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A LONDON WORKHOUSE
What is the worst neighbourhood of London? Various parts of the metropolis have been in turns so distinguished; but the question is one not easily answered, since there are half a dozen localities, each of which is so like another, that even an intimate acquaintance would he insufficient for the purpose of distinguishing degrees of insalubrity or moral depravity. Notwithstanding the demolition of a great part of the district of which Field Lane was the representative centre, and the consequent dispersion of many such gangs as that over which the Jew Fagin presided during the period when his history was written, there are few worse neighbourhoods than that foul tangle of streets and blind alleys which lie between the waste ground in Victoria Street and the commencement of New Oxford Street. The stamp of low knavery remains yet upon the open space in the first of these thoroughfares, where the Underground Railway has made confusion worse confounded, and the bare houses and dirty half-broken windows stare, like suddenly discovered evil-doers, on the crowd of betting men and boys who congregate upon "the ruins" just before a race, and
- their old station by Bride Passage being forbidden - whisper mysteriously over greasy little
memorandum-books, or wait the coming of the great men who sometimes [- 64-] condescend to pay the place a visit on their way to "the Corner."
Detachments of the same crowd may be seen any day during the season slouching about the sporting taverns in Fleet Street; or, when they have anything to spend, invading the bar with a half-defiant, and yet deprecating hangdog air, as though they were subject to summary ejectment; they may be jostled against as they crowd up to the windows of the offices where sporting newspapers display the latest telegrams of the race, and they watch and follow the two or three well-known betting men who have large stakes on the event, in the hope of learning an opinion, or putting a "half sov." on a horse with somebody with whom to bet at all, will in some way establish their broken credit among outsiders less fortunate than themselves. It is a motley crowd: seedy, buttoned-up, greasy, napless, flushed, beshawled, hardhatted; plain mechanic-looking; flashy, butchery, bakery, cornchandlery, and knavish, but never jovial; always depressed, dingy, secret, and-even when it has a boisterous appearance-seldom given to waste words, and relapsing into a stealthy suspicious manner, which, added to its air of having slept anywhere than in a bed, or of not having slept at all, makes it one of the most repulsive crowds ever seen in London streets.
The farther boundary of the district may he said to terminate with the once notorious parish of St. Giles, of which it is sometimes supposed that "recent improvements" have made one of those "clean sweeps" so often mentioned, but so seldom realised, in relation to London slums. Not that the process generally understood by a clean sweep would in reality represent an unmitigated good; for as the criminals inhabiting these districts must [- 65-] be swept elsewhere, and the localities to which they emigrate may not he always easy of discovery, even if they are not in a situation more injurious to the honest public; it may sometimes be worthwhile to consider whether a notorious haunt where evil-doers may he looked for with a tolerable certainty of being found when wanted, is not in some sense an advantage. If any one who believes that St. Giles's is a thing of the past, however, will take a walk down Endell Street, and towards Mudie's library, he will have an opportunity of inspecting a very full-blown specimen, indeed, of that palmy neighbourhood, in a street which-having somehow stood out of the mechanical line of the reformatory broom-abuts on the main thoroughfare, and seems, so far from desiring to succumb to the new order of things, as to glory in its squalid wretchedness, and to flaunt its beggars' rags in the face of gentility and the new baths and wash-houses, whose florid brick architecture offers no impediment to as foul a row of tenements as ever disgraced civilisation.
The same loose and broken pavement, the same blackened casements stuffed with dirty rags and old newspapers, the same yellow half-washed tatters fluttering on lines carried across the street from upper windows, the same crumbling walls and foul, dark, broken staircase, the same dilapidated rooms and cellars, hare of furniture, but crowded with lodgers, who sleep on any substitutes for beds; the same drunken women and listless unoccupied men, the same sallow rickety children sprawling in the dirt at the doorways or going on stealthy errands, the same scowling eyes to watch the stranger who ventures there after dark, the same want and misery, and probably the same crime, may be found here now as when the turning was one of many which lay in the midst of a [- 66-] neighbourhood long a terror to the metropolis, and generally not to be traversed in safety even by broad daylight. The whole aspect of the place is so little changed that it might seem to have been left by "the authorities" as an example of thief-London, to prove how "the dangerous classes" have taken to themselves the condition of the poor, in so far that they are always with us.
