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Full text of "Across the bridges : or, Life by the South London river-side"

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Across the bridges 



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Cornell University 
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ACROSS THE BRIDGES 



ACROSS THE BRIDGES 



OR 



LIFE BY THE SOUTH LONDON 
RIVER-SIDE 



BY 

ALEXANDER PATERSON 



WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY THE 

RIGHT REV. E. S. TALBOT, D.D. 

lord bishop of soutkwark 
(bishop designate of Winchester) 



LONDON 
EDWARD ARNOLD 

1911 

[All rights reserved] 



TO 

MY MOTHER, 

A GUARDIAN OF THE POOR 



INTRODUCTION 

By the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of 
southwark 

Few, if any, who begin this book will wish to put 
it down. There is no interest like the interest of 
human life, and of that the book is full. It is 
human life in a form remote from the experience 
of most readers, yet near to them both locally and 
by moral claim. Its features are seen at first hand 
by an observer with a quick eye, a steady judgment, 
and more than a grain of humour. It is sketched 
with a ready pen, in terse English, with touches of 
finish in detail, and of colour in lively illustration. 
Here is the material out of which romances of street 
and slum life might be made, but it is served up to 
us without the flavourings and combinations which 
romances need, but which spoil them as documents 
of life. 

I am allowed, as they say in the theatres, to 
' present ' this piece and to introduce the author. 

vii 



viii INTRODUCTION 

To many who know the men by whom the best 
work in London is done he needs no introduction, 
but others should be told by someone who knows 
his gifts and honours his manhood and character, 
how he has gained what he here gives. He has spent 
years of work in their clubs upon the boys of one 
of the most crowded and difficult regions of South 
London. He has worked as an assistant teacher 
(being himself a University graduate) in ah Ele- 
mentary Council School in order to see from within 
the working upon the boys of the mental and moral 
influences of the school ; in summer camps he has 
shared and disciplined their play ; through their 
lives he has passed into the heart of the families 
from which they come ; and, as a tenement-dweller 
himself, he has come into daily and hourly contact 
with all the ways of that life. 

I am sanguine that in this brief description of 
book and author I have said enough to induce many 
to taste what Mr. Paterson offers them ; and if so, 
their appetite will grow for what he has to say. 
That in itself will be great gain. There is no 
lack of S37mpathy in English hearts ; there is a great 
lack of mutual knowledge in different classes. The 
increase of such knowledge is among the very first 
of our national needs. For many these pages may 
do something in this way, but for some — and I 



INTRODUCTION ix 

would fain hope not a few — they will do more. 
For they come out of the heart of one of those efforts 
by which of late years men of our Universities and 
schools have sought to come personally into touch 
with the lives of the workers, the hard-pressed, and 
the unemployable. " Across the Bridges," as Mr. 
Paterson says, " there is a great need." I hope and 
think that he will lead more of our young men and 
women, before life's ties, professional and domestic, 
compass them about, to see for themselves, as 
dwellers for a while among the poor streets, " how 
the poor live." They will learn thereby much that 
' gives furiously to think.' They will do not a 
little good. But perhaps the best gain will be an 
enlargement of their own equipment for citizenship, 
such as comes from an increase of reverence for, 
and sympathy with, the struggling and suffering 
lives^of their fellow-citizens, and from understanding 
what the problems are — deeper and greater than 
many political issues — ^which those lives create for 
the conscience and energies of the nation. 



EDW. SOUTHWARK. 



Bishop's House, 

Kennington, S.E. 

March 9, 191 1. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER I 
STREETS AND HOMES 

PAGES 

South London — Untidiness of streets — Their mono- 
tony — Lack of local pride — Smells and dirt — 
Model buildings — Staircases — Rooms — Furniture 
— Messiness — Pessimism of builders — Bathrooms 
and Coal-holes — Ordinary houses - - 1-20 

CHAPTER II 

FAMILY LIFE 

EngUsh traditions — Parental authority — Separation 
of brothers and sisters — Ignorance of each other — 
Occasions of famiP|r reunion — Position of mother — 
Her troubles and deterioration — Her sense of 
responsibility — She is centre of the home — The 
spender of wages — The constant factor — Her 
goodness- - - - - 21-34 

CHAPTER III 

CUSTOMS AND HABITS 

Food — Bought in small quantities — Ordinary diet — 
Clothes, cheap and gaudy — Too many of them — 
Improvidence — ^The pawnbroker — Cheap pleasures 
— The country — Letters — Luxurious habits — 
Neighbours — Blindness to the future — Love of the 
visible - .... 35-48 

xi 



xii CONTENTS 

CHAPTER IV 

BIRTH AND INFANCY 

PAGES 

Before confinement — The time of birth — Infant mor- 
taUty — Weakness of the survivors — Days of in- 
fancy — Young nurses — Godparents — The mother's 
influence — Food, clothes, and occupations — The 
opportunity of visitors - - - - 49-60 

CHAPTER V 

EDUCATION AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 

The school's chance — The ideal of the syllabus — A race 
of clerks — Difference of capacity — Leaving age — 
The good teacher — Learning too easy — Private 
reading — Size of classes — Teachiilg of Scripture 61-81 

CHAPTER VI 

SCHOOL INFLUENCES 

The teacher and the master — Ideal of the teacher — 
Lives too far away — Disciphnc;— Separation from 
pubUc schools — School pride — A prize-giving — 
Teaching of games — Healthy influences—Cleans- 
ing — Swimming — Drill ... 82-103 

