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IT is frequently objected to the phrase "as drunk as a
beast," that it does injustice - to the beasts. In the same way - we have
it upon the authority of Mr. MacGregor (Rob Roy), the best qualified perhaps of
any living man to speak upon the point - that to style the gutter children of
England "Arabs" is an injustice to the Arabs. As an active, practical
philanthropist, Mr. MacGregor has been a great deal among our gutter children,
has for years wrought hard to bring about an improvement in their condition. As
an adventurous, single-handed explorer, he has lived, both as prisoner and free
man, among Arabs, and in the course of a School-Board debate, in which he was
doing battle for the so-called "Arab" class, by advocating the
establishment of free schools for their especial benefit, he stated that never
among Arabs had he seen such dirt and squalor, such utter, absolute misery as
was universal among our own gutter children.
Now, there was perhaps nothing very striking in the remark-nothing that would be news to thoughtful or well-read men. Nevertheless, it struck me as singularly [-278-] happy and expressive - perhaps because it exactly chimed in with a thought that had often passed through my own mind in connection with the general subject of gutter children. Often when I have heard them spoken of as Arabs, I have been moved to wonder within myself; why they came to be ever so called. It is true that my knowledge of Arabs, and their modes of life, was very broad and bookish; but, on the other hand, my knowledge of gutter children, and the way of life prevailing among them, was very practical and thorough, was derived not from books, but from actual daily experience among the class, from habitually going into the streets and alleys, in the gutters of which they were chiefly to be found, from conversing with them and their parents, being called upon to investigate their circumstances, and entering what, by courtesy, were called their homes. From this experience I knew how terribly wretched was their condition, how ill fed, ill clad, ill sheltered, ill cared for they were; how morally and physically degraded. Remembering these things, I have often wondered, when I have heard our "Gutter Children" spoken of as Arabs, whether there really could be any Arabs so hopelessly situated as to justify the comparison, and I came to the conclusion that there could not; that if there had been any such tribe of misery, travellers would have found them, and made known their hapless story. I have sometimes thought that the name of Arabs must have been bestowed upon gutter children under the impression that they were a wandering class. Such an idea might easily occur to a [-279-] chance observer of them; but it is erroneous. Gutter children, generally speaking, are not of a wandering habit. Many of them - a majority of them, probably - stick exclusively to their own especial gutter - the gutter, that is, of the street or court in which their homes are situated, and will be found there in wild, dirty groups, at all hours of the day, and very often at all hours of the night. Those of them - mostly the elder ones - who do take their walks abroad, take them methodically, and have their regular beats, or "lurks," within which any one knowing them, and having a practical acquaintance with their habits, can find them as readily as he could any of those who confine themselves to the home gutter.
But by whatever name we may call them, our gutter children present surely one of the saddest sights that can offer itself to the contemplation of Englishmen. If you have the heart of a man in you, you must pity them, if for even a passing moment you consider their case; but, to my thinking - and I speak from a painfully extensive knowledge - they are most to be pitied, not for what they are, but for what they are likely to be. With them, as with others, the child is father to the man; and the manhood to which such a childhood as theirs but too generally leads is the manhood of the "habitual criminal," or "no-visible-means-of-support" class; the manhood of the thief; the swindler, the loafer, the pauper, the sturdy beggar-in a word, the preyer upon society. Those most competent to judge will tell you that the bulk of our criminals are "bred;" and in our gutter children you [-280-] may see their spawn. If we could but raise these unhappy children, could but manage to give them a childhood calculated to lead to a better manhood, we should, looking at the costliness of our criminal classes, be effecting a great national saving, even if we viewed the matter in no higher light. But it has been looked at in higher lights. Those who have sought to grapple with it have generally been actuated by higher motives, and have wrought with all the earnestness and energy that higher motives impart; and yet, alas, to the question, "How to raise our gutter children?" no effective answer has hitherto been given. Statesmen, philosophers, and philanthropists, have alike tried to solve, and have failed to solve the problem. Many individual children have been rescued; but the class increases rather than diminishes, is to be numbered by hundreds of thousands. None the less is the good fight continued, bravely and hopefully. All kindly and Christian men must indeed hope that a time will come when gutter children, as a class, will have become a thing of the past. The life of such children is terribly sad. Only those who, like the present writer, have had to go among them at all times and seasons can fully realise how sad, how full of suffering, their life is. Just let us look at that life, attempting to illustrate it by examples rather than by any general description of my own.
