AS WE ARE AND AS WE MAY BE
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THE TEN YEARS' TENANT.
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THE CITY OF REFUGE.
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AS WE ARE AND AS WE MAY BE
CHATTO & WINDUS
The reader of these Essays, which are not chronologically arranged, is asked to notice the date in each case affixed to them. Almost without exception, those passages which cannot fail to strike him as nearly exact repetitions, whether of argument or of example, will be seen to have been written at considerable intervals of time. A series of papers, composed in different circumstances, and with no design of collective re-issue in any particular form, will always present these repetitions; and they serve to emphasize the author's message. The lapse of time will also account for the apparent inaccuracy of a few statements, and for the fact that some of the occurrences alluded to in the future tense were accomplished during Sir Walter Besant's lifetime. 'As We Are and As We May Be' is the exposition of a practical philanthropist's creed, and of his hopes for the progress of his fellow-countrymen. Some of these hopes may never be realized; some he had the great happiness to see bear fruit. And for the realization of all he spared no pains. The personal service of humanity, that in these pages he urges repeatedly on others, he was himself ever the first to give.
THE ENDOWMENT OF THE DAUGHTER 1
FROM THIRTEEN TO SEVENTEEN 24
THE PEOPLE'S PALACE 50
SUNDAY MORNING IN THE CITY 67
A RIVERSIDE PARISH 106
ST. KATHERINE'S BY THE TOWER 137
THE UPWARD PRESSURE 166
THE LAND OF ROMANCE 203
THE LAND OF REALITY 224
ART AND THE PEOPLE 246
THE AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE 271
THE ASSOCIATED LIFE 296
AS WE ARE AND AS WE MAY BE
THE ENDOWMENT OF THE DAUGHTER.
Those who begin to consider the subject of the working woman discover presently that there is a vast field of inquiry lying quite within their reach, without any trouble of going into slums or inquiring of sweaters. This is the field occupied by the gentlewoman who works for a livelihood. She is not always, perhaps, gentle in quite the old sense, but she is gentle in that new and better sense which means culture, education, and refinement. There are now thousands of these working gentlewomen, and the number is daily increasing. A few among them—a very few—are working happily and successfully; some are working contentedly, others with murmuring and discontent at the hardness of the work and the poorness of the pay. Others, again, are always trying, and for the most part vainly, to get work—any kind of work—which will bring in money—any small sum of money. This is a dreadful spectacle, to any who have eyes to see, of gentlewomen struggling, snatching, importuning, begging for work. No one knows, who has not looked into the field, how crowded it is, and how sad a sight it presents.
For my own part I think it is a shame that a lady should ever have to stand in the labour market for hire like a milkmaid at a statute fair. I think that the rush of women into the labour market is a most lamentable thing. Labour, and especially labour which is without organization or union, has to wage an incessant battle—always getting beaten—against greed and injustice: the natural enemy of labour is the employer, especially the impecunious employer; in the struggle women always get worsted. Again, in whatever trade or calling they attempt, the great majority of women are hopelessly incompetent. As in the lower occupations, so in the higher, the greatest obstacle to success is incompetence. How should gentlewomen be anything but incompetent? They have not been taught anything special, they have not been 'put through the mill'; mostly, they are fit only for those employments which require the single quality that everybody can claim—general intelligence. Hopeless indeed is the position of that woman who brings into the intellectual labour market nothing but general intelligence. She is exactly like the labourer who knows no trade, and has nothing but his strong frame and his pair of hands. To that man falls the hardest work and the smallest wage. To the woman with general intelligence is assigned the lowest drudgery of intellectual labour. And yet there are so many clamouring for this, or for anything. A few months ago a certain weekly magazine stated that I, the writer, had started an Association for Providing Ladies with Copying Work—all in capitals. The number of letters which came to me by every post in consequence of that statement was incredible. The writers implored me to give them a share of that copying work; they told terrible, heart-rending stories of suffering. Of course, there was no such Association. There is, now that typewriting is fairly established, no copying work left to speak of. Even now the letters have not quite ceased to arrive.
The existence of this army of necessitous gentlewomen is a new thing in the land. That is to say, there have always been ladies who have 'come down in the world'—not a seaside lodging-housekeeper but has known better days. There have always been girls who never expected to be poor; always suffered to live in a fool's paradise who ought to have been taught some way of earning their livelihood. Never till now, however, has this army of gentlewomen been so great, or its distress so acute. One reason—it is one which threatens to increase with accelerated rapidity—is the depression of agriculture. I think we hardly realize the magnitude of this great national disaster. We believe that it is only the landlords, or the landlords and farmers, who are suffering. If that were all—but can one member of the body politic suffer and the rest go free from pain? All the trade of the small towns droops with agriculture; the professional men of the country towns lose their practice; clergymen who depend upon glebe, dissenting ministers who depend upon the townspeople, lose their income; the labourers, the craftsmen—why, it bewilders one even to think of the widespread ruin which will follow the agricultural depression if it continues. And every day carriage becomes cheaper, and food products of all kinds are conveyed at lower prices and from greater distances. Every fall in price makes it more difficult to let the farms, drives the rustics in greater numbers from the country to the town, lays the curse of labour upon thousands of untrained gentlewomen, and makes it more difficult for them to escape in the old way, that of marriage.
Another reason is the enormous increase during the last thirty years of the cultivated classes. We have all, except the very lowest, moved upwards. The working-man wears broadcloth and has his club; the tradesman who has grown rich also has his club, his daughters are young ladies of culture, his sons are educated at the public schools and the universities—things perfectly proper and laudable. The thickness of the cultured stratum grows greater every day. But those who belong to the lower part of that stratum—those whose position is not as yet strengthened by family connections and the accumulations of generations—are apt to yield and to be crushed down by the first approach of misfortune. Then the daughters who, in the last generation, would have joined the working girls and become dressmakers in a 'genteel' way, join the ranks of distressed gentlewomen.
Everybody knows the way up the social ladder. It has been shown to those below by millions of twinkling feet. It is a broad ladder up which people are always climbing, some slowly, some quickly—from corduroy to broadcloth; from workshop to counter; from shop-boy to master; from shop to office; from trade to profession; from the bedroom over the shop to the great country villa. The other day a bricklayer told me that his grandfather and the first Lord O.'s father were old pals: they used to go poaching together; but the parent of Lord O. was so clever as to open a shop, where he sold what his friend poached. The shop began it you see. The way up is known to everybody. But there is another way which we seldom regard; it is the way down again. The Family Rise is the commonest phenomenon. Is not the name Legion of those of whom men say, partly with the pride of connecting themselves with greatness, partly with the natural desire, which small men always show, to tear away something of that greatness, 'Why, I knew him when his father had a shop!' The Family Fall is less conspicuous. Yet there are always as many going down as climbing up. You cannot, in fact, stay still. You must either climb or slip down—unless, indeed, you have got your leg over the topmost rung, which means the stability of an hereditary title and landed property. We all ought to have hereditary titles and landed property, in order to insure national prosperity for ever. Novelists do not, as a rule, treat of the Sinking Back because it is a depressing subject. There are many ways of falling. Mostly, the father makes an ass of himself in the way of business or speculation; or he dies too soon; or his sons possess none of their father's ability; or they take to drink. Anyhow, down goes the Family, at first slowly, but with ever increasing rapidity, back to its original level. There is no country in the world—certainly not the United States—where a young man may rise to distinction with greater ease than this realm of the Three Kingdoms. There is also none where the families show a greater alacrity in sinking. But the most reluctant to go down, those who cling most tightly to the social level which they think they have reached, are the daughters; so that when misfortunes fall upon them they are ready to deny themselves everything rather than lose the social dignity which they think belongs to them.
Again, a steady feeder of these ranks is the large family of girls. It is astonishing what a number of families there are in which they are all, or nearly all, girls. The father is, perhaps, a professional man of some kind, whose blamelessness has not brought him solid success, so that there is always tightness. And it is beautiful to remark the cheerfulness of the girls, and how they accept the tightness as a necessary part of the World's Order; and how they welcome each new feminine arrival as if it was really going to add a solid lump of comfort to the family joy. These girls face work from the beginning. Well for them if they have any better training than the ordinary day-school, or any special teaching at all.
