« PrejšnjaNaprej »
For the breath of thy lips is freedom, and freedom's the
sense of thy spirit, the sound of thy song, Glad god of the north-east wind, whose heart is as high as
the hands of thy kingdom are strong, Thy kingdom whose empire is terror and joy, twin-featured
and fruitful of births divine, Days lit with the flame of the lamps of the flowers, and
nights that are drunken with dew for wine, And sleep not for joy of the stars that deepen and quicken,
a denser and fierier throng, And the world that thy breath bade whiten and tremble
rejoices at heart as they strengthen and shine, And earth gives thanks for the glory bequeathed her, and
knows of thy reign that it wrought not wrong.
Thy spirit is quenched not, albeit we behold not thy face in
the crown of the steep sky's arch, And the bold first buds of the whin wax golden, and witness
arise of the thorn and the larch : Wild April, enkindled to laughter and storm by the kiss of
the wildest of winds that blow, Calls loud on his brother for witness ; his hands that were
laden with blossom are sprinkled with snow, And his lips breathe winter, and laugh, and relent; and the
live woods feel not the frost’s flame parch; For the flame of the spring that consumes not but quickens
is felt at the heart of the forest aglow, And the sparks that enkindled and fed it were strewn from
the hands of the gods of the winds of March.
ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE.
A PLEADING FOR THE WORTHLESS.
The workless and thriftless have had their sentence. Let me plead now for the worthless. There was once a commonwealth in which every wrong against a neighbour was judged and punished, not only as a wrong against man, but also against a higher law. The lord of the harvest did not glean his fields, nor did the master of the vineyard and of the olive-yard go twice over the vines and the olive-trees. The gleaning and the after-gathering were for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Usury was unlawful. The lender might take a pledge for repayment of a loan, but he might not take the stone by which the borrower ground his corn, nor the cloak in which he slept at night. If taken in pledge hy day, it was to be restored by nightfall. Every fifty years all prison doors were opened, all debts absolved, all lands returned to the rightful heir. Even the lower animals shared in the generous equity of the common law. The ox was not muzzled when he trod out the corn, and he rested on the seventh day.
And yet this commonwealth was not Christian, nor the unconscious inheritor of Christian civilisation.
Does history tell us that such words as follow could, without aberration of mind, have been addressed to such a commonwealth ?
It seems almost incredible that in wealthy England, at the close of the nineteenth century, so much destitution should exist; and still more that vagrancy and mendicity should so prevail. It may be well asked, Is this the grand total result of the wisdom of our legislators, the efforts of our philanthropists, the Christianity of our churches: that our streets are infested with miserable creatures, from whose faces almost everything purely human has been erased, whose very presence would put us to shame but for familiarity with the sight-poor wretches, filthy in body, foul in speech, and vile in spirit-human vermin? Yes, but of our own manufacture; for erery individual of this mass was once an innocent child. Society has made them what they are, not only by a selfish indulgence in indiscriminate almsgiving, but by permitting bad laws to exist, and good laws to be so administered as to crush the weak, and wreck the lives of the unfortunate.
But these words have been publicly written as an impeachment of Christian and civilised London. The justice of the impeachment cannot be denied.
I. My purpose is to trace out the causes of this monstrous wreck of humanity, and to see how far we are responsible for the creation of these dangerous and pitiable outcasts from our Christianity and our civilisation.
(1) The first cause of this social wreckage is the destruction of domestic life. A large proportion of the people in London are berded in places not fit for human habitation. While the · Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor' was sitting, efforts were made again and again to set on foot an inquiry as to the number of the people who were thus inhumanly housed. Such an inquiry was held to be impossible. The reason of this reply I have never been able to ascertain. But Governments seem to shrink from the trouble or the expense of inquiry. If there be any impiety in numbering the people, as some good men said at the time of the first census, there can be no impiety in numbering the miserable. The number of families living in one only room is less indeed now than a few years ago; but the number of families of from five to ten persons living in two rooms-fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters, of all ages, and sometimes with lodgers-is still very great. I will not enter into details. Anyone who heard, or has even read, the evidence taken before the Housing Commission will never forget it. That which creates a people is domestic life. The loss of it degrades a people to a horde. The authority and the obedience, the duties and the affections, the charities and the chastities of home, are the mightiest and purest influences in the formation of human life. A good home is the highest and best school : it forms and perpetuates the character of a nation. What moral influence or formation of the life and character of children is possible in overcrowded dens where all is misery and confusion? I refer to the Report of the Commission, and to the evidence of Lord Shaftesbury and Mr. Horsley, and gladly refrain from explicit details.
