apology for a bed,
fixed in an apology for a room, of which the door cannot be opened fully
because the bedstead prevents it.

If our law-makers, our notable divines, and our good but nervous people
had to live under such conditions, I venture to say they would rush into
the streets for change of air; and if any steam were left in them, who
can doubt but that they would let it off somehow? Under present
conditions, the "young gentry" have the choice of two evils--either to
stay in their insufferable homes or to kick up their heels in the
streets. But this includes two other contingencies--either to become
dull-eyed, weak-chested, slow-witted degenerates, or hooligans. Of the
two, I prefer the latter. The streets are the playgrounds of the poor,
and the State has need to be thankful, in spite of the drawback in
disorder and crime, for the strength and manhood developed in them. It
will be a sorry day for England when the children of the poor, after
being dragooned to school, are dragooned from the streets into the
overcrowded tenements called home. Multiply large towns, run the
"blocks" for the poor up to the skies, increase the pains and penalties
for youthful disorder, and omit to make provision for healthy, vigorous,
competitive play: then we may write "Ichabod" over England, for its
glory and strength will be doomed. Wealth may accumulate, but men will
decay. Robust play, even though it be rough, is an absolute condition of
physical and moral health.

Consider briefly how the poor live. Thousands of families with three
small rooms for each family, tens of thousands with two small rooms, a
hundred thousand with one room. And such rooms! Better call them boxes.
Dining-room and bedroom, kitchen and scullery, coal-house and
drawing-room, workshop and wash-house, all in one. Here, one after
another, the children are born; here, one after another, many of them
die. I went into one of these "combines," and saw an infant but a few
days old with its mother on a little bed; in another corner, in a box,
lay the body of another child of less than two years, cold and still. I
felt ill, but I also felt hot. I protest it is no wonder that our boys
and girls seek the excitement of the streets, or that they find comfort
in "dustbins." What can big lads of this description do in such
surroundings? Curl up and die, or go out and kick somebody. The pity of
it is that they always kick the wrong person, but that's no wonder.
Tread our narrow streets, where two-storied houses stand flush with the
pavements; explore our courts, alleys, and places; climb skyward in our
much-belauded dwellings; or come even into our streets that look snugly
respectable. You will find them teeming with juvenile life that has
learned its first steps in the streets, got its first idea of play in
the gutter, and picked up its knowledge of the vulgar tongue from those
who have graduated in a gutter school. Is it any wonder that young
people developed under these conditions look upon the streets as their
natural right, and become oblivious to the rights of others? They are
but paying back what they have received. Neither is it to be wondered at
that as they grow older they grow more disorderly and violent, but
altogether less scrupulous. It is absurd to suppose that boys who have
grown into young men under these conditions will, on reaching manhood,
develop staid and orderly ways, and equally absurd to suppose that by
sending them for "trial" they will be made orderly.

Let us have less talk of punishment and more of remedy; and the remedy
lies, not with private individuals, but with the community. The
community must bear the cost or pay the penalty. Oxford and Cambridge
contend in healthy rivalry on the river, and the world is excited. Eton
plays Harrow at cricket, and society is greatly moved. A few horses race
at Epsom, and the people generally go wild. But when the Hackney boys
contend with the boys of Bethnal Green, why, that's another tale. But
they cannot go to Lord's or to Putney, so perforce they meet in the
places natural to them--the streets. "But they use belts!" Well, they
have no boxing-gloves, and it may comfort some folks to know that
generally they use the belts upon each other. The major part of
so-called youthful hooliganism is but the natural instinct of English
boys finding for itself an outlet--a bad outlet it may be, but, mind
you, the only outlet possible, though it is bound to grow into
lawlessness if suitable provision is not made for its legitimate

At the close of one of my prison lectures, among the prisoners that
asked for a private interview was an undersized youth of nineteen, a
typical Cockney, sharp and cheeky as a London sparrow. He put out his
hand and said, "How do you do, Mr. Holmes?" looking up at me. I shook
hands with him, and said: "What are you doing here?" "Burglary, Mr.
Holmes," he said. "Burglary?" I said--"burglary? I am sure God never
intended you for a burglar." Looking up sharply, he said: "No, He would
have made me bigger, wouldn't He? But I have had enough of prison," he
said--"I've had enough. I'm going straight when I get out, and I shall
be out in three weeks. It is very good of you to come and talk to us,
and I am glad to know about all those men you have told us of; but I've
come to see you because I want you to tell me how I am to spend my spare
time when I am out. I am going back home to live. I've got a job to go
to--not much wages, though. I shall live in Hoxton, and I want to go
straight. If I get some books and read about those fellows you talked
of, I can't read at home--there's no room. If I go to the library I feel
a bit sleepy when I've been in a bit, and the caretaker comes along and
he gives me a nudge, and he says: 'Waken up! This ain't a
lodging-house.' We have no cricket or football. There's the streets for
me in my spare time, and then I'm in mischief. Now, you tell me what to
do, and I'll do it."

Municipal playgrounds are absolutely necessary if our young people are
to be healthy and law-abiding. Of parks we have enough at present. Our
so-called recreation-grounds are a delusion and a snare, though to some
they are doubtless a boon, with their asphalted walks, a few seats, and
a drinking-fountain. They are very good for the very old and the very
young; but if Tom, Dick, and Harry essayed a game of rounders, tip-cat,
leap-frog, or skittles, why, then they would soon find themselves before
the magistrate, and be the cause of many paragraphs on youthful
hooliganism in the next day's papers. Now, private philanthropy and
individual effort is not equal to the task--and, in spite of increasing
effort and enlarged funds, never will be equal to the task--of finding
suitable recreation for our growing youth. I know well the great good
done by our public-school and other missions, with their boys' clubs,
etc.; but they scarcely touch the evil, and they certainly have not the
means of providing winter and summer outdoor competitive games. Every
parish must have its public playground, under proper supervision, lit up
with electric light in the evening, and open till 10 p.m. Here such
inexpensive games as rounders, skittles, tip-cat, tug-of-war, might be
organized, and Hackney might have a series of competitions with Bethnal
Green, for the competitive element must be provided for. A series of
contests of this sort would soon empty our streets of the lads who are
now so troublesome. I venture to say that a tournament, even at "coddem"
or "shove-ha'penny" alone, would attract hundreds of them, and certainly
an organized competition of "pitch-and-toss" would attract thousands.
Counters might be used instead of coins, and they would last for ever.
The fact is, that these youths are easily pleased, if we go the right
way to work; but we must take them as they are, and must not expect them
all to play chess, billiards, and cricket. Football, I think, I would
certainly add, for it is a game which any healthy boy can play, and it
gives him robust exercise. Give the lads of our slums and congested
dwellings a chance of healthy rivalry and vigorous competition, and, my
word for it, they won't want to crack the heads either of their
companions or the public. The public are not aware of the intense
longing of the slum youth for active, robust play. During last year more
than fifty boys were summoned at one court for playing football in the
streets and fined, though in some cases their footballs were old
newspapers tied round with string. Hundreds of youths are charged every
year at each of our London police-courts with gambling by playing a game
with bronze coins called "pitch-and-toss." Now, these youths do not want
and long for each other's coins, but they do want a game, and if they
could play all day and win nothing they would consider it an ideal game.
Organized games in public playgrounds, creating local and friendly
rivalry, are absolutely essential. The same feeling, developed but a
trifle further, becomes national, and we call it patriotism. Play they
must, or become loafers; and the round-shouldered, dull-eyed loafer is
altogether more hopeless than the hooligan.

It will be an inestimable blessing to the country, and will inaugurate
quite a new era for us, when the minimum age for leaving school is
raised to sixteen. The increase of intelligence, physique and morality,
and order arising from such a course would astonish the nation.
Supposing this were done, and for boys and girls of over twelve two
hours in the afternoon were set apart for games--in separate
playgrounds, of course--and that the evenings were devoted to
school-work. The younger children going to school in the afternoon might
easily have their turn in the public playgrounds from five to seven.
This would allow the youths over sixteen to have the playgrounds for the
rest of the evening. But, having provided for play, I would go one step
further, and not allow any boy to leave school till he produced
satisfactory evidence that he was really commencing work. Hundreds of
boys leave school having no immediate prospect of regular work. A few
weeks' idleness and the enjoyment of the streets follow, and they are
then in that state of mind and body that renders them completely
indifferent to work of any kind. For good or for evil, the old system of
apprenticing boys has gone. It had many faults, but it had some virtues,
for, at any rate, it ensured a boy's continuity of work in those years
when undisciplined idleness is certain to be demoralizing. Once let boys
from the homes I have described--or, indeed, from working men's homes
generally--be released from the discipline of school, and the discipline
of reasonable and continuous work not be substituted, and it is all over
with them and honest aspirations. Now, this difficulty of finding decent
and prospective employment for boys is another great factor in the
production of youthful hooligans, but a factor that would be largely
eliminated if the age for leaving school were raised to sixteen. The
work of errand-boys, van-boys, or "cock-horse" boys is not progressive;
neither is it good training for growing boys. To the boys of fourteen
such work has its allurements, and the wages offered seem fairly good;
but when the boy of fourteen has become the youth of sixteen or
seventeen, the work seems childish, and the pay becomes mean. When he
requires better wages, his services are dispensed with, and another lad
of fourteen is taken on. This procedure alone accounts for thousands of
youths being idle upon the streets of London. What can such youths do?
Too big for their previous occupation, no skilled training or aptitude
for better work, not big or strong enough for ordinary labouring, they
become the despair of their parents and pests to society. Very soon the
door of the parental home is closed upon them; the cheap lodging-houses
become their shelter, and the rest can easily be imagined--but it lasts
for life. By raising the school age, the great bulk of this
demoralization would be prevented. Technical training in their school
years would give these youths a certain amount of aptitude and taste
that would enable them to commence life under more favourable
conditions, and though many of them would necessarily become errand-boys
or van-boys, still, the age at which they would leave those occupations
would find them nearer manhood, and in possession of greater strength
and more judgment than they can claim at the present age of leaving such
work. The step I am advocating would also remove another great cause of
lifelong misery and its accompanying hooliganism. Look again, if you
please, at the homes of the poor. Is it any wonder that when a youth
finds himself earning twelve shillings a week, and has arrived at the
mature age of eighteen, he enters into a certain relationship with a
girl of seventeen, who has a weekly income of six shillings? This
relationship may or may not be sanctioned by the law and blessed by the
Church; in either case it is equally immoral, and the effects are
equally blighting. How can healthy, virtuous, and orderly children come
from such unions?

Give the youth of our large towns a lengthened school-training, but at
the same time remember that athletic and technical training must form
part of that life; let healthy rivalry have a chance of animating them
and a feeling of manly joy sometimes pervade them, and these horrible,
wicked juvenile unions will be heard of no more; for at present their
only chances of enjoyment are the streets, sexuality, or the

This last word leads me to another cause of hooliganism. The
public-house is bound up with the lives of the poor. To many it stands,
doubtless, for enjoyment and relaxation, for forgetfulness of misery and
discomfort, and for sociability. To many others it stands for poverty,
suffering, unspeakable sorrow, and gross neglect. Where our streets are
the narrowest, where the sanitary arrangements are of the most execrable
description, there the public-house thrives, and thrives with disastrous
effects. The home-life of the poor and the public-house act and react
on each other. The more miserable the home and the greater the dirt, the
more the public-house attracts; the more it attracts, the viler the
home-life and the greater misery and dirt. It is no marvel that people
who live thus demand fiery drinks; nor is it any great marvel that all
the tricks of science and all the resources of civilization are brought
to bear in manufacturing drinks for them. No wonder, when "the vitriol
madness flushes in the ruffian's head," that "the filthy by-lane rings
with the yell of the trampled wife." But the State shares the profits
and the State shares the guilt. Long ago Cowper wrote:

     "Drink and be mad, then--'tis your country bids:
     Ye all can swallow, and she asks no more."

The State does not care very much what compounds are served to the poor
so long as the sacred revenue is not defrauded. But the State cannot
escape the penalties. What of the offspring that issue from these homes
and these neighbourhoods? They have daily seen women with battered
faces; they have frequently seen the brutal kick, and heard the
frightful curse; they have been used to the public-house from their
infancy; whilst boys and girls have been allowed to join openly, and as
a matter of course, in the carousals, and stand shoulder to shoulder in
the bar and drink with seasoned topers. In the evening, when half drunk,
they patrol the streets or stand together at some congested corner. They
are not amenable to the influence of the police; they are locked up, and
the cry "The hooligans! the hooligans!" is heard in the land; and there
is a demand for more punishment, instead of a feeling of shame at the
conditions that produce such young people and at the temptations that
prevail amongst them. Can it be right--is it decent or wise?--that boys
and girls of sixteen should be allowed free access to public-houses,
with free liberty to drink at will? What can be expected but ribaldry,
indecency, disorder, and violence? A wise Government would protect these
young people against temptation and against themselves. No improvement
in the morals and conduct of the young is possible until this question
is tackled, and there ought to be no difficulty about tackling it. Let
the Home Secretary bring in a Bill, and pass it, making it illegal for
boys and girls under twenty to drink on licensed premises, and he will
do more good for public order than if he committed the whole of the
young gentry for trial.

But I would put in also a plea for their parents. It is evident that we
must have public-houses; it is also certain that the public have a taste
for, and demand, malt liquors and other alcoholic drinks. Now, the State
reaps many millions of its revenue from this demand. It is therefore the
duty of the State to see that these drinks are as harmless as possible.
Let the State, then, insist upon the absolute purity of malt liquors,
and also upon a reduction in their alcoholic strength; for, after all,
this is the cause of the mischief. In this direction lies the true path
of temperance reform. Supposing the alcoholic strength of malt
liquors--really malt liquors--was fixed by imperial statute at 2½ per
cent. by volume, who would be a penny the worse? The brewer and the
publican would get their profits, the Exchequer would get its pound of
flesh, the Englishman would get his beer--his "glorious beer!" No vested
interests would be attacked, and no disorganization of trade would be
caused; everybody concerned would be the better, for everybody would be
the happier. It may be thought that I am getting wide of my subject, but
even a superficial inquiry will soon lead anyone to the knowledge that
the public-house is intimately connected with, and a direct cause of,
what is termed "hooliganism."

Alcohol, not the house, is really the cause. To leave the house still
popular, while largely taking away its dangerous element, would be a
wise course; but this should be followed by a much higher duty on
spirits and a law fixing the maximum of their alcoholic strength when
offered for public sale. Fifty per cent. under proof for spirits and an
alcoholic strength of 2½ per cent. for malt liquors would usher in the

To sum up what I conceive to be the reforms necessary to the abatement
and cure of hooliganism:

1. Fair rents for the poor, and a fair chance of cleanliness and

2. Municipal playgrounds and organized competitive games.

3. Extension of school-life till sixteen.

4. Prohibition to young people of alcoholic drinks for consumption on
the premises.

5. Limitation by law of the alcoholic strength of malt liquor to 2½ per
cent. and of spirits to 50 per cent. under proof, with higher duty.