Another—the most potent cause of all—is the complete revolution of opinion as regards woman's work which has been effected in the course of a single generation. Thirty years ago, if a girl was compelled to earn her bread by her own work, what could she do? There were a few—a very few—who wrote; many very excellent persons held writing to be 'unladylike.' There were a few—a very few—who painted; there were some—but very few, and those chiefly the daughters of actors—who went on the stage. All the rest of the women who maintained themselves, and were called, by courtesy, ladies, became governesses. Some taught in schools, where they endured hardness—remember the account of the school where Charlotte Bronte was educated. Some went to live in private houses—think of the governess in the old novel, meek and gentle, snubbed by her employer, bullied by her pupils, and insulted by the footman, until the young Prince came along. Some went from house to house as daily governesses. Even in teaching they were greatly restricted. Man was called in to teach dancing; he went round among the schools in black silk stockings, with a kit under his arm, and could caper wonderfully. Woman could only teach dancing at the awful risk of showing her ankles. Who cares now whether a woman shows her ankles or not? It makes one think of Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle, and of the admiration which those sly dogs expressed for a neat pair of ankles. Man, again, taught drawing; man taught music; man taught singing; man taught writing; man taught arithmetic; man taught French and Italian; German was not taught at all. Indeed, had it not been for geography and the use of the globes, and the right handling of the blackboard, there would have been nothing at all left for the governess to teach. Forty years ago, however, she was great on the Church Catechism and a martinet as to the Sunday sermon.
It was not every girl, even then, who could teach. I remember one lady who in her young days had refused to teach on the ground that she would have to be hanged for child-murder if she tried. Those who did not teach, unless they married and became mistresses of their own menage, stayed at home until the parents died, and then went to live with a brother or a married sister. What family would be without the unmarried sister, the universal aunt? Sometimes, perhaps, she became a mere unpaid household servant, who could not give notice. But one would fain hope that these were rare cases.
Now, however, all is changed. The doors are thrown wide open. With a few exceptions—to be sure, the Church, the Law, and Engineering are important exceptions—a woman can enter upon any career she pleases. The average woman, specially trained, should do at any intellectual work nearly as well as the average man. The old prejudice against the work of women is practically extinct. Love of independence and the newly awakened impatience of the old shackles, in addition to the forces already mentioned, are everywhere driving girls to take up professional lives.
Not only are the doors of the old avenues thrown open: we have created new ways for the women who work. Literature offers a hundred paths, each one with stimulating examples of feminine success. There is journalism, into which women are only now beginning to enter by ones and twos. Before long they will sweep in with a flood. In medicine, which requires arduous study and great bodily strength, they do not enter in large numbers. Acting is a fashionable craze. Art covers as wide a field as literature. Education in girls' schools of the highest kind has passed into their own hands. Moreover, women can now do many things—and remain gentlewomen—which were formerly impossible. Some keep furniture shops, some are decorators, some are dressmakers, some make or sell embroidery.
In all these professions two things are wanting—natural aptitude and special training. Unfortunately, the competition is encumbered and crowded with those who have neither, or else both imperfectly, developed.
The present state of things is somewhat as follows: The world contains a great open market, where the demand for first-class work of every kind is practically inexhaustible. In literature everything really good commands instant attention, respect—and payment. But it must be really good. Publishers are always looking about for genius. Editors—even the much-abused editors—are always looking about for good and popular writers. But the world is critical. To become popular requires a combination of qualities, which include special training, education, and natural aptitude. Art, again, in every possible branch, offers recognition—and pay—for good work. But it must be really good. The world is even more critical in Art than in Literature. In the theatre, managers are always looking about for good plays, good actors, and good actresses. In scholarship, women who have taken university honours command good salaries and an honourable position if they can teach. In music, a really good composer, player, or singer, is always received with joy and the usual solid marks of approval. In this great open Market there is no favouritism possible, because the public, which is scornful of failure—making no allowance, and receiving no excuses—is also generous and quick to recognise success. In this Market clever women have exactly the same chances as clever men; their work commands the same price. George Eliot is as well paid as Thackeray; and the Market is full of the most splendid prizes both of praise and pudding. It is a most wonderful Market. In all other Markets the stalls are full of good things which the vendors are anxious to sell, but cannot. In this Market nothing is offered but it is snapped up greedily by the buyers; there are even, indeed, men who buy up the things before they reach the open Market. In other Markets the cry of those who stand at the stalls is 'Buy, buy, buy!' In this Market it is the buyers who cry out continually, 'Bring out more wares to sell.' Only to think of this Market, and of the thousands of gentlewomen outside, fills the heart with sadness.
For outside, there is quite another kind of Market. Here there are long lines of stalls behind which stand the gentlewomen eagerly offering their wares. Alas! here is Art in every shape, but it is not the art which we can buy. Here are painting and drawing; here are coloured photographs, painted china, art embroideries, and fine work. Here are offered original songs and original music. Here are standing long lines of those who want to teach, and are most melancholy because they have no degree or diploma, and know nothing. Here are standing those who wait to be hired, and who will do anything in which 'general intelligence' will show the way; lastly, there is a whole quarter at least a quarter—of the Market filled with stalls covered with manuscripts, and there are thousands of women offering these manuscripts. The publishers and the editors walk slowly along before the stalls and receive the manuscripts, which they look at and then lay down, though their writers weep and wail and wring their hands. Presently there comes along a man greatly resembling in the expression of his face the wild and savage wolf trying to smile. His habit is to take up a manuscript, and presently to express, with the aid of strange oaths and ejaculations, wonder and imagination. ''Fore Gad, madam!' he says, ''tis fine! 'Twill take the town by storm! 'Tis an immortal piece! Your own, madam? Truly 'tis wonderful! Nay, madam, but I must have it. 'Twill cost you for the printing of it a paltry sixty pounds or so, and for return, believe me, 'twill prove a new Potosi.' This is the confidence trick under another form. The unfortunate woman begs and borrows the money, of which she will never again see one farthing; and if her book be produced, no one will ever buy a copy.
The women at these stalls are always changing. They grow tired of waiting when no one will buy: they go away. A few may be traced. They become type-writers: they become cashiers in shops; they sit in the outer office of photographers and receive the visitors: they 'devil' for literary men: they make extracts: they conduct researches and look up authorities: they address envelopes; some, I suppose, go home again and contrive to live somehow with their relations. What becomes of the rest no man can tell. Only when men get together and talk of these things it is whispered that there is no family, however prosperous, but has its unsuccessful members—no House, however great, which has not its hangers-on and followers, like the ribauderie of an army, helpless and penniless.
Considering, therefore, the miseries, drudgeries, insults, and humiliations which await the necessitous gentlewoman in her quest for work and a living, and the fact that these ladies are increasing in number, and likely to increase, I venture to call attention to certain preventive steps which may be applied—not for those who are now in this hell, but for those innocent children whose lot it may be to join the hapless band. The subject concerns all of us who have to work, all who have to provide for our families; it concerns every woman who has daughters: it concerns the girls themselves to such a degree that, if they knew or suspected the dangers before them they would cry aloud for prevention, they would rebel, they would strike the Fifth Commandment out of the Tables. So great, so terrible, are the dangers before them.
The absolute duty of teaching girls who may at some future time have to depend upon themselves some trade, calling or profession, seems a mere axiom, a thing which cannot be disputed or denied. Yet it has not even begun to be practised. If any thought is taken at all of this contingency, 'general intelligence' is still relied upon. There are, however, other ways of facing the future.
In France, as everybody knows, no girl born of respectable parents is unprovided with a dot; there is no family, however poor, which does not strive and save in order to find their daughter some kind of dot. If she has no dot, she remains unmarried. The amount of the dot is determined by the social position of the parents. No marriage is arranged without the dot forming an important part of the business. No bride goes empty-handed out of her father's house. And since families in France are much smaller than in this country, a much smaller proportion of girls go unmarried.
In this country no girls of the lower class, and few of the middle class, ever have any dot at all. They go to their husbands empty-handed, unless, as sometimes happens, the father makes an allowance to the daughter. All they have is their expectation of what may come to them after the father's death, when there will be insurances and savings to be divided. The daughter who marries has no dot. The daughter who remains unmarried has no fortune until her father dies: very often she has none after that event.
In Germany, where the custom of the dot is not, I believe, so prevalent, there are companies or societies founded for the express purpose of providing for unmarried women. They work, I am told, with a kind of tontine—it is, in fact, a lottery. On the birth of a girl the father inscribes her name on the books of the company, and pays a certain small sum every year on her account. At the age of twenty-five, if she is still unmarried, she receives the right of living rent free in two rooms, and becomes entitled to a certain small annuity. If she marries she has nothing. Those who marry, therefore, pay for those who do not marry. It is the same principle as with life insurances: those who live long pay for those who die young. If we assume, for instance, that four girls out of five marry, which seems a fair proportion, the fifth girl receives five times her own premium. Suppose that her father has paid L5 a year for her for twenty-one years, she would receive the amount, at compound interest, of L25 a year for twenty-one years—namely, about a thousand pounds.
