Victorian London - Crime - Prostitution - causes of prostitution

The Times, March 28, 1856

[in letter on trafficking of English girls to Europe for purposes of prostitution, ed.]

 . . . I am an Englishwoman, and, in common with many other Englishwomen, feel the shame and horror of such a state of things; but will you, who thus appeal to us, or will any of your correspondents, point out what it is our duty to do? - how we are expected to act, to speak, or even to think on such subjects? We have been told heretofore by men whom we respect that it becomes a woman to be absolutely silent on such revolting topics - to ignore, or rather to affect to ignore, such a "state of things" as you allude. We have been told that, in virtuous women, it is a breach of feminine delicacy even to suppose the existence of certain outcasts of our own sex, or of certain exemptions in regard to vicious indulgence assumed by yours; in short, that, as women of virtue, we have nothing to do with such questions, though we know, too well, how deeply they affect us, how terribly near they approach us personally, how the far-reaching contagion of such covert vice involves in some form or other the peace of our "virtuous" homes, the fidelity of our husbands, the health and morality of our sons, the innocence of our daughters. We have been allowed, indeed, to patronize penitentiaries, to read chapters of the Bible, and distribute lugubrious tracts to wretched, sullen, disordered victims; but, meantime, we are told - I have myself been told, half pityingly, half sneeringly - that for every one unhappy creature we rescue out of the streets two will be at once supplied to fill up the vacancy; that this "state of things" is a necessary social evil; and that we virtuous women had better not meddle with it, lest worse befall us.
    So it has been said in former times; but it seems, from the appeal you make to us, that in these days Englishwomen may feel, may think, may speak out on such subjects; may, without reproach, take such a part in their discussion as becomes the members of a Christian and civilized community. But what are we to do, where law is weak, where custom is strong, where opinion is cowardly or wavering, where our very knowledge involves an imputation on our feminine decorum - what are we to do? . . . . That class of wretches whose sole and profitable occupation is to hunt down and ensnare victims becomes, we are told, more and more numerous, more and more audacious; but for whom are the victims hunted down and ensnared, imported and exported as so much merchandise? So long as the market exists the article will be supplied - tell us, therefore, what we are to do? The education of your sons does not rest with us. In the schools where boys are collected together, generally far out of the reach of pure, healthy female society and influence, the first thing they learn is to despise girls; and the second to regard the impetticoated half of the human species as destined for their service or their pleasure; hence in the higher and better educated classes early impressions which lead to the most selfish and cruel mistakes in regard to the true position of women, and in the lower more ignorant classes to the most terrible tyranny and brutality. . . . 
    Ealing, March 24.                    A.J.

