THE SPIRIT OF YOUTH AND THE CITY STREETS
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY NEW YORK . BOSTON . CHICAGO . DALLAS ATLANTA . SAN FRANCISCO
MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED LONDON . BOMBAY . CALCUTTA MELBOURNE
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA, LIMITED TORONTO
THE SPIRIT OF YOUTH AND THE CITY STREETS
By JANE ADDAMS
HULL HOUSE, CHICAGO
Author of Democracy and Social Ethics Newer Ideals of Peace, etc.
New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1930
COPYRIGHT, 1909, By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1909
Norwood Press: Berwick & Smith Co., Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
TO MY DEAR FRIEND
Louise de Koben Bowen
WITH SINCERE ADMIRATION FOR HER UNDERSTANDING OF THE NEEDS OF CITY CHILDREN AND WITH WARM APPRECIATION OF HER SERVICE AS PRESIDENT OF THE JUVENILE PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION OF CHICAGO
Youth in the City 3
The Wrecked Foundations of Domesticity 25
The Quest for Adventure 51
The House of Dreams 75
The Spirit of Youth and Industry 107
The Thirst for Righteousness 139
Much of the material in the following pages has appeared in current publications. It is here presented in book form in the hope that it may prove of value to those groups of people who in many cities are making a gallant effort to minimize the dangers which surround young people and to provide them with opportunities for recreation.
YOUTH IN THE CITY
Nothing is more certain than that each generation longs for a reassurance as to the value and charm of life, and is secretly afraid lest it lose its sense of the youth of the earth. This is doubtless one reason why it so passionately cherishes its poets and artists who have been able to explore for themselves and to reveal to others the perpetual springs of life's self-renewal.
And yet the average man cannot obtain this desired reassurance through literature, nor yet through glimpses of earth and sky. It can come to him only through the chance embodiment of joy and youth which life itself may throw in his way. It is doubtless true that for the mass of men the message is never so unchallenged and so invincible as when embodied in youth itself. One generation after another has depended upon its young to equip it with gaiety and enthusiasm, to persuade it that living is a pleasure, until men everywhere have anxiously provided channels through which this wine of life might flow, and be preserved for their delight. The classical city promoted play with careful solicitude, building the theater and stadium as it built the market place and the temple. The Greeks held their games so integral a part of religion and patriotism that they came to expect from their poets the highest utterances at the very moments when the sense of pleasure released the national life. In the medieval city the knights held their tourneys, the guilds their pageants, the people their dances, and the church made festival for its most cherished saints with gay street processions, and presented a drama in which no less a theme than the history of creation became a matter of thrilling interest. Only in the modern city have men concluded that it is no longer necessary for the municipality to provide for the insatiable desire for play. In so far as they have acted upon this conclusion, they have entered upon a most difficult and dangerous experiment; and this at the very moment when the city has become distinctly industrial, and daily labor is continually more monotonous and subdivided. We forget how new the modern city is, and how short the span of time in which we have assumed that we can eliminate public provision for recreation.
A further difficulty lies in the fact that this industrialism has gathered together multitudes of eager young creatures from all quarters of the earth as a labor supply for the countless factories and workshops, upon which the present industrial city is based. Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon city streets and to work under alien roofs; for the first time they are being prized more for their labor power than for their innocence, their tender beauty, their ephemeral gaiety. Society cares more for the products they manufacture than for their immemorial ability to reaffirm the charm of existence. Never before have such numbers of young boys earned money independently of the family life, and felt themselves free to spend it as they choose in the midst of vice deliberately disguised as pleasure.
This stupid experiment of organizing work and failing to organize play has, of course, brought about a fine revenge. The love of pleasure will not be denied, and when it has turned into all sorts of malignant and vicious appetites, then we, the middle aged, grow quite distracted and resort to all sorts of restrictive measures. We even try to dam up the sweet fountain itself because we are affrighted by these neglected streams; but almost worse than the restrictive measures is our apparent belief that the city itself has no obligation in the matter, an assumption upon which the modern city turns over to commercialism practically all the provisions for public recreation.
Quite as one set of men has organized the young people into industrial enterprises in order to profit from their toil, so another set of men and also of women, I am sorry to say, have entered the neglected field of recreation and have organized enterprises which make profit out of this invincible love of pleasure.
In every city arise so-called "places"—"gin-palaces," they are called in fiction; in Chicago we euphemistically say merely "places,"—in which alcohol is dispensed, not to allay thirst, but, ostensibly to stimulate gaiety, it is sold really in order to empty pockets. Huge dance halls are opened to which hundreds of young people are attracted, many of whom stand wistfully outside a roped circle, for it requires five cents to procure within it for five minutes the sense of allurement and intoxication which is sold in lieu of innocent pleasure. These coarse and illicit merrymakings remind one of the unrestrained jollities of Restoration London, and they are indeed their direct descendants, properly commercialized, still confusing joy with lust, and gaiety with debauchery. Since the soldiers of Cromwell shut up the people's playhouses and destroyed their pleasure fields, the Anglo-Saxon city has turned over the provision for public recreation to the most evil-minded and the most unscrupulous members of the community. We see thousands of girls walking up and down the streets on a pleasant evening with no chance to catch a sight of pleasure even through a lighted window, save as these lurid places provide it. Apparently the modern city sees in these girls only two possibilities, both of them commercial: first, a chance to utilize by day their new and tender labor power in its factories and shops, and then another chance in the evening to extract from them their petty wages by pandering to their love of pleasure.
As these overworked girls stream along the street, the rest of us see only the self-conscious walk, the giggling speech, the preposterous clothing. And yet through the huge hat, with its wilderness of bedraggled feathers, the girl announces to the world that she is here. She demands attention to the fact of her existence, she states that she is ready to live, to take her place in the world. The most precious moment in human development is the young creature's assertion that he is unlike any other human being, and has an individual contribution to make to the world. The variation from the established type is at the root of all change, the only possible basis for progress, all that keeps life from growing unprofitably stale and repetitious.
Is it only the artists who really see these young creatures as they are—the artists who are themselves endowed with immortal youth? Is it our disregard of the artist's message which makes us so blind and so stupid, or are we so under the influence of our Zeitgeist that we can detect only commercial values in the young as well as in the old? It is as if our eyes were holden to the mystic beauty, the redemptive joy, the civic pride which these multitudes of young people might supply to our dingy towns.
The young creatures themselves piteously look all about them in order to find an adequate means of expression for their most precious message: One day a serious young man came to Hull-House with his pretty young sister who, he explained, wanted to go somewhere every single evening, "although she could only give the flimsy excuse that the flat was too little and too stuffy to stay in." In the difficult role of elder brother, he had done his best, stating that he had taken her "to all the missions in the neighborhood, that she had had a chance to listen to some awful good sermons and to some elegant hymns, but that some way she did not seem to care for the society of the best Christian people." The little sister reddened painfully under this cruel indictment and could offer no word of excuse, but a curious thing happened to me. Perhaps it was the phrase "the best Christian people," perhaps it was the delicate color of her flushing cheeks and her swimming eyes, but certain it is, that instantly and vividly there appeared to my mind the delicately tinted piece of wall in a Roman catacomb where the early Christians, through a dozen devices of spring flowers, skipping lambs and a shepherd tenderly guiding the young, had indelibly written down that the Christian message is one of inexpressible joy. Who is responsible for forgetting this message delivered by the "best Christian people" two thousand years ago? Who is to blame that the lambs, the little ewe lambs, have been so caught upon the brambles?
But quite as the modern city wastes this most valuable moment in the life of the girl, and drives into all sorts of absurd and obscure expressions her love and yearning towards the world in which she forecasts her destiny, so it often drives the boy into gambling and drinking in order to find his adventure.
