Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In the Slums, by the Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884 - Chapter 14 - Hardup's account of himself, with his own opinions as to the causes of his degradation

[back to main menu for this book]




IN a day or two after Hardup's "furniture" had been temporarily returned to him, I again called at his room to see how the family were getting on, and hoping to find both them and the room in an improved condition. But I am sorry to say that although their goods and chattels had been restored, and their present necessities had been relieved, I could detect but very little change for the better, either in the appearance of the family or its surroundings. There was no bedstead in the room, but in one corner there was a sort of lair, which they called a bed. It consisted simply of some old sacks and a few extremely dirty rags, with a thin stratum of flock, enclosed in a filthy case, under them. And the rent-collector informed me that the whole family slept together in that one lair; that is to say, the father, mother, and six or seven children, including a girl of seventeen.
    [-78-] In the middle of the room stood a small table, and near it were two rickety chairs. That is all the "furniture" could see in the room. But on the walls there were several small pictures of the commonest kind, and a small and very old Dutch clock, all of which were so worthless that the owners had probably failed to dispose of them either at the pawnshop or elsewhere.
    In addition to the bread and coal with which I had provided them, I had also given a small sum of money; but it was evident that not a penny of that sum had been spent upon soap, and that the water-pipe in the back-yard downstairs (for there was none inside the house) had not been visited for cleansing purposes.
    The floor of the room had neither been washed nor swept; while the faces of both the mother and the children looked as if they had not been touched with water for many a long day.
    And yet the woman who lived in this degraded state, without moving one finger to get rid of the dirt and lessen the misery of herself and children, was not even now a repulsive-looking person, excepting for the dirt. Had she been clean, she would still have been pretty, if not beautiful; if flesh and blood without intellect can ever be called beautiful. Not that she was an idiot, in the ordinary sense of the word, although her general [-79-] conduct can only be attributed to a certain kind of imbecility. But her answers to my questions were rational enough, and there was a gentleness in her tone and manner which made it impossible not to pity her.
    "Is it possible," I asked myself, "that this woman can love her children and yet neglect them as she does?"
    Then, while I was still pondering on this question, she began to dandle her unwashed, half-naked little baby up and down in her hands, talking to it in soft cooing tones, and saying, "Did 'um go to by-bye, and wake up, and think um's mammy was gone?" with other endearing expressions, which sounded strange in the midst of those dreadful surroundings. In short, the more I saw of this wretched family, the more I pitied them, and the more anxious I felt to help them, if it were possible, out of their misery. But at the same time, the more I thought of their condition, the farther I felt from being able to account for it. It was impossible, however, to remain long in their room, the air was so poisonous and sickening; so I requested Hardup to call upon me at the mission house, as I wanted him to do a little job for me - I think it was to distribute some bills about the temperance meetings - although my main object was rather to try to get from him a solution of the problem which was so puzzling to me.
    [-80-] On leaving their room I stopped for a moment at the back garret to exchange a word with poor old Mrs. Mahoney, the door of whose room was standing wide open, while she herself was crouching over her small fire. But she was in such a state of déshabille that I apologised for looking in, and began to beat a retreat, when the old lady jumped up and insisted upon my going in to see her room. Having already seen it, however, I did not think it necessary to go in, as there was nothing to see but a miserable little wigwam containing a am all bed, a small table, a three-legged stool, and the ancient dame herself, whose personal appearance, though striking, was hardly calculated to make any one covet her society, the semi-savage state in which I had first seen her being apparently her normal state when "at home."
    Hardup came to the mission house according to appointment, and I had a long conversation with him in my study. I told him plainly that his ease had caused me, and was still causing me, great perplexity, and that I could not understand how a man of his ability and steady habits could have allowed his family to sink into such a state of degradation as that in which I had found them; and I asked him to account to me for it, if he could. He then made the following statement, which I have thought it best to give in his own words:-
    [-81-] "I shall be very 'appy, sir, to tell you all I know about myself, but I 'ardly know where to begin like; though I've 'ad a tidyish lot of public speakin' in my time, 'avin' been a total abstainer for five-and-twenty years, and for most o' that time a leadin' member o' the Phoenix, the Good Templars, and the Rechabites, and such like, which I've orfen been called on to get up on my legs like at public meetin's, and say a few words about my experience, and that like, which"-
    Here I interrupted Mr. Hardup, and reminded him as politely as I could that ours was not a public meeting, and that I did not want him to make a speech, but to explain to me as briefly as possible the paradox which his case presented.
    "Well, sir," he said, "p'r'aps the best way for me will be to go back and begin at the beginnin' like, and tell you somethink about my horigin and bringin' hup, which I never ad no parents, 'cept a stepmother, and then"-
    "But your stepmother could not have been the first; you must have had a father and a mother before you had a stepmother."
    "Well, yes, in course I must. But my mother she died when I wur only a year old. Then my father he got married, and arter that he soon died too; so that in a manner o' speakin' like, I never had no reg'ler parents like."
    [-82-] "And the stepmother, how did she treat you? Were you brought up by her?"