Only consider what a thousand pounds may mean to a girl. It may be invested to produce L35 a year—that is to say, 13s. 6d. a week. Such an income, paltry as it seems, may be invaluable; it may supplement her scanty earnings: it may enable her to take a holiday: it may give her time to look about her: it may keep her out of the sweater's hands: it may help her to develop her powers and to step into the front rank. What gratitude would not the necessitous gentlewoman bestow upon any who would endow her with 13s. 6d. a week? Why, there are Homes where she could live in comfort on 12s., and have a solid 1s. 6d. to spare. She would even be able to give alms to others not so rich.
Take, then, a thousand pounds—L35 a year—as a minimum. Take the case of a professional man who cannot save much, but who is resolved on endowing his daughters with an annuity of at least L35 a year. There are ways and means of doing this which are advertised freely and placed in everybody's hands. Yet they seem to fail in impressing the public. One does not hear among one's professional friends of the endowment of girls. Yet one does hear, constantly, that someone is dead and has left his daughters without a penny.
First of all, the rules and regulations of the Post Office, which are published every quarter, provide what seems the most simple of these ways.
I take one table only, that of the cost of an annuity deferred for twenty-five years. If the child is five years of age, and under six, an annuity of L1, beginning after twenty-five years, can be purchased for a yearly premium of 12s. 7d., or for a payment of L12 3s. 8d., the money to be returned in case of the child's death. An annuity of L35, therefore, would cost a yearly premium of L22 0s. 5d., or a lump sum of L426 8s. 4d.
One or two of the insurance companies have also prepared tables for the endowment of children. I find, for instance, in the tables issued by the North British and Mercantile that an annual payment of L3 11s. begun at infancy will insure the sum of L100 at twenty-one years of age, with the return of the premium should the child die, or that L35 10s. paid annually will insure the sum of L1,000. There is also in these tables a method of payment by which, should the father die and the premiums be therefore discontinued, the money will be paid just the same. No doubt, if the practice were to spread, every insurance company would take up this kind of business.
It is not every young married man who could afford to pay so large a sum of money as L426 in one lump; on the contrary, very few indeed could do so. But suppose, which is quite possible, that he were to purchase, with the first L12 he could save, a deferred annuity of L1 for his child, and so with the next L12, and so with the next, until he had placed her beyond the reach of actual destitution; and suppose, again, that his conscience was so much awakened to the duty of thus providing for her that amusement and pleasure would be postponed or curtailed until this duty was performed, just as amusement is not thought of until the rent and taxes and housekeeping are first defrayed: in that case there would be few young married people indeed who would not speedily be able to purchase this small annuity of L35 a year. And with every successive payment the sense of the value of the thing, its importance, its necessity, would grow more and more in the mind; and with every payment would increase the satisfaction of feeling that the child was removed from destitution by one pound a year more. It took a very long time to create in men's minds the duty of life insurance. That has now taken so firm a hold on people that, although the English bride brings no dot, the bridegroom is not permitted to marry her until he settles a life insurance upon her. When once the mother thoroughly understands that by the exercise of a little more self-denial her daughter can be rendered independent for life, that self-denial will certainly not be wanting. Think of the vast sums of money which are squandered by the middle classes of this country, even though they are more provident than the working classes. The money is not spent in any kind of riot: not at all; the middle classes are, on the whole, most decorous and sober: it is spent in living just a little more luxuriously than the many changes and chances of mortal life should permit. It is by lowering the standard of living that the money must be saved for the endowment of the daughters; and since the children cost less in infancy than when they grow older, it is then that the saving must be made. Everyone knows that there are thousands of young married people who can only by dint of the strictest economy make both ends meet. It is not for them that I speak. Another voice, far more powerful than mine, should thunder into their hearts the selfishness and the wickedness of bringing into the world children for whom they can make no provision whatever, and who are destined to be thrown into the battle-field of labour provided with no other weapons than the knowledge of reading and writing. It is bad enough for the boys; but as for the girls—they had better have been thrown as soon as born to the lions. I speak rather to those who are in better plight, who live comfortably upon the year's income, which is not too much, and who look forward to putting their boys in the way of an ambitious career, and to marrying their daughters. But as for the endowment of the girls, they have not even begun to think about it. Their conscience has not been yet awakened, their fears not yet aroused; they look abroad and see their friends struck down by death or disaster, but they never think it may be their turn next. And yet the happiness to reflect, if death or disaster does come, that your girls are safe!
One sees here, besides, a splendid opening for the rich uncle, the benevolent godfather, the affectionate grandfather, the kindly aunt, the successful brother. They will come bearing gifts—not the silver cup, if you please, but the Deferred Annuity. 'I bring you, my dear, in honour of your little Molly's birthday, an increase of five pounds to her Deferred Annuity. This makes it up to twenty pounds, and the money-box getting on, you say, to another pound. Capital! we shall have her thirty-five pounds in no time now.' What a noble field for the uncle!
The endowment of the daughter is essentially a woman's question. The bride, or at least her mother for her, ought to consider that, though every family quiver varies in capacity with the income, her own lot may be to have a quiver full. Heaven forbid, as Montaigne said, that we should interfere with the feminine methods, but common prudence seems to dictate the duty of this forecast. Let, therefore, the demand for endowment come from the bride's mother. All that she would be justified in asking of a man whose means are as yet narrow, would be such an endowment, gradually purchased, as would keep the girls from starvation.
For my own part, I think that no woman should be forced to work at all, except at such things as please her. When a woman marries, for instance, she voluntarily engages herself to do a vast quantity of work. To look after the house and to bring up the children involves daily, unremitting labour and thought. If she has a vocation for any kind of work, as for Art, or Letters, or Teaching, let her obey the call and find her happiness. Generally she has none. The average woman—I make this statement with complete confidence—hates compulsory work: she hates and loathes it. There are, it is true, some kinds of work which must be done by women. Well, there will always be enough for those occupations among women who prefer work to idleness.
There is another very serious consideration. There is only so much work—a limited quantity—in the world: so many hands for whom occupation can be found—and the number of hands wanted does not very greatly exceed that of the male hands ready for it. Now, by giving this work to women, we take it from the men. If we open the Civil Service to women, we take so many posts from the men, which we give to the women, at a lower salary; if they become cashiers, accountants, clerks, they take these places from the men, at a lower salary. Always they take lower pay, and turn the men out. Well, the men must either go elsewhere, or they must take the lower pay. In either case the happiest lot of all—that of marriage—is rendered more difficult, because the men are made poorer; the position of the toiler becomes harder, because he gets worse pay; then man's sense of responsibility for the women of his family is destroyed. Nay, in some cases the men actually live, and live contentedly, upon the labour of their wives. But when all is said about women, and their rights and wrongs, and their work and place, and their equality and their superiority, we fall back at last upon nature. There is still, and will always remain with us, the sense in man that it is his duty to work for his wife, and the sense in woman that nothing is better for her than to receive the fruits of her husband's labour.
Let us endow the Daughters: those who are not clever, in order to save them from the struggles of the Incompetent and the hopelessness of the Dependent; those who are clever, so as to give them time for work and training. The Bread-winner may die: his powers may cease: he may lose his clients, his reputation, his popularity, his business; in a thousand forms misfortune and poverty may fall upon him. Think of the happiness with which he would then contemplate that endowment of a Deferred Annuity. And the endowment will not prevent or interfere with any work the girls may wish to do. It will even help them in their work. My brothers, let our girls work if they wish; perhaps they will be happier if they work let them work at whatever kind of work they may desire; but not—oh not—because they must.
FROM THIRTEEN TO SEVENTEEN
In the history of every measure designed for the amelioration of the people there may be observed four distinct and clearly marked stages. First, there is the original project, fresh from the brain of the dreamer, glowing with the colours of his imagination, a figure fair and strong as the newly born Athene. By its single-handed power mankind are to be regenerated, and the millennium is to be at once taken in hand. There are no difficulties which it will not at once clear away; there are no obstacles which will not vanish at its approach as the morning mist is burned up by the newly risen sun. The dreamer creates a school, and presently among his disciples there arises one who is practical enough to reduce the dream to a possible and working scheme. The advocates of the Cause are still, however, a good way from getting the scheme established. The battle with the opposition follows, in which one has to contend—first with those who cannot be touched by any generous aims, always a pretty large body; next with those who are afraid of the people; and lastly with those who have private interests of their own to defend. The triumph which presently arrives by no means concludes the history of the agitation, because there is certain to follow at no distant day the discovery that the measure has somehow failed to achieve those glorious results which were so freely promised. It has, in fact, gone to swell the pages of that chronicle, not yet written, which may be called the 'History of the Well-intentioned.'
