Transcriber's Note: Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document. Text printed using the Greek alphabet in the original book is shown as follows: [Greek: pistis]
PHASES OF OCCULT LIFE IN THE METROPOLIS.
REV. CHARLES MAURICE DAVIES, D.D. AUTHOR OF "ORTHODOX" AND "UNORTHODOX LONDON," ETC.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet.
LONDON: TINSLEY BROTHERS, 8, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND. 1875. [All rights of Translation and Reproduction are reserved.]
LONDON: SAVILL, EDWARDS AND CO., PRINTERS, CHANDOS STREET, COVENT GARDEN.
I. LONDON ARABS 1
II. EAST LONDON ARABS 11
III. LONDON ARABS IN CANADA 21
IV. WAIFS AND STRAYS 29
V. A LUNATIC BALL 38
VI. A BABY SHOW 51
VII. A NIGHT IN A BAKEHOUSE 58
VIII. A LONDON SLAVE MARKET 67
IX. TEA AND EXPERIENCE 73
X. SUNDAY LINNET-SINGING 85
XI. A WOMAN'S RIGHTS DEBATE 92
XII. AN OPEN-AIR TICHBORNE MEETING 100
XIII. SUNDAY IN A PEOPLE'S GARDEN 108
XIV. UTILIZING THE YOUNG LADIES 116
XV. FAIRLOP FRIDAY 122
XVI. A CHRISTMAS DIP 129
XVII. BOXING-DAY ON THE STREETS 134
XVIII. THE VIGIL OF THE DERBY 141
XIX. THE WIFESLAYER'S "HOME" 150
XX. BATHING IN THE FAR EAST 157
XXI. AMONG THE QUAKERS 164
XXII. PENNY READINGS 172
XXIII. DARWINISM ON THE DEVIL 179
XXIV. PECULIAR PEOPLE 198
XXV. INTERVIEWING AN ASTROLOGER 204
XXVI. A BARMAID SHOW 212
XXVII. A PRIVATE EXECUTION 217
XXVIII. BREAKING UP FOR THE HOLIDAYS 224
XXIX. PSYCHOLOGICAL LADIES 228
XXX. SECULARISM ON BUNYAN 233
XXXI. AL FRESCO INFIDELITY 242
XXXII. AN "INDESCRIBABLE PHENOMENON" 250
XXXIII. A LADY MESMERIST 260
XXXIV. A PSYCHOPATHIC INSTITUTION 269
XXXV. A PHRENOLOGICAL EVENING 277
XXXVI. A SPIRITUAL PICNIC 284
XXXVII. A GHOSTLY CONFERENCE 290
XXXVIII. AN EVENING'S DIABLERIE 300
XXXIX. SPIRITUAL ATHLETES 307
XL. "SPOTTING" SPIRIT MEDIUMS 313
XLI. A SEANCE FOR SCEPTICS 320
XLII. AN EVENING WITH THE HIGHER SPIRITS 328
XLIII. SPIRIT FORMS 340
XLIV. SITTING WITH A SIBYL 347
XLV. SPIRITUALISTS AND CONJURERS 355
XLVI. PROS AND CONS OF SPIRITUALISM 362
It is perhaps scarcely necessary to say that I use the term Mystic, as applied to the larger portion of this volume, in its technical sense to signify my own initiation into some of the more occult phases of metropolitan existence. It is only to the Spiritualistic, or concluding portion of my work, that the word applies in its ordinary signification.
C. M. D.
Of all the protean forms of misery that meet us in the bosom of that "stony-hearted stepmother, London," there is none that appeals so directly to our sympathies as the spectacle of a destitute child. In the case of the grown man or woman, sorrow and suffering are often traceable to the faults, or at best to the misfortunes of the sufferers themselves; but in the case of the child they are mostly, if not always, vicarious. The fault, or desertion, or death of the natural protectors, turns loose upon the desert of our streets those nomade hordes of Bedouins, male and female, whose presence is being made especially palpable just now, and whose reclamation is a perplexing, yet still a hopeful problem. In the case of the adult Arab, there is a life's work to undo, and the facing of that fact it is which makes some of our bravest workers drop their hands in despair. With these young Arabs, on the contrary, it is only the wrong bias of a few early years to correct, leaving carte blanche for any amount of hope in youth, maturity, and old age. Being desirous of forming, for my own edification, some notion of the amount of the evil existing, and the efforts made to counteract it, I planned a pilgrimage into this Arabia Infelix—this Petraea of the London flagstones; and purpose setting down here, in brief, a few of my experiences, for the information of stay-at-home travellers, and still more for the sake of pointing out to such as may be disposed to aid in the work of rescuing these little Arabs the proper channels for their beneficence. Selecting, then, the Seven Dials and Bethnal Green as the foci of my observation in West and East London respectively, I set out for the former one bleak March night, and by way of breaking ground, applied to the first police-constable I met on that undesirable beat for information as to my course. After one or two failures, I met with an officer literally "active and intelligent," who convoyed me through several of that network of streets surrounding the Seven Dials, leaving me to my own devices when he had given me the general bearings of the district it would be desirable to visit.
My first raid was on the Ragged School and Soup Kitchen in Charles Street, Drury Lane, an evil-looking and unfragrant locality; but the institution in question stands so close to the main thoroughfare that the most fastidious may visit it with ease. Here I found some twenty Arabs assembled for evening school. They were of all ages, from seven to fifteen, and their clothing was in an inverse ratio to their dirt—very little of the former, and a great deal of the latter. They moved about with their bare feet in the most feline way, like the veritable Bedouin himself. There they were, however, over greasy slates and grimy copy-books, in process of civilization. The master informed me that his special difficulties arose from the attractions of the theatre and the occasional intrusion of wild Arabs, who came only to kick up a row. At eight o'clock the boys were to be regaled with a brass band practice, so, finding from one of the assembled Arabs that there was a second institution of the kind in King Street, Long Acre, I passed on thereto. Here I was fortunate enough to find the presiding genius in the person of a young man engaged in business during the day, and devoting his extra time to the work of civilizing the barbarians of this district. Sunday and week-day services, night schools, day schools, Bands of Hope, temperance meetings, and last, not least, the soup kitchen, were the means at work here. Not a single officer is paid. The task is undertaken "all for love, and nothing for reward," and it has thriven so far that my presence interrupted a debate between the gentleman above-mentioned and one of his coadjutors on the subject of taking larger premises. The expenses were met by the weekly offerings, and I was surprised to see by a notice posted in the room where the Sunday services are held, that the sum total for the past week was only 19s. 4d. So there must be considerable sacrifice of something more than time to carry on this admirable work. Under the guidance of the second gentleman mentioned above, I proceeded to the St. George's and St. Giles's Refuge in Great Queen Street, where boys are admitted on their own application, the only qualification being destitution. Here they are housed, clothed, boarded, and taught such trades as they may be fitted for, and not lost sight of until they are provided with situations. A hundred and fifty-four was the number of this truly miraculous draught from the great ocean of London streets, whom I saw all comfortably bedded in one spacious dormitory. Downstairs were the implements and products of the day's work, dozens of miniature cobblers' appliances, machines for sawing and chopping firewood, &c., whilst, in a spacious refectory on the first floor, I was informed, the resident Arabs extended on a Friday their accustomed hospitality to other tribes, to such an extent, that the party numbered about 500. Besides the 154 who were fortunate enough to secure beds, there were twenty new arrivals, who had to be quartered on the floor for the night; but at all events they had a roof above them, and were out of the cruel east wind that made Arabia Petraea that evening an undesirable resting-place indeed. Lights were put out, and doors closed, when I left, as this is not a night refuge; but notices are posted, I am informed, in the various casual wards and temporary refuges, directing boys to this. There is a kindred institution for girls in Broad Street. Such was my first experience of the western portion of Arabia Infelix.
The following Sunday I visited the Mission Hall belonging to Bloomsbury Chapel, in Moor Street, Soho, under the management of Mr. M'Cree, and the nature of the work is much the same as that pursued at King Street. The eleven o'clock service was on this particular day devoted to children, who were assembled in large numbers, singing their cheerful hymns, and listening to a brief, practical, and taking address. These children, however, were of a class above the Arab type, being generally well dressed. I passed on thence to what was then Mr. Brock's chapel, where I found my veritable Arabs, whom I had seen in bed the previous evening, arrayed in a decent suit of "sober livery," and perched up in a high gallery to gather what they could comprehend of Mr. Brock's discourse—not very much, I should guess; for that gentleman's long Latinized words would certainly fire a long way over their heads, high as was their position. I found the whole contingent of children provided for at the refuge was 400, including those on board the training ship Chichester and the farm at Bisley, near Woking, Surrey. This is certainly the most complete way of dealing with the Arabs par excellence, as it contemplates the case of utter destitution and homelessness. It need scarcely be said, however, that such a work must enlarge its boundaries very much, in order to make any appreciable impression on the vast amount of such destitution. Here, nevertheless, is the germ, and it is already fructifying most successfully. The other institutions, dealing with larger masses of children, aim at civilizing them at home, and so making each home a centre of influence.
