Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Morning Chronicle : Labour and the Poor, 1849-50; Henry Mayhew - Letter XLIII

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Tuesday, March 19, 1850

I am obliged to defer, for a few days, the continuation of my letters upon the Merchant Seamen belonging to the port of London, in order to allow time for the making up of certain official returns which are necessary for the comprehensive exposition of the subject. Meanwhile, I purpose devoting a few letters to the consideration of the means and institutions existing in the metropolis for the Education of the Poor.
    In my letters upon the London Vagrants I entered at some length into the cause of juvenile crime. I had no theory to advocate - I came to the subject determined to investigate patiently, and to generalize cautiously. It is with the same determination I now return to the matter.
    There are of course two modes of combating all crime - the one preventive and the other corrective. The preventive mode acts only by punishment - that is, by seeking to deter the criminal from the exercise of his vicious propensities through appealing to his fears. This mode of procedure therefore can at the best give us only a negative result. It may prevent the criminal appetite or desire from being put into action, but it cannot possibly implant one virtuous desire in its stead. It is the implanting of this virtuous desire which constitutes the corrective method of dealing with crime. This seeks to arrive at a positive result by cultivating some good feeling, rather than endeavouring to eradicate some bad one. Hence, to destroy idleness, it sets to work to create a habit of industry - to put an end to theft, it tries to call forth a feeling of honour. Law seeks to make good citizens, principally by punishment or the prevention of vice. Education strives to gain the same end by correction, or the cultivation of virtue.
    I purpose in this and the letters immediately following, to consider how far the correction of crime has been as yet, and may be, effected by education; and with this object I shall devote some three or four to the Ragged Schools of the metropolis. I shall, in the first place, endeavour to test their efficacy by the returns of the number of juvenile offenders since their establishment. This, I am aware, is putting them to a severe test; but if we find that the young criminals have been decreasing rapidly in number from the year 1845 (the first year in which the Ragged Schools were brought into extensive operation in the metropolis), then we may readily assume that they are among our most noble and valuable institutions. If, however, the official reports show that, notwithstanding the rapid and great increase of these establishments, the juvenile offenders have in no way declined in numbers, then we may safely conclude, on the other hand, that, as at present conducted, they are of little or no service.
    Let us see what the Government returns say upon this subject. First as regards the criminals, adult as well as juvenile, of England and Wales, the following table, calculated up to the latest returns, will show us the rate of increase year by year since 1839.



Years Total Number of Persons Committed Estimated Population in each year  Number of Population to One Prisoner
1839 24,443 15,492,867 One in 633
1840 27,187 15,698,044 " 569
1841 27,760 15,906,741 " 573
1842 31,309 16,118,589 " 514
1843 29,591 16,333,659 " 551
1844 26,542 16,551,713 " 623
1845 24,303 16,772,678 " 690
1846 25,107 16,996,593 " 676
1847 28,833 17,055,660 " 591
1848 30,349 17,214,727 567

    Here we perceive that the total number of offenders has increased no less than 5,906 in ten years, and that while in 1839 only 1 in 633 of the population of England and Wales were criminals, in 1848 the ratio had risen to 1 in 567.
    Let me, however, now proceed to show how many of the criminals in the numbers above given, are under the age of 20 years. This will enable us to discriminate between the juvenile and adult offenders, and so to perceive whether the young criminals have increased throughout the country in a like ratio:



Committed Total Number of Offenders of all ages Under 15  years of age Above 15 and under 20 Total under 20


In the year " 1842 31,309 1,672 6,884 8,556
" 1843 29,591 1,670 6,725 8,395
" 1844 26,542 1,596 6,190 7,786
" 1845 24,303 1,549 5,850 7,399
" 1846 25,107 1,640 6,136 7,776
" 1847 28,883 1,767 6,967 7,734
" 1848 30,349 1,087 7,232 8,319

 Hence we see that from 1842 to 1848, the number of offenders under 20 years of age has declined 235, and the number under 15 years nearly 600. The following table, however, will give us more clear information as to the rate of decrease among the juvenile offenders throughout the country by showing us the ratio that they bore to the total population at the different years:



