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If we knock often, we shall be heard at last. In a lecture
given at the London Hospital recently, Dr. Parker, after tracing the history of
cholera, and showing that it was now following its former track, but that its
ravages had been everywhere greater, said (and was fully entitled to say it),-
We still hear men urge the impotence of our science to deal with the plague as a
reproach against our profession. But no culpable neglect-no disgraceful
ignorance-is ours. We cannot, indeed, stay the hand of the destroying angel-we
cannot snatch his victim from the icy embraces of grim death-we cannot bid the
already stagnant blood to flow onward in its course; but if the repeated
warnings of members of our body had been heeded-if their reiterated exhortations
and earnest remonstrances had been regarded - if their wise counsel had been followed, and the measures
which they urged on the authorities of this land had been carried out, there are
strong reasons for believing that cholera would not again have invaded our
shores. Let us, then, remember that pestilence still rages in our
densely-populated cities; that the deadly emanations from those plague-spots,
the burial-grounds, still saturate the air of this metropolis with their
pestiferous gases; that animal, and even human putrescence, still contaminates
our water ; that fever still decimates our overcrowded emigrant-ships; that our
poor still lodge in wretched hovels which are a disgrace to a civilised
community; that lunatics are in many instances still treated as criminals; and
that a comprehensive and efficient scheme of national education is still to be
framed. Let us remember all these wants of the age, and not rest until the final
victory be achieved.
Every day shows more and more strikingly that the cholera can be defeated by sanitary precautions. If houses are placed in situations [-62-] where houses ought not to be, or if ill-supplied with drains, water, and proper means of ventilation, an extraordinary amount of ill-health and death results, with as much certainty as that heat comes from fire. Continuing our exposition of the condition of parts of London, let us add a few notes of places through which we have walked recently. Take, for example, Gilbert-street, near the Bear- yard, Lincoln's-inn-fields. "Here," says an informant (pointing to the places), "are about six slaughter-houses within a few yards; a large tripe-boiler's - the effluvium from which is very bad; - stables for horses, &c. You may stand and throw a stone from one of these slaughter-houses to another. Look into this one house [we refrain from giving the number]; you see the water is coming in; there is one cask capable of holding about fifty gallons, another a little more. There is no tap in these casks, so each person is obliged to dip vessels, however dirty, into the water. This supply is for three small houses, containing five families of from five to six persons each: this number the people allow, but some of them being Irish, it is probable that they have lodgers. The people do not like to drink the water from the casks. If they can catch a little when it is coming in they take it home; if not, they go to the spring of Lincoln's-inn."
This dwelling-place has two slaughter-houses at the back, a closet close to the water, a dust-heap, and an open gully-hole in front. The smell of this place is shocking. A respectable shop-keeper opposite has never had her health since she came in the neighbourhood. In her house the water is in the cellar. Standing in this place a person pointed out a house in which two children had been ill of fever, and where one was ill of some complaint at the time. At the corner a young woman is dying, and they blame the bad air. In a house on the opposite side of the street a person is lying dead-close to Bear-yard. We went at random into a house in Sheppard-street, close by. The drain is stopped: the smell, even before passing the threshold, is frightful. Within, we find a clean place, but an atmosphere of a most dangerous nature: we dive into the cellar; here is the closet, the water-cask, and but little ventilation. The effect of such conditions it is fearful to contemplate. So bad was this place, that we were glad to rush out into the somewhat purer air. Any whose duty it is to inquire will receive a sad account from the people living here and round about. All the neighbourhood is in a bad state-a state dangerous under favourable circumstances, but fearful if we consider the condition and poverty of many of the inhabitants. Take one specimen-namely, the occupant of the house in which the children have been ill. The woman, who was washing, was pale and careworn, the room with its little furniture squalid and dirty; a sick child was in the cradle, over which she had watched for death several nights. She had scarcely had any food, "things are getting so dear," she said, "for such people as us. I could not wash yesterday, I had neither fire nor soap. People don't know how hard poverty is: I took that poor child's clothes and pawned them for 4d. here is the ticket: I was [-63-] advised to get Port wine for the child, I got twopenny worth, there it is nearly all of it left [showing us a small bottle], the poor thing cannot take it. I bought bread with the other 2d. My other children have been ill; I have got an admission for them into the hospital. I pay 3s. a week rent for this place, but owe several weeks. The landlord, who is kind, is getting very impatient."