I will recall one morning when I acted as guide, philosopher, and friend to a kindly curious acquaintance of mine, who was desirous of seeing something of gutter, [-281-] children as they actually were, as they appeared in their home gutters, peeping into their habitations, observing what manner of people their parents might be.
Having, in answer to his questions, assured him that, in the day-time, in company with me, and with watch-guard and anything else that was specially calculated to tempt a person of predatory proclivities to "do a snatch," left behind, it was a perfectly safe undertaking to visit Badgers Court, we took our way to that quarter.
The place was well known by reputation. Its name was frequently mentioned in the local papers - mostly in the "Police Intelligence," where it figured as the residence of persons charged with being "drunk and incapable," "drunk and disorderly," faction fighters, wife beaters, and petty thieves. On the rarer occasions, when the name figured in the "General News" column, it was in connection with intimations that small-pox or fever was raging in it, or that its division had taken their departure for "The Hopping," or had returned from it. This latter announcement was usually the preliminary to extensive notice in the "Police Intelligence;" for it was the pleasant custom of the Badgers Court division to celebrate their return from the hopping, and squander whatever money they had gained there in high carousal, which invariably "eventuated" in work for the police. Most people in the locality knew, in a general way, where-about it lay - knew that it lay down K---- Street way, K---- Street being the leading street of the low quarter. But very few indeed, save its inhabitants, and those having [-282-] business in it, knew exactly where the alley was. My friend, for instance, though an old inhabitant of the parish, would have failed to find it on this morning had he been by himself. It was not visible from any main street, and the entry leading to it seemed, from the main street, to be a "blind" one. It appeared to lead no whither, to be closed in by the rear wall of a large boiler yard. But close under this wall, and at a little distance overshadowed by it, was a narrow opening into the court.
"What line should I take?" whispered my friend as I led him through this defile.
"Appear as if you had authority, and don't appear as if you had anything to give away; don't mind their crowding round you, and don't mind a bit of chaff."
The next moment we were in the court. It formed three sides of a square, the fourth side of which was made up by another wall of the boiler yard. It consisted of about thirty four-roomed houses, each of which was let out to at least two families, - families which, though wretchedly poor in all else, were for the most part rich in children. As we entered the court children were swarming in all parts of it. Many of them were without shoes or stockings, and all were wretchedly ill-clad and dirty; and while some few among them were robust, the majority had the sickly appearance that comes of habitual hard living, foul dwellings, and uncleanly habits. They were of all ages, from fourteen or fifteen years down to infants of scarcely as many months, who were to be seen crawling [-283-] unheeded in the gutter. Still younger babies were being carried about much as though they were bundles of rags, by girls, some of whom were little more than infants themselves. The older ones, more particularly the boys, already acquiring loafing habits, were standing about in groups. The younger ones were running about, wildly yelling and shouting; and amid the general noise could be heard language of which it is sufficient to say that it was doubly horrible coming from such young lips. It was not a pretty picture that presented itself to the gaze of my inquiring friend. As we stood watching the scene, a boy of nine or ten left one of the groups, and began to come towards us, evidently with the intention of passing out of the court. He was bare-footed, ragged, dirty, and hungry- looking, and yet with all these disadvantages was a rather good-looking boy, in the gipsy style. His features were regular; his dirt-matted hair jet black and curly, his dark eyes bright and flashing, though already their expression had become restless and furtive. He was an acquaintance of mine; and I knew him to be not only a gutter child, but, like many other gutter children, a nobody's child also. He had never known his father, and his mother after several temporary desertions had finally left him about a year before, since which time he had been "on his own hook." Any change in his circumstances brought about by the final disappearance of the mother, however, had been rather nominal than real; and so far as it was material, had probably been to his advantage. She was of the wicked, and her tender mercies to him had indeed [-284-] been cruel. When in good humour she had taken him about public houses with her, and, as her idea of motherly kindness, had let him sip out of her glass. When in bad humour, or drunk - which was very often - she had kicked and cuffed him; and at all times she had been wont to leave him pretty much to his own devices for food and clothing. He was known as "Kiddy" Miller; and so I addressed him on my friend whispering that he would like to have a little talk with him.