Years Criminals under 20 years  Computed Population  in each year under 20 years Number of Juvenile Population to One Juvenile Criminal
1842 8,556 7,378,820 One in every 862
1843 8,395 7,451,877 " 887
1844 7,786 7,524,934 " 966
1845 7,399 7,597.991 " 1,026
1846 7,776 7,671,048 " 986
1847 7,734 7,744,105 " 1,001
1848 8,319 7,817,162 " 939

By the above, then, it is evident that there has been a gradual and steady decrease in the proportion of our juvenile offenders since 1842. In that year 1 in every 862 persons under 20 years of age were criminals. In 1848 the ratio had fallen to 1 in every 939. We may, then, safely assert that while the total number of criminals in England and Wales has been rapidly increasing, the number of our juvenile delinquents has been materially on the decline. 
    I shall now lay before the reader the criminal returns for the metropolis so that he may see whether the same result has taken place:-


Years Total taken into Custody.  Estimated Population of the Metropolis. Number of Population to one taken into Custody.
1839 65,965  1,836,204 One in 27
1840 70,717 1,854,940 " 26
1841 68,961 1,873,676 " 27
1842 65,704  1,892,412 " 28
1843 62,477 1,911,148 " 30
1844 62,522 1,929,884  " 30
1845 59,123 1,948,620 " 32
1846 62,834  1,967,356 " 31
1847 62,181 1,986,092 " 31
1848 64,480  2,004,828 " 31

    Upon an average for the last ten years, I find that only about 7 per cent, of those who are taken into custody are committed for trial. The reader, therefore, must be warned against confounding the numbers given in these criminal tables for the metropolis with those above given for England and Wales; the numbers in the one being the total of those taken into custody, and the other the total of those committed for trial. I have been obliged to follow this conflicting mode of calculation, owing to the criminal returns of the metropolis furnishing no means of arriving at either the age or degree of instruction of those committed for trial. The reader therefore must, in seeking to compare the state of crime in the metropolis with that in England and Wales, allow for this defect.
    According to the above table the total number of persons, of all ages, taken into custody in the metropolis has decreased 1,485 in ten years, while the population has increased 168,604 - or in other words, while only one in 27 individuals was taken up for some breach of the law in 1839, only one in 31 was arrested in 1848. 
    The juvenile criminals of the metropolis have, strange to say, notwithstanding the rapid increase of the Ragged Schools throughout London, increased at an alarming rate:-


Total taken into Custody.  Total of all ages Under ten years of age Ten years and under fifteen Total under twenty
In 1839 65,965  159 2697 10731 13587
1840 70,717 148 2202 11681 14031
1841 68,961 196 2584 14645 17425
1842 65,704  146 2591 14250 16987
1843 62,477 131 2459 13726 16316
1844 62,522 273 3639 12688 13660
1845 59,123 359 3506 11622 15128
1846 62,834  210 3310 11932 15552
1847 62,181 362 3682 11654 15698
1848 64,480  384 4239 12294 16947

In 1839, the number of metropolitan offenders under 20 years was 13,587. In 1844 it was the same. In 1848 it had increased to 16,917. Since 1845, the increase has been no less than 1,789. The number of juvenile offenders under 10 years of age and those under 15, will be found to have increased at a similar fearful rate. In 1839, it will be seen by the above, only 1 youth in 53 was taken into custody; in 1848 the ratio had risen to 1 in 47. In 1845 the proportion was 1 in 51, and since that date it has gradually increased to 1 in 47.
    The following table will show the proportion of the criminals under 20 to the population of the metropolis under the same age: -


Years Number of persons under 20 years taken into custody. Estimated population under 20 years. Number of population under 20 years to one taken into custody.
1839 13587 733487 One in 53
1840 14031 740971 " 52
1841 17425 748455 " 42
1842 16987 755939 " 44
1843 16316 763423 " 46
1844 13660 770907 " 56
1845 15128 778391 " 51
1846 15552 785875 " 50
1847 15698 793359 " 50
1848 16917 800843 " 47

    Let me now show the rate of increase among the Ragged Schools of the metropolis since the first establishment of the union in 1844.
    Previously, no sufficient returns were kept to supply proper data for statistics: -

Schools Teachers Children Amount collected.
First year (1845) 20 100 2000 ?61
Second year (1846) 26 250 2600 ?320