Give us reforms on these lines, and there will be no "complaining in our
streets." The poorest of the poor, though lacking riches, will know
something of the wealth of the mind, for chivalry and manhood,
gentleness and true womanhood, will be their characteristics. The
rounded limbs and happy hearts of "glorious childhood" will be no longer
a dream or a fiction. No longer will the bitter cry be raised of "too
old" when the fortieth birthday has passed, for men will be in their
full manhood at sixty. Give us these reforms, and enable the poor to
live in clean and sweet content, then their sons shall be strong in body
and mind to fight our battles, to people our colonies, and to hand down
to future ages a goodly heritage. But there is a content born of
indifference, of apathy, of despair. There is the possibility that the
wretched may become so perfect in their misery that a wish for better
things and aspirations after a higher life may die a death from which
there is no resurrection. From apathetic content may God deliver the
poor! from such possibilities may wise laws protect them!
"Righteousness"--right doing--"exalteth a nation;" and a nation whose
poor are content because they can live in cleanliness, decency, and
virtue, where brave boyhood and sweet girlhood can bud, blossom, and
mature, is a nation that will dwell long in the land, and among whom the
doings of the hooligans will be no longer remembered.



In our narrow streets, in our courts and alleys, where the air makes one
sick and faint, where the houses are rotten and tottering, where
humanity is crowded and congested, where the children graduate in the
gutter--there the heights and depths of humanity can be sounded, for
there the very extremes of human character stand in striking contrast.
Could the odorous canals that intersect our narrow streets speak, they
would tell of many a dark deed, but, thank God! of many a brave deed
also. Numbers of "unfortunates," weary of life, in the darkness of
night, and in the horror of a London fog, have sought oblivion in those
thick and poisonous waters. Men, too, weary from the heart-breaking and
ceaseless search after employment, and widows broken with hard work,
endless toil, and semi-starvation, have sought their doom where the
water lies still and deep.


Often in the fog the splash has been heard, but no sooner heard than
cries of "Let me die!" "Help! help!" have also risen on the midnight
air. One rough fellow of my acquaintance has saved six would-be suicides
from the basin of one canal, and on each occasion he has appeared to
give evidence in a police-court. Five times he had given his evidence
and quietly and quickly disappeared, but on the sixth occasion he waited
about the court for an opportunity of speaking to the magistrate. This
was at length given him, when he stated that he thought it about time
someone paid him for the loss he sustained in saving these people from
the canal. This was the sixth time he had attended a police-court to
give evidence, and each time he had lost a day's pay. He did not mind
that so very much, as it was but the loss of four shillings at
intervals; but this time he had on a new suit, which cost him thirty
shillings. He had thrown off his coat and vest before jumping into the
water, and someone had stolen them; the dirty water had spoiled his
trousers, which he had dried and put on for his Worship to see. The
magistrate inspected the garments. They had been originally of that
cheap material that costers affect, and of a bright lavender colour. He
had jumped into an unusually nasty piece of water. Some tar and other
chemicals had been moving on its surface, and his lavender clothes had
received full benefit therefrom. The garments had been tight-fitting at
the first, but now, after immersion and drying, they were ridiculously
small. Even the magistrate had to smile, but he ordered the brave fellow
to receive five shillings for expenses and loss of day's work, and ten
shillings compensation for damage to his clothing. He looked ruefully at
his ruined clothes and at the fifteen shillings in his hand, and went
out of the court. I went to speak to him. "Look here, Mr. Holmes," he
said, "fifteen shillings won't buy me a new lavender suit. The next
blooming woman that jumps in the canal 'll have to stop there; I've had
enough of this." I made up the cost of a suit by adding to his fifteen
shillings, and he went away to get one. But I know perfectly well that,
whether he had on a new lavender suit or an old corduroy, it would be
all the same to him--into the canal, river, or any other water, he would
go instinctively when he heard the heavy splash in the darkness or fog.


An amusing episode occurred with regard to a would-be suicide in the
early part of one winter. A strong, athletic fellow, who had been a
teacher of swimming at one of the London public baths, but who had lost
position, had become homeless, and was quite on the down-grade. Half
drunk, he found himself on the banks of the Lea, where the water was
deep and the tide strong. Suddenly he called out, "I'll drown myself!"
and into the water he went. The vagabond could not have drowned had he
wished, for he was as much at home in the water as a rat. It was a
moonlight night, and a party of men from Hoxton had come for a walk and
a drink. One was a little fellow, well known in the boxing-ring. He also
could swim a little, but not much. He heard the cry and the splash, and
saw the body of the man lying still on the water. In he went, swam to
the body, and took hold of it. Suddenly there was a great commotion,
for the little man had received a violent blow in the face from the
supposed suicide. A fight ensued, but the swimmer held a great advantage
over the boxer.

A boat arrived on the scene, and both were brought ashore exhausted. The
swimmer recovered first, and was for making off, but was detained by the
friends of the boxer, who, being recovered, walked promptly up to the
big man and proposed a fight to the finish. This was accepted, but the
little man was now in his element, and the big man soon had reason to
know it. After a severe handling, he was given into custody for
attempted suicide and assault, and appeared next day in the
police-court, with cuts and bruises all over his face. The charge of
attempted suicide was dismissed, but the magistrate fined him twenty
shillings for assault. "Look at my face." "Yes," said the magistrate;
"you deserve all that, and a month beside."

I give these examples of manly pluck to show that, in spite of all the
demoralizing influence of slum life, and in spite of all the decay of
manhood that must ensue from the terrible conditions that prevail,
physical courage still exists among those born and bred in the slums,
under the worst conditions of London life.


But higher kinds of courage are also manifested. Who can excel the
people of our slums in true heroism? None! If I want to find someone
that satisfies my ideal of what a hero should be, down into the Inferno
of the slums I go to seek him or her. It is no difficult search; they
are to hand, and I know where to light on them. The faces of my heroes
may be old and wrinkled, their arms may be skinny, and their bodies
enfeebled; they may be racked with perpetual pain, and live in dire but
reticent poverty; they may be working endless hours for three halfpence
per hour, or lie waiting and hoping for death; they may be male or they
may be female, for heroes are of no sex; but for examples of high moral
courage--a courage that bids them suffer and be strong--come with me to
the slums of London and see.

And how splendidly some of our poor widows' boys rise to their duties!
What pluck, endurance, and enterprise they exhibit! Hundreds of such
boys, winter and summer alike, rise about half-past four, are at the
local dairy at five; they help to push milk-barrows till eight; and with
a piece of bread and margarine off they go to school. After school-hours
they are at the dairy again, washing the churns and milk-cans.
Sharp-witted lads, too. They know how to watch their milk on a dark
morning, and how to give evidence, too, when a thief is brought up. For
supreme confidence in himself and an utter lack of self-consciousness or
nervousness, commend me to these boys. They fear neither police nor
magistrate. They are as fearless as they are natural; for adversity and
hard work give them some compensation. But their dangers and temptations
are many. So I love to think of the lads who have stood the test and
have not yielded. I love to think of the gladness of the widow's heart
and her pride in the growing manliness of her boy--"So like his father."

I was visiting in the heart of Alsatia, and sat beside the bed of a
dying youth whose twenty-first birthday had not arrived--which never did
arrive. It was but a poor room, not over-clean. From the next room came
the sound of a sewing-machine driven furiously, for a widow by its aid
was seeking the salvation of herself and children. She was the landlady,
and "let off" the upper part of the house. The dying youth was not her
son; he belonged to the people upstairs. But the people upstairs were
not of much account, for they spent their time largely away from home,
and had scant care for their dying son; so the widow had brought his
pallet-bed into the little room on the ground-floor wherein I sat, "that
I might have an eye on him." There must have been some sterling
qualities in the woman, though she was not much to look upon, was poorly
clad, and wore a coarse apron over the front of her dress. Her hands
were marked with toil and discoloured by leather, for she machined the
uppers of women's and children's boots, and the smell of the leather was
upon her; but she had a big heart, and though every time "she had an eye
on him" meant ceasing her work and prolonging her labour, she could not
keep away from him for long periods. But, my! how she did make that
machine fly when she got back to it! Blessings on her motherly heart!
There was no furniture in the room saving the little box and the chair I
occupied. The ceiling was frightfully discoloured, and the walls had
not been cleaned for many a day. But a number of oil-paintings without
frames were tacked on the walls, and these attracted my attention. Some
were very crude, and others seemed to me to be good, so I examined them.
They bore no name, but evidently they had been done by the same hand.
Each picture bore a date, and by comparing them I could mark the
progress of the artist. As I stood looking at them, forgetful of the
dying youth below me, I said, half to myself: "I wonder who painted
these." An unexpected and weak reply came from the bed: "The landlady's
son." My interest was increased. "How old is he?" "About twenty." "What
does he do?" "He works at a boot factory"; adding painfully: "He went
back to work after having his dinner just before you came in." "Why," I
said, after again examining the dates on the pictures, "he has been
painting pictures for six years." "Yes. He goes to a school of art now
after he has done his work." The youth began to cough, so I raised him
up a little; but the landlady had heard him, and almost forestalled me.
This gave me the opportunity I wanted, for when the youth was easier, I
said to her: "You have an artist son, I see," pointing to the pictures.
"Yes," she said; "his father did a bit." "How long has he been dead?"
"Over seven years. I was left with four of them. My eldest is the
painter." "What was your husband?" "A shoemaker." "How long have you
lived here?" "Ever since I was married; I have kept the house on since
his death." "Any other of your children paint?" "The youngest boy does
a bit, but he is only thirteen." "Have you any framed pictures?" "No; we
cannot afford frames, but we shall, after a time, when he gets more
money and the other boy goes out to work." "You are very good to this
poor youth." "Well, I'm a mother. I must be good to him. I wish that I
could do more for him." I never saw the consumptive lad again, for he
died from hæmorrhage the next day.

Some years afterwards I thought of the widow and her artist son, and
being in the neighbourhood, I called at the house. She was still there,
still making the machine fly. I inquired after her painter son. "Oh, he
is married, and has two children; he lives just opposite." "What is he
doing now?" "He has some machines, and works at home; his wife is a
machinist too. They have three girls working for them." "I will step
across and see him." "But you won't find him in: he goes out painting
every day when it is fine." "Where has he gone to-day?" "Somewhere up
the river." "How can he do machining if he goes out painting every day?"
"He begins to work at five o'clock and goes on till nine o'clock, then
cleans himself and goes off; he works again at night for four or five
hours. His wife and the girls work in the daytime. His wife is a rare
help to him; they are doing all right." "I suppose he has some framed
pictures now?" "Yes, lots of them; but you come in and look at the room
the poor lad died in." I went in, and truly there had been a
transformation. The ceiling was spotless, the walls were nicely
coloured, the room was simply but nicely furnished, and there were some
unframed pictures on the wall, but not those I had previously seen. "My
youngest son has this room now; those pictures are his."

"What does he work at?" "Boots." "Does he go to a school of art?" "Every
night it is open." I bade the worthy woman good-day, telling her how I
admired the pluck, perseverance, and talent of her boys, also adding
that I felt sure that she had a great deal to do with it and their
success. "Well," she said, "I have done my best for them, but they have
been good lads." Done her best for them, and a splendid best it was! Who
else could have done so much for them? Not all the rich patrons the
world could furnish combined could have done one-half for them that the
brave, kindly, simple boot-machining mother had done for them. She was
better than a hero; she was a true mother. She did her best!

But her sons were heroes indeed; they were made of the right material.
Birth had done something for them, although their parents were poor, and
one departed early, leaving them to the mother, themselves, the slums,
and the world. When I can see growing youths, surrounded by sordid
misery and rampant vice, working on in poverty, withstanding every
temptation to self-indulgence, framing no pictures till they can pay for
them, whose artistic souls do not lead them to despise honest labour,
whose poetic temperaments do not lead them to idleness and debt, when
they are not ashamed of their boot-machining mother, I recognize them as
heroes, and I don't care a rap whether they become great artists or not.
They are men, and brave men, too. I can imagine someone saying: "He
ought not to have married; he should have studied in Paris. Probably the
world has lost a great artist." Perhaps it has, but it kept the man, and
we have not too many of that stamp. Perhaps, after all, he did the right
thing, for he got a good helpmate, and one who helped him to paint.

Genius is not so rare in the slums as superior people suppose, for one
of our great artists, but lately dead, whose work all civilized
countries delight to honour, played in a gutter of the near
neighbourhood where the widow machinist lived, and climbed a lamp-post
that he might get a furtive look into a school of art; and he, too,
married a poor woman.


And what wonderful women many of our London girls are! I often think of
them as I have seen them in our slums, sometimes a little bit untidy and
not over-clean; but what splendid qualities they have!

They know their way about, nor are they afraid of work. Time and again I
have seen them struggling under the weight of babies almost as big as
themselves. I have watched them hand those babies to other girls whilst
they had their game of hop-scotch; and when those babies have showed any
sign of discontent, I have seen the deputy-mother take the child again
into her arms, and press it to her breast, and soothe it with all the
naturalness of a real mother.

And when the mothers of those girls die, and a family of young children
is left behind, what then? Why, then they become real deputy-mothers,
and splendidly rise to their position.

Brave little women! How my heart has gone out to them as I have seen
them trying to discharge their onerous duties! I have seen a few years
roll slowly by, and watched the deputy-mother arrive at budding
womanhood, and then I have seen disaster again overtake her in the death
of her father, leaving her in sole charge.

Such was the case with a poor girl that I knew well, though there was
nothing of the slum-girl about Hettie Vizer. Born in the slums, she was
a natural lady, refined and delicate, with bright dark eyes. She was a
lily, but, alas! a lily reared under the shade of the deadly upas-tree.
When Hettie was fifteen her mother, after a lingering illness, died of
consumption, and Hettie was left to "mother" five younger than herself.
Bravely she did it, for she became a real mother to the children, and a
companion to her father.

In Hoxton the houses are but small and the rooms but tiny; the air
cannot be considered invigorating; so Hettie stood no chance from the
first, and at a very early age she knew that the fell destroyer,
Consumption, had marked her for his prey.

Weak, and suffering undauntedly, she went on with her task until her
father's dead body lay in their little home, and then she became both
father and mother to the family. Who can tell the story of her brave
life? The six children kept together; several of them went out to work,
and brought week by week their slender earnings to swell the meagre
exchequer. Who can tell the anxiety that came upon Hettie in the
expenditure of that money, while consumption increased its hold upon

Thank God the Home Workers' Aid Association was able, in some degree, to
cheer and sustain her. Several times she went to the home by the sea,
where the breath of God gave her some little renewal of life.

But the sorrowful day was only deferred; it could not be prevented. At
length she took to her bed, and household duties claimed her no more. A
few days before her death I sat by her bedside, and I found that the
King of Terrors had no terror for her. She was calm and fearless. To her
brothers and sisters she talked about her approaching end, and made some
suggestions for her funeral, and then, almost within sound of the
Christmas bells, only twenty-one years of age, she passed "that bourne
whence no traveller returns," and her heroic soul entered into its
well-earned rest. And the five are left alone. Nay, not alone, for
surely she will be with them still, and that to bless them. If not, her
memory will be sanctified to them, and the sorrows and struggles they
have endured together will not be without their compensations. "From
every tear that sorrowing mortals shed o'er such young graves, some good
is born, some gentler nature comes, and the destroyer's path becomes a
way of life to heaven."