The emancipation of the West Indian slaves, for instance, has not been accompanied by the burning desire for progress—industrial, artistic, or educational—which was confidently anticipated. Quite the contrary. Yet—which is a point which continually recurs in the History of the Well-intentioned—one would not, if it were possible, go back to the former conditions. It is better that the negro should lie idle, and sleep in the sun all his days, than that he should work under the overseer's lash. For the free man there is always hope; for the slave there is none. Again, the first apostles of Co-operation expected nothing less than that their ideas would be universally, immediately, and ardently adopted. That was a good many years ago. The method of Co-operation still offers the most wonderful vision of universal welfare, easily attainable on the simple condition of honesty, ever put before humanity; yet we see how little has been achieved and how numerous have been the failures. Again, though the advantages of temperance are continually preached to working men, beer remains the national beverage; yet even those of us who would rather see the working classes sober and self-restrained than water-drinkers by Act of Parliament or solemn pledge, acknowledge how good it is that the preaching of temperance was begun. Again, we have got most of those Points for which the Chartists once so passionately struggled. As for those we have not got, there is no longer much enthusiasm left for them. The world does not seem so far very substantially advanced by the concession of the Points; yet we would not willingly give them back and return to the old order. Again, we have opened free museums, containing all kinds of beautiful things: the people visit them in thousands; yet they remain ignorant of Art, and have no yearning discoverable for Art. In spite of this, we would not willingly close the museums.
The dreamer, in fact, leaves altogether out of his reckoning certain factors of humanity which his first practical advocate only partially takes into account. These are stupidity, apathy, ignorance, greed, indolence, and the Easy Way. There are doubtless others, because in humanity as in physics no one can estimate all the forces, but these are the most readily recognised; and the last two perhaps are the most important, because the great mass of mankind are certainly born with an incurable indolence of mind or body, which keeps them rooted in the old grooves and destroys every germ of ambition at its first appearance.
The latest failure of the Well-intentioned, so far as we have yet found out, is the Education Act, for which the London rate has now mounted to nine-pence in the pound. It is a failure, like the emancipation of the slaves; because, though it has done some things well, it has wholly failed to achieve the great results confidently predicted for it by its advocates in the year '68. What is more, we now understand that it never can achieve those results.
It was going, we were told, to give all English children a sound and thorough elementary education. It was, further, going to inspire those children with the ardour for knowledge, so that, on leaving school, they would carry on their studies and continually advance in learning. It was going to take away the national reproach of ignorance, and to make us the best educated country in the world.
As for what it has done and is doing, the children are taught to read, write, cipher, and spell (this accomplishment being wholly useless to them and its mastery a sheer waste of time). They are also taught a little singing, and a few other things; and in general terms the Board Schools do, I suppose, impart as good an education to the children as the time at their disposal will allow. They command the services of a great body of well-trained, disciplined, and zealous teachers, against whose intelligence and conscientious work nothing can be alleged. And yet, with the very best intentions of Board and teachers, the practical result has been, as is now maintained, that but a very small percentage of all the children who go through the schools are educated at all.
This is an extremely disagreeable discovery. It is, however, as will presently be seen, a result which might have been expected. Those who looked for so splendid an outcome of this magnificent educational machinery, this enormous expenditure, forgot to take into account two or three very important factors. They were, first, those we have already indicated, stupidity, apathy, and indolence; and next, the exigencies and conditions of labour. These shall be presently explained. Meantime, the discovery once made, and once plainly stated, seems to have been frankly acknowledged and recognised by all who are interested in educational questions: it has been made the subject of a great meeting at the Mansion House, which was addressed by men of every class: and it has, further, which is a very valuable and encouraging circumstance, been seriously taken up by the Trades Unions and the working men.
As for the situation, it is briefly as follows:
The children leave the Board Schools, for the most part, at the age of thirteen, when they have passed the standard which exempts them from further attendance; or if they are half-timers, they remain until they are fourteen. At this ripe age, when the education of the richer class is only just beginning, these children have to leave school and begin work. Whatever kind of work this may be, it is certain to involve a day's labour of ten hours. It might be thought—at one time it was fully expected—that the children would by this age have received such an impetus and imbibed so great a love for reading that they would of their own accord continue to read and study on the lines laid down, and eagerly make use of such facilities as might be provided for them. In the History of the Well-intentioned we shall find that we are always crediting the working classes with virtues which no other class can boast. In this case we credited the children of working men with a clear insight into their own best interests; with resolution and patience; with industry; with the power of resisting temptation, and with the strength to forego present enjoyment. This is a good deal to expect of them. But apply the sane situation to a boy of the middle class. He is taken from school at sixteen and sent to a merchant's office or a shop. Here he works from nine till six, or perhaps later. How many of these lads, when their day's work is over—what proportion of the whole—make any attempt at all to carry on their education or to learn anything new? For instance, there are two things, the acquisition of which doubles the marketable value of a clerk: one is a knowledge of shorthand, and the other is the power of reading and writing a foreign language. This is a fact which all clerks very well understand. But not one in a hundred possesses the industry and resolution necessary to acquire this knowledge, and this, though he is taught from infancy to desire a good income, and knows that this additional power will go far to procure it. Again, these boys come from homes where there are some books at least, some journals, and some papers; and they hear at their offices and at home talk which should stimulate them to effort. Yet most of them lie where they are.
If such boys as these remain in indolence, what are we to expect of those who belong to the lower levels? For they have no books at home, no magazines, no journals; they hear no talk of learning or knowledge; if they wanted to read, what are they to read? and where are they to find books? Free libraries are few and far between: in all London, for instance, I can find but five or six. They are those at the Guildhall, Bethnal Green, Westminster, Camden Town, Notting Hill, and Knightsbridge. Put a red dot upon each of these sites on the map of London, and consider how very small can be the influence of these libraries over the whole of this great city. Boys and girls at thirteen have no inclination to read newspapers; there remains, therefore, nothing but the penny novelette for those who have any desire to read at all. There is, it is true, the evening school, but it is not often found to possess attractions for these children. Again, after their day's work and confinement in the hot rooms, they are tired; they want fresh air and exercise. To sum up: there are no existing inducements for the children to read and study; most of them are sluggish of intellect; outside the evening schools there are no facilities for them at all; they have no books; when evening comes they are tired; they do not understand their own interests; after a day's work they like an evening's rest; of the two paths open to every man at every juncture, one is for the most part hidden to children, and the other is always the easier.