"Where are you off to now, Kiddy?" I asked as he came up.
"Nowheres particular; just for a turn round," he answered.
"Where are you living now?"
"Mrs. Price lets me doss along o' her Larry; they has a room all to their two selves, and Larry and me is chums in the day-time."
"But does she keep you as well as let you sleep in her room?" I asked in surprise, for I knew Mrs. Price was wretchedly poor.
"Lor' no!" exclaimed the boy. "It takes her and Larry all their time to keep theirselves; in course I has to grub myself, and find my own togs."
"And how do you grub yourself?"
At this question he began to fidget about uneasily, and seeing, as he would have said, "how he was held," I hastened to explain.
"Oh, it isn't about anything particular, Kiddy," I said; "there's no harm meant; it's the other way about, if any-[-285-]thing; this gentleman only wants to know how a youngster like you can grub yourself."
"Oh, well," said Kiddy, reassured, and now speaking with somewhat of a philosophical air; "if yer must, yer can. Leastwise yer can some; sometimes yer can't, and then yer as to do without it till yer can; yer tries to be hard, and not to think about yer stummuck."
"But how do you get it when you do get it?" asked my friend; "do you beg?"
"No, I doesn't," answered Kiddy sharply; "sometimes people - mostly women - has chucked me a brown, and sometimes they've gived me some apples or cherries, or summat o' that sort, but I never ast for 'em; I never cadged in my life."
"Do you work then?"
"Well, not as you may say reg'lar work, but I does a odd job when I can get it. I tries 'carry yer parcel, sir?' sometimes, but that ain't up to much; yer may wait at a station all day without getting a chance, - they mostly cabs or out-door-porters now. Other times I push behind for the costers, or any of the other barrer-men as as got a extra load on, and sometimes if I got two or three browns to buy 'em, I tries the cigar lights. That's the best racket for them as isn't on their own hooks, and as is pretty sure of a mouthful of grub, whether they've made a good day or a bad un. But when yer on yer own hook, yer can't stick to it. Cos why? Yer can't all'us keep yer stock money; if yer stummuck is gnaw-gnawin' at yer, and yer've got the browns in yer pocket, [-286-] they're bound to go for grub, and then it's all up with the lights till yer can get the ha'pence together again."
"But how do you manage when neither the lights nor the odd-jobbing bring in anything?" I asked, as Kiddy paused, with the air of one who had done with a subject.
He coloured, and again hesitated; and it was necessary to reassure him.
"Come, Kiddy," I said, "that's a good boy. I know you must often be very hard put to it. How do you manage now, when you can't pick up a copper at all?"
"Well," he said hurriedly, the flush on his cheek deepening as he spoke, "when I gets that hungry I can't bear it no longer, I grabs a bit o' toke; I feels as I can't help it."
"What! Do you take bread out of the bakers' shops?" I exclaimed; for I had never heard of anything of that kind against him.
"Oh, no," he answered promptly, "or you'd soon a heer'd o' me bein' grabbed. I don't grab from shops; from school kids. I hides somewheres near one of the big schools; and when I see one of the late uns a-comin' along with a good slice of toke in their hand, I jumps out, grabs it, and bolts. And there's another way I sometimes gets a bit of grub," he hurried on, naturally anxious to get away from this part of the subject; "I turns over the sweepings from the greengrocers' shops, and often finds a carrot or turnip, or some apples or pears among them."
"That's dangerous stuff to eat," said my friend. "They [-287-] only sweep out what has gone bad. Don't such things make you ill?"
"Well," answered Kiddy, once more assuming a philosophical air, "sometimes they does give yer the gripes; but I don't know as that's much worse than the gnawin' when yer hasn't had nothin' for ever so long; and at any rate you has the blow-out first."
This concluded the subject of the "grubbing," and my friend's next question was-
"How old are you?"
"I dunno," answered Kiddy.
"What! not know your own age!" exclaimed my friend, looking astonished.
"Well, not esactly," replied Kiddy. " I b'lieve I was either nine or ten last hoppin'."
