London through such enquiring eyes can be fascinating often unearthing living survivals in a modern city, improbable links with a remote past.
HEN I consider," says Addison, "this great city in its several quarters and divisions, I look upon it as an aggregate of various nations distinguished from each other by their respective customs, manners, and interests." The customs, manners, and interests of the Ragamuffin have often been described; philanthropists, economists, and journalists are always telling us something about the Ragamuffin and his surroundings. We have learnt from them how children are "dragged up" to the calling of vagrants, thieves, and worse; that they are too often savagely ignorant, precociously vicious, and deperately miserable.
We cannot shut our ears to the bitter cry of the children; but the rich and prosperous have not the monopoly of happiness, there is the merry laugh as well as the bitter cry; "for the strong pulse of Life vindicates its right to gladness even here", and the ragamuffin shows himself to be something more than a "sorry creature in rags." I propose giving a, slight sketch with pen and pencil of a few Street Arabs whose acquaintance I had the pleasure of making, and some of whom I may now call my friends. Perhaps the ragamuffin will one day write an account of us and how we strike him; in the meanwhile, I describe him as he appears to me, and if he seems to have a very low tide-mark of happiness, and a very different standard of sorrow from ours, we should make all due allowance in consideration of his surroundings, deprivations and ignorance, making no allowance for ourselves that this Saturday afternoon is the best time to meet little Ragamuffins; they are then in full force on the Thames Embankment, by the steps leading down to the water, or climhiDg and skipping over the broad back, mighty flanks, and passive tail of the two imperturable sphinxes, placid guardians of Cleopatra's needle. Or on the Lambeth side of the river, where at low tide, the ragamuffin can bathe in the muddy impure waters, taking headers from rude rafts of floating timber. St. James's Park is the favourite resort of children living in the slums of Westminster; here they can see grass, trees, flowers, sheep. and cows. Battersea Park, though a long and weary way for little feet, is also much frequented by the Westminster ragamuffin. In August and September when all the great houses are closed and their owners enjoying themselves far away, surely the London squares might then all be open to the poor of London, who from year's end to year's end can have no change of air or scene.
It was in St. James's Park that I first mett Canon Southey, not a dignitary of the Church as his name would suggest, but a very raggety specimen of the Street Arab, in company of some half dozen urchins of his own age. They were fishing for sticklebacks and minnow with all the eager gravity of accomplished fishermen.
By means of rudeiy improvised nets and lines floated with matches and baited with worms, they contrived to catch dozens of tiny fish, destined to die a lingering death in pickle- bottles filled with muddy Wiiter. As I approached the little group I could not but admire a rich-eyed Murillo-like boy of eight or nine dressed in curious rags ingeniously fastened together. I beckoned to him, but he only glanced up with supreme indifference, and returned to his sport. A bright six-pence, however, has magic charms; the boys started up and stood round me, shuffling their bare feet in the sand, and nudging each other with sly winks and nods. "I want that boy," I said, pointing to the dark-eyed little fellow who called himself Canon Southey. After much confabbing, persuasion, and encouragement from his companions he reluctantly consented to follow me home; the others keeping him in sight till we entered the house.
Canon Southey was reserved, and grave, and in common with most boys of his class only answered often-repeated questions by a nod or rapid gesture. When he found he could get bread and jam, sixpences, empty biscuit-tins and pickle-bottles, any length of twine, ends of pencil "black-leads" and other "unconsidered trifles," he grew more sociable, and condescendingly told me that he had no objection to coming again. "On which floor do you lodge?" he asked; when I told him we occupied the whole house, he smiled incredulously saying, "Get along!" which being interpreted means, "You must not expect me to believe that." He then asked me why my "big brother wore silver buttons like a policeman"! I was puzzled till he explained, "That chap as opened the door to us." As the servant in livery was suprised to be my brother, my mother was accredited with cooking the dinner." Your mother does cook nice dinners," he declared emphatically after a substantial meal. As a rule, however, street children eat little, and are very fanciful about food: boys and girls preferring tea and bread and butter to almost anything. They eat meat sparingly, seldom tasting it at home excepting perhaps on Sundays.
