« НазадПродовжити »
dogged by these miserable creatures with their inarticulate moans. If they return without their average earnings, they are welcomed with the ferocious beatings of a fury disappointed of her liquor; and unless fortunate in some scrap of food, picked up in their wanderings, they must retire supperless as well as bruised, to bed.
Nature holds on the uniformity of her plan even with these children of misfortune. In a year or two their frames get stronger spite of cold and wet, penury and hard usage ; and they emancipate themselves from the thraldom that oppressed them. Established on their own account, they may be seen wandering through the streets of the great cities, lurking about the stairs, or sitting on the steps of doors, or creeping barefooted along the edge of the pavement on a cold winter's day, sometimes in company with others, but oftentimes alone. When the produce of the day has not produced a meal, they will be found hanging about the provision-stores, or low eating-houses, feasting in fancy on delicacies they shall never taste. Dressed in trowsers cut for a child, they are in all likelihood enveloped in a long coat which had erst adorned the bulky consistence of a man of mature years. With keen and eager look they prowl about, and only fall into the attitude of begging misery when any one approaches. Their gains are sometimes sufficient for the gratification of their small extravagance,—the purchase of sweetmeats, and the attendance at penny-theatres; in which enjoyments they find themselves happy. Any one who has watched them there, covered with filth, but delighted and uproarious like their betters, would be apt to come to the disheartening conclusion that pain and sorrow are equally distributed through all the ranks of life; that all happiness is relative; that if poverty is a struggle how to live, riches are an occupation how to spend ; and with these comforting consolations to leave them to their destiny.
In one ragged school of 50 boys, (a fair sample of them all,) 16 were professed thieves, and 27 beggars and hawkers. The rest of them were engaged in the various shifts by which in consistency with the laws, life is supported ;-crossing-sweepers, donkey-drivers, ostler-boys; dodgers about omnibuses or cabs, to gain a penny by shutting the door, or helping “the gentleman in,” and at the same time “ helping him of his watch if they can “ find” it safely; holders of horses in the streets, casual errand boys, costermonger-boys, sellers of oranges, street-singers, flowergirls, water-cress sellers,—and sellers of lucifer matches, hunting you with boxes at two a penny; a party-coloured group, wild as birds of prey, ignorant of the duties of civilized life, and indifferent to its comforts, which they have never known; without moral culture or domestic training, without knowledge of good and
Occupations of London Juveniles-Ragged School Scenes.
evil, of heaven or hell, they are scattered units on the great ocean of life, apparently only existing to trouble it and themselves. Many of them are without relations or friends; others with profligate parents, who neglect them; others with stepfathers or mothers, who ill-treat them; and all of them in a state of almost incredible ignorance of the very elements of human knowledge, they find no occupation too disgusting. On the banks of the Thames at low-water, puddling amid the slime, they will be seen scrambling for pieces of coal; and the “ mud-larks” are thus distinguished from the prevailing squalor of the other children, by the super-addition of the foul deposits of the river.
Accustomed to the freedom of their wild existence, they lock at first with scorn upon the restraints which the Ragged Schools impose. They come as for a lark; shout, sing, and blaspheme; and are all in a state of frantic fun at the idea of any one schooling them. But they are susceptible of impression, and the sweetness of human sympathy is triumphant in the end. The novelty of disturbance wears away, and a better novelty comes in its room. The instruction offered them is seized with avidity, and comprehended with a quickness beyond their years. The impressions thus made on the minds of a migratory, restless race may not be lasting; but experience has proved that much has been done, for which the world should be thankful. Ignorance has been supplanted by a little knowledge; some idle have been made industrious; the virtues of filth have been rendered doubtful; the wild freaks of mud-larks even have been exchanged for the orderly deportment of our common schools ; and, amid the screams and yells of their out-door recreations there will be heard the humming of the hymns that they have learnt. They get up concerts in the courts; and sometimes on the holidays, raise their voices high and gloriously, above the ribaldry and blasphemy there. When we find such effects from such small beginnings, and when in the improved morale of society we perceive its results in the diminution of crime,* is there not in it all something more than a sentimental sympathy with a new specimen of humanity, and merits that will sustain the noble scheme long after its romance has yielded to more startling things!
But how small are the number that can be reached! Only 4000 attend the whole Ragged Schools of London ; and yet, in two parishes, Bethnal Green and Spitalfields, there were, in 1843, 16,726 children without the advantage of any instruction. In another district in the western part of the me
* See the statements of the Governor of the Edinburgh Prison cited by Lord Ashley.
+ City Mission Magazine, Nov. 1843, pp. 173-7.
tropolis, visited by the agents of the London City Mission, they found 312 houses, 621 families, and 612 children under 12 years of age,-only 65 of whom were receiving any kind of education. These children thus neglected, are left early to their own discretion. It is not in their case a sudden lapse into crime; they have been educated to systematic deceit from early years; their assumed sores and agonies are all impostures. To cheat the compassion of a stranger, is to rob him as effectually as is done on the highway, without the preceding trouble. The distinction, too evanescent even in the keenest view of the theory of moral proportions, is completely disregarded in practice. As the boy grows up he loses the means of exciting our sympathies, and takes to thieving as a trade. Experience enables him to put in practice the precepts which are readily given him; and which he obtains in abundance in those dens to which in large towns he must resort for a home.