Therefore they spend their evenings in the streets. They would sometimes, I dare say, prefer the gallery of the theatre or the music-hall, but these are not often within reach of their means. The street is always open to them. Here they find their companions of the workroom; here they feel the strong, swift current of life; here something is always happening; here there are always new pleasures; here they can talk and play, unrestrained, left wholly to themselves, taking for pattern those who are a little older than themselves. As for their favourite amusements and their pleasures, they grow yearly coarser; as for their conversation, it grows continually viler, until Zola himself would be ashamed to reproduce the talk of these young people. The love which these children have for the street is wonderful; no boulevard in the world, I am sure, is more loved by its frequenters than the Whitechapel Road, unless it be the High Street, Islington. Especially is this the case with the girls. There is a certain working girls' club with which I am acquainted whose members, when they leave the club at ten, go back every night to the streets and walk about till midnight; they would rather give up their club than the street. As for the moral aspect of this roaming about the streets, that may for a moment be neglected. Consider the situation from an educational point of view. How long, do you think, does it take to forget almost all that the boys and girls learned at school? 'The garden,' says one who knows, 'which by daily culture has been brought into such an admirable and promising condition, is given over to utter neglect; the money, the time, the labour, bestowed upon it are lost.' In the first two years after leaving school it is said that they have forgotten everything. There is, however, it is objected, the use and exercise of the intellectual faculty. Can that, once taught, ever be forgotten? By way of reply, consider this case. The other day twenty young mechanics were persuaded to join a South Kensington class. Of the whole twenty one only struggled through the course and passed his examination; the rest dropped off, one after the other, in sheer despair, because they had lost not only the little knowledge they had once acquired, but even the methods of application and study which they had formerly been able to exercise. There are exceptions, of course; it is computed, in fact, that there are 4 per cent. of Board School boys and girls who carry on their studies in the evening schools, but this proportion is said to be decreasing. After thirteen, no school, no books, no reading or writing, nothing to keep up the old knowledge, no kind of conversation that stimulates; no examples of perseverance; in a great many cases no church, chapel, or Sunday-school; the street for playground, exercise, observation, and talk; what kind of young men and maidens are we to expect that these boys and girls will become? If this were the exact, plain, and naked truth we were in a parlous state indeed. Fortunately, however, there arc in every parish mitigations, introduced principally by those who come from the city of Samaria, or it would be bad indeed for the next generation. There are a few girls' clubs; the church, the chapel, and the Sunday-school get hold of many children; visiting and kindly ladies look after others. There are working boys' institutes here and there, but these things taken together are almost powerless with the great mass which remains unaffected. The evil for the most part lies hidden, yet one sometimes lights upon a case which shows that the results of our own neglect of the children may be such as cannot be placed on paper for general reading. For instance, on last August Bank Holiday I was on Hampstead Heath. The East Heath was crowded with a noisy, turbulent, good-tempered mob, enjoying, as a London crowd always does, the mere presence of a multitude. There was a little rough horse-play and the exchange of favourite witticisms, and there was some preaching and a great singing of irreverent parodies; there was little drunkenness and little bad behaviour except for half a dozen troops or companies of girls. They were quite young, none of them apparently over fifteen or sixteen. They were running about together, not courting the company of the boys, but contented with their own society, and loudly talking and shouting as they ran among the swings and merry-go-rounds and other attractions of the fair. I may safely aver that language more vile and depraved, revealing knowledge and thoughts more vile and depraved, I have never heard from any grown men or women in the worst part of the town. At mere profanity, of course, these girls would be easily defeated by men, but not in absolute vileness. The quiet working men among whom they ran looked on in amazement and disgust; they had never heard anything in all their lives to equal the abomination of these girls' language. Now, they were girls who had all, I suppose, passed the third or fourth standard. At thirteen they had gone into the workshop and the street. Of all the various contrivances to influence the young not one had as yet caught hold of them; the kerbstone and the pavements of the street were their schools; as for their conversation, it had in this short time developed to a vileness so amazing. What refining influence, what trace of good manners, what desire for better things, what self-restraint, respect, or government, was left in the minds of these girls as a part of their education? As one of the bystanders, himself of the working class, said to me, 'God help their husbands!' Yes, poverty has many stings; but there can be none sharper than the necessity of marrying one of these poor neglected creatures.
We do not, therefore, only leave the children without education; we also leave them, at the most important age, I suppose, of any namely—the age of early adolescence—without guidance or supervision. How should we like our own girls left free to run about the streets at thirteen years of age? Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen—how can we ever forget this time?—there falls upon boy and girl alike a strange and subtle change. It is a time when the brain is full of strange new imaginings, when the thoughts go vaguely forth to unknown splendours; when the continuity of self is broken, and the lad of to-day is different from him of yesterday; when the energies, physical and intellectual, wake into new life, and impel the youth in new directions. Everyone has been young, but somehow we forget that sweet spring season. Let us try to remember, in the interests of the uncared-for youths and girls, the time of glorious dreaming, when the boy became a man, and stood upon some peak in Darien to gaze upon the purple isles of life in the great ocean beyond, peopled by men who were as heroes and by women who were as goddesses. Our own dreaming was glorified, to be sure, with memories of things we had read; yet, as we dreamed, so, but without the colour lent to our visions, these sallow-faced lads, with the long and ugly coats and the round-topped hats, are dreaming now. For want of our help their dreams become nightmares, and in their brains are born devils of every evil passion. And, for the girls, although not all can become so bad as those foul-mouthed young Bacchantes and raging Maenads of Hamstead Heath, it would seem as if nothing could be left to them, after the education of the gutter—nothing at all—of the things which we associate with holy and gracious womanhood.
Truly, from the moral as well as the educational point of view, here is a great evil disclosed. There is, however, another aspect of the question, which must not be forgotten. If we are to hold our place at the head of the industrial countries of the world, our workmen must have technical education. But this can only be received by those who possess already a certain amount of knowledge, and that a good deal beyond the grasp of a child of thirteen years. How, then, can it be made to reach those who have lost the whole of what once they knew?
These facts are, I believe, beyond any dispute or doubt. They have only to be stated in order to be appreciated. They affect not London only, but every great town. The working men themselves have recognised the gravity of the situation, and are anxious to provide some remedy. At Nottingham an address, signed on behalf of the School Board and the Nottingham Trades Council, has been addressed to the employers of labour, entreating them to assist in the establishment and maintenance of remedial measures. At the meeting of the Trades Unions' representatives held in London last year, two resolutions on the subject were passed; and the School Boards of London, Glasgow, and Nottingham are all willing to lend their schools for evening use. For there is but one thing possible or practical—the evening school, In Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and Belgium, children are by law compelled to attend 'continuation' schools until the age of sixteen. In some places the zeal of the people for education outstrips even the Government regulations. At the town of Chemnitz, in Saxony, for example, with a population of 92,000 inhabitants, the Workmen's Union have started a Continuation school with a far more comprehensive system of subjects and classes than that provided by legislation. It is attended by over 2,000 scholars, a very large proportion of the inhabitants between thirteen and eighteen years of age. There is nothing possible but the evening school. The children must be sent to work at thirteen or fourteen; they must work all day; it is only in the evening school that this education can be carried on, and that they can be rescued from the contaminations and dangers of the streets. But two difficulties present themselves. There is no law by which the children can be compelled to attend the evening school. How, then, can they be made to come in? And if the rate is now ninepence, what will it be when to the burden of the elementary school is added that of the Continuation school?
A scheme has been proposed which has so far met with favour that a committee, including persons of every class, has been formed to promote it. Briefly it is as follows:
The Continuation school is to be established in this country. The difficulties of the situation will be met, not by compelling the children to attend, but by persuading and attracting them. Much is hoped from parents' influence now that working men understand the situation; much may be hoped from the children themselves being interested, and from others' example. The Continuation school will have two branches—the recreative and the instructive. And since after a hard day's work the children must have amusement, play will be found for them in the shape of 'Rhythmic Drill,' which is defined as 'pleasant orderly movement accompanied by music,' and the instruction is promised to be conveyed in a more attractive and pleasing manner than that of the elementary schools. The latter announcement is at first discouraging, because effective teaching must require intellectual exercise and application, which may not always prove attractive. As regards the former, it seems as if the projectors were really going at last to recognise dancing as one of the most delightful, healthful, and innocent amusements possible. I am quite sure that if we can only make up our minds to give the young people plenty of dancing, they will gratefully, in exchange, attend any number of science classes. Next, there will be singing—a great deal of singing, of course, in parts—which will still further lead to that orderly association of young men and maidens which is so desirable a thing and so wholesome for the human soul. There will also be classes in drawing and design—the very commencement of technical instruction and the necessary foundation of skilled handicraft. There will be for boys classes in some elementary science bearing on their trade; for girls there will be lessons in domestic economy and elementary cooking; and for both boys and girls there will be classes in those minor arts which are just now coming to the front, such as modelling, wood-carving, repousse work, and so forth. In fact, if the children can only be persuaded to come in, or can be hailed in, from the streets, there is no end at all to the things which may be taught them.
As regards the management of these schools, it seems, as if we could hardly do better than follow the example of Nottingham. Here they have already five evening schools, and seven working men are appointed managers for each school. The work is thus made essentially democratic. These managers have begun by calling upon clergymen, Sunday-school teachers, employers of labour, leaders of trades unions, and, one supposes, peres de famille generally, to use their influence in making children attend these schools. The management of such schools by the people is a feature of the greatest interest and importance. As regards the girls' schools, it is suggested that 'lady' managers should be appointed for each school. Alas! It is not yet thought possible or desirable that working women should be appointed. Then follows the question of expense. It cannot be supposed that the rate-payer is going to look on with indifference to so great an additional burden as this stupendous work threatens to lay upon him. But let him rest easy. It is not proposed to add one penny to the rates. The schools are to cost nothing—a fact which will add greatly to their popularity and assist their establishment. It is proposed to pay the necessary expenses of Board School teachers' work there will be nothing to pay for the use of the buildings—by the Government grant for drawing and for one other specific class subject. Next, a small additional grant will be asked for singing, and one for modelling, carving, or design: the standards must be divided in the evening schools, and there must be necessarily a more elastic method of examination adopted for the evening than for the day schools, one which will be more observant of intelligence than careful of memory concerning facts. Still, when all the aid that can be expected is got from the Government grants, the, schools will not be self-supporting. Here, then, comes in the really novel part of the project. The rest must be supplied by voluntary work. The trained staff of the School Board teachers will instruct the classes in those subjects required or sanctioned by the Department for which grants are made; but for all other subjects—the recreative, the technical, the scientific, the minor arts, the history, the dancing, and the rest—the schools will depend wholly upon volunteer teachers.