It is between these two places, however, that the neighbourhood to which I am bound is to be discovered; the crowded alleys, and courts, and "rents" huddled together about Leather Lane, and Hatton Wall, and Baldwin's Gardens, to the great thoroughfare of Holborn and Gray's Inn Road. Dirty stone tanks of places, with ruinous houses for the walls; narrow culs de sac, with entrances like the gateways of ruined stables; ancient hostelries, tottering to decay, in recesses difficult to find, and with some of the scores of lodgers who have taken possession of the dingy rooms, looking drearily over the old heavy wooden balconies, upon the space which was once the terminus for fast coaches, but has long ceased to suggest anything but costermongers' litter, or to remind the inmates of anything more locomotive than a parish funeral. Small dingy public-houses in back streets, where Italian organ-grinders hold their revels, and dance lugubriously to the playing of one of their own instruments, the owner of which is elevated on a deal table; flaring gin-shops, where knots of Irish labourers slouch in and out, and go back again to their hovels, or stand there smoking and jangling with women, with bundle handkerchiefs for headdresses,- until a fight calls for a spirituous pacification, and a visit to another flaring gin-shop six doors further on.
Groups of foreign workmen, in green tunics, blue blouses, concertina-shaped caps, - the carvers and gilders or the [- 67-] modellers of the plaster figures at the image shops, where the grimy cupids swing disconsolately from the ceilings in a dim twilight till the gas is lighted, when they vibrate like monstrous moths intent on self-destruction. In the main thoroughfare of Leather Lane, brisk butchers' shops, doing a great trade in poor joints, and that peculiar artificial arrangement of bone and meat known as "block-ornaments ;" hucksters' barrows of tin-ware toys; greengrocery, common delf, cured and salted fish, damaged fruit, and cheap haberdashery. The quiet church of St. Alban the Martyr, lying just off from the noise and bustle, preparing for evening service as the verger lights the lamps, and the gleam falls upon the painting in fresco over the altar, and shines upwards to the high pointed arches, with their pure pale ornaments of terra cotta, while the organ gives out the first notes of the voluntary, and seems so far apart from all the surging squalid crowd which shouts and quarrels in the neighboring streets. The librarian and superintendent of the Ragged School, held in the house that was once the Thieves' Kitchen, hut now filled up-stairs and down with children,- perspiring in their nightly work of dividing a hundred scholars into classes amongst half a dozen teachers, and distributing the books which they are allowed to take home with them to read. Behind and beyond all this, the external aspect of the streets, common lodging-houses, thieves' haunts, low brothels, and the dead silence which betokens the dreary abodes of misery and crime, make up that "worst neighbourhood" of a particular phase of which I am in search to-day. A blank wooden gate squeezed into a small space in the midst of the neighbouring shops, and indicated by a hoard, on which are painted the regulations for granting medical assistance, and the times at which [- 68-] the applicants for parochial relief will he received by the "Master," is, as I am informed, the entrance to one of the most constantly occupied, although by no means the largest of the London workhouses, where a large proportion of the inmates come and go so frequently that they might, in some other districts, he almost regarded as "casuals," and receive no definite settlement in the regular wards. The blank gate being opened by an old pauper, with a slightly disconsolate look which might he supposed to belong to, sitting on duty all day in, a paved yard, I am admitted, and make my way to a flight of stone steps leading to the hall or lobby, where another old man sits at a low desk, contemplating, with a similarly subdued expression, a very large ledger, on which he seems to be employed making entries whenever he can bring his mind to the task. The office in which I am directed to wait for "the master" is a small room, with a business-like air about it, and a great iron safe let into the wall near the desk, on the probable contents of which I find myself speculating so persistently, that I take a turn into the hall again, towards a large apartment round a corner, where some three hundred paupers, old men, women, and children, are at dinner.