"Right he is!" This exclamation came from a slatternly-looking woman, who, lolling half way out of the up-stairs window of the nearest house, had been coolly listening to the conversation. "Right he is," she repeated, on our looking up. "He was ten last hoppin'. I was down in the same gang as his mother. He was born'd at the hoppin'; as the sayen is, he's got no come- from: he was born'd under a haystack, and the cows eat his parish."
"Oh, you knew his mother, then?" said my friend. "How-"
"Knew her!" cut in the woman, "which I should think I did; rather. Didn't she pull the hair out of my head by handfuls, just because I said a word to her about [-288-] letting Kiddy go cripplin' with a dreadful bad foot, and never so much as lookin' at it; and which he got it through her a settin' of the rags a-fire as he was a-sleepin' on. I likes my glass myself, and at times, perhaps, when they've happened to come cheap, I've took my drops more'n was good for me; and I won't go even for to say I've never got drunk, though that ain't a thing as happens more'n once or twice in a year; but for all that, I could stand to tell her about her drinkin', I wouldn't be such a drunken beast as she was for a trifle. Why," she concluded, pointing to Kiddy, "she weaned him on gin, and the best day's work she ever did for him was when she took herself off."
She withdrew from the window as she finished speaking, and I was rather glad that she did, as I could see that Kiddy had been about to make some retort, and an altercation might have had the effect of putting an end to our excursion for the day, for rows in the court were wont to become general and violent.
"Never mind her," I said, leading the boy away from the spot. "You can't help what your mother has been."
"She could wollop her, anyway," said Kiddy, with a triumphant air.
"I've no doubt," said my friend, smiling; "but let us see, now; can you read or write?"
"Why, no," replied Kiddy, as if surprised that any one should be so ignorant as to suppose that he could.
"What, not, a little?" persisted my friend.
[-289-] "No, not a bit. I once did know some A B C, but I forgot it when I left off a-goin' to the school."
"Did you ever go to school, then?" I asked, for this was news.
"Yes, for a little while; off and on," he answered. "It was the winter afore last, you know, when they gived breakfasts at the ragged-school. I went for sake o' the grub; but when they seed as how it was for that, and as I come on'y o' mornin's, they told me I mustn't come at all."
"Didn't you like school, then, that you stayed away in the afternoon?" my companion asked.
"Oh, I liked it well enough, as far as that goes: it was the grub what did it. The breakfast wasn't a filler, as you may say. It was on'y a middlin' slice o' bread, and a tin o' coffee, and didn't do yer for the day. If there had been a tea as well o' breakfast, I'd have gone reg'lar; but if yer grubs yerself and they don't find yer in grub in school, yer must stop out of school to look for it."
My friend was an ardent advocate for education, but he was scarcely prepared to combat the proposition thus laid down; and therefore deftly shifted his ground.
"Well, but, you know, it is a very bad thing not to be able to read or write," he observed. "There is no getting on nowadays without it. What do you think you will be when you are a man?"
"Oh, I dunno," answered Kiddy, rather cheerfully than otherwise. Then, after a pause, he added, "A coster, or summat o' that kind, if I'm lucky."
[-290-] "And if you are not lucky?" I put in.
"If I ain't lucky," he repeated hesitatingly. "Well, if I ain't lucky, I must take my chance; I'll have to live somehow, same as others."
I knew the meaning of his hesitating manner. Poor Kiddy, child though he was, his daily battle with the world in the process of grubbing himself; had made him prematurely wise in some things. Unconsciously he had grasped the ultimatum of the gutter child problem as the conditions of it stood. He felt that for him the outlook for life was either hard, precarious, ill-paid labour, or criminality - with the chances inclining more to the latter than the former. It is a hard thing to say, but that is the prospect before gutter children generally. The majority of them go in time to swell the ranks of the criminal or pauper, or semi-criminal, or semi-pauper classes. Nine-tenths probably of our ordinary criminal class have come from the gutter; and, to rescue a gutter child, is, more likely than not, to nip a criminal in the bud.
Taking it that the conversation had come to an end, Kiddy was moving away, when my companion, noticing his bare feet, exclaimed-
"Where are your shoes, boy?"
"Ain't got none," promptly returned the boy, turning round.
"Well, but surely you know some one who would give you a pair of old boots."
