Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.],[c1889] - Preface - Chapter 1 - Coming Up from the Country to London

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THE following papers were printed in THE BRITISH WEEKLY, commencing in October, 1887, and continuing until the end of April, 1888. They excited extraordinary attention and were made the subject of sermons and courses of sermons in many churches and chapels in the United Kingdom, and reproduced in all arts of the English-speaking world. The facts were collected with great care by commissioners specially selected for the purpose. It was not possible to publish more than a selection from the material available, and for obvious reasons the most startling facts discovered cannot be made public. The Editor was made to feel very acutely both the danger of saying too much and of saying too little, and he cannot hope to have perfectly succeeded in striking the mean. Some parts of this volume will seem to some too outspoken ; and others, again, will think that greater frankness should have characterised it throughout  [-vi-] He can only say that he and his contributors have done their best. They are already grateful for the good these papers have done and may reasonably hope that n their collected form they will be widely read by young men all over the country. It is believed that no such complete study of the subject has previously been published. The Editor may be permitted to add two specimens of the numerous comments that have appeared.
    The Canada Presbyterian says:- "THE BRITISH WEEKLY has just concluded one series of exceptionally able articles on ‘ Tempted London.' Hitherto these have been confined exclusively to the temptations that peculiarly beset young men in the great metropolis, and what efforts the Churches and Christian organizations generally are making to shield and rescue the tempted. This series is to be followed by another relating to the trials and temptations of young women. Sad as is the appalling array of facts marshalled throughout the entire series, the work has been done in a most satisfactory manner. The articles have been written in a proper and common-sense spirit. Nothing has been taken for granted . Hearsay and imaginary conditions have been carefully and rigorously avoided. There has been no exaggeration. no sensational parade of the evils disclosed, nothing to shock the most fastidious or in the least degree to palliate [-vii-] evil or make it attractive. Whatever evil has been depicted has appeared in its true colours as evil only, and that continually, The worst has not been dragged into the light of day, but sufficient illumination has been cast upon it to enable every reader to know that it exists as a terrible reality.”
    The City of London Association News says:- "“For many weeks past articles on the above subject have been appearing in the enterprising and ably edited BRITISH WEEKLY. The section specially dealing with young men has now been completed. The work has been executed with care and thoroughness, and for the first time a complete record exists of the numerous temptations which surround the young men of this great city. For many years to come these articles will doubtless be the text-book on the dangers of London life, as far as they affect young men.”





THE subject we have selected for investigation is one of universal interest. There is hardly a household in the land that is not more or less concerned with it. There is no parish, however remote or obscure, from the Hebrides to Cornwall, from which young men do not find their way to London. There is, perhaps, none who has not a relative or friend who has made his journey to the great city and fought his battle there ; and it may be said that millions have had their lives darkened by the defeat and ruin of someone they have loved in that centre of temptation. So, too, even at this moment many are spending anxious days and nights in thinking how their dear ones who have gone out from the sheltered home are faring face to face with wickedness in its most seductive forms.
    The servants of Christ in all the churches are [-2-] deeply concerned. There is no little congregation that has not sent up members of its Bible-class to seek their fortune in the city ; and these are often most in danger. According to the minister in London who knows most of city young men, it is usually “the most amiable, warm-hearted fellows that are most easily ensared." In this question, too, the nation is greatly concerned, for upon the fate of the young men of London depends, to a very large extent, the future of our country. The prizes of London are very difficult to earn, and they are becoming more difficult every day. Of the multitudes who set out full of buoyant hope and ambition, and even high-toned resolves, many are disappointed. They look upon London as a prospective earthly paradise, free from all restraint, and offering every conceivable satisfaction, The would-be Whittingtons must have Whittington virtues, or the prospect may resolve itself into a hard and woeful experience. Into the actual prospects of young men we shall enter into detail afterwards. Meanwhi1e, let it suffice to say that they under-estimate the difficulties because they will not examine the details, and they over-estimate their own capabilities because they persist in an outlook- through the romantic colouring of their own imagination. The position the average young man will have to fill is not at all romantic. He may be successful; he may rise to high position and influence, as many have risen and are rising; but it will not be without a rigorous perseverance, a stern self-denial, and through a vast amount of labour, extended, perhaps, over many years. On the other hand, he may fall at once ; he may rise and fall again ; or he [-3-] may sink from prosperity to misery by degrees, and join the ranks of the vast lawless crowd of Darker London. Whether successful or not, he will have to face enormous difficulties, endure many privations, and be brought face to face with temptation on every side. But in spite of all these considerations, the mighty magnet exerts its mysterious fascination, and the number of young men and women who come to London every year is steadily on the increase.
