Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.], [c1889] - Chapter 13 - Impurity

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IN the judgment of all who know intimately the lives and temptations of young men, impurity does more than any other sin to injure and destroy them. Many who are impervious to other temptations succumb to this. The results are in numberless cases of the most painful kind. There is a secret history of life known to comparatively few, but suspected by more. If that were written the sin of impurity and its consequences would be found to account for very much that is ascribed to other causes. A perfectly truthful and complete story of life as it is lived in London would be full of a subject which naturally, and in the main rightly, is under the scat of silence. Suffice it to say that much which seems perplexing would then find an easy solution misery, illness, pain, defeat, and death are in thousands of cases due to this cause, and not to the causes the are ascribed to.
    No doubt much evil as well as good comes from the lifting of the veil. Whether the evil has been greater than the good is a question we do not care to discuss. We accept the disclosures as inevitable. In the publicity given to everything in these days a main part of human life cannot be curtained off. [-238-] We shall do well not to count on silence, but rather to expect disclosure to follow disclosure, and we assure our readers that however startling what has been made known may be, there is in reserve matter a hundred times more amazing. To speak of exaggeration and sensation in connection with these things is absurd. But our business is not to furnish unclean details. We shall simply give a plain and sober recital of facts that ought to be known to young men and those who have to do with them, and leave these facts to speak for themselves. If we are guarded and reserved it is not because we have not details that would make a sensation ; it is simply because we think that more good will be done by this way of stating the case.
    Of what may be termed the inevitable incentives to immorality we have nothing to say. Our object is to speak of those by which they are reinforced.
    1. One of the greatest evils wherever young men congregate is that of obscene conversation. It very often happens that a boy brought up strictly is entirely ignorant till he goes to a boarding-scbooI. A feeling of false shame prevents his confessing that ignorance. He listens greedily to his companions, and in a short time is initiated. There are certain rhymes and stories which, once learned, cleave to the imagination and taint it almost irretrievably. They often remain for a lifetime, and refuse to be forgotten. Thus the seeds are sown of future evil. There are schools, no doubt, where every precaution is taken to save the youthful mind from contamination, and where a high Christian standard is maintained. Still, when parents can retain their sons under home in-[-239-]fluences it is their clear duty to do so. One depraved boy may poison the whole atmosphere of a school and destroy many lives. How far the knowledge which will inevitably come should be communicated by parents is a very difficult question, not to be answered positively; but the moral shock suffered by an innocent boy when a whole new world of danger and evil is opened to him suddenly is terrible, and there should surely be some preparation. But the evil of obscene talk among young men, and not among young men only, is one which is very dimly understood by the public. It is the ordinary and ever-welcome theme of conversation. The fact that the subject is forbidden is enough to make it attractive. To depraved minds it is always interesting.. The deadly monotony of daily toil is broken by it The imagination becomes thoroughly polluted; and dwells continually upon the familiar theme. The whole moral fibre is relaxed, and temptation becomes all-powerful.
    We do not mean that this is universal. Far from it. There are many counting-houses in London where a high moral tone is kept up, and many young men who frown upon and discountenance filthy conversation. Still, we are certain that the pulpit - that the Christian Church - has not sufficiently understood the awful perils and results of obscenity in talk. And we have abundant testimony that one filthy rhyme fastening on the imagination in childhood may be enough to darken and even to wreck a whole life. The tongue is a fire ; the beginning of impurity is almost always there. 
