Victorian London - Crime - Prostitution - London Labour and the London Poor - Seclusives, Or Those That Live in Private Houses and Apartments

London Labour and the London Poor
A Cyclopædia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work.
By Henry Mayhew.
London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, Stationers' Hall Court. 1862.

[digitised copy kindly provided by Les Butler, ed.]

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Seclusives, Or Those That Live in Private Houses and Apartments
     Two classes of prostitutes come under this denomination - first, kept mistresses, and secondly, prima donnas or those who live in a superior style. The first of these is perhaps the most important division of the entire profession, when considered with regard to its effects upon the higher classes of society. Laïs, when under the protection of a prince of the blood; Aspasia, whose friend is one of the most influential noblemen in the kingdom; Phryne, the chère amie of a well-known officer in the guards, or a man whose wealth is proverbial on the Stock Exchange and the city, - have all great influence upon the tone of morality extant amongst the set in which their distinguished protectors move, and indeed the reflex of their dazzling profligacy falls upon and bewilders those who are in a lower condition of life, acting as an incentive to similar deeds of licentiousness though on a more limited scale. Hardly a parish in London is free from this impurity. Wherever the neighbourhood possesses peculiar charms, wherever the air is purer than ordinary, or the locality fashionably distinguished, these tubercles on the social system penetrate and abound. Again quoting from Dr. Ryan, although we cannot authenticate his statements-
     "It is computed, that 8,000,000l. are expended annually on this vice in London alone. This is easily proved: some girls obtain from twenty to thirty pounds a week, others more, whilst most of those who frequent theatres, casinos, gin palaces, music halls, &c., receive from ten to twelve pounds. Those of a still lower grade obtain about four or five pounds, some less than one pound, and many not ten shillings. If we take the average earnings of each prostitute at 100l. per annum, which is under the amount, it gives the yearly income of eight millions.
     Suppose the average expense of 80,000 amounts to 20l. each, 1,600,000l. is the result. This sum deducted from the earnings leaves 6,400,000l. as the income of the keepers of prostitutes, or supposing 5000 to be the number, above 1000l. per annum each - an enormous income for men in such a situation to derive when compared with the resources of many respectable and professional men.
     Literally every woman who yields to her passions and loses her virtue is a prostitute, but many draw a distinction between those who live by promiscuous intercourse, and those who confine themselves to one man. That this is the case is evident from the returns before us. The metropolitan police do not concern themselves with the higher classes of prostitutes; indeed, it would be impossible, and impertinent as well, were they to make the attempt. Sir Richard Mayne kindly informed us that the latest computation of the number of public prostitutes was made on the 5th of April, 1858, and that the returns then showed a total of 726 (1).
     It is frequently a matter of surprise amongst the friends of a gentleman of position and connection that he exhibits an invincible distaste to marriage. If they were acquainted with his private affairs their astonishment would speedily vanish, for they would find him already to all intents and purposes united to one who possesses charms, talents, and accomplishments, and who will in all probability exercise the same influence over him as long as the former continue to exist. The prevalence of this custom, and the extent of its ramifications is hardly dreamed of, although its effects are felt, and severely. The torch of Hymen burns less brightly than of yore, and even were the blacksmith of Gretna still exercising his vocation, he would find his business diminishing with startling rapidity year by year.  
    It is a great mistake to suppose that kept mistresses are without friends and without society; on the contrary, their acquaintance, if not select, is numerous, and it is their custom to order their broughams or their pony carriages, and at the fashionable hour pay visits and leave cards on one another.
     (1) Life and Adventures of Col. George Hanger, 1704.
     They possess no great sense of honour, although they are generally more or less religious. If they take a fancy to a man they do not hesitate to admit him to their favour. Most kept women have several lovers who are in the habit of calling upon them at different times, and as they are extremely careful in conducting these amours they perpetrate infidelity with impunity, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred escape detection. When they are unmasked, the process, unless the man is very much infatuated, is of course summary in the extreme. They are dismissed probably with a handsome douceur and sent once more adrift. They do not remain long, however, in the majority of cases, without finding another protector.
     A woman who called herself Lady ---- met her admirer at a house in Bolton Row that she was in the habit of frequenting. At first sight Lord ---- became enamoured, and proposed sur le champ, after a little preliminary conversation, that she should live with him. The proposal with equal rapidity and eagerness was accepted, and without further deliberation his lordship took a house for her in one of the terraces overlooking the Regent's Park, allowed her four thousand a year, and came as frequently as he could, to pass his time in her society. She immediately set up a carriage and a stud, took a box at the opera on the pit tier, and lived, as she very well could, in excellent style. The munificence of her friend did not decrease by the lapse of time. She frequently received presents of jewelry from him, and his marks of attention were constant as they were various. The continual contemplation of her charms instead of producing satiety added fuel to the fire, and he was never happy when out of her sight. This continued until one day he met a young man in her loge at the opera, whom she introduced as her cousin. This incident aroused his suspicions, and he determined to watch her more closely. She was surrounded by spies, and in reality did not possess one confidential attendant, for they were all bribed to betray her. For a time, more by accident than precaution or care on her part, she succeeded in eluding their vigilance, but at last the catastrophe happened; she was surprised with her paramour in a position that placed doubt out of the question, and the next day his lordship, with a few sarcastic remarks, gave her her congé and five hundred pounds.
     These women are rarely possessed of education, although they undeniably have ability. If they appear accomplished you may rely that it is entirely superficial. Their disposition is volatile and thoughtless, which qualities are of course at variance with the existence of respectability. Their ranks too are recruited from a class where education is not much in vogue. The fallacies about clergymen's daughters and girls from the middle classes forming the majority of such women are long ago exploded; there may be some amongst them, but they are few and far between. They are not, as a rule, disgusted with their way of living; most of them consider it a means to an end, and in no measure degrading or polluting. One and all look forward to marriage and a certain state in society as their ultimate lot. This is their bourne, and they do all in their power to travel towards it.
     I am not tired of what I am doing," a woman once answered me, "I rather like it. I have all I want, and my friend loves me to excess. I am the daughter of a tradesman at Yarmouth. I learned to play the piano a little, and I have naturally a good voice. Yes, I find these accomplishments of great use to me; they are, perhaps, as you say, the only ones that could be of use to a girl like myself. I am three and twenty. I was seduced four years ago. I tell you candidly I was as much to blame as my seducer; I wished to escape from the drudgery of my father's shop. I have told you they partially educated me; I could cypher a little as well, and I knew something about the globes; so I thought I was qualified for something better than minding the shop occasionally, or sewing, or helping my mother in the kitchen and other domestic matters. I was very fond of dress, and I could not at home gratify my love of display. My parents were stupid, easy-going old people, and extremely uninteresting to me. All these causes combined induced me to encourage the addresses of a young gentleman of property in the neighbourhood, and without much demur I yielded to his desires. We then went to London, and I have since that time lived with four different men. We got tired of one another in six months, and I was as eager to leave him as he was to get rid of me, so we mutually accommodated one another by separating. Well, my father and mother don't exactly know where I am or what I am doing, although if they had any penetration they might very well guess. Oh, yes! they know I am alive, for I keep them pleasantly aware of my existence by occasionally sending them money. What do I think will become of me? What an absurd question. I could marry to-morrow if I liked.