letter to The Times, March 28, 1856


    I have to the best of my ability called attention to prostitution as existing among us in the present day, by laying before the reader such facts as I have been able to gather concerning it both in this and other countries. We may now, informed as to the nature of the evil with which we have to deal, and guided by the experience gained in foreign lands, consider what measures we can best adopt for alleviating the evils incident to it, and for checking, so far as possible, the system itself.
    It seems not inconvenient at the outset of such a discussion to consider the causes that produce, or tend to perpetuate, the evil state of things with which we have in the previous chapters become acquainted. Such an inquiry may at first appear superfluous, for unhappily these causes are neither few nor far to seek, and only too apparent to the most careless observer. It will, however, become evident on reflection, that a mere indistinct appreciation of them is not sufficient for our purpose, which requires a distinct and methodical statement, setting the different causes under their appropriate heads, and thus enabling us to separate those inherent to human life, and ineradicable, from those dependent on accident and circumstance, and capable of diminution, if not of removal. Practical legislation on a difficult and intricate subject, which requires careful and delicate handling, is the object before us - the more plain, simple, and unambitious the legislation, the greater chance will there be of its proving successful. Sentimental and utopian schemes must be avoided; the line between the possible and the impossible clearly drawn; existing facts and the conclusions fairly deducible from them, however painful, must be recognized, to enable us to do this and to produce a plain, straightforward, and practical remedy for the very serious evils depicted in my earlier chapters. We must clearly appreciate not only the effect, but the Cause.
    I may first of all broadly state the somewhat self-evident proposition that prostitution exists, and flourishes, because there is a demand for the article supplied by its agency.
    Supply, as we all know, is regulated by demand, and demand is the practical expression of an ascertained want. Want and demand may be either natural or artificial. Articles necessary for the support, or protection of life, such as meat, and drink, fire, clothes, and lodging, are the objects of natural demand. In these the extent of the demand is measured entirely by the want, and this latter will neither be increased by an abundance of supply, nor diminished by a scarcity. Articles of luxury are the objects of artificial demand, which depends not merely on the want, but is actually increased by the supply; that is to say, the desire for these articles grows with the possession and enjoyment of them. This feature is peculiarly noticeable in prostitution, though in strictness, perhaps, it cannot be placed in the category of artificial wants. The want of prostitutes grows with the use of them. We may also observe that in other cases the demand is active, and the supply passive, in this the supply is active, so that we may almost say the supply rather than the want creates the demand.
    We must not here lose sight of the fact that the desire for sexual intercourse is strongly felt by the male on attaining puberty, and continues through his life an ever-present, sensible want; it is most necessary to keep this in view, for, true though it be, it is constantly lost sight of, and erroneous theories, producing on the one hand coercive legislation, on the other neglect of obvious evils, are the result. This desire of the male is the want that produces the demand, of which prostitution is a result, and which is, in fact, the artificial supply of a natural demand, taking the place of the natural supply through the failure of the latter, or the vitiated character of the demand. It is impossible to exaggerate the force of sexual desire. We must, however, bear in mind that man is not a mere material existence; his nature includes also mind and spirit, and he is endowed with conscience to admonish, reason to regulate, and will to control his desires and actions. Woman was created to be the companion of man, and her nature presents the exact counterpart of his. It is evident, that if so composite a being permits any of the different constituent parts of his nature to attain to undue proportions, he thereby impoverishes and weakens the others, and in proportion as he does this, and accords indulgence to one set of qualities and inclinations at the expense of the rest, he deteriorates from his real nature. He is, in truth, an unmanly man, who devotes all his time and care to athletic and physical pursuits and enjoyments. So is the man who forgets or despises his body, and gives all his care to the mind and intellect. And so also is the man who withdraws from life its enjoyments and duties, and devotes himself exclusively to meditation and spiritual exercise. Men, in proportion as the different elements in their being receive fair play and produce their desires, may be considered to approach more or less nearly the standard of human perfection.
    The intercourse, therefore, of man or woman ought to appeal to their threefold organization of body, mind, and spirit. If the first predominates over and excludes the others, sexual desire degenerates into lust; when all are present, it is elevated into love, which appeals to each of the component parts of man's nature. The men who seek gratification for, and the women who bestow it on, one part of their being only are in an unnatural state. And here we may distinguish the indulgence of unlawful love from commerce with prostitutes, the one is the ill-regulated but complete gratification of the entire human being, the other affords gratification to one part only of his nature.
    One other distinction also we must carefully notice, and that is that in the one case the enjoyment is mutual, and that in the other the enjoyment is one-sided, and granted not as the expression and reward of love, but as a matter of commerce. But if it be derogatory to their being, and unnatural to bestow gratification on one part of their nature only, what shall we say of the condition of those unfortunate women to whom sexual indulgence affords no pleasure, and who pass their lives in, and gain their living by, affording enjoyments which they do not share, and feigning a passion which has ceased to move them? The woman who abandons herself for gain, instead of in obedience to the promptings of desire - who,

    while her Lover pants upon her breast,
    Can mark the figures on an Indian chest;- 

