On reaching eighteen in 1830 Charles Dickens applied to the British Museum for a ticket to the Reading Room. He used to spend his mornings reading history books and the afternoons and evenings reporting on the events in parliament. This included recording the debates on issues such as parliamentary reform, the abolition of the slave trade and legislation to protect factory workers. Dickens considered most politicians to be "pompous" who seemed to spend most of the time speaking "sentences with no meaning in them". However, Dickens was impressed with some of the MPs who genuinely appeared to be interested in making Britain a better place to live.
In 1832 Dickens began contributing articles to the radical newspaper, the True Sun. Unlike most radical newspapers such as the Poor Man's Guardian and The Gauntlet, it did pay the 4d. stamp duty. Despite having to charge the heavy tax imposed on newspapers, the newspaper sold 30,000 copies a day. In his articles, Dickens used his considerable knowledge of what went on in the House of Commons to help promote the cause of parliamentary reform. Charles Dickens was pleased when Parliament eventually agreed to pass the 1832 Reform Act, however, like most radicals, he thought it did not go far enough. The new reformed House of Commons passed a series of new measures including a reduction in newspaper tax from 4d. to 1d. As a result, the circulation of the newspaper increased to over 60,000.
In the summer of 1834 Dickens reported on the new Poor Law that was going through the House of Commons. The act stated that: (a) no able-bodied person was to receive money or other help from the Poor Law authorities except in a workhouse; (b) conditions in workhouses were to be made very harsh to discourage people from wanting to receive help; (c) workhouses were to be built in every parish or, if parishes were too small, in unions of parishes; (d) ratepayers in each parish or union had to elect a Board of Guardians to supervise the workhouse, to collect the Poor Rate and to send reports to the Central Poor Law Commission; (e) the three man Central Poor Law Commission would be appointed by the government and would be responsible for supervising the Amendment Act throughout the country.
Dickens was especially impressed by the speeches of William Cobbett who warned the legislators that "they were about to dissolve the bonds of society" and to pass the law would be "a violation of the contract upon which all the real property of the kingdom was held". Cobbett particularly objected to the separation of families, and to workhouse inmates being forced to wear badges or distinctive clothing. Thomas Attwood argued that workhouses would become "prisons from the purpose of terrifying applicants from seeking relief". Daniel O'Connell, said that as an Irishman, he would not say much, but he objected to the bill on the grounds that it "did away with personal feelings and connections."
In August 1834 Dickens was offered a permanent job by the Morning Chronicle on a salary of five guineas a week. John Black, the editor of the newspaper, was a supporter of social reform, and wanted Dickens to become a key member of the team taking on the more conservative, The Times. Dickens was one of twelve parliamentary reporters employed by Black. He later wrote about reporting on speeches made by politicians outside of London: "I have often transcribed for the printer from my shorthand reports, important public speeches in which the strictest accuracy was required... writing on the palm of my hand, by the light of a dark lantern, in a post chaise and four, galloping through a wild country, all through the dead of night."
Charles Dickens had obtained a reputation for speed and accuracy in recording debates. In was a well-paid but exhausting job. Reporters were consigned to the back bench of the Strangers' Gallery, where it was hard to hear what was taking place on the floor of the chamber. A fellow reporter claimed: "It was dark: always so insufficiently lit that on the back benches no one could read a paper so ill-ventilated that few constitutions could long bear the unwholesome atmosphere." Charles Mackay, a colleague at the Morning Chronicle, wrote that Dickens "had the reputation of being the most rapid, the most accurate, and the most trustworthy reporter then engaged on the London press".
Dickens wrote to John Forster about his experiences working on the newspaper: "There never was anybody connected with newspapers, who, in the same space of time, had so much express and post-chaise experience as I. And what gentlemen they were to serve, in such things, at the old Morning Chronicle! Great or small, it did not matter. I have had to charge for half-a-dozen break-downs in half-a-dozen times as many miles. I have had to charge for the damage of a great-coat from the drippings of a blazing wax-candle, in writing through the smallest hours of the night in a swift-flying carriage and pair. I have had to charge for all sorts of breakages fifty times in a journey without question, such being the ordinary results of the pace which we went at. I have charged for broken hats, broken luggage, broken chaises, broken harness - everything but a broken head, which is the only thing they would have grumbled to pay for."
John Black, the editor of Morning Chronicle, agreed to publish Dickens' short stories. Over the next few months five of Dickens' stories appeared in the newspaper. Dickens called Black "my first hearty out-and-out appreciator". A friend of Black claimed that "I have often heard Black speak of him (Dickens), and predict his future fame." Another recalled that Black had "the highest opinion of his original genius."
In 1834 Dickens was approached by George Hogarth, a fellow journalist at the Morning Chronicle who had recently been appointed as editor of the sister newspaper, The Evening Chronicle. He commissioned Dickens to write a series of articles, Sketches of London, under the pseudonym "Boz". As a result Dickens' salary was increased to seven guineas a week.
Hogarth invited Dickens to visit him at his home in Kensington. The author of Dickens: A Life (2011) has pointed out: "Hogarth... had a large and still growing family, and when he (Dickens) made his first visit to their house on the Fulham Road, surrounded by gardens and orchards, he met their eldest daughter, nineteen-year-old Catherine. Her unaffectedness appealed to him at once, and her being different from the young woman he had known, not only in being Scottish but in coming from an educated family background with literary connections. The Hogarths, like the Beadnells, were a cut above the Dickens family, but they welcomed Dickens warmly as an equal, and George Hogarth's enthusiasm for his work was flattering."
During this period Charles Dickens visited Newgate Prison. He was especially concerned about the plight of young women in prison: "The girl belonged to a class - unhappily but too extensive - the very existence of which should make men's hearts bleed. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent's smile, or to dread a parent's frown. The thousand nameless endearments of childhood, its gaiety and its innocence, are alike unknown to them. They have entered at once upon the stern realities and miseries of life, and to their better nature it is almost hopeless to appeal in after-times, by any of the references which will awaken, if it be only for a moment, some good feeling in ordinary bosoms, however corrupt they may have become. Talk to them of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Tell them of hunger and the streets, beggary and stripes, the gin-shop, the station-house, and the pawnbroker's, and they will understand you." This article later appeared in Sketches by Boz.