Of Lincoln's enlistment of two and a half million soldiers, a very large number were under twenty-one, some of them under eighteen, and still others were mere children under fifteen. Even in those stirring times when patriotism and high resolve were at the flood, no one responded as did "the boys," and the great soul who yearned over them, who refused to shoot the sentinels who slept the sleep of childhood, knew, as no one else knew, the precious glowing stuff of which his army was made. But what of the millions of boys who are now searching for adventurous action, longing to fulfil the same high purpose?
One of the most pathetic sights in the public dance halls of Chicago is the number of young men, obviously honest young fellows from the country, who stand about vainly hoping to make the acquaintance of some "nice girl." They look eagerly up and down the rows of girls, many of whom are drawn to the hall by the same keen desire for pleasure and social intercourse which the lonely young men themselves feel.
One Sunday night at twelve o'clock I had occasion to go into a large public dance hall. As I was standing by the rail looking for the girl I had come to find, a young man approached me and quite simply asked me to introduce him to some "nice girl," saying that he did not know any one there. On my replying that a public dance hall was not the best place in which to look for a nice girl, he said: "But I don't know any other place where there is a chance to meet any kind of a girl. I'm awfully lonesome since I came to Chicago." And then he added rather defiantly: "Some nice girls do come here! It's one of the best halls in town." He was voicing the "bitter loneliness" that many city men remember to have experienced during the first years after they had "come up to town." Occasionally the right sort of man and girl meet each other in these dance halls and the romance with such a tawdry beginning ends happily and respectably. But, unfortunately, mingled with the respectable young men seeking to form the acquaintance of young women through the only channel which is available to them, are many young fellows of evil purpose, and among the girls who have left their lonely boarding houses or rigid homes for a "little fling" are likewise women who openly desire to make money from the young men whom they meet, and back of it all is the desire to profit by the sale of intoxicating and "doctored" drinks.
Perhaps never before have the pleasures of the young and mature become so definitely separated as in the modern city. The public dance halls filled with frivolous and irresponsible young people in a feverish search for pleasure, are but a sorry substitute for the old dances on the village green in which all of the older people of the village participated. Chaperonage was not then a social duty but natural and inevitable, and the whole courtship period was guarded by the conventions and restraint which were taken as a matter of course and had developed through years of publicity and simple propriety.
The only marvel is that the stupid attempt to put the fine old wine of traditional country life into the new bottles of the modern town does not lead to disaster oftener than it does, and that the wine so long remains pure and sparkling.
We cannot afford to be ungenerous to the city in which we live without suffering the penalty which lack of fair interpretation always entails. Let us know the modern city in its weakness and wickedness, and then seek to rectify and purify it until it shall be free at least from the grosser temptations which now beset the young people who are living in its tenement houses and working in its factories. The mass of these young people are possessed of good intentions and they are equipped with a certain understanding of city life. This itself could be made a most valuable social instrument toward securing innocent recreation and better social organization. They are already serving the city in so far as it is honeycombed with mutual benefit societies, with "pleasure clubs," with organizations connected with churches and factories which are filling a genuine social need. And yet the whole apparatus for supplying pleasure is wretchedly inadequate and full of danger to whomsoever may approach it. Who is responsible for its inadequacy and dangers? We certainly cannot expect the fathers and mothers who have come to the city from farms or who have emigrated from other lands to appreciate or rectify these dangers. We cannot expect the young people themselves to cling to conventions which are totally unsuited to modern city conditions, nor yet to be equal to the task of forming new conventions through which this more agglomerate social life may express itself. Above all we cannot hope that they will understand the emotional force which seizes them and which, when it does not find the traditional line of domesticity, serves as a cancer in the very tissues of society and as a disrupter of the securest social bonds. No attempt is made to treat the manifestations of this fundamental instinct with dignity or to give it possible social utility. The spontaneous joy, the clamor for pleasure, the desire of the young people to appear finer and better and altogether more lovely than they really are, the idealization not only of each other but of the whole earth which they regard but as a theater for their noble exploits, the unworldly ambitions, the romantic hopes, the make-believe world in which they live, if properly utilized, what might they not do to make our sordid cities more beautiful, more companionable? And yet at the present moment every city is full of young people who are utterly bewildered and uninstructed in regard to the basic experience which must inevitably come to them, and which has varied, remote, and indirect expressions.
Even those who may not agree with the authorities who claim that it is this fundamental sex susceptibility which suffuses the world with its deepest meaning and beauty, and furnishes the momentum towards all art, will perhaps permit me to quote the classical expression of this view as set forth in that ancient and wonderful conversation between Socrates and the wise woman Diotima. Socrates asks: "What are they doing who show all this eagerness and heat which is called love? And what is the object they have in view? Answer me." Diotima replies: "I will teach you. The object which they have in view is birth in beauty, whether of body or soul.... For love, Socrates, is not as you imagine the love of the beautiful only ... but the love of birth in beauty, because to the mortal creature generation is a sort of eternity and immortality."
To emphasize the eternal aspects of love is not of course an easy undertaking, even if we follow the clue afforded by the heart of every generous lover. His experience at least in certain moments tends to pull him on and out from the passion for one to an enthusiasm for that highest beauty and excellence of which the most perfect form is but an inadequate expression. Even the most loutish tenement-house youth vaguely feels this, and at least at rare intervals reveals it in his talk to his "girl." His memory unexpectedly brings hidden treasures to the surface of consciousness and he recalls the more delicate and tender experiences of his childhood and earlier youth. "I remember the time when my little sister died, that I rode out to the cemetery feeling that everybody in Chicago had moved away from the town to make room for that kid's funeral, everything was so darned lonesome and yet it was kind of peaceful too." Or, "I never had a chance to go into the country when I was a kid, but I remember one day when I had to deliver a package way out on the West Side, that I saw a flock of sheep in Douglas Park. I had never thought that a sheep could be anywhere but in a picture, and when I saw those big white spots on the green grass beginning to move and to turn into sheep, I felt exactly as if Saint Cecilia had come out of her frame over the organ and was walking in the park." Such moments come into the life of the most prosaic youth living in the most crowded quarters of the cities. What do we do to encourage and to solidify those moments, to make them come true in our dingy towns, to give them expression in forms of art?
We not only fail in this undertaking but even debase existing forms of art. We are informed by high authority that there is nothing in the environment to which youth so keenly responds as to music, and yet the streets, the vaudeville shows, the five-cent theaters are full of the most blatant and vulgar songs. The trivial and obscene words, the meaningless and flippant airs run through the heads of hundreds of young people for hours at a time while they are engaged in monotonous factory work. We totally ignore that ancient connection between music and morals which was so long insisted upon by philosophers as well as poets. The street music has quite broken away from all control, both of the educator and the patriot, and we have grown singularly careless in regard to its influence upon young people. Although we legislate against it in saloons because of its dangerous influence there, we constantly permit music on the street to incite that which should be controlled, to degrade that which should be exalted, to make sensuous that which might be lifted into the realm of the higher imagination.
Our attitude towards music is typical of our carelessness towards all those things which make for common joy and for the restraints of higher civilization on the streets. It is as if our cities had not yet developed a sense of responsibility in regard to the life of the streets, and continually forget that recreation is stronger than vice, and that recreation alone can stifle the lust for vice.
Perhaps we need to take a page from the philosophy of the Greeks to whom the world of fact was also the world of the ideal, and to whom the realization of what ought to be, involved not the destruction of what was, but merely its perfecting upon its own lines. To the Greeks virtue was not a hard conformity to a law felt as alien to the natural character, but a free expression of the inner life. To treat thus the fundamental susceptibility of sex which now so bewilders the street life and drives young people themselves into all sorts of difficulties, would mean to loosen it from the things of sense and to link it to the affairs of the imagination. It would mean to fit to this gross and heavy stuff the wings of the mind, to scatter from it "the clinging mud of banality and vulgarity," and to speed it on through our city streets amid spontaneous laughter, snatches of lyric song, the recovered forms of old dances, and the traditional rondels of merry games. It would thus bring charm and beauty to the prosaic city and connect it subtly with the arts of the past as well as with the vigor and renewed life of the future.