It was my privilege to know her, and in my gallery of heroes she has a
foremost place. Strong men may do and dare and die. Firemen, colliers,
lifeboatmen, may risk their lives to save others; martyrs may face the
flames, and prophets may undergo persecutions. Their deeds live, and
their stories thrill us. But Hettie Vizer stands on a higher plane
still: a slum-girl, but a lady; a foster-mother, with a mother's love; a
child enduring poverty, hard work, bereavements, and burning
consumption. But, rising triumphantly over them all, she listened to the
bells of God as they rang her into that place where sorrows and sighing
are no more.

And now her younger sister has succeeded her, for the home is still kept
together, and every week their little budget is considered, as it was
"when Hettie was alive."

I have elsewhere spoken of the patient courage shown by weak and elderly
women, but I must again refer to it, for in my judgment there is no
sphere of life wherein greater courage is exhibited. For it must be
borne in mind that they are not sustained by hope. It may be said that
there is a good deal of fatalism connected with their courage and
endurance, and doubtless this is true; but no one can deny their
courage, endurance, and magnificent self-reliance. I have in my mind as
I write some hundreds of women engaged in London home industries whose
lives and struggles are known to me and who compel my veneration, so
when courage is spoken of I like to think of them; for though the
circumstances under which they live and the wrong they suffer bring a
terrible indictment against us, no one can, no one shall, deny their
possession of great courage, poor, weak, and elderly though they be.

Ay, it takes some courage to face day after day their life. I do not
think that I am short of pluck, but I am quite certain that I should
want to lie down and die were I submitted to lives such as theirs. Men
with animal courage could not endure it, and I freely grant that even
patient women ought not to endure it: perhaps, for the sake of future
generations, it might be best for them to die rather than endure it.

But when I see them and know their circumstances, see their persistent
endurance and their indomitable perseverance, I marvel! And in spite of
the oppression they suffer I know that these women are exhibiting
qualities that the world sadly needs, and are showing a type of heroism
for which the world is bound to be ultimately the better. Poor brave old
women! how I respect you! I venerate you! for the only hope that touches
your heart is the hope that you may keep out of the workhouse, and be
buried without parochial aid. Poor brave old women! I never enter one of
your rooms without at once realizing your brave struggle for existence.
I never see you sitting at your everlasting machines without realizing
your endless toil, and I never see your Industrial Life Assurance
premium-book lying ready for the collector without realizing that the
two pennies that are ready also are sorely needed for your food. Poor
brave old souls! how many times when your tea-canister has been quite
empty, and 4.30 in the afternoon has come, and the collector has not
yet called, have you been tempted to spend those pennies and provide
yourself with a cup of tea? How many times have you picked up the
pennies? how many times have you put them down again? for your horror of
a parish funeral was too strong even for your love for a cup of tea!
Brave old women! is there a stronger, more tragical, temptation than
yours? I know of none. Esau sold his birthright for a tasty morsel, well
fed as he was; but you will not surrender your "death right"--nay, not
for a cup of tea, for you are made of better stuff than Esau. So you go
without your tea; but your burial money is not imperilled. Yes, it takes
some moral courage to resist such a temptation; but there is no glamour
about it: the world knows not of it; nevertheless, it is an act of stern
self-repression, an act of true heroism. Shame upon us that it should be
required! glory to us that it is forthcoming! What a life of heroism a
poor woman has lived for that ten, twenty, or forty years, who, in spite
of semi-starvation, has resisted the temptation to spend her burial
money! Those few pounds so hardly saved are as fragrant as the box of
costly ointment poured upon the Master's feet, and convey the same
sentiment, too, for their brave old souls respect their poor old bodies,
and against their day of burial they do it! It may be a mean ambition,
but of that I am by no means sure; still, it is better than none, for
poor, desolate, and Godforsaken must the old woman be who does not
cherish it. Poorer still will the old women be, and more desolate their
hearts, when this one ambition disappears, and they are heedless,
apathetic, and unconcerned as to how and where their poor old bodies
are buried.

So the heroism of the slums is of the passive more than the active kind,
of the "to be and to suffer" sort rather than of the "to do and dare."
And it must needs be so, for opportunities of developing and exhibiting
the courage that needs promptitude, dash, and daring have very largely
been denied the people who live in our narrow streets. But their whole
lives, circumstances, and environments have been such that patience
under suffering, fortitude in poverty, and perseverance to the end could
not fail to be developed. In these qualities, despite all their vices
and coarseness, poor people, and especially poor women, set a splendid
example to the more favoured portions of the community.



It was winter-time, and the cold damp fog had fallen like a heavy cloud
on East London. The pavements were grimy and greasy; travelling, either
on foot or by conveyance, was slow and dangerous. The voices of children
were not heard in the streets, but ever and again the hoarse voice of
some bewildered driver was heard asking his way, or expostulating with
his horse. Occasionally a tell-tale cough came from some foot-passenger
of whose proximity I had been unaware, but who, like myself, was slowly
groping his way to a desired haven.

I found my objective at last, and I entered a queer room possessing two
doors--one the ordinary street door; the other, of which the upper part
was glass, opened into an outhouse at a right angle with the house door.
This annexe had once been a greengrocer's shop, and fronted a
side-street; now it was used as a coal and coke depot, and to it
resorted the poor for their winter's supply of coal and coke.

The proprietor was ill, had been ailing for years, and now the shadows
of eternity hovered around him. It was afternoon, and he was resting. I
sat talking with his wife, an elderly woman, who sat at a machine making
a new pair of knickers out of an old garment for a neighbour who had
many children, the while a girl waited to have a new frock made out of
an old dress that had been purchased probably at a street causeway
auction, when, "A penn'orth of coal, please, Mrs. Jenkins!" The voice
came from the coal depot. Mrs. Jenkins got up from her machine. "John,
can you come down and attend to the shop?" I heard a step on the bedroom
floor above me, and presently John, weak and gasping, descended the
stairs, passed through the little room and through the glass door, and
served the pennyworth of coal; came back, and, delivering the penny to
his wife, gasped his way upstairs again. "How much coal do you give for
a penny?" I asked Mrs. Jenkins. "Six pounds." "Why, that is above one
shilling and sixpence halfpenny per hundredweight--nearly thirty-two
shillings per ton," I said. "Yes, sir, it is dear buying it by
penn'orths, but I can't sell it any cheaper." "How much do you give for
a ton?" I asked, for I had not then been in the coal depot, or I need
not have asked. "Oh, sir, we never get a ton; I buy it by the
hundredweight from the trolly-man, and give one and fourpence the
hundredweight." "Do you get full weight from the trolly-man?" "Well, we
don't get anything over; but the London County Council has looked after
them so sharply that they dare not give us short weight now." "But there
is some dirt and slack in every sack you buy." "Yes, but I burn that
myself with a bit of coke." She then continued: "I wish the poor people
would always buy fourteen pounds." "Why?" "Well, it would be better for
them, you see; we only charge them twopence farthing for fourteen
pounds, so it comes cheaper to them." "Yes," I said, "they would save
one halfpenny when they had bought eight lots of coal." "Yes, sir. I
make just twopence on a hundredweight when they buy it like that." "No,"
I said, "you don't, for you cannot make eight complete lots out of one

"Fourteen pounds of coal, please, Mrs. Jenkins!" Again a voice came from
the depot. "John! John!" Again John came wearily downstairs to weigh the
coal. He returned with twopence halfpenny, which he handed to his wife,
and said: "A farthing change."

Mrs. Jenkins searched her small pile of coppers, but failed to find a
farthing. "Is it Mrs. Brown?" she asked her husband. "Yes," was the
reply. "Oh, then give her the halfpenny back, and tell her to owe me the
farthing." John went into the shop, taking the halfpenny with him, and I
heard a discussion going on, after which John returned with the coin,
and said: "She won't take it." But Mrs. Brown followed him into the room
with her fourteen pounds of coal in a small basket. "No, Mrs. Jenkins, I
can't take it; I owe you two farthings now. If you keep the ha'penny I
shall only owe you one, and I'll try and pay that off next time." "Never
mind what you owe me, Mrs. Brown; you take the ha'penny. You have little
children, and have no husband to work for you like I have," was Mrs.
Jenkins's reply. But Mrs. Brown was not to be put down, so after a
protracted discussion the halfpenny remained in the possession of Mrs.
Jenkins, and poor feeble John retired to rest.

I sat wondering at it all, quite lost in thought. Presently Mrs. Jenkins
said: "I wish Mrs. Brown had taken that ha'penny." "Why?" I said. "Well,
you see, she has little children who have no father, and they are so
badly off." "But you are badly off, too. Your husband is ill, and ought
to be in the hospital; he is not fit to be about." "I rest him all I
can, but this afternoon I have these knickers and frock to make; that
work pays better than coal when I can get it." "How much rent do you
pay?" "Fifteen shillings and sixpence a week, but I let off seven and
sixpence, so my rent comes to eight shillings." "But you lose your
tenant sometimes, and the rooms are empty?" "Yes." "And sometimes you
get a tenant that does not pay up?" "Yes." "And sometimes you allow poor
women to have coal on credit, and you lose in that way?" "Yes," she
said, and added slowly: "I wish I could have all that is owing to me."
"Show me some of your debts." We went into the coal depot. "I have had
to stop that woman," she said, pointing to a name and a lot of figures
chalked up on a board. She owes me one and elevenpence farthing." I
reckoned up the account. "Quite correct," I said.

"She had sixteen lots of coal for one and elevenpence farthing; she
can't pay me at all now, she is so far behind. I ought to have stopped
her before, but I did not like to be hard on her." Several other
"chalked up" accounts confronted me--one for sixpence, another for
ninepence--but that one and elevenpence farthing was the heaviest
account. It was too pitiful; I could inquire no further.

The difficulty of obtaining even minute quantities of coal constitutes
one of the great anxieties of the very poor, and exposes them to
unimaginable suffering and hardship.

To poor old women with chilly bones and thin blood, who especially need
the glow and warmth of a substantial fire, the lack of coal constitutes
almost, and in many cases quite, tragedy.

The poorest class of home-workers, who require warmth if their fingers
are to be nimble and their boxes or bags are to be dried, must have some
sort of a fire, even if it be obtained at the expense of food. Small
wonder, then, that their windows are seldom opened, for the heat of the
room must not be dissipated; they must be thrifty in that respect.
During the winter, generally in January, I set out on a tour of
discovery, my object being to find out old widows who manage to keep
themselves without parish relief, and get their little living by making
common articles for everyday use. Formerly I experienced great
difficulty in finding the brave old things; I have no difficulty now,
for at a day's notice I can assemble five hundred self-supporting widows
to whom a single hundredweight of coal would loom so large that it would
appear a veritable coal-mine.

So I ask my readers to accompany me on one of these expeditions--in
imagination, of course. Come, then, through this side-door, for it
stands open, though not invitingly so, for the stairs are uncarpeted and
dirty and the walls are crumbling and foul.

We pass the room on the ground-floor, and observe that it is half
workshop and half retail-shop, for old furniture is renovated and placed
in the shop-window for sale. Up one flight of unwashed stairs and past
another workshop--this time a printer's. Up again! The stairs are still
narrow, and the walls are still crumbling, the stairs still unwashed. We
pass another workshop, mount more stairs, and then we come to a small
landing and some narrow, very narrow, stairs that are scrupulously
clean, though innocent of carpet or linoleum.

We are now at the very top of the house and in semi-darkness, but we
discover the door of the room we are looking for. On rapping, we are
told to "Come in." It is a small attic, just large enough to contain a
bed, a table, and a small chest of drawers.

She sat at the table underneath the dormer window, and was busy at work
making paper bags: a widow alone in the world, seventy-eight years of
age, who had never received one penny from the parish in her life. Take
notice of the little bedroom grate. It is a very small one, but you
notice it is made much smaller by two pieces of brick being placed in
it, one on each side, and between them a very small fire is burning, or
trying to burn. She tells us that she gets fivepence per thousand for
her paper bags, and that she buys her own paste; that she works for her
landlord, who stops her rent every week out of her earnings. She buys
her coal by the quarter of a hundredweight, which costs her fivepence;
she does not buy pennyworths. Sometimes the men below give her bits of
wood, and the printer lets her have scraps of cardboard. She can't do
with less than two quarters in the week, it is so cold, but she manages
with a bit less in the summer-time. So the brave old woman gabbles on,
telling us all we want to know. I produce some warm clothing, and her
old eyes glisten; I give her a whole pound of tea in a nice canister,
and I think I see tears; but I take her old skinny hand, all covered
with paste, and say: "You must buy a whole hundredweight of good coal
with that, or give it back to me; you must not use it for anything
else." Ah, this was indeed too much for her, and she burst out
hysterically: "Oh, don't mock me--a hundredweight of coal! I'll soon
have those bricks out."

Come with me into another street. We have no stairs to climb this time,
for the house consists of but two stories, and contains but four small
rooms. We enter the front room on the ground-floor, and find three old
women at work. There being no room or accommodation for us to sit, we
stand just inside and watch them as they work. Two are widows bordering
on seventy years of age; the other is a spinster of like years. One sits
at a machine sewing trousers, of which there is a pile waiting near her.
As soon as she has completed her portion of work she passes the trousers
on to the other widow, who finishes them--that is, she puts on the
buttons, sewing the hem round the bottom of the trousers, and does all
the little jobs that must needs be done by hand. When her part of the
work is completed, she passes the trousers on to the spinster, who has
the heaviest part of the task, for she is the "presser," and manipulates
the hot and heavy iron that plays such an important part in the work.
Each of them occupies one of the four rooms in the house, but for
working purposes they collaborate and use the widow machinist's room;
for collaboration increases their earnings and lessens their expenses,
for the one room is also used for the preparation and consumption of
food. One kettle, one teapot, and one frying-pan do for the three. Old
and weak as they are, they understand the value of co-operation and the
advantages to be obtained by dividing labour. But they understand
something else much better, for "one fire does for the three," and the
fire that heats the iron warms the room for three, and boils the kettle
for three. Talk about thrift! Was there ever seen that which could
eclipse these three old women in the art and virtue of saving? Thrift
and economy! Why, the three poor old souls fairly revelled in it. They
could give points to any of the professional teachers of thrift who know
so much about the extravagance of the poor. One gaslight served for the
three, and when a shilling was required to gently induce the automatic
gas-meter to supply them with another too brief supply of light, the
shilling came from common funds; and when the long day's work was done,
and the old widow machinist prepared to lie down in the little bed that
had been erstwhile covered with trousers, the other widow and aged
spinster went aloft to their little rooms to light their little lamps
and to count themselves happy if they possessed a bit of wood and a few
crumbs of coal wherewith to make the morning fire. If not so fortunate,
then, late and cold though the night be, they must sally forth to the
nearest general shop, and with a few hardly-earned coppers lay in a
fresh stock, and return laden with one pint of paraffin oil, one
halfpennyworth of firewood, one pennyworth of coal, and most likely with
one pennyworth of tea-dust. And in such course their lives will run till
eyesight fails or exhausted nature gives way, and then the workhouse

It is the old widow machinist that talks to us, but she keeps on
working. Her machine whirrs and creaks and rattles, for it is an old
one, and its vital parts are none too good; and the old woman speaks to
it sometimes as if it were a sentient thing, and reproves it when a
difficulty arises. In her conversation with us frequent interjections
are interposed that sometimes appeared uncomplimentary to us: "Now,
stupid!" "Ah! there you are at it again!" But when she explained that
she was referring to her machine and not to us, we forgave her.