    "Oh, well, she didn't 'xactly turn me out o' doors, nor she didn't 'xactly bring me hup. Arter my father died she soon took another 'usband, and then she died; and for the third time in my life I was left a friendless horphin like, without nobody to do nothjnk for me, 'cept my step-father-in-lor like, the widderer of my father's widder."
    "And how did he act towards you?"
    "Well, he wur a market porter in Covent Garden, and when my stepmother died, he said,' I won't turn yer out o' doors,' sez ee, 'prowided yer's willin' to work,' sez ee; 'and if yer like to go inter the market wi' me, and make yerself 'andy and do wet I tells yer, why, yer may stay in this ere room, and I'll prowide yer wi' wittles and drink free gratis for nothink like,' sez ee, 'though you've got no claim on me,' sez ee, 'seein' as ow you wasn't even the son o' my widder before I married her,' sez ee. 'And so you see, sir, between one and t'otber I was somehow or other dragged up till I was a goodish size. But when, I wur about eight year old, my stepmother's widderer he got married again, and soon arter that he died too; and I wur again for the fourth time left a friendless horphin, and left to shift for myself, cos I couldn't live wi' the widder o' my stepmother's widderer. She ad such a hawful temper, and used to [-83-] bang me about and that like, that I was afraid she might some day do for me, as she used to threaten; so I runned away."
    "Where were you living before you ran away ? and where did you run to?"
    "Oh, I wur brought up in Clare Market, and I runned away into this parish, St. Giles's; and here I was took in and by some o' the clergymen, leastways by one on 'em, and he got me to go, first to Sunday- school, and arter that to a night-school, and I learnt to read and write and that like. And at the age o' fifteen I became a teetotaller, and I used then to attend church and Sunday school reg'lur, and tried my best to serve God. Then they took me away from the market, cos they thought it a bad place for a young chap, and so it is, and they got me prenticed to the machine work at a printer's, and I got wages from the start, and they rose my wages every year. And though I say it who shouldn't, I wur one o' the steadiest lads hereabouts. But afore I wur out o' my apprenticeship I got married, and from that day I began to sink down, and have been a-sinking down ever since, until now I've got no room to sink down any lower."
    "It was, doubtless, a very imprudent step to take at such an early age, and with so little to support a wife. But the mere fact of your having contracted an early marriage is not of itself sufficient to [-84-] account for your present circumstances, especially as you appear to have retained throughout your character for sobriety. Men who are sober, and industrious, and thrifty, generally manage to keep their heads above water, and often overcome much greater disadvantages than an early marriage."
    "Yes, sir, quite true. But then a good deal depends upon the sort of wife they marry. I may say it all depends upon that like."
    "Is your wife also a teetotaller?"
    "Well, no, she ain't a teetotaller. I wish she wur, but I could never get her to take the pledge. But she ain't a drunkard neither. She likes her 'arf pint for dinner, and her 'arf pint for supper, when she can get it; but I never see'd her tipsy but once't, and then somebody put somethink in her liquor without her knowin'; and she has alms been a faithful wife to me, as far as charicter and steadiness is concerned; indeed, I may say, rather too much so in one sense like, for she'll sit down by the fireside, and never move from there all day till she goes to bed. That, in fact, has been my ruin, that and her temper."
    "Indolence and bad temper?"
    "Jesso - inderlence and bad temper. I once managed to save a few pounds, and with the help of a few temperance friends, I bought a small printing press, and set up on my own account in [-85-] the bill-printing line; and wot with printin' of bills and bill-stickin', which I did all myself, I used sometimes to make as much as two pun fifteen a week. But the more I strove to make things comfortable at home, the more she strove to make things uncomfortable. When I worked at home in our own room, my wife, instead of helping me, used to do everything she could to hinder me. She would sometimes, in a rage, upset the little printin' press, and shy the type all about the room; and sometimes she would shy things at my head, so that once't or twice I had a narrer escape o my life, and was obliged to take her before the magistrate. Then at his advice I took a hunderground kitchen to do my work in, away from where we lived. But that offended her so, that she often used to go after me and make such a disturbance as was never before beard; and when I used to go 'ome from my work there was no 'ome like to go to - nothing but a dirty litter not much better than you see in our room the other night; and then, whenever I ventured to speak to her about it, she used to use such hawful language that it was enough to bring down a curse on any family. And I began to think at last that there must be a curse hanging over us, and I lost my faith. That is the secret of my downfall - I lost my faith."
    "You lost your faith? You mean by that--?"
    [-86-] "I mean by that, sir, that I lost my faith in religion and in God. For at one time I was not only a strict abstainer, but also a consistent professing Christian, never neglecting the means of grace, and takin' delight in the ways of holiness; diligent in business, fervent in prayer, serving the Lord. But at last the devil whispered to me, 'What's the use of all your strivings ? What's the use of all your prayers? Of what avail is your faith to you? Does it make you happy? Does it prevent you from having the most miserable home that a man can have?' And I almost felt inclined to say, 'Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die.' But I knew that drinking could only lead to certain misery and ruin, even in this world; and long abstinence from drink made it easy to light against that temptation. But I lost my faith. I lost my faith, and from that moment I myself was lost. 11 at once began to sink lower and lower, until I sank down to the very bottom of the slough of despond and misery, in which you now see me and my family.