    Not only is the subject deserving of consideration, by reason of its absorbing interest and importance, but also because so little is known in this connection. To the general public absolutely nothing is known of the life of young men and young women who make up Tempted London. The young people themselves are very isolated; they are also very reticent. As a rule, they do not know much of one another. Indeed, in many, if not in all, houses it is etiquette that one employé should not know the salary of another. Between the religious and the irreligious, the virtuous and the “fast,” there is a great gulf fixed, and the one class can tell very little of the real life of the other. Ministers and
associations have only a very limited hold of these young men, and also a very limited knowledge. Those who come up decided Christians generally connect themselves at once with churches, and in many cases with Young Men’s Christian Associations; but the vast majority do neither. To achieve any permanent good there must be in large business establishments a corporate spiritual life. As in a family, religion has little chance of flourishing unless [-4-] one of the family be religious, although next door there may be a most energetic church or chapel, so
when there is no high moral life inside a warehouse it is useless to expect much good from outside agencies. The secretary of one of the largest Christian Associations has said that "unless a young man coming to London joins us at once, he is not likely to do so until he has passed through the bitterness of having to eat the fruit of his own wrong-doing; and until he has for himself discovered the hollowness and unsatisfactory nature of that way of living, he will be impervious to better teaching.”
    It is difficult, if not impossible to obtain full information from ministers or other Christian workers, for the simple reason that they do not possess it; nor is it easy to get information from the young men themselves. Largely isolated from society and thrown in on themselves, they shrink from confiding to strangers; they have no father-confessors. It does not appear that any one has yet thought of establishing a censorship in any large house. There does not seem to be a single instance where any one is found to supervise the moral life of the establishment to act as guide, philosopher, and friend to the youth of the house. There is no one to whom a lad wrestling with the first throes of temptation can go for counsel or help, no one to whom a young man in trouble, doubt, or difficulty can make a clean breast of it, and obtain guidance and comfort. Boys and young men alike, so long as they keep out of scrapes, can do as they please, go where they please, and will be asked no questions. The competition in business and the knowledge that if a man loses [-5-] his position there are hundreds ready to grasp at it at once, are sufficient to ensure outward decorum and observance of rule in most houses, and there is really little or no trouble in maintaining the necessary discipline. The large houses in which young men reside practically serve them as clubs. A young man has his reading-room, smoking-room, and other conveniences at his own place of business. He has his cricket, rowing, or football club there
too, and therefore does not go outside for relaxation or companionship. Thus he necessarily keeps much to himself. To add to these  difficulties, the subject has never before been taken in hand in a serious manner. Attempts have indeed been made, but abandoned. There are no statistics of any kind upon which reliance can be placed.
    In the present work, therefore, the information has been collected by commissioner conversant with city life, who have thoroughly investigated the subject ; and it is hoped that the mass of facts in the following pages will be found as useful as they are certainly accurate.