is in an unnatural state, and so is the man who uses her, and obtains for a mere money consideration that enjoyment of the person which should be yielded only as the result and crowning expression of mutual passion. We may further observe that commerce with a prostitute is an ephemeral transaction, which (though it may be followed by serious consequences) yet entails no obligations. Illicit attachments are more lasting, though usually transitory, and entail limited obligations. Both conditions are substitutes for, or imitations of the relationship resulting from love, and known as the married state, which, arising from mutual desire, and granting the highest privileges, imposes corresponding obligations, and is usually as lasting as life itself, and proves at once the mainspring and chief safeguard of society.
    We may now consider a little more in detail the want, the demand, and the supply. The want is, in its inception, a natural want, and is simply the perversion of the natural desire of every male for female companionship; it is asserted by some writers that indulgence in sexual intercourse is necessary for the male as soon as he has attained puberty, and they present us with pitiable pictures of the unhappy condition to which many are reduced, who from timidity or religious or moral influences refrain from giving free scope to their desires, and who deduce from this the somewhat startling proposition that freer sexual intercourse than is at present countenanced by the conscience and practice of society, should be accorded. No doubt the cases cited by the supporters of this theory are very pitiable; they will, however, scarcely have the hardihood to assert that marriage immediately on attaining puberty would tend to the proper development of the man, or be otherwise than injurious. Rather than marriage or sexual gratification, we would suggest, as the true remedy, that morbid excitement should be corrected by healthy bodily exercise and mental application. If the young permit themselves to dwell unduly on sexual ideas a demoralized condition of mind and body must result. For helpless sufferers, if such there are, and their existence be not simply due to the imagination of prejudiced advocates of immorality and wickedness, the cure is to be found in the cricket-field, the river, or the racquet-court, and the different athletic sports and intellectual studies suitable to their age. I confidently assert that marriage or sexual indulgence, before maturity is attained, is most prejudicial.
    To show that abstinence is not in itself injurious, the case of the ancient Germans may be cited, to whom the company of the other sex was strictly prohibited until their age had exceeded twenty years. Their stalwart frames and reckless valour were the admiration and terror of the more dissolute Romans, to whose well-armed and disciplined legions their naked prowess opposed a long, doubtful conflict; their vigorous bodies, martial countenances, and intrepid conduct, proved that abstinence from sexual indulgence had neither tamed their spirit nor weakened their physique. It may be objected that the times with which we have to do are more artificial, and that it is impossible for the boy to emerge into youth and manhood without having sexual ideas presented to his mind. The difference is one only of degree. Let him eschew sexual thoughts and obscene conversation, and give himself to healthy exercise and vigorous study, and sexual abstinence, far from proving injurious, will scarcely seem a hardship.
    This position is further strengthened by the analogy of the lower creation. Stallions are not put too early to the stud. The rams reserved till two years old produce a better progeny than those employed for this purpose at one year old. Bulls may be used at nine months, but those destined to perpetuate the short-horn and other valuable breeds are permitted first to attain the age of two years. So much for the natural want. The want that finds relief in prostitutes, is the unbridled desire of precocious youths and vicious men. In like manner, the demand is occasioned by the indulgence of the vicious, and therefore unnatural, want. It arises from men forgetting that they are not placed in this world merely to gratify their appetites. Life has its lawful pleasures; it has also its duties and obligations. Idleness is easier than industry, but the rewards of life are given to the diligent. ... To steal is easier than to work, self-indulgence than self-restraint ...  Man's plain duty is to seek in honourable love the gratification of manly desire, and to wait for enjoyment till he has earned the right to it. 'Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth,' is the Divine reason for the presence of the sexual instinct. 'Flee youthful lusts,' the Divine rule of life. There is a right and wrong way of gratifying natural desires: it is, as we have seen, not only possible to choose the right, but more beneficial both to mind and body....
    The demand for prostitution arises, then, from ill-regulated and uncontrolled desire, and may be referred to the following heads:
    The natural instinct of man.
    His sinful nature.
    The artificial state of society rendering early marriages difficult if not impossible.
    The unwillingness of many, who can afford marriage, to submit to its restraint, and incur its obligations.
    To a man's calling preventing him from marrying, or debarring him when married from conjugal intercourse.
    The unrestrained want and lawless demand, call for the infamous supply; but want and demand are insufficient of themselves to create supply; there are strong provoking causes, but not creative. We must go a step further to discover the sources of supply. It is derived from the vice of women, which is occasioned by:
    Natural desire.
    Natural sinfulness.
    The preferment of indolent ease to labour.
    Vicious inclinations strengthened and ingrained by early neglect, or evil training, bad associates, and an indecent mode of life.
    Necessity, imbued by the inability to obtain a living by honest means consequent on a fall from virtue.
    Extreme poverty.
To this black list may be added love of drink, love of dress, love of amusement, while the fall from virtue may result either from a woman's love being bestowed on an unworthy object, who fulfils his professions of attachment by deliberately accomplishing her ruin, or from the woman's calling peculiarly exposing her to temptation. ...
    Prostitution is at once a result produced by and a cause producing immorality. Every unchaste woman is not a prostitute. By unchastity a woman becomes liable to lose character, position, and the means of living; and when these are lost is too often reduced to prostitution for support, which, therefore, may be described as the trade adopted by all women who have abandoned or are precluded from an honest course of life, or who lack the power or the inclination to obtain a livelihood from other sources. What is a prostitute? She is a woman who gives for money that which she ought to give only for love; who ministers to passion and lust alone, to the exclusion and extinction of all the higher qualities, and nobler sources of enjoyment which combine with desire, to produce the happiness derived from the intercourse of the sexes. She is a woman with half the woman gone, and that half containing all that elevates her nature, leaving her a mere instrument of impurity; degraded and fallen she extracts from the sin of others the means of living, corrupt and dependent on corruption, and therefore interested directly in the increase of immorality - a social pest, carrying contamination and foulness to every quarter to which she has access, who,

    like a ... disease, ...
    Creeps, no precaution used, among the crowd,
    Makes wicked lightnings of her eyes, ...
    ... and stirs the pulse,
    With devil's leaps, and poisons half the young.

Such women, ministers of evil passions, not only gratify desire, but also arouse it. Compelled by necessity to seek for customers, they throng out streets and public places, and suggest evil thoughts and desires which might otherwise remain undeveloped. Confirmed profligates will seek out the means of gratifying their desires; the young from a craving to discover unknown mysteries may approach the haunts of sin, but thousands would remain uncontaminated if temptation did not seek them out. Prostitutes have the power of soliciting and tempting. Gunpowder remains harmless till the spark falls upon it; the match, until struck, retains the hidden fire, so lust remains dormant till called into being by an exciting cause.
    The sexual passion is strong in every man, but it is strong in proportion as it is encouraged or restrained; and every act of indulgence only makes future abstinence more hard, and in time almost impossible. Some consider that prostitution is the safety valve of society, and that any serious diminution of the number of prostitutes would be attended with an increase of clandestine immodesty. Such a consequence is not one that I think need be apprehended; the insinuation that virtuous women, to be made to yield, require only to be assaulted, is a base and unworthy calumny; nor is it to be supposed that the man who will use a harlot is prepared to insult or injure a modest woman. But intercourse with depraved women debases the mind, and gradually hardens the heart, and each act of gratification stimulates desire and necessitates fresh indulgence; and when grown into a habit, not only breeds distaste for virtuous society, but causes the mind to form a degraded estimate of the sex, until all women seem mere objects of desire and vehicles of indulgence. The prostitute is a sad burlesque of woman, presenting herself as an object of lust instead of an object of honourable love - a source of base gratification, instead of a reason for self-restraint; familiarizing man with this aspect of women till he can see no other, and his indulged body and debased mind lead him to seek in them only sensual gratification, and to make, if possible, of every woman the thing that he desires - a toy, a plaything, an animated doll; a thing to wear like a glove, and fling away; to use like a horse, and send to the knackers when worn out; the mere object of his fancy and servant of his appetite, instead of an immortal being, composed, like himself, of body, soul and spirit - his associate and consort, endowed with memory and hope and strong affections, with a heart to love, to feel, to suffer; man's highest prize and surest safeguard; the inspirer of honest love and manly exertion, powerful