Doubtless the coarse preparation of treacle and sugar called toffee or lollipops, which they carry about tied up with them in their rags or apologies for pockets, corrects those healthy hunger cravings which experience tells them will not be otherwise satisfied. The babies, I believe, are many of them kept alive by the sugar sticks and sugar-balls they are for every sucking. I have known some of the poorest and hungriest children turn away from a plate of rice and gravy, rice not forming a customary item of diet, with the very poor: on the other hand, potatoes they will prefer even to meat. But no dinner we could provide for these children and their families would satisfy them so well as to that which they treat themselves on some festive occsion -- a wedding, boxing day, or even a funeral. I asked Canon Southey if he had an unlimited sum of money, and as unlimited an appetite, what his "menu" would be. The prospect pleased his fancy. He looked meditatively at me before answering, "Well . . . I'd begin with a cup of eels, a halfpenny a cup hot, but cold, a penny, 'cos then it's fixed stiff. Eelpies is twopence, they are very good, but I'd sooner have bullock's heart; they cost eightpence apiece; after that I think I'd have tripe, tripe and inions (sic) biled in milk, then sheep's head or cold biled beef, you gets it at the shop, two ounces at twopence halfpenny. Greens is a halfpenny, and pease pudding a halfpenny; plum pudding is a penny-halfpenny a slice, but I likes two 'doorsteps' at a halfpenny apiece just as well" "Doorsteps," 1 found, were thick slices of bread spread with jam. "Raspberry or strawberry flavouring, they calls it."
After this copious meal I observed to him that he would feel very thirsty. "I belong to the 'Sons of Phoenix,' " he said, proudly, "so I wouldn't touch beer, I'd drink a penn'orth of gingeret, or a glass of punch and judy (lemonade), but sherbert is best; you buy a lot of the powder for a penny, and pour water on it, then it fizzes away whilst you drinks, some boys fill their mouths with the powder so that it goes off inside of them." "Would you buy any sweets?" I inquired. "Yes, I'd buy three farthings of camarels (a corruption of " caramel "), and a ha'porth of nonpareils." He then drew from his pocket a handful of "sweet pipers;" these are flat, white preparations of sugar, with two holed, through which by blowing, you can produce a shrill whistle; these peculiar dainties are further ornamented with insipid inscriptions. Finding I was interested in what was to him so interesting, Canon Southey brought me a very sticky collection of sweets, "the Creation," rude shapes of birds and beasts in coloured sugar, and "jujube babies," trasparent little figures of gum and sugar wrapped in papera with the following lines:
"Oh come and taste us, we are sweet
From crown of head to sole of feet."
Canon Southey obligingly offered to provide me with little models of any age, varying from three months to thirteen: -- little duplicates of himself in ragged corduroys, small 'listers and tiny babies, twins, who could "sit up, fight, eat pigs' trotters, and drink hot tea from a saucer." They were eleven at home. I inquired of Canon Southey whether these accomplished twins had been christened. He answered, with much assurance, "No, they ain't never been christened, but mother had them waccinated instead."
I soon found my little model very useful and suggestive, quick at catching the attitudes and expressions I required; but he had views of his own, and was very desirous of being painted in some momentary or impossible attitude — doing the wheel, or standing on his head, an accomplishment he was very proud of. "I can beat most chaps walking on my 'ead, only it don't pay like the 'cat-wheel.' Gents chuck down coppers from the buses for the wheel, but they don't care for this 'ead-walking;" and Canon, with his feet in the air, head downwards, proceeded to walk about on his hands with unsteady steps. Another accomplishment, highly in favour, is to swarm up lampposts, catch hold of the projecting iron rod, the ladder support, and swing therefrom. Additional zest is of course given by the threatened appearance of the police, better known as "coppers," from the verb "to cop" or catch. The policemen are well known to the boys, and appropriately nicknamed by them. There is "Jumbo," too stout to run; "Ginger," the red-haired, who is "awful mad" if he catches the boys fishing or climbing trees in the park; "Tiptoes who stealthily catches them gambling at chuck farthing" but some of 'em are quiet enough he said "till they sees a sergeant and then they have to look alive and be what they call minding their dooty."