It must be a hard heart that can hear such a story as this unmoved. But we are not dealing with poverty or the causes of distress; and we have no great admiration for that charity which makes beggars : but these are times and circumstances when those who have means should put aside their political economy, and think merely how to lessen the misery before them. Our more legitimate object and real purpose in mentioning such cases is to show that we have poverty of the intensest kind placed under the worst circumstances, and so to make evident the need of permanent improvements.
The supply of pure water to the poor in their own dwellings on Sundays and other days is a matter of paramount necessity; they should not be obliged to "hunt about and " beg for water. Let us hear what the people say in another quarter, namely, Middle Serle's-place."
"The people are forced to run about and beg for water; that they do; I have to do so myself, so I know. Very often the people do their cleaning on the Saturday night: it is now twenty minutes past five, and by half-past seven this evening we shall not have a drop of water." The south side of Serle's-place, which contains many houses, thickly inhabited, is "dry," as the people express it, on Sundays. On the opposite side of the way, the people are better off, the landlord having provided large and substantial water-tanks above ground, properly covered.
In the neighbourhood of Serle's-place, Clement's-lane, and the little alleys running in various directions, the filth is very great, and here fever is a constant visitor. In one court, occupied by a dealer in fancy dogs, and some other persons, there were two untrapped gully-holes; the people had complained in vain to the landlady to have these holes examined, as they were nearly poisoned, and the landlady supplied them with two pieces of wood, imagining that this would be sufficient to stop the escape of the poisonous gases. In the house of the dog-dealer, some time since, the drain became stopped; a young man, the son of the occupant, at that time in perfect health, opened the drain, and in a few days he died of a raging fever! The death of the son killed the father.
With reference to water, we must return once more to Agar-town. No words would be too strong to describe the miserable condition of this disgraceful location. Fever has been raging here, and, as the medical attendant of the district says, " What is the use of giving medicine - when such a condition of things exists?"
Look at Cambridge-terrace. All the refuse water here remains at times on the surface, for the small pipe-drains are constantly being
Fig. 15. - The Water coming in at Agar-town.
choked. There are open cesspools here. After a heavy shower of rain, the
water floods the houses, there being no sufficient channels to convey it away. The whole of the surface of the ground is impregnated
impure matter. In the winter-time, the roadways are a mass of soft mud. At the time of our last
visit, pools of stagnant water were collected here, and some black as ink,
having on the surface a ghastly bloom, something like the effect produced by the
mixture of coal-tar with water. This water passes below the houses of the
people, where it remains from year's end to year's end.
Here is Victoria Cottage, with the black, poisonous stream passing through the garden, and below the boarding of the house. In this and the houses adjoining the people took up parts of their floors to show us the accumulation of filthy fluid below the beds of themselves and their children.
In another part of this neighbourhood, shown in the engraving, the people were anxious we should see it between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, when the water comes m. As soon as the small water-casks belonging to the houses round about became full, the overflow passed into the court and places adjoining; the water collected to a considerable depth, flowing into several of the houses, and the people were obliged to pass from place to place on stepping-stones; one man said that he had two feet of water in and below his room, and that snails, spiders, and other vermin were plentiful, "crawling over his clothes at night."