Passing back again to the King Street Mission Hall, I found assembled there the band of fifty missionaries, male and female, who visit every Sunday afternoon the kitchens of the various lodging-houses around the Seven Dials. Six hundred kitchens are thus visited every week. After roll-call, and a brief address, we sallied forth, I myself accompanying Mr. Hatton—the young man to whom the establishment of the Mission is due—and another of his missionaries. I had heard much of the St. Giles's Kitchens, but failed to realize any idea of the human beings swarming by dozens and scores in those subterranean regions. Had it not been for the fact that nearly every man was smoking, the atmosphere would have been unbearable. In most of the kitchens they were beguiling the ennui of Sunday afternoon with cards; but the game was invariably suspended on our arrival. Some few removed their hats—for all wore them—and a smaller number still joined in a verse or two of a hymn, and listened to a portion of Scripture and a few words of exhortation. One or two seemed interested, others smiled sardonically; the majority kept a dogged silence. Some read their papers and refused the tracts and publications offered them. These, I found, were the Catholics. I was assured there were many men there who themselves, or whose friends, had occupied high positions. I was much struck with the language of one crop-headed young fellow of seventeen or eighteen, who, seeing me grope my way, said, "They're not very lavish with the gas here, sir, are they?" It may appear that this "experience" has little bearing on the Arab boys; but really some of the inmates of these kitchens were but boys. Those we visited were in the purlieus of the old "Rookery," and for these dens, I was informed, the men paid fourpence a night! Surely a little money invested in decent dwellings for such people would be well and even remuneratively spent. The kitchens, my informant—who has spent many years among them—added, are generally the turning point between honesty and crime. The discharged soldier or mechanic out of work is there herded with the professional thief or burglar, and learns his trade and gets to like his life.
The succeeding evening I devoted first of all to the Girls' Refuge, 19, Broad Street, St. Giles's. Here were sixty-two girls of the same class as the boys in Great Queen Street, who remain until provided with places as domestic servants. A similar number were in the Home at Ealing. The Institution itself is the picture of neatness and order. I dropped in quite unexpectedly; and any visitor who may be induced to follow my example, will not fail to be struck with the happy, "homely" look of everything, the clean, cheerful appearance of the female Arabs, and the courtesy and kindness of the matron. These girls are considered to belong to St. Giles's parish, as the boys to Bloomsbury Chapel. So far the good work has been done by the Dissenters and Evangelical party in the Established Church. The sphere of the High Church—as I was reminded by the Superintendent Sergeant—is the Newport Market Refuge and Industrial Schools. Here, besides the male and female refuges, is a Home for Destitute Boys, who are housed and taught on the same plan as at St. Giles's. Their domicile is even more cosy than the other, and might almost tempt a boy to act the part of an "amateur Arab." I can only say the game that was going on, previously to bed, in the large covered play room, with bare feet and in shirt sleeves, was enough to provoke the envy of any member of a Dr. Blimber's "Establishment." The Institution had just had a windfall in the shape of one of those agreeable 1000l. cheques that have been flying about lately, or their resources would have been cramped; but the managers are wisely sensible that such windfalls do not come every day, and so forbear enlarging their borders as they could wish.
Strangely enough, the Roman Catholics, who usually outdo us in their work among the poor, seemed a little behindhand in this special department of settling the Arabs. They have schools largely attended in Tudor Place, Tottenham Court Road, White Lion Street, Seven Dials, &c., but, as far as I could ascertain, nothing local in the shape of a Refuge. To propagate the faith may be all very well, and will be only the natural impulse of a man sincere in his own belief; but we must not forget that these Arabs have bodies as well as souls, and that those bodies have been so shamefully debased and neglected as to drag the higher energies down with them; and it is a great question whether it is not absolutely necessary to begin on the very lowest plane first, and so to work towards the higher. Through the body and the mind we may at last reach the highest sphere of all.
Without for one moment wishing to write down the "religious" element, it is, I repeat, a grave question whether the premature introduction of that element does not sometimes act as a deterrent, and frustrate the good that might otherwise be done. Still there is the great fact, good is being done. It would be idle to carp at any means when the end is so thoroughly good. I could not help, as I passed from squalid kitchen to kitchen that Sunday afternoon, feeling Lear's words ring through my mind:—
O, I have ta'en Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp, Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just.
And now "Eastward ho!" for "experiences" in Bethnal Green.
EAST LONDON ARABS.
Notwithstanding my previous experiences among the Western tribes of Bedouins whose locale is the Desert of the Seven Dials, I must confess to considerable strangeness when first I penetrated the wilderness of Bethnal Green. Not only was it utterly terra incognita to me, but, with their manifold features in common, the want and squalor of the East have traits distinct from those of the West. I had but the name of one Bethnal Green parish and of one lady—Miss Macpherson—and with these slender data I proceeded to my work, the results of which I again chronicle seriatim.
Passing from the Moorgate Street Station I made for the Eastern Counties Terminus at Shoreditch, and soon after passing it struck off to my right in the Bethnal Green Road. Here, amid a pervading atmosphere of bird-fanciers and vendors of live pets in general, I found a Mission Hall, belonging to I know not what denomination, and, aided by a vigorous policeman, kicked—in the absence of knocker or bell—at all the doors, without result. Nobody was there. I went on to the Bethnal Green parish which had been named to me as the resort of nomade tribes, and found the incumbent absent in the country for a week or so, and the Scripture-reader afraid, in his absence, to give much information. He ventured, however, to show me the industrial school, where some forty children were employed in making match-boxes for Messrs. Bryant and May. However, as I was told that the incumbent in question objected very decidedly to refuges and ragged schools, and thought it much better for the poor to strain a point and send their little ones to school, I felt that was hardly the regimen to suit my Arabian friends, who were evidently teeming in that locality. I was even returning home with the view of getting further geographical particulars of this Eastern Arabia Petraea, when, as a last resource, I was directed to a refuge in Commercial Street. I rang here, and found myself in the presence of the veritable Miss Macpherson herself, with whom I passed two pleasant and instructive hours.
At starting, Miss Macpherson rather objected to being made the subject of an article—first of all, for the very comprehensible reason that such publicity would draw down upon her a host of visitors; and when I suggested that visitors probably meant funds, she added a second, and not quite so comprehensible an objection—that these funds themselves might alloy the element of Faith in which the work had been so far carried on. She had thoroughly imbibed the spirit of Mueller, whose Home at Bristol was professedly the outcome of Faith and Prayer alone. However, on my promise to publish only such particulars—name, locality, &c.—as she might approve, this lady gave me the details of her truly wonderful work. The building in which I found her had been erected to serve as large warehouses, and here 110 of the most veritable Arabs were housed, fed, taught, and converted into Christians, when so convertible. Should they prove impressionable, Miss Macpherson then contemplates their emigration to Canada. Many had already been sent out; and her idea was to extend her operations in this respect: not, be it observed, to cast hundreds of the scum of the East End of London upon Canada—a proceeding to which the Canadians would very naturally object—but to form a Home on that side to be fed from the Homes on this, and so to remove from the old scenes of vice and temptation those who had been previously trained in the refuges here. She has it in contemplation to take a large hotel in Canada, and convert it into an institution of this kind; and I fancy it was the possibility that publicity might aid this larger scheme which eventually induced the good lady to let the world so far know what she is doing. At all events, she gave me carte blanche to publish the results of my observations.
In selecting and dealing with the inmates of her refuges, Miss Macpherson avails herself of the science of phrenology, in which she believes, and she advances good reason for so doing. I presume my phrenological development must have been satisfactory, since she not only laid aside her objection to publicity, but even allowed me to carry off with me her MS. "casebooks," from which I cull one or two of several hundred:—
"1. T. S., aged ten (March 5, 1869).—An orphan. Mother died in St. George's Workhouse. Father killed by coming in contact with a diseased sheep, being a slaughterman. A seller of boxes in the street. Slept last in a bed before Christmas. Slept in hay-carts, under a tarpaulin. Says the prayers his mother 'teached him.'"
"2. J. H., aged twelve (March 5).—No home but the streets. Father killed by an engine-strap, being an engineer. Mother died of a broken heart. Went into —— Workhouse; but ran away through ill-treatment last December. Slept in ruins near Eastern Counties Railway. Can't remember when he last lay in a bed."
"3. A. R., aged eleven (March 5).—Mother and father left him and two brothers in an empty room in H—— Street. Policeman, hearing them crying, broke open the door and took them to the workhouse. His two brothers died. Was moved from workhouse by grandmother, and she, unable to support him, turned him out on the streets. Slept in railway ruins; lived by begging. July 24, sent to Home No. 1 as a reward for good conduct."
Besides thus rescuing hundreds of homeless ones, Miss Macpherson has in many instances been the means of restoring runaway children of respectable parents. Here is an instance:—
"Feb. 25th.—S. W. T., aged fourteen, brought into Refuge by one of the night teachers, who noticed him in a lodging-house respectably dressed. Had walked up to London from N——, in company with two sailors (disreputable men, whom the lodging-house keeper declined to take in). Had been reading sensational books. Wrote to address at N——. Father telegraphed to keep him. Uncle came for him with fresh clothes and took him home. He had begun to pawn his clothes for his night's lodging. His father had been for a fortnight in communication with the police."