One of Dickens' new friends, William Harrison Ainsworth, introduced him to John Macrone. Although he was only a small publisher, he recently achieved considerable success by publishing Ainsworth's novel, Rookwood. Ainsworth introduced Macrone to Dickens, who suggested reprinting his stories and sketches that had appeared in the Morning Chronicle and The Evening Chronicle. Macrone offered Dickens £100 for the copyright of these stories. Dickens accepted the proposal as it would provide an extra income just before his marriage to Catherine Hogarth.
One of Dickens' new friends, William Harrison Ainsworth, introduced him to John Macrone. Although he was only a small publisher, he recently achieved considerable success by publishing Ainsworth's novel, Rookwood. Ainsworth introduced Macrone to Dickens, who suggested reprinting his stories and sketches that had appeared in the Morning Chronicle and The Evening Chronicle. Macrone offered Dickens £100 for the copyright of these stories. Dickens accepted the proposal as it would provide an extra income just before his marriage.
Macrone promised to persuade George Cruikshank to provide the illustrations for the book. Peter Ackroyd has argued that Cruikshank was not an easy man to work with: "It was something of a coup for Macrone to enlist the services of this illustrator, George Cruikshank, in the cause of a young author of only modest fame. To have his name on the title page was, if not a guarantee of success, at least a provident hedge against failure... He was already very well known as a caricaturist and illustrator of books - he was in some ways a difficult man, with powerful perceptions but equally powerful opinions. He could be truculent and assertive, even though this self-assertive manner often gave way, in his famous drinking bouts, to one of drunken clowning and gaiety."
Charles Dickens later recalled: "These Sketches were written and published, one by one, when I was a very young man. They were collected and republished while I was still a very young man; and sent into the world with all their imperfections... They comprise my first attempts at authorship... I am conscious of their often being extremely crude and ill-considered, and bearing obvious marks of haste and inexperience."
In his introduction, to Sketches by Boz Dickens praised the drawings of George Cruikshank: "Entertaining no inconsiderable feeling of trepidation, at the idea of making so perilous a voyage in so frail a machine, alone and unaccompanied, the author was naturally desirous to secure the assistance and companionship of some well-known individual, who had frequently contributed to the success, though his well-known reputation rendered it impossible for him ever to have shared the hazard, of similar undertakings."
It was published on 8th February 1836, the day after his twenty-fourth birthday. The book was very well received by the critics. George Hogarth, in the Morning Chronicle, described Dickens as "a close and acute observer of character and manners". However, Dickens was hurt by the numerous references to Cruikshank's talented drawings. The reviewer in The Sunday Herald admitted that after reading the book he was unsure "whether we most admire the racy humour and irresistible wit of the sketches, or of the illustrations in George Cruikshank's very best style".
John Easthope, the owner of the Morning Chronicle, who had made a fortune on the stock exchange, was a difficult employer, and became known as "Blast-hope". In February 1836, Charles Dickens led a short, successful strike against Easthope over the terms of employment of his journalists. He also came into conflict with John Black, the editor of the newspaper. According to Andrew Sanders, Dickens often clashed with Black over politics: "Dickens later claimed that he and Black had quarrelled many times about the effect of that cornerstone of Utilitarian legislation, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. But it was not simply the Poor Law that offended Dickens's sense of humanity, it was the whole tenor of philosophy, and by extension an economic system, which militated against the proper, and often spontaneous, practice of humane charity."
The success of Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby enabled him to become a full-time author. However, he retained his interest in journalism and contributed articles on social reform in several magazines and newspapers.
Charles Dickens was a supporter of the Liberal Party and in 1845 he began to consider the idea of publishing a daily newspaper that could compete with the more conservative The Times. He contacted Joseph Paxton, who had recently become very wealthy as a result of his railway investments. Paxton agreed to invest £25,000 and Dickens' publishers, Bradbury and Evans, contributed £22,500. Dickens agreed to become editor on a salary of £2,000 a year.
The first edition of The Daily News was published on 21st January 1846. Dickens wrote: "The principles advocated in the Daily News will be principles of progress and improvement; of education, civil and religious liberty, and equal legislation." Dickens employed his great friend and fellow social reformer, Douglas Jerrold, as the newspaper's sub-editor. William Henry Wills joined the newspaper as assistant editor. Dickens put his father, John Dickens, in charge of the reporters. He also paid his father-in-law, George Hogarth, five guineas a week to write on music.
William Macready confided in his diary that John Forster told him that The Daily News would greatly injure Dickens: "Dickens was so intensely fixed on his own opinions and in his admiration of his own works (who could have believed it?) that he, Forster, was useless to him as a counsel, or for an opinion on anything touching upon them, and that, as he refused to see criticisms on himself, this partial passion would grow upon him, till it became an incurable evil."
One of the newspaper's first campaigns was against the Corn Laws that had been introduced by the Conservative Party government. When Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, told the House of Commons that he had changed his mind about the legislation, Dickens did not believe him and wrote in the editorial that he was "decidedly playing false".
The Times had a circulation of 25,000 copies and sold for sevenpence, whereas The Daily News, provided eight pages for fivepence. At first it sold 10,000 copies but soon fell to less than 4,000. Dickens told his friends that he missed writing novels and after seventeen issues he handed it over to his close friend, John Forster. The new editor had more experience of journalism and under his leadership sales increased.
Turning to the right, then, down the passage to which we just now adverted, omitting any mention of intervening gates - for if we noticed every gate that was unlocked for us to pass through, and locked again as soon as we had passed, we should require a gate at every comma - we came to a door composed of thick bars of wood, through which were discernible, passing to and fro in a narrow yard, some twenty women: the majority of whom, however, as soon as they were aware of the presence of strangers, retreated to their wards.