    [-240-] 2. Loose reading. This is a much smaller evil. though it threatens to grow greater. Almost every Londoner knows the streets about the Strand where indecent books and pictures are sold. These shops are now under pretty rigorous supervision, and the business has to be conducted with great caution. The ordinary spectator will notice in the window pamphlets with long titles, promising entertainment of a certain kind, bad photographs of dancers, and a few books, of which "Maria Monk" seems to be the most common. If he goes into the shop and buys the pamphlets he will find that he has been taken in, and the photographs are not worse than may be found in many "respectable" shops where actresses' portraits are shown. If he endeavours to go farther he will find the proprietor exceedingly shy. So  many "commissioners" are about, and penalties are so strictly enforced, that it is with the utmost circumspection that further dealings are entered into. Long experience has made the "bookseller" a tolerably good judge of men, and if his customer be a young man, not very knowing and possessed of plenty of money; there is more for him in the shape of Parisian photographs and indecent books that he dare not sell openly. We do not, however, attach very great importance to this. There is a grossly indecent literature published in London, but this, as a rule, is very expensive, and only within the means of wealthy sensualists. A five-shilling magazine was till recently published monthly; in which there was one coloured picture and vilely indecent letter-press. This kind of thing is to be had of certain Jew dealers in antiquity, and is not widely known. [-241-] The comic and sporting papers offend to a certain extent, and one notorious print makes its appearance from time to time. Its proprietor once underwent a term of imprisonment. The contents-bill is generally more indecent than the paper itself, and certainly ought to be suppressed by the police.
    What is alarming under this head is the portentous development of translations from French novels. At a time when the French themselves have wakened up to the moral havoc wrought by the wholesale dissemination of corrupt fiction it is being naturalized among us. We have already pointed out that assuming the right of certain books already published to he circulated among us (and that right has never been disputed), there is absolutely no limit to the circulation of French books. No line of demarcation can be drawn which has not already been passed over, and from the press, even from the religious press, there has been practically no protest. The most respectable journals have inserted, and still insert, advertisements of these books. It may be replied that they are also translated and circulated in America. This is not the case. The American editions are thoroughly expurgated, and in Germany many of the hooks arc forbidden. When these novels first appeared in a somewhat expensive form some well-known city book-shops practically did business for a time in nothing else, Now they are being reprinted in cheap forms, and in a little time we have no doubt they will he universally circulated over Britain with results of the most appalling kind. It is significant that they are to be had in the most respectable booksellers' shops. There is [-242-] abundant scope for the development of the traffic. There are many more novels to translate; the work can be done inexpensively; the books are sure of a market ; and the lower class of publishers will cheapen the books to the utmost. We have uttered our warning and protest; if the Church and the the State are content that it should be so the blame is not with us.
    It may be noted that alongside of this production of the foreign literature of vice a company has been formed to produce at a low rate English "topshelf" books which have become scarce and dear. No surprise can be felt at this. These operations also are bound to extend.
    3. The influence of theatres, music-halls, etc. We have said so much on this subject that we need only touch on it briefly. Correspondents have written to us defending theatres, and we readily admit there is much reason in what they say, so far as they are concerned. That many go to a good play, and spend an evening pleasantly and without much injury, is undeniable. But the thing has to be considered in its total influence. The first thing to be remarked is that morality among actors and actresses is very low. We need not enter into what excuses or explanations there may be for this; suffice it to say that it is from theatrical managers that we have received the darkest account of the morality of the stage. Actresses whose names are in every one's mouth are notoriously immoral. What is the effect on a young man of admiring and applauding women whose life he knows to be impure? It confounds his moral sense, and renders [-243-] him incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Then in connection with every theatre there is a mixed mass of people employed. The morals of many of the girls are loose, and it is an ambition with young men to be acquainted with them. The results may be imagined. And it cannot be denied that recently there has been a distinct tendency to have immoral plays. This is acknowledged, and in many cases condemned by the critics of the daily press. Of the music-halls much has already been said. The whole tendency of them is cynical. The songs are jests at what young people have been brought up to consider sacred and venerable. In this way a process of sapping and mining goes on. Under the heading "Young Women" we shall have much more to say of the actual life of the stage and the music-hall platform.
    4. We mention in addition the great difficulties in the way of marriage. Salaries, never very high, are now distinctly on the down grade, and while the rent of houses in London is diminishing, and some household expenses are diminishing along with it, a revolution must take place before living in London can become really cheap. When there is no escape from the monotony of the office except to the monotony of lodgings it is no cause for wonder that many become entangled in vice.
    5. The last incentive we shall mention is drink. The first lapse from morality, which counts for so much, is almost invariably smoothed by drink, and drink accompanies all the rest. We said in one of the earliest of these chapters that if drink could be [-244-] avoided absolutely by young men they would comparatively speaking, be safe. We repeat it with, if possible, greater emphasis. Only let there be no mistake about it; it is total abstinence in the fullest sense that we mean. 