"I have had this machine for twenty-one years, and it has been a good
one. I bought it out of my husband's club and insurance money." "How
much did you have altogether?" "Twenty pounds, and I paid for his
funeral and bought my mourning and this machine, and it's been a friend
to me ever since, so I can't help talking to it; but it wants a new
shuttle." "How much will that cost?" "Five shillings!" "Let me buy one
for you." "I don't want to part with the old one yet. It will perhaps
last my time, for I want a new shuttle, too. We are both nearly worn
out;" and the machinist kept on with her work, and the other widow with
her finishing, and the aged spinster with her pressing.

Oh, brave old women! We are lost in wonder and veneration. Utilitarians
and the apostles of thrift tell us that the poor are demoralized by
"charity," and of a surety indiscriminate giving without knowledge and
personal service is often ill bestowed. But in the presence of three old
women possessed of heroic souls, living as they lived, working as they
worked, who cares for utilitarianism or political economy either? A fig
for the pair of them!

"But," say our teachers, "you are in reality subsidizing their
employers, who exploit them and pay them insufficiently." Another
self-appointed teacher says: "Ah! but you are only helping them to pay
exorbitant rents; the landlord will profit." Who cares? Others, in very
comfortable circumstances, who themselves are by no means averse to
receiving gifts, say: "Don't destroy the independence of the poor."
Wisdom, prudence, political economy, go, hang yourselves! we cry. Our
love is appealed to, our hearts are touched, our veneration is kindled,
and we must needs do something, though the landlord may profit, though
the employer may be subsidized--nay, though we run the terrible risk of
tarnishing the glorious privilege and record of these independent old
women--a record nearly completed. Help them we must, and we bid defiance
to consequences. So we find the "trolly-man," and three separate bags of
good coal are borne into three separate rooms. A whole hundredweight for
each woman! Where could they put it all? What an orgie of fire they
would have! Would the methodical thrift of the old women give way in the
face of such a temptation?

We don't care: we have become hardened; and we even promise ourselves
that other bags of coal shall follow. Then we examine their tea-caddies,
and throw this tea-dust on the fire--a fitting death for it, too--and
further demoralize the ancient three with the gift of a pound of good
tea, each in a nice cannister, too. A hundredweight of coal and a pound
of tea! Why, the teapot will be always in use till the pound is gone.
The poor drink too much tea. Perhaps so; but what are the poor to drink?
They have neither time, inclination, nor money for the public-house.
Coffee is dear if it is to be good. Cocoa is thick and sickly. Water!
Their water!--ugh! At present poor old women have the choice of tea or
nothing. Then leave them, we beseech you, their teapot, but let us see
to it that they have some decent tea. So, with five shillings in silver
for each of them, we leave the dauntless three to their fire, their
teapots, and wonder, and go into the streets with the feeling that
something is wrong somewhere, but what it is and how to right it we know

I could, were it necessary, multiply experiences similar to the above,
but they would only serve to prove, what I have already made apparent,
that the worries and sufferings of the very poor are greatly aggravated
by their inability to procure a reasonable supply of coal. Slate-clubs,
men's meetings, and brotherhoods have of late years done much to secure
artisans and working men who are earning decent wages a supply of good
coal all the year round. Weekly payments of one shilling and upwards
enable them to lay in a store when coal is cheap--if it is ever
cheap--or to have an arrangement with the coal merchant for the delivery
of a specified amount every week. People possessed of commodious
coal-cellars may buy largely when coal prices are at their lowest; but
the poor--the very poor--can neither buy nor store, for they have
neither storehouses nor barns. Even if they could, by the exercise of
great self-denial, manage to pay a sum of sixpence per week into a local
coal-club, they have nowhere to put the supply when sent home to them.
They must needs buy in very small quantities only. The advantages of
co-operation are not for them, but are reserved for those that are
better off. One scriptural injunction, at any rate, the community holds
with grim tenacity: "To him that hath it shall be given."

Yet I have seen attempts at co-operation among the poorest, for one
Christmas-time, when the weather was terribly severe, and when, as
becomes a Christian country, the one great necessity of life among the
poor was put up to a fabulous price, I knew four families living in one
house to contribute threepence per family wherewith to purchase
fifty-six pounds of coal that they might have extra fire at that happy
season. Some of the very poor buy pennyworths of coke to mix with their
coal, but though coke seems cheaper, it only flatters to deceive, for it
demands greater draught, and it must be consumed in larger quantities.
If for economy's sake a good draught and a generous supply be denied, it
sullenly refuses to burn at all, and gives off fumes that might almost
challenge those of a motor-car. The lives of many young children have
been sacrificed by attempts to burn coke in small rooms where the
draught necessary for good combustion has not existed. Certainly coke is
no friend to the very poor. There are still meaner purchases of firing
material than pennyworths of coal or pennyworths of coke, for
halfpennyworths of cinders are by no means uncommon. A widow of my
acquaintance who had several young children startled me one day when I
was in her room by calling out, "Johnny, take the bucket and run for a
ha'porth of cinders and a farthing bundle of wood." The farthing bundle
of firewood I knew of old--and a fraudulent fellow I knew him to be,
made up especially for widows and the unthrifty poor--but the
halfpennyworth of cinders was a new item to me. I felt interested, and
decided to remain till Johnny returned. He was not long away, for it was
the dinner-hour, and the boy had to get back to school. He was but a
little fellow, and by no means strong, yet he carried the bucket of
cinders and firewood easily enough. When the boy had gone to school the
widow turned to me as if apologizing for wasting three farthings. "I
must have some fire for the children when they come in." "Aren't you
going to make the fire up for yourself? It will soon be out, and it is
very cold to-day." "No; I am going to work hard, and the time soon goes.
I shall light it again at half-past four," said the unthrifty widow.
Meanwhile I had inspected the cinders, which I found to be more than
half dirt, fit only for a dust-destructor, but certainly not fit to burn
in a living-room. "Do you buy cinders by weight or measure?" "I think he
measures them." "How much have you got here?" "Two quarts." "Do you see
that quite half is dirt?" "They are dirty. I expect he has nearly sold
out. When he has a fresh lot we get better cinders, for the small and
the dirt get left till the last." "I suppose he will not have a fresh
supply in till he has cleared the last?" "No; he likes to sell out
first. One day when I complained about them he said: 'Ah! they are
pretty bad. Never mind! the more you buy, the sooner they'll be gone;
then we'll have a better lot.'" "How many fires will your cinders make?"
"Two, if I put a bit of coal with them." "Do you ever buy a
hundredweight of coal?" "Not since my husband died. I try to buy a
quarter twice a week." "How much do you give for a quarter?"
"Five-pence." "How many fires can you light with your farthing bundle of
wood?" "Two, if I don't use some of it to make the kettle boil." "How
much rent do you pay?" "Five shillings for two rooms."

Poor widow! Because ye have not, even the little that ye have is of a
truth taken from you.



One hundred pairs of old boots and shoes that have been cast off by the
very poor present a deplorable sight--a sight that sets one thinking.
Many times I have regretted that I did not call in a photographer before
they were hurried off to the local dust-destructor. What a tale they
told! or rather what a series of tragedies they revealed! There was a
deeply pathetic look about every pair: they looked so woefully, so
reproachfully, at me as I contemplated them. They seemed to voice not
only their own sufferings, but also the wrongs and privations of the
hundred poor widows who had discarded them; for these widows, poor as
they were, had cast them off. The boots and shoes seemed to know all
about it, and to resent the slight inflicted on them; henceforth even
the shambling feet of poor old women were to know them no more. They had
not a coy look among them; not an atom of sauciness or independence
could I discover; but, crushed and battered, meek and humiliated, they
lay side by side, knowing their days were over, and pitifully asking for
prompt dissolution. What a mixed lot they were! No two pairs alike.
Some of the couples were not pairs, for a freak of fortune had united
odd boots in the bond of sufferings and the gall of poverty. Many of
them had come down in life; they had seen better days. Well-dressed
women had at some time stepped daintily in them, but that was when the
sheen of newness was upon them and the days of their youth were not
ended. In those days the poor old boots were familiar with parks,
squares, and gardens, and well-kept streets of the West; but latterly
they have only been too familiar with the slums and the grime of the
East. How I wished they could speak and tell of the past! How came it
about that, after such a splendid beginning, they had come to such a
deplorable end? Had the West End lady died? Had her wardrobe been sold
to a dealer? What had been the intermediate life of the boots before
they were placed, patched and cobbled, in the dirty window of a fusty
little second-hand shop in Hoxton? I know the widow that bought them and
something of her life; I can appreciate the effort she made to get
possession of them. She paid two shillings and sixpence for them, but
not all at once--oh dear, no! Week by week she carried threepence to the
man who kept the fusty little shop. He cheerfully received her payments
on account, meanwhile, of course, retaining possession of the coveted
boots. It took her four months to pay for them, for her payments had not
been quite regular. What would have become of the payments made if the
widow had died before the completion of purchase, I need not say, but I
am quite sure the boots would have speedily reappeared in the shop
window. But, after all, I am not sure that the old cobbler was any worse
in his dealings with the poor than more respectable people are; for
pawnbroking, money-lending, life assurance, and furniture on the hire
system among the poor are founded on exactly the same principles. How
much property has been lost, how many policies have been forfeited,
because poor people have been unable to keep up their payments, we do
not know; if we did, I am quite sure that it would prove a revelation.
In this respect the thriftiness of the poor is other people's gain.

It was a triumph of pluck and grit, for at the end of four long months
the widow received her cobbled boots. Her half-crown had been completed.
"I had them two years; they lasted me well--ever so much better than a
cheap new pair," the widow told me; nevertheless, she was glad to leave
them behind and go home with her feet shod resplendently in a new pair
of seven-and-elevenpenny. She might venture to lift the front of her old
dress now as she crossed the street, and I am sure that she did not
forget to do it, for she was still a woman, in spite of all, and had
some of that quality left severe people call vanity, but which I like to
think of as self-respect.

"How is it," I was asked by a critical lady, "that your poor women let
their dresses drag on the pavement and crossings? I never see any of
them lift their dresses behind or in front. They must get very dirty and
insanitary." "My dear madam," I replied, "they dare not, for neither
their insteps nor their heels are presentable; but give them some new
boots, and they will lift their dresses often enough and high enough."

There was another pair, too, that had come down, and they invited
speculative thought. They were not born in the slums or fitted for the
slums, but they came into a poor widow's possession nevertheless. They
had not been patched or cobbled, and just enough of their former glory
remained to allow of judgment being passed upon them. They had been
purchased at a "jumble sale" for threepence, and were dear at the price.
The feet that had originally worn them had doubtless trodden upon
carpet, and rested luxuriantly upon expensive hearthrugs. They were
shoes, if you please, with three straps across the insteps, high,
fashionable heels, buckles and bows in front. But their high heels had
disappeared, the buckles had long since departed, the instep straps were
broken and dilapidated, the pointed toes were open, and the heels were
worn down. When completely worn out and unmendable, some lady had sent
them to a local clergyman for the benefit of the poor. I gazed on them,
and then quite understood, not for the first time, that there is a kind
of charity that demoralizes the poor, but it is a charity that is not
once blessed.

Here was an old pair of "Plimsolls," whose rubber soles had long ago
departed; there a pair of shoes that had done duty at the seaside, whose
tops had originally been brown canvas, and whose soles had been
presumably leather; here a pair of "lace-ups"; there a pair of
"buttons"--but the lace-holes were all broken, and buttons were not to
be seen.

But whatever their style and make had been, and whoever might have been
their original wearers, they had now one common characteristic--that of
utter and complete uselessness. I ought to have been disgusted with the
old rubbish, but somehow the old things appealed to me, though they
seemed to reproach me, and lay their social death to my charge and their
present neglect to my interference. But gladness was mixed with pathos,
for I knew that a hundred widows had gone to their homes decently booted
on a dismal Christmas Eve.

But now, leaving the old boots to the fate that awaited them, I will
tell of the women who had so recently possessed them.

It had long been a marvel to me how the very poor obtained boots of any
sort and kind. I had learned so much of their lives and of their ways
and means that I realized boots and shoes for elderly widows or young
widows with children must be a serious matter. Accordingly, at this
particular Christmas I issued, on behalf of the Home Workers' Aid
Association, invitations to one hundred widows to my house, where each
widow was to receive a new pair of boots and Christmas fare. They came,
all of them, and as we kept open house all day, I had plenty of time to
converse with them individually. I learned something that day, so I want
to place faithfully before my readers some of the things that happened
and some of the stories that were told.

One of the first to arrive was an elderly widow, accompanied by her
epileptic daughter, aged thirty. I looked askance at the daughter, and
said to the widow: "I did not invite your daughter." "No, sir; but I
thought you would not mind her coming." "But I do mind, for if every
widow brings a grown-up daughter to-day I shall have two hundred women
instead of one hundred." "I am very sorry, sir; but I could not come
without her." They sat down to some food, and my wife looked up a few
things for the daughter. "Now for the boots," I said. "Of course, we
cannot give your daughter a pair." "No," said the widow; "we only want
one pair." I knew what was coming, for I had taken stock of the
daughter, who was much bigger than her mother. "What size do you take?"
"Please, sir, can my daughter try them on?" "No; the boots are for you."
"Oh yes, sir, they will be my boots, but please let my daughter try them
on." It was too palpable, so I said: "Your daughter has bigger feet than
you have." "Yes, sir." "And you want a pair that will fit either of
you?" "Yes, sir." "Then when you go out you will wear them?" "Oh yes,
sir." "And when your daughter goes out, she will wear them--in fact, you
want a pair between you?" "Yes, sir," the reply came eagerly from both.
"Well, put your right feet forward." They did, and there was no doubt
about it: mother and daughter both stood sadly in need, though they
scarcely stood in boots; no doubt, either, as to the relative sizes. The
daughter required "nines" and the mother "fives." I gave them a note to
a local shopkeeper, where the daughter was duly fitted, so they went
away happy, because they jointly possessed a new pair of
"seven-and-elevenpenny's." But whether the widow ever wore them, I am
more than doubtful. It is the self-denial of the very poor that touches
me. It is so wonderful, so common, perhaps, that we do not notice it. It
is so unobtrusive and so genuine. We never find poor widows jingling
money-boxes in the streets and demanding public contributions because it
is their "self-denial week." Their self-denial lasts through life, but
the public are not informed of it. I fancy that I should have had an
impossible task if I had asked, or tried to persuade, the widow to go
into the streets and solicit help because she had denied herself a pair
of boots for the sake of her afflicted daughter. Oh, it is very
beautiful, but, alas! it is very sad. The poor couple worked at home in
their one room when they had work to do and when the daughter's fits did
not prevent. They made "ladies' belts," and starved at the occupation.