"It is a dreadful task," writes one to us, "a task to make the heart ache and the head fail-to revolve in powerless silence the manifold misery of the London poor. Imagination dare not dwell alone upon the probable ravages of death among wretches huddled upon a few rotten planks over reeking cesspools, inhaling the breath that streams from the huge nostrils of drafty sewers, or chained to the gates of men who poison their fellow creatures in scoffing security. As pestilence, ere it strikes home, tears aside the veil, we behold, once more and perforce, what we dare to call the 'daily life' of thousands of our countrymen. Who must account for the lives of those innocent multitudes that you fling from the very cradle into the grave; or of those, more horribly, that you refuse to slay till you have made the soul brutal and hideous as the carcass that holds it? Do we not know that if the armies of England were placed in such deadly peril [-66-] as are at this moment some 200,000 of the inhabitants of this metropolis,-nay, if it were a question of 200 refugees, - they would be rescued, though it cost us, as the Times would say, 'the last ounce of our treasure, and the last drop of our blood?' Can we affirm that in the present instance there will be expended as much intellect, as much activity, as much gold as went to compass 500 seats at a general election? Vain is it for you, at life's peril, to seize the images of these infernal horrors, and drag them into the upper day; for, amongst all those wonderful forms in which Anglo-Saxon wisdom has wrapped its laws, none can be found to stay a plague. For the stealing of twopenny-worth of cheese there is punishment prompt enough to slay one's tenants, to poison one's neighbours, are safe and easy crimes, the stain of which may be washed from one's name with ever so little Cologne water. Your baths and washhouses, your schools of industry and art, are good things, and well enough to a man who can go home to a few cubic yards of respirable air, a few cubic yards of dry soil, who has a few feet of pipe to bring him water, a few more to carry away his refuse out of sight and smell, who finds a place there which he can enter without dismay, and leave without despair. But what need he care for them in his present misery? A man must have heroic courage and constancy, who can adorn such places as you have shown us with the virtues of sobriety, cleanliness, and thought."
In 1849, statistical details, partially ascertained, induced the suspicion that impure water was one of the main sources of the choleraic virus, and it was resolved that should we unhappily be visited with the scourge again, this suspicion should be either verified or disproved by further investigation. In consequence, we find, in a supplement to a recent report from the Registrar-General for the Metropolitan Districts, some important statistics, which go far to show that there is a decided connection between the source of water supply and the prevalence of cholera. The subject, however, it must be noted, is mixed up with the ascertained connection of lowness of elevation of site generally with liability to cholera, but even this may resolve itself - we had almost said must resolve itself - into the twofold source of probable virus, in impregnation both of air and water. The very poison which pervades the water, in all probability also pervades the air; and, according to the density of that virus, the lower the site the more fully impregnated will both the air and the water supplied from the same level be; for as respects water, it is clear, for instance, that the lower the Thames water falls, the impurer it becomes; that water falling from any elevated water-shed must be purer the higher its level; and as respects air, if the cholera virus consist in such impurities from decomposing organic matter as those also contained in water, it will clearly, in the first place, be through the lower stratum of the air resting on the earth, that such impurities as decomposing vegetable and animal matter will be absorbed.
That cholera actually prevails more in low atmospheric levels than [-67-] in high, as well as more in districts supplied with water from lower than from higher sources, appears from a table lately published in the supplemental report referred to.
It is believed that through almost the whole of this table the impurity of the waters with which the inhabitants of the several districts are supplied, is in nearly a direct proportion to the mortality from cholera.
A most important point in connection with the homes of the poor is involved here. Captain Nelson, of the Engineers, writing to us on the subject, says:-
"A near connection of mine in Wiltshire, not long since built two batches of cottages - one on the upper part of a hill, the other halfway down-both connected by the same line of sewage. The upper batch remained quite healthy, whilst the lower became suddenly the prey of typhus of a malignant type. Both sets of cottages were on the slope of the Great Northern escarpment of the Chalk Downs-the country open, and remarkably healthy; so that my brother-in-law felt much puzzled to account for the mischief: he persevered, however, in his study of the subject, and it occurred to him at last, that although not built many years, it was possible that the sewage might be more or less choked. On investigation, he found that the water of the well of the lower cottages became at times turbid, evidently by matters that found their way through the brick lining of the said well, which was placed too near the drain: this last was immediately opened, and the proprietor's suspicion verified. When the drain was put to rights, the disease soon disappeared."
How much longer shall we allow 15,000 persons to be annually cut off, unnaturally and prematurely, in this gay and wealthy metropolis? How much longer shall the pain, misery, and waste of money, consequent on the want of proper sanitary arrangements, be borne and suffered? "Let it be remembered that a sickly population is one of the most costly burdens of a state. Health is the poor man's capital in trade; and whatever deteriorates that entails a direct loss, and eventually a heavy money charge, upon the community. The enormous amount of poverty and destitution in this country, and the consequent necessity for an impost of nearly £8,000,000 sterling annually for its relief, are in a great measure due to the pauperizing effects of preventible disease." But these are not the only social evils involved in this important inquiry. The localities that are the nurseries of sickness and death, are almost invariably found to be the haunts of immorality and crime. Filth and squalor are as productive of moral debasement as of physical depravation; the two natures of man are so intimately connected, that the defilement of the one is generally associated with pollution of the other.