The constables in the neighbourhood all know Miss Macpherson's Refuge, and her readiness to take boys in at any time; so that many little vagrants are brought thither by them and reclaimed, instead of being locked up and sent to prison, to go from bad to worse. Besides this receptacle for boys, Miss Macpherson has also a Home at Hackney, where girls of the same class are housed. The plan she adopts is to get a friend to be responsible for one child. The cost she reckons at 6l. 10s. per annum for those under ten years, and 10l. for those above.
But this excellent lady's good works are by no means catalogued yet. Besides the children being fed and taught in these Homes, the parents and children are constantly gathered for sewing classes, tea meetings, &c. at the Refuge. Above 400 children are thus influenced; and Miss Macpherson, with her coadjutors, systematically visits the wretched dens and lodging-houses into which no well-dressed person, unless favourably known like her for her work among the children, would dare to set foot. I was also present when a hearty meal of excellent soup and a large lump of bread were given to between three and four hundred men, chiefly dock labourers out of employ. It was a touching sight to notice the stolid apathy depicted on most of the countenances, which looked unpleasantly like despair. One of the men assured me that for every package that had to be unladen from the docks there were ten pair of hands ready to do the work, where only one could be employed. Many of the men, he assured me, went for two, sometimes three, days without food; and with the large majority of those assembled the meal they were then taking would represent the whole of their subsistence for the twenty-four-hours. After supper a hymn was sung, and a few words spoken to them by Miss Macpherson on the allegory of the Birds and Flowers in the Sermon on the Mount; and so they sallied forth into the darkness of Arabia Petraea. I mounted to the little boys' bedroom, where the tiniest Arabs of all were enjoying the luxury of a game, with bare feet, before retiring. Miss Macpherson dragged a mattress off one of the beds and threw it down in the centre for them to tumble head-over-tail; and, as she truly said, it was difficult to recognise in those merry shouts and happy faces any remains of the veriest reprobates of the London streets.
Let us hear Miss Macpherson herself speak. In a published pamphlet, "Our Perishing Little Ones," she says: "As to the present state of the mission, we simply say 'Come and see.' It is impossible by words to give an idea of the mass of 120,000 precious souls who live on this one square mile.... My longing is to send forth, so soon as the ice breaks, 500 of our poor street boys, waifs and strays that have been gathered in, to the warm-hearted Canadian farmers. In the meantime, who will help us to make outfits, and collect 5l. for each little Arab, that there be no hindrance to the complement being made up when the spring time is come?... Ladies who are householders can aid us much in endeavours to educate these homeless wanderers to habits of industry by sending orders for their firewood—4s. per hundred bundles, sent free eight miles from the City." And, again, in Miss Macpherson's book called "The Little Matchmakers," she says: "In this work of faith and labour of love among the very lowest in our beloved country, let us press on, looking for great things. Preventing sin and crime is a much greater work than curing it. There are still many things on my heart requiring more pennies. As they come, we will go forward."
Miss Macpherson's motto is, "The Word first in all things; afterwards bread for this body." There are some of us who would be inclined to reverse this process—to feed the body and educate the mind—not altogether neglecting spiritual culture, even at the earliest stage, but leaving anything like definite religious schooling until the poor mind and body were, so to say, acclimatized. It is, of course, much easier to sit still and theorize and criticise than to do what these excellent people have done and are doing to diminish this gigantic evil. "By their fruits ye shall know them" is a criterion based on authority that we are none of us inclined to dispute. Miss Macpherson boasts—and a very proper subject for boasting it is—that she belongs to no ism. It is significant, however, that the Refuge bears, or bore, the name of the "Revival" Refuge, and the paper which contained the earliest accounts of its working was called the Revivalist, though now baptized with the broader title of the Christian. Amid such real work it would be a pity to have the semblance of unreality, and I dreaded to think of the possibility of its existing, when little grimy hands were held out by boys volunteering to say a text for my behoof. By far the most favourite one was "Jesus wept;" next came "God is love"—each most appropriate; but the sharp boy, a few years older, won approval by a longer and more doctrinal quotation, whilst several of these held out hands again when asked whether, in the course of the day, they had felt the efficacy of the text given on the previous evening, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep Thou the door of my lips." Such an experience would be a sign of advanced spirituality in an adult. Is it ungenerous to ask whether its manifestation in an Arab child must not be an anticipation of what might be the normal result of a few years' training? May not this kind of forcing explain the cases I saw quoted in the books—of one boy who "felt like a fish out of water, and left the same day of his own accord;" another who "climbed out of a three-floor window and escaped?"
However, here is the good work being done. Let us not carp at the details, but help it on, unless we can do better ourselves. One thing has been preeminently forced in upon me during this brief examination of our London Arabs—namely, that individuals work better than communities amongst these people. The work done by the great establishments, whether of England, Rome, or Protestant Dissent, is insignificant compared with that carried out by persons labouring like Mr. Hutton in Seven Dials and Miss Macpherson in Whitechapel, untrammelled by any particular system. The want, and sorrow, and suffering are individual, and need individual care, just as the Master of old worked Himself, and sent His scripless missionaries singly forth to labour for Him, as—on however incommensurate a scale—they are still labouring, East and West, amongst our London Arabs.
LONDON ARABS IN CANADA.
In the previous chapter an account was given of the Arabs inhabiting that wonderful "square mile" in East London, which has since grown to be so familiar in men's mouths. The labours of Miss Macpherson towards reclaiming these waifs and strays in her "Refuge and Home of Industry, Commercial Street, Spitalfields," were described at some length, and allusion was at the same time made to the views which that lady entertained with regard to the exportation of those Arabs to Canada after they should have undergone a previous probationary training in the "Home." A short time afterwards it was my pleasing duty to witness the departure of one hundred of these young boys from the St. Pancras Station, en route for Canada; and it now strikes me that some account of the voyage out, in the shape of excerpts from the letters of the devoted ladies who themselves accompanied our Arabs across the Atlantic, may prove interesting; while, at the same time, a calculation of their probable success in their new life and homes may not improbably stimulate those who cannot give their time, to give at least their countenance, and it may be, their material aid, to a scheme which recommends itself to all our sympathies—the permanent reclamation of the little homeless wanderers of our London streets.
The strange old rambling "Home" in Commercial Street, built originally for warehouses, then used as a cholera hospital, and now the Arab Refuge, presented a strange appearance during the week before the departure of the chosen hundred. On the ground-floor were the packages of the young passengers; on the first floor the "new clothes, shirts, and stockings, sent by kind lady friends from all parts of the kingdom, trousers and waistcoats made by the widows, and the boots and pilot jackets made by the boys themselves." The dormitory was the great store-closet for all the boys' bags filled with things needful on board ship; and on the top floor, we can well imagine, the last day was a peculiarly melancholy one. The work attendant upon the boys' last meal at the Refuge was over, and there, in the long narrow kitchen, stood the cook wiping away her tears with her apron, and the six little waiting maids around them, with the novel feeling of having nothing to do—there, where so much cutting, buttering, and washing-up had been the order of the day. When the summons came to start, the police had great difficulty in clearing a way for the boys to the vans through the surging mass of East London poverty. Some of the little match-box makers ran all the three miles from Commercial Street to St. Pancras Station to see the very last of their boy-friends.
Derby was the stopping-place on the journey to Liverpool, and the attention of passengers and guards was arrested by this strange company gathering on the platform at midnight and singing two of the favourite Refuge hymns. Liverpool was reached at 4 A.M., and the boys filed off in fours, with their canvas bags over their shoulders, to the river side, where their wondering eyes beheld the Peruvian, which was to bear them to their new homes.
At this point, Miss Macpherson's sister—who is carrying on the work of the Refuge during that lady's absence—wrote as follows:—"Could our Christian friends have seen the joy that beamed in the faces of those hundred lads from whom we have just parted—could they know the misery, the awful precipice of crime and sin from which they have been snatched—we are sure their hearts would be drawn out in love for those little ones. If still supported," she continues, "I hope to send out another party of fifty boys and fifty girls while my sister remains in Canada, and shall be happy to forward the name and history of a boy or girl to any kind friend wishing to provide for a special case. In the broad fields of that new country where the farmers are only too glad to adopt healthy young boys or girls into their families, hundreds of our perishing little ones may find a happy home."
On Thursday, the 12th of May, the Peruvian dropped down the river; and, as the last batch of friends left her when she passed out into the Channel, these one hundred boys, with Miss Macpherson, leaned over the bulwarks, singing the hymn, "Yes, we part, but not for ever."