(2) The next cause of utter wreck is, I will not say intoxicating drink, but the drink trade. This is a public, permanent, and ubiquitous agency of degradation to the people of these realms. That foul and fetid housing drives men and women to drink, and that drink renders their dens sevenfold more foul and fetid, is certain. The degradation of men, women, and children follows by an inevitable law: but only those who are striving to save them have any adequate knowledge of the inhuman and hopeless state of those who have fallen into drunkenness. I am not going to moralise upon drunkenness. I will only say that the whole land is suffering from the direct or indirect power of the drink trade. In times of depression only one interest still prospers—its profits may be slightly lessened, but its gains are always large and safe: that is, the great trade in drink, which enriches half a million of brewers, distillers, and publicans, with the
trades depending on them, and wrecks millions of men, women, and children. This one traffic, more than any other cause, destroys the domestic life of the people. The evidence taken by the Housing Commission expressly shows that in the overcrowded rooms in Dublin the moral wreck wrought in London is not equally found. A counteraction or preservative is there present and powerful. This I can affirm also of a large number of homes in London. The same is affirmed on evidence of Glasgow. Nevertheless these exceptions only prove the rule. The drink trade of this country has a sleeping partner who gives it effectual protection. Every successive Government raises at least a third of its budget by the trade in drink. Of this no more need be said. It changes man and woman into idiocy and brutality. It is our shame, scandal, and sin: and unless brought under by the will of the people, and no other power can, it will be our downfall.
(3) A third cause of this human wreck is the absence of a moral law. It is materially impossible for one half of the population of London to set foot on a Sunday in any place of moral teaching or of Divine worship. If all the churches and places of worship were filled three times on Sunday, they would not, I believe, hold more than 2,000,000. But the population of London properly so called is 4,000,000. Of the remaining 2,000,000 of men, how many have received Christian education, or even Christian baptism or moral teaching? How far is God in all their thoughts? This may be an argument without weight to some of our social philosophers; but to those who still hold fast not only to faith, but to the intellectual system of the world, it is a fact of evil augury, as self-evident as light. They who think themselves able to live and die well without God will treat this assertion lightly: but they who believe, with St. Jerome, “Homo sine cognitione Dei pecus,' will be unable to understand how the moral life of men can be sustained without the knowledge of God. Where there is no legislator there is no law, and where there is no law each man becomes a law to himself: that is, the perversion and passions of his own will are his only rule of life. What ruin to himself and all depending on him comes from this needs no words. Look at our calendars of crime and our revelations of social vice. And yet every one of these human wrecks was once an innocent child.
From these three chief causes comes all personal demoralisation by immorality, intemperance, and ignorance, and therefore by poverty in its worst form. From these also come the greater enormities, as some appear to think—namely, imposture and idleness. Such are the social outcasts that form our criminal or dangerous class. And so long as they are born in dens, and live in drunkenness, and die without the light of God's law, they will multiply and perpetuate their own kind.
Multitudes are at this day in London in the abject poverty of moral degradation, and of reckless despair of rising from their fallen state. But these three causes are the direct results of the apathy or the selfishness of what is called Society, or more truly of our legislation or neglect to legislate, or of good laws inefficiently administered.
II. Some are of opinion that a great part of the crime in London springs from poverty. Others say that in times of distress the gaols are comparatively empty. This would seem to imply that want does not lead to crime. Both of these assertions are true. No one will say that poverty always leads to crime; much less that poverty never leads to crime. Therefore both sides admit that poverty sometimes leads to crime. This reduces the question to one of degree: how far is poverty a cause or motive to crime ?
There is indeed no necessary connection between poverty and crime; for poverty is a state which may generate the highest human perfections of humility, self-denial, charity, and contentment in a hard lot and life. Such a lot may be the inevitable lot of some.
It may be also voluntarily and gladly chosen by others who for many motives, not of this world, choose poverty rather than wealth.
But this is not our question. The poverty of which we speak is that into which the majority of poor men are born ; in which they hardly earn bread for themselves and for their homes; a poverty always on the brink of want; to which they may be reduced in a day by no fault of their own: that is, by the ruin of their employer, the vicissitudes of trade, the suspension of work by natural causes such as winter, or the failure of the raw material of their labour. When once reduced to this state of want, there is nothing before them but the legal relief of the Poor Law, coupled with conditions which their highest and best instincts make them refuse, or doled out to them inadequately so as to give no real and lasting relief. This forms a pauper habit of mind: helplessness, hopelessness, and the loss of self-respect. Will any thoughtful man say that in such a state a father, seeing a wife sinking by want and toil, and his children famishing for lack of bread, is free from the strong temptation to find unlawfully the food which society refuses except on odious conditions to give him lawfully? Add to this the sense of injustice when, without fault of his own, he is brought down to want. And, as men are human, there comes in a sting of resentment when he sees on every side an abundance of food and clothing in those who never labour and never lack.
The ostentation of luxury is a sharp temptation to men in despair. It is not only the hunger that pulls down a man's own strength, but the cry of those who look to him for bread that sounds daily in his ears, and haunts him wherever he goes. This is true of