One side of this yard is railed off at a considerable distance, and formed into a kind of iron cage, about five feet ten inches in height, roofed at the top, and defended in front by iron bars, from which the friends of the female prisoners communicate with them. In one corner of this singular-looking den, was a yellow, haggard, decrepit old woman, in a tattered gown that had once been black, and the remains of an old straw bonnet, with faded ribbon of the same hue, in earnest conversation with a young girl - a prisoner, of course - of about two-and-twenty. It is impossible to imagine a more poverty-stricken object, or a creature so borne down in soul and body, by excess of misery and destitution, as the old woman. The girl was a good-looking, robust female, with a profusion of hair streaming about in the wind - for she had no bonnet on - and a man's silk pocket-handkerchief loosely thrown over a most ample pair of shoulders. The old woman was talking in that low, stifled tone of voice which tells so forcibly of mental anguish; and every now and then burst into an irrepressible sharp, abrupt cry of grief, the most distressing sound that cars can hear. The girl was perfectly unmoved. Hardened beyond all hope of redemption, she listened doggedly to her mother's entreaties, whatever they were: and, beyond inquiring after "Jem", and eagerly catching at the few halfpence her miserable parent had brought her, took no more apparent interest in the conversation than the most unconcerned spectators. Heaven knows there were enough of them, in the persons of the other prisoners in the yard, who were no more concerned by what was passing before their eyes, and within their hearing, than if they were blind and deaf. Why should they be? Inside the prison, and out, such scenes were too familiar to them, to excite even a passing thought, unless of ridicule or contempt for feelings which they had long since forgotten.
A little farther on, a squalid-looking woman in a slovenly, thick-bordered cap, with her arms muffled in a large red shawl, the fringed ends of which straggled nearly to the bottom of a dirty white apron, was communicating some instructions to her visitor - her daughter evidently. The girl was thinly clad, and shaking with the cold. Some ordinary word of recognition passed between her and her mother when she appeared at the grating, but neither hope, condolence, regret, nor affection was expressed on either side. The mother whispered her instructions, and the girl received them with her pinched-up, half-starved features twisted into an expression of careful cunning. It was some scheme for the woman's defence that she was disclosing, perhaps; and a sullen smile came over the girl's face for an instant, as if she were pleased: not so much at the probability of her mother's liberation, as at the chance of her "getting off' in spite of her prosecutors. The dialogue was soon concluded; and with the same careless indifference with which they had approached each other, the mother turned towards the inner end of the yard, and the girl to the gate at which she had entered.
The girl belonged to a class - unhappily but too extensive - the very existence of which should make men's hearts bleed. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent's smile, or to dread a parent's frown. The thousand nameless endearments of childhood, its gaiety and its innocence, arc alike unknown to them. They have entered at once upon the stern realities and miseries of life, and to their better nature it is almost hopeless to appeal in after-times, by any of the references which will awaken, if it be only for a moment, some good feeling in ordinary bosoms, however corrupt they may have become. Talk to them of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Tell them of hunger and the streets, beggary and stripes, the gin-shop, the station-house, and the pawnbroker's, and they will understand you.
Two or three women were standing at different parts of the grating, conversing with their friends, but a very large proportion of the prisoners appeared to have no friends at all, beyond such of their old companions as might happen to be within the walls.
The principles advocated in The Daily News will be principles of progress and improvement; of education, civil and religious liberty, and equal legislation. Principles, such as its conductors believe the advancing spirit of the time requires: the condition of the country demands: and justice, reason and experience legitimately sanction.
I offer no apology for entreating the attention of the readers of the Daily News to an effort which has been making for some three years and a half, and which is making now, to introduce among the most miserable and neglected outcasts in London, some knowledge of the commonest principles of morality and religion; to commence their recognition as immortal human creatures, before the Gaol Chaplain becomes their only schoolmaster; to suggest to Society that its duty to this wretched throng, foredoomed to crime and punishment, rightfully begins at some distance from the police office, and that the careless maintenance from year to year, in this the capital city of the world, of a vast hopeless nursery of ignorance, misery, and vice: a breeding place for the hulks and jails: is horrible to contemplate.
This attempt is being made, in certain of the most obscure and squalid parts of the Metropolis; where rooms are opened, at night, for the gratuitous instruction of all comers, children or adults, under the title of Ragged Schools. The name implies the purpose. They who are too ragged, wretched, filthy, and forlorn, to enter any other place: who could gain admission into no charity school, and who would be driven from any church door; are invited to come in here, and find some people not depraved, willing to teach them something, and show them some sympathy, and stretch a hand out, which is not the iron hand of law, for their correction.
Before I describe a visit of my own to a Ragged School, and urge the readers of this letter for God's sake to visit one themselves, and think of it (which is my main object), let me say, that I know the prisons of London well. That I have visited the largest of them, more times than I could count; and that the children in them are enough to break the heart and hope of any man. I have never taken a foreigner or a stranger of any kind, to one of these establishments, but I have seen him so moved at sight of the child offenders, and so affected by the contemplation of their utter renouncement and desolation outside the prison walls, that he has been as little able to disguise his emotion, as if some great grief had suddenly burst upon him. Mr. Chesterton and Lieutenant Tracey (than whom more intelligent and humane Governors of Prisons it would be hard, if not impossible, to find) know, perfectly well, that these children pass and repass through the prisons all their lives; that they are never taught; that the first distinctions between right and wrong are, from their cradles, perfectly confounded and perverted in their minds; that they come of untaught parents, and will give birth to another untaught generation; that in exact proportion to their natural abilities, is the extent and scope of their depravity; and that there is no escape or chance for them in any ordinary revolution of human affairs. Happily, there are schools in these prisons now. If any readers doubt how ignorant the children are, let them visit those schools, and see them at their tasks, and hear how much they knew when they were sent there. If they would know the produce of this seed, let them see a class of men and boys together, at their books (as I have seen them in the House of Correction for this county of Middlesex), and mark how painfully the full grown felons toil at the very shape and form of letters, their ignorance being so confirmed and solid. The contrast of this labour in the men, with the less blunted quickness of the boys; the latent shame and sense of degradation struggling through their dull attempts at infant lessons; and the universal eagerness to learn, impress me, in this passing retrospect, more painfully than I can tell.
For the instruction, and as a first step in the reformation, of such unhappy beings, the Ragged Schools were founded. I was first attracted to the subject, and indeed was first made conscious of their existence, about two years ago, or more, by seeing an advertisement in the papers dated from West Street, Saffron Hill, stating "That a room has been opened and supported in that wretched neighbourhood for upwards of twelve months, where religious instruction had been imparted to the poor", and explaining in a few words what was meant by Ragged Schools as a generic term, including, three, four or five similar places of instruction. I wrote to the masters of this particular school to make some further enquiries, and went myself soon afterwards.
