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IN offering these sketches to the public, I am not vain enough to suppose
that anything I may have accomplished is in itself worth recording; for in every
poor district in London there is at least one clergyman doing precisely the same
sort of work as I am doing, and in most cases, doubtless, with much greater
success. The London Diocesan Home Mission has missionary clergymen working in
nearly thirty poor districts. Then there are the Bishop of Bedford's and the
Bishop of St. Alban's Missions at the East End, and the Bishop of Rochester's in
the south and south-east of London, to say nothing of the large and capable army
of parochial clergy who are scattered about in every direction, far and wide,
and are themselves doing very efficient missionary work amongst the poor. But
all this seems to be ignored and counted as nothing in certain quarters; and it
is time that some sort of protest should be made against the injustice done to
the [-203-] Church of England by those who talk and
write as if they were the first and only friends of the people, and while only
going over ground long familiar to, and ably worked by, the clergy, represent
themselves as pioneers in lands never before discovered.
More than twelve years ago, I had the privilege of working as a missionary clergyman in the worst slums of Bermondsey; and I could then have told of scenes as startling as any of those witnessed by gentlemen who simply go about for the purpose of interviewing the poor, and have to depend upon guides for their knowledge. I could have told them of visits paid to the lairs of coiners and other equally dangerous criminals, and of discoveries of such extreme poverty that in one case a large family of children had not a shred of clothing to wear.
I could also tell them, without alluding to myself, of much good and successful work which I saw accomplished in those parts of London, in the time of the late Bishop Wilberforce, by clergy whom I had the honour of knowing. Sed cui bono? I have no wish to quarrel or to interfere with those who are trying to do the same kind of work as ours under another banner. But if there is to be any rivalry, let us give one another fair play. For my own part, I sincerely say to all who faithfully preach Christ and carry His Gospel to the poor, "I wish you God speed."
[-204-] And now let me add one word more about the people, and I have done for the present.
It may interest the reader to know, that although I have during the last fourteen years worked as a clergyman in some of the worst places in London, east, west, north, and south, and have lived with my family for a considerable time in the most notorious of all the slums, St. Giles's, no personal insult has ever been offered me or any member of my family, by any of the poor, or even of the outcast, so called.
I have dived down into dark cellars, and groped my way up dark dirty staircases to remote garrets, sometimes alone, and sometimes accompanied by my wife; but from the people we have invariably met with the greatest civility. Let me give an example.
One day last year, I took my wife to see a poor woman who occupied a garret in one of the worst streets. But we found the staircase so narrow, so rickety, so dirty, and so pitch-dark, that after ascending a few steps, I stopped and said to my wife: "I really cannot take you up this staircase; it is so very dark. Let us go home, and I can come alone to-morrow."
But just as we were about to leave the house, we met a poor Irishwoman carrying in her hand a very good candle, which she had evidently just brought from the chandler's shop. I asked her whether she [-205-] knew the person we wanted to see; and on her replying in the affirmative, I requested her to tell the woman that we had called, but could not find our way up the dark staircase to her room; but that I would call again.
"And, faith, is it only the darkness that prevints you and the lady from going up to see her?" she asked; "thin, sure, that's aisy to set right; for here's a good candle I've just bought, and your riv'rence is entirely welcome to it. I'm only sorry I can't offer to go with you and the lady, but I've been obliged to lave me baby alone in the back parlour there where we live, and now I hear the little darlint crying its blessed little heart out - och hone, mavourneen, mither's coming!"
Thereupon entered a stalwart fellow who might, and probably would, have been taken by a superficial observer for a villain of the deepest dye, since his face and clothes were black with coal-dust. He was a coal-heaver, and therefore certainly did belong to a rather rough class of men.
He was about to pass upstairs when the Irishwoman stopped him, saying:
"Here, Bill! lind me a light to light this candle, and just you go and carry it upstairs before the lady and gintleman, up to old Mrs. Brown's room."
The man, who looked like a ruffian, behaved like a gentleman. Taking a match out of his pocket, he [-206-] lighted the candle, and then, holding it carefully in his hand, he walked upstairs backwards in front of us. Then, on finding that the woman we wanted to see was not at home, he as carefully lighted us downstairs, looking before him this time, and holding the candle high above his head.
And having conducted us as far as the door, he made his congé and vanished, without giving me time to reward him for his trouble.
The Slums harbour many such people as that warm-hearted Irishwoman, and that rough-looking English coal-heaver.
We should do them no good by merely pulling down their houses and driving them into other slums. Nor must we expect to see their dwellings made clean and comfortable and bright all at once. Before that can be effectually accomplished, a, good deal of other work has to be done - such work as we of the clergy are now trying to do.
"Come over into Macedonia and help us!"