I never came across a Ragamuffin who looked forward to becoming a policeman, a sailor, or a soldier. A policeman might be killed, a sailor might be drowned and a soldier might be shot. His future troubles him very little, his past not at all. The present is all in all, and must be enjoyed somehow or other.
"What is title? what is treasure?
What is reputation's care?
If we lead a life of pleasure,
Tis no matter how or where
"Life is all a variorum;
We regard not how it goes;
Let them cant about decorum
Who have characters to lose."
But with all their reckless readiness to enjoy, a disease exclusively ascribed to the rich is surprisingly developed among the very poorest, and that is ennui. Boys and girls, men and women, left to themselves are utterly at a loss for interest or amusement. No doubt the children when together contrive to amuse themselves; but left to his own devices the child, either from lack of imagination or want of emulation, soon finds the hours intolerably long.
Even in my studio, which is full of what must be new and one would have thought interesting, to the little waifs, I found myself obliged to be constantly exciting them with stories, or promises of wonderful tilings they should see by and by ; otherwise, the novelty once over, they disappeared, and were with difficulty tempted back.
One sulky little lad, after a few minutes of sitting still, declared that "he couldn't come again." For some time I failed to extract anything beyond this, "No; I ain't coming here never no more," confessing at last that it was so "plaguy dull."
Little Dick Murphy went home with all kinds of treasures -- boxes, a scrap-book, fruit and cakes; but he was true to his word, he never returned. I could multiply cases of boys who find sitting still for a few minutes, at longest a quarter of an hour, quite unbearable, and to lure them back there is no ingenuity or device I have not resorted to. In the summer, after a fair amount of sitting quiet, which they look upon as work, they are allowed to play in the garden with three or four of their friends; this is much looked forward to and appreciated, and "puts heart into them" during the sittings. By far the most fatiguing model, however, is the small baby -- a little brother and sister acting as nurse. Of course, it always goes to sleep when it should be awake, or screams when it should be smiling. It has also to be fed. One baby of a few months old required warm sugar and water, or bread soaked in water; it was not accustomed to milk!
It is not at all unusual to find very fine-limbed, rosy-cheeked children in wretched homes, thriving on wretched diet, and up to a certain age apparently not requiring animal food; but after seven years old the deficiency begins to tell, and the child remains stunted, and grows pale like a plant deprived of light and air.
Amongst the poor the elder children often look prematurely old, sharp-featured, and anxious, whereas the little ones appear thriving, as if they beIonged to a better class of home.
The boys I have found more original and interesting than the girls, who develop earlier, and show much precocity as regards the conduct of life. One afternoon, attracted by the singularly-refined face of a flower-girl passing in the Strand, I went up to her, bought some of her flowers, and asked her to come and sit to me, explaining that I wished to "take her likeness." She said rather condescendingly, that as her business-time was chiefly of an evening when the theatres were open, she would consent to do so. The next morning, an hour after the appointed time, my flower-girl appeared. She looked nonchalantly about her; then, seeing a large mirror, stood some time before it in silence, gazing lovingly at herself, and at length exclaimed, "Well, it is a rare chance to see oneself like this!" and turned her small antique head from side to side, bridling and peacocking with infinite grace. She was shy, and yet defiant. Her clothes hung closely and yet loosely round her graceful form, showing the deficiency of under-clothing. Her head was bare; her beautiful, rusty hair in rich profusion gathered up in a careless knot. When the cold wind blew, she drew her ragged shawl over her head. Her ignorance, her knowledge, her audacity were fairly bewildering. She seemed to have no affections, no ambitions. Sometimes she would laugh, as if born to do nothing else, but with a melancholy look in her eyes. This young forsaken thing lived alone in a room she paid for by the week. She liked to stay in bed till ten or eleven in the morning, though on market days it was necessary to be at Covent Garden very early to buy flowers. These she arranged as tastefully as possible with wire, leaves, and fern, placing them in a light flat basket filled with moss, which is usually carried tilted on the palm of the nand. In the afternoon she took up her stand at the entrance to some restaurant in the Strand, or by the approaches to Charing Cross Station. As soon as the theatres opened she hovered about the entrances, but on wet nights no one would linger to buy "button-holes." People only thought of hurrying into or away from the theatres, so the unsold flowers had to be carried home and kept fresh if possible, to be palmed off, when they seemed withered, in dark corners of the street, "not too near the street lamps." The girl could read, she said, but "didn't hold to books." Indies never gave her anything she cared to read; it was always "goody rubbish they wouldn't so much as look at theirsels." She used sometimes to attend a sewing-class, where ladies came to read aloud twice a week, "but it was heavy reading." Once an old gentleman "preached" about scarlet fever, and what poor people should do;" but there wasn't much sense in what he said," was her only comment.