    Not only to keep down the base in man, 
    But teach high thought, and amiable words
    And courtliness, and the desire of fame,
    And love of truth, and all that makes a man.

It thus appears that prostitution depends not only on demand and supply, and external causes, but is itself a cause of its own existence, because the possibility of indulgence weakens the force of self- restraint, by creating the idea in the mind of unlawfully and basely gratifying the natural instinct, to which indulgence adds force and intensity, and thus in a measure creates the want, producing from a desire capable of restraint a habit impossible to shake off. While the supply being active, and itself desiring exercise, does not wait for the demand, but goes about to seek it, suggesting, arousing, stimulating evil thoughts and unhallowed passions....
    The divine command, 'Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth' . . . is the law of our being, and our instincts accord with the law. It is impossible, therefore, that the sexual passion can ever die out, nor is it to be desired that it should; so long as it continues, however, prostitution is at least possible. 
    The children of Adam not only possess this instinct - they have also a sinful nature, which is as much a part of their being as the natural instinct: the one is as ineradicable as the other, and so long as this natural instinct remains allied with a sinful nature, human beings will be liable to be dragged into impurity and unlawful indulgence, and so long as they remain in this condition prostitution is inevitable.... 
    I consider it would be alike ungenerous to attempt to paraphrase, and impossible to express better than himself, the ideas of 'Theophrastus', upon the anti-matrimonial tendencies of modern middle- class society, in his communication entitled, The Other Side of the Picture', to the editor of The Times, May 7, 1857:

    The laws which society imposes in the present day in respect of marriage upon young men belonging to the middle class are, in the highest degree, unnatural, and are the real cause of most of our social corruptions. The father of a family has, in many instances, risen from a comparatively humble origin to a position of easy competence. His wife has her carriage; he associates with men of wealth greater than his own. His sons reach the age when, in the natural course of things, they ought to marry and establish a home for themselves. It would seem no great hardship that a young couple should begin on the same level as their parents began, and be content for the first few years with the mere necessaries of life; and there are thousands who, were it not for society, would gladly marry on such terms. But here the tyrant world interposes; the son must not marry until he can maintain an establishment on much the same footing as his father's. If he dare to set the law at defiance, his family lose caste, and he and his wife are quietly dropt out of the circle in which they have hitherto moved. All that society will allow is an engagement, and then we have the sad but familiar sight of two young lovers wearing out their best years with hearts sickened with hope long deferred; often, after all, ending in disappointment, or in the shattered health of the poor girl, unable to bear up against the harassing anxiety. Or even when a long engagement does finally end in marriage, how diminished are the chances of happiness. The union, which, if allowed at first, would have proved happy under worldly difficulty, has lost its brightness when postponed until middle life, even with competence and a carriage. Perhaps the early struggles would have only strengthened the bonds of affection; but here I feel that I am on dangerous ground. Already I hear society loudly exclaiming that I am advocating improvident marriages, that I would flood the country with genteel paupers, that I am advising what is contrary to the best interests of society
    But stay awhile, society. Your picture of marriages at thirty-five, with a Belgravian house for the happy couple, a footman in splendid uniform, and at least a brougham, is very pleasing; but there is a reverse to the canvas, and that a very dark one. How has the bridegroom been living since he attained his manhood? I believe that there are very many young men who are keeping themselves pure amid all the temptations of London life. God's blessing be with them, for they are the salt of our corrupt city. But I know that there are thousands who are living in sin, chiefly in consequence of the impossibility (as the world says) of their marrying. Some go quietly with the stream, and do as others do around them, almost without a thought of the misery they are causing, and the curse they are laying up for themselves. But many, perhaps most of them, are wretched under the convictions of their conscience. Living in the midst of temptation, they have not sufficient principle to resist its fascination, and although they know where God intends that they shall find their safety, yet they dare not offend their family, alienate their friends, and lose their social position by making what the world calls an imprudent marriage. The very feeling which Heaven has given as a chief purifier of man's nature is darkening their conscience and hardening their heart, because the law of society contradicts the law of God. I might touch upon even a more terrible result of the present state of things - medical men and clergymen will understand what I mean - but I dare not, and I have said enough.
    I must in sadness confess that in the face of the powerful tyranny of social law in this country, it is difficult to suggest any general remedy for this evil. But the mischief is on the increase with our increasing worship of money, and public attention ought to be appealed to on the subject. If our American eulogist be right in commending pluck' as one of our distinctive characteristics, it is not our young men who should lack the quality. If they will shake off the affectations of club life, and claim a position in society for themselves and for their wives, because they are qualified for it by education and character, and not merely because they represent so much money, they will soon force the world to give way, and strike down one of the greatest hindrances to their own happiness, both temporal and eternal. It will not in general be difficult to bring the daughters over to the same opinion. Mothers and sisters are seldom very hard-hearted in such cases, and by united efforts the stern father may be induced to give his blessing, even though the happy couple (ay, happy, let the world sneer as it will) have to begin on little more than the proverbial bread and cheese.
    The recognition of this principle would do much to check some of our most deadly social evils. It would make many a girl whom the tyranny of the world now dooms to a joyless celibacy a happy wife and mother. It would raise the tone of character of our young men, bringing out into healthful exercise the home affections, which are now denied them, at the very time of life when their influence is most beneficial. It would drive away all frivolity and effeminacy before the realities of steady work, which early marriage would oblige them to face. It would purify our streets, and check many a bitter pang of conscience, and save many a soul. We are experiencing the bitter fruits of man's law - let us see whether God's law will not work better.