It was a hot summer night; and the air of Field Lane and Saffron Hill was not improved by such weather, nor were the people ill those streets very sober or honest company. Being unacquainted with the exact locality of the school, I was fain to make some inquiries about it. These were very jocosely received in general; but everybody knew where it was, and gave the right direction to it. The prevailing idea among the loungers (the greater part of them the very sweepings of the streets and station houses) seemed to be, that the teachers were quixotic, and the school upon the whole "a lark". But there was certainly a kind of rough respect for the intention, and (as I have said) nobody denied the school or its whereabouts, or refused assistance in directing to it.
It consisted at that time of either two or three - I forget which - miserable rooms, upstairs in a miserable house. In the best of these, the pupils in the female school were being taught to read and write; and though there were among the number, many wretched creatures steeped in degradation to the lips, they were tolerably quiet, and listened with apparent earnestness and patience to their instructors. The appearance of this room was sad and melancholy, of course - how could it be otherwise! - but, on the whole, encouraging.
The close, low, chamber at the back, in which the boys were crowded, was so foul and stifling as to be, at first, almost insupportable. But its moral aspect was so far worse than its physical, that this was soon forgotten. Huddled together on a bench about the room, and shown out by some flaring candles stuck against the walls, were a crowd of boys, varying from mere infants to young men; sellers of fruit, herbs, lucifer-matches, flints; sleepers under the dry arches of bridges; young thieves and beggars - with nothing natural to youth about them: with nothing frank, ingenuous, or pleasant in their faces; low-browed, vicious, cunning, wicked; abandoned of all help but this; speeding downward to destruction; and unutterably ignorant.
This, Reader, was one room as full as it could hold; but these were only grains in sample of a Multitude that are perpetually sifting though these schools, in sample of a Multitude who had within them once, and perhaps have now, the elements of men as good as you or I, and maybe infinitely better; iii sample of a Multitude among whose doomed and sinful ranks (oh, think of this, and think of them!) the child of any man upon this earth, however lofty his degree, must, as by Destiny and Fate, be found, if, at its birth, it were consigned to such an infancy and nurture, as these fallen creatures had!
This was the Class I saw at the Ragged School. They could not be trusted with books; they could only be instructed orally; they were difficult of reduction to anything like attention, obedience, or decent behaviour; their benighted ignorance in reference to the Deity, or to any social duty (how could they guess at any social duty" being so discarded by all social teachers but the gaoler and the hangman!) was terrible to see. Yet, even here, and among these, something had been done already. The Ragged School was of recent date and very poor; but it had inculcated some association with the name of the Almighty, which was not an oath, and had taught them to look forward in a hymn (they sang it) to another life, which would correct the miseries and woes of this.
The new exposition I found in this Ragged School, of the frightful neglect by the State of those whom it punishes so constantly, and whom it might, as easily and less expensively, instruct and save; together with the sight I had seen there, in the heart of London; haunted me, and finally impelled me to an endeavour to bring these Institutions under the notice of the Government; with some faint hope that the vastness of the question would supersede the Theology of the schools, and that the Bench of Bishops might adjust the latter question, after some small grant had been conceded. I made the attempt; and have heard no more of the subject, from that hour.
The system of separate confinement first experimented on in England at the model prison, Pentonville, London, and now spreading through the country, appears to us to require a little calm consideration and reflection on the part of the public. We purpose, in this paper, to suggest what we consider some grave objections to this system.
We shall do this temperately, and without considering it necessary to regard every one from whom we differ as a scoundrel, actuated by base motives, to whom the most unprincipled conduct may be recklessly attributed. Our faith in most questions where the good men are represented to be all pro, and the bad men to be all con, is very small. There is a hot class of riders of hobby-horses in the field, in this century, who think they do nothing unless they make a steeple-chase of their object, throw a vast quantity of mud about, and spurn every sort of decent restraint and reasonable consideration under their horses' heels. This question has not escaped such championship. It has its steeple-chase riders, who hold the dangerous principle that the end justifies any means, and to whom no means, truth and fair-dealing usually excepted, come amiss.
Considering the separate system of imprisonment, here, solely in reference to England, we discard, for the purpose of this discussion, the objection founded on its extreme severity, which would immediately arise if we were considering it with any reference to the State of Pennsylvania in America. For whereas ill that State it may be inflicted for a dozen years, the idea is quite abandoned at home of extending it, usually, beyond a dozen months, or in any case beyond eighteen months. Besides which, the school and the chapel afford periods of comparative relief here, which are not afforded in America.
Though it has been represented by the steeple-chase riders as a most enormous heresy to contemplate the possibility of any prisoner going mad r idiotic under the prolonged effects of separate confinement; and although any one who should have the temerity to maintain such a doubt in Pennsylvania would have a chance of becoming a profane St. Stephen; Lord Grey, in his very last speech in the House of Lords on the subject, made in the present session of Parliament, in praise of this separate system, said of it: "Wherever it has been fairly tried, one of its great defects has been discovered to be this - that it cannot be continued for a sufficient length of time without danger to the individual, and that human nature cannot bear it beyond a limited period. The evidence of medical authorities proves beyond dispute that, if it is protracted beyond twelve months, the health of the convict, mental and physical, would require the most close and vigilant superintendence. Eighteen months is stated to be the maximum time for the continuance of its infliction, and, as a general rule, it is advised that it never be continued for more than twelve months."...
We will first contrast the dietary of the Model Prison at Pentonville, with the dietary of what we take to be the nearest workhouse, namely, that of Saint Pancras. In the prison, every man receives twenty-eight ounces of meat weekly. In the workhouse, every able-bodied adult receives eighteen. In the prison, every man receives one hundred and forty ounces of bread weekly. In the workhouse, every able-bodied adult receives ninety-six. In the prison, every man receives one hundred and twelve ounces of potatoes weekly. In the workhouse, every able¬bodied adult receives thirty-six. In the prison, every man receives five pints and a quarter of liquid cocoa weekly (made of flaked cocoa or cocoa-nibs), with fourteen ounces of milk and forty-two drams of molasses; also seven pints of gruel weekly, sweetened with forty-two drams of molasses. In the workhouse, every able-bodied adult receives fourteen pints and a half of milk-porridge weekly, and no cocoa, and no gruel. In the prison, every man receives three pints and a half of soup weekly. In the workhouse, every able-bodied adult male receives four pints and a half, and a pint of Irish stew. This, with seven pints of table-beer weekly, and six ounces of cheese, is all the man in the workhouse has to set off against the immensely superior advantages of the prisoner in all the other respects we have stated. His lodging is very inferior to the prisoner's, the costly nature of whose accommodation we shall presently show.