From Derry Miss Macpherson wrote under date May 13th:—"With the exception of two, all are on deck now, as bright as larks; they have carried up poor Jack Frost and Franks the runner. It is most touching to see them wrap them up in their rugs. Michael Flinn, the Shoreditch shoeblack, was up all night, caring for the sick boys. Poor Mike! He and I have exchanged nods at the Eastern Counties Railway corner these five years. It is a great joy to give him such a chance for life."
The voyage out was prosperous enough, though there were some contrary winds, and a good deal of sea-sickness among the lads. The captain seems to have been quite won by the self-denying kindness of the ladies, and he lightened their hands by giving occupation to the boys. Then came out the result of training at the Refuge. Those who had been some time there showed themselves amenable to discipline; but the late arrivals were more fractious, and difficult to manage. These were the lads "upon whom," as Miss Macpherson says, "the street life had left sore marks." Even when only nearing the American coast, this indomitable lady's spirit is planning a second expedition. "As far as I dare make plans, I should like to return, starting from Montreal July 16th, reaching the Home July 27th; and then return with another lot the second week in August. This second lot must be lads who are now under influence, and who have been not less than six months in a refuge." The finale to this second letter, written from Canada, adds: "The boys, to a man, behaved splendidly. The agent's heart is won. All have improved by the voyage, and many are brown hearty-looking chaps fit for any toil."
In the Montreal Herald, of May 27th, there is an account of these boys after their arrival, which says:—"Miss Macpherson is evidently a lady whose capacity for organization and command is of the very highest order; for boys, in most hands, are not too easily managed, but in hers they were as obedient as a company of soldiers.... These boys will speedily be placed in positions, where they will grow up respectable and respected members of society, with access to the highest positions in the country freely open to them.... We hope that Miss Macpherson will place all her boys advantageously, and will bring us many more. She is a benefactor to the Empire in both hemispheres."
The importance of this testimony can scarcely be overrated, since many persons hold themselves aloof from a work of this nature through a feeling that it is not fair to draft our Arab population on a colony. It will be seen, however, that it is not proposed to export these boys until they shall have been brought well under influence, and so have got rid of what Miss Macpherson so graphically terms the "sore marks of their street life."
Apropos of this subject, it may not be irrelevant to quote a communication which has been received from Sir John Young, the Governor-General of Canada, dated Ottawa, May 3rd, 1870:—"For emigrants able and willing to work, Canada offers at present a very good prospect. The demand for agricultural labourers in Ontario during the present year is estimated at from 30,000 to 40,000; and an industrious man may expect to make about one dollar a day throughout the year, if he is willing to turn his hand to clearing land, threshing, &c., during the winter. But it is of no use for emigrants to come here unless they make up their minds to take whatever employment offers itself most readily, without making difficulties because it is not that to which they have been accustomed, or which they prefer."
I visited the Refuge and Home of Industry a few nights afterwards, and, though Miss Macpherson was absent, found all in working order. Sixty-three boys were then its occupants. The superintendent was anxiously looking forward to be able to carry out the plan of despatching fifty boys and fifty girls during the ensuing summer. The sum required for an East End case is 5l.; for a special case, 10l. The following are specimens of about sixty cases of boys whom she would like to send out, knowing that in Canada they could readily obtain places:—
P. E., aged seventeen.—Mother died of fever, leaving seven children; father a dock labourer, but cannot get full employment.
L. J., aged thirteen.—Mother dead; does not know where her father is; has been getting her living by singing songs in the lodging-houses; is much improved by her stay in the Home, and will make a tidy little maid. This is just one of the many who might thus be rescued from a life of sin and misery.
Returning home through the squalid streets that night, where squatters were vending old shoes and boots that seemed scarcely worth picking out of the kennel, and garments that appeared beneath the notice of the rag merchant, I saw the little Bedouins still in full force, just as though no effort had been made for their reclamation and housing. As they crowded the doorsteps, huddled in the gutters, or vended boxes of lights and solicited the honour of shining "your boots, sir," I could not help picturing them crossing the sea, under kindly auspices, to the "better land" beyond, and anon, in the broad Canadian fields or busy Canadian towns, growing into respectable farmers and citizens; and straightway each little grimed, wan face seemed to bear a new interest for me, and to look wistfully up into mine with a sort of rightful demand on my charity, saying to me, and through me to my many readers, "Come and help us!"
After the foregoing was written, a further letter arrived from Miss Macpherson. All the boys were well placed. The agent at Quebec wished to take the whole hundred in a lump, but only eleven were conceded to him. At Montreal, too, all would have been taken, but twenty-one only were left. All found excellent situations, many as house servants at 10l. and 15l. a year. Eight were in like manner left at Belleville, half way between Montreal and Toronto. Sixty were taken on to Toronto; and here we are told "the platform was crowded with farmers anxious to engage them all at once. It was difficult to get them to the office." A gentleman arrived from Hamilton, saying that sixty applications had been sent in for boys, directly it was known that Miss Macpherson was coming out. So there is no need of anticipating anything like repugnance on the part of the Canadians to the reception of our superfluous Arabs.
WAIFS AND STRAYS.
Among the various qualifications for the festivities of Christmastide and New Year, there is one which is, perhaps, not so generally recognised as it might be. Some of us are welcomed to the bright fireside or the groaning table on the score of our social and conversational qualities. At many and many a cheery board, poverty is the only stipulation that is made. I mean not now that the guests shall occupy the unenviable position of "poor relations," but, in the large-hearted charity that so widely prevails at that festive season, the need of a dinner is being generally accepted as a title to that staple requirement of existence. Neither of these, however, is the distinction required in order to entitle those who bear it to the hospitality of Mr. Edward Wright, better known under the abbreviated title of "Ned," and without the prefatory "Mr." That one social quality, without which a seat at Ned Wright's festive board cannot be compassed, is Felony. A little rakish-looking green ticket was circulated a few days previously among the members of Mr. Wright's former fraternity, bidding them to a "Great Supper" in St. John's Chapel, Penrose Street (late West Street), Walworth, got up under the auspices of the South-East London Mission. The invitation ran as follows:—
"This ticket is only available for a male person who has been convicted at least once for felony, and is not transferable. We purpose providing a good supper of bread and soup, after which an address will be given. At the close of the meeting a parcel of provisions will be given to each man. Supper will be provided in the lower part of the chapel. Boys not admitted this time.—Your friend, for Christ's sake,
Why juvenile felons should be excluded "this time," and whether the fact of having been convicted more than once would confer any additional privileges, did not appear at first sight. So it was, however; adult felonious Walworth was bidden to the supper, and to the supper it came. Among the attractions held out to spectators of the proceedings was the announcement that a magistrate was to take part in them—a fact that possibly was not made generally known among the guests, in whose regard it is very questionable whether the presence of the dreaded "beak" might not have proved the reverse of a "draw." However, they came, possibly in happy ignorance of the potentate who was awaiting them, and than whom there is one only creation of civilized life considered by the London cadger his more natural enemy, that is the policeman.
Six o'clock was the hour appointed for the repast, and there was no need for the wanderer in Walworth Road to inquire which was Penrose Street. Little groups of shambling fellows hulked about the corner waiting for some one to lead the way to the unaccustomed chapel. Group after group, however, melted away into the dingy building where Ned was ready to welcome them. With him I found, not one magistrate, but two; one the expected magnate from the country, the other a well-known occupant of the London bench, with whom, I fancy, many of the guests could boast a previous acquaintance of a character the reverse of desirable. Penrose Street Chapel had been formerly occupied by the Unitarians, but was then taken permanently by Ned Wright at a rental of between 60l. and 70l. per annum, and formed the third of his "centres," the others being under a railway arch in the New Kent Road, and the Mission Hall, Deptford. As row by row filled with squalid occupants, I could but scan from my vantage-ground in the gallery the various physiognomies. I am bound to say the typical gaol-bird was but feebly represented. The visitors looked like hard-working men—a little pinched and hungry, perhaps, and in many cases obviously dejected and ashamed of the qualification which gave them their seat. One or two, mostly of the younger, came in with a swagger and a rough joke; but Ned and his guests knew one another, and he quickly removed the lively young gentleman to a quiet corner out of harm's way. A fringe of spectators, mostly female, occupied the front seat in the gallery when proceedings commenced, which they did with a hymn, composed by Ned Wright himself. The ladies' voices proved very useful in this respect; but most of the men took the printed copies of the hymns, which were handed round, and looked as if they could read them, not a few proving they could by singing full-voiced. After the hymn, Wright announced that he had ordered eighty gallons of soup—some facetious gentleman suggesting, "That's about a gallon apiece"—and he hoped all would get enough. Probably about 100 guests had by this time assembled, and each was provided with a white basin, which was filled by Ned and his assistants, with soup from a washing jug. A paper bag containing half a quartern loaf was also given to each, and the contents rapidly disappeared. As the fragrant steam mounted provokingly from the soup-basins up to the gallery, Mr. Wright took occasion to mention that at the last supper Mr. Clark, of the New Cut, furnished the soup gratuitously—a fact which he thought deserved to be placed on record.