The upper ten thousand too often, I fear, forget that the outside million - among whom, it has been quaintly said, they condescend to live' - cannot be relied on to travel for ever in the grooves cut out for them by their betters, and assume that if no overt and organized resistance to the Medo-Persian ukases of society and fashion appears on the surface, those edicts are immutable - that tyranny permanent. But the fact is - and they should be reminded of it - that with regard to some things, and among them marriage, there is a numerous and increasing class, by no means the waifs and strays of the community, who are disposed, not to question or propose any change in the law, but simply to ignore it, and to put up', as they say, with the consequences'.

The numberless cases of mésalliance daily occurring, whereof the majority entail, beside the paltry consequence of Coventry', the very serious ones of unfruitfulness and domestic infelicity, seem to me to point the finger of warning to the guardians of our social code. That finger indicates a blot upon the table of the law - cause of a nascent canker, which -. not, perhaps, for many a long day, but certainly some day - if left untreated, will corrupt the fabric.
    I extract the following passages from the admirable editorial remarks upon the foregoing letter of 'Theophrastus':

    Do we not make difficulties for ourselves here, even where nature makes none, and create by our system a huge mass of artificial temptation which need never have existed? . . . A great law of Providence cannot be neglected with impunity, and this undue, artificial, and unnatural postponement of marriage ends in a great blot upon our social system. Vice is the result, and vice creates a class of victims to indulge it. If Providence has ordained that man should not live alone, and if conventional maxims or mere empty fashion and the artificial attractions of society lead to overlooking, or superseding, or tampering with this law, the neglect of a Providential law will surely avenge itself in social disease and corruption in one or other part of the system. It is not, then, because we wish for a moment to encourage improvident marriages, but because we feel convinced that our modern caution here has outstepped all reasonable limits, has become extravagant, has from being a dictate of natural common sense become a mere conventional and artificial rule, the voice of empty fashion, and a gratuitous hindrance to social happiness and the designs of Providence, that we call serious attention to this subject. The fear of poverty has become morbid, and men cry out not only before they are hurt, but before there is any reasonable prospect of it. They must see in married life a perfectly guaranteed and undisturbed vista of the amplest pecuniary resources before they will enter upon it. They forget that married men can work, and that marriage is a stimulus to work, and again and again elicits those latent activities of mind which produce not only competency, but affluence.