The place, which is, like the school-room, attached to a church, is furnished with forms and desk-like tables, placed in different directions, and in separate groups, for the children and adults of both sexes; and at a cross-table under a high desk like a pulpit, the master himself-without a coat, and with his throat released from both collar and neckerchief- is carving the meat, and weighing out the allowance for each person according to the dietary scale, which differs hut slightly from that of the union where I lately made the acquaintance of the pauper of the [- 69-] north-eastern suburb. A workhouse dinner is soon dispatched, since nobody is expected to "go in twice," and "particular cuts" are altogether unknown. A few of those who sit munching at the tables look satisfied, hut the prevailing expression amongst these, as with most other paupers, is a dull, half-apathetic, mechanical motion of the jaws, which continues even while they arc watching with open eyes anything that may happen to attract their attention, and particularly a visitor, to whom they seem desirous of conveying an impression of subdued discontent, as though they should say, "Yes, you may look, but we are bound to endure it; don't you see how we're put upon, and what a dull prison-house this is?"
And so it is. Seen in the bare wards, where the long rows of low bedsteads, each covered with the same pattern of counterpane, make even the dull walls more monotonous; in the cleanly scrubbed floors; the absence of any furniture save that which is required for the absolute necessities of the place; the high-walled yards; the gray and blue-dresses, unrelieved by any variety of make or pattern-this dreary monotony, which would make a solitude of the most crowded place under heaven, is the most repellent fact of workhouse life. The effect of this is less observable in the boys, who are now coming out in single file, and dressed (sensibly enough this warm weather) in holland-pinafores over their corduroy trousers. Some of them are still masticating the last of the most tasty mouthful reserved as the finish of their mid-day meal; and, as they pass, hear a general resemblance to the other inmates, inasmuch as they stare at me, while they ruminate like so many young cows. They walk on briskly enough, however, and with an alert expression in their faces which assures me that half holidays are not [- 70-] unknown even in workhouses, and that this (being Saturday) is one of them. There are amongst both boys and girls many sickly, deformed, and stunted children who will, perhaps, carry with them to the grave these heritages of the gutter and the foul lodging-house where they struggled, like unhealthy plants, into such life as they possess; but in almost all of them I am rejoiced to see something of that elastic spirit which shows that here, too, the old suppression of every hope and promise of youth has been superseded by a gentler and more beneficent appreciation of the difference between poverty and crime. I wish that the same could be said of other places where "the Poor Law" is wrested to a harsher punishment than that of the criminal code, and where the grim rule and oppressive dead level of the workhouse ward is but a preparation of the youthful pauper for the no more repulsive discipline of the gaol.
I remember, however, that this as well as many other of the arrangements for good or evil lie with a heavy weight of responsibility upon "the master," who may be a fawning ruffian, truckling to the Board of Guardians, and boastfully anxious to "keep down the rate" and the paupers at the same time; or who may, and, thank God, often is, a man of experience, willing to contrive inexpensive comforts which he recognises as absolute necessities in such a condition, and with all judicious respect, determine to regard the inmates of "the house" as a charge for whom he is responsible, not to the Board of Guardians alone, but to his own conscience and to the ratepayers, whose money may be put to a better interest than that of reducing God's image, however defaced, to that of the most savage amongst the brute creation.