One of the greatest pleasures she confessed was looking in at shop windows -- especially the jewellery' shops in the Strand. Lockets, earrings, and bracelets, she spoke of with something like fervour. The photographs of actresses, professional beauties, and the royalties, seemed also a source of unfailing interest. "I don't think much of Mrs. Langtry; I know plenty of girls about the market quite as well-looking, though not so stylish." She much objected to the Queen being photgraphed in a bonnet and the Prince of Wales in a tall hat. "It ain't distinguished; it don't matter so much how the royal people looks indoors, but they shouldn't go out in them common things."
One morning she brought me as a present, a latge bunch of fresh violets and I never saw her again.
One young girl aged seventeen, in whom I had been interested -- a gentle, helpless, little thing — came to me the other day, begging for work or sitting;. She was lately married to a young man of nineteen. This was the history of their courtship in all its ugly simplicity: "We met for the first time years ago. He was errand boy to a green-grocer. I was a little girl nursing Mary Ann, then a baby. The first time as ever I saw him was with one of them vegetable baskets on his head like a big bonnet; he never was much to look at, but at that time he looked the ugliest boy I ever saw, but he spoke nice and civil to me and sometimes he gave Mary Ann a ride in his basket. Then he went away to another street and I didn't see him for a long while. Did I ever think of him when he was away? Oh, no. Miss; I even forgot his name. Well, last year his father and mother came and lodged in our buildings. Jim was 'prenticed to a boiler-maker. Sometimes he came to the buildings and I met him on the stairs. Once he carried up my pail for me, and the next day he came and made so bold as to ask me to walk with him on Sunday. I said, 'No.' He asked me again the following week, and I again said 'No.' Then Mrs. Sweeny, his mother, meeting me on the landing, said, 'Why won't you walk out with James, he is a tidy lad', So I answered, 'I didn't think he meant it.' After that I consented to walk with Jim Sweeny if Katie, my sister, might come with us, and as he said three wasn't company, we found another young man to walk with Katie. The first time we went to Battersea Park. We didn't talk much, we hadn't nothink pertickler to say. We went out reg'lar after that. One day Jim said as how he thought we might marry when he'd done his 'prenticeship and came to earn reg'lar wages; be thought we could easily earn enough to hire a room. I said to him, 'Get along!' but he kept to it, and asked my mother and father. They said they wouldn't cross me if I was minded to marry Jim; it was best, my mother said, for one to make my own misery and not have it made for me; so then I thought I'd wait, and I told Jim, but he said be would take up with another girl if I kep' him waiting. This made me sharp, and I pretended I didn't care for him, so he came round at that and was soft and humble-like. I came round too, and we found a room at four shillings a week. We were married last month, and .... please Miss, Jim can't get no reg'lar work, and I don't know whatever we shall do this winter."
We hear much of the want of thrift, in other words the absence of self-denial amongst the poor. Perhaps it is hard to expect much voluntary self-denial where there is so much forced denial. The question, however, has been raised, whether, after all, this carelessness of to-morrow is not inherent in our people, whether their recklessneiss, the improvidence of their early marriage, their eagerness to gratify immediate desire, their "don't care" for the future, would really be corrected and finally overcome by educations, by better food and housing, by allotments of land, and industrial partnerships. It is rash to say that the patient will not recover before the remedies have been tried; it is difficult to believe that men will not improve if their condition is improved, and that it will not follow as an undoubted corollary that "when that improvement is of a signal character, and a generation grows up which has always been used to an improved scale of comfort, the habits of this new generation in respect to population become formed upon a higher minimun, and the improvement in their condition becomes permanent."
I cannot refrain from quoting here a song of the slums, interesting only as affording an illustration of the thriftlessness before alluded to: --
"Up and down Pie street,
The windows made of glass,
Call at number thirty-three,
You'll see a pretty lass.