In the intervals of the banquet, the host informed me that he had already witnessed forty genuine "conversions" as the results of these gatherings. He had, as usual, to contend with certain obtrusive gentlemen who "assumed the virtue" of felony, "though they had it not," and were summarily dismissed with the assurance that he "didn't want no tramps." One mysterious young man came in and sat down on a front row, but did not remain two minutes before a thought seemed to strike him, and he beat a hasty retreat. Whether he was possessed with the idea I had to combat on a previous occasion of the same kind, that I was a policeman, I cannot tell, but he never reappeared. I hope I was not the innocent cause of his losing his supper. The only "felonious" trait I observed was a furtive glance every now and then cast around, and especially up to the gallery. Beyond this there really was little to distinguish the gathering from a meeting of artisans a little bit "down on their luck," or out on strike, or under some cloud of that sort.
As supper progressed, the number of spectators in the gallery increased; and, with all due deference to Ned Wright's good intentions, it may be open to question whether this presence of spectators in the gallery is wise. It gives a sort of spurious dash and bravado to the calling of a felon to be supping in public, and have ladies looking on, just like the "swells" at a public dinner. I am sure some of the younger men felt this, and swaggered through their supper accordingly. There certainly was not a symptom of shame on the face of a single guest, or any evidences of dejection, when once the pea-soup had done its work. Some of the very lively gentlemen in the front row even devoted themselves to making critical remarks on the occupants of the gallery. As a rule, and considering the antecedents of the men, the assembly was an orderly one; and would, I think, have been more so, but for the presence of the fair sex in the upper regions, many of whom, it is but justice to say, were enjoying the small talk of certain oily-haired young missionaries, and quite unconscious of being the objects of admiring glances from below.
Supper took exactly an hour, and then came another hymn, Ned Wright telling his guests that the tune was somewhat difficult, but that the gallery would sing it for them first, and then they would be able to do it for themselves. Decidedly, Mr. Wright is getting "aesthetic." This hymn was, in fact, monopolized by the gallery, the men listening and evidently occupied in digesting their supper. One would rather have heard something in which they could join. However, it was a lively march-tune, and they evidently liked it, and kept time to it with their feet, after the custom of the gods on Boxing Night. At this point Ned and five others mounted the little railed platform, Bible in hand, and the host read what he termed "a portion out of the Good Old Book," choosing appropriately Luke xv., which tells of the joy among angels over one sinner that repenteth, and the exquisite allegory of the Prodigal Son, which Ned read with a good deal of genuine pathos. It reminded him, he said, of old times. He himself was one of the first prisoners at Wandsworth when "old Brixton" was shut up. He had "done" three calendar months, and when he came out he saw an old grey-headed man, with a bundle. "That," said Ned, "was my godly old father, and the bundle was new clothes in place of my old rags."
The country magistrate then came forward, and drew an ironical contrast between the "respectable" people in the gallery and the "thieves" down below. "God says we have all 'robbed Him.' All are equal in God's sight. But some of us are pardoned thieves." At this point the discourse became theological, and fired over the heads of the people down below. They listened much as they listen to a magisterial remark from the bench; but it was not their own language, such as Ned speaks. It was the "beak," not the old "pal." It was not their vernacular. It did for the gallery—interested the ladies and the missionaries vastly, but not the thieves. It was wonderful that they bore it as well as they did. The magisterial dignity evidently overawed them; but they soon got used to it, and yawned or sat listlessly. Some leant their heads on the rail in front and slept. The latest arrivals left earliest. They had come to supper, not to sermon.
Another of Ned Wright's hymns was then sung—Mr. Wright's muse having been apparently prolific in the past year, no less than six hymns on the list being written by himself during those twelve months. It is much to be hoped that these poetical and aesthetical proclivities will not deaden his practical energies. This hymn was pitched distressingly high, and above the powers of all but the "gallery" and a very few indeed of the guests; but most of them put in a final "Glory, Hallelujah," at the end of each stanza. Mr. Wright's tunes are bright and cheerful in the extreme, without being vulgar or offensively secular.
The host himself then spoke a few words on the moral of the Sermon on the Mount: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." He claimed many of those before him as old pals who had "drunk out of the same pot and shuffled the same pack of cards," and contrasted his present state with theirs. Then they listened, open-mouthed and eager-eyed, though they had been sitting two full hours. He pictured the life of Christ, and His love for poor men. "Christ died for you," he said, "as well as for the 'big people.' Who is that on the cross beside the Son of God?" he asked in an eloquent apostrophe. "It is a thief. Come to Christ, and say, 'I've no character. I'm branded as a felon. I'm hunted about the streets of London. He will accept you.'" He drew a vivid picture of the number of friends he had when he rowed for Dogget's Coat and Badge. He met with an accident midway; "and when I got to the Swan at Chelsea," he said, "I had no friends left. I was a losing man. Christ will never treat you like that. He has never let me want in the nine years since I have been converted." After a prayer the assembly broke up, only those being requested to remain who required advice. The prayer was characteristic, being interspersed with groans from the gallery; and then a paper bag, containing bread and cakes, was given to each, Ned observing, "There, the devil don't give you that. He gives you toke and skilly." Being desired to go quietly, one gentleman expressed a hope that there was no policeman; another adding, "We don't want to get lagged." Ned had to reassure them on my score once more, and then nearly all disappeared—some ingenious guests managing to get two and three bags by going out and coming in again, until some one in the gallery meanly peached!
Only some half-dozen out of the hundred remained, and Ned Wright kneeling at one of the benches prayed fervently, and entered into conversation with them one by one. Two or three others dropped in, and there was much praying and groaning, but evidently much sincerity. And so with at least some new impressions for good, some cheering hopeful words to take them on in the New Year, those few waifs and strays passed out into the darkness, to retain, let it be hoped, some at least of the better influences which were brought to bear upon them in that brighter epoch in their darkened lives when Ned Wright's invitation gathered them to the Thieves' Supper.
A LUNATIC BALL.
One half of the world believes the other half to be mad; and who shall decide which moiety is right, the reputed lunatics or the supposed sane, since neither party can be unprejudiced in the matter? At present the minority believe that it is a mere matter of numbers, and that if intellect carried the day, and right were not overborne by might, the position of parties would be exactly reversed. The dilemma forced itself strongly on my consciousness for a solution when I attended the annual ball at Hanwell Lunatic Asylum. The prevailing opinion inside the walls was that the majority of madmen lay outside, and that the most hopelessly insane people in all the world were the officers immediately concerned in the management of the establishment itself.
It was a damp, muggy January evening when I journeyed to this suburban retreat. It rained dismally, and the wind nearly blew the porter out of his lodge as he obeyed our summons at the Dantesque portal of the institution, in passing behind which so many had literally abandoned hope. I tried to fancy how it would feel if one were really being consigned to that receptacle by interested relatives, as we read in three-volume novels; but it was no use. I was one of a merry company on that occasion. The officials of Hanwell Asylum had been a little shy of being handed down to fame; so I adopted the ruse of getting into Herr Gustav Kuester's corps of fiddlers for the occasion. However, I must in fairness add that the committee during the evening withdrew the taboo they had formerly placed on my writing. I was free to immortalize them; and my fiddling was thenceforth a work of supererogation.
High jinks commenced at the early hour of six; and long before that time we had deposited our instruments in the Bazaar, as the ball-room is somewhat incongruously called, and were threading the Daedalean mazes of the wards. Life in the wards struck me as being very like living in a passage; but when that preliminary objection was got over, the long corridors looked comfortable enough. They were painted in bright warm colours, and a correspondingly genial temperature was secured by hot-water pipes running the entire length. Comfortable rooms opened out from the wards at frequent intervals, and there was every form of amusement to beguile the otherwise irksome leisure of those temporary recluses. Most of my hermits were smoking—I mean on the male side—many were reading; one had a fiddle, and I scraped acquaintance immediately with him; whilst another was seated at the door of his snug little bedroom, getting up cadenzas on the flute. He was an old trombone-player in one of the household regiments, an inmate of Hanwell for thirty years, and a fellow-bandsman with myself for the evening. He looked, I thought, quite as sane as myself, and played magnificently; but I was informed by the possibly prejudiced officials that he had his occasional weaknesses. A second member of Herr Kuester's band whom I found in durance was a clarionet-player, formerly in the band of the Second Life Guards; and this poor fellow, who was an excellent musician too, felt his position acutely. He apologized sotto voce for sitting down with me in corduroys, as well as for being an "imbecile." He did not seem to question the justice of the verdict against him, and had not become acclimatized to the atmosphere like the old trombone-player.