If those who admit the truth of what is constantly being said on this subject, would carry their belief into effect in the course of their practical operations, they would most materially assist in benefiting the world. Routine so thoroughly possesses us, that nine men [-68-] out of ten who rise from the perusal of an essay showing the evils of some ordinary mode of construction, or of the want of certain arrangements, thoroughly convinced of the truth of it, will, in the next house they build, follow the old road, and continue the erroneous mode, or omit the required arrangements.
From an analysis of 60,000 deaths from consumption which annually take place in England and Wales, the conclusion has been arrived at that tradesmen are nearly twice as liable to consumption as the gentry, "owing chiefly to the hot, close, ill-ventilated workshops, in which the former pass so many hours of the day; that in-door labourers are more subject to consumption than those who follow their employments out of doors, exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, and earning less wages, and having, consequently, worse food, clothing, and lodging: and that of in-door labourers, those engaged in workshops are more subject to consumption than those employed at home."
What precautionary measures will do for health may be illustrated by reference to the small-pox. In Russia, previous to the introduction of vaccination, one-seventh of the population died of the small-pox. In Denmark, through strict laws relating to vaccination, mortality from small-pox has been scarcely known since 1800. In Bavaria, as long ago as 1820, this disease was exterminated. Yet in England, through care for the liberty of the subject (?), during the three years ending 1840, the average annual number of deaths from small-pox was twelve thousand!
It is proved that the money-loss through typhus-fever alone in the metropolis, during the five years 1843-47 was £1,328,000, and that this might have been prevented!
The daily removal of house refuse is of the greatest consequence thousands are slain by its non-removal. When rain falls on a surface loaded with decomposing organic matter (the back-yards of innumerable houses), and it is warmed by the sun, it readily yields to the atmosphere vapours charged with disease and death. We always come back to the fact that the condition of the dwellings of the poor and of the industrial classes is a chief cause of the excess of deaths and of the prevalence of disease, poverty, immorality, and crime.
The physical circumstances in and around a dwelling are a measure of the health and comfort of the tenants. Where there is manifest unfitness for healthy existence, there can be no home-no permanent happiness-no self-respect, or moral elevation of character. Disease must come, and with it a whole train of depressing, vitiating, and paupensing influences.
We happened a few weeks ago to be in one of the Thames omnibuses, which flit about on the river from pier to pier like gnats in the sunshine, and had fallen into a reverie on the miserable condition of our noble river, both in bed and on banks. The resident topographer, in the shape of a small boy in very greasy trowsers, recalled us by shouting " Lambeth; Lam-beth." So we stepped [-69-] ashore, as much to escape the fearful odour which was floating over the water from the mouths of the sewers opened by the retiring tide, as to see what was going on in that neglected and ill-used locality. It is a place full of interest and full of wants; but little endeavour seems to be made to maintain the one or to supply the other.
In the earliest record extant, says Lysons, "it is called Lambehith; in Doomsday Book, probably by mistake, Lanchei; by the ancient historians it is spelt Lamhee, Lamheth, Lambyth, Lamedk." Some etymologists derive the name from Lam, dirt, and hyd or hythe, a haven; others from Lamb and hythe. For our own part we incline greatly to the "dirt" derivation, and would appeal to the present state of much of the district in confirmation of the opinion. Many obvious improvements suggest themselves, and there are some earnest men, dwellers there, who would assist : still nothing is done. Parts of the parish, lying near the river, are often under water; the drainage is very bad, and the general condition of the district discreditable to our age and knowledge. The bone-manure works and other factories contaminate the air; and the water with which the inhabitants are supplied was, until very recently, if it is not now, taken from the river in dangerous proximity to the mouth of the common sewer. In the first report of the Metropolitan Sanitary Commission, evidence was given that in some of the courts and streets fever was always present. At that time the average duration of life there was twenty-four years, while at Camberwell it was thirty-four!
There are some miserable dog-holes of dwellings in Lambeth, although not worse than in many other districts, - murderous houses, - death-dealers, which no efforts on the part of the occupants will render healthful or decent.