"Her name is Annie Robinson,
Catch her if you can,
She married Charlie Anderson
Before he was a man.
"Bread and dripping all the week,
Pig's head on Sunday;
Haif-a-crown on Saturday night,
A farthing left for Monday.
"She only brought a bonnet-box.
He only brought a ladle;
So when the little baby came.
It hadn't got no cradle."
Our national songs, I am told, are dying out; the great and stirring events of the day are no longer sung by street ballad-singers; no current political, criminal, or exciting topics are now to be heard chanted in the streets. The death of illustrious personages, records of noble deeds, patriotic songs of England's prowess, all have passed away. The Ragamuffin now, when asked to sing, will feebly pipe such ephemeral ditties as "Alice said to Jumbo," "Over the garden wall," "Oh my little darling," etc. With the ballads the old hurdy-gurdy disappeared, giving place to the barrel-organ, which, alas, is replaced by the piano-organ -- that musical engine of torture. If singing is becoming extinct, dancing is still the fashion, and the organ in courts or alleys still sets the little girls jigging in couples.
As I was walking one summer's evening through the intricate back streets near the Thames, I heard the sound of a lively Scotch reel. There is a good-humoured gaiety about these Scotch dances which is always attractive, even when played on a piano-organ. I followed the sound of the music, and found myself in a little court filled with children dancing merrily. I stood there some time enjoying the sight of a real street ball. They were whirling about together, some in couples, others less fortunate bounding about alone. They clasped each other round the waist, round the neck — anyhow indeed, footing it lightly and joyously. Two older girls with a pretty self-conscious hesitation and graceful balancing to the music, dipped into the dance and were soon spinning round at a giddy pace: as I watched, the ball grew more and more animated, and although the organ went steadily through its programme of solemn marches, doleful melodies or lightsome strathspeys, it was all one to the children. The taller girls kept more rythmic measure, the little ones skipped and danced regardless of time or tune, holding out their tattered skirts with a grace evoked by the music. When out of breath or tired they sat down on some neighbouring doorstep and unconcernedly tied up a garter or thrust back their curls behind the snood. The boys seldom condescend to figure among the girls, and the girls are unwilling to admit them as the dancing is apt to degenerate into rough play.
I stood watching them till the sun sank behind the chimney-pots and the children's shadows lengthened into fantastic shapes. The light of the street lamp, before unnoticed in the fulness of daylight, now asserted itself, and I left the ball, though one or two couples were still floating round to the tune of "The grandfather's clock."
The Ragamuffin whenever we see him is at play; and this brings me to the consideration of their games and sports, though I feel somewhat like the author of the work on Iceland who coming to the chapter entitled "Snakes," could only write "there are few snakes in Iceland." Without going so far as to say there are no games among the children of the streets, it is nevertheless undeniable that most of their games are worn out traditions without sense or purpose.
The boys still show dexterity with the top, and there is a variety of games of marbles, buttons, cherry and date stones, requiring more or less skill; but with these few exceptions the games are greatly in want of revising. Canon told me that the boys themselves grew weary of the sameness of their games. They had tried to invent new ones, but they found nothing better than a variation of "foot-head" or leap-frog. Excepting cricket, which requires suitable ground, wicket, stumps, and a good ball, and is therefore beyond the reach of most ragamuffins, their games are without rules and without object, accompanied by meaningless doggrels, especially among the girls.
Great good might be done by teachers or volunteers if they would introduce some new and lively games into the playground -- games the children would eagerly learn and, is turn, teach their playfellows— games not necessarily instructive, but at least removed from sheer imbecility.
Watching some half a dozen boys disporting themselves in our garden, I was struck by the irregularity of their play, which consisted chiefly in running after one another, knocking down the weakest, kneeling upon him, and rolling over and over like puppies. Recalling some merry French games which I adapted to their understanding.