Let us reflect upon this contrast in another aspect. We beg the reader to glance once more at the Model Prison dietary, and consider its frightful disproportion to the dietary of the free labourer in any of the rural parts of England. What shall we take his wages at? Will twelve shillings a week do? It cannot be called a low average, at all events. Twelve shillings a week make thirty-one pounds four a year. The cost, in 1848, for the victualling and management of every prisoner in the Model Prison was within a little of thirty-six pounds. Consequently, that free labourer, with young children to support, with cottage-rent to pay, and clothes to buy, and no advantage of purchasing his food in large amounts by contract, has, for the whole subsistence of himself and family, between four and five pounds a year less than the cost of feeding and overlooking one man in the Model Prison. Surely to his enlightened mind, and sometimes low morality, this must be an extraordinary good reason for keeping out of it!
A few Sundays ago, I formed one of the congregation assembled in the chapel of a large metropolitan Workhouse. With the exception of the clergyman and clerk, and a very few officials, there were none but paupers present. The children sat in the galleries; the women in the body of the chapel, and in one of the side aisles; the men in the remaining aisle. The service was decorously performed, though the sermon might have been much better adapted to the comprehension and to the circumstances of the hearers.
The usual supplications were offered, with more than the usual significancy in such a place, for the fatherless children and widows, for all sick persons and young children, for all that were desolate and oppressed, for the comforting and helping of the weak-hearted, for the raising-up of them that had fallen; for all that were in danger, necessity, and tribulation. The prayers of the congregation were desired "for several persons in the various wards, dangerously ill"; and others who were recovering returned their thanks to Heaven.
Among this congregation, were some evil-looking young women, and beetle-browed young men; but not many - perhaps that kind of characters kept away. Generally, the faces (those of the children excepted) were depressed and subdued, and wanted colour. Aged people were there, in every variety. Mumbling, blear-eyed, spectacled, stupid, deaf, lame; vacantly winking in the gleams of sun that now and then crept in through the open doors, from the paved yard; shading their listening ears, or blinking eyes, with their withered hands, poring over their books, leering at nothing, going to sleep, crouching and drooping in corners. There were weird old women, all skeleton within, all bonnet and cloak without, continually wiping their eyes with dirty dusters of pocket-handkerchiefs; and there were ugly old crones, both male and female, with a ghastly kind of contentment upon them which was not at all comforting to see. Upon the whole, it was the dragon, Pauperism, in a very weak and impotent condition; toothless, fangless, drawing his breath heavily enough, and hardly worth chaining tip.
When the service was over, I walked with the humane and conscientious gentleman whose duty it was to take that walk, that Sunday morning, through the little world of poverty enclosed within the workhouse walls. It was inhabited by a population of some fifteen hundred or two thousand paupers, ranging from the infant newly born or not yet come into the pauper world, to the old man dying on his bed.
In a room opening from a squalid yard, where a number of listless women were lounging to and fro, trying to get warm in the ineffectual sunshine of the tardy May morning - in the "Itch Ward", not to compromise the truth - a woman such as Hogarth has often drawn was hurriedly getting on her gown, before a dusty fire. She was the nurse, or wardswoman, of that insalubrious department - herself a pauper - flabby, raw-boned, untidy - unpromising and coarse of aspect as need be. But, on being spoken to about the patients whom she had in charge, she turned round, with her shabby gown half on, half off, and fell a crying with all her might. Not for show, not querulously, not in any mawkish sentiment, but in the deep grief and affliction of her heart; turning away her dishevelled head: sobbing most bitterly, wringing her hands, and letting fall abundance of great tears, that choked her utterance. What was the matter with the nurse of the itch-ward? Oh, "the dropped child" was dead! Oh, the child that was found in the street, and she had brought up ever since, had died an hour ago, and see where the little creature lay, beneath his cloth! The dear, the pretty dear!
The dropped child seemed too small and poor a thing for death to be in earnest with, but death had taken it; and already its diminutive form was neatly washed, composed, and stretched as if in sleep upon a box. I thought I heard a voice from Heaven saying, It shall be well for thee, O nurse of the itch-ward, when some less gentle pauper does those offices to thy cold form, that such as the dropped child are the angels who behold my Father's face!
In another room, were several ugly old women crouching, witch-like, round a hearth, and chattering and nodding, after the manner of the monkeys. "All well here? And enough to eat?" A general chattering and chuckling; at last an answer from a volunteer. "Oh yes gentleman! Bless you gentleman! Lord bless the parish of St. So-and-So! It feed the hungry, Sir, and give drink to the thirsty, and it warm them which is cold, so it do, and good luck to the parish of St. So-and-So, and thankee gentleman!" Elsewhere, a party of pauper nurses were at dinner. "How do you get on?" "Oh pretty well Sir! We works hard, and we lives hard - like the sodgers!"
In another room, a kind of purgatory or place of transition, six or eight noisy madwomen were gathered together, under the superintendence of one sane attendant. Among them was a girl of two or three and twenty, very prettily dressed, of most respectable appearance, and good manners, who had been brought in from the house where she had lived as domestic servant (having, I suppose, no friends), on account of being subject to epileptic fits, and requiring to be removed under the influence of a very bad one. She was by no means of the same stuff, or the same breeding, or the same experience, or in the same state of mind, as those by whom she was surrounded; and she pathetically complained, that the daily association and the nightly noise made her worse, and was driving her mad - which was perfectly evident. The case was noted for enquiry and redress, but she said she had already been there for some weeks.
How goes the night? St. Giles's clock is striking nine. The weather is dull and wet, and the long lines of street-lamps are blurred, as if we saw them through tears. A damp wind blows, and rakes the pieman's fire out, when he opens the door of his little furnace, carrying away an eddy of sparks.