    What remains to be said on this subject will be said as briefly and guardedly as possible. The interpretation will not be found difficult by those whom it is meant to reach.
    Of the two forms of immorality, secret vice is not the least destructive. We have been urged from the most influential quarters not to pass by this painful subject. We have before us a collection of letters and testimonies which, if we dared to print them, would astound every reader. This vice, in the opinion of many who know the secrets of young men, is at the bottom of more misery than any other. It is generally learnt early at school, and when it gets a hold is rarely shaken off. Its results are in many cases complete collapse of body and mind. It is the cause of nearly all premature break-downs among young men, and every lunatic asylum is full of its victims. The feeling of hopelessness and degradation which it speedily engenders is of the most intolerable kind, and often leads to suicide. The opinion of one whose name, were we permitted to give it, would carry great weight is that it is the great cause of suicide. On this painful subject two things need to be said very plainly-
    1. That it is necessary for parents and teachers to warn their sons against this ruinous practice and its consequences. We do not think there can be any doubt about this, whatever difference of opinion [-245-] there may be on other subjects. We are glad to say that young men's Christian associations are becoming alive to this and are taking means to warn and to save young men. We have found the chief workers among young men in London very much alive on this subject, and doing their part .
    2. That advertising quacks are as numerous and as dangerous as ever. There is an impression that they have been less active of late years, and that respectable journals now refuse their advertisements. As a matter of fact this is not so. Now, young men should be told that they will never, under any circumstances, get any help from these men, but harm, and harm only. Their medicines are invariably quite useless. In several cases where they have been analyzed they have proved to be harmless coloured mixtures. The are invariably charged for at a high price. But the danger lies in the fact that the names of applicants are carefully registered, and in many cases their history is inquired into. They are compelled to pay larger and larger sums for their medicines,  and if they refuse they are threatened with exposure. The morbid terror which is a main feature of the disease makes this appear worse than death, and the miserable victims often pay the last farthing they can spare out of their scanty earnings for years to some miserable quack. These scoundrels have many aliases. They work a great deal in concert, and have establishments in different towns. When trouble rises in one they escape to another. It would be a great service to society if some courageous journal would set itself [-246-] to the task of rooting up some of these nests of villainy. It is also necessary to say that in the regular ranks of the medical profession there are men who, in an indirect and very skilful way, advertise themselves as specialists in this particular kind who are very little better than quacks. They cannot of course extort money to the same extent, at least not by threats, but their medicines are, as a rule, useless, and their charges heavy. We also have testimony that some - perhaps we should say many - medical men unwittingly do harm by making light of the troubles of young men who go to consult them. The result of this is to drive the sufferers to quacks, who industriously foster the impression that the regular profession does not understand or sympathize with diseases of this kind.
    And now to speak of the social evil.
    It is undoubtedly a fact that vice is often entered upon by young men not to please themselves, but their companions. Many a youth who, if left to himself, would not think of entering a house of ill-fame will do so in the company of his fellows, fearful of the ridicule he will excite if he should hang hack on the threshold. It is an unfortunate and distressing fact that most young people are more or less ashamed of doing right, unless they have a strong religious background to their education, and it is on this account that too much care cannot be devoted to the task of selecting one's companions. This brings us round to the advice of our forefathers to choose our friends wisely. Young men are not all strong-minded enough to withstand the influence of older men than themselves ; and the youth of [-247-] seventeen or eighteen, who is just beginning to cut himself loose from the home-ties, is apt to almost deify the companion of two or three-and-twenty, who talks so glibly of the gaiety of life and the general manliness of doing everything that is disgraceful. He relates incidents that make the blood run hotly through his listener's veins, and paints the glories of vice in such glowing colours that the youthful hearer longs to enter upon the scenes for himself. Such young men are often free from any desire to lead their younger friends astray, and have mostly, indeed, not neatly so wide an acquaintance with the subject as they affect, but they cannot resist the temptation to show off before inexperience. Young men have more influence over youths a few years younger than themselves than any others, and they can use this for good or evil