I taught them amusing romps, though not before repeated failures and being obliged to play with them myself till they learnt how to play alone. In the winter, after the sittings, a glue-pot was brought out, and we made wonderful and curious things with pieces of wood and a handful of nails -- graceful little boats from match-boxes, fighting cocks made with corks and pins, inflated frogs from cunningly-folded writing-paper. My pupils were, I acknowledge, slow to learn, clumsy and awkward with their fingers; but it was worth all the trouble of teaching them to watch their eager, absorbed faces, to see their eyes sparkling, their lips parted, as with breathless interest they saw the frog, cock, or boat shaping itself. If Ragamuffins, among themselves, play without rule or reason, they flght also without reason or formality. Canon Southey was not violent or uncontrolled — he acknowledged having "punched boys of half own size" — but to him prudence was the better part of valour, he "didn't care to stand up agin a bigger chap," though the Irish boys, he said, would fight fellows twice their size. The fiercest fights are kindled over the gambling, this gambling which the police are powerless to put down, the grievous scourge of our street children. It is hardly realised to what an extent the ragamufiin is demomlised by gambling; if he has no money to toss he will stake his very rags. Chance becomes his god. He will talk of "trying his luck," "taking his chance," "looking for a turn of the cards," or a "toss of the die." Some of these boys become such confirmed gamblers that a game at which you cannot win something is not worth playing. They begin at three or four years of age to spin buttons, "shanks or smooth," or chucking farthings for so many scores of cherry stones or dozens of buttons. The boys take it in turn to watch for the police, giving warning of their approach by a shrill whistle or predetermined signal. Instantly the greasy cards disappear, the farthings or buttons are whipped into the pocket, only to reappear as soon as the coast is clear. The ragamuffin welcomes any form of excitement — a street fight, an accident, a crowd, a procession; he scents from afar, and his bare feet carry him swiftly thither. Canon Southey when he wished to make himself particularly entertaining would begin describing to me some wild, lawless fight he had witnessed in their yard or street, showing genuine astonishment when I desired him to talk of something else.
"Why, there is a picter of the man, after he was knocked down, in the Police News this week!" Surely, if there was an illustration of the victim or the ruffian, I should take an interest in the subject.
One morning Canon Southey arrived late, his eyes sparkling with pleased excitement. Asking the cause of this unwonted animation, I learnt that "Aunt Betsy woe dead-" His inhuman glee arose from no hardness of heart, but simply from the importance and bustle occasioned by the death of a relation. It was some relief to find that Aunt Betsy had never been very intimate with them. "I used to fetch coals for her sometimes, but she never gave me nothink; sometiniee I used to go round to fetch cousin Mary Ann to play with, but Aunt Betsy if she caught me would hit me about the head. Aunt Betsy when she was ill told mother she wanted to die; she thought, I suppose, she'd be more comfortable then, though mother did buy her fried soles. Aunt Betsy used to be very fond of them when she was well. Now she's gone to glory. I went to see her last night; she was all wrapped up tight. I don't know what for, as she can't feel nothink now. May be, it is to keep her from turning in her grave. I have heard of people doing that."
Canon was looking forward to the funeral, and to wearing a band of black cloth on his sleeve. "Aunt Betsy's funeral is to be very grand; the horse that pulls her will be all black, with a long tail, and the driver will wear a long black cloth on his hat. The more you pay the slower they drives; if you pay very little they trot ail the way." Canon Southey then made the astounding assertion that "those kind of horses is used to burials, and they cry all the way along the road." You mean the relations?? I said, thinking the boy was becoming confused; but he stoutly maintained that the horses which drew the hearse always wept audibly. When I asked him the reason of this more than human display of feeling, he said he "didn't know; they did it natural of theirsels." I inquired whether the driver showed any like feeling; but no, it was confined to the horses. His mother, grand-mother, and cousins had felt Aunt Betsy's death very much at first, but they were "getting over it now."