The master is in a great heat from the exertion of [- 71-] carving and weighing, although he is a tall muscular gentleman, with somewhat of a military bearing, and (notwithstanding his open collar) a way of holding his head, as though he had at one time looked at the world over a stiff leather stock. This, with his firm step, full deep voice, and a certain blunt courtesy, impress me with a conviction that he is not, by any means, the wrong man in the wrong place, and I am not surprised that he should be ready to show me "the house," as he is about to make his own daily visit to the different wards after resuming his neckerchief, and a particularly fresh-looking linen coat. It is cleaning-day, or at least, a special cleaning day; for every morning (I am informed) the wards of this great straggling building are scrubbed and purified, or in that close neighbourhood, and with the inmates who come and go there, the place would soon be unendurable. It is clean and fresh enough now, however, for the painters and whitewashers have been at work, and the walls against which the long rows of bedsteads stand have been coloured a pale blue, as an improvement on the sickly yellowish tint which is peculiar to such apartments. I notice, too, that, in the sick wards, a number of very good engravings, mostly on religious subjects, have been framed and hung in the spaces between the beds. These serve to break the bare surface of the long cold wall, and must be no slight addition to the few beguilements of the hours which pass so heavily to the feeble creatures who lie here until they die, or gain sufficient strength to crawl into the sunnier parts of the square stone yards. There are many occupants of these wards to whom even such poor relief will never come; and as the wards, whether for the sick or the rest of the paupers, are all in one set pattern, the only variety witnessed by the visitor, [- 72-] except the difference between tenanted and untenanted beds, is that of the thin withered anxious faces which peer upwards from the white pillows, or rest in a slumber so like death,- that death itself, which is here too, makes but little change. In each of the old men's wards there are the same figures curled round upon their sides beneath the bedclothes, striving to sleep away the long hours which are yet so few, when measured to the quickly approaching end; the same wistful pinched looks; the same watchful eyes, following the master as he walks down the room, or stops to speak to one here and there, or to consult with the nurse; the same silent, patient depression visible amongst the few who are able to get up, and are now sitting in the chairs by the guarded fire, or by the bed sides. One or two reading, others looking down listlessly at the little squares of carpet on which their feet rest, others still seeming to wonder within themselves by what preternatural accession of energy they got up, and to be ready for bed again whenever it shall occur to anybody to put them there. Two or three with closed eyes, and thin quiet hands resting outside the bedclothes, appear to be unconsciously floating down the great river which ebbs so slowly, and yet so rapidly towards the sea; one with a strange screwed- up dark wrinkled face, who is, perhaps, nearer to the sea than any of the rest, but whose bright black eyes look out with painful inquiry, like those of a wounded animal, and seem to ask whether the disease of which he is dying is really incurable. In the old women's wards there is, at the same time, more vigour and more complete debility; by the fire an ancient dame of more than eighty sits in pauper state, and with that contented pleasant expression of face which surely is in some measure to be referred to the physical health [- 73-] which could have sustained unbroken such a weight of years. Her senses are so acute, that she hears and stoops to caress the little dog which has followed us into the room. She has nothing to complain of except that she can't get about much- a complaint for which the master rates her in a jocular and kindly manner. Her age, I fancy, gives her some privilege, for I observe that her dress differs a little from the regular workhouse uniform, though whether it is in the shape and make of the cap, or in the general costume, I am unable to determine.
A more painful subject soon engrosses the attention both of nurse and master, however; for there are bedridden women here, who are suffering from painful disease, from ulcers and other maladies inseparable, perhaps, from such a place and among such people. One patient is now sitting up in bed while her neck is being dressed, and another able-bodied looking woman is standing in the middle of the room, with her foot upon a chair, that she may be questioned as to a badly disordered leg. There is something remarkable about this patient's face, for although it is an ordinary countenance as far as any approach to beauty is concerned, there is a quiet determination, and a deprecatory self-possession in its lineaments, which mitigate my surprise at hearing that she is in some sort a martyr to a principle.
"Does she have her beer or her wine?" asks the master.
"Well, to tell you the truth, sir," answers the rather kindly looking dame, who officiates as nurse, "she won't take it, because she took the pledge about six months ago, and she won't break it; and more than that, she would go about scrubbing, and that when there was no call for it, and I told her not to do it." The master [- 74-] takes her to task pretty smartly for her folly, pointing out that, because she takes these things by a doctor's orders, there is no need why she should go out of the workhouse and get drunk; but she only shakes her head.