In a pamphlet on "Home Reform," by Mr. Roberts, published by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, with the laudable object of answering some who, in reference to the same writer's "Essay on the Dwellings of the Labouring Classes," have asked, how their tenants might be taught to improve their own homes, - the writer says:-
"We must begin by insisting that, however much of the physical and moral evils of the working classes may be justly attributable to their dwellings, it is too often the case that more ought in truth to be imputed to themselves. For surely the inmate depends less on the house, than the house on the inmate; mind has more power over matter than matter over mind. Let a dwelling be ever so poor and incommodious, yet a family with decent and cleanly habits will contrive to make the best of it, and will take care that there shall be nothing offensive in it which they have power to remove. Whereas a model house, fitted up with every convenience and comfort which modern science can supply, will, if occupied by persons of intemperate and uncleanly habits, speedily become a disgrace and a nuisance. A sober, industrious, and cleanly couple will impart an air of decency and respectability to the poorest dwelling; while the spendthrift, the [-70-] drunkard, or the gambler, will convert a palace into a scene of discomfort and disgust. Since, therefore, so much depends on the character and conduct of the parties themselves, it is right that they should feel their responsibility in this important matter, and that they should know and attend to the various points connected with the improvement of their homes.
This is, to a certain extent, true, and it is of the utmost importance that it should be constantly and widely impressed. It must not, however, be taken as an excuse for not providing innoxious, decent, and comely dwellings for the working classes. Much may be done by an energetic orderly mind in any situation; but there are hundreds and hundreds of dwellings that ultimately beat every occupier, and transform the tidy housewife into the slatternly shrew, and the industrious home-loving husband into a disorderly drunkard. Where there is no "mind," "matter" has it all on its own way, of course; and how is it possible that an orderly mind,-careful of proprieties, anxious to improve, sensitive against evil,-can be manufactured, or even maintained, amidst darkness, dampness, disorder, and discomfort. As we have often heard clergymen say, sermons, exhortations, visitings, and the national school, are all useless against a damp, dilapidated, ill-drained, miserable dwelling, where decency is not possible, and immorality inevitable.
Occasionally you may find some who have
"The equal temper of heroic hearts
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
But these are rare exceptions.
The moral and physical effects of the present condition of things, the great degradation, ill-health, and loss of life, meet us at every turn. Typhus, the disease of filth, has been busy. Those who have been engaged in the relief of some of the London parishes, tell a sad tale of the great expense and loss of life constantly resulting from dirt, ill-drainage, and bad air. Not long since a man called on one so engaged, and asked to be assisted with a coffin in which to bury his wife, being too poor to provide one, in consequence of her sudden death from typhus fever. After two or three hours he came back for another coffin: one of his children had died. In the course of the same day he came back for two more: in all, four had died: in less than two days he was carried off himself. On another occasion, our informant was sent for to visit a house, and found three dead bodies on the floor, no bed in the room, and the place filled with people. Thus fever sweeps the ill-conditioned neighbourhoods. A remedy must be found-the mere pulling down of dilapidated and disreputable buildings is of no avail-it is only removing the poor from one district to another, and is no doubt at the present time raising the cost of rent to those who have the least means of paying it.
[-71-] We once overheard a conversation between a veteran compositor and a young author: the latter was insisting that a certain amount of matter should be put into a particular space. "Type, sir," said the printer, "is not india-rubber, which can be pressed into less than its natural bulk." Human beings, like the compositor's type, also require a certain amount of space. The number of poor - the very poor - is unfortunately great in London, and this class must be provided for. In all directions the dwellings of the worst sort are being swept away: within the last few years, hundreds of houses have been demolished in the City liberties, in Marylebone, St. Clement's Danes, and other parishes too numerous - to mention. Persons congratulate themselves on the removal of "rookeries," and look with complacency at the noble warehouses and streets which rise to occupy the sites of the wretched hovels. But what has been done in this great metropolis to provide for the living creatures who, by the improvements, have had their hearths destroyed? Literally nothing. A short time ago we witnessed the ejectment, from Orchard-place, Portman-square, of nearly 1,500 men, women, and children: the place was in a bad condition, and fever was a constant visitor; yet the people were sorry to~ leave the place, knowing the difficulty of obtaining, with their limited means, a better lodging, or even any lodging at all. Single men could manage well enough, but it was distressing to see the wretched furniture, if so it could be called, and families in the muddy street on a rainy day, the parents hunting in all directions to obtain shelter. These poor people would go, as a matter of course, to the already thickly-crowded parts of Marylebone, St. Pancras, Clerkenwell, &c., for no provision had been made for them of an improved kind. "We must try our relations, for my husband cannot get a lodging," said a woman sitting in the rain, with her children, and some household goods which would not be to a broker worth half-a-crown; "surely they must take in their own flesh and blood." Poor things!