The three following reports, for 1847-8-9, respectively, give further details, distinguishing the voluntary and paid teachers, &c.: -

SUMMARY Schools Vol. Teachers Paid Teachers Scholars.
Eastern Division 5 44 4 658
Central and Northern  15 87 19 1202
Western 14 153 20 1741
Southern 10 115 12 1180
44 400 54 4776
SUMMARY Schools Attendance of Scholars Attendance of Teachers Room to Accommodate
Sunday Weekday Evening Voluntary Paid
Eastern Division 8 1311 550 505 146 11 1300
Cent.& Nor. Div.  21 1656 865 895 197 20 1955
Western Division 20 1686 1935 1308 308 38 3310
Southern Division 13 1190 130 792 171 11 2000
Total 62 5843 3480 3500 822 80 8505
SUMMARY Schools Attendance of Scholars Attendance of Teachers Room to Accommodate
Sunday Weekday Evening Voluntary Paid
Eastern Division 15 1865 735 981 210 20 2045
Cent.& Nor. Div.  24 2479 1463 1388 223 39 3235
Western Division 20 2065 1681 1140 259 43 3090
Southern Division 23 1721 413 1315 237 22 3310
Total 82 8130 4205 2824 929 124 11710

    Hence it would appear that the number of Ragged Schools in London has increased from 20 in 1845 to 62 in 1848; the teachers from 200 to 882; and the scholars from 2,000 to 12,823, in the same period. In 1849 the number of schools was 82, the scholars 17,249, and the teachers 1,053. And yet, notwithstanding all this vast educational machinery, the increase of the juvenile criminals of London has not abated one jot.
    Such, then, are the bare facts of the case. In my next letter I will endeavour to point out the cause, by showing the relation that ignorance really bears to crime. For the present, I shall content myself with the following brief history of the Ragged Schools in general: - The Ragged School Union was formed in April, 1844, and its first annual report appeared in June, 1845. Prior to this concentration, as it may be called, of Ragged School institutions for purposes of management, efforts, successful and unsuccessful, had been voluntarily made by benevolent and humble persons in some of the poorest localities in the metropolis to impart some portion of knowledge - were it but the ability to read or repeat the Lord's Prayer, or to write their own names - to outcast children, to the deserted or runaway inmates or low lodging-houses, or to those whose only shelter is the streets or the filthy and furnitureless room of depraved parents. The difficulties overcome by the earliest promoters of Ragged Schools were of no ordinary character. The windows of the schools were broken by the urchins, who regarded it as "a lark" to insult a teacher; their entry into the school was as uproarious as they could make it; the lamps were extinguished; filth and stones were flung about amidst noise and ribaldry; the boys on some occasions would neither listen to the teachers, nor to to one another; they would neither sit down nor retire from the apartment, but kept up a hubbub that alarmed the neighbourhood and made landlords very unwilling to encourage Ragged Schools on or near their property. The services of the police were not seldom required. Perseverance and kindness of demeanour, however, subdued even the vagrant insolence and boldness of these outcast lads, and they gradually subsided into some degree of order and attentiveness. A "row" in a Ragged School is now, I believe, a thing of very rare occurrence.
    The title "Ragged School" - and there are schools for both sexes - sufficiently denotes the character of the institution. It is open to all, and gratuitously; there is no restriction as to hours; no introduction is needed. The children can come and go as their inclinations prompt attendance, or as their necessities compel absence, that they may earn, or beg, or steal a scanty meal. To go straight from a theft or from a prison to a Ragged School is not unfrequent; while a "hanging-match," or a Lord Mayor's-day, or any business that causes a large concourse of people, deprives the Ragged School teachers of the great majority of their pupils.
    "The teachers," says Lord Ashley, in an able and interesting article in the "Quarterly. Review" for December 1846, "seek to reclaim a wild and lawless race, unaccustomed, from their earliest years, to the slightest moral influence, or even restraint, and bring them back to notions of civilization and domestic life. Their first difficulty lies in the roving habits of many of these infants of nature, who oftentimes quit their residences, if residences they have, and migrate in flocks to other districts of the great city. Those, again, who, while in town, are more stationary in their nightly resorts, indulge, nevertheless, in long absences from London, and roam for weeks together over the neighbouring countries. The fine months of summer are fatal to learning; the chills and rains of winter drive them to the schools for warmth and shelter. But such broken studies and imperfect discipline leave on such vagrants few traces of progress in which the teacher can find his consolation. Authority he cannot exercise; the children may be coaxed, but they cannot be coerced; fines it is absurd to think of; beating would not be efficacious, nor indeed safe; expulsion is no punishment. They must come when they like, or they will not come at all, for we offer neither food nor clothing, nor immediate temporal advantage of any kind; their hopes and their fears are alike unawakened, and wanton tastes find nothing to counteract them. A procession or a new show throws confusion into every 'gymnasium,' and shears the master, in the twinkling of an eye, of half his listeners. It was our lot, a few weeks ago, to visit one of these Ragged Schools at eight o'clock in the evening, we found it comparatively deserted; but the mystery was soon solved by the announcement that, it being Lord Mayor's-day, many had determined to avail themselves of so glorious an opportunity for pleasure or for profit.