I venture to inquire whether she is a Roman Catholic, at which she looks a little confused, but says no, she isn't; isn't anything that she knows of, and isn't good enough for them; but when I follow up this inquiry, by representing to her that she would scarcely have hesitated to take even wine or spirits if she had had it put in a medicine bottle by a chemist from a doctor's prescription, and that to take what is ordered is no breach of her pledge, she slakes her head in a still more determined manner, as though she would cast away such sophistry, and responding that a vow was a vow, and she won't break her pledge, takes her foot off the chair, and turns away. In the long ward, where this colloquy has been going on, lie several aged women, either asleep, or so still and breathless, that for a moment I think some of them are dead, especially as their faces are covered with pieces of blue gauze to keep off the flies, which buzz in at the open windows from the foul haunts close by. Most of the poor old creatures are too weak to lift their hand to drive away these troublesome visitors, and many of them, whether they are asleep or not, lie with closed eyes. One at least is near the last sleep of all, and as I stand and regard that withered brown face, over which the great and unmistakable change is stealing, the old woman who sits by the bedside to keep the flies away, and to watch the slow coming and going of the feeble breath, sees sympathy, I hope, in my looks, and without speaking, makes a sudden sorrowful gesture with her hands, and forms the words "she's dying" with her lips.
It seems strange that there should be so little of [- 75-] the hush and solemnity with which we ordinarily associate such a scene, but what is to be done, where every square yard of room may be required at a few hours' notice, and anything like the quiet repose of home is impossible, either for the living or the dying. That there is seldom too much space, I discover by a visit to the older portion of the building, or the original poor-house of the parish, where, in a ward on the lower floor, and immediately adjoining a yard, there are more beds and more inmates, although none of them are sick or bedridden. In the yards I see no paupers who could be properly described as able-bodied, and though, ordinarily, there are some few young women picking oakum in a part of the basement devoted to that purpose, there are none to-day. The able-bodied and the casual paupers receive little encouragement in this particular Union, and I am disposed to believe that, although the new regulations with regard to the reception of the casual poor will make no material difference in the treatment at this casual ward, the able-bodied make but a short stay within the walls. Down in the principal yards the women are passing about with pails, while some of the elders sit in a row on a form under the shade of the laundry; both youths and women join in the cleansing process which is going on in the various wards, and some of the old men are engaged in such domestic duties as must necessarily be performed regularly for the proper ordering of so large a family. In the warmest corner of the yard, too, a whole row of female idiots, of various ages, sit blinking and lounging, as it seems to me, with a vague consciousness of superiority in the fact of nothing being at the moment expected of them. The same stout, beef-faced young woman who is the peculiar representative, I fancy, of all pauper idiocy, offers her hand as we pass, and [- 76-] asks after our health in the same thick utterance as though she spoke during sleep, and while suffering from greatly enlarged tonsils. In the infirmaries there are the same rows of beds, many of them occupied by those whose sickness is of a terrible and probably a fatal character; but I am glad to see that these at least are apart from the main body of the house, and removed from the noise and traffic of the ordinary wards. This is the case also with respect to the ward for lying- in women, of whom there is at present only one; so that the nurse, a very intelligent woman, going about amongst the beds, seems quite solitary, although she has evidently little leisure in a general way, as her overworked looks and pale, anxious face will testify.
The last little addition to the workhouse population is asleep in a cot, in a smaller room adjoining the lying-in ward, where four other infants are lying. The room itself is entirely bare of furniture, and my thoughts are directed instinctively to the nursery in the Union, visited a few days ago, where I made the acquaintance of several children, and notably of one little blue-eyed maid.
Another small room, where there are four cots, under the superintendence of an Irish nurse with that round pink face, blue-gray eye, and eagerly listening expression which is so commonly seen amongst the women of the "Imrald Oile." The room, which is as bare as the rest, opens on to a landing, and men employed in the repairs of the place are passing in and out, so that I walk in carelessly but quietly, not wishing to disturb the midday sleep of the little inmates. I walk in quietly, but stop midway with a sudden shock, seeing that I have come thoughtlessly and unannounced into the presence of death. One of the poor little creatures, a child of some five years [- 77-] old-still dressed in the union clothes- is lying just before me, stretched out on the mattress from one of the cots, placed upon two chairs.
"Was runnin' about after he'd had his dinner, and went down quite sudden, all in a minute," says the nurse. "Has had his wine - oh, yes, every day, and seemed to be better; the men was noticin' that he was quite lively to what he had been."