The Associations for improving the dwellings of the industrious classes in London, have not yet extended their aid to the large class to which we are alluding; they have, however, done much to remove the prejudice against new and convenient dwellings: respectable mechanics and others have gladly availed themselves of the private and convenient arrangements of the so-called "model houses," which where placed in eligible situations, will be a certain source of profit to their constructors.
This condition of things is a sad fact, which not only distresses the poor population of London, but other large cities. Many have no doubt sunk by misfortune and their own faults into these "immortal sewers," as the Rev. G. S. Osborne has called the dark shadows of city life; and thousands are born here and placed in circumstances where the chance of leading a proper life is almost hopeless. Education is but of little use to those living in filthy lanes and such over-crowded dwellings as have come under our observation. The first great means [-72-] of raising the poorest classes is to reform their dwellings, to provide places wholesome and well ordered, at rents which they can afford to pay. We want, in London, first, decent yet not luxurious sleeping accommodation and means of washing, &c., for those who are entirely destitute; secondly, rooms for poor families, in which the members of them can be kept distinct, at rents ranging from 1s. 6d. to 2s. and 2s. 6d. a week. We believe that dwellings of this description, extensively carried out in a proper method and well constructed, would be attended with great benefit, and, moreover, would pay: and thirdly, the erection of houses in flats, at rents of from 4s. to 10s. per week, the extent and finish to be according to the rent.
We have asserted that disease can be lessened by sanitary arrangements. The evidence to this effect is undeniable, and it has been largely increased by Dr. Southwood Smith's pamphlet, before alluded to.
The writer shows, first, that the buildings for families erected by the societies afforded a return last year of nearly 5 per cent. on the outlay; secondly, that while the deaths in the whole metropolis during the year 1852 reached the proportion of 22 and a fraction in the thousand (that is, 22 persons died in every 1,000), the mortality in the establishments of the association (the average of the whole) was but 7 and a fraction; "consequently, the total mortality in London generally, taking together all classes, rich and poor, was proportionally more than three times greater than the mortality in these establishments." In the Kensington Potteries, the deaths equalled 40 in 1,000!
We know that it is necessary to eat to maintain life, and we eat; we know that if the hand be put into the fire, it will be burnt, and we take care not to put it there; we equally well know that by the provision of salubrious dwellings for the labouring chasses, - fresh air, pure water, and good drainage, - we save money, suffering, virtue, and life; and in the name of all we hold in reverence, let us endeavour to provide them!
It is impossible to over-estimate the practical importance of the results which are now before the world,- "They show," says Dr. Smith, "the extent to which, under circumstances of the utmost difficulty and danger, it may still be possible to save life: they open a prospect of the physical and social improvement of the people, such as, before these results were obtained, there was no warrant from experience to anticipate : they indicate that the first step in this progress must be the removal of the degrading influence of the present dwellings of the labouring classes, and they prove the practicability, without loss to the capitalist, or additional rent to the tenant, of the universal substitution of houses for hovels. There must be compulsory enforcement of certain sanitary conditions wherever there are human habitations. There must be provision for the supply of better-ordered dwellings for the industrious classes: dwellings accessible to air and light, and no longer producing that malarious depression which resorts for relief to the fatal stimulus [-73-] of ardent spirits: dwellings compatible with cleanliness, comfort, and those decent observances which are necessary to self-respect, and which must become habits before there can be respect for the happiness, property, or life of others. Until such dwellings are within the reach of these classes, they cannot be raised out of that physical debasement which has lately been so painfully depicted, and which has been shown to be the portion (the unnecessary portion) of large masses of the people. The physical improvement of these masses, it is now admitted, must precede their intellectual and moral elevation. When the house ceases to be a sty, and possesses the conditions which render it capable of being made a home, then, but not till then, may it receive, with some hope of benefit, the schoolmaster and the minister of religion."