The march of modern improvement, and the exigencies of our advanced civilisation, requiring in the hearts of our great cities large spaces for manufactories and railway stations, have swept away many of those obscure streets which, while they were nurseries of disease,were still habitations for the poor. What was thus taken from them has not been otherwise supplied. Few new streets fitted for their abode have been erected in the cities where so many houses have been destroyed ; and the masses thus bereft of their miserable dwellings, have been driven upon the scanty accommodation of their poorer neighbours ; crowding to suffocation dens already filled. How often in these filthy tenements, swarming with human beings, does the missionary find twelve men, women, and children, mingled together in one room, in all the squalor of promiscuous wretchedness! Take for instance Glasgow, the second city of the empire; in the alleys of which leading out of the High Street, the houses of the Cal
the closes and wynds which lie between Trongate and Bridgegate, and the Saltmarket, there will be found a motley population, which derives its entire subsistence from plunder or prostitution. In every variety of form,-misery, crime, disease, and filth exist there. In the houses,—dirt, damp, and decay reign triumphant.
Is it better in the great city of Liverpool, the emporium of a commerce that has embraced the world? Here there are hundreds of inhabited cellars, in which there are estimated to be 40,000 occupants. There are no windows in them, no communication with external air other than the door at the top. The flooring is the bare earth, and is often the depository of all the filth of the swarms who inhabit these receptacles of misery. Much certainly has been done in the way of improvement within the last
two years; but Liverpool still continues one of the most unhealthy of cities. Birmingham, the blackest and most desolate looking city that the sun ever shone upon-everywhere appearing in dishabille, everywhere offending the eye with gaunt black erections, and the smell, with the intolerable combinations of its manufacturing processes, is not much better. In this city no less than 49,016 persons reside in courts as badly ventilated and drained as those of Saffron Hill. The Police-returns state, that there are 122 beggars' lodging-houses, 252 Irish lodging-houses, 81 reputed to be used as houses for the reception of stolen goods, and 228 described as the resort of thieves.
But let us not bear too hard upon the great cities, in which we must necessarily look for some of the inconveniences attending a crowded population. The evil is universal. Amid the bracing breezes of the far north, we have the capital of the Highlands thus described by its worthy provost, whose sense of duty and whose patriotism had some difficulty in not running into contradiction. “ Inverness," said he, “is a nice town, situated in a most beautiful country. The people are, generally speaking, a nice people; but their sufferance of nastiness is past endurance.' It is the worst symptom of the disease, because it shows that the surrounding physical wretchedness has destroyed the mind. “The wretchedness," says Dr. Southwood Smith, “ being greater than humanity can bear, annihilates the mental feelings,—the faculties distinctive of the human being.”
To give the poor man a home is the sure means not only to his physical comfort but to his moral regeneration. He has something to look forward to in the evening of his day of labour, in a fireside unbeset by miseries which nature loathes-miseries which prevent the expansion of the social feelings—the expression of that tenderness and humanity which bind mankind together, and which are never so beautiful as in the gentle eloquence of domestic affection. Give the father a comfortable and cleanly house, and he can then, if he has any tendency to good, develop it in the seclusion which surrounds him; without that, he seeks to gratify the cravings of his nature in some place where he can taste a little of a home's comforts. He finds in the public-house a fire, brilliant gas-light, attendance; and in the debasing excitement of drink he attempts to drown the consciousness of the sleeping place to which he must return. What must the wife of such a man be but the reflex of himself. Dirty and slattern-forgetful of the delicacies of her sex, brawling and intemperate, she shows how unhappy circumstances may have changed a tidy girl. The children, too, with keener sensibilities, have as keen a sense of discomforts. Driven to the streets, they linger there as long as the weather will permit
them, and fill up their idle time in thieving. Parents and children alike fall. The same scythe that cuts down the flower already fully blown, cuts away the bud still unfolded in its calyx.
No speculator ever dreams of erecting streets for the accommodation of these classes ; yet no speculation would be more successful. Look at some of the cellars in our great cities, let at high rents to wretches who scrimp their earnings to meet them; and can it be supposed that human nature would endure such unwholesome cells if well-ventilated accommodation were placed within its reach?
The following extracts from the advertising columns of the London newspapers prove, that although there might be some trouble in gathering the rents, yet that when got an excellent per centage would be obtained for outlay :
“ For sale, for 250 guineas, five small houses, bringing in a clear income of above £70 a-year.”--Morning Advertiser.
“ A lot of houses to be sold for £250, producing £76 a-year above the ground rent.”—-Ibid.
“ Twelve houses to be sold for the small sum of £200, to pay nearly 25 per cent.”--Ibid.
“ £150 a-year to be sold for 700 guineas, arising from houses eligibly situated near the city.”—Times.
But the class of juveniles to whom we must particularly return, cannot set up an independent ménage, even in the range
of houses sold at such a sacrifice. Boys and girls under 14, whose parents are dead, or have deserted them, or driven them from a home where their maintenance was a burden, must obtain some lodging-place other than the stairs of houses, or the arches of a bridge. Such lodgings have been provided, and have formed the most efficient instrument, in skilful hands, for eradicating the last shreds of a lingering virtue. They are frequented by both sexes, and more especially by boys and girls of tender years. They are distinct from the beer-shop, the public-house, or any of the other places of accommodation known to respectable life. All who have no character, or whose rags and filth would exclude them from cleanly habitations even though they had money, are welcome. The beggar and the thief meet here when the day's work is done. It is the “ flash house” of the district,—the receiving-house for stolen goods,—the school where aged ruffians ruin all that is left of juvenile virtue,- wind up the labours of the day by the scenes of the brothel, and in the total corruption of all morals, commit nameless horrors, which shock the feelings and stagger belief.
“ In the lodging-houses in the country,” says a convicted thief, “ I have met with all sorts of characters--burglars, thieves, pickpockets, beggars, and receivers; and have frequently seen property of all sorts