But, from present signs, so sadly do I, with Theophrastus', despair of any contraction, by the lawgivers of fashion, of the ample line of chevaux de frise they have skilfully disposed round lawful wedlock; so ferocious, on the contrary, is the 'struggle for position', so terrible an AEgis lurks in the bitter sound of 'genteel beggary', that I am more inclined to look for the sanction by society of self-immolation by superfluous virgins, the revival of convents, or the Malthusian modes of checking population which prevail elsewhere, than for the rich, still less the poor genteel, to permit their unfeesimpled or undowered offspring to increase and multiply young, so-called 'paupers', of still less estate, without the fear of mammon's law before their eyes, and in obedience to the will of Him who feeds the young ravens.
    The foregoing remarks apply, of course, almost exclusively to the upper sections of society, but hindrances to marriage are not confined to the upper classes. I am, however, only concerned with this fact, that by the unwritten custom of society, persons must not marry unless they be in possession of a certain income. We may be thankful that the ecclesiastical law forbidding the clergy to marry, and thereby letting loose on the community thousands of men in danger and adding to the numbers of the tempters and tempted, is no longer in force in this country ...
    But prostitution abounds not only in places where large numbers of unmarried men are collected together, but also where in the course of their daily work the sexes are brought into close and intimate relations. Factory towns, therefore, must be included in the list of places peculiarly liable to the presence of prostitution, though perhaps in this case the prevailing mischief may be more accurately termed general immorality, or depravity, than prostitution proper; the difference, however, is not very great, and, for the purposes of this work, immaterial.
    I must not forget to include among local causes the serious mischief incidental to the gang system in various agricultural districts. Public attention has on several recent occasions been prominently called to the evils thus arising, and it is not unreasonable to hope that adequate steps will be taken for improving the moral condition of the agricultural poor. Where women and men, and girls and boys are working together indiscriminately in the fields, with, in many cases, long distances to traverse in going to and returning from the scenes of their labours, it is obvious that opportunity cannot be wanting, and that temptations must not infrequently be yielded to, and that the morals and habits of the people will be of a very low order.
    We may, however, expect to find large cities contribute in a greater degree than other places to the manufacture and employment of prostitutes. Here always abound idle and wealthy men, with vicious tastes, which they spare neither pains nor expense to gratify. Here also are the needy, the improvident, and the ill-instructed, from whose ranks the victims of sensuality may be readily recruited. The close proximity of luxury and indigence cannot fail to produce a demoralizing effect upon the latter. Garrison, seaport, and factory towns, and large cities, are all places peculiarly liable to the presence of prostitution, containing, as they do, within themselves in an eminent degree the seeds and causes of vice. Some places, such as London, combine within themselves all these qualities, and are therefore notably and exceptionally exposed to this evil. It is impossible to suppose that in such localities prostitution can ever become extinct. Wherever men are peculiarly exposed to temptation by the State, it seems only just that the State should take care that the evil condition that it imposes should be rendered as little injurious as possible. This position has of late years, as we have seen, received a tardy recognition; it is reasonable, I think, to extend this principle a little further, and to adopt a similar course in all cases where we know that the existence of vice is inevitable; it is useless to shut our eyes to a fact; it is better to recognize it - to regulate the system, and ameliorate, if possible, the condition of its victims....
    The causes of the supply have now to be examined; and first we may consider how far seduction operates in bringing women into the ranks of prostitution. It appears to be pretty generally admitted that uncontrollable sexual desires of her own play but a little part in inducing profligacy of the female. Strong passions, save in exceptional cases, at certain times, and in advanced stages of dissipation, as little disturb the economy of the human [female] as they do that of the brute female....
    That seduction in the proper meaning of the word can be charged with causing the unhappy condition of many of these unfortunate women is, I think, extremely doubtful; that numbers fall victims to the arts of professional and mercenary seducers is, I fear, equally true.
    While visiting the Lock Hospital at Aldershot, the resident medical officer, Dr Barr, drew my attention to an interesting-looking girl, aged fifteen. As her case is one illustrating the fall from virtue of many another female, I may insert the story here, and can do no better than give it in Dr Barr's own words:    

    A few months since, E. P-, a pleasing-looking young girl, aged fifteen, was brought by the police to the examining room. I found it necessary, as she was painfully diseased, to detain her for treatment, and a few days since, being recovered, she was sent home to her parents. Her story is shortly, that for some months previously she had been nursemaid in a respectable family, but having quarrelled with her mistress, who was too exacting, and being very unhappy, she resolved to leave her situation. While on an errand one evening she met with a girl not much older than herself to whom she imparted her intention. This young person, who had lately been seduced by a soldier, and had heard a glowing account of Aldershot from him, told E. P of her intention to visit this place, and spoke of advantages they might both gain by travelling together. Unfortunately this girl's tale was too readily listened to, and that evening the subject of my narrative called on her parents, who are honest tradespeople in --- Street, Borough, and receiving from them some clothes, etc., without informing them of her intention, left London with her adviser on September 12 last.
    Between London and this locality she was persuaded to yield to the solicitation of a man known by the girl with whom she travelled, but on arriving at the station and tiring of her companion, she separated from the latter, who remained in Aldershot. Afraid to return to her home she determined with imperfect ideas of distance to proceed to Yeovil, Somerset, where she believed some relative lived. The few shillings she possessed being soon spent she was forced to sell her bundle of clothes to procure food; and being by this time truly miserable, she resolved to go back to her friends, and retracing her steps again passed through a part of this district on her road to London. Without a penny remaining, weak for want of food, footsore and exhausted by travel, this poor young creature was accosted by the fellow alluded to above, who, quickly detecting her condition, commiserated her, and offered to supply her with food, clothing, and lodging if she would consent to meet a soldier or two who were friends of his. Alternate persuasion and threats overcame her resistance.
    She was taken by her rascally protector to places where the soldiers congregate. A new and pretty face was sufficient attraction, and she became a toy for them during the evening; sleeping afterwards with 'Ginger', to whom, according to agreement, she handed the money received for her prostitution. This course lasted from the Friday of her arrival until the following Tuesday, her protector hiding her from the police in the daytime, but on the last-named day they took hold of her and brought her to me for examination. The girl's evidence having been heard, the parents were written to by Inspector Smith, and almost immediately the mother and sister came to see her.
    Accustomed as I have been to witness meetings between those lost and their friends, and to listen to the heartrending details of sin and grief, I shall not easily forget the scene that occurred on this occasion. The mother, a well-conducted woman, told me that the family had been almost heartbroken by the sad event. As soon as it was known that the girl had left her situation without notice of her intention, they put an advertisement in The Times, and had numerous handbills printed and circulated, imploring her return. A whole month having passed without hearing anything of her, their misery can hardly be described, and to add to their unhappiness, the husband, a hard-working, industrious man, sustained a fracture of the leg, and was removed to a hospital. The poor mother, in the midst of her misfortune, fearing the worst results, whenever she heard of a body being found in the river or elsewhere, rushed to make inquiries, fully expecting to recognize her lost child in the inanimate form before her. Thus, until hearing from the police inspector, she was ignorant of the fate of her daughter during the period named. She finished by saying the girl had always been a good, engaging child at home; had, with the rest of the family, regularly attended Sunday school, and though poor, until this unfortunate occurrence, they had been a happy family. To make this sad story still more painful, and to add to the great affliction of this poor family, the girl is pregnant. The Association for the Protection of Women have taken up this case against the man referred to. A detective has been employed to search into the affair, and in the interests of humanity I trust he and similar scoundrels will receive their just punishment. 