That New Year's night—for January was very young—the wards, especially on the women's side, were gaily decorated with paper flowers, and all looked as cheerful and happy as though no shadow ever fell across the threshold; but, alas, there were every now and then padded rooms opening out of the passage; and as this was not a refractory ward, I asked the meaning of the arrangement, which I had fancied was an obsolete one. I was told they were for epileptic patients. In virtue of his official position as bandmaster, Herr Kuester had a key; and, after walking serenely into a passage precisely like the rest, informed me, with the utmost coolness, that I was in the refractory ward. I looked around for the stalwart attendant, who is generally to be seen on duty, and to my dismay found he was quite at the other end of an exceedingly long corridor. I do not know that I am particularly nervous; but I candidly confess to an anxiety to get near that worthy official. We were only three outsiders, and the company looked mischievous. One gentleman was walking violently up and down, turning up his coat-sleeves, as though bent on our instant demolition. Another, an old grey-bearded man, came up, and fiercely demanded if I were a Freemason. I was afraid he might resent my saying I was not, when it happily occurred to me that the third in our party, an amateur contra-bassist, was of the craft. I told our old friend so. He demanded the sign, was satisfied, and, in the twinkling of an eye, our double-bass friend was struggling in his fraternal embrace. The warder, mistaking the character of the hug, hastened to the rescue, and I was at ease.
We then passed to the ball-room, where my musical friends were beginning to "tune up," and waiting for their conductor. The large room was gaily decorated, and filled with some three or four hundred patients, arranged Spurgeon-wise: the ladies on one side, and the gentlemen on the other. There was a somewhat rakish air about the gathering, due to the fact of the male portion not being in full dress, but arrayed in free-and-easy costume of corduroys and felt boots. The frequent warders in their dark blue uniforms lent quite a military air to the scene; and on the ladies' side the costumes were more picturesque; some little latitude was given to feminine taste, and the result was that a large portion of the patients were gorgeous in pink gowns. One old lady, who claimed to be a scion of royalty, had a resplendent mob-cap; but the belles of the ball-room were decidedly to be found among the female attendants, who were bright, fresh-looking young women, in a neat, black uniform, with perky little caps, and bunches of keys hanging at their side like the rosary of a soeur de charite, or the chatelaines with which young ladies love to adorn themselves at present. Files of patients kept streaming into the already crowded room, and one gentleman, reversing the order assigned to him by nature, walked gravely in on the palms of his hands, with his legs elevated in air. He had been a clown at a theatre, and still retained some of the proclivities of the boards. A wizen-faced man, who seemed to have no name beyond the conventional one of "Billy," strutted in with huge paper collars, like the corner man in a nigger troupe, and a tin decoration on his breast the size of a cheeseplate. He was insensible to the charms of Terpsichore, except in the shape of an occasional pas seul, and laboured under the idea that his mission was to conduct the band, which he occasionally did, to the discomfiture of Herr Kuester, and the total destruction of gravity on the part of the executants, so that Billy had to be displaced. It was quite curious to notice the effect of the music on some of the quieter patients. One or two, whose countenances really seemed to justify their incarceration, absolutely hugged the foot of my music-stand, and would not allow me to hold my instrument for a moment when I was not playing on it, so anxious were they to express their admiration of me as an artist. "I used to play that instrument afore I come here," said a patient, with a squeaky voice, who for eleven years has laboured under the idea that his mother is coming to see him on the morrow; indeed, most of the little group around the platform looked upon their temporary sojourn at Hanwell as the only impediment to a bright career in the musical world.
Proceedings commenced with the Caledonians, and it was marvellous to notice the order, not to say grace and refinement with which these pauper lunatics went through their parts in the "mazy." The rosy-faced attendants formed partners for the men, and I saw a herculean warder gallantly leading along the stout old lady in the mob-cap. The larger number of the patients of course were paired with their fellow-prisoners, and at the top of the room the officials danced with some of the swells. Yes, there were swells here, ball-room coxcombs in fustian and felt. One in particular was pointed out to me as an University graduate of high family, and on my inquiring how such a man became an inmate of a pauper asylum the official said, "You see, sir, when the mind goes the income often goes too, and the people become virtually paupers." Insanity is a great leveller, true; but I could not help picturing that man's lucid intervals, and wondering whether his friends might not do better for him. But there he is, pirouetting away with the pretty female organist, the chaplain standing by and smiling approval, and the young doctors doing the polite to a few invited guests, but not disdaining, every now and then, to take a turn with a patient. Quadrilles and Lancers follow, but no "round dances." A popular prejudice on the part of the majority sets down such dances as too exciting for the sensitive dancers. The graduate is excessively irate at this, and rates the band soundly for not playing a valse. Galops are played, but not danced; a complicated movement termed a "Circassian circle" being substituted in their place. "Three hours of square dances are really too absurd," said the graduate to an innocent second fiddle.
In the centre of the room all was gravity and decorum, but the merriest dances went on in corners. An Irish quadrille was played, and an unmistakable Paddy regaled himself with a most beautiful jig. He got on by himself for a figure or two, when, remembering, no doubt, that "happiness was born a twin," he dived into the throng, selected a white-headed old friend of some sixty years, and impressed him with the idea of a pas de deux. There they kept it up in a corner for the whole of the quadrille, twirling imaginary shillelaghs, and encouraging one another with that expressive Irish interjection which it is so impossible to put down on paper. For an hour all went merry as the proverbial marriage bell, and then there was an adjournment of the male portion of the company to supper. The ladies remained in the Bazaar and discussed oranges, with an occasional dance to the pianoforte, as the band retired for refreshment too, in one of the attendants' rooms. I followed the company to their supper room, as I had come to see, not to eat. About four hundred sat down in a large apartment, and there were, besides, sundry snug supper-parties in smaller rooms. Each guest partook of an excellent repast of meat and vegetables, with a sufficiency of beer and pipes to follow. The chaplain said a short grace before supper, and a patient, who must have been a retired Methodist preacher, improved upon the brief benediction by a long rambling "asking of a blessing," to which nobody paid any attention. Then I passed up and down the long rows with a courteous official, who gave me little snatches of the history of some of the patients. Here was an actor of some note in his day; there a barrister; here again a clergyman; here a tradesman recently "gone," "all through the strikes, sir," he added. The shadow—that most mysterious shadow of all—had chequered life's sunshine in every one of these cases. Being as they are they could not be in a better place. They have the best advice they could get even were they—as some of them claim to be—princes. If they can be cured, here is the best chance. If not—well, there were the little dead-house and the quiet cemetery lying out in the moonlight, and waiting for them when, as poor maddened Edgar Allen Poe wrote, the "fever called living," should be "over at last." But who talks of dying on this one night in all the year when even that old freemason in the refractory ward was forgetting, after his own peculiar fashion, the cruel injustice that kept him out of his twelve thousand a year and title? Universal merriment is the rule to-night. Six or seven gentlemen are on their legs at once making speeches, which are listened to about as respectfully as the "toast of the evening" at a public dinner. As many more are singing inharmoniously different songs; the fun is getting fast and furious, perhaps a little too fast and furious, when a readjournment to the ball-room is proposed, and readily acceded to, one hoary-headed old flirt remarking to me as he went by, that he was going to look for his sweetheart.
A long series of square dances followed, the graduate waxing more and more fierce at each disappointment in his anticipated valse, and Billy giving out every change in the programme like a parish clerk, which functionary he resembled in many respects. It was universally agreed that this was the best party that had ever been held in the asylum, just as the last baby is always the finest in the family. Certainly the guests all enjoyed themselves. The stalwart attendants danced more than ever with a will, the rosy attendants were rosier and nattier than before, if possible. The mob-cap went whizzing about on the regal head of its owner down the middle of tremendous country dances, hands across, set to partners, and then down again as though it had never tasted the anxieties of a throne, or learnt by bitter experience the sorrows of exile. Even the academical gentleman relaxed to the fair organist, though he stuck up his hair stiffer than ever, and stamped his felt boots again as he passed the unoffending double-bass with curses both loud and deep on the subject of square dances. At length came the inevitable "God Save the Queen," which was played in one key by the orchestra, and sung in a great many different ones by the guests. It is no disrespect to Her Majesty to say that the National Anthem was received with anything but satisfaction. It was the signal that the "jinks" were over, and that was quite enough to make it unpopular. However, they sang lustily and with a good courage, all except the old woman in the mob-cap, who sat with a complacent smile as much as to say, "This is as it should be, I appreciate the honour done to my royal brothers and sisters."
This is the bright side of the picture; but it had its sombre tints also. There were those in all the wards who stood aloof from the merriment, and would have none of the jinks. Lean-visaged men walked moodily up and down the passages like caged wild beasts. Their lucid interval was upon them, and they fretted at the irksome restraint and degrading companionship. It was a strange thought; but I fancied they must have longed for their mad fit as the drunkard longs for the intoxicating draught, or the opium-eater for his delicious narcotic to drown the idea of the present. There were those in the ball-room itself who, if you approached them with the proffered pinch of snuff, drove you from them with curses. One fine, intellectual man, sat by the window all the evening, writing rhapsodies of the most extraordinary character, and fancying himself a poet. Another wrapped round a thin piece of lath with paper, and superscribed it with some strange hieroglyphics, begging me to deliver it. All made arrangements for their speedy departure from Hanwell, though many in that heart-sick tone which spoke of long-deferred hope—hope never perhaps to be realized. Most painful sight of all, there was one little girl there, a child of eleven or twelve years—a child in a lunatic asylum! Think of that, parents, when you listen to the engaging nonsense of your little ones—think of the child in Hanwell wards! Remember how narrow a line separates innocence from idiocy; so narrow a line that the words were once synonymous!