THE WRECKED FOUNDATIONS OF DOMESTICITY
"Sense with keenest edge unused Yet unsteel'd by scathing fire: Lovely feet as yet unbruised On the ways of dark desire!"
These words written by a poet to his young son express the longing which has at times seized all of us, to guard youth from the mass of difficulties which may be traced to the obscure manifestation of that fundamental susceptibility of which we are all slow to speak and concerning which we evade public responsibility, although it brings its scores of victims into the police courts every morning.
At the very outset we must bear in mind that the senses of youth are singularly acute, and ready to respond to every vivid appeal. We know that nature herself has sharpened the senses for her own purposes, and is deliberately establishing a connection between them and the newly awakened susceptibility of sex; for it is only through the outward senses that the selection of an individual mate is made and the instinct utilized for nature's purposes. It would seem, however, that nature was determined that the force and constancy of the instinct must make up for its lack of precision, and that she was totally unconcerned that this instinct ruthlessly seized the youth at the moment when he was least prepared to cope with it; not only because his powers of self-control and discrimination are unequal to the task, but because his senses are helplessly wide open to the world. These early manifestations of the sex susceptibility are for the most part vague and formless, and are absolutely without definition to the youth himself. Sometimes months and years elapse before the individual mate is selected and determined upon, and during the time when the differentiation is not complete—and it often is not—there is of necessity a great deal of groping and waste.
This period of groping is complicated by the fact that the youth's power for appreciating is far ahead of his ability for expression. "The inner traffic fairly obstructs the outer current," and it is nothing short of cruelty to over-stimulate his senses as does the modern city. This period is difficult everywhere, but it seems at times as if a great city almost deliberately increased its perils. The newly awakened senses are appealed to by all that is gaudy and sensual, by the flippant street music, the highly colored theater posters, the trashy love stories, the feathered hats, the cheap heroics of the revolvers displayed in the pawn-shop windows. This fundamental susceptibility is thus evoked without a corresponding stir of the higher imagination, and the result is as dangerous as possible. We are told upon good authority that "If the imagination is retarded, while the senses remain awake, we have a state of esthetic insensibility,"—in other words, the senses become sodden and cannot be lifted from the ground. It is this state of "esthetic insensibility" into which we allow the youth to fall which is so distressing and so unjustifiable. Sex impulse then becomes merely a dumb and powerful instinct without in the least awakening the imagination or the heart, nor does it overflow into neighboring fields of consciousness. Every city contains hundreds of degenerates who have been over-mastered and borne down by it; they fill the casual lodging houses and the infirmaries. In many instances it has pushed men of ability and promise to the bottom of the social scale. Warner, in his American Charities, designates it as one of the steady forces making for failure and poverty, and contends that "the inherent uncleanness of their minds prevents many men from rising above the rank of day laborers and finally incapacitates them even for that position." He also suggests that the modern man has a stronger imagination than the man of a few hundred years ago and that sensuality destroys him the more rapidly.
It is difficult to state how much evil and distress might be averted if the imagination were utilized in its higher capacities through the historic paths. An English moralist has lately asserted that "much of the evil of the time may be traced to outraged imagination. It is the strongest quality of the brain and it is starved. Children, from their earliest years, are hedged in with facts; they are not trained to use their minds on the unseen."
In failing to diffuse and utilize this fundamental instinct of sex through the imagination, we not only inadvertently foster vice and enervation, but we throw away one of the most precious implements for ministering to life's highest needs. There is no doubt that this ill adjusted function consumes quite unnecessarily vast stores of vital energy, even when we contemplate it in its immature manifestations which are infinitely more wholesome than the dumb swamping process. Every high school boy and girl knows the difference between the concentration and the diffusion of this impulse, although they would be hopelessly bewildered by the use of the terms. They will declare one of their companions to be "in love" if his fancy is occupied by the image of a single person about whom all the newly found values gather, and without whom his solitude is an eternal melancholy. But if the stimulus does not appear as a definite image, and the values evoked are dispensed over the world, the young person suddenly seems to have discovered a beauty and significance in many things—he responds to poetry, he becomes a lover of nature, he is filled with religious devotion or with philanthropic zeal. Experience, with young people, easily illustrates the possibility and value of diffusion.
It is neither a short nor an easy undertaking to substitute the love of beauty for mere desire, to place the mind above the senses; but is not this the sum of the immemorial obligation which rests upon the adults of each generation if they would nurture and restrain the youth, and has not the whole history of civilization been but one long effort to substitute psychic impulsion for the driving force of blind appetite?
Society has recognized the "imitative play" impulse of children and provides them with tiny bricks with which to "build a house," and dolls upon which they may lavish their tenderness. We exalt the love of the mother and the stability of the home, but in regard to those difficult years between childhood and maturity we beg the question and unless we repress, we do nothing. We are so timid and inconsistent that although we declare the home to be the foundation of society, we do nothing to direct the force upon which the continuity of the home depends. And yet to one who has lived for years in a crowded quarter where men, women and children constantly jostle each other and press upon every inch of space in shop, tenement and street, nothing is more impressive than the strength, the continuity, the varied and powerful manifestations, of family affection. It goes without saying that every tenement house contains women who for years spend their hurried days in preparing food and clothing and pass their sleepless nights in tending and nursing their exigent children, with never one thought for their own comfort or pleasure or development save as these may be connected with the future of their families. We all know as a matter of course that every shop is crowded with workingmen who year after year spend all of their wages upon the nurture and education of their children, reserving for themselves but the shabbiest clothing and a crowded place at the family table.
"Bad weather for you to be out in," you remark on a February evening, as you meet rheumatic Mr. S. hobbling home through the freezing sleet without an overcoat. "Yes, it is bad," he assents: "but I've walked to work all this last year. We've sent the oldest boy back to high school, you know," and he moves on with no thought that he is doing other than fulfilling the ordinary lot of the ordinary man.
These are the familiar and the constant manifestations of family affection which are so intimate a part of life that we scarcely observe them.
In addition to these we find peculiar manifestations of family devotion exemplifying that touching affection which rises to unusual sacrifice because it is close to pity and feebleness. "My cousin and his family had to go back to Italy. He got to Ellis Island with his wife and five children, but they wouldn't let in the feeble-minded boy, so of course they all went back with him. My cousin was fearful disappointed."
Or, "These are the five children of my brother. He and his wife, my father and mother, were all done for in the bad time at Kishinef. It's up to me all right to take care of the kids, and I'd no more go back on them than I would on my own." Or, again: "Yes, I have seven children of my own. My husband died when Tim was born. The other three children belong to my sister, who died the year after my husband. I get on pretty well. I scrub in a factory every night from six to twelve, and I go out washing four days a week. So far the children have all gone through the eighth grade before they quit school," she concludes, beaming with pride and joy.
That wonderful devotion to the child seems at times, in the midst of our stupid social and industrial arrangements, all that keeps society human, the touch of nature which unites it, as it was that same devotion which first lifted it out of the swamp of bestiality. The devotion to the child is "the inevitable conclusion of the two premises of the practical syllogism, the devotion of man to woman." It is, of course, this tremendous force which makes possible the family, that bond which holds society together and blends the experience of generations into a continuous story. The family has been called "the fountain of morality," "the source of law," "the necessary prelude to the state" itself; but while it is continuous historically, this dual bond must be made anew a myriad times in each generation, and the forces upon which its formation depend must be powerful and unerring. It would be too great a risk to leave it to a force whose manifestations are intermittent and uncertain. The desired result is too grave and fundamental.