"I don't know as I do," replied Kiddy; "beside, I shouldn't care for old shoes - on'y to sell."
[-291-] "Do you mean to say you wouldn't wear them, then?"
"Not if I knowed it," said Kiddy, with a knowing shake of the head.
"Cos I knows what's good for my 'ealth," was the answer, given with an air of superior knowledge. "None o' yer old shoes for me."
"Old ones would be better than none."
"Oh, would they just!" exclaimed Kiddy, evidently pitying my friend's ignorance. "If you'd a try 'em, you wouldn't think so; you'd soon want to go buff-footed agen. I tried 'em once when I was green, and didn't they warm me, that's all. If the second-handers 'as 'ad 'em, and done 'em up and stretched the knubbles out on 'em, they're pretty well; but if yer 'as 'em just as they've been wored, won't the knubbly parts rawr yer poor feet - that's all!"
My friend felt that he was being patronised and schooled, and thought it wise to retire while he could so with dignity.
We proceeded on our way into the court, and Kiddy went on his way rejoicing-made happy for the time being by a few "browns."
In his pursuit of knowledge, in respect to the natural history of the gutter child, my friend, as we slowly progressed through the court, conversed with, and questioned other children, but with little further result. Broadly, Kiddy Miller was typical of his class. None of the other [-292-] children that we spoke with were so entirely upon their "own hook;" but the majority of them had in some greater or less degree to "grub themselves." Kiddy was not the only one who rooted among the garbage swept from greengrocers' shops, nor was he alone in the practice of "snacking" bread from school-children, while in one respect he was better off than some of those who had parents. Any few coppers that he could manage to earn, he could spend in food; while others, who were sent out cigar-light selling, hearth-stone hawking, and the like, were rigorously compelled to hand over their scanty gains to worthless fathers or mothers, whose parental practice was to appropriate the half-pence for themselves, spend them in drink, and bestow kicks upon the children. In some of the cases in which the children had to help to "grub themselves," the parents could have found them food, but neglected to do so; in other cases the parents, though having the will, had really not the means, and lived half-starved in common with their children.
Most of the adults living in Badgers Court were either hawkers or workers in some neighbouring market gardens, and were from home during the day; so that the children had the place pretty well to themselves - a circumstance that accounted for a thing that struck my companion as somewhat noticeable; namely, that the children raced in and out the houses as freely as they did about the court. In ordinary households this would of course have been a grievous thing from the housewife point of view, would [-293-] have led to dirt and damage; in the court, however, it was a matter of no consequence. "Those who are down need fear no fall." The houses in Badgers Court, in common with what little in the shape of furniture was to be found in them, were about as broken and battered and dirty as they well could be. A bedstead of even the poorest sort was an exceptional feature in the furnishing of the apartments. The bedding for the most part consisted of a pile of rags and shavings, bundled into a corner in the day-time, and spread upon the floor at night. The children as a rule slept in their clothes and their dirt - it being a popular belief; alike with parents and children, that dirt helped to keep them warm; a belief that chimed in very conveniently with negligent habits upon the parts of parents, and an aversion to cold water upon the part of the children, who were frequently allowed to go for days together without having even their hands or faces washed.
One girl of ten, to whom my friend spoke, was so far exceptional, that she could read with tolerable fluency. "Do you go to school then?" I asked, on making this discovery.
"No, I don't go," she answered; but she had been. Two years in succession her mother had "wintered in the House," and she had been sent to the school for pauper children. This I found was all the schooling she had ever had, and seeing what progress she had made, the idea naturally occurred to me what might she not have been, had she had better opportunities.
[-294-] Apart from the mere cunning and knowingness which come of the shifty self-dependent lives they lead, many gutter children have great natural intelligence, and, with education, would doubtless make bright and useful members of society. But, being left uneducated, being allowed to remain gutter children, they grow up with minds uncultivated, bodies emaciated, and become what gutter children do become - the suffering poor, or worse. Instead of corning to be useful members of society, they go to form its most difficult, most pitiful problem.
The heathen-like ignorance generally prevailing among gutter children, is, if thoughtfully considered, a truly appalling thing. To take a representative instance that came under our notice in the course of this particular morning "round."