    "The habits, too, of their daily life, the associations they necessarily form, are all alike in the way of the teacher: the lessons of the evening are reversed by the practice of the following day - passed, too probably, amidst the lowest scenes of vice and revelry. If kept at home, they are witnesses of all that is most vile in language and conduct; if sent abroad, it is to beg on prepared falsehoods - or cheat methodically in their small trades - or steal for immediate consumption or for sale at the receiving shop. Hence the difficulty of infusing into these wanderers a sense of shame, and delicate notions of meum and tuum. Having nothing of their own, they are under no terrors of the law of retaliation; being destitute of common necessaries, they cannot recognize the exclusive possession of superfluities; and so, less with a desire to infringe another man's rights than to assert what they consider to be their own, they help themselves to everything that comes in their way. They make little or no secret of their successful operations, cloaking them only with euphonious terms; they 'find' everything - they 'take' nothing; no matter the bulk or quality of the article, it was 'found' - sometimes nearly a side of bacon - just at the convenient time and place; and many are the loud and bitter complaints that the 'dealer in marine stores' is utterly dishonest, and has given for the thing but half the price that could be got in the market.
    "Nor does punishment humble them more effectually than crime; they see in it less of the justice of the law than of the skill of the policeman."
    "The Ragged School, then, presents a peculiar class, and the title is peculiarly appropriate. "We entertain no fanatical passion for the name," says Lord Ashley, "thought we could quote many instances in which some of the most degraded of the race have been invited by the belief that the place and the service were not too grand for their misery." Of the mode of their education - industrial training, both of boys and girls, forming part of it in some schools - I shall speak, from personal observation, in my subsequent letters.
    The readers of my letters on the "Vagrants and Juvenile Thieves of London," will not be unprepared to conjecture the character of the boys who originally resorted, and who continue to resort, to the Ragged Schools. As a confirmatory and unexceptionable evidence on the subject, I again quote Lord Ashley's article:
    "It is a curious race of human beings that these philanthropists have taken in hand. Every one who walks the streets of the metropolis must daily observe several members of the tribe - bold, and pert, and dirty as London sparrows, but pale, feeble, and sadly inferior to them in plumpness of outline. Their business, or pretended business, seems to vary with the locality. At the West-end they deal in lucifer-matches, audaciously beg, or tell a touching tale of woe. Pass on to the central parts of the town - to Holborn or the Strand, and the regions adjacent to them - and you will there find the numbers very greatly increased: a few are pursuing the avocations above-mentioned of their more Corinthian fellows; many are spanning the gutters with their legs, and dabbling with earnestness in the latest accumulation of nastiness; while others, in squalid and half-naked groups, squat at the entrances of the narrow, foetid courts and alleys that lie concealed behind the deceptive frontages of our larger thoroughfares. Whitechapel and Spitalfields teem with them like an ant's-nest; but it is in Lambeth and in Westminster that we find the most flagrant traces of their swarming activity. There the foul and dismal passages are thronged with children of both sexes, and of every age from three to thirteen. Though wan and haggard, they are singularly vivacious, and engaged in every sort of occupation but that which would be beneficial to themselves and creditable to the neighbourhood. Their appearance is wild; the matted hair, the disgusting filth that renders necessary a closer inspection before the flesh can be discerned between the rags which hang about it, and the barbarian freedom from all superintendence and restraint, fill the mind of a novice in these things with perplexity and dismay. Visit these regions in the summer, and you are overwhelmed by the exhalations; visit them in the winter, and you are shocked by the spectacle of hundreds shivering in