One Sunday evening an excited young man came to see me, saying that he must have advice; some one must tell him at once what to do, as his wife was in the state's prison serving a sentence for a crime which he himself had committed. He had seen her the day before, and though she had been there only a month he was convinced that she was developing consumption. She was "only seventeen, and couldn't stand the hard work and the 'low down' women" whom she had for companions. My remark that a girl of seventeen was too young to be in the state penitentiary brought out the whole wretched story.
He had been unsteady for many years and the despair of his thoroughly respectable family who had sent him West the year before. In Arkansas he had fallen in love with a girl of sixteen and married her. His mother was far from pleased, but had finally sent him money to bring his bride to Chicago, in the hope that he might settle there. En route they stopped at a small town for the naive reason that he wanted to have an aching tooth pulled. But the tooth gave him an excellent opportunity to have a drink, and before he reached the office of the country practitioner he was intoxicated. As they passed through the vestibule he stole an overcoat hanging there, although the little wife piteously begged him to let it alone. Out of sheer bravado he carried it across his arm as they walked down the street, and was, of course, immediately arrested "with the goods upon him." In sheer terror of being separated from her husband, the wife insisted that she had been an accomplice, and together they were put into the county jail awaiting the action of the Grand Jury. At the end of the sixth week, on one of the rare occasions when they were permitted to talk to each other through the grating which separated the men's visiting quarters from the women's, the young wife told her husband that she made up her mind to swear that she had stolen the overcoat. What could she do if he were sent to prison and she were left free? She was afraid to go to his people and could not possibly go back to hers. In spite of his protest, that very night she sent for the state's attorney and made a full confession, giving her age as eighteen in the hope of making her testimony more valuable. From that time on they stuck to the lie through the indictment, the trial and her conviction. Apparently it had seemed to him only a well-arranged plot until he had visited the penitentiary the day before, and had really seen her piteous plight. Remorse had seized him at last, and he was ready to make every restitution. She, however, had no notion of giving up—on the contrary, as she realized more clearly what prison life meant, she was daily more determined to spare him the experience. Her letters, written in the unformed hand of a child—for her husband had himself taught her to read and write—were filled with a riot of self-abnegation, the martyr's joy as he feels the iron enter the flesh. Thus had an illiterate, neglected girl through sheer devotion to a worthless sort of young fellow inclined to drink, entered into that noble company of martyrs.
When girls "go wrong" what happens? How has this tremendous force, valuable and necessary for the foundation of the family, become misdirected? When its manifestations follow the legitimate channels of wedded life we call them praiseworthy; but there are other manifestations quite outside the legal and moral channels which yet compel our admiration.
A young woman of my acquaintance was married to a professional criminal named Joe. Three months after the wedding he was arrested and "sent up" for two years. Molly had always been accustomed to many lovers, but she remained faithful to her absent husband for a year. At the end of that time she obtained a divorce which the state law makes easy for the wife of a convict, and married a man who was "rich and respectable"—in fact, he owned the small manufacturing establishment in which her mother did the scrubbing. He moved his bride to another part of town six miles away, provided her with a "steam-heated flat," furniture upholstered in "cut velvet," and many other luxuries of which Molly heretofore had only dreamed. One day as she was wheeling a handsome baby carriage up and down the prosperous street, her brother, who was "Joe's pal," came to tell her that Joe was "out," had come to the old tenement and was "mighty sore" because "she had gone back on him." Without a moment's hesitation Molly turned the baby carriage in the direction of her old home and never stopped wheeling it until she had compassed the entire six miles. She and Joe rented the old room and went to housekeeping. The rich and respectable husband made every effort to persuade her to come back, and then another series of efforts to recover his child, before he set her free through a court proceeding. Joe, however, steadfastly refused to marry her, still "sore" because she had not "stood by." As he worked only intermittently, and was too closely supervised by the police to do much at his old occupation, Molly was obliged to support the humble menage by scrubbing in a neighboring lodging house and by washing "the odd shirts" of the lodgers. For five years, during which time two children were born, when she was constantly subjected to the taunts of her neighbors, and when all the charitable agencies refused to give help to such an irregular household, Molly happily went on her course with no shade of regret or sorrow. "I'm all right as long as Joe keeps out of the jug," was her slogan of happiness, low in tone, perhaps, but genuine and "game." Her surroundings were as sordid as possible, consisting of a constantly changing series of cheap "furnished rooms" in which the battered baby carriage was the sole witness of better days. But Molly's heart was full of courage and happiness, and she was never desolate until her criminal lover was "sent up" again, this time on a really serious charge.
These irregular manifestations form a link between that world in which each one struggles to "live respectable," and that nether world in which are also found cases of devotion and of enduring affection arising out of the midst of the folly and the shame. The girl there who through all tribulation supports her recreant "lover," or the girl who overcomes, her drink and opium habits, who renounces luxuries and goes back to uninteresting daily toil for the sake of the good opinion of a man who wishes her to "appear decent," although he never means to marry her, these are also impressive.
One of our earliest experiences at Hull-House had to do with a lover of this type and the charming young girl who had become fatally attached to him. I can see her now running for protection up the broad steps of the columned piazza then surrounding Hull-House. Her slender figure was trembling with fright, her tear-covered face swollen and bloodstained from the blows he had dealt her. "He is apt to abuse me when he is drunk," was the only explanation, and that given by way of apology, which could be extracted from her. When we discovered that there had been no marriage ceremony, that there were no living children, that she had twice narrowly escaped losing her life, it seemed a simple matter to insist that the relation should be broken off. She apathetically remained at Hull-House for a few weeks, but when her strength had somewhat returned, when her lover began to recover from his prolonged debauch of whiskey and opium, she insisted upon going home every day to prepare his meals and to see that the little tenement was clean and comfortable because "Pierre is always so sick and weak after one of those long ones." This of course meant that she was drifting back to him, and when she was at last restrained by that moral compulsion, by that overwhelming of another's will which is always so ruthlessly exerted by those who are conscious that virtue is struggling with vice, her mind gave way and she became utterly distraught.
A poor little Ophelia, I met her one night wandering in the hall half dressed in the tawdry pink gown "that Pierre liked best of all" and groping on the blank wall to find the door which might permit her to escape to her lover. In a few days it was obvious that hospital restraint was necessary, but when she finally recovered we were obliged to admit that there is no civic authority which can control the acts of a girl of eighteen. From the hospital she followed her heart directly back to Pierre, who had in the meantime moved out of the Hull-House neighborhood. We knew later that he had degraded the poor child still further by obliging her to earn money for his drugs by that last method resorted to by a degenerate man to whom a woman's devotion still clings.
It is inevitable that a force which is enduring enough to withstand the discouragements, the suffering and privation of daily living, strenuous enough to overcome and rectify the impulses which make for greed and self-indulgence, should be able, even under untoward conditions, to lift up and transfigure those who are really within its grasp and set them in marked contrast to those who are merely playing a game with it or using it for gain. But what has happened to these wretched girls? Why has this beneficent current cast them upon the shores of death and destruction when it should have carried them into the safe port of domesticity? Through whose fault has this basic emotion served merely to trick and deride them?
Older nations have taken a well defined line of action in regard to it.
Among the Hull-House neighbors are many of the Latin races who employ a careful chaperonage over their marriageable daughters and provide husbands for them at an early age. "My father will get a husband for me this winter," announces Angelina, whose father has brought her to a party at Hull-House, and she adds with a toss of her head, "I saw two already, but my father says they haven't saved enough money to marry me." She feels quite as content in her father's wisdom and ability to provide her with a husband as she does in his capacity to escort her home safely from the party. He does not permit her to cross the threshold after nightfall unaccompanied by himself, and unless the dowry and the husband are provided before she is eighteen he will consider himself derelict in his duty towards her. "Francesca can't even come to the Sodality meeting this winter. She lives only across from the church but her mother won't let her come because her father is out West working on a railroad," is a comment one often hears. The system works well only when it is carried logically through to the end of an early marriage with a properly-provided husband.