The poor little, thin, yellow face, its lineaments settling grimly even in that last sleep which with childhood is mostly soft and beautiful, has an Irish look in it, too; but born in disease and crime, and nursed in a stifled room and foul air, it is so strangely old and worn, that I scarcely wonder to see the arm so thin, and to hear that it is "consumption." "It's a good thing that the poor little creature is dead," says the master, as he lifts the dead child's arm, and looks solemnly into the little face, his own bearded chin bent down upon his broad chest; "he has a sister in the house, and she is scarcely likely to live; both were born consumptive."
The parents of these children belonged to a gang of coiners, whose depredations had called forth the utmost vigilance of the police; and the mother had been, if not murdered by the father, at least subjected to a fatal negligence which bore the suspicion of murder. Both were confirmed drunkards, and one night when the terrible craving for more liquor just sufficed to rouse the besotted woman to appeal for another glass of gin, her husband helped her plentifully from the bottle- not the gin-bottle, but that containing the powerful acid used in their nefarious business. He was acquitted of the charge of murder, to die soon afterwards of the effects which adulterated gin brings about more slowly, but seldom less surely, than [- 78-] unadulterated poisons. The other coiners have dispersed, or have been committed to penal servitude; while one living and one dead child are at this moment amongst the half-forgotten memoranda belonging to the case that, for just twenty-four hours, gained a newspaper notoriety under the title of "Horrible Death of a Woman from drinking Aquafortis." Of the living children in the room three are asleep, and chubby, healthy rogues they look- as fact about which the nurse is, to my mind, a little too demonstrative; as who should say, "No underfeeding there, and no want of attention on my part; don't think it." An impression which seems to me the more unpleasant, since her manner appears, under the circumstances, not only disparaging to the dead child, but to another rather pale, pretty, anxious-eyed little creature, who is awake and whining in its cot, looking about it, as I cannot help thinking, with an uneasy sense of some strange presence in the room - the presence it may be of death, which to the organism of a delicate and nervous child, may be as apparent as are some other things which are lost on our coarser or more hardened sensibilities.
The nurse endeavours to check the poor infant's cry with a subdued remonstrance and a warning finger, but neither that, nor the few words I say to it, will stay the uneasy look and the shifting of the head from side to side, as though in the endeavour to see what had troubled its short sleep with a terror which overbore all smaller fears.
There is something strange, even to me, in that little rigid body, and the face now settling so grimly, the overhanging brow and large lower jaw showing even in infancy the type from which it came, as surely as the pewter coin amongst which the child was born bore the impress of the die that stamped them.
[- 79-] Meanwhile, the master has walked to the window, where he looks out upon the yard, for he has not forgotten the feelings which such a sight will produce, and has too much delicacy to watch their effect. He does not pretend that they so affect himself, and such a pretense would be unworthy of his frank bearing-such scenes are the familiar circumstances of his daily life, and he becomes hardened to their exterior influences. Not hardened at heart, though, thank God! for, leaving the dead child behind, we enter another ward where three children, somewhat older, are running about amidst the bedsteads; and the first of the three who catches sight of that well-known tall figure makes madly at his legs, and clasps them with an energy which no child under heaven could simulate. The other two are not slow to follow, and as one little fellow lifts up his tiny face for the customary pat upon the cheek, I see emotion in the bearded face that looks down upon it. They are suffering from ophthalmia - these three; and for that reason are confined to the long airy ward, instead of being sent out to play with the other children. One peculiarity of this Union is, that the ordinary workhouse gruel, known to the paupers as "skilley," has been superseded by rice, since it was found that the oatmeal was not only distasteful to the majority of the inmates, but aggravated the skin diseases to which they were specially liable, and kept the "foul ward" in requisition.
To the children the substitution of rice must be desirable enough, but even a long course of rice becomes insipid to the British palate; and I am glad to hear the nurse plead for cocoa for breakfast on behalf of these three little ones, and to learn that cocoa may be obtained by application in the kitchen or to the matron.