apparel that would be scanty in the tropics; many are all but naked; those that are clothed are grotesque; the trowsers, where they have them, seldom pass the knee; the tailed coats very frequently trail below the heels. In this guise they run about the streets, and line the banks of the river at low water, seeking coals, sticks, corks - for nothing comes amiss as treasure-trove: screams of delight burst occasionally from the crowds, and leave the passer-by, if he be in a contemplative mood to wonder and to rejoice that moral and physical degradations have not yet broken every spring of their youthful energies. **** The children that survive noxious influences and awful neglect are thrown, as soon as they can crawl, to scramble in the gutter, and leave their parents to amusement or business; as they advance in years they discover that they must, in general, find their own food or go without it. At an age when the children of the wealthy would still be in leading strings, they are off, singly or in parties, to beg, borrow, steal, and exercise all the cunning that want and a love of evil can stir up in a reckless race. They are driven to these courses, in many instances, by their parents; in more by their stepmothers; in most by necessity and general example. The passion for shows and the lowest drama is nearly universal; 'Panem Ct Circenses' - food and the penny theatres - these are their paradise, and their chief temptation to crime. They receive no education, religious or secular; they are subjected to no restraint of any sort; never do they hear the word of advice, or the accent of kindness; the notions that exist in the minds of ordinary persons have no place in theirs; having nothing exclusively of their own, they seem to think such, in fact, the true position of society; and, helping themselves without scruple to the goods of others, they can never recognise, when convicted before a magistrate, the justice of a sentence which punishes them for having done little more than was indispensable to their existence.
    "Well, then, we discover that they are beings like ourselves; that they have long subsisted within a walk of our own dwellings; that they have increased, and are increasing in numbers with the extension of this overgrown metropolis; and that they recede, if to recede be possible, in physical and moral condition, as the capital itself advances towards the pinnacle of magnificence and refinement. Will no one roll away the reproach? We have an Established Church, abundant in able and pious men, and she boasts herself to be the church of the people. We have a great body of wealthy and intelligent dissenters, who declaim, by day and by night, on the efficacious virtues of the voluntary principle. We have a generous aristocracy and plethoric capitalists, and a Government pledged to social improvements. Who will come forward? Why not all?
    Since their first foundation Ragged Schools have continued to increase rapidly, and since 1845 reports have yearly appeared. In the first report (1845) I find the following statement: "No less than forty-five of the children who attended one Ragged School are now transported, the school not affording them any permanent protection against vicious influences." In the second annual report there is this statement: "Some of the schools formerly reported have been so much improved as to come no longer under the denomination or character of Ragged Schools." By what means this change was wrought the report does not explain. The third report describes the exertions of the committee of the Ragged Schools Union, reiterates (in accordance with the preceding reports) that 100,000 poor children in the metropolis are growing up in ignorance and vagrancy, and details the plans and discipline of the committee. "In addition to frequent inspection," it is stated, "two delegates are summoned once a quarter from every school to meet the committee, and report how matters go on; and this meeting is becoming more useful and interesting each succeeding quarter. At the last quarterly meeting forty delegates attended." The fourth report insists, that "while we are spending a great amount in supporting or punishing the man, we do little to improve and elevate the boy," and cites one among other difficulties experienced by the promoters of Ragged Schools: "One great hindrance to success has been the difficulty of getting employment for boys after they became steady and anxious to earn their own living; many lads have continued to attend the schools destitute of food as well as proper clothing, in the hope that some situation could be procured for them by their teachers or their friends. In many instances employment has been found both for boys and girls, but hundreds are still unprovided for. The fifth (and latest) report (May last) mentions that the children of Roman Catholics came in large numbers to the Ragged Schools, and did not object to reading the Bible.
    The following were the amounts of donations and subscriptions received for the years ending May, 1847-8-9, respectively. The balances in hand show the proportion of the expenditure to the receipts:

Balance last audit ?179  9  11
Donations 546  17 11
Annual subscriptions 72  2  6
Cash for sale of Bibles to children, at 6d. each  7  16  6
[Total] ?824  6  10
Balance last Audit  ?461  18  11
Donations 520  5  0
Collection at Third Annual Meeting  43  13  2
Collection at Trinity Chapel after Sermon preached by the Rev. H. H. Beamish  42  13  6
Annual Subscriptions Cash for sale of Bibles to children at 6d. each and Hymn-books  16  0  0
[Total] ?1,174  4  1
Balance last Audit ?444  10  10
Donations  3,168  14  6
Subscriptions 338  0  0
Collection at Annual Meeting, 1848  76  10  8
Collecting Cards, Boxes, &c.  49  15  1
Sale of Bibles, Hymn Books, Anthems, Reward Books, and Magazines  65  4  7
[Total] ?4,142  16   8

Ragged Schools have been established in the following places:
EASTERN DIVISION: Foster-street, Bishopsgate; Dolphin-court, Spitalfields; Vine-court, Spitalfields; Thrawl-street, Spitalfields; King-street, Spitalfields; Spicer street, Spitalfields; Goldsmiths'-row, Hackney-road; Twig-folly, Bethnal-green; King Edward-street, Mile-end; North-street, Whitechapel-road; Cumberland-place, Whitechapel-road; Lomas-buildings, Stepney; Cotton-street, Poplar; Bere-street, Ratcliff; Darby-street, Rosemary-lane.
CENTRAL AND NORTHERN DIVISION: Field-lane, West Smithfield; Plumtree-court, Shoe-lane; Golden-lane, St. Luke's; Turk's Head-yard, Clerkenwell; Lamb and Flag-court, Clerkenwell-green; Vine-street, Liquorpondstreet; Fox-court, Gray's-inn-lane; Yeates-court, Clare-market; Brewers'-court, Great Wild-street; King-street, Drury-lane; Neales-yard, Seven-dials; Streathamstreet, St. Giles; Irish Free School, St. Giles's; Phillip's-gardens, New-road; Little Camden-street, Camden-town; Agar-town, St. Pancras-road; Compton-place, Judd-street; Ceram-place, Little Coram-street; Britannia-street, King's-cross; Elderwalk, Islington; Brand-street, Holloway; Phillip-street, Kingsland-road; Providence-row, Kingsland; Stoke Newington.
WESTERN DIVISION: Westminster Juvenile Refuge and School of Industry, 56, Old Pye-street; New Pye-street, Westminster; Pear-street, Westminster; Broadway, Westminster; New Tothill-street, Westminster; Exeter-buildings, Chelsea; Camera- street, Chelsea; Temperance Hall, Hammersmith; Richmond-street, Lisson-grove; George~street, Lisson-grove; Paddington Wharfs; Huntsworth-mews, Dorset- square; Brook-street, New-road; Union-mews, Wells-street; Grotto-passage, Marylebone; Grotto-place, Marylebone; Hindes'-mews, Marylebone-lane; Edwards-mews, Portman-square; Gray's-yard, James-street; Hopkins-street, Golden-square.
SOUTHERN DIVISION: Lambeth; Little East-street, Lambeth; Jurston-street, Lambeth Grove-lane, New-cut; Windmill-street, New-cut; Waterloo-road; Broadwall, Blackfriars; Chapel-place, Great Suffolk-street; John-street, Mint; Mitre-Court, Mint-street; Henry-street, Kent-street; Vine-yard, Tooley-street; Jacob-street, Dockhead; Deptford, Duncan-yard; Greenwich, East; Greenwich, West; Blackheath, Queen-street; Peckham, High-street; Camberwell, Nelson-street; Clapham, White's-square; Clapham, Union-street; Walworth, Crown-square; Newington, Francis-street.
    In a speech in the House of Commons in July last, in submitting a motion that means should be annually provided for the emigration of a certain number of Ragged School pupils, Lord Ashley gave the results of his inquiry into the condition of outcast children. "He and others," he said, "perambulated the metropolis. They dived into its recesses. The House would be surprised to hear what was the condition in which they found those young people. Most of them were living in the dry arches of houses not finished, inaccessible except by an aperture only large enough to admit the body of a man. When a lantern was thrust in, six or eight, ten or twelve people, might be found lying together. Of those whom they found thus lodged they invited a great number to come the following day, and then an examination was instituted. The number examined was 33. Their ages varied from 12 to 18, and some were younger; 24 had no parents; six had one; three had step-mothers; 20 had no shirts; 9 no shoes; 12 had been once in prison; 3 twice; 3 four times; 1 eight times; and 1 (only 14 years old) twelve times. The physical condition of these children was exceedingly horrible; they were a prey to vermin; they were troubled with itch; they were begrimed with dirt; not a few were suffering from sickness; and two or three days afterwards two died from disease and the effects of starvation. He had privately examined eight or ten. He