Another widow had four young children; her feet were partly encased in a
flimsy pair of broken patent slippers. She, too, had her note to the

A deep snow fell during the night, and on the morning of Boxing Day it
lay six inches deep. I thought of the widows and their sound boots, and
felt comforted; but my complacency soon vanished. I was out early in the
streets, warmly clad, spurning the snow--in fact, rather enjoying
it--and thinking, as I have said, with some pleasure of the widows and
their boots, when I met the widow who has four young children. She was
for hurrying past me, but I stopped her and spoke. "A bitter morning,
this." "Yes, sir; is it not a deep snow?" "I am so glad you have sound
boots. You had them just in time. Your old slippers would not have been
of much use a morning like this." "No, sir." "Did you get what suited
you?" "Yes, sir." "Fit you all right?" "Yes, sir." "Did you have buttons
or lace-up?" "Lace-up, sir." "That's right. Lift up the front of your
dress. I want to see whether the shopman has given you a good pair." She
began to cry, and, to my astonishment, the old broken patent slippers
were revealed, half buried in the snow. "Don't be cross," she burst out.
"I did not mean to deceive you. I got two pairs for the children: they
wanted them worse than I do."

I learned afterwards from the shopman that she added a shilling to the
cost of a pair for herself, and the shopman, being kind-hearted, gave
her another shilling, so she went home with her two pairs of strong
boots for her boys. Of course, I told her that she had done wrong--I
even professed to be angry; but I think she saw through my pretence.
What can be done for, or with, such women? How can anyone help them when
they are so deceitful? However, I forgave her, and confirmed her in her
wickedness by next day sending the shop assistant to her home with
several pairs of women's boots that she might select a pair for herself.
That kind of deceit has an attraction for me.

"How long have you been a widow?" I asked one of the women. "Twelve
years, sir." "How long is it since you had a new pair of boots?" "Not
since my husband's funeral, sir." Twelve long years since she felt the
glow of satisfaction that comes from the feeling of being well shod;
twelve years since she listened to the ringing sound of a firm heel in
brisk contact with the pavement; twelve years she had gone with that
muffled, almost noiseless sound so peculiar to poor women, telling as it
does of old slippers or of boots worn to the uppers! What a pity, when
so many shoemakers are seeking customers! There is a tremendous moral
force in a new pair of boots that possess good firm heels. Everybody
that hears them knows instinctively what the sound means, and the
neighbours say: "Mrs. Jones is getting on a bit: she is wearing a new
pair of boots. Didn't you hear them?"

Hear them! Of course they had heard them, and had been jealous of them,
too; but that kind of music is not heard every day among London's very
poor, and for a time Mrs. Jones was on a higher plane than her
neighbours; but by-and-by she comes back to them, for the heels wear
away, and she has no others to put on whilst they are repaired, so
gradually they slip down to the chronic condition of poor women's boots;
then Mrs. Jones's ringing footsteps are heard no more.

My shopman told me that he had been in a difficulty; he could not find a
pair of boots large enough for one young widow. He searched his store,
and found a pair--size eleven--that he had had by him for some years;
but, alas! size eleven was not big enough. He offered to procure a last
of sufficient proportion and make a pair of boots for her, kindly saying
that he would not charge anything extra for size. I told him to get a
proper last made for the young woman, who took "twelves." This he did,
so now a poor blouse-maker, who keeps an aged and invalid mother, has
her boots made to order, and built upon her own "special last." When I
had made this arrangement, I was puzzled to know in what way she had
previously obtained boots, so I asked him: "What boots was she wearing
when she came to your shop?" He laughed, and said: "A very old pair of
men's tennis-shoes--of large size, too." I had known her for many years,
and had admired her cleanliness and neatness. I had known, too, how
miserable her earnings were, and how many demands her aged mother made
upon her. She was upright in carriage, and of good appearance;
self-respecting, and eminently respectable, she carried her secret
nobly, though the dual burden of size twelves and men's tennis-shoes
must have been very trying. I told her of our arrangement about the
last, but, of course, made no reference to the dimensions of her feet;
but I often wonder how she felt when she put on her new boots.



It was application time in a London police-court. All sorts of people,
with all sorts of difficulties, had stepped, one after another, into the
witness-box, and had put all sorts of questions to the patient
magistrate. They had gone away more or less satisfied with the various
answers the experience of the magistrate suggested, when, last of all,
there stepped in front of him a quaint-looking elderly man. Below the
average size, with a body somewhat bent, grey hair, and a bristly white
moustache, together with a complexion of almost terra-cotta hue, he was
bound to attract attention. When looked at more closely, other
characteristics could be noted: his lips were full and tremulous, his
eyes were strained, and there was a look of pathetic expectancy over his

He handed a paper to the magistrate, and said: "Read that, your
Worship." His Worship read it. It was an order from the relieving
officer to the manager of the "stone-yard" for Jonathan Pinchbeck to be
given two days' work. "Jonathan Pinchbeck! is that your name?" said the
magistrate, looking at the quaint old man. "Yes, that's me." "Well,
what do you want? Why don't you go and do the work?" "Well, your
Worship, it is like this: I have been to the stone-yard, and they have
got no work to give me." "Well," said the magistrate, "I am sure that I
have no stones for you to break." "But I don't want you to give me work!
I ask you for a summons against the Vestry for four shillings," he said.
"Surely they are bound to find me work or give me the money. I am out of
work, and my wife is ill."

The magistrate told him that the matter could not be decided in a
police-court, and that he had better go to the County Court. Very
dejectedly the old man stepped down, and silently left the court. I
followed him, and had some conversation with him. He was a
dock-labourer, but had grown old, and could no longer "jostle," push,
and fight for a job at the dock gates, for younger men with broader
shoulders stepped up before him. He gave me his address, so in the
afternoon of the same day I went to Mandeville Street, Clapton Park. The
landlady told me that Pinchbeck was not at home, but that he occupied
with his wife one room "first-floor front," and that his wife was an

I was about to leave when a husky voice from the first-floor front, the
door of which was evidently open, called out: "Is it a gentleman to see
Jonathan? Tell him to come up." I went up. I shall not forget going up,
for I found myself in the queerest place I had visited. I was in
Wonderland. The owner of the voice that called me up, Mrs. Pinchbeck,
sat before me--huge, massive, and palpitating. She was twenty stone in
weight, but ill and suffering. Asthma, dropsy, and heart disease had
nearly done their work. It was a stifling day in July, and she drew
breath with difficulty.

She sat on a very strongly-made wooden chair, and did not attempt to
rise when I entered the room. The chair in which she was sitting was
painted vermilion red, and studded with bright brass nails. Every chair
in the room--of which there were four--the strong kitchen table, the
strong wooden fender, and the powerful bedstead, were all vermilion red,
embellished with brass nails. One directing mind had constructed the
lot. When my surprise was lessened, I sat down on a red chair beside the
poor woman, and entered into conversation. Her replies to my questions
came with difficulty, but, despite her illness, I noticed that she was
proud of her quaint husband, and especially proud of the furniture he
had made for her, for the household goods were his workmanship.

"He had only a saw, a hammer, and some sandpaper," she said, nodding at
the furniture, "and he made the lot."

They were well-built, and calculated to bear even Mrs. Pinchbeck.
"Vermilion red was his favourite colour," she said, "and he thought the
bright yellow of the nails livened them up. They had been made a good
many years, but he sometimes gave them a fresh coat of paint."

Pinchbeck and she had been married many years; they had no children.
They lived by themselves, and he was a very good husband. But there
were other wonders in the room beside the poor woman and the brilliant
furniture, and they soon claimed attention.

In front of me stood a monumental cross some feet in height, and made
apparently of brown marble. The cross stood on three foundation steps of
brown marble, and at intervals round the body of the cross were bands of
yellow ribbon.

She saw me looking at it. "That's all tobacco," she said; "it is made of
cigar-ends." There was a descriptive paper attached to the cross.
"Jonathan collected the cigar-ends, and he made them into that monument,
and he made the calculations in his head, and I wrote them down," she
said, referring to the paper. "He walked more than ninety thousand miles
to collect the cigar-ends," she said. I asked permission to read the
descriptive paper attached, and after permission--for I saw the whole
thing was sacred to the suffering woman--I detached it. I was lost in
interest as I read the paper, which was well written, and contained some
curious calculations. I found on inquiry that Jonathan could neither
read nor write, but he could, as she said, "calculate in his own head."

The document consisted of a double sheet of foolscap, which was covered
on the four pages with writing and figures in a woman's hand. Briefly it
told of the great deeds of Jonathan, who, as I have previously said, was
a dock-labourer. He had lived in Clapton Park for more than thirty
years, and he had walked every day to and from the East London Docks, a
five-mile tramp every morning, and a return journey at night of equal
length. Hundreds of times his journey had been fruitless, so far as
getting a day's work was concerned; but, like an industrious bee,
Jonathan returned home every night laden with what to him was sweeter
than honey--cigar-ends that he had gathered from the pavements, gutters,
and streets he traversed and searched during his daily ten-mile tramp.
They lay before me, converted into a massive monumental cross, erected
upon three great slabs of similar material. On each side of it stood a
smaller cross, as if it were to show off the dimensions of the great
cross. The paper stated that the whole of the cigar-ends collected
weighed one hundredweight and three-quarters. It also told how far the
cigars would have reached had they been placed end to end; one cigar was
reckoned at three inches, four to a foot, twelve to a yard, and seven
thousand and forty to a mile. The paper also told how much they cost at
twopence each, how long they took to smoke at one half-hour each, also
how much duty the Government had received on each at four shillings per
pound. Thirty years of interminable tramping, with his eyes on the
ground like a sleuth-hound, had Jonathan done. Hour after hour he had
sat in his little home contemplating his collection, and making his
mental calculations while his wife wrote them down, and then in its
glory arose his great monument.

Handing the paper to Mrs. Pinchbeck, I proceeded to examine the cross. I
felt it, and found it hard, solid, firm, and every edge square and
sharp. I wondered how he had converted such unlikely materials as
cigar-ends into such a solid piece of work. The poor woman told me that
from all the cigar-ends he brought home he trimmed off the burnt ends,
and carefully placed them in a dry place; then he made a great wooden
frame, screwed together, the inside of which represented the cross. In
this frame he arranged end-ways layer after layer of his cigar-ends,
pressing them and even hammering them in; now and again he had poured in
also a solution of treacle and water, placing more cigar-ends until it
was pressed and hammered full. Then it was left for months to slowly
dry. It was a proud day for the couple when the wooden frame was
removed, and the great triumph of Jonathan's life stood before them.

But the tobacco cross did not by any means exhaust the wonders of the
room. All round strange things were hanging from the ceiling, threaded
on a string like girls thread beads and boys thread
horse-chestnuts--rough, flat-looking things, about the size of a plate
and of a dirty brown colour. "Whatever have you got there, hanging from
the ceiling?" I said. The answer came in a hoarse whisper: "Tops and
bottoms." Tops and bottoms! tops and bottoms! I looked at them, and
cudgelled my brains to find out what tops and bottoms were. I had to
give it up, and the hoarse whisper came again: "Tops and bottoms." There
the "tops" hung like a collection of Indian scalps, and there hung the
"bottoms" like a collection of burned pancakes. On examining one string
of them, I found attached the inevitable paper, on which was written

"Oh," I said, "these are the tops and bottoms of your bread. Why did
you cut your bread in that way?" "It was Jonathan's fancy," she said. It
might have been her husband's idea, but she had entered heartily into
it, for she had saved the crusts from all their loaves; she had written
the papers and particulars that were attached to them, and she was proud
of the old crusts, some of which dated from the time of the Crimean War.
I was prepared for other strange whims after my experience with the
vermilion furniture, the tobacco cross, and the "tops and bottoms," and
it was well that I was, for other revelations awaited me. I found a
great bundle of sugar papers--coarse, heavy papers, some blue, others
grey--neatly folded, tied together, and tabulated. These were the
wrappers that had contained all the sugar the worthy couple had bought
during their married life. A document attached gave particulars of their
weight, told also of how much they had been defrauded by the purchase of
paper and not sugar, told the price of sugar in various years, and the
variations of their losses. Next to these stood a pile of tea-wrappers,
tabulated and ticketed in exactly the same manner. Mr. and Mrs.
Pinchbeck had evidently a just cause of complaint against the grocers.

I cannot possibly reveal the whole contents of the room. Had a local
auctioneer been called in to make a correct inventory, he would surely
have fled in despair. Every available square inch of the room was fully
occupied with strange objects. In one corner was a pile of nails--cut
nails and wrought nails, French nails and old "tenpenny" nails, barndoor
nails and dainty wire nails--collected from the streets during
Jonathan's long life. They told the industrial history of those years,
and spoke eloquently of the improvement that had taken place even in
nail-making. They told, too, of the poor home-workers of Cradley Heath,
and of the women and children who had made them. Beside the nails was a
heap of screws--poor old blunted rusty things, made years before Mr.
Chamberlain introduced his improved pointed screws, lying mingled with
the Screws of present use, bright, slender, and genteel. Here was a heap
of shoe-tips, some of which had done duty forty years ago in protecting
the heels and toes of cumbrous boots that had stumbled and resounded on
the cobble-stone streets of those days. They, too, had a tale to tell,
for Blakey's protectors lay there mingled with old, heavy, rusty tips
that had protected "wooden shoon" in the days of long ago.

Decidedly, Jonathan was a modern Autolycus, a "snapper-up of
unconsidered trifles." He had almost established a corner in hairpins.
There they were, six hundred thousand of them, neatly arranged in starch
boxes, nicely oiled to prevent rust, box after box of them, every box
weighed and counted, the whole lot weighing, so the descriptive paper
says, two and a half hundredweight: hairpins from St. James's and
Piccadilly--for Jonathan, when work was scarce, had on special occasions
searched with magnetic eye the El Dorado of the West--hairpins from the
narrow streets of the East; hairpins from suburban thoroughfares;
hairpins from the pavements of the City; old, massive hairpins that
would almost have tethered a goat; demure, slender hairpins that would
nestle snugly in the hair, and adapt themselves comfortably to the head;
hairpins plain and hairpins corrugated--there they lay.

I was lost in wonder and imagination, and forgot the nasty cigar-ends in
picturing to myself the world of beauty that had worn and the delicate
hands that had adjusted those hairpins. But the hairpins were not alone
in their glory. Hatpins claimed attention, too. Cruel, fiendish things
they looked, as they lay closely packed in several boxes, with their
beaded ends and sharp, elongated points. I turned quickly from these,
for I knew only too well the fresh terror they added to life--especially
to a policeman's life. So I proceeded to examine the next
department--"babies' comforters"--with mingled feelings: two large boxes
full of them, horrible things!--ivory rings, bone rings, rubber rings,
and vulcanite rings, with their suction tubes attached, made to deceive
infant life, and to enable English babies to feed on air. Some day a
similar collection may form a valuable addition to a museum,
illustrating the fraud practised on babies in the twentieth century.

