Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In the Slums, by the Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884 - Chapter 19 - Our Temperance Society

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As the first temperance meeting ever held in connection with this mission only took place about four months ago, our little society can scarcely as yet be said to have had a fair trial. Its history is nevertheless somewhat remarkable and prolific of facts, which are at the same time interesting and suggestive.
    Some years ago a lad came up to town from Winchester College to a clerkship in a government office; and being of good family, well educated, and of comely presence and pleasing manners, he soon found a welcome in the best society. But instead of giving himself up to the usual gaieties and pleasures of youth, he devoted most of his spare time to lay mission-work, in which he got a friend in the same government office to join him. And for many years they have been more or less associated with one another in the good work, always choosing the poorest slums as the sphere of their labours, and [-122-] doing much good in a most unobtrusive manner, though at a cost to themselves of much time and money.
    Well, a few years ago those two young gentlemen became total abstainers, and helped a missionary clergyman in another district to work a temperance society. But when that clergyman left them for another sphere of labour, the little temperance society, from various causes which need not be particularised, gradually drifted away from the church with which it had been connected, and its entire management devolved upon the two young laymen. Indeed, had it not been for them it would long ago have ceased to exist, whereas they not only kept it up, but did good work amongst the poor by reclaiming men and women from habits of intemperance, and by adding year by year many recruits to the ranks of total abstinence.
    But after the society had slipped entirely out of the hands of the clergy, it appears to have become more and more secular in its character. Roman Catholics, dissenters, and men of no creed but that of teetotalism, joined themselves to the society, and it consequently not only lost its distinctive Church character, but stood in great danger of losing all title to be called a Christian institution, although the two gentlemen at the head of it were, and are, good Christians and good Churchmen, one of them [-123-] being the son of a well-known and much-respected clergyman.
    In this state the society continued to exist up to last summer, when the president, hearing that I was about to start a new branch of the Church of England Temperance Society in my district, thought that if we could make arrangements to amalgamate and concentrate our forces upon one society, it might be better for the cause of temperance, and for all concerned. So we met by appointment, and tile result of our negotiations was that we mutually agreed to join forces, this mission house being fixed upon, as the centre of our future work.
    But when the result of our negotiations was made known to the members of the old society at one of its meetings, many of the men strongly opposed the removal of the society from the old locality, not on account of their attachment to that particular place, nor from any personal objections to me, but simply and solely because they did not wish their little society to be connected with any church, or to be under the control of any clergyman whatever. Some of them wanted no gospel but that of teetotalism, and rightly suspected me of looking upon total abstinence as being only one of the handmaids to religion, my main object being, as they said, to make men zealous and devout commuincants. Others had scruples to join us because [-124-] they belonged to other religious bodies. Another reason given me for their unwillingness to come was one which, whether true or not, may be worth mentioning. It was this: that the ordinary English working-man is always suspicious of any movement emanating from the Church.
A teetotaller told me some time ago that if I wanted my society to succeed, I must work it on a non-religious basis, without any prayers or singing of hymns. But as he is a professed atheist, his opinion is not worth much in such a matter. Last night, however, to my great surprise, a popular temperance lecturer, who is also a professing Christian, expressed to me in private almost the same opinion, although he did not advocate the carrying of it out. He was simply speaking of what would draw and what would repel working-men.
    Our first temperance meeting was held in October, when we had a large audience and received a good number of pledges. Since that time we have had a public meeting every Monday evening at eight o'clock. At some of these meetings we have had temperance lecturers of great ability, and at others we have been fortunate enough to secure for our people intellectual treats of a very superior character from gentlemen distinguished in the literary world. Amongst these I may be allowed to mention with gratitude the names of Mr. Kegan Paul and Mr. [-125-] G. A. Henty of "The Standard." But I grieve to state, though honesty compels me to do so, that neither literary distinction, nor the gift of eloquence, nor a high reputation for zeal in the cause of temperance, nor even all these qualifications combined in the lecturers, have been successful in attracting anything like such large audiences as we have had upon other occasions for which an entertainment of a purely negative and unintellectual character had been announced. Still, as I have already remarked, our temperance society on its present basis, which is that of the Church of England Temperance Society, is only as yet in its infancy, and if we could only secure a few more earnest and zealous workers, who would help in the work of visitation, I should confidently look forward to grand results in the course of time. As it is, we are obliged to work under great discouragements, and to be content with adding to our numbers one by one.