    We have seen that many women stray from the paths of virtue, and ultimately swell the ranks of prostitution through being by their position peculiarly exposed to temptation. The women to whom this remark applies are chiefly actresses, milliners, shop girls, domestic servants, and women employed in factories or working in agricultural gangs. Of these many, no doubt, fall through vanity and idleness, love of dress, love of excitement, love of drink, but by far the larger proportion are driven to evil courses by cruel biting poverty. It is a shameful fact, but no less true, that the lowness of the wages paid to workwomen in various trades is a fruitful source of prostitution; unable to obtain by their labour the means of procuring the bare necessaries of life, they gain, by surrendering their bodies to evil uses, food to sustain and clothes to cover them. Many thousand young women in the metropolis are unable by drudgery that lasts from early morning till late into the night to earn more than from 3s. to 5s. weekly. Many have to eke out their living as best they may on a miserable pittance for less than the least of the sums above- mentioned. What wonder if, urged on by want and toil, encouraged by evil advisers, and exposed to selfish tempters, a large proportion of these poor girls fall from the path of virtue? Is it not a greater wonder that any of them are found abiding in it? Instances innumerable might be adduced in support of this statement. I have said enough to acquaint the reader with the miserable condition of these children of want; it is not my purpose to pain and horrify or to distract the attention from the main purpose of my book; those who desire a narrative of facts fully supporting this statement, I would refer to Mr Mayhew's work on London Labour and [the] London Poor. Misplaced love, then, inordinate vanity, and sheer destitution are the causes that lead to woman's fall and that help to fill the ranks of prostitution. But love should not lead to the forfeiture of self- respect. Vanity may be restrained; want may be relieved from other sources.
    A still more frightful cause remains behind - more frightful because here the sinner has had no choice, so far as man can see, except to sin. Neither love nor vanity nor want have induced the surrender of virtue, for in this case virtue never existed, not even the negative form of virtue, the not-sinning state, the children of the very poor or very vile, what is their lot? It is a picture from which one recoils with horror, and the reality of which in this Christian country it is hard to believe. The cause to which I now allude is found in the promiscuous herding of the sexes (no other word is applicable through the want of sufficient house accommodation). I cannot better convey an adequate notion of the miserable dwellings of the very poor and the indecent mode of life resulting therefrom than by inserting the following extract from a letter written by Mr Mayhew to the Morning Chronicle some years since. If any doubt its accuracy, let them visit for themselves these wretched hovels, and see what barriers they form against decency and virtue. He says:    