St. Giles's clock strikes nine. We are punctual. Where is Inspector Field? Assistant Commissioner of Police is already here, enwrapped in oil-skin cloak, and standing in the shadow of St. Giles's steeple. Detective Sergeant, weary of speaking French all day to foreigners unpacking at the Great Exhibition, is already here. Where is Inspector Field?
Inspector Field is, tonight, the guardian genius of the British Museum. He is bringing his shrewd eye to bear on every corner of its solitary galleries, before he reports "all right". Suspicious of the Elgin marbles, and not to be done by cat-faced Egyptian giants, with their hands upon their knees, Inspector Field, sagacious, vigilant, lamp in hand, throwing monstrous shadows on the walls and ceiling, passes through the spacious rooms. If a mummy trembled in an atom of its dusty covering, Inspector Field would say, "Come out of that, Tom Green. I know you!" If the smallest "Gonoph" about town were crouching at the bottom of a classic bath, Inspector Field would nose him with a finer scent than the ogre's, when adventurous Jack lay trembling in his kitchen copper. But all is quiet, and Inspector Field goes warily on, making little outward show of attending to anything in particular, just recognising the Ichthyosaurus as a familiar acquaintance, and wondering, perhaps, how the detectives did it in the days before the Flood.
Will Inspector Field be long about this work? He may be half-an-hour longer. He sends his compliments by Police Constable, and proposes that we meet at St. Giles's Station House, across the road. Good. It were as well to stand by the fire, there, as in the shadow of St. Giles' steeple.
Anything doing here tonight? Not much. We are very quiet. A lost boy, extremely calm and small, sitting by the fire, whom we now confide to a constable to take home, for the child says that if you show him Newgate Street, he can show you where he lives - a raving drunken woman in the cells, who has screeched her voice away, and has hardly power enough left to declare, even with the passionate help of her feet and arms, that she is the daughter of a British officer, and strike her blind and dead, but she'll write a letter to the Queen but who is soothed with a drink of water - in another cell, a quiet woman with a child at her breast, for begging - in another, her husband in a smock-frock, with a basket of watercresses - in another, a pickpocket - in another, a meek tremulous old pauper man who has been out for a holiday "and has took but a little drop, but it has overcome him arter so many months in the house" - and that's all, as yet. Presently, a sensation at the Station House door. Mr. Field, gentlemen!
Inspector Field comes in, wiping his forehead, for he is of a burly figure, and has come fast from the ores and metals of the deep mines of the earth, and from the Parrot Gods of the South Sea Islands, and from the birds and beetles of the tropics, and from the Arts of Greece and Rome, and from the Sculptures of Nineveh, and from the traces of an elder world, when these were not. Is Rogers ready? Rogers is ready, strapped and great-coated, with a flaming eye in the middle of his waist, like a deformed Cyclops. Lead on, Rogers, to Rats' Castle!
How many people may there be in London, who, if we had brought them deviously and blindfold, to this street, fifty paces from the Station House, and within call of St. Giles's church, would know it for a not remote part of the city in which their lives are passed? How many, who amidst this compound of sickening smells, these heaps of filth, these tumbling houses, with all their vile contents, animate and inanimate, slimily overflowing into the black road, would believe that they breathe this air? How much Red Tape may there be, that could look round on the faces which now hem us in - for our appearance here has caused a rush from all points to a common centre - the lowering foreheads, the sallow cheeks, the brutal eyes, the matted hair, the infected, vermin-haunted heaps of rags...
"Close up there, my men!" says Inspector Field to two constables on duty who have followed. "Keep together gentlemen; we are going down here. Heads!"
St. Giles's church strikes half-past ten. We stoop low, and creep down a precipitous flight of steps into a dark close cellar. There is a fire. There is a long deal table. There are benches. The cellar is full of company, chiefly very young men in various conditions of dirt and raggedness. Some are eating supper. There are no girls or women present. Welcome to Rats' Castle, gentlemen, and to this company of noted thieves!
"Well, my lads! How are you my lads? What have you been doing today? Here's some company come to see you, my lads! There's a plate of beefsteak, Sir, for the supper of a fine young man! And there's a mouth for a steak, Sir! Why, I should be too proud of such a mouth as that, if I had it myself! Stand up and show it, Sir! Take Off your cap. There's a fine young man for a nice little party, Sir! Ain't he?"
Inspector Field is the bustling speaker. Inspector Field's eye is the roving eye that searches every corner of the cellar as he talks. Inspector Field's hand is the well-known hand that has collared half the people here, and motioned their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, male and female friends, inexorably, to New South Wales. Yet Inspector Field stands in the den, the Sultan of the place. Every thief here cowers before him like a schoolboy before his schoolmaster. All watch him, all answer when addressed, all laugh at his jokes, all seek to propitiate him. This cellar-company alone - to say nothing of the crowd surrounding the entrance from the street above, and making the steps shine with eyes - is strong enough to murder us all, and willing enough to do it; but, let Inspector Field have a mind to pick out one thief here, and take him; let him produce that ghostly truncheon from his pocket, and say, with his business-air, "My lad, I want you!" and all Rats' Castle shall be stricken with paralysis, and not a finger move against him, as he fits the handcuffs on!
Five years and a half ago, certain ladies, grieved to think that numbers of their own sex were wandering about the streets in degradation, passing through and through the prisons all their lives or hopelessly perishing in other ways, resolved to try the experiment on a limited scale of a Home for the reclamation and emigration of women. As it was clear to them that there could be little or no hope in this country for the greater part of those who might become the objects of their charity, they determined to receive into their Home only those who distinctly accepted this condition: that they came there to be ultimately sent abroad (whither was at the discretion of the ladies); and that they also came there to remain for such length of time as might, according to the circumstances of each individual case, be considered necessary as a term of probation, and for instruction in the means of obtaining an honest livelihood. The object of the Home was twofold. First, to replace young women, who had already lost their characters and lapsed into guilt, in a situation of hope. Secondly, to save other young women who were in danger of filling into the like condition, and give them an opportunity of flying from crime when they and it stood face to face.