was anxious to obtain from them the truth. He examined them separately, taking them into a room alone. He said,' I am going to ask you a variety of questions, to which I trust you will give me true answers, and I, on my part, will undertake to answer any question you may put to me.' They thought that a fair bargain. He put to several of them the question, 'How often have you slept in a bed during the last three years?' One said, perhaps twelve times; another, three times; another could not remember that he had ever done so. He asked them how they passed the night in winter. They said, 'We lie eight or ten together, to keep ourselves warm.' He entered on the subject of their employments and modes of living. They fairly confessed they had no means of subsistence but begging and stealing.
    I need not dilate upon the fact of the far superior charity (in proportion to their means) not seldom extended by the industrious poor to their utterly destitute friends and neighbours, compared with that of even the most benevolent of the wealthy classes - nor need I speak of the greater labour they will undergo in aid of the helpless and the destitute; and I may fairly surmise therefore that among poor people there have been individual and desultory efforts, now forgotten, to extend some schooling to the ignorant children around them. The case of John Pounds, however, has not been forgotten, and he - with Mr. Walker, of Westminster, and a few others - is classed among the founders of the Ragged Schools. I give a brief and popular biography of John Pounds:
     John Pounds, the cripple and the cobbler, yet at the same time one of nature's true nobility, was born in Portsmouth in 1766. His father was a sawyer, employed in the royal dockyard. At fifteen young Pounds met with an accident, which disabled him for life. During the greater part of his benevolent career he lived in a small weather-boarded tenement in St. Mary's-street, Portsmouth, where he might be seen everyday, seated on his stool, mending shoes in the midst of his busy little school. One of his amusements was that of rearing singing birds, jays, and parrots, which he so perfectly domesticated that they lived harmoniously with his cats and guinea-pigs. Often, it is said, might a canary-bird be seen pirched upon one shoulder and a cat upon the other. During the latter part of his life, however, when his scholars became so numerous, he was able to keep fewer of these domestic creatures. Poor as he was, and entirely dependent upon the hard labour of his hands, he nevertheless adopted a little crippled nephew, whom he educated, and cared for with truly paternal love, and, in the end, established comfortably in life. It was out of this connection that his attempts and success in the work of education arose. He thought in the first instance that the boy would learn better with a companion. He obtained one, the son of a wretchedly poor mother; then another and another was added; and he found so much pleasure in his employment, and was the means thereby of effecting so much good, that in the end the number of his scholars amounted to forty, including about a dozen little girls. 

    "His humble workshop was about six feet by eighteen, in the midst of which he would sit, engaged in that labour by which he won his bread, and attending at the same time to the studies of the little crowd around him. So efficient was John Pounds's mode of education, to say nothing about its being perfectly gratuitous, that the candidates were always numerous; he, however, invariably gave preference to the worst as well as poorest children - to the 'little blackguards,' as he called them. He has been known to follow such to the Town Quay and offer them the bribe of a roasted potatoe if they would come to his school. His influence on these degraded children was extraordinary.
    "As a teacher, his manners were pleasant and facetious. Many hundred persons~ now living usefully and creditably in life, owe the whole formation of their character to him. He gave them book-learning,' and taught them also to cook their own victuals and mend their shoes. He was not only frequently their doctor and nurse, but their playfellow: no wonder was it, therefore, that when, on New Year's Day, 1839, he suddenly died, at the age of seventy-two, the children wept, and even fainted, on hearing of their loss, and for along time were overwhelmed with sorrow and consternation. They, indeed, had lost a friend and a benefactor. Such was the noble founder of the First Ragged School."