The sound of shrill voices stops me for a moment at a [- 80-] staircase window, as we go down to see "the garden;" and looking out, I discover that two of the yards are converted into playgrounds for boys and girls, and that the voices proceed from some half-dozen of the latter, who are whirling merrily enough round a gymnastic pole provided with a wheel at the top, to which ropes are attached. There are also horizontal bars, and other apparatus in the same enclosure; and in the adjoining yard I see a shuttlecock flying, and hear the sound of smaller voices in all the enjoyment of the playhour.
There are strange extremes in this great building where about 400 inmates live at the moment, and so many may be dead by this time next week; and where 127 of those recently received are only known as "vagrants." Strange extremes; but it is well that I should depart with a pleasant impression, and if anything could be pleasant in the external arrangements of such a place, it would surely be this garden, even apart from the consideration of the strong love of nature which could overcome the difficulties in the way of making a green and fresh oasis within this walled desert of brick and stone over which the hot simoom, from a foul labyrinth of fever-haunted streets and alleys, blows night and day. Yes in this square enclosure the walls are nearly hidden by creeping plants; shrubs and flowers lie in pretty plots, and embower the fountain, which, with its ornaments of bright stones and tinted shells, plashes coolly in the centre; along one side a large wire-fronted aviary is filled with pigeons of various breeds and plumage; and ferns are growing in pots and under cases in the shadiest corners. It is like a transformation scene from the bare walls and long wards, and I am glad to know that the paupers, and especially the pauper boys, are permitted sometimes to come here; the [- 81-] latter having, indeed, helped to form the garden, and still helping to keep the leaves fresh by constant care. Yes, it is like a transformation scene; and I notice that in that outbuilding the doorway has been subject to the scene-painter's art, in the shape of an illusory green wicket-gate upon a back-ground of neutral tint. "May I ask where that door leads to?" - "That! Oh, to the dead-house."
Yes, to the last scene of all visible to mortal eyes; nay, to the green baize curtain of the drama of life, when the real great transformation has been effected, and the rags and properties of the stage may be estimated at their proper worth. As I go slowly out at the door in this workhouse courtyard, I am possessed by a strange fancy. That child, whose little body is lying there waiting for the pauper funeral;- that old, old woman, who will so soon be an inmate of the same place-In the great transformation what will be the change for each? Blighted youth and worn-out age, meeting in the dead-house as to the body-meeting under what conditions there; or, if meeting, influenced by what affinities in relation to this London Union? Has it ever entered into the hearts of people living (as they hope) Christian lives, that there is a duty to be done in visiting the poor even after the law takes cognizance of them? That, without interference, or even without immediate comment, ladies and gentlemen having much time hanging wearily upon their hands might be profitably employed in looking round their own parish with a real human interest, which is truer than that in the last piquant horror of the newest novel? That even with the best intentions and the most unflinching integrity, the master of a workhouse has more upon his hands than can leave him leisure to enter into all [- 82-] those details which often make the difference between comfort and discomfort to the old or suffering pauper; that while he is paramount in the ward, he is to a certain extent subservient in the board room, and dependent upon the guardians for the means of carrying out such good intentions as he may have formed? That the occasional quiet observation of parishioners would, if properly managed, virtually exercise a control over both guardians and officers, and that by these means, just as the probable abuses of centralisation are checked by local self-government, so the more obvious negligencies and abuses of local boards and small officials would be prevented by that individual interest which will not be content to leave all morality, love, and charity, to an organised system, which finds a mechanical representation in the Poor Law? I am roused from these meditations by a great crowd in one of the alleys, but a few paces from the workhouse gate. So great a crowd, that with some experience of the teeming houses in the neighbourhood, I am puzzled to know how the wretched tenements in this one spot could contain all the people who are thronging about the doors, or swelling a mob at the end of the street.
It is a very ordinary event that has called them together. A purse snatched from a woman's hand by a girl of thirteen or fourteen, who has made her escape by some back way through a house, and is, by this time, far enough from the two policemen who look hot but sternly dissatisfied after a futile endeavour to lay hold of the culprit. It is so commonplace an event, that the crowd slowly sinks back again into the doorways, or trickles off by the main thoroughfare, and a fiddle in an adjoining beershop is heard to resume the favorite air of "Come back Peter."
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