I forgot the presence of poor asthmatical Mrs. Pinchbeck on her red
chair, for the shelves that were fixed on the walls attracted me. These
were heavily laden with glass jars and bottles of various sizes
containing specimens of bread, sugar, tea, coffee, butter, and cheese of
varying dates. "Bread, 1856, 10d. per loaf, Crimean War." "Tea, 1856,
4s. 6d. per pound." "Sugar (brown), 1856, 6d. per pound." So ran some
of the descriptions that were attached to the various jars. But I had to
leave the examination of these till another time, when still more
wonders were revealed, of which I must tell you later.

Bidding Mrs. Pinchbeck "Good-afternoon," and promising her another
visit, I left her, for other suffering and troubled folk needed me.
Alas! that was the only time I saw the poor woman, for not much longer
was she able to rise from her bed, and in a few weeks there was a
strange funeral, at which Jonathan was chief mourner, and he was left
alone and friendless.

Hard times followed; old age crept on. Failing health and lack of
nourishment combined to make Jonathan of less value in the labour
market, so by-and-by he faced starvation. But by no means did he give up
collecting; his useless stores grew and grew until he had no longer room
to store them. Then he sold his pile of nails for a few shillings; his
screws and tips followed suit, and some of the fruits of his industry

Sad to relate, a worse fate befell his cigar-ends, and the great triumph
of his life--his "monumental cross"--brought a second great sorrow into
the poor fellow's life. It occurred to him that he might obtain money by
exhibiting his work, so he hired a barrow, and, packing his crosses on
it, went into the streets to attract attention and collect coppers. He
secured plenty of attention, especially from boys, who made a "mark" of
the old man; ribald youth scoffed at him; policemen moved him on--but
the other "coppers" came not to him. The barrow cost one shilling per
week. A crisis had arrived; he must sell his tobacco. At eleven o'clock
one night I found him at my front door. There stood the barrow and the
tobacco. He wanted my advice about selling it. It was the only thing to
do. He had received notice to leave his room, and must look for a
smaller home at a less rental. The next day slowly and reluctantly
Jonathan pushed his barrow to Shoreditch. He had found a wholesale
tobacconist who might buy his tobacco at a price. "Bring it in," he
said, "and I will look at it." Jonathan took it in. Jonathan was taken
in, too. "Leave it here till to-morrow, and I will decide," said the
merchant. It was left, and Jonathan pushed an empty barrow on the return
journey. His room seemed empty that night; his wife was dead, and now
his monumental cross was gone. The next day he visited the tobacco
merchant, and found an officer of the Inland Revenue waiting for him.
The merchant had informed. Pinchbeck's tobacco was impounded, and he
himself was threatened with proceedings for attempting to sell tobacco
without holding a licence. In vain the poor old man protested; in vain
he argued and proved that his tobacco had paid duty, and that the State
had received its dues. His tobacco was detained, and Jonathan saw it no
more. Poor old Jonathan! How he cried over it! But the next day he
turned up at the police-court and asked for a summons against the Inland
Revenue for detaining his tobacco, and here again disappointment awaited
him, for the magistrate had no jurisdiction. It was a heavy blow to him;
his heart appeared to be broken, and all interest in life seemed to
have gone. I sympathized with him, and did my best to cheer him. He
moved to a smaller home, again parting with some of his museum. For a
brief time he struggled on, but he became ill.

For some months he lay in the workhouse infirmary, alone and unfriended,
and I thought the streets of London would know his peering eyes no more.
But there was more vitality in the old man than I expected. One cold
winter's day, when the snow was falling, I met a melancholy procession
of sandwich-men on Stamford Hill, among whom was Jonathan. The wind
buffeted him, and his hands and his face were blue with cold. "I could
not stand it any longer; I should have died if I had not come out," he
told me when I asked as to his welfare. He gave me his address, and the
quaint old man and I were again on visiting terms. Where he had bestowed
his strange collection during his sojourn in the workhouse I never
ascertained, but the bulk of it was in his new home. His things had been
taken care of, he said, but no more. "How are you going to live?" "They
allow me three shillings and sixpence from 'the house,' and I must pick
up the rest." So he proceeded to pick up, for his health improved and
his collection grew; but he did not pick up much money. The spring came,
and Jonathan grew young again. One fine morning I met him, looking quite
fresh and debonair. "Why, Jonathan," I said, "I really did not know you.
How well and fresh you look!" "Yes, bless the Lord! He gives me strength
to walk." "I wonder why He does that?" I foolishly said; but I expected
the answer I got. "To find things that nobody else would find, and to
prove that teetotallers are fools," he said. "But, Jonathan, I am a
teetotaller." "I can't help that, can I? Look here, you can tell me how
many gallons of water there is in a barrel of beer, but you can't tell
me how much paper you bought when you thought you were buying tea and
sugar." I humbly admitted my ignorance, and asked him what he was
finding. "All sorts of things. Come in and see them when you are down my
way." I went again to his "palace of varieties," and saw a cross of
about eighteen inches high, standing in a neat wooden base, which was
painted a bright vermilion, and a smaller cross made of cigarette-ends
standing beside it. Pointing to the latter, he said: "That's to lie on
my breast when I am in my coffin, and that" (the bigger one) "is to lie
on my coffin when I'm buried. I don't want any wreaths." Small chance of
wreaths at a parish funeral when this, our dear brother, is
unceremoniously committed to the earth, I thought; but he was fearful
about his tobacco. "You won't tell, will you? Don't give the show away,"
he said. I advised him not to offer the tobacco for sale this time. "Not
me; I'll die first," he promptly replied.

His cigar and cigarette ends amounted to over thirty pounds in weight,
which he had pressed into various shapes. A strange piece of
architecture, with many turrets and towers, all shining like burnished
silver, claimed attention. "What have you here?" "Five hundred empty
milk-tins. I have saved them all. They have all been full. I always use
the 'Milkmaid' brand." "I suppose you alter your plan of your building
sometimes?" "Oh yes," he said; "I make cathedrals sometimes."

Twenty-four flat cardboard boxes, with covers on, attracted me. "What
have you got in these boxes?" "Ah! I have got something to show you,"
and he proceeded to take off the lids. One look dazzled me, for never in
my life had I seen such a weird combination of brilliant colours; the
old vermilion seemed quite pale and insipid in comparison. Blues,
greens, yellows, and pinks of every shade predominated; but almost every
other colour and shade of colour was represented, and their combined
effect was stupendous. Some of the boxes were full of little cubes,
others of narrow strips; some full of flat pieces about one inch square;
others with the same substance graduated in different sizes. "All
orange-peel, Mr. Holmes, picked up in the streets; all of it would have
been wasted but for me." "But what good is it now?" I asked. He looked
sadly at me, and said: "Good, good! Why, it shows what can be done."
Whether it was worth the doing did not concern him; but my question had
offended him, so I had to make peace. Half a crown soothed his wounded
feelings. I then asked him how he did it all. "Picked 'em up, flattened
'em, cut 'em up, and coloured 'em," was all I could get out of him. "Do
you know what's in these boxes?" producing four boxes of similar
pattern, and opening them. They contained small cubes of material, and
their colours, at any rate, were of modest hue. I confessed again my
ignorance. "Taste!" I was much alarmed, but I tasted. "Potatoes?"
"Right," he said. "That's how I save all my potatoes. They do to put in
my broth." "But how do you get them all to this size and colour?" I
asked. "That's my secret," he said. I asked him if he was saving "tops
and bottoms" now. "Only the new uns; I have made use of the old uns.
I'll show you." He went on his knees, and from a store under his bed he
produced several three-pound glass jars full of some brown meal, of
varying degrees of coarseness. "All good--all good food! Microbes can't
live in bread fifty years old. These are 'tops and bottoms.'" He had
broken up his old bread, pounded it with a hammer, put the crumbs
through different sized sieves, and stored the resulting material in
glass jars. "Beats Quaker Oats, Grape Nuts, and 'Sunny Jim,'" he said.
"I can stand a siege. I just boil some water, take two spoonfuls of
'Milkmaid,' two tablespoonfuls of 'tops and bottoms,' and I have good
milk porridge in three minutes. I have a pot of Bovril, too, and when I
want some soup, hot water, Bovril, and desiccated potatoes or
potato-powder give it to me. The old man is not such a fool as people
think!" But again he put me into a tight place. He wanted me to buy, or
find customers for, his granulated "tops and bottoms." He felt sure if
people only knew how good and nice the "food" was, they would buy it

I had to change the subject, and asked him what was in the box over the
head of his bed, so securely attached to the wall. I was just going to
handle it when he sang out: "Don't touch it! don't touch it, or you'll
blow up the whole house!" "What is it?" "Explosives," he said. "I may
want them; I'm not going to the workhouse again." I did not touch them,
but got away as far as possible. Jonathan then produced an ordinary
medicine-bottle, about half full of some liquid. "That's the last bottle
the doctor ever sent my wife, and half of it was enough. I'm saving the
other half; I may require it. No workhouse or parish doctor for me." I
began to feel creepy; but the old man continued: "Lift that little
bucket out of the corner, and tell me what's in it." I lifted it, and
examined it, and said: "It is three parts full of charcoal, on the top
of which is a quantity of sulphur. There is a piece of candle fixed in
the sulphur and a box of matches attached to the handle of the bucket."

"Right," he said. "When my food is gone, I may put that bucket beside my
bed, lock my door, light that candle, and lie down to sleep. I may do
that, or I may blow the show up, or I may take that half-bottle of
medicine. I haven't decided yet."

There was no appearance of boasting or jesting about the old man; his
lips quivered, and he evidently meant what he said. But life has too
much interest for him at present, and so long as he can find things and
employ his strange talents in strange ways, Jonathan will not hasten his
end. But when the streets know him no more, when his fading eyesight and
his dwindling strength prevent him finding things, when he feels his
dependence on others and can no longer burnish his milk-cans, then, and
not before then, Jonathan will make his choice, and he may light his

But the end was not yet, neither did it come in catastrophic fashion. I
had not seen him for months, but, wishing to know how the old man was
getting on, I ran down to his little home to renew our acquaintance; but
he had disappeared, for the workhouse infirmary had received him.


Poor old Jonathan! The byways and thoroughfares of London know him no
longer. Hairpins lie in scattered profusion on our pavements East and
West, and babies' comforters may be seen in the mud and slime of our
gutters; but hairpins and comforters lie unheeded, for Jonathan has

The peering eyes, the quaint face, the bent body, and the bulging
pockets of my old friend are now memories, for Jonathan has passed. Poor
old Jonathan! my heart goes out to him as I think of him in his new and
last earthly home--surely the saddest of all earthly homes--a lunatic
asylum; for I know that even there his heart is with his treasures, and
his poor brains are concerned about the mass of things he had been so
long in collecting, and the rubbish that he had so passionately loved.
Fifty long years ago he commenced his self-imposed task; fifty years,
with bent back and eyes on the ground, had he traversed thousands of
miles with wearied feet, but with a brave and expectant heart.

Load after load he had carried home as he returned day after day to his
little hive, like a bee laden with honey. Who can estimate the amount of
interest and even pleasure he had experienced during those fifty years,
as he added little by little to his great store? Surely the joy that a
collector of curios experiences was no stranger to the heart of
Jonathan. And now the asylum! It is all too sad; we could wish it far

But Jonathan has some compensations, for he lives in the past, and joys
in the knowledge of what he has accomplished; but he does not know the
cruel fate of his great collection, and surely it is to be wished that a
kindly Providence may preserve him from the knowledge, for such
knowledge would bring to him the greatest sorrow of his life. So in the
asylum Jonathan's heart is with his treasures; they still exist, and
their value is "beyond the price of rubies."

Jonathan grew feebler. With increasing age sandwich-boards grew too
heavy for him, and the grasshopper became a burden when it was
discovered that kind friends, for charity's sake, supplemented the
miserable sum (three shillings and sixpence) allowed him weekly by the
"parish," and which served to pay his rent; and this discovery was
brought to the knowledge of the said "parish"; then the "parish," with
all the humanity it was capable of, stopped the allowance, and Jonathan
was left to his own exertions. So he got behind with his rent; his
worries increased; he got less food and of a poorer quality, and illness
came upon him. By-and-by the dreaded day arrived when the gates of a
great workhouse opened for him and closed upon him. Jonathan was
separated from his treasures. This was the unkindest cut of all, and it
proved too much for his tottering reason, and the infirmary ward of the
great workhouse was supplanted by a ward in a well-known pauper lunatic
asylum, where it is to be hoped that Jonathan's days will be few. The
old man had for many years been a great sufferer, and it has always been
a marvel to me how he went through his innumerable wanderings and tasks,
subject always to a great physical disability and intense pain.

I have previously told my readers that Jonathan could not read or write:
his wonderful memory enabled him to dispense with those requirements;
but he could not forget, neither does he forget now, so his treasures
have acquired an added value. No fabled cave ever contained the riches
that his poor home contains. Day by day they increase in value, and he
lives in the certain hope that some portion may be sold, that the
"parish" may be repaid for the cost he imposed on it, and that some
friendly hand will knock at the door of the asylum, and some friendly
voice will cry, "Open, sesame," that he may come forth a free man to
join the residue of his quaint collection. And it is well, poor old
Jonathan! that thou shouldst live in this belief, and that thou shouldst
hug those delusions, for in thy case a false hope is better far than a
knowledge of the truth. Live on, then, quaint old man, long or short as
the days may be--live on in the world of thy own creating.

But to my friends who may read this sketch of real life, the plain,
unvarnished truth is due. Jonathan's accumulation of treasures passed
into the fiery furnace of the local dust-destructor, and from thence
leapt into thin air or emerged as "clinkers." It sorely puzzled the
"parish," which had disposed of Jonathan, how to dispose of Jonathan's
effects, but it promptly annexed the vermilion chairs. The parish
labourers, not behind time, promptly annexed the tobacco, and the
"crosses," that were to lie "one on my breast inside the coffin and one
on the lid," disappeared, to be devoted, doubtless, to a less honourable

But the hairpins that had nestled in the hair of many fair ladies no one
would look at; no scrap merchant would buy them; so into the fiery
furnace of the dust-destructor they went. Hatpins--instruments of
torture, weapons of offence or defence, that had added many a danger to
life--followed the hairpins. Babies' comforters--the fiery furnace
roared for them, and licked its hot lips as it sucked them in. Think of
it, mothers, who mock your children with such civilized productions!
"Tops and bottoms," hoary scalps of fifty years ago, "granulated tops
and bottoms," that drove "Sunny Jim" to despair, had scant
consideration. In they went, and the flames leapt higher and higher as
box after box of Jonathan's treasure fed them, till, "like the baseless
fabric of a vision," they dissolved, and "left not a wrack behind."