    The plan that has been adopted is to follow the career of a hypothetical young man who comes to London for the first time ; to describe his surroundings, his lodgings, his business life; to explain his ways, his prospects; in a word, to depict as far as possible his life in London. Then follows in strict sequence a consideration of his temptations, ranging under these formal heads — Drink, Betting and Gambling, and Impurity. Of course there are other temptations than these, the minor temptations to [-6-] which all are alike exposed ; but our subject deals rather with the peculiar temptations of young men in the position indicated. Commencing with the evil of drink, which lies at the foundation of almost
every crime, we shall pass on to the fruitful theme of betting and gambling. The enormous proportions to which this evil has grown are now beginning to be realized by the public ; but as yet it may be said that the churches and the instructors of youth are entirely ignorant of its real nature and the way in which it gradually creeps on, of the extent to which it fills the life of those who engage in it, and of the results to which it leads. Perhaps there are not a hundred pulpits in the land from which has been denounced the canker which threatens to eat out the very heart of the nation, and which affects all classes, from the highest to the lowest. As these papers will be strictly free from everything prurient and indecent, it is obvious that the evil of impurity must be touched upon in a guarded manner. At the same time, there are many facts which ought to be known to all, young as well as old, and which it will be necessary to state. We shall refer particularly to the whole subject of "pleasure" — the real nature of theatres, music-halls, dancing-saloons, and the rest. In various ways the Christian Church has been lately roused to the importance at this subject ; but it is not too much to say that no full and reliable materials for judgment and warning exist.
    There is no train from the provinces that enters London but shoots a number of young men into the metropolis. Day by day, week by week, and month [-7-] by month the stream flows on, filling ever and refilling the great tide of the unemployed. Quite recently a London lawyer advertised for a clerk at a salary of £70 a year. He got some thirteen hundred answers, of which over a thousand came from the country. The number of young men employed in and about the city was estimated by the late Samuel Morley as amounting to some two hundred and fifty thousand. Good judges now estimate it as about three hundred thousand. According to the best information in the city of London, there  are, annually, twelve thousand young men who fall. Often the fall is but a momentary aberration, but it is sufficient to exclude from employment, and often-times from recovery.
    The change from a small country town to London is enormous; it is like going out of the calm twilight into a blinding blaze of gas. A young man, though, now approaching his twentieth year, has lived hitherto an uneventful life. Perhaps up to the day when he departs for the metropolis he has not been a fortnight away from home. Home influence, the greatest of all educating powers, has kept him in check, and made a healthy-minded lad of him. His severest dissipation has been a visit to some neighbouring town to play a cricket-match, and he has grown up under the eyes of a minister, between whom and himself there is mutual regard. His weaknesses are merely weaknesses, as yet nothing more, though capable of shooting up into vices. "All wickedness," Milton says, "is weakness;" and it is as true that all weakness is potential wickedness. The young man has not reached the stage of [-8-] despising his parents, and there is a lump in his throat as he bids them “Good-bye.” But youth is sanguine. He spends the first half-hour of his journey making brave promises to himself, and for the remainder of the time he looks out at the window.
    He has never been in London before, and among all this seething mass of humanity he does not know where to look for a familiar face. There are old school friends of his here, but we know that life begins over again when we leave school. He may meet half a dozen persons whom he knows within an hour of his arrival, or he may not meet one for a dozen years. He is full of vague anticipation at first, but the prosaic business of engaging lodgings, and the prosaic life in those lodgings, soon sobers him down.
    In the city of London the price of ground is so enormous that it is impossible to have business premises sufficiently large for clerks to reside in them, and, as a matter of fact, the large majority of young men live in lodgings. Our new arrival must therefore look out some lodgings. With all his worldy possessions on the top of his four-wheeler, he rumbles through miles of thoroughfare until he reaches the apartments. They are in a street where every other window exposes a card with “Apartments,” showing through layers of dirt. Even when the house is full this card is not taken down, for lodgers come and go in London as they do not elsewhere, and there is generally some destitute man or woman on the third floor without money to pay the rent. The young man tries several houses, and [-9-] finds each one duller and less home-like than the former. He can only afford to take one room, which must serve as bed and sitting-room combined. A house repeats its tenant. Know the one, and you can conjure up the other.