We must not disguise the audacity of the scheme. There are, I believe, in London alone 120 schools, for which 2,400 volunteers will be required. They must not be mere amateurs or kindly, benevolent people, who will lightly or in a fit of enthusiasm undertake the work, and after a month or so throw it over in weariness of the drudgery; they must be honest workers, who will give thought and take trouble over the work they have in hand, who will keep to their time, stick to their engagement, study the art of teaching, and be amenable to order and discipline. Are there so many as 2,400 such teachers to be found in London, without counting the many thousands wanted for the rest of the country? It seems a good-sized army of volunteers to raise.
Let us, however, consider. First, there is the hopeful fact that the Sunday-School Union numbers 12,000 teachers—all voluntary and unpaid—in London alone. There is, next, another hopeful fact in the rapid development of the Home Arts Association, which has existed for no more than a year or two. The teaching is wholly voluntary; and volunteers are crowding in faster than the slender means of the Society can provide schools for them to teach in, and the machinery, materials, and tools to teach with. Even with these facts before us, the projector and dreamer of the scheme may appear a bold man when he asks for 2,400 men and women to help him, not in a religious but a purely secular scheme. Yet it may not appear to many people purely secular when they remember that he asks for this large army of unselfish men and women—so unselfish as to give some of their time, thought, and activity for nothing, not even praise, but only out of love for the children—from a population of four millions, all of whom have been taught, and most believe, that self-sacrifice is the most divine thing that man can offer. To suppose that one in every two thousand is willing to the extent of an hour or two every week to follow at a distance the example of his acknowledged Master does not, after all, seem so very extravagant, For my own part, I believe that for every post there will be a dozen volunteers. Is that extravagant? It means no more than a poor 1 per cent, of such distant followers.
Those who go at all among the poor, and try to find out for themselves something of what goes on beneath the surface, presently become aware of a most remarkable movement, whispers of which from time to time reach the upper strata. All over London—no doubt over other great towns as well, but I know no other great town—there are at this day living, for the most part in obscurity, unpaid, and in some cases alone, men and women of the gentle class, among the poor, working for them, thinking for them, and even in some cases thinking with them. One such case I know where a gentlewoman has spent the greater part of her life among the industrial poor of the East End, so that she has come to think as they think, to look on things from their point of view, though not to talk as they talk. Some of these men are vicars, curates, Nonconformist ministers, Roman Catholic clergymen; some of the women are Roman Catholic sisters and nuns; others are sham nuns, Anglicans, who seem to find that an ugly dress keeps them more steadily to their work; others are deaconesses or Bible-women. Some, again, and it is to these that one turns with the greatest hope—they may or may not be actuated by religious motives—are bound by no vows, nor tied to any church. When twenty years ago Edward Denison went to live in Philpot Lane, he was quite alone in his voluntary work. He had no companion to try that experiment with him. Now he would be one of many. At Toynbee Hall are gathered together a company of young and generous hearts, who give their best without grudge or stint to their poorer brethren. There are rich men who have retired from the haunts of the wealthy, and voluntarily chosen to place their homes among the poor. There are men who work all day at business, and in the evening devote themselves to the care of working boys; there are women, under no vows, who read in hospitals, preside at cheap dinners, take care of girls' clubs, collect rents, and in a thousand ways bring light and kindness into dark places. The clergy of the Established Church, who may be regarded as almoners and missionaries of civilization rather than of religion, seeing how few of the poor attend their services, can generally command voluntary help when they ask for it. Voluntary work in generous enterprise is no longer, happily, so rare that men regard it with surprise; yet it belongs essentially to this century, and almost to this generation. Since the Reformation the work of English charity presents three distinct aspects. First came the foundation of almshouses and the endowment of doles. Nothing, surely, can be more delightful than to found an almshouse, and to consider that for generations to come there will be a haven of rest provided for so many old people past their work. The soul of King James's confectioner—good Balthazar Sanchez—must, we feel sure, still contemplate his cottages at Tottenham with complacency; one hopes His Majesty was not overcharged in the matter of pasties and comfits in order to find the endowment for those cottages. Even the dole of a few loaves every Sunday to as many aged poor has its attraction, though necessarily falling far short of the solid satisfaction to be derived from the foundation of an almshouse. But the period of almshouses passed away, and that of Societies succeeded. For a hundred years the well-to-do of this country have been greatly liberal for every kind of philanthropic effort. But they have conducted their charity as they have conducted their business, by drawing cheques. The clergy, the secretaries, and the committees have done the active work, administering the funds subscribed by the rich man's cheques. The system of cheque-charity has its merits as well as its defects, because the help given does generally reach the people for whom it was intended. Compared, however, with the real thing, which is essentially personal, it may be likened unto the good old method—which gave the rich man so glorious an advantage—of getting into heaven by paying for masses. Its principal defect is that it keeps apart the rich and poor, creates and widens the breach between classes, causing those who have the money to consider that it is theirs by Divine right, and those who have it not to forget that the origin of wealth is thrift and patience and energy, and that the way to wealth is always open for all who dare to enter and to practise these virtues.
It has been reserved for this century, almost for this generation, to discover that the highest form of charity is personal effort and self-sacrifice. It has also been reserved for this time to show that what was only possible in former times for those who were under vows, so that in old days they man or woman who was moved by the enthusiasm of humanity put on robe or veil and swore celibacy and obedience, can really be practised quite as well without religious vows, peculiar dress, articles of religion, papal allegiance, or anything of the kind. The doubter, the agnostic, the atheist, may as truly sacrifice himself and give up his life for humanity as the most saintly of the faithful. There was an enthusiast fifteen years ago who cheerfully endured prison and exile, poverty and persecution, for what seemed to him the one thing in the world desirable and necessary to mankind. I believe he was an atheist. Then came a time when, for a brief moment, the dream was realized. And immediately afterwards it crumbled to the dust. When all was lost, the poor old man arose, and, bareheaded, his white hair flying behind him in the breeze, this martyr to humanity mounted a barricade, and stood there until the bullets brought him death. This is the enthusiasm which may be intensified, disciplined, and ennobled by religion, but it is independent of religion; it is a personal quality, like the power of feeling music or writing poetry. When it is encouraged and developed, it produces men and women who can only find their true happiness in renouncing all personal ambitions, and giving up all hopes of distinction. They have hitherto sought the opportunity of satisfying this instinctive yearning in the Church and in the convent. They have now found a readier if not a happier way, with more liberty of action and fewer chains of rule and custom, outside the Church, as lay-helpers. It seems to me, perhaps because I am old enough to have fallen under the influence of Maurice's teaching, that a large part of this voluntary spirit is due to the writings of that great teacher and his followers. Certainly the College for Working Men and Women was founded by men of his school, and has grown and now flourishes exceedingly, and is a monument of voluntary effort sustained, passing from hand to hand, continually growing, and always bringing together more and more closely those who teach and those who are taught. Cheque-charity may harden the heart of him who gives, and pauperize him who takes. That charity which is personal can neither harden nor pauperize.
Considering these things, therefore, the impulse to personal effort which has fallen upon us, the greatness of the work that is to be done, the simplicity of the means to be employed, and the cooperation of the better kind of working men themselves, I cannot but think that the promoters of this scheme have only to hold up their hands in order to collect as many voluntary teachers as they wish to have.
There is a selfish side to this scheme which ought not to be entirely overlooked. It is this: The wealth of Great Britain is not, as some seem to suppose, a gold-mine into which we can dig at pleasure; nor is it a mine of coal or iron into which we can dig as the demand arises. Our wealth is nothing but the prosperity of the country, and this depends wholly on the industry, the patience, and the skill of the working man; everything we possess is locked up, somehow or other, in industrial enterprise, or depends upon the success of industrial enterprise; our railways, our ships, our shares of every kind, even the interest of our National Debt, depend upon the maintenance of our trade. The dividends even of gas and water companies depend upon the successful carrying on of trade and manufactures. We may readily conceive of a time when—our manufactures ruined by superior foreign intelligence and skill, our railways earning no profit, our carrying trade lost, our agriculture destroyed by foreign imports, our farms without farmers, our houses without tenants—the boasted wealth of England will have vanished like a splendid dream of the morning, and the children of the rich will have become even as the children of the poor; all this may be within measurable distance, and may very well happen before the death of men who are now no more than middle-aged. Considering this, as well as the other points in favour of the scheme before us, it may be owned that it is best to look after the boys and girls while it is yet time.