The projectors of this establishment, in undertaking it, were sustained by nothing but the high object of making some unhappy women a blessing to themselves and others instead of a curse, and raising up among the solitudes of a new world some virtuous homes, much needed there, from the sorrow and ruin of the old. They had no romantic visions or extravagant expectations. They were prepared for many failures and disappointments, and to consider their enterprise rewarded, if they in time succeeded with one third or one half of the cases they received.
As the experience of this small Institution, even under the many disadvantages of a beginning, may be useful and interesting, this paper will contain an exact account of its progress and results.
It was (and is) established in a detached house with a garden. The house was never designed for any such purpose, and is only adapted to it, in being retired and not immediately overlooked. It is capable of containing thirteen inmates besides two Superintendents. Excluding from consideration ten young women now in the house, there have been received in all, since November 1847, fifty-six inmates. They have belonged to no particular class, but have been starving needlewomen of good character, poor needlewomen who have robbed their furnished lodgings, violent girls committed to prison for disturbances in ill-conducted workhouses, poor girls from Ragged Schools, destitute girls who have applied at police offices for relief, young women from the streets; young women of the same class taken from the prisons after undergoing punishment there as disorderly characters, or for shoplifting, or for thefts from the person; domestic servants who have been seduced, and two young women held to bail for attempting suicide. No class has been favoured more than another; and misfortune and distress are a sufficient introduction. It is not usual to receive women of more than five or six-and-twenty; the average age in the fifty-six cases would probably be about twenty. In some instances there have been great personal attractions; in others, the girls have been very homely and plain. The reception has been wholly irrespective of such sources of interest. Nearly all have been extremely ignorant.
Of these fifty-six cases, seven went away by their own desire during their probation; ten were sent away for misconduct in the Home; seven ran away; three emigrated and relapsed on the passage out; thirty (of whom seven are now married), on their arrival in Australia or elsewhere, entered into good service, acquired a good character, and have done so well ever since as to establish a strong prepossession in favour of others sent out from the same quarter. It will be seen from these figures that the failures are generally discovered in the Home itself, and that the amount of misconduct after the training and emigration is remarkably small. And it is to be taken into consideration that many cases arc admitted into the Home, of which there is, in the outset, very little hope, but which it is not deemed right to exclude from the experiment.
The Home is managed by two Superintendents. The second in order acts under the first, who has from day to day the supreme direction of the family. On the cheerfulness, quickness, good-temper, firmness, and vigilance of these ladies, and on their never bickering, the successful working of the establishment in a great degree depends. Their position is one of high trust and responsibility, and requires not only an always accumulating experience, but an accurate observation of every character about them. The ladies who established the Home hold little confidential communication with the inmates, thinking the system better administered when it is undisturbed by individuals. A committee, composed of a few gentlemen of experience, meets once a month to audit the accounts, receive the principal Superintendent's reports, investigate any unusual occurrence, and see all the inmates separately. None but the committee are present as they enter one by one, in order that they may be under no restraint in anything they wish to say. A complaint from any of them is exceedingly uncommon. The history of every inmate, taken down from her own mouth - usually after she has been some little time in the Home - is preserved in a book. She is shown that what she relates of herself she relates in confidence, and does not even communicate to the Superintendents. She is particularly admonished by no means to communicate her history to any of the other inmates: all of whom have in their turns received a similar admonition. And she is encouraged to tell the truth, by having it explained to her that nothing in her story but falsehood can possibly affect her position in the Home after she has been once admitted.
The work of the Home is thus divided. They rise, both in summer and winter, at six o'clock. Morning prayers and scripture reading take place at a quarter before eight. Breakfast is had... immediately afterwards. Dinner at one. Tea at six. Evening prayers are said at half-past eight. The hour of going to bed is nine. Supposing the Home to be full, ten are employed upon the household work; two in the bed-rooms, two in the general living room; two in the Superintendents' rooms; two in the kitchen (who cook); two in the scullery; three at needlework. Straw-plaiting has been occasionally taught besides. On washing-days, five are employed in the laundry, three of whom are taken from the needlework, and two are told off from the household work.
Travelling down to Preston a week from this date, I chanced to sit opposite to a very acute, very determined, very emphatic personage, with a stout railway rug so drawn over his chest that he looked as if he were sitting up in bed with his great-coat, hat, and gloves on, severely contemplating your humble servant from behind a large blue and grey checked counterpane. In calling him emphatic, I do not mean that he was warm; he was coldly and bitingly emphatic as a frosty wind is.
"You are going through to Preston, sir?" says he, as soon as we were clear of the primrose Hill tunnel.
The receipt of his question was like the receipt of a jerk of the nose; he was so short and sharp.
"This Preston strike is a nice piece of business!" said the gentleman. "A pretty piece of business!"
"It is very much to be deplored," said I, "on all accounts."
"They want to be ground. That's what they want, to bring them to their senses," said the gentleman; whom I had already began to call in my own mind Mr. Snapper, and whom I may as well call by that name here as by any other.
I deferentially enquired, who wanted to be ground?
"The hands," said Mr. Snapper. "The hands on strike, and the hands who help them."
I remarked that if that was all they wanted, they must be a very unreasonable people, for surely they had had a little grinding, one way and another, already. Mr. Snapper eyed me with sternness, and after opening and shutting his leathern-gloved hands several times outside his counterpane, asked me abruptly, "Was I a delegate?"
I set Mr. Snapper right on that point, and told him I was no delegate.
"I am glad to hear it," said Mr. Snapper. "But a friend to the Strike, I believe?"
"Not at all," said I.
"A friend to the Lock-out?" pursued Mr. Snapper.
"Not in the least," said I.
Mr. Snapper's rising opinion of me fell again, and he gave me to understand that a man must either be a friend to the Masters or a friend to the Hands.
"He may be a friend to both," said I.
Mr. Snapper didn't see that; there was no medium in the Political Economy of the subject. I retorted on Mr. Snapper, that Political Economy was a great and useful science in its own way and its own place, but that I did not transplant my definition of it from the Common Prayer Book, and make it a great king above all gods. Mr. Snapper tucked himself up as if to keep me off, folded his arms on the top of his counterpane, leaned back, and looked out of window.
"Pray what would you have, sir," enquired Mr. Snapper, suddenly withdrawing his eyes from the prospect to me, "in the relations between Capital and Labour, but Political Economy?"