    In these streets of London lodging-landladies are very like each other. All their lives are engaged in a conflict with Want. They may prevent his getting across the threshold, but he is always knocking at the door. This makes them in many cases mean, avaricious, grasping. In smaller towns the landlady takes a healthy interest in her lodgers. In the poorer class of lodging-houses in London it is a fact that she frequently never learns their names. Call on them. Ask for Mr. Brown, and note what follows. A slovenly "slavey," from whose life all the beauty of existence has long been driven, appears at the door with a sooty face, and a bucket of slops in her hand. The name of Brown suggests no one
to her. In a shrill voice she demands of some invisible person in the back regions whether there is a Brown in the house. “Try the second floor back,” suggests another harsh voice. Yet Brown has been there for months.
    Herein, too, is exemplified the “comforts” of lodgings. At three houses where inquiries were made, in the Islington district, the young men were expected to absent themselves on Sundays, a reasonable time being allowed for dinner if he desired to share the meal with the family. The same price (1s. 6d) was charged at each, though in two of them he was to take his mid-day meal alone. In many others a very strong objection was made to his occupying the [-10-] room during the whole of the evenings of the week. One landlady suggested that he “ought to go to a public-house if he wanted to pass his time away, like other young people.” The landladies prefer their lodgers to spend their evenings out of doors, where they require no attention, and do what damage is done to other people’s furniture. Many little tiresome annoyances are repeated for this object, and generally end in forcing young men into public-houses although they had no previous inclination. 
    Here is a true sketch of one lodging-house. Flats are unknown in the part of the world where it stands, and it is a large house of four floors. On the ground floor is the dining-room, with a bedroom opening  off it. A music-master has these rooms, and his cracked piano jingles all day. On the first floor is the drawing-room, which is occupied by two ladies, occupation at present unknown. The stair to the first floor is carpeted, and comparatively well lit. On the next stair—in the ascent of which it is well to grip the banisters—there is a piece of ragged carpet here and there, Beyond that all is plain wood, which, however, is hidden from you unless you carry a candle. At the top of this stair the new lodger has his room. It looks out on chimney-tops, which is not a disadvantage in this street, where for a view you have to choose between the dingy houses opposite and a lumpy plain of roofs. The room is of fair size, with a bed on one side, and a dilapidated couch on the other. The occupant will have to use the bed as a sofa, for the couch gives way if it leaves the wall. There is a washstand, flanked by two chairs; an aged easy-chair, which rocks uncomfort-[-11-]ably, owing to a castor being gone; and two decaying tables. Nelson is dying at Trafalgar, on the wall, in a flashy frame. The ceiling is very low, as in neatly all London houses when you come higher than the second floor. There is no gas. The higher class of young city men may be found in the Camberwell and Brixton neighborhoods. In a street turning off the Clapham Road there are four houses taken by a speculative apartment-letter.  Ladies take a house in these neighbourhoods, and so contrive matters that they not only pay the rent of the whole house out of the apartments let, but keep themselves and their families in a moderate state of respectability besides. The whole board, lodging, and laundry work is undertaken at a fixed charge, with the distinction of a late dinner in the better houses. The cost of the whole is from 18s, to 30s. a week, with a few extras which have to be arranged for afterwards. But although these lodgings are cleaner and more comfortable, the position of a young man in them, with the necessity of keeping up a corresponding appearance, is worse than in a by-street elsewhere. He is also much more exposed to temptation. In that very neighbourhood there are houses to which we shall call attention later, where, with the most devilish ingenuity, provision is made for the ruining of young men and young women under the most respectable external appearances. The keepers of these places have clients in many business houses, and others paid to tempt and introduce, at their convenience, young men engaged in the city. 