Even with the Latin races, when the system is tried in America it often breaks down, and when the Anglo-Saxons anywhere imitate this regime it is usually utterly futile. They follow the first part of the program as far as repression is concerned, but they find it impossible to follow the second because all sorts of inherited notions deter them. The repressed girl, if she is not one of the languishing type, takes matters into her own hands, and finds her pleasures in illicit ways, without her parents' knowledge. "I had no idea my daughter was going to public dances. She always told me she was spending the night with her cousin on the South Side. I hadn't a suspicion of the truth," many a broken-hearted mother explains. An officer who has had a long experience in the Juvenile Court of Chicago, and has listened to hundreds of cases involving wayward girls, gives it as his deliberate impression that a large majority of cases are from families where the discipline had been rigid, where they had taken but half of the convention of the Old World and left the other half.
Unless we mean to go back to these Old World customs which are already hopelessly broken, there would seem to be but one path open to us in America. That path implies freedom for the young people made safe only through their own self-control. This, in turn, must be based upon knowledge and habits of clean companionship. In point of fact no course between the two is safe in a modern city, and in the most crowded quarters the young people themselves are working out a protective code which reminds one of the instinctive protection that the free-ranging child in the country learns in regard to poisonous plants and "marshy places," or of the cautions and abilities that the mountain child develops in regard to ice and precipices. This statement, of course, does not hold good concerning a large number of children in every crowded city quarter who may be classed as degenerates, the children of careless or dissolute mothers who fall into all sorts of degenerate habits and associations before childhood is passed, who cannot be said to have "gone wrong" at any one moment because they have never been in the right path even of innocent childhood; but the statement is sound concerning thousands of girls who go to and from work every day with crowds of young men who meet them again and again in the occasional evening pleasures of the more decent dance halls or on a Sunday afternoon in the parks.
The mothers who are of most use to these normal city working girls are the mothers who develop a sense of companionship with the changing experiences of their daughters, who are willing to modify ill-fitting social conventions into rules of conduct which are of actual service to their children in their daily lives of factory work and of city amusements. Those mothers, through their sympathy and adaptability, substitute keen present interests and activity for solemn warnings and restraint, self-expression for repression. Their vigorous family life allies itself by a dozen bonds to the educational, the industrial and the recreational organizations of the modern city, and makes for intelligent understanding, industrial efficiency and sane social pleasures.
By all means let us preserve the safety of the home, but let us also make safe the street in which the majority of our young people find their recreation and form their permanent relationships. Let us not forget that the great processes of social life develop themselves through influences of which each participant is unconscious as he struggles alone and unaided in the strength of a current which seizes him and bears him along with myriads of others, a current which may so easily wreck the very foundations of domesticity.
THE QUEST FOR ADVENTURE
A certain number of the outrages upon the spirit of youth may be traced to degenerate or careless parents who totally neglect their responsibilities; a certain other large number of wrongs are due to sordid men and women who deliberately use the legitimate pleasure-seeking of young people as lures into vice. There remains, however, a third very large class of offenses for which the community as a whole must be held responsible if it would escape the condemnation, "Woe unto him by whom offenses come." This class of offenses is traceable to a dense ignorance on the part of the average citizen as to the requirements of youth, and to a persistent blindness on the part of educators as to youth's most obvious needs.
The young people are overborne by their own undirected and misguided energies. A mere temperamental outbreak in a brief period of obstreperousness exposes a promising boy to arrest and imprisonment, an accidental combination of circumstances too complicated and overwhelming to be coped with by an immature mind, condemns a growing lad to a criminal career. These impulsive misdeeds may be thought of as dividing into two great trends somewhat obscurely analogous to the two historic divisions of man's motive power, for we are told that all the activities of primitive man and even those of his more civilized successors may be broadly traced to the impulsion of two elemental appetites. The first drove him to the search for food, the hunt developing into war with neighboring tribes and finally broadening into barter and modern commerce; the second urged him to secure and protect a mate, developing into domestic life, widening into the building of homes and cities, into the cultivation of the arts and a care for beauty.
In the life of each boy there comes a time when these primitive instincts urge him to action, when he is himself frightened by their undefined power. He is faced by the necessity of taming them, of reducing them to manageable impulses just at the moment when "a boy's will is the wind's will," or, in the words of a veteran educator, at the time when "it is almost impossible for an adult to realize the boy's irresponsibility and even moral neurasthenia." That the boy often fails may be traced in those pitiful figures which show that between two and three times as much incorrigibility occurs between the ages of thirteen and sixteen as at any other period of life.
The second division of motive power has been treated in the preceding chapter. The present chapter is an effort to point out the necessity for an understanding of the first trend of motives if we would minimize the temptations of the struggle and free the boy from the constant sense of the stupidity and savagery of life. To set his feet in the worn path of civilization is not an easy task, but it may give us a clue for the undertaking to trace his misdeeds to the unrecognized and primitive spirit of adventure corresponding to the old activity of the hunt, of warfare, and of discovery.
To do this intelligently, we shall have to remember that many boys in the years immediately following school find no restraint either in tradition or character. They drop learning as a childish thing and look upon school as a tiresome task that is finished. They demand pleasure as the right of one who earns his own living. They have developed no capacity for recreation demanding mental effort or even muscular skill, and are obliged to seek only that depending upon sight, sound and taste. Many of them begin to pay board to their mothers, and make the best bargain they can, that more money may be left to spend in the evening. They even bait the excitement of "losing a job," and often provoke a foreman if only to see "how much he will stand." They are constitutionally unable to enjoy anything continuously and follow their vagrant wills unhindered. Unfortunately the city lends itself to this distraction. At the best, it is difficult to know what to select and what to eliminate as objects of attention among its thronged streets, its glittering shops, its gaudy advertisements of shows and amusements. It is perhaps to the credit of many city boys that the very first puerile spirit of adventure looking abroad in the world for material upon which to exercise itself, seems to center about the railroad. The impulse is not unlike that which excites the coast-dwelling lad to dream of
"The beauty and mystery of the ships And the magic of the sea."
I cite here a dozen charges upon which boys were brought into the Juvenile Court of Chicago, all of which might be designated as deeds of adventure. A surprising number, as the reader will observe, are connected with railroads. They are taken from the court records and repeat the actual words used by police officers, irate neighbors, or discouraged parents, when the boys were brought before the judge. (1) Building fires along the railroad tracks; (2) flagging trains; (3) throwing stones at moving train windows; (4) shooting at the actors in the Olympic Theatre with sling shots; (5) breaking signal lights on the railroad; (6) stealing linseed oil barrels from the railroad to make a fire; (7) taking waste from an axle box and burning it upon the railroad tracks; (8) turning a switch and running a street car off the track; (9) staying away from home to sleep in barns; (10) setting fire to a barn in order to see the fire engines come up the street; (11) knocking down signs; (12) cutting Western Union cable.
Another dozen charges also taken from actual court records might be added as illustrating the spirit of adventure, for although stealing is involved in all of them, the deeds were doubtless inspired much more by the adventurous impulse than by a desire for the loot itself:
(1) Stealing thirteen pigeons from a barn; (2) stealing a bathing suit; (3) stealing a tent; (4) stealing ten dollars from mother with which to buy a revolver; (5) stealing a horse blanket to use at night when it was cold sleeping on the wharf; (6) breaking a seal on a freight car to steal "grain for chickens"; (7) stealing apples from a freight car; (8) stealing a candy peddler's wagon "to be full up just for once"; (9) stealing a hand car; (10) stealing a bicycle to take a ride; (11) stealing a horse and buggy and driving twenty-five miles into the country; (12) stealing a stray horse on the prairie and trying to sell it for twenty dollars.