In one room we found a girl of eleven in charge of four other children; her mother, a widow, being out working in the gardens. The youngest child, a baby of fifteen months, lay sick nigh unto death. It was unconscious, and lay weakly moaning, and rolling its head restlessly from side to side. "It's orfle bad," the girl said, and she didn't think as how it would get over it; "it had got wuss and wuss, and weaker and weaker, and now it can't take nothink, the medicine nor nothink."
"Do you know where it will go to if it dies?" asked my companion, looking from the little sufferer to the girl.
"To the cemetry," she answered, opening her eyes [-295-] wide with surprise. "There's the parish as 'ill be obliged to bury it."
"I don't mean that," said my friend; "do you know where its spirit will go to?"
"Its spirit!" she repeated, a vacant look coming over her face. "Its spirit! I dunno."
"You know where good children go to when they die, surely?"
"I dunno as I do perticlar," she replied after a pause; "there ain't none on 'em lives hereabout, it's o'ny us sort."
"But surely you know that the good people and the bad people go to different places!" exclaimed my friend, a touch of impatience mingling with his astonishment. "Don't you know where wicked people - people who lie or swear, or steal, or the like - go to?"
"Well, if they gets dropped on, I spose they as to go before the beak."
My companion not being up in the slang, I explained to him that by the "beak," was meant the magistrate. Thus enlightened, my friend, who seemed unable to realise the possibility of such utter ignorance, continued-
"I'm afraid you don't understand me, my dear," he said. "Haven't you heard of a good place, a beautiful place, where little children and good people go to when they die - a place called 'heaven'?"
She a'most thought she had, she answered, after a pause, but she wasn't quite sure.
My readers also may, perhaps, scarcely be able to [-296-] credit the possibility of such terrible ignorance as this, but in all sorrowfulness of spirit I can assure them that it is anything but uncommon among gutter children. Many of those unhappy children know not that there is an hereafter, have never been told that they have a soul to be saved. Badly fed as they are, it may with a too literal truthfulness be said, that they are better fed than taught. They are allowed "to hang as they grow," and the soil and atmosphere in which they do grow is morally rank and deadly. Untaught and ignorant as they are, in respect to all that is good, they have yet much of the wisdom of the serpent in them, and that wisdom - as the shopkeepers of the neighbourhoods in which the children most abound can ruefully testify - is bent towards petty pilfering. The seemingly innocent sports of the children are often a means to an end. A tip-cat, or other instrument of play, knocked into a shop in an apparently accidental manner, is often designed as a cover for the sneaking entrance of a single child, or a foraging rush upon the part of a number, on predatory purpose bent. For Carroty Johnson to throw Dick Bates's ragged cap on to the second-floor window-ledge of a house the first-floor front of which is a huckster's shop, may look very like a simple piece of boyish mischief, but with them and their gutter companions it is something more - is part of the plan of a "snatching" attempt upon the shop. If the proprietor is on the alert, the performance is carried off as a piece of boyish mischief; they are o'ny a-trying to get the cap down: but if [-297-] she - for it is mostly women who keep this class of shop - is not on the alert, or is known to be out of the way at the moment, the window will be deftly opened, and some part of the humble stock "snatched." Their pilfering is for the most part confined to food, and is, as I have said, so petty, generally speaking, as not to induce tradesmen to give them into custody for it, even if they take them red-handed. But very often when they do catch them in the act, shopkeepers take the law into their own hands, and thrash them unmercifully, and not unfrequently do so on the mere suspicion that pilfering is intended; while policemen have a habit of "giving them a clout and starting them off," when they come across them "on the prowl;" so that what with their rough treatment from outsiders, and the kicking and cuffing to which they are often subjected at home, they fare sufficiently hard in this respect.
During the day-time, as we have seen, gutter children are left pretty much to their own devices. It is at night that home influences are brought to bear upon them, and those influences are, in their case - speaking broadly - evil ones. They see drunkenness and brutality; hear and see ribaldry and profanity in word and deed, and but too often are practically initiated into one great evil - the love of strong drink. They are allowed, in some instances made, to partake of the drink that is passing about, and I have known cases in which they have been intentionally intoxicated, in order to make sport for the Philistines. I do not say that all parents of gutter chil-[-298-]dren are of this stamp. Many of them are, I know, only wretchedly poor, are neither vicious, drunken, nor depraved, and these are, perhaps, the most to be pitied of all their class.