    Let us consider, for a moment, the progress of a family amongst them. A man and woman intermarry, and take a cottage. In eight cases out of ten it is a cottage with but two rooms. For a time, so far as room at least is concerned, this answers their purpose; but they take it, not because it is at the time sufficiently spacious for them, but because they could not procure a more roomy dwelling, even did they desire it. In this they pass with tolerable comfort, considering their notions of what comfort is, the first period of married life. But, by- and-by they have children, and the family increases until, in the course of a few years, they number perhaps from eight to ten individuals. But all this time there has been no increase to their household accommodation. As at first, so to the very last, there is but the one sleeping room. As the family increases additional beds are crammed into this apartment, until at last it is so filled with them that there is scarcely room left to move between them. As already mentioned, I have known instances in which they had to crawl over each other to get to their beds. So long as the children are very young, the only evil connected with this is the physical one arising from crowding so many people together in what is generally a dingy, frequently a damp, and invariably an ill-ventilated apartment. But years steal on, and the family continue thus bedded together. Some of its members may yet be in their infancy, but other of both sexes have crossed the line of puberty. But there they are, still together in the same room - the father and mother, the sons and the daughters - young men, young women, and children. Cousins, too, of both sexes, are often thrown together into the same room, and not unfrequently into the same bed. I have also known of cases in which uncles slept in the same room with their grown-up nieces, and newly-married couples occupied the same chamber with those long married, and with those marriageable but unmarried.
    A case also came to my notice - already alluded to in connexion with another branch of the subject - in which two sisters, who were married on the same day, occupied adjoining rooms, in the same hut, with nothing but a thin board partition, which did not reach the ceiling, between the two rooms, and a door in the partition which only partly filled up the doorway. For years back, in these same two rooms, have slept twelve people, of both sexes and all ages. Sometimes, when there is but one room, a praiseworthy effort is made for the conservation of decency. But the hanging up of a piece of tattered cloth between the beds - which is generally all that is done in this respect, and even that but seldom - is but a poor set-off to the fact that a family, which, in common decency, should, as regards sleeping accommodations, be separated at least into three divisions, occupy, night after night, but one and the same chamber. This is a frightful position for them to be in when an infectious or epidemic disease enters their abode. But this, important though it be, is the least important consideration connected with their circumstances. That which is most so is the effect produced by them upon their habits and morals. In the illicit intercourse to which such a position frequently gives rise, it is not always that the tie of blood is respected. Certain it is that, when the relationship is even but one degree removed from that of brother and sister, that tie is frequently overlooked. And when the circumstances do not lead to such horrible consequences, the mind, particularly of the female, is wholly divested of that sense of delicacy and shame which, so long as they are preserved, are the chief safeguards of her chastity. She therefore falls an early and an easy prey to the temptations which beset her beyond the immediate circle of her family. People in the other spheres of life are but little aware of the extent to which this precocious demoralization of the female amongst the lower orders in the country has proceeded.
    But how could it be otherwise? The philanthropist may exert himself in their behalf, the moralist may inculcate even the worldly advantages of a better course of life, and the minister of religion may warn them of the eternal penalties which they are incurring; but there is an instructor constantly at work more potent than them all, an instructor in mischief, of which they must get rid ere they make any real progress in their laudable efforts - and that is, the single bed- chamber in the two-roomed cottage.

    Bad as are these pauper dens, nurseries of vice more fearful still abound in our Christian capital. In the former some effort after decency may be made, but in the latter, not only is there no such effort, but the smallest remnant of modesty is scouted and trampled down as an insult and reproach. I allude to the low lodging-houses which afford to the homeless poor a refuge still more cruel than the pitiless streets from which they fly. In these detestable haunts of vice men, women, and children are received indiscriminately, and pass the night huddled together, without distinction of age or sex, not merely in one common room, but often one common bed; even if privacy is desired, it is impossible of attainment; no accommodation is made for decency, and the practices of the inmates are on a par with the accommodation. It is fearful to contemplate human beings so utterly abandoned, reduced below the level of the brute creation. By constant practice, vice has become a second nature; with such associates, children of tender years soon become old in vice. This is no fancy sketch, or highly-coloured picture. In this manner thousands pass from childhood to youth, from youth to age, with every good feeling trampled out and every evil instinct cherished and matured; trained to no useful art, and yet dependent for a living on their own exertions, what wonder if all the males are thieves and all the females prostitutes. The crowding together of the sexes, and consequent indecency, is not entirely confined to the large towns.
    ... The extreme youth of the junior portion of the street-walkers' is a remarkable feature of London prostitution, and has been the subject of much comment by foreign travellers who have published their impressions of social London. Certain quarters of the town are positively infested by juvenile offenders, whose effrontery is more intolerably disgusting than that of their elder sisters. It is true, these young things spring from the lowest dregs of the population; and, from what I can learn of their habits, their seduction - if seduction it can be called - has been effected, with their own consent, by boys no older than themselves, and is an all but natural consequence of promiscuous herding, that mainspring of corruption among our lower orders. That such as these are generally the victims of panders and old débauchées is as untrue as many of the wretched fallacies set about by some who write fictions about social matters in the guise of facts; but whatever the prime cause of their appearance in the streets as prostitutes, it is none the less strange and sad - none the less worth amending - that the London poor should furnish, and London immorality should maintain, so many of these half-fledged nurselings, who take to prostitution, as do their brothers of the same age to thieving and other evil courses, for a bare subsistence.
    Although a large number of women fall victims as above, it cannot be denied that others early evince a natural indisposition to do work when they might obtain it, and may thus be said to court admission into the ranks of prostitution. That idleness and vanity are almost inevitable bequests from parent to child, is proved by the fact that the children of the numerous diseased prostitutes, consigned by the police to the St Lazare Hospital in Paris, notwithstanding all the religious teachings of the Sisters of Charity and the excellent secular education given them within the walls of that institution, where they are received as old as seven or eight years, almost invariably become prostitutes. The foundlings, or deserted children, oftentimes illegitimate, who crowd our workhouses, are in like manner a very fruitful source for the recruitment of the metropolitan pavé.
With the absolute neglect of children by parents, and the interminable scheming of lustful men, I may end the roll of causes which have operated in this direction since the dawn of civilization, and, singly or combined, will so continue, I presume, to operate for all time.

William Acton, Prostitution, considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects 2nd edition 1870

see also Thomas Archer's Terrible Sights of London - click here

see also Arthur Sherwell's Life in West London - click here