Of another dozen it might be claimed that they were also due to this same adventurous spirit, although the first six were classed as disorderly conduct: (1) Calling a neighbor a "scab"; (2) breaking down a fence; (3) flipping cars; (4) picking up coal from railroad tracks; (5) carrying a concealed "dagger," and stabbing a playmate with it; (6) throwing stones at a railroad employee. The next three were called vagrancy: (1) Loafing on the docks; (2) "sleeping out" nights; (3) getting "wandering spells." One, designated petty larceny, was cutting telephone wires under the sidewalk and selling them; another, called burglary, was taking locks off from basement doors; and the last one bore the dignified title of "resisting an officer" because the boy, who was riding on the fender of a street car, refused to move when an officer ordered him off.
Of course one easily recalls other cases in which the manifestations were negative. I remember an exasperated and frightened mother who took a boy of fourteen into court upon the charge of incorrigibility. She accused him of "shooting craps," "smoking cigarettes," "keeping bad company," "being idle." The mother regrets it now, however, for she thinks that taking a boy into court only gives him a bad name, and that "the police are down on a boy who has once been in court, and that that makes it harder for him." She hardly recognizes her once troublesome charge in the steady young man of nineteen who brings home all his wages and is the pride and stay of her old age.
I recall another boy who worked his way to New York and back again to Chicago before he was quite fourteen years old, skilfully escaping the truant officers as well as the police and special railroad detectives. He told his story with great pride, but always modestly admitted that he could never have done it if his father had not been a locomotive engineer so that he had played around railroad tracks and "was onto them ever since he was a small kid."
There are many of these adventurous boys who exhibit a curious incapacity for any effort which requires sustained energy. They show an absolute lack of interest in the accomplishment of what they undertake, so marked that if challenged in the midst of their activity, they will be quite unable to tell you the end they have in view. Then there are those tramp boys who are the despair of every one who tries to deal with them.
I remember the case of a boy who traveled almost around the world in the years lying between the ages of eleven and fifteen. He had lived for six months in Honolulu where he had made up his mind to settle when the irresistible "Wanderlust" again seized him. He was scrupulously neat in his habits and something of a dandy in appearance. He boasted that he had never stolen, although he had been arrested several times on the charge of vagrancy, a fate which befell him in Chicago and landed him in the Detention Home connected with the Juvenile Court. The judge gained a personal hold upon him, and the lad tried with all the powers of his untrained moral nature to "make good and please the judge." Monotonous factory work was not to be thought of in connection with him, but his good friend the judge found a place for him as a bell-boy in a men's club, where it was hoped that the uniform and the variety of experience might enable him to take the first steps toward regular pay and a settled life. Through another bell-boy, however, he heard of the find of a diamond carelessly left in one of the wash rooms of the club. The chance to throw out mysterious hints of its whereabouts, to bargain for its restoration, to tell of great diamond deals he had heard of in his travels, inevitably laid him open to suspicion which resulted in his dismissal, although he had had nothing to do with the matter beyond gloating over its adventurous aspects. In spite of skilful efforts made to detain him, he once more started on his travels, throwing out such diverse hints as that of "a trip into Old Mexico," or "following up Roosevelt into Africa."
There is an entire series of difficulties directly traceable to the foolish and adventurous persistence of carrying loaded firearms. The morning paper of the day in which I am writing records the following:
"A party of boys, led by Daniel O'Brien, thirteen years old, had gathered in front of the house and O'Brien was throwing stones at Nieczgodzki in revenge for a whipping that he received at his hands about a month ago. The Polish boy ordered them away and threatened to go into the house and get a revolver if they did not stop. Pfister, one of the boys in O'Brien's party, called him a coward, and when he pulled a revolver from his pocket, dared him to put it away and meet him in a fist fight in the street. Instead of accepting the challenge, Nieczgodzki aimed his revolver at Pfister and fired. The bullet crashed through the top of his head and entered the brain. He was rushed to the Alexian Brothers' Hospital, but died a short time after being received there. Nieczgodzki was arrested and held without bail."
This tale could be duplicated almost every morning; what might be merely a boyish scrap is turned into a tragedy because some boy has a revolver.
Many citizens in Chicago have been made heartsick during the past month by the knowledge that a boy of nineteen was lodged in the county jail awaiting the death penalty. He had shot and killed a policeman during the scrimmage of an arrest, although the offense for which he was being "taken in" was a trifling one. His parents came to Chicago twenty years ago from a little farm in Ohio, the best type of Americans, whom we boast to be the backbone of our cities. The mother, who has aged and sickened since the trial, can only say that "Davie was never a bad boy until about five years ago when he began to go with this gang who are always looking out for fun."
Then there are those piteous cases due to a perfervid imagination which fails to find material suited to its demands. I can recall misadventures of children living within a few blocks of Hull-House which may well fill with chagrin those of us who are trying to administer to their deeper needs. I remember a Greek boy of fifteen who was arrested for attempting to hang a young Turk, stirred by some vague notion of carrying on a traditional warfare, and of adding another page to the heroic annals of Greek history. When sifted, the incident amounted to little more than a graphic threat and the lad was dismissed by the court, covered with confusion and remorse that he had brought disgrace upon the name of Greece when he had hoped to add to its glory.
I remember with a lump in my throat the Bohemian boy of thirteen who committed suicide because he could not "make good" in school, and wished to show that he too had "the stuff" in him, as stated in the piteous little letter left behind. This same love of excitement, the desire to jump out of the humdrum experience of life, also induces boys to experiment with drinks and drugs to a surprising extent. For several years the residents of Hull-House struggled with the difficulty of prohibiting the sale of cocaine to minors under a totally inadequate code of legislation, which has at last happily been changed to one more effective and enforcible. The long effort brought us into contact with dozens of boys who had become victims of the cocaine habit. The first group of these boys was discovered in the house of "Army George." This one-armed man sold cocaine on the streets and also in the levee district by a system of signals so that the word cocaine need never be mentioned, and the style and size of the package was changed so often that even a vigilant police found it hard to locate it. What could be more exciting to a lad than a traffic in a contraband article, carried on in this mysterious fashion? I recall our experience with a gang of boys living on a neighboring street. There were eight of them altogether, the eldest seventeen years of age, the youngest thirteen, and they practically lived the life of vagrants. What answered to their club house was a corner lot on Harrison and Desplaines Streets, strewn with old boilers, in which they slept by night and many times by day. The gang was brought to the attention of Hull-House during the summer of 1904 by a distracted mother, who suspected that they were all addicted to some drug. She was terribly frightened over the state of her youngest boy of thirteen, who was hideously emaciated and his mind reduced almost to vacancy. I remember the poor woman as she sat in the reception room at Hull-House, holding the unconscious boy in her arms, rocking herself back and forth in her fright and despair, saying: "I have seen them go with the drink, and eat the hideous opium, but I never knew anything like this."
An investigation showed that cocaine had first been offered to these boys on the street by a colored man, an agent of a drug store, who had given them samples and urged them to try it. In three or four months they had become hopelessly addicted to its use, and at the end of six months, when they were brought to Hull-House, they were all in a critical condition. At that time not one of them was either going to school or working. They stole from their parents, "swiped junk," pawned their clothes and shoes,—did any desperate thing to "get the dope," as they called it.