THE PEOPLE'S PALACE
Now that the foundations of the Palace are fairly laid, and the walls of the Great Hall are rapidly rising, and the future existence of this institution for good or for evil seems assured, it may be permitted to one who has watched day by day, with the keenest interest, the result of Sir Edmund Currie's appeals, to offer a few remarks on the manner in which these appeals have been received, and on the mental attitude of the public towards the class whom it is desired to befriend.
I. It is, to begin with, highly significant that the recreative side of the Palace has not been so strongly insisted upon as its educational side. Is this because the working man, for whom the Palace is building, has suddenly developed an extraordinary ardour for education, and a previously unexpected desire for the acquisition of knowledge in all its branches? Not at all. It is because the recreative part of the scheme has few attractions for the general public, and because the educational part, once it began to assume a practical shape, was seen to possess possibilities which could be grasped by everyone. Whatever be the future of the Palace as regards the recreation of the people, one thing is quite clear—that its educational capacities are almost boundless, and that there will be founded here a University for the People of a kind hitherto unknown and undreamed of.
The recreation of the people, in fact, has proved a stumbling-block rather than an attraction. It is a new idea suddenly presented to people who have never considered the subject of recreation at all, save in connection with skittles, so to speak. Now it seems hardly necessary to erect a splendid palace for the better convenience of the skittle alley. The objections, in fact, to supporting the scheme on the ground of its recreative aims show a mixture of prejudice and ignorance which ought to astonish us were we not daily, in every business transaction and in every talk with friend or stranger, encountering, and very likely revealing, the most wonderful prejudice and ignorance. One should never be surprised at finding great black patches in every mind.
The black patch which concerns us, in the minds of those who have been asked to support the People's Palace, is the subject of recreation. 'There are enough music-halls. What have the working classes to do with recreation? If we give anything for the people it will be for their improvement, not for their amusement.' To these three objections all the rest may be reduced. Each objection points to a prejudice of very ancient standing, or else to a deep-seated ignorance of the whole subject.
To deal with the first. It is assumed that recreation means amusement, idle and purposeless, if not skittles with beer and tobacco, then the music-hall with beer and tobacco, the comic man bawling a topical song and executing the famous clog-dance. If one points out that it is not amusement that is meant, but recreation, which is explained to mean a very different thing, while a truer conception of what recreation really means may be seized, then there remains a rooted disbelief as to the power of the working man to rise above his beer and skittles. It is a disbelief not at all based upon familiarity with the manners and customs of the working man, because the ordinary well-to-do citizen, however much he may have read of manners and customs in other countries, is, as a rule, perfectly ignorant and perfectly incurious as to those of his fellow-countrymen; nor is it based upon the belief that the working man is imperfect in mind or body; but on an assurance that the working man will never lift himself to the level of the higher form of recreation, simply because the ordinary man knows himself and his own practice. He desires to be amused, and according to his manner of life he finds amusement in tobacco, reading, cards, music, or the theatre.
Consider the well-to-do man in pursuit of recreation. He has a club; he goes to his club every day; perhaps he gets whist there; very likely he belongs to one of the modern sepulchral places where the members do not know each other and every man glares at his neighbour. There is a billiard-table in all clubs as well as a card-room. Apart from cards and billiards the clubs recognise no form of recreation whatever. There are not in any club that I know, except the Savage, musical instruments: if you were to propose to have a piano, and to sing at it, I suppose the universal astonishment would be too great for words. At the Arts, I believe, some of the members sometimes hang up pictures of their own for exhibition and criticism, but at no other club is there any recognition of Art. There are good libraries at two or three clubs, but many have none. In fact, the clubs which belong to gentlemen are organized as if there was no other occupation possible for civilized people in polite society, except dining, smoking, reading papers, or playing whist and billiards. The working men who have recently established clubs of their own in imitation of the West-End clubs are said to be finding them so dull that, where they cannot turn them into political organizations, they have tolerated the introduction of gambling. When clubs were first established gambling was everywhere the favourite recreation, so that the working men are only beginning where their predecessors began sixty years ago.
Of all the Arts the average man, be he gentleman or mechanic, knows none. He has never learned to play any instrument at all; he cannot use his voice in taking a part, he cannot paint, draw, carve in wood or ivory, use a lathe, or make anything that the wide world wants to use. He cannot write poetry, or drama, or fiction; he is no orator; he plays no games of cards except whist, and no other games at all of any kind. What can he do? He can practise the trade he has learned, by which he makes his money. He knows how to convey property, how to buy and sell stock and shares, how to carry on business in the City. This, if you please, is all he knows. And when you propose that the working man shall, have an opportunity of learning and practising Art in any of its multitudinous varieties, he laughs derisively, because, which is a very natural and sensible thing to do, he puts himself in that man's place, and he knows that he would not be tempted to undergo the drudgery and the drill of learning one of the Arts, even did that Art appear to him in the form of a nymph more lovely than Helen of Troy.
The second objection belongs to the old order of prejudice. It used to be assumed that there were two distinct orders of human beings; it was the privilege of the higher order to be maintained by the labour of the lower; for the higher order was reserved all the graces, refinements, and joys of this fleeting life. The lower order were privileged to work for their betters, and to have, in the brief intervals between work and sleep, their own coarse enjoyments, which were not the same as those of the upper class; they were ordained by Providence to be different, not only in degree, but also in kind. The privileges of the former class have received of late years many grievous knocks. They have had to admit into their body, as capable of the higher social pleasures and of polite culture, an enormous accession of people who actually work for their own bread—even people in trade; and it is beginning to be perceived that their amusements—also, which seems the last straw, their vices—can actually be enjoyed by the base mechanical sort, insomuch that, if this kind of thing goes on, there must in the end follow an effacement of all classes, and the peer will walk arm and arm with the blacksmith. But class distinctions die hard, and the working men are not yet all ready for the disciplined recreation which will help to break down the barriers, and we may not look for this millennium within the lifetime of living men. It is enough to note that the old feeling still lingers even among those who, a hundred years ago, when class distinctions were in their worst and most odious form, would have been ranked among those incapable of refinement and ignorant of polite manners.
The third objection, that the people should only be helped in the way of education and self-improvement, is, at first sight, worthy of respect. But it involves the theory that it is the duty of the working man when he has done his day's work to devote his evenings to more work of a harder kind. There is a kind of hypocrisy in this feeling. Why should the working man be fired with that ardour for knowledge which is not expected of ourselves? I look round among my own acquaintances and friends, and I declare that I do not know a single household, except where the head of it is a literary man, and therefore obliged to be always studying and learning, in which the members spend their evenings after the day's work in the acquisition of new branches of learning. One may go farther: even of those who belong to the learned professions, few indeed there are who carry on their studies beyond the point where their knowledge has a marketable value. The doctor learns his craft as thoroughly as he can, and, after he has passed, reads no more than is just necessary to keep his eyes open to new lights; the solicitor knows enough law to carry on his business, and reads no more. As for the schoolmaster—who ever heard of a classical master reading any more Latin and Greek than he reads with the boys? and who ever heard of a mathematical master keeping up his knowledge of the higher branches, which put him among the wranglers of his year, but are not wanted in the school? Even the lads who have just begun to go into the City, and who know very well that their value would be enormously increased by a practical and real knowledge of French, German, or shorthand, will not take the trouble to acquire it. Yet, with the knowledge of all this, we expect the working man in his hours of leisure, and after a day physically exhausting, to sit down and work at something intellectual. There are, without doubt, some men so strong and so avid of knowledge that they will do this, but these are not many, and they do not long remain working men.
The People's Palace offers recreation to all who wish to fit themselves for its practice and enjoyment. But it is recreation of a kind which demands skill, patience, discipline, drill, and obedience to law. Those who master any one of the Arts, the practice of which constitutes true recreation, have left once and for ever the ranks of disorder: they belong, by virtue of their aptitude and their education—say, by virtue of their Election—to the army of Law and Order. They will not, we may be sure, be recruited from those whom long years of labour and want of cultivation have tendered stiff of finger, slow of ear and of eye, impenetrable of brain. We must get them from the boys and girls. We must be content if the elders learn to take delight in the hand-work which they cannot execute, the decorative work which they can never hope wholly to understand, the music and singing in which they themselves will never take a part.