I always avoid the stereotyped terms in these discussions as much as I can, for I have observed, in my little way, that they often supply the place of sense and moderation. I therefore took my gentleman up with the words employers and employed, in preference to Capital and Labour.
"I believe" said I "that into the relations between employers and employed, as into all the relations of this life, there must enter something of feeling and sentiment; something of mutual explanation, forbearance, and consideration; something which is not to be found in Mr. McCulloch's dictionary, and is not exactly stateable in figures; otherwise those relations are wrong and rotten at the core and will never bear sound fruit."
Mr. Snapper laughed at me. As I thought I had just as good reason to laugh at Mr. Snapper, I did so, and we were both contented.
"Ah!" said Mr. Snapper, patting his counterpane with a hard touch. "You know very little of the improvident and unreasoning habits of the common people, I see."
"Yet I know something of those people, too," was my reply. "In fact, Mr. -," I had so nearly called him Snapper! "in fact, sir, I doubt the existence at this present time of many faults that are merely class faults. In the main, I am disposed to think that whatever faults you may find to exist, in your own neighbourhood for instance, among the hands, you will find tolerably equal in amount among the masters also, and even among the classes above the masters. They will be modified by circumstances, and they will be the less excusable among the better-educated, but they will be pretty fairly distributed. I have a strong expectation that we shall live to see the conventional adjectives now apparently inseparable from the phrases working people and lower orders, gradually fall into complete disuse for this reason."
"Well, but we began with strikes," Mr. Snapper observed impatiently. "The masters have never had any share in strikes."
"Yet I have heard of strikes once upon a time in that same county of Lancashire," said I, "which were not disagreeable to some masters when they wanted a pretext for raising prices."
"Do you mean to say those masters had any hand in getting up those strikes?" asked Mr. Snapper.
"You will perhaps obtain better information among persons engaged in some Manchester branch trades, who have good memories," said I.
Mr Snapper had no doubt, after this, that I thought the hands had a right to combine?
"Surely," said I. "A perfect right to combine in any lawful manner. The fact of their being able to combine and accustomed to combine may, I can easily conceive, be a protection to them. The blame even of this business is not all on one side. I think the associated Lock-out was a grave error. And when you Preston masters..."
"I am not a Preston master," interrupted Mr. Snapper.
"When the respectable combined body of Preston masters, " said I, "in the beginning of this unhappy difference, laid down the principle that no man should be employed henceforth who belonged to any combination - such as their own - they attempted to carry with a high hand a partial and unfair impossibility, and were obliged to abandon it. This was an unwise proceeding, and the first defeat."
On the fifth of last November, 1, the conductor of this journal, accompanied by a friend well-known to the public, accidentally strayed into Whitechapel. It was a miserable evening; very dark, very muddy, and raining hard.
There are many woeful sights in that part of London, and it has been well-known to me in most of its aspects for many years. We had forgotten the mud and rain in slowly walking along and looking about us, when we found ourselves, at eight o'clock, before the Workhouse.
Crouched against the wall of the Workhouse, in the dark street, on the muddy pavement-stones, with the rain raining upon them, were five bundles of rags. They were motionless, and had no resemblance to the human form. Five great beehives, covered with rags - five dead bodies taken out of graves, tied neck and heels, and covered with rags - would have looked like those five bundles upon which the rain rained down in the public street.
"What is this!" said my companion. "What is this!"
"Some miserable people shut out of the Casual Ward, I think," said I.
We had stopped before the five ragged mounds, and were quite rooted to the spot by their horrible appearance. Five awful Sphinxes by the wayside, crying to every passer-by, "Stop and guess! What is to be the end of a state of society that leaves us here! "
As we stood looking at them, a decent working-man, having the appearance of a stone-mason, touched me on the shoulder.
"This is an awful sight, sir," said he, "in a Christian country!"
"God knows it is, my friend," said I.
"I have often seen it much worse than this, as I have been going home from my work. I have counted fifteen, twenty, five-and-twenty, many a time. It's a shocking thing to see."
"A shocking thing, indeed," said I and my companion together. The man lingered near us a little while, wished us good-night, and went on.
We should have felt it brutal in us who had a better chance of being heard than the working-man, to leave the thing as it was, so we knocked at the Workhouse Gate. I undertook to be spokesman. The moment the gate was opened by an old pauper, I went in, followed close by my companion. I lost no time in passing the old porter, for I saw in his watery eye a disposition to shut us out.
"He so good as to give that card to the master of the Workhouse, and say I shall be glad to speak to him for a moment."
We were in a kind of covered gateway, and the old porter went across it with the card. Before he had got to a door on our left, a man in a cloak and hat bounced out of it very sharply, as if he were in the nightly habit of being bullied and of returning the compliment.
"Now, gentlemen," said he in a loud voice, "what do you want here?"
"First," said I, "will you do me the favour to look at that card in your hand. Perhaps you may know my name."
"Yes," says he, looking at it. "I know this name."
"Good. I only want to ask you a plain question in a civil manner, and there is not the least occasion for either of us to be angry. It would be very foolish in me to blame you, and I don't blame you. I may find fault with the system you administer, but pray understand that I know you are here to do a duty pointed out to you, and that I have no doubt you do it. Now, I hope you won't object to tell me what I want to know."
"No," said he, quite mollified, and very reasonable, "not at all. What is it?"
"Do you know that there are five wretched creatures outside?"
"I haven't seen them, but I dare say there are." "Do you doubt that there are?"
"No, not at all. There might be many more." "Are they men? Or women?".
"Women, I suppose. Very likely one or two of them were there last night, and the night before last."
"There all night, do you mean?"
My companion and I looked at one another, and the master of the Workhouse added quickly, "Why, Lord bless my soul, what am I to do? What can I do? The place is full. The place is always full - every night. I must give the preference to women with children, mustn't I? You wouldn't have me not do that?"
"Surely not," said I. "It is a very humane principle, and quite right; and I am glad to hear of it. Don't forget that I don't blame you."
There is nothing in the present age at once so galling and so alarming to me as the alienation of the people from their own affairs. They have had so little to do with the game through all these years of Parliamentary Reform, that they have sullenly laid down their cards, and taken to looking on. You can no more help a people who do not help themselves, than you can help a man who does not help himself. I know of nothing that can be done beyond keeping their wrongs continually before them.