Any one who would take the trouble to win the confidence of these neglected children would sometimes be very deeply touched by what they say. Not the least touching is their indifference to and acceptance of the evils which weigh upon them. The genuine Ragamuffin will never complain. He never expects or even hopes that his condition will improve; he is as much a fatalist as the Turk. I once asked an interesting little boy, with a pale, careworn face and an intelligent expression, if he had ever wondered why it was that he had nothing but rags; why it was he had no boots, and sometimes no bread to eat, whilst I had plenty of everything! He looked up at me with a calm, patient expression, as much as to say, "I have never wondered at such things." "Tell me," I persisted, "have you ever thought about this difference" "It's the Lord's will," he replied tritely; but he seemed reluctant, when I pressed him, to explain what he understood by the Lord's will. At last in a timid, harried voice, he said, "It is all the Lord's doing, this way: you are grand-like, and dress nice, and lives in a big house, and you have a pianner, -- and," he looked round the room that he might enumerate all our titles to consideration, "and a sofy; so the Lord sees as how you are gentlefolks, and He thinks lots of such like as you. But we are very poor, we are; mother pawns the blankets, and father beats mother, and swears awful. We ain't got no Sunday things; we're all raggety, so the Lord don't take much notice on us."
If, instead of accounting for his wretchedness and want by making poverty the reason for being poor, the boy had asked me why he was so neglected and miserable, I should have been puizled to answer him. Perhaps the following letter from Mr. Bright would be the answer. Anyhow it will interest readers from the view -- the statesman's view of the subject. Sometime ago I sent Mr. Bright a copy of that pathetic little Irish story. Flitters, Tatters, and the Counsellor -- the history of three Dublin waifs. "The story," Mr. Bright writes, "is full of interest and sadness. Will the time ever come when it will be untrue of any portion of our population! If the exact influence of our wars once the accession of William III., with their expenditure of blood and wealth, upon the condition of our poorest class, or I may say upon the creation and existence of it, could be measured, perhaps we should find that "the three waifs" were the direct offspring of the policy which has een determined by 'monarchs and statesmen,' but in which our people have had no real interest or concern. War and war expenditure, and the savagery and cruelties connected with it, are responsible for much of the evils we see and lament and cannot cure, and which are the price we pay for the miserable glory which military successes confer upon us."
Will the time ever come, asks Mr. Bright, when such sad stories will be untrue of any portion of our population! We do look to this and to a yet higher consummations when rags and ragamuffins shall have disappeared, when the existing order will be changed, or rather exchanged, for a higher and better order, when it will be hard to realise that there ever were such evils, such misery, such shameful, shameless ignorance; just as it requires a powerful imagination to picture England a dreary waste of marsh and forest, ourselves the descendants or inheritors of savage races living in the swamps like the brutes.
We have now reached a stage at which progress is, to a great extent, in the bands of those who will to advance. The people are beginning to realise that none can help them better than themselves. Independence, a consciousness of personal worth and personal rights, is steadily growing and strengthening. Far from repressing, we should hail with satisfaction the present dissatisfaction of the poor in town and country, for it is dissatisfaction with their present condition which alone makes improvement possible. As long as our poor are satisfied to herd together in close, ill-ventilated rooms, eat bad adulterated food, accept over-work and under-payment, it will be very hard to remedy these evils. Trade unions -- that grand organisation for the protection of the working man's interests -- are entirely the result of well-directed dissatisfaction; it is the dissatisfaction of the people which will give them the equalisation of the Franchise; and it is the dissatisfaction with his rags, his mismnble insufficient diet and abject home, not resignation, which will induce the Ragamuffin to bestir himself, get decently clothed, fed, and housed; and when he has these things, without doubt self-respect will come also. The best thing we can do for him is to teach him a noble dissatisfaction -- teach him that there are no "upper and lower classes" in the usual acceptation of the word; that we should only recognise as belonging to the upper or higher class those who are of what Gambetta, proudly called "the aristocracy of the best"; then the odious designation "lower class" will no longer be applicable to the poorer class alone.
We should try and show the Ragamuffin how he may become a member of the great untitled nobility; show him that it is only by reforming himself that he can hope to reform the evils about him. For encouragement, for the assurance that continued effort shall triumph over every obstacle and resistance to progress, we should read and remember the words of John Stuart Mill: -- "All the grand sources of human suffering are in a great degree, many of them, entirely conquerable by human care and effort; and though their removal is grievously slow, though a long succession of generations will perish in the breach before the conquest is completed and this world becomes all that, if will and knowledge were not wanting, it might easily be made, yet every mind sufficiently intelligent and generous to bear a part, however unconspicuous in the endeavour, will draw a noble enjoyment from the contest itself which he would not for any bribe in the form of selfish indulgence consent to be without."