    Happily, there are exceptions to this gloomy [-12-] picture. Apartments are certainly to be had in London where Christian benevolence induces to treatment marked by kindness and real consideration. In particular, the Church of England Young Men's Society, at the Leopold Rooms, 3, St. Bride Street, provides a first-class residential club for young men. The annual subscription is 10s. 6d., and the advantage of this and other institutions of a similar character cannot be over-estimated. In addition to reading-rooms, concert-rooms, and a gymnasium, there is a floor divided into a number of bedrooms —small, indeed, but each a distinct room and sufficiently large. Each is furnished with an iron bedstead, a chest of drawers, washstand and chair, while the occupant is allowed to adorn his room according to his own tastes. There is a bath-room close at hand, where cold baths may be enjoyed gratis, though a charge is made for hot baths. The weekly rent of each room is 7s., and this includes the washing of the linen. For about a guinea a week a young man may board and lodge himself in the Leopold Rooms as comfortably as any sensible and healthily organized youth need desire. But the drawback is that the rooms are too few, and the greater number of the applicants are of necessity denied admittance. But there is here on a small scale what might be effected on a larger scale all
over London. We must not forget to add that lists of recommended apartments are kept by the Young Men’s Christian Associations, and that there is little doubt that care is exercised in the selection of such houses. The number, however, is small. Most young men, too, object to the kind of restraint they [-13-] imagine is involved in such an arrangement, and the system of boarding with families is to the English mind objectionable. Young men prefer their own lodgings and a latch-key, even though the material comfort of this system be less than in the boarding-houses.
    The onset of temptation is often immediate, as will hereafter be seen. The moment the youth arrives in London chance nudges him with its elbow, and many go down at the very first, yielding to sins which avenge themselves with fatal precision. But we have said enough to indicate two at least of the great dangers of London. The first is the loneliness and monotony of life, which drives young men out of doors to seek excitement; the next is the want of home restraints and the force of environment. Where a man is unknown, and where all his life he can only be known to a few, the restraints which, even in large provincial cities, have very great strength altogether vanish away.
    Even when temptation does not come immediately, there is a thrilling sense in the mind of the youth that it is in the air if he but choose to utilize it. London, to one who does not look for vice, is outwardly one of the quietest and most decent places  in the world, and many of the institutions which, even a few years ago, were the notorious resorts of the vicious seem to have vanished. All the same, they exist. No one has seized this aspect of London with such force as Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson. Nothing could be less romantic than a square in Bloomsbury or a by-street leading off the Strand yet this plain, dingy house, dark below and lighted [-14-] above, is the most notorious gambling-hell in London —a place the full history of which it would be impossible for any journal to print. That quiet house in yonder sober square, which looks like the residence of peaceful respectability, is inhabited by a knot of people whose orgies may match anything to be witnessed in the worst dens of Paris. This other quiet-looking residence is a great factory for the secret manufacture of impure literature. It takes some trouble to get the pass-keys but once the inner region is entered its secrets are not hard to find.
    Two remarks may be added by way of reassurance. In the first place, it is certain that hosts of young men pass through this ordeal triumphantly, not only resisting the evil, but hardly knowing of its existence. In the very midst of the furnace of temptation there are many as unhurt as the three children in the flames.
    Next, everything depends upon the training, and principles the young man brings up with him. It was remarked recently, by one with a very large experience of London life, that it is a great mistake to suppose that young men, as a rule, come up innocent from hamlets and country towns to be led away by the vices and temptations of London. They have been vicious before they come there, and the opinion of this gentleman is that, as a rule, London-born young men are at least as free from evil as those who come up from the country to London. If parents could bring tip their sons total abstainers, and if the young men vigorously adhered to the pledge, there would be, comparatively speaking, little danger. But the true preservative is [-15-] conversion to God. Young men with real religion in their hearts will not go wrong. In the course of these investigations how often we have recalled the good old hymn —
    “‘Twill save us from a thousand snares
    To mind religion young!”