But they will by no means be left out. They will have the library, the writing and reading rooms, the conversation and smoking rooms, with those games of skill which are loved by all men. There will be entertainments, concerts, and performances for them. And for those who desire to learn there will be classes, lectures, and lecturers. At the same time, I do not, I confess, anticipate a rush of young working men to share in these joys and privileges. This part of the Palace will grow and develop by degrees, because it is through the boys and girls that the real work and usefulness of the Palace will be effected, and not by means of the men. Of course, there will be from the outset a small proportion capable of rightly using the place. For all these reasons, it seems as if we may be very well contented that the recreation part of the scheme has been for the moment kept in the background.
II. Let us turn to the educational side of the scheme.
When a lad has passed the standards—very likely a bright, clever little chap, who had passed the sixth and even the seventh standard with credit—it becomes necessary for him immediately to earn the greater part of his own living. It is not in the power of his father, who lives from week to week, or even from day to day, to apprentice his boys and put them to a trade. They must earn their living at once. What are they to do?
At the very age when these boys have reached the point when the intellect, already partly trained and the hand, not yet trained at all, should begin to work together, they are faced by the terrible fact—how terrible to them they little know—that they can be taught no trade. They must go out into the world with a pair of unskilled hands, and nothing more. Consider. A country lad learns every day something new; he learns continually by daily practice how to use his hands and his strength, by the time he is eighteen he has become a very highly skilled agriculturist; he knows and can do a great many most useful and necessary things. But the town lad, if he learns no trade, learns nothing. He will never have any chance in life; he can never have any chance; he is foredoomed to misery; he will all his life be a servant of the lowest kind; he will never have the least independence; he will, in all probability, be one of those who wait day by day for the chance gifts of Luck. At the best, he can but get into the railway service, or into some house of business where they want porters and carriers.
There is, however, a great demand for boys, who can earn five shillings a week as shop boys, errand boys, and so forth. Our clever lad, therefore, who has done so well at school, becomes a fruiterer's lad, cleans out the shop, carries round the baskets, and is generally useful; he gets a rise in a year or two, to seven shillings and sixpence; presently he is dismissed to make room for a younger boy who will take five shillings. Shall we follow the lad farther? If he gets, as we hope he may, steady employment, we see him next, at the age of fifteen, marching about the streets in the evening with a girl of the same age to whom he makes love, and smoking 'fags,' or cigarettes. There are thousands of such pairs to be seen everywhere; in Victoria Park on Sundays, or Hampstead Heath on Saturday evenings, every evening in the great thoroughfares—in Oxford Street as much as in Whitechapel, in the music-halls and in the public-houses. You may see them sitting together on doorsteps as well as promenading the pavement. If there is any way of spending the evenings more destructive of every good gift and useful quality of manhood and womanhood than this, I know not what it is. The idleness and uselessness of it, the precocious abuse of tobacco, the premature and forced development of the emotions which should belong to love at a later period, the loss of such intellectual attainments as had already been acquired, the vacuous mind, the contentment to remain in the lower depths—in a word, the waste and wanton ruin of a life involved in such a youth, make the contemplation of this pair the most melancholy sight in the world. The boy's early cleverness is gone, the brightness has left his eyes, he reads no more, he has forgotten all he ever learned, he thinks only now of keeping his berth, if he has one, or of getting another if he has lost his last. But there is worse to follow, for at eighteen he will marry the little slip of a girl, and by the time she is five-and-twenty there will be half a dozen children born in poverty and privation for a similar life of poverty and privation, and the hapless parents will have endured all that there is to be endured from the evils of hunger, cold, starving children, and want of work.
This couple were thrown together because they were left to themselves and uncared for; they marry because they have nothing else to think about; they remain in misery because the husband knows no trade, and because of mere hands unskilled and ignorant there are already more than enough.
The Palace is going to take that boy out of the streets: it is going to remove both from boy and girl the temptation—that of the idle hand—to go away and get married. It will fill that lad's mind with thoughts and make those hands deft and crafty.
In other words, the Palace will open a great technical school for all the trades as well as for all the Arts. It is reckoned that three years' training in the evenings will give a boy a trade. Once master of a trade his future is assured, because somewhere in the world there is always a want of tradesmen of every kind. There may be too many shoemakers in London while they are wanted in Queensland; cabinet-makers and carpenters may be overcrowded here, but there are all the English-speaking countries in the world to choose from.
There can be no doubt that the schools will be crowded. The success of the schools at the old Polytechnic (where there are 8,000 boys), of the Whittington Club, of the Finsbury Technical Schools, leave no doubt possible that the East-End Palace Schools will be crammed with eager learners. The Palace is in the very heart and centre of East London, with its two millions, mostly working men; trams, trains, and omnibuses make it accessible from every part of this vast city—from Bromley, Bow and Stratford, from Poplar, Stepney and Ratcliff, from Bethnal Green and Spitalfields. Yet but two or three years, and there will be 20,000 boys and more flocking to those gates which shut out the Earthly Hell of ignorance, dependence, and poverty, and open the doors to the Earthly Paradise of skilled hands and drilled eye, of plenty and the dignity of manhood. Why, if it were only to stop these early marriages—if only for the sake of the poor child-mother and the unborn children doomed, if they see the light, to life-long misery—one would shower upon the Palace all the money that is asked to complete it. Think—with every stone that is laid in its place, with every hour of work that each mason bestows upon its walls, there is another couple rescued, one more lad made into a man, one more girl suffered to grow into a woman before she becomes a mother, one more humble household furnished with the means of a livelihood, one more unborn family rescued from the curse of hopeless poverty.
The remaining portions of the scheme, with its provision for women as well as men, its entertainments, its University extension lectures, reading-rooms, and schools of Art in all its branches, can only be fully realized when the first generation of these boys has passed through the technical schools, and they have learned to look upon the Palace as their own, to consider its halls and cloisters the most delightful place in the world. And what the Palace may then become, what a perennial fountain it may prove of all that makes for the purification and elevation of life, one would fain endeavour to depict, but may not, for fear of the charge of extravagance.
III. There is one other point which those who have read the correspondence and comments upon the proposed institution in the papers have noted with amusement rather than with astonishment. It is a point which comes out in everything that has been written on the scheme, except by the actual founders. It is the profound distrust with which the more wealthy classes regard the working men—not the poor, so-called, but the working men. They do not seem even to have begun trusting them: they speak and think of them as if they were children in leading-strings; as if they were certain to accept with gratitude whatever gifts may be bestowed upon them, even when they are safe-guarded and carefully regulated as for mischievous boys; as if the working men were constantly looking for guidance to the class which has the money. It is true that the working men are always looking for guidance, just like the rest of us. 'Lord, send a leader!' It is the cry of all mankind in all ages. But that the working men regard the people who live in villas, and are genteel, as possessing more wisdom than themselves is by no means certain.
This feeling was, of course, most deeply marked when the great Drink Question arose, as it was bound to arise. We have heard how meetings were called, and resolutions passed by worthy people against the admission of intoxicating drinks into the Palace. At one of the meetings they had the audacity to pass a resolution that 'East London will never be satisfied until intoxicating drink of any kind is prohibited in the Palace.' East London! with its thousands of public-houses! Dear me! Then, if East London passed such a resolution, its hypocrisy surpasses the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. If, however, a little knot of people choose to call themselves East London, or Babylon, or Rome, and to pass resolutions in the name of those cities, we can accept their resolutions for what they are worth. Whether the working man will adopt them and put them into practice is another matter altogether.
Let us remember, and constantly bear in mind, that the Palace is to be governed by the people for themselves. Otherwise it would be better for East London that it had never been erected. Whatever we do or resolve is, in fact, subject to the will of the governing body. As for passing a resolution on drink for the Palace, we might just as well resolve that drink shall not be sold to the members of the House of Commons, and expect them instantly to close their cellars. If the governing body wish to have drink in the Palace they will have it, whether we like it or not. But it shows the profound distrust of the people that these restrictions should be attempted and these resolutions passed. For my own part, considering the needlessness of drink in such a place, the abundant facilities provided outside, and the enormous additional trouble, danger, and expense entailed by letting drink be sold in a place where there will be every evening thousands of young people, I am quite sure that the governing body—that is to say, the chosen representatives of East London—will never admit it within their walls.