But the "parish" looked suspiciously at and walked warily round the box
of explosives wherewith Jonathan had the means of "blowing up the
blooming show." This was carefully deposited in a cistern of water
before it was carried off. But the fiery dragon at the dust-destructor
refused the "Milkmaid" milk-tins, and, alone in their glory, sole
representatives of Jonathan's power, they remained in Jonathan's room,
for even the dust-collector fought shy of them. Like pyramids they stood
as silent witnesses of the past. How they missed Jonathan! Their lustre
was tarnished; there was no friendly hand to polish them now; neither
was there any subtle brain to devise new styles of architecture for
them. Well had it been for the "Milkmaids" if they had suffered the
fiery fate of their many companions, for a far worse fate awaited them;
for when the nights were dark, and fogs deadened sound, Jonathan's old
landlady would steal craftily with an apron full of "Milkmaids," and
drop one in the gutter, throw others over the garden-walls, dispose of
some on pieces of unoccupied ground, till all were gone. The painter and
paperhanger were afterwards required in Jonathan's room.



London's abyss contains a very mixed population. Naturally the "born
poor" predominate, of whom the larger portion are helpless and hopeless,
for environment and temperament are against them.

Amongst these, but not of these, exists a strange medley of people who
have "come down" in life. Drunkenness, fast living, gambling, and
general rascality have hurried many educated men into the abyss; and
such fellows descend to depths of wickedness and uncleanliness that the
gross and ignorant poor cannot emulate, for nothing I have met in life
is quite so disgusting and appalling as the demoralized educated men
living in Inferno.

Misfortune, sorrow, ill-health, loss of friends, position or money, and
ill-advised speculations, are often prime causes of "descent," producing
pitiful lives and strange characters; while others--sometimes women,
sometimes men--have been cursed by very small annuities, not sufficient
for living purposes, but quite sufficient to prevent them attempting any
honest labour. Often these are ashamed to work, but by no means ashamed
to beg. Clinging to the rags of their gentility, they exhibit open
contempt for the ignorant poor, who treat them with awesome respect,
because "they have come down in life."

The postman brings them numerous letters--replies to their systematic
begging appeals--and not before a detective calls to make inquiries do
the poor question the _bona fides_ of, or lose their respect for, "the
poor lady upstairs."

Backboneless men and women in a moral sense are numerous in the abyss,
with no vices, but with virtues of a negative character. Possessing no
grit, no adaptability, no idea of making a fight for life, they appear
to think that because their parents were well-to-do, and they themselves
had "received" an education, it is somebody's business to keep them.
They are as sanguine as Mr. Micawber, always expecting something to
"turn up," but never proceeding to turn up anything on their own

Waiting, hoping, starving, they go down to premature death--if, indeed,
the workhouse infirmary does not swallow them alive.

But what courage and endurance, what industry and self-respect others
exhibit, deprived by death or misfortune of the very means of existence,
brought face to face with absolute poverty! Men and women, precipitated
into the abyss through no fault of their own, shine resplendent in the
dark regions they have been forced to inhabit. Not soured by misfortune,
not despondent because of disappointment, hand in hand and heart to
heart, I have seen elderly couples living in one-roomed homes, joining
bravely in the great struggle for existence.

Others are made bitter by their misfortune, and nurse a sense of their
grievances; they "keep themselves to themselves," and generally put on
airs and graces in any dealings they may have with their neighbours.
They quickly resent any approach to friendship; any kindness done to
them is received with freezing politeness, and any attempt to search out
the truth with regard to their antecedents is the signal for storm.
Personally, I have suffered much at the hands of scornful ladies "who
have come down." Sometimes I am afraid that my patience and my temper
have been exhausted when dealing with them, for such ladies require
careful handling.

Experience is, however, a great teacher, and I learned at least to hear
myself with becoming humility when such ladies condescended to receive
at my hands any help that I might be able to give.

"Do you know, sir, that you are speaking to an officer's daughter? How
dare you ask me for references! My word is surely good enough for a
Police-Court Missionary. You are a fitting representative of your
office. Please leave my room."

I looked at her. She was over sixty, and there was the unmistakable air
about her that told of better days. She was starving in a little room
situated in a little court--not St. James's. She owed a month's rent to
people who were poor and ill, and who had two epileptics in the family;
and now their worries were increased by the loss of rent, and the
knowledge that they had a starving "lady" upstairs. She had brought
down to the abyss to keep her company a grandchild, a pretty boy of
seven. I sat still, and she continued: "I know I am poor, but still I
have some self-respect, and I will not be insulted. References, indeed!"
"Well, madam," I at length ventured to say, "you sought my help; I did
not seek you." "Yes; and I made a great mistake. Sir, are you going?"
"No, madam, I am not going at present, for I am going to pay the rent
you owe the poor, suffering people below. Shame on you! Have you no
thought for them? How are they to pay their rent if yours remains
unpaid? Please don't put on any airs, and don't insult me, or I will
have you and the child taken to the workhouse. Find me your rent-book."

She sat down and cried. I called the child to me, and from my bag
produced some cake, fruit, and sweets, filling the child's pinafore. He
instantly began to eat, and running to the irate lady, said: "Look,
grandma, what the gentleman has given me! Have some--do have some,

That was oil on the fire.

"I knew you were no gentleman; now I know that you are a coward. You
know that I cannot take them away from the child." I said: "I should be
ashamed of you if you had, and I should have left your room and never
re-entered it. See how the child is enjoying those grapes! Do have some
with him. Let us be friends. Bring your grandma some grapes." And as the
child came to her, I saw the light of love in her old eyes--that
wonderful love of a grandmother. The child's enjoyment of the food
conquered her: the child "beguiled her, and she did eat"; but she
considered I had taken a mean advantage, and she never thoroughly
forgave me--never, though we became cool friends.

I found the utmost difficulty in obtaining her confidence, although I
visited her many times, and removed her most pressing wants.

She was always on heights to which I could not hope to attain, and she
treated me with becoming, but freezing, dignity. I wanted to be of
assistance to her, but she made my work difficult and my task thankless.
When I called upon her one day to pay a week's rent, etc., she said in a
lofty way: "Small assistance is of little use to me, but I can't expect
anything better from one in your position." I put up with the snub, and
humbly told her that it would be possible for me to do more if she would
condescend to give me the names and addresses of her friends.

This bare suggestion was enough. She rose majestically, opened the room
door, and in a dramatic manner said, "Go!" I sat still, and examined
some needlework she was doing for a factory. Beautiful work it was--all
done by hand. I knew that she would not earn more than one penny per
hour, for her eyes were getting dim, and the room was not well lighted.
So I talked about her work and her pay. Many times since that day have I
been glad that I stayed on after that unceremonious "Go," for I learned
a lesson worth the knowing, for as I sat the postman's tap-tap was
heard, and the epileptic girl from below brought up a letter. "Excuse
me, sir, while I read this," she said. I, of course, bowed
acquiescence, and watched her while she read. I saw her tremulous
fingers and quivering face. Presently she sat down; the letter and a
ten-pound note dropped on the floor. For a moment she sat quite silent,
then the tears burst forth. She rose, picked up the letter and note, and
her eyes flashed as she cried: "Read that! read that! and then dare to
ask me for a reference." She threw the letter at me. It was from an old
servant of hers, who was a cook for a regimental officers' mess, getting
forty pounds a year. This is the letter:

     "DEAR MRS. ----,

     "Yesterday I received my quarter's salary, and I am sending it to
     you, hoping that you will kindly receive it as a small
     acknowledgment of your many kindnesses to me.

     "When I think of the happy days I spent in your service, of your
     goodness to everyone in trouble, and of the beautiful home you have
     lost, I cannot rest night or day. I wish I could send you a hundred
     times as much, that I might really help you and the dear little

The letter was better than any testimonial; it was too much for me.
"Madam," I said, "I am very sorry that I hurt your feelings by
questioning you. That letter makes me ashamed. It more than answers any
questions I put to you. Will you kindly lend me the letter, that I may
show it to my friend?"

She looked triumphant, and said that I might have the letter for a short
time. I sent the letter to ladies and gentlemen who had not "come
down." Some old friends were found who cheerfully subscribed a
sufficient sum to furnish a commodious boarding-house in a fashionable
watering-place, so she again had a beautiful home of her own. But she
was very "touchy," and I had no pleasant task in making arrangements.
She never gave me the least credit, and it always appeared that she was
conferring favours by allowing me the privilege of consulting her.

However, the boarding-house was ready at last. She entered possession,
and with some help prepared to receive visitors. My wife, myself, and
some friends were her first "paying guests," paying, of course, the
usual charges. We spent a miserable three weeks. We were not of the
class she wanted and had been used to; she kept us in our places. I had
to speak to her, and treat her as a distinguished, but quite unknown,
lady. We were all glad when our time for leaving came; neither have we
paid her another visit.

She was a remarkable woman, indomitable, industrious, and clever:
cooking, or managing a house, needlework, dressmaking, or anything
pertaining to woman's life, she was equal to; but her superiority was
too much for us all. We could not live up to it--the strain was too

She, however, did us a great honour the day previous to our leaving. As
a special favour, she invited us to take tea with her in the "boudoir."
The remembrance of that occasion remains with me through the years. She
prepared not only a nice little tea, with cream, knick-knacks, etc., but
the room was tastefully decorated, and she was suitably arrayed. Her
old silks and laces had been renovated, her old jewellery polished and
attended to; and at a definite time, after a formal invitation, we were
ushered into the "boudoir." She rose and gracefully bowed as we were
announced, and directed us to our seats. We had a stiff time of it. No
doubt it was good discipline for us all, for we realized more fully than
ever the inferiority of our birth, breeding, and manners.

Poor woman! She never forgave us for knowing that she had been in the
"abyss," neither did she ever forgive me for helping her out. Our
acquaintance ended with that five o'clock tea in her "boudoir." She has
not written to me, neither have I inquired after her. Freely will I
forgive her all the snubs and insults she flung at me if she will "keep
her distance." She was a terror. One in a lifetime is quite sufficient
for me.

Still, she was a good woman, and I can only suppose that privations and
disappointments had on the one side embittered her, and on the other had
developed a natural feeling until it became a craze, and the idea of
being a "lady" dominated her existence.

Some men, too, that have come down are by no means pleasant
companions--often the reverse. Several clergymen that I saw much of were
too terrible for words, so I pass them; but of one I must tell, for when
I called on him in the early afternoon, he was lying on a miserable bed,
unwashed, wearing a cassock. Penny packets of cigarettes--five for a
penny--were strongly in evidence. There being no chairs in the room, I
sat down upon an inverted packing-case.

He rose from his bed, lit another cigarette, and asked me what I wanted.
I had previously spoken to his wife, and had made up my mind that she
was demented. I had seen a big-headed girl of seventeen, with a vacant
face and thick, slobbering lips, nursing and laughing over a little
doll. I had also spoken to a cunning-looking boy of fourteen. I had now
to speak to a demoralized clergyman.

I felt that a horsewhip was needed more than the monetary help that I
was commissioned to offer from friends, on certain conditions being
complied with.

He was a choice specimen of manhood: his reading seemed confined to
penny illustrated papers of a dubious kind, embellished with
questionable pictures. He no sooner learned that friends had empowered
me to act for them than his estimate of himself went up considerably.
His market value went up also.

Thirty shillings per week was not enough; he was not to be bought at the
price. He must also have his wardrobe replenished. The Bishop must find
him a curacy. No, he would not leave London. Preaching to intelligent
people was his vocation. He was a Welshman, but London was good enough
for him. I sat on the box and listened; the vacant-faced girl with her
doll sat on another box in front of me; the clergyman in his cassock,
cigarette in his fingers while he talked, and in his lips when he was
silent, sat on the edge of the bed; and his demented wife stood by.

Such was my introduction to the fellow, of whom I saw much during the
next three years; but every time I met him I became the more enamoured
of the horsewhip treatment.

For three years he received more than generous help from friends of the
Church, who were anxious for his good, and more than anxious that no
scandal should come upon the Church they loved. It was all in vain, and
the last sight I had of him was in Tottenham, where I studiously avoided
him; but, nevertheless, I had opportunities of watching him. He stood
outside a public-house. He wore an old clerical coat, green and greasy;
his clerical collar was crumpled and dirty; his boots were old and
broken, and his trousers were frayed and torn. He had a rough stick in
his hand and an old cloth cap on his head. The cunning-looking boy has
been in the hands of the police for snatching a lady's purse, and the
imbecile girl, now a woman, continues to nurse her doll somewhere in
London's abyss; for the demented mother loves her afflicted child, and
only death will part them.

Artists are numerous among those who have "come down." I never meet a
poor fellow in London's streets carrying a picture wrapped in canvas
without experiencing feelings of deepest pity. One look at such a man
tells me whether his picture has been done to order, or whether he is
seeking, rather than hoping to find, a customer. The former goes briskly
enough to his destination, and though he will receive but little
payment from the picture-dealer, he sorely needs that little, and
hastens to get it.

But the other poor fellow has no objective: he walks slowly and
aimlessly about; there is a wistful, shamefaced air about him. When he
arrives at a picture-dealer's, he enters with reluctance and timidity.
Sometimes broken-down men will hawk their pictures from door to door,
and will sell decent pictures, upon which they have spent much time and
labour, for a few shillings. Occasionally an alert policeman watches
them, and ultimately arrests them for hawking goods and not being in
possession of the necessary licence.

A boy of fourteen who was hawking his father's pictures was arrested and
charged. The police had discovered that he did not hold a pedlar's
licence. The pictures were quite works of art, done on pieces of
cardboard about twelve inches square, some being original sketches;
others were copies of famous pictures. They were done in
black-and-white, and competent judges declared that the work was
exceedingly well done. The boy said his father was ill in bed, and had
sent him out to sell the pictures; his mother was dead, and his father
and himself lived together in Hackney.

I went with the boy to their one room, and there, in a miserable street
and in a still more miserable room, lay the artist in bed. There was
nothing of any value in the room, excepting some pictures, and as I
entered I found him sitting up in bed at work upon another. They had no
money at all, and that morning the boy had been sent out to try and
sell the pictures and bring back food and coals. The lad's mother had
died some years before, and the father and son were living together.

The father had learned no other business, and at one time there was some
demand for his work, so he married. One can easily picture the life they
led--the gradual shadows, the disappointments that came upon the wife,
the hopeless struggle with poverty, the early death, and the misery of
the husband when the partner of his poverty was taken away. Now, partly
paralyzed in his legs, some days able to rise and dress himself and pay
an occasional call on the "trade," and to return home more hopeless, he
was glad to sell a picture for five shillings, unframed, that had cost
him much effort and time.

I bought one of his pictures at a fair price, and saw that he had both
food and coals, for it was winter-time. I called on him frequently, and
did what I could to cheer him, and other friends bought his pictures.
But he gradually grew worse in health, until the gates of one of our
great infirmaries closed upon him, and the world saw him no more, and it
was left to me to make some suitable provision for the boy.