Then there was the infirmary full of occupants on that merry New Year's night. Yonder poor patient being wheeled in a chair to bed will not trouble his attendant long. There is another being lifted on his pallet-bed, and having a cup of cooling drink applied to his parched lips by the great loving hands of a warder who tends him as gently as a woman. It seemed almost a cruel kindness to be trying to keep that poor body and soul together.
Another hour, rapidly passed in the liberal hospitality of this great institution, and silence had fallen on its congregated thousands. It is a small town in itself, and to a large extent self-dependent and self-governed. It bakes and brews, and makes its gas; and there is no need of a Licensing Bill to keep its inhabitants sober and steady. The method of doing that has been discovered in nature's own law of kindness. Instead of being chained and treated as wild beasts, the lunatics are treated as unfortunate men and women, and every effort is made to ameliorate, both physically and morally, their sad condition. Hence the bright wards, the buxom attendants, the frequent jinks. Even the chapel-service has been brightened up for their behoof.
This was what I saw by entering as an amateur fiddler Herr Kuester's band at Hanwell Asylum; and as I ran to catch the last up-train—which I did as the saying is by the skin of my teeth—I felt that I was a wiser, though it may be a sadder man, for my evening's experiences at the Lunatic Ball.
One question would keep recurring to my mind. It has been said that if you stop your ears in a ball-room, and then look at the people—reputed sane—skipping about in the new valse or the last galop, you will imagine they must be all lunatics. I did not stop my ears that night, but I opened my eyes and saw hundreds of my fellow-creatures, all with some strange delusions, many with ferocious and vicious propensities, yet all kept in order by a few warders, a handful of girls, and all behaving as decorously as in a real ball-room. And the question which would haunt me all the way home was, which are the sane people, and which the lunatics?
A BABY SHOW.
There is no doubt that at the present moment the British baby is assuming a position amongst us of unusual prominence and importance. That he should be an institution is inevitable. That he grows upon us Londoners at the rate of some steady five hundred a week, the Registrar-General's statistics of the excess of births over deaths prove beyond question. His domestic importance and powers of revolutionizing a household are facts of which every Paterfamilias is made, from time to time, unpleasantly aware. But the British baby is doing more than this just at present. He is assuming a public position. Perhaps it is only the faint index of the extension of women's rights to the infantile condition of the sexes. Possibly our age is destined to hear of Baby Suffrage, Baby's Property Protection, Baby's Rights and Wrongs in general. It is beyond question that the British baby is putting itself forward, and demanding to be heard—as, in fact, it always had a habit of doing. Its name has been unpleasantly mixed up with certain revelations at Brixton, Camberwell, and Greenwich. Babies have come to be farmed like taxes or turnpike gates. The arable infants seem to gravitate towards the transpontine districts south of the Thames. It will be an interesting task for our Legislature to ascertain whether there is any actual law to account for the transfer, as it inevitably will have to do when the delicate choice is forced upon it between justifiable infanticide, wholesale Hospices des Enfants Trouves, and possibly some kind of Japanese "happy despatch" for high-minded infants who are superior to the slow poison administered by injudicious "farmers." At all events, one fact is certain, and we can scarcely reiterate it too often—the British baby is becoming emphatic beyond anything we can recollect as appertaining to the infantile days of the present generation. It is as though a ray of juvenile "swellishness," a scintillation of hobbledehoyhood, were refracted upon the long clothes or three-quarter clothes of immaturity.
For, if it is true—as we may tax our infantile experiences to assure us—that "farmed" infants were an article unknown to husbandry in our golden age, it is equally certain that the idea of the modern Baby Show was one which, in that remote era, would not have been tolerated. Our mothers and grandmothers would as soon have thought of sacrificing an innocent to Moloch as to Mammon. What meant it then—to what can it be due—to precocity on the part of the British baby, or degeneracy on the part of the British parent—that two Baby Shows were "on" nearly at the same moment—one at Mr. Giovannelli's at Highbury Barn, the other at Mr. Holland's Gardens, North Woolwich?
Anxious to keep au courant with the times, even when those times are chronicled by the rapid career of the British baby—anxious also to blot out the idea of the poor emaciated infants of Brixton, Camberwell, and Greenwich, by bringing home to my experience the opposite pole of infantile development—I paid a visit, and sixpence, at Highbury Barn when the Baby Show opened. On entering Mr. Giovannelli's spacious hall, consecrated on ordinary occasions to the Terpsichorean art, I found it a veritable shrine of the "Diva triformis." Immediately on entering I was solicited to invest extra coppers in a correct card, containing the names, weights, and—not colours; they were all of one colour, that of the ordinary human lobster—but weights, of the various forms of Wackford Squeers under twelve months, who were then and there assembled, like a lot of little fat porkers. It was, in truth, a sight to whet the appetite of an "annexed" Fiji Islander, or any other carnivorous animal. My correct card specified eighty "entries;" but, although the exhibition only opened at two o'clock, and I was there within an hour after, I found the numbers up to 100 quite full. The interesting juveniles were arranged within rails, draped with pink calico, all arrayed in "gorgeous attire," and most of them partaking of maternal sustenance. The mammas—all respectable married women of the working class—seemed to consider the exhibition of their offspring by no means infra dig., and were rather pleased than otherwise to show you the legs and other points of their adipose encumbrances. Several proposed that I should test the weight, which I did tremulously, and felt relieved when the infant Hercules was restored to its natural protector. The prizes, which amounted in the gross to between two and three hundred pounds, were to be awarded in sums of 10l. and 5l., and sometimes in the shape of silver cups, on what principle I am not quite clear; but the decision was to rest with a jury of three medical men and two "matrons." If simple adiposity, or the approximation of the human form divine to that of the hippopotamus, be the standard of excellence, there could be no doubt that a young gentleman named Thomas Chaloner, numbered 48 in the correct card, aged eight months, and weighing 33lbs., would be facile princeps, a prognostication of mine subsequently justified by the event. I must confess to looking with awe, and returning every now and then to look again, on this colossal child. At my last visit some one asked on what it had been fed. Shall I own that the demon of mischief prompted me to supplement the inquiry by adding, "Oil cake, or Thorley's Food for Cattle?"
On the score, I suppose, of mere peculiarity, my own attention—I frankly confess I am not a connoisseur—was considerably engrossed by "two little Niggers." No doubt the number afterwards swelled to the orthodox "ten little Niggers." One was a jovial young "cuss" of eleven months—weighted at 29lbs., and numbered 62 on the card. He was a clean-limbed young fellow, with a head of hair like a furze-bush, and his mother was quite untinted. I presume Paterfamilias was a fine coloured gentleman. The other representative of the sons of Ham—John Charles Abdula, aged three months, weight 21lbs., and numbered 76—was too immature to draw upon my sympathies; since I freely acknowledge such specimens are utterly devoid of interest for me until their bones are of sufficient consistency to enable them to sit upright and look about as a British baby should. This particular infant had not an idea above culinary considerations. He was a very Alderman in embryo, if there are such things as coloured Aldermen. Then there were twins—that inscrutable visitation of Providence—three brace of gemini. Triplets, in mercy to our paternal feelings, Mr. Giovannelli spared us.
There was one noteworthy point about this particular exhibition. The mothers, at all events, got a good four days' feed whilst their infantile furniture was "on view." I heard, sotto voce, encomiums on the dinner of the day confidingly exchanged between gushing young matrons, and I myself witnessed the disappearance of a decidedly comfortable tea, to say nothing of sundry pints of porter discussed sub rosa and free of expense to such as stood in need of sustenance; and indeed a good many seemed to stand in need of it. Small wonder, when the mammas were so forcibly reminded by the highly-developed British baby that, in Byron's own words, "our life is twofold."
It is certainly passing, not from the sublime to the ridiculous, but vice versa, yet it is noting another testimony to the growing importance of the British baby, if one mentions the growth of creches, or day-nurseries for working-men's children in the metropolis. Already an institution in Paris, they have been recently introduced into England, and must surely prove a boon to the wives of our working men. What in the world does become of the infants of poor women who are forced to work all day for their maintenance? Is it not a miracle if something almost worse than "farming"—death from negligence, fire, or bad nursing—does not occur to them? The good ladies who have founded, and themselves work, these creches are surely meeting a confessed necessity. I paid a visit one day to 4, Bulstrode Street, where one of these useful institutions was in full work. I found forty little toddlers, some playing about a comfortable day-nursery, others sleeping in tiny cribs ranged in a double line along a spacious, well-aired sleeping-room; some, too young for this, rocked in cosy cradles; but all clean, safe, and happy. What needs it to say whether the good ladies who tended them wore the habit of St. Vincent de Paul, the poke-bonnet of the Puseyite "sister," or the simple garb of unpretending Protestantism? The thing is being done. The most helpless of all our population—the children of the working poor—are being kept from the streets, kept from harm, and trained up to habits of decency, at 4, Bulstrode Street, Marylebone Lane. Any one can go and see it for himself; and if he does—if he sees, as I did, the quiet, unostentatious work that is there being done for the British baby, "all for love and nothing for reward"—I shall be very much surprised if he does not confess that it is one of the best antidotes imaginable to baby-farming, and a sight more decorous and dignified than any Baby Show that could possibly be imagined.