A Night House - Kate Hamilton's

     This girl was a fair example of her class. They live entirely for the moment, and care little about the morrow until they are actually pressed in any way, and then they are fertile in expedients.
     We now come to the second class, or those we have denominated prima donnas. These are not kept like the first that we have just been treating of, although several men who know and admire them are in the habit of visiting them periodically. From these they derive a considerable revenue, but they by no means rely entirely upon it for support. They are continually increasing the number of their friends, which indeed is imperatively necessary, as absence and various causes thin their ranks considerably. They are to be seen in the parks, in boxes at the theatres, at concerts, and in almost every accessible place where fashionable people congregate; in fact in all places where admittance is not secured by vouchers, and in some cases, those apparently insuperable barriers fall before their tact and address. At night their favourite rendezvous is in the neighbourhood of the Haymarket, where the hospitality of Mrs. Kate Hamilton is extended to them after the fatigues of dancing at the Portland Rooms, or the excesses of a private party. Kate's may be visited not only to dissipate ennui, but with a view to replenishing an exhausted exchequer; for as Kate is careful as to who she admits into her rooms - men who are able to spend, and come with the avowed intention of spending, five or six pounds, or perhaps more if necessary - these supper-rooms are frequented by a better set of men and women than perhaps any other in London. Although these are seen at Kate's they would shrink from appearing at any of the cafés in the Haymarket, or at the supper-rooms with which the adjacent streets abound, nor would they go to any other casino than Mott's. They are to be seen between three and five o'clock in the Burlington Arcade, which is a well known resort of cyprians of the better sort. They are well acquainted with its Paphian intricacies, and will, if their signals are responded to, glide into a friendly bonnet shop, the stairs of which leading to the cœnacula or upper chambers are not innocent of their well formed "bien chaussée" feet. The park is also, as we have said, a favourite promenade, where assignations may be made or acquaintances formed. Equestrian exercise is much liked by those who are able to afford it, and is often as successful as pedestrian, frequently more so. It is difficult to say what position in life the parents of these women were in, but generally their standing in society has been inferior. Principles of lax morality were early inculcated, and the seed that has been sown has not been slow to bear its proper fruit.
     It is true that a large number of milliners, dress-makers, furriers, hat-binders, silk-binders, tambour-makers, shoe-binders, slop-women, or those who work for cheap tailors, those in pastry-cooks, fancy and cigar shops, bazaars, servants to a great extent, frequenters of fairs, theatres, and dancing-rooms, are more or less prostitutes and patronesses of the numerous brothels London can boast of possessing; but these women do not swell the ranks of the class we have at present under consideration. More probably they are the daughters of tradesmen and of artizans, who gain a superficial refinement from being apprenticed, and sent to shops in fashionable localities, and who becoming tired of the drudgery sigh for the gaiety of the dancing-saloons, freedom from restraint, and amusements that are not in their present capacity within their reach.
     Loose women generally throw a veil over their early life, and you seldom, if ever, meet with a woman who is not either a seduced governess or a clergyman's daughter; not that there is a word of truth in such an allegation - but it is their peculiar whim to say so.
     To show the extent of education among women who have been arrested by the police during a stated period, we print the annexed table, dividing the virtuous criminals from the prostitutes.