Of course they continually required more, and had spent as much as eight dollars a night for cocaine, which they used to "share and share alike." It sounds like a large amount, but it really meant only four doses each during the night, as at that time they were taking twenty-five cents' worth at once if they could possibly secure it. The boys would tell nothing for three or four days after they were discovered, in spite of the united efforts of their families, the police, and the residents of Hull-House. But finally the superior boy of the gang, the manliest and the least debauched, told his tale, and the others followed in quick succession. They were willing to go somewhere to be helped, and were even eager if they could go together, and finally seven of them were sent to the Presbyterian Hospital for four weeks' treatment and afterwards all went to the country together for six weeks more. The emaciated child gained twenty pounds during his sojourn in the hospital, the head of which testified that at least three of the boys could have stood but little more of the irregular living and doping. At the present moment they are all, save one, doing well, although they were rescued so late that they seemed to have but little chance. One is still struggling with the appetite on an Iowa farm and dares not trust himself in the city because he knows too well how cocaine may be procured in spite of better legislation. It is doubtful whether these boys could ever have been pulled through unless they had been allowed to keep together through the hospital and convalescing period,—unless we had been able to utilize the gang spirit and to turn its collective force towards overcoming the desire for the drug.
The desire to dream and see visions also plays an important part with the boys who habitually use cocaine. I recall a small hut used by boys for this purpose. They washed dishes in a neighboring restaurant and as soon as they had earned a few cents they invested in cocaine which they kept pinned underneath their suspenders. When they had accumulated enough for a real debauch they went to this hut and for several days were dead to the outside world. One boy told me that in his dreams he saw large rooms paved with gold and silver money, the walls papered with greenbacks, and that he took away in buckets all that he could carry.
This desire for adventure also seizes girls. A group of girls ranging in age from twelve to seventeen was discovered in Chicago last June, two of whom were being trained by older women to open tills in small shops, to pick pockets, to remove handkerchiefs, furs and purses and to lift merchandise from the counters of department stores. All the articles stolen were at once taken to their teachers and the girls themselves received no remuneration, except occasional sprees to the theaters or other places of amusement. The girls gave no coherent reason for their actions beyond the statement that they liked the excitement and the fun of it. Doubtless to the thrill of danger was added the pleasure and interest of being daily in the shops and the glitter of "down town." The boys are more indifferent to this downtown life, and are apt to carry on their adventures on the docks, the railroad tracks or best of all upon the unoccupied prairie.
This inveterate demand of youth that life shall afford a large element of excitement is in a measure well founded. We know of course that it is necessary to accept excitement as an inevitable part of recreation, that the first step in recreation is "that excitement which stirs the worn or sleeping centers of a man's body and mind." It is only when it is followed by nothing else that it defeats its own end, that it uses up strength and does not create it. In the actual experience of these boys the excitement has demoralized them and led them into law-breaking. When, however, they seek legitimate pleasure, and say with great pride that they are "ready to pay for it," what they find is legal but scarcely more wholesome,—it is still merely excitement. "Looping the loop" amid shrieks of simulated terror or dancing in disorderly saloon halls, are perhaps the natural reactions to a day spent in noisy factories and in trolley cars whirling through the distracting streets, but the city which permits them to be the acme of pleasure and recreation to its young people, commits a grievous mistake.
May we not assume that this love for excitement, this desire for adventure, is basic, and will be evinced by each generation of city boys as a challenge to their elders? And yet those of us who live in Chicago are obliged to confess that last year there were arrested and brought into court fifteen thousand young people under the age of twenty, who had failed to keep even the common law of the land. Most of these young people had broken the law in their blundering efforts to find adventure and in response to the old impulse for self-expression. It is said indeed that practically the whole machinery of the grand jury and of the criminal courts is maintained and operated for the benefit of youths between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five. Men up to ninety years of age, it is true, commit crimes, but they are not characterized by the recklessness, the bravado and the horror which have stained our records in Chicago. An adult with the most sordid experience of life and the most rudimentary notion of prudence, could not possibly have committed them. Only a utilization of that sudden burst of energy belonging partly to the future could have achieved them, only a capture of the imagination and of the deepest emotions of youth could have prevented them!
Possibly these fifteen thousand youths were brought to grief because the adult population assumed that the young would be able to grasp only that which is presented in the form of sensation; as if they believed that youth could thus early become absorbed in a hand to mouth existence, and so entangled in materialism that there would be no reaction against it. It is as though we were deaf to the appeal of these young creatures, claiming their share of the joy of life, flinging out into the dingy city their desires and aspirations after unknown realities, their unutterable longings for companionship and pleasure. Their very demand for excitement is a protest against the dullness of life, to which we ourselves instinctively respond.
THE HOUSE OF DREAMS
To the preoccupied adult who is prone to use the city street as a mere passageway from one hurried duty to another, nothing is more touching than his encounter with a group of children and young people who are emerging from a theater with the magic of the play still thick upon them. They look up and down the familiar street scarcely recognizing it and quite unable to determine the direction of home. From a tangle of "make believe" they gravely scrutinize the real world which they are so reluctant to reenter, reminding one of the absorbed gaze of a child who is groping his way back from fairy-land whither the story has completely transported him.
"Going to the show" for thousands of young people in every industrial city is the only possible road to the realms of mystery and romance; the theater is the only place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them. In a very real sense the drama and the drama alone performs for them the office of art as is clearly revealed in their blundering demand stated in many forms for "a play unlike life." The theater becomes to them a "veritable house of dreams" infinitely more real than the noisy streets and the crowded factories.
This first simple demand upon the theater for romance is closely allied to one more complex which might be described as a search for solace and distraction in those moments of first awakening from the glamour of a youth's interpretation of life to the sterner realities which are thrust upon his consciousness. These perceptions which inevitably "close around" and imprison the spirit of youth are perhaps never so grim as in the case of the wage-earning child. We can all recall our own moments of revolt against life's actualities, our reluctance to admit that all life was to be as unheroic and uneventful as that which we saw about us, it was too unbearable that "this was all there was" and we tried every possible avenue of escape. As we made an effort to believe, in spite of what we saw, that life was noble and harmonious, as we stubbornly clung to poesy in contradiction to the testimony of our senses, so we see thousands of young people thronging the theaters bent in their turn upon the same quest. The drama provides a transition between the romantic conceptions which they vainly struggle to keep intact and life's cruelties and trivialities which they refuse to admit. A child whose imagination has been cultivated is able to do this for himself through reading and reverie, but for the overworked city youth of meager education, perhaps nothing but the theater is able to perform this important office.
The theater also has a strange power to forecast life for the youth. Each boy comes from our ancestral past not "in entire forgetfulness," and quite as he unconsciously uses ancient war-cries in his street play, so he longs to reproduce and to see set before him the valors and vengeances of a society embodying a much more primitive state of morality than that in which he finds himself. Mr. Patten has pointed out that the elemental action which the stage presents, the old emotions of love and jealousy, of revenge and daring take the thoughts of the spectator back into deep and well worn channels in which his mind runs with a sense of rest afforded by nothing else. The cheap drama brings cause and effect, will power and action, once more into relation and gives a man the thrilling conviction that he may yet be master of his fate. The youth of course, quite unconscious of this psychology, views the deeds of the hero simply as a forecast of his own future and it is this fascinating view of his own career which draws the boy to "shows" of all sorts. They can scarcely be too improbable for him, portraying, as they do, his belief in his own prowess. A series of slides which has lately been very popular in the five-cent theaters of Chicago, portrayed five masked men breaking into a humble dwelling, killing the father of the family and carrying away the family treasure. The golden-haired son of the house, aged seven, vows eternal vengeance on the spot, and follows one villain after another to his doom. The execution of each is shown in lurid detail, and the last slide of the series depicts the hero, aged ten, kneeling upon his father's grave counting on the fingers of one hand the number of men that he has killed, and thanking God that he has been permitted to be an instrument of vengeance.