A NIGHT IN A BAKEHOUSE.
Alarmed at the prospect of "a free breakfast table" in a sense other than the ordinary one—that is, a breakfast table which should be minus the necessary accompaniment of bread, or the luxury of French rolls—I resolved to make myself master, so far as might be possible, of the pros and cons of the question at issue between bakers and masters at the period of the anticipated strike some years ago. I confess to having greatly neglected the subject of strikes. I had attended a few meetings of the building operatives; but the subject was one in which I myself was not personally interested. I am not likely to want to build a house, and might manage my own little repairs while the strike lasted. But I confess to a leaning for the staff of life. There are sundry small mouths around me, too, of quite disproportionate capacities in the way of bread and butter, to say nothing at all of biscuits, buns, and tartlets. The possibility of having to provide for an impending state of siege, then, was one that touched me immediately and vitally. Should I, before the dreaded event, initiate the wife of my bosom in the mysteries of bread baking? Should I commence forthwith a series of practical experiments within the limited confines of my kitchen oven? To prevent the otherwise inevitable heaviness and possible ropiness in my loaves of the future, some such previous process would certainly have to be adopted. But, then, in order to calculate the probabilities of the crisis, an examination of the status in quo was necessary. Having a habit of going to head-quarters in such questions, I resolved to do so on the present occasion; so I took my hat, and, as Sam Slick says, "I off an' out."
The actual head-quarters of the men I found to be at the Pewter Platter, White Lion Street, Bishopsgate. Thither I adjourned, and, after drinking the conventional glass of bitter at the bar, asked for a baker. One came forth from an inner chamber, looking sleepy, as bakers always look. In the penetralia of the parlour which he left I saw a group of floury comrades, the prominent features of the gathering being depression and bagatelle. By my comatose friend I was referred to the Admiral Carter, in Bartholomew Close, where the men's committee sat daily at four. The society in front of the bar there was much more cheerful than that of the Pewter Platter, and the bakers were discussing much beer, of which they hospitably invited me to partake. Still I learned little of their movements, save that they were to a man resolved to abide by the now familiar platform of work from four to four, higher wages, and no Sunday bakings. These were the principal features of the demands, the sack money and perquisites being confessedly subsidiary. Nauseated as the public was and is with strikes, there are certain classes of the community with whom it is disposed to sympathize; and certainly one of those classes is that of journeymen bakers. Bread for breakfast we must have, and rolls we should like; but we should also like to have these commodities with as little nightwork as possible on the part of those who produce them. The "Appeal to the Public" put forth by the Strike Committee on the evening of the day concerning which I write was, perhaps, a trifle sensational; but if there was any truth in it, such a state of things demanded careful investigation—especially if it was a fact that the baker slept upon the board where the bread was made, and mingled his sweat and tears with the ingredients of the staff of life. Pardonably, I hope, I wished to eat bread without baker for my breakfast; but how could I probe this dreadful problem? I had it—by a visit to the bakehouse of my own baker, if possible, during the hours of work.
So I set out afresh after supper, and was most obligingly received by the proprietor of what one may well take as a typical West-end shop—neither very large nor very small—what is graphically termed a "snug" concern with a good connexion, doing, as the technical phrase goes, from sixteen to twenty sacks a week. The resources of this establishment were at once placed at my disposal for the night. Now, the advantage of conferring with this particular master was, that he was not pig-headed on the one hand, nor unduly concessive, as he deemed some of his fellow-tradesmen to be, on the other. He did not consider a journeyman baker's berth a bed of roses, or his remuneration likely to make him a millionaire; but neither did he lose sight of the fact that certain hours must be devoted to work, and a limit somewhere placed to wage, or the public must suffer through the employer of labour by being forced to pay higher prices. The staff of this particular establishment consisted of four men at the following wages: A foreman at 28s. and a second hand at 20s. a week, both of whom were outsiders; while, sleeping on the premises, and, at the time of my arrival, buried in the arms of Morpheus, were a third hand, at 16s., and a fourth, at 12s. Besides these wages they had certain perquisites, such as bread, butter, sugar, flour, sack-money, yeast-money, &c.; and the master, moreover, took his adequate share of day-work. He was seated outside his shop, enjoying the cool breezes, not of evening, but of midnight, when I presented myself before his astonished gaze. His wife and children had long since retired. The foreman and second "hand" had not arrived; the third and fourth "hands" were, as I said, sweetly sleeping, in a chamber on the basement, well out of range of the bakehouse, to which, like a couple of conspirators, we descended. It was not exactly the spot one would have selected for a permanent residence if left free to choose. It was, perhaps, as Mr. Dickens's theatrical gentleman phrased it, pernicious snug; but the ventilation was satisfactory. There were two ovens, which certainly kept the place at a temperature higher than might have been agreeable on that hot September night. Kneading troughs were ranged round the walls, and in the centre, like an altar-tomb, was the fatal "board" where, however, I sought in vain for the traces of perspiration or tears. All was scrupulously clean. In common phrase, you might have "eaten your dinner" off any portion of it.
Soon after midnight the outsiders turned in, first the second hand and then the foreman, and, plunging into the "Black Hole," made their toilettes du soir. Then active operations commenced forthwith. In one compartment of the kneading-trough was the "sponge," which had been prepared by the foreman early in the evening, and which now, having properly settled, was mixed with the flour for the first batch, and left to "prove." The process of making the dough occupied until about one o'clock, and then followed two hours of comparative tranquillity, during which the men adjourned to the retirement of certain millers' sacks hard by, which they rolled up cleverly into extempore beds, and seemed to prefer to the board. The proving takes about two hours, but varies with the temperature. If the dough is left too long, a sour batch, or a "pitch in," is the result. It is then cut out, weighed, and "handed up;" after which it stands while the dough for the second batch is being made, and those fatal rolls, around which so much of this contest is likely to turn, are being got forward. It must be understood that I am here describing what took place in my typical bakehouse. Proceedings will of course vary in details according to the neighbourhood, the season, and other circumstances. This makes, as my informant suggested, the race of bakers necessarily in some degree a varium atque mutabile genus, whom it is difficult to bind by rigid "hard and fast" lines. The first batch is in the oven at four, and is drawn about 5.30. During the intervals there has been the preparation of fancy bread and the "getting off" of the rolls. Then the "cottage" batch is moulded and got off, and comes out of the oven at eight. From three o'clock up to this hour there has been active work enough for everybody, and I felt myself considerably in the way, adjourning ever and anon to the master's snuggery above stairs to note down my experiences. As for the men, they must have fancied that I was an escaped lunatic, with harmless eccentricities; and the fourth hand, who was young, gazed at me all night with a fixed and sleepy glare, as though on his guard lest I should be seized with a refractory fit. At eight the close atmosphere of the bakehouse was exchanged for the fresh morning breeze by three out of the four hands, who went to deliver the bread. The foreman remained with the master to work at "small goods" until about one, when he prepares the ferment for the next night's baking. All concerned can get their operations over about one or half-past one; so that, reckoning them to begin at half-past twelve, and deducting two hours of "sweat and tears" from one to three, when they can sleep if they will, there are some eleven hours of active labour. After the delivery of the bread is over, it should be mentioned, each man has about half an hour's bakehouse work in the way of getting coals, cleaning biscuit tins, brushing up, &c. When this is done, all, with the exception of the foreman, who will have to look in and make the sponge at eight P.M., are free until the commencement of their most untimely work at midnight.
On Sunday, the work in this particular bakehouse is comparatively nil. The ovens have to be started on Sunday morning; but this the master does himself, and puts in the ferment, so that there is only the sponge to be made in the evening—a brief hour's job, taken on alternate Sundays by the foreman and the second hand. The "undersellers," my informant told me, made large sums by Sunday bakings, often covering their rent by them, so that their abandonment would be a serious question; but there was little in the way of Sabbath-breaking in my typical bakehouse. As there were no Sunday bakings, Saturday was a rather harder day than others, there being a general scrub-up of the premises. The work, my informant thought, could be condensed by judicious co-operation, and the "four to four" rule might be adopted in some establishments, but by no means in all—as, for instance, where there was a speciality for rolls and fancy bread. It seems, as usual, that the difficulties thicken, not about the necessaries, but about the luxuries and kickshaws of life. The master relieved my immediate fears by saying that he scarcely imagined matters would come to a crisis. There was this difference between the building and the baking trades, that all the master bakers had been journeymen themselves, and were thus able to sympathize with the men's difficulties. They were not, he seemed to think, disposed to haggle over a few shillings; but he added, "This is not a question of labour against capital only, but of labour against capital plus labour. I could," he said, "if my men left me on the 21st, make bread enough myself to supply all my customers, only they would have to fetch it for themselves."