One Christmas Eve some years ago there was a cry of "Police! police!" In
a little upper room in North London an elderly man had been found in a
pool of blood; his throat had been cut, and as a razor lay beside him,
it was evident the injury was self-inflicted. It was a frightful gash,
but he was carried to a neighbouring hospital, where all the resources
of skill and science were at hand. In three months' time he was able to
stand in the dock, and evidence was given against him. He was
sixty-three years of age, had on a very old frock-coat that had been
originally blue, and an ancient fez that bore traces of silver braid.
When the evidence had been taken, and the magistrate was about to commit
him for trial, a singular-looking man stepped up, and said he was the
prisoner's brother, and that he would take care of him if his Worship
would discharge him. He said a friend had given his brother some drink,
and it was when under the influence of the drink that the prisoner had
tried to cut his own throat; that he himself was a teetotaller--and he
pointed triumphantly to a piece of blue ribbon on his very shabby
coat--and that he would take care that his brother had no more drink.

The magistrate very kindly accepted him as surety, and asked me to visit
them, which I accordingly did, and found myself in very strange company.
Three brothers were living together: sixty-five, sixty-three, and sixty
were their ages. The one who had been charged was the middle brother,
and was an artist; the other two were quaint individuals: they had been
brought up in luxury, and now, being reduced to poverty, had not the
slightest idea of how to earn a shilling.

The blue-ribbon brother was the youngest member of the family, and
though he drank cold water, he appeared to have a strong aversion to its
external use. He was of a religious turn of mind, and had he exercised
himself one-half as much about work as he did about religious subjects,
the catastrophe that had happened might have been avoided.

The elder brother was in weak health, and walked with some difficulty.
The artist was certainly by far the best man of the three; still, they
all had an air of faded gentility. Briefly, they were the sons of a
well-known artist, who, many years ago, was a frequent exhibitor in the
Royal Academy, and whose frescoes adorn one of the royal palaces.

After his death the three brothers and a sister lived together. Each was
left an income of about twenty-five pounds per annum, and the sister
managed their affairs. As long as she lived and the artist brother could
sell pictures, all went fairly well; but when she died the brothers were
left to struggle for themselves. Gradually their home went down--dirt
and discomfort ensued, fewer pictures were sold, and then one Christmas
the artist fell into my care. What a room it was, and how hopeless it
all seemed! I found the artist himself had exhibited in the Royal
Academy, and that he was undoubtedly a talented man. I found him as
simple as a child, and his two brothers as innocent as babes.

I sold some of his pictures, and obtained orders for others; but I
discovered that, instead of the younger brother looking after the
artist, the artist had to look after the younger brother, and I also
found, to my cost, that, instead of having one unfortunate man to look
after, I had three of them on my hands. The elder brother sat reading
goody books hour after hour; the younger one went to his
prayer-meetings, but never brought a shilling home; while the artist
stuck to his work, when he had any to do, splendidly.

One day I took counsel with the three of them, and we formed a committee
of ways and means. To the elder one I said: "What are you going to do to
bring a little grist to this mill?" In a sweetly simple manner, and
rubbing his hands, he said: "Oh, I read while Charles paints." To the
younger one I said: "What are you going to do to help the finances?"
"Oh," he said, "I'll write some texts of Scripture on cardboard, and you
can sell them for me." It was a quaint sight to see this band of
brothers go marketing, to buy their bits of meat, vegetables, etc. I
have watched them, too, at their culinary preparations, and noticed that
the artist himself washed the plates and dishes, and handled and cooked
the food.

Their rooms are now larger, and in much better order. The paintings left
by their father are more visible, for the dust and dirt have been
removed. They are still living together, and the artist, without any
blue ribbon on his coat, is still working away, when he can secure
orders. They are quaint specimens of humanity, but I think much of them,
for they are kind-hearted and gentle to each other; there are no
heart-burnings and bickerings; poverty has not soured their
dispositions, and if times are sometimes hard, they make the best of
things, and hope that God will give them better days.

None the less, my artist friend has to bear the brunt of it, and when
he sells a picture he is more than willing to share his means with his
helpless brothers.

One picture I have of his conveys a striking lesson. It is founded upon
the old story of the Prodigal Son. A tall, gaunt, weary man, with his
sandals worn out, his staff by his side, and his gourd empty, sits upon
a piece of rock upon the hill-side looking down into the valley, where
he sees his father's house. He is debating within himself whether or not
he shall attempt to travel that last mile and reach his old home. The
old home looks inviting and the gardens pleasant, and he feels impelled
to go thither. Beside him is a huge cactus, and in a tree at the back of
him are two vultures waiting to pick his bones.

The failure of a popular financial scheme is often accompanied by
disastrous consequences to refined and elderly people.

I have met many who, being ruined by the collapse of such investments,
were compelled to resort to that forlorn hope of distressed middle-aged
women--some branch of sewing-machine work done at home.

The struggles they make in order to secure the pretence of an existence
are often heroic, and their endeavours to maintain an appearance of
respectability and comfort are great, almost passing belief.

In the great world of London life and suffering no figures stand out
quite so vividly as they do, for no other class of individuals exhibit
quite the same qualities of endurance and pathetic heroism.

On arriving home one Saturday I found two women, a mother and her
daughter, awaiting me, evidently in great distress. I had known them for
some years, and their struggles and difficulties were familiar to me.
The husband of the elder woman lay in their little home paralyzed and
ill. For years the girl and her mother had supported him and maintained
themselves by making children's costumes.

He had been an accountant for many years with an old-established firm,
and had saved money, which he invested in the Liberator. Just when the
smash came their troubles were intensified by the death of his old
employer, and the consequent loss of his employment. A paralytic stroke
came upon him, and though he recovered somewhat, he became utterly unfit
for any kind of work. They received a little assistance from the
Liberator Relief Fund, and while this lasted mother and daughter gave
three months' service each, and were taught the children's costume
trade. A catastrophe had now overtaken them, hence their visit to me.
They had worked incessantly all the week in the hope of finishing some
work and getting it to the factory before twelve on Saturday. Friday
night found them behindhand. At two o'clock on Saturday morning mother
and daughter lay down on their beds without removing their clothes. At
five they rose again, and sat down to their machines.

The hours passed, their task made progress, and at 11.30 they finished;
but the factory was far away--nearly an hour's ride on the tram-car.
Still, the younger one hurried with her bundle, only to find on arriving
that the factory was closed, and that no work would be taken in till
Tuesday morning. There was the rent to pay, the poor stock of provisions
to be obtained, some little comfort to be got for the father, who had
watched their brave but tragic struggle, and no money, after all.

My wife set food before them, and they made a pitiful pretence of
eating. Their hearts were too full, though undoubtedly their stomachs
were empty.

When I put a sovereign into the tremulous hand of the elder woman, they
both broke down, and went away weeping.

A few weeks later the father died, and mother and daughter were left to
comfort and care for each other.

Years have passed, and they still live and work together. Rising early
and retiring late, they manage to "live." But the mother is getting
feeble; her eyesight and powers for work are decaying. Never murmuring
or repining, the daughter bears the brunt of the battle. She works,
whilst her mother goes to and from the factory. And now--in June,
1908--another catastrophe has befallen them; for the feeble old woman
has slipped and fallen from the tram-car, and lies at home with a broken
arm and other injuries; but the daughter works for both.

Sometimes my experiences of women who have "come down" have been far
more unpleasant, as the following instance may serve to show:

I received a letter from a titled lady asking me to inquire into the
case of two sisters who had repeatedly appealed to her for help, and to
whose appeal she had several times responded. This lady recognized the
futility of sending a few pounds at intervals to two elderly women, of
whom she knew nothing excepting that their father had once built a house
for her. She knew, too, that their father had been in a large way of
business, employing five hundred men at one time. Her ladyship also
forwarded to me a letter she had received from the sisters, and asked me
to find out what could be done for them, promising that if I could
suggest anything reasonable, she would send me the necessary funds.
Their letter was of the usual begging-letter style, telling of their own
wrongs and poverty, and pleading for help on account of their dear
lamented father.

Though their "dear lamented father" had been dead for twenty-nine years,
I called at the address given, and found it to be an old-clothes shop in
a very poor district. In the midst of old clothes and dirt I found the
landlady. No, she said, the sisters did not live there. Sometimes they
did a bit of needlework for her, and she allowed them to use her address
for postal purposes. "They had a letter this morning?" I said. "Yes,
there was one." "How many more?" "One only this morning." "Do they often
have letters?" "Sometimes." "How many do they receive a week?" "What is
that to you?" "Well, I come on behalf of a friend who wishes to help
them. The letter they received this morning was from her, and there was
money in it. How much did they give you this morning?" "Two shillings."
"They work for you: why should they give you money?" "I have been good
to them and lent them money; they owe me a good deal; but they have
expectations." "Did you know they had 'come down' in life?" "Oh yes, I
knew." "Now, tell me, where do they live?" "They are on the move." "What
do you mean by that?" "On the move--looking for a place." "Where did
they sleep last night?" "Somewhere close by." "Now, tell me truly as you
would a friend, what do you think about them?" "I think they are a pair
of unfortunate ladies. They have been robbed." "Would you help them if
you could?" "Certainly I would." "Shall you see them to-day?" "Oh yes;
they are sure to come in." So I gave her my address, and told her to ask
the sisters to call on me. Woe to me! I did foolishly, and had to suffer
for it. In the evening when I arrived home, one of the sisters was
waiting for me. She had been waiting some time, to the consternation of
my wife and the maid. The front door had no sooner been opened to her
imperative tap, than she marched in without any ceremony, smelling, I
was told, of the public-house and dirt. My wife said: "She is in the
drawing-room. I could not ask her in here: we were just having tea." I
found her without any difficulty. The evidence of my nose was enough. I
opened wide the window, and then looked at her, or it, or something! I
was just getting my breath, when, "Oh, you have heard from Lady ----,
and she is wanting to help me." I said: "Yes, and you have heard from
Lady ----. She sent you some money, and I see you have been spending
it." "What do you mean, sir? I will let you know that I am a lady." I
groaned and said: "You are letting me know it; I fully realize it."
"Look here, sir; attend to me. I am going to keep a butter and cheese
shop. I want twenty pounds to set me up. You must write to her ladyship
for it." "Very good, then." "Now I want to tell you about our troubles;"
and she did. It took me two good hours to get her safely outside the
front door, after which I gave positive orders to the whole household
that in future all business with this "lady" must be transacted on the
doorstep, with a half-closed door.

She was a Welshwoman, and possessed a double amount of that nation's
eloquence. Those two hours I shall never forget. It took all the
diplomacy at my command to get her out; but she promised to come again
and bring her sister. I was terribly alarmed at the prospect, but did
not tell her not to come, for my courage failed me. However, she had
given me her address, which, unfortunately, was close by; so, finally, I
told her that, after hearing from Lady ----, I would call upon her and
give her whatever help was sent. She called every day for a week, and
every time she came my wife hid herself, and the servant was mindful of
my instructions about the door. Nevertheless, our house was attracting
some attention, for our respectable neighbours were alive to the
situation. I often wished she had made a mistake, like poor old
Cakebread did, and had gone to the wrong house; but I did not get even
that scrap of comfort. At length I sent a note to her, telling her that
I was going to call on her at ten o'clock next morning. This I
accordingly did, and found that the sisters had obtained a room in the
house of a poor but very decent woman who had four young children. The
landlady let me in, and called to the sisters that a gentleman had come
to see them. "Tell him we are not quite ready to receive visitors," I
heard a familiar voice reply.

The landlady asked me to step into her room. I did so, and she carefully
closed the door, and then burst out: "What can I do with them? How can I
get rid of them? We shall be ill." "Have they paid you any rent?" "No; I
won't take any. They gave me a shilling deposit before they moved in."
"Give it to them back, and tell them to go." "They won't take it, and
they won't go." "Tell your husband to put them out." "He won't touch
them, and he blames me for taking them in." "Why did you take them in?"
"We are poor; I am going to have another. I thought they were ladies who
had 'come down.' They gave me a letter from a lady to read. Whatever
shall we do?" "When did they come in?" "Just a week ago. They were drunk
the first night. One had a black eye!"

In due time they were ready to receive visitors, and I went to their
room. I knew what to expect, but it was too much for me. Phew! They were
there, black eye and all. Half undressed, quite unwashed, a nice pair of
harridans; no furniture saving an old rusty bedstead, on which were some
rags. The thought of the poor woman below and her young children gave me
courage. "I see how it is, you old sinners. Shame on you for forcing
yourselves into this poor woman's house! You are not fit to live
anywhere but in a pigsty. If you don't get out I will have the pair of
you carted to the workhouse. I will see that you get no more from Lady
----. If you don't get out pretty quick, I will myself put you out." One
of them came forward in a threatening attitude, saying: "I will let you
know that my father was your superior." I told them that I was glad I
never knew their father if he at all resembled them.

I called the landlady, and told her to fetch a policeman, as they were
trespassers, and had no right in her room. But the landlady said, if
that was the case, her husband would put them out in the afternoon; it
being Saturday, he would be home early. Then the torrent of abuse began.
They rose to the occasion, and gave vent to their feelings, I am sorry
to say, in vulgar English. Had it been Welsh, it would not have
mattered, but slum English expressed with Welsh fervour was too much for
me. I left. I was, however, to have a still more striking proof of the
power that Welsh "ladies" have to express themselves in very vulgar
English, for the same evening, after having refreshed themselves, they
forced an entrance when my front door responded to their knock and ring.
Fortunately my wife was away. I was called to interview the two "ladies"
and the black eye. They were inside--there could be no mistake about
that; the door was closed, too. As soon as they saw me there was a
soprano and contralto duet. "What did you write to Lady ---- for? Do
you say we are dirty? Who told you we got drunk? Why did you come so
early? Ragged, are we? Help to have us put out, would you? You are a
nice Christian!" I brushed past them and opened the front door. "Fetch a
policeman, will you? We'll have the law for you, you scoundrel! robber!
thief!" I seized the one with the decorated eye, and out she went. In a
twinkling the other sister was after her, and before they realized it,
the front door was closed and bolted. Then the storm began, and for
thirty-five minutes they kept it up. Every choice expression known to
the blackguards of London tripped lightly but emphatically from their
tongues; sometimes in unison, sometimes in horrible discord, sometimes
singly, and sometimes together they kept it up. They ran through the
whole gamut of discordant notes--_fortissimo_ generally, _piano_ only
when breath failed. When quite exhausted, one took charge of the
knocker, the other of the bell, and instrumental music followed the
vocal. A good many of my respectable neighbours came to the concert, but
blushingly retired; they could not stand it. I knew very well that they
could not keep up the pace long; but it was the longest thirty-five
minutes I ever endured. When quite worn out and too hoarse to vocalize,
they retired, and our street resumed its normal respectability. But to
the valour of Wales they added the perseverance of women. After again
refreshing themselves, they returned to the poor woman they had "taken
in," and gave her a concert, much to her terror. Her husband called the
police, but this only roused them. Ultimately they were taken into
custody for being drunk and disorderly, and, sad to relate, the
following Monday they were fined by the magistrate.

I heard more bad language in that thirty-five minutes than I ever
listened to in a month, even in a police-court. I must have received
considerable mental and moral damage, and I really think that I ought to
receive some compensation from Lady ----.

But, at all events, I hope that I have completed my experience of people
who have "come down."



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