In another series of slides, a poor woman is wearily bending over some sewing, a baby is crying in the cradle, and two little boys of nine and ten are asking for food. In despair the mother sends them out into the street to beg, but instead they steal a revolver from a pawn shop and with it kill a Chinese laundry-man, robbing him of $200. They rush home with the treasure which is found by the mother in the baby's cradle, whereupon she and her sons fall upon their knees and send up a prayer of thankfulness for this timely and heaven-sent assistance.
Is it not astounding that a city allows thousands of its youth to fill their impressionable minds with these absurdities which certainly will become the foundation for their working moral codes and the data from which they will judge the proprieties of life?
It is as if a child, starved at home, should be forced to go out and search for food, selecting, quite naturally, not that which is nourishing but that which is exciting and appealing to his outward sense, often in his ignorance and foolishness blundering into substances which are filthy and poisonous.
Out of my twenty years' experience at Hull-House I can recall all sorts of pilferings, petty larcenies, and even burglaries, due to that never ceasing effort on the part of boys to procure theater tickets. I can also recall indirect efforts towards the same end which are most pitiful. I remember the remorse of a young girl of fifteen who was brought into the Juvenile Court after a night spent weeping in the cellar of her home because she had stolen a mass of artificial flowers with which to trim a hat. She stated that she had taken the flowers because she was afraid of losing the attention of a young man whom she had heard say that "a girl has to be dressy if she expects to be seen." This young man was the only one who had ever taken her to the theater and if he failed her, she was sure that she would never go again, and she sobbed out incoherently that she "couldn't live at all without it." Apparently the blankness and grayness of life itself had been broken for her only by the portrayal of a different world.
One boy whom I had known from babyhood began to take money from his mother from the time he was seven years old, and after he was ten she regularly gave him money for the play Saturday evening. However, the Saturday performance, "starting him off like," he always went twice again on Sunday, procuring the money in all sorts of illicit ways. Practically all of his earnings after he was fourteen were spent in this way to satisfy the insatiable desire to know of the great adventures of the wide world which the more fortunate boy takes out in reading Homer and Stevenson.
In talking with his mother, I was reminded of my experience one Sunday afternoon in Russia when the employees of a large factory were seated in an open-air theater, watching with breathless interest the presentation of folk stories. I was told that troupes of actors went from one manufacturing establishment to another presenting the simple elements of history and literature to the illiterate employees. This tendency to slake the thirst for adventure by viewing the drama is, of course, but a blind and primitive effort in the direction of culture, for "he who makes himself its vessel and bearer thereby acquires a freedom from the blindness and soul poverty of daily existence."
It is partly in response to this need that more sophisticated young people often go to the theater, hoping to find a clue to life's perplexities. Many times the bewildered hero reminds one of Emerson's description of Margaret Fuller, "I don't know where I am going, follow me"; nevertheless, the stage is dealing with the moral themes in which the public is most interested.
And while many young people go to the theater if only to see represented, and to hear discussed, the themes which seem to them so tragically important, there is no doubt that what they hear there, flimsy and poor as it often is, easily becomes their actual moral guide. In moments of moral crisis they turn to the sayings of the hero who found himself in a similar plight. The sayings may not be profound, but at least they are applicable to conduct. In the last few years scores of plays have been put upon the stage whose titles might be easily translated into proper headings for sociological lectures or sermons, without including the plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Hauptmann, which deal so directly with moral issues that the moralists themselves wince under their teachings and declare them brutal. But it is this very brutality which the over-refined and complicated city dwellers often crave. Moral teaching has become so intricate, creeds so metaphysical, that in a state of absolute reaction they demand definite instruction for daily living. Their whole-hearted acceptance of the teaching corroborates the statement recently made by an English playwright that "The theater is literally making the minds of our urban populations to-day. It is a huge factory of sentiment, of character, of points of honor, of conceptions of conduct, of everything that finally determines the destiny of a nation. The theater is not only a place of amusement, it is a place of culture, a place where people learn how to think, act, and feel." Seldom, however, do we associate the theater with our plans for civic righteousness, although it has become so important a factor in city life.
One Sunday evening last winter an investigation was made of four hundred and sixty six theaters in the city of Chicago, and it was discovered that in the majority of them the leading theme was revenge; the lover following his rival; the outraged husband seeking his wife's paramour; or the wiping out by death of a blot on a hitherto unstained honor. It was estimated that one sixth of the entire population of the city had attended the theaters on that day. At that same moment the churches throughout the city were preaching the gospel of good will. Is not this a striking commentary upon the contradictory influences to which the city youth is constantly subjected?
This discrepancy between the church and the stage is at times apparently recognized by the five-cent theater itself, and a blundering attempt is made to suffuse the songs and moving pictures with piety. Nothing could more absurdly demonstrate this attempt than a song, illustrated by pictures, describing the adventures of a young man who follows a pretty girl through street after street in the hope of "snatching a kiss from her ruby lips." The young man is overjoyed when a sudden wind storm drives the girl to shelter under an archway, and he is about to succeed in his attempt when the good Lord, "ever watchful over innocence," makes the same wind "blow a cloud of dust into the eyes of the rubberneck," and "his foul purpose is foiled." This attempt at piety is also shown in a series of films depicting Bible stories and the Passion Play at Oberammergau, forecasting the time when the moving film will be viewed as a mere mechanical device for the use of the church, the school and the library, as well as for the theater.
At present, however, most improbable tales hold the attention of the youth of the city night after night, and feed his starved imagination as nothing else succeeds in doing. In addition to these fascinations, the five-cent theater is also fast becoming the general social center and club house in many crowded neighborhoods. It is easy of access from the street the entire family of parents and children can attend for a comparatively small sum of money and the performance lasts for at least an hour; and, in some of the humbler theaters, the spectators are not disturbed for a second hour.
The room which contains the mimic stage is small and cozy, and less formal than the regular theater, and there is much more gossip and social life as if the foyer and pit were mingled. The very darkness of the room, necessary for an exhibition of the films, is an added attraction to many young people, for whom the space is filled with the glamour of love making.
Hundreds of young people attend these five-cent theaters every evening in the week, including Sunday, and what is seen and heard there becomes the sole topic of conversation, forming the ground pattern of their social life. That mutual understanding which in another social circle is provided by books, travel and all the arts, is here compressed into the topics suggested by the play.
The young people attend the five-cent theaters in groups, with something of the "gang" instinct, boasting of the films and stunts in "our theater." They find a certain advantage in attending one theater regularly, for the habitues are often invited to come upon the stage on "amateur nights," which occur at least once a week in all the theaters. This is, of course, a most exciting experience. If the "stunt" does not meet with the approval of the audience, the performer is greeted with jeers and a long hook pulls him off the stage; if, on the other hand, he succeeds in pleasing the audience, he may be paid for his performance and later register with a booking agency, the address of which is supplied by the obliging manager, and thus he fancies that a lucrative and exciting career is opening before him. Almost every night at six o'clock a long line of children may be seen waiting at the entrance of these booking agencies, of which there are fifteen that are well known in Chicago.
Thus, the only art which is constantly placed before the eyes of "the temperamental youth" is a debased form of dramatic art, and a vulgar type of music, for the success of a song in these theaters depends not so much upon its musical rendition as upon the vulgarity of its appeal. In a song which held the stage of a cheap theater in Chicago for weeks, the young singer was helped out by a bit of mirror from which she threw a flash of light into the faces of successive boys whom she selected from the audience as she sang the refrain, "You are my Affinity." Many popular songs relate the vulgar experiences of a city man wandering from amusement park to bathing beach in search of flirtations. It may be that these "stunts" and recitals of city adventure contain the nucleus of coming poesy and romance, as the songs and recitals of the early minstrels sprang directly from the life of the people, but all the more does the effort need help and direction, both in the development of its technique and the material of its themes.