Where a young man is well-disposed he can do much to develop that which is good in the characters of those around him ; but where he strives to be what is called "fast," even without being badly disposed, he does more to spread evil amongst his friends than he would probably ever believe. The habit that young men who are employed in the day-time have of walking about the streets at night is at the root of all the mischief. It is a mode of lazily passing the time which grows upon them, although the fascinations of the pavement do not seem great to the mind which is not accustomed to them. But the clerks of London, or a majority of them, look to this as their ordinary relaxation, and to the girls with whom they thus become promiscuously acquainted for their feminine society. There are a number of young [-248-] women, returning from business and otherwise, who, without being what is called "fast" are yet quite ready to make friends with the opposite sex upon scant introduction. As they do not generally leave their work until 8 o'clock, they are able to tell their parents they were detained, and can easily take a walk for an hour with any young man who solicits such a favour. Thus it happens that they mutually lead each other astray. For acquaintances are ripened into intimacies without the guidance of either affection or respect, and in many cases result in a manner that will be only too easily understood. But the girls who swarm the streets on their own account, seeking whom they may pick up, are a more active source of danger. We have nothing to do now with the causes of their being there, which it is more than probable are the results of deception or misfortune befalling them ; they are there, and they do much to wreck the lives of foolish youths and men who, in the darkness of the night, cannot see the dirt and disease that are but half hiding themselves under the paint and tawdriness. Youths who walk the streets at night are on the high-road to vice, for they speedily become acquainted with companions of both sexes who laugh at and decry everything that it is not disgraceful to engage in. Some of these poor girls in the earlier stages of their disgrace are young, light-hearted, and fresh-looking, and make in the eyes of their male admirers very desirable companions. But the more a youth gives way to vice, the more the desire for it grows upon him, and in a less time than may be believed he finds that he has a craving for the satisfying of his passion [-249-] which he can only allay by plunging into courses which a short time before he would have shuddered to think of.
    Let us add that within the metropolitan district there are tens of thousands of women plying a hideous traffic, Last year this class contributed no less than 20,525 towards the sum total apprehended and proceed against for various offences against the law. In the London district, out of 30,000 arrests for drunkenness, not less than 15,600 were women. Such facts are only weakened by commentary. 
    What is to be done? We need not say what in our view is the great remedy. Christianity alone can cope with immorality. Let young men be advised-
    1. Never, on any pretext, enter into a doubtful house.
    2. Leave drink alone. 
    3. Cultivate good company.
    And 4. Let them be told the awful results of immorality.
    There can be no doubt but that ignorance of the results obtains amongst youths. The cases that have come to our notice are in most instances too painful to be mentioned, but they cannot but have the effect of arousing a feeling of pity on behalf of the poor sufferers, who, although they may have only themselves to blame for their penalties, have often drifted into sin through weakness of mind or under the guidance of some stronger hand than their own. It is a difficult thing to bring these cases vividly before the reader. There is a widespread feeling abroad that all unpleasant things should be put behind us and forgotten, and that by so doing we [-250-] are actually lessening the evil. But any one who has known the terrible results that frequently follow a single lapse into vice will feel that if only young men could once know the horrible risks they run by not living purely they would strive all they could to keep themselves from falling into sin, if for no other reason that to avoid the inevitable punishment. We know of a young man who contracted an illness which, after lingering about him for thirteen years, during the greater part of which he was incapacitated from work, caused his death. This is an extreme case ; but it is certain that many forms of the dread diseases of immorality - and they are legion - result in permanent ill-health and accelerate death. But this is not all, for they say the energy of a man completely, arid if they do not kill him, render him a misery to himself and to everybody else. In some forms they can never be shaken off, and men go through life subject to ever-recurring attacks.
    Let it be added, in conclusion, that we must not take too gloomy a view. Many young men are strictly pure. A leading East End worker has written us deprecating pessimism. His experience of the young men of the East End is such as leads him to give God thanks. He is of opinion that it is no young men, but middle-aged and elderly men, who mainly frequent haunts of vice. The picture is too black for us to wish to darken it by a hair's breadth.

source: Anon., Tempted England: Young Men, c.1889