In speaking of gutter children being mostly to be found in their home gutters, I have not forgotten that there is a class of gutter children who have no homes; who, like Kiddy Miller, are nobody's children, and, less fortunate than him, have no kind friend to allow them to "doss" in a corner of their room; who, when they wake in the morning, know not where they may be able to lay their heads at night; who, when night comes upon them, creep, tired, cold, and hungry, into any hole or corner that they find available, and with their heads on their arms, and the fear of the policeman weighing upon their spirits, snatch such broken rest and sleep as they can; but even these have their regular haunts in the day-time.
To the undisciplined minds of gutter children the "run of the streets" is a valuable and joyous privilege, and their immunity from soap and water, regular hours, regular habits, and attendance at school, are things on which they hug themselves. Amid all their dirt and misery, they are often boisterously happy in a certain wild-colt fashion. The childish capacity for enjoyment and forgetfulness is in their nature, and will assert itself, causing them at times to be oblivious of the miseries of their lot, and happy in their dirt and freedom from restraint; and this is why I say that it is less the sight of them as they are - harrowing as that sight undoubtedly is - than the thought of what [-299-] they are growing up to be, that makes them objects for saddest contemplation and sympathy.
How to deal with our gutter children, how to elevate, civilise, Christianize them, how to take them from the gutter, and make them as other children are - this is one of the most difficult problems of the day. That a first step will have to be to educate them is evident to all who consider the subject, and therefore the passing of the Elementary Act, and formation of School Boards under it, is a movement in the right direction. I have seen children of the gutter class in schools - wretchedly clad, some of them, and even barefoot - and have heard the opinions of the teachers concerning them. In some the old Adam has been very strong; they have played truant, have come to school with faces unwashed, hair uncombed, shoes muddy, have been inattentive to lessons, and "cheeky" to teachers. Others, however, have been all that could be desired, more than could reasonably have been expected. They have been obedient, punctual, attentive, and cleanly, and have soon come to like school. The experience of teachers is, too, that the less tractable improve as time goes on. The first time or two that they are sent back to wash their faces, and otherwise make themselves presentable, they generally take advantage of the circumstance to play truant; but a little judicious perseverance in this course usually results in their beginning to come to school clean and tidy, and gradually falling into the habits of ordinary school children. I am decidedly. of opinion that the gutter child is a very re-[-300-]claimable subject. Those, however, who have as yet been got into schools through the action of the School Board are but stragglers, and the duty of the Board is to get them in as a class, to transform gutter children into school children. To throw them into ordinary schools in large numbers would, however, be impolitic, even if it were practicable. This is seen to be the case, and the position faces the School Board as a difficulty. Various solutions have been suggested. To me it seems that the plan proposed by Mr. MacGregor (Rob Roy), and with some modifications on the original proposal carried in the School Board, is the one that most fully, practically, and economically meets the difficulty. His idea is to establish small special schools in the poor neighbourhoods in which gutter children chiefly reside - where such children "may be educated till they can with advantage be received into ordinary schools." Such schools will serve as breaking-in grounds, from which such children as it was thought desirable might, after sufficient preliminary training, be drafted into ordinary schools; while, as a permanent institution., they will probably prove the most efficient means of educating children of the class who are now mostly educated in ragged schools - children, namely, whose parents are more or less willing to avail themselves of education, but have not the means to pay school fees, and clothe their children in a style that the managers of other schools consider becoming.
To simply tell the poorest classes of parents that they must educate their children, and pay for their education [-301-] or that they will be sent to prison, is not only harsh dealing, but a mistake, and a waste of precious time. When such things as constancy of employment for labourers, and higher payment for female labour, can be secured by Act of Parliament, then also can the law of must in respect to the payment of school fees be enforced in every instance - but not till then.
With all our nineteenth-century enlightenment and progress, the task of elevating our gutter children, of rescuing them from the gutters, still remains a most difficult one. It is a task scarcely yet begun; when it will be completed who can tell? It will be a noble work - a work to fully accomplish which many wise heads will have to be laid together, and many kind hearts act in unison.