CHAPTER VII 

CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 

Working in spare hours — Diary of a boy — A crowded 
Ufa — Relation of home and school, parent and 
teacher — School dinners — Hohdays — Sunday- 
school treats — The country holiday - - 104-117 

CHAPTER VIII 

THE BOY AT WORK 

Transformation of boy to man — Choice of life 

Labour exchanges — New privileges — Out of work 



CONTENTS xiii 

PAGBS 

— ^Nature of work — ^Hours — Responsibility of 
employer — Interest in work — Result of work — 
Reaction - . . . 1 18-138 

CHAPTER IX 

SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 

Reaction — ^Friends — ^Talk and smoke — Girls — Music- 
hall — Concerts — Boys' clubs — Their common spirit 
— Discipline — The club-manager — Athletics — 
Education — Evening schools — Territorials - 139-166 

CHAPTER X 

A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION 

Up and down — ^His temptations — Gambling and im- 
morality — Other standards — What he thinks of re- 
ligion — ^Acute separation of good and bad — Dangers 
in the presentation of reUgion — Easier in a club — 
Camp — ^The idea of service — Personal religion — 
The only power - . - . 167-182 

CHAPTER XI 

YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 

Elements of crime : the desire, the opportunity, and 
the lack of restraint — Treatment of youthful 
offenders — Distractions and discipUne — Remand 
homes — Children's courts — Reformatory and in- 
dustrial schools — System of probation — Borstal 
treatment ----- 183-196 

CHAPTER XII 

MARRIAGE 

Reasons for marriage — The usual age — The ceremony — 
The first year — The increase and decline in pros- 
perity — ^Man and wife — Quarrels — Separation — 
Views of marriage - . . - 197-204 



xiv CONTENTS 

CHAPTER XIII 

THE WORKING MAN 

PAGES 

Sluggish life — Content — Small grievances — At work — 
At home — At the public-house — Politics — Amuse- 
ments— The "Beno"— Sad ending to boyhood 205-221 

CHAPTER XIV 

FAILURES 

Description of common lodg^ing-house — The fire — The 
characters there — Internal government — The 
" guv'nor " — The " deputy " — The common 
opinion — External government — the L.C.C. — The 
Poor Law — ^The distress committee — The police 

222-239 

CHAPTER XV 

FAILURES (continued) 

Work — River-side labour — Hawking — Snow-brushing 
— Attitude to work — Capacity to work, physical 
and moral — Religious instincts — ^Moral code — The 
duty of the Church — ^The end of the failure 240-254 

CHAPTER XVI 

CONCLUSION 

Summary of chapters — Waste of strength — Of brain — 
Of character — Ties which bind all EngUshmen 
together — Sense of responsibility — ^Determination 
to help — Knowledge and sympathy a necessity — 
Mixing of classes and mutual understanding the 
only path to reform — Happiness to be found across 
the bridges ----- 255-273 



ACROSS THE BRIDGES 



CHAPTER I 

STREETS AND HOMES 

It is said by the man who goes down the Strand 
that across the bridges of the Thames there Ues a 
quarter of London where it is not possible to find 
a good tailor or a big hotel. Yet in this seeming 
desert, which stretches for eight miles along the 
banks of the river, live all but two millions of 
mothers and fathers and children. Their life is full 
of incident, yet not adventurous. Goodness abounds, 
but there is little greatness. Few memorable build- 
ings exist on the south bank to attract sightseers 
from the country or the colonies. Few streets seem 
suited for a royal procession. Even the best 
features have the sombreness of the second-rate. 
The part that lies closest to the river is far poorer 
than the rest. On these streets poverty has set a 
seal, and its many problems have sunk their tangled 
roots deep into the life of the people. It is of the 
hopes and troubles that come to those who live 
here that these pages would speak. They will be 



2 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

content to trace the life of the average man by the 
river-side, to show his worth and possibilities, and 
will fall far short of suggesting the remedies which 
might transform his character and chances. 

The scene might well open on a Saturday night, 
when the streets will seem full of every happiness 
that is known to tired people in their leisure hours. 
Every road and every public-house and shop is full 
of busy people. Gramophones and costermongers 
fill the air with noise. There is much to buy and see 
and talk about. A score of different pleasures, that 
may be obtained for twopence, assail the passer-by. 
Bedtime can well be postponed on such a night as 
this, and it is indeed late before the streets grow 
empty. 

Sunday morning sees a strange transformation. 
The roads are deserted, save for the few who hurry 
to church, or the boys who poke Sunday newspapers 
under the doors, or hang up milk-cans on the nails 
so thoughtfully fixed in the wall of the few houses 
that can afford the luxury. All the world is asleep, 
for pleasure tires as much as work, and, after all, 
" there's nothing to be done on Simday morning." 
The only cry in the street is that of the milkman 
or some hoarse veteran selling old issues of the 
comic papers at twelve for a penny. 

It is on such a morning that the street is at its 
worst. Saturday night's marketing has left many 
traces. Where stalls have filled a third of the road- 



STREETS AND HOMES 3 

way, the pavements are full of despised fragments. 
Half-sheets of pink evening papers, bought so 
lightly and read so laboriously, and in the end 
serving to hold a pennyworth of fried fish and chip 
potatoes, are hurried along the gutter by some early 
breeze. Here, too, lie outer leaves of vegetables, 
and the bones of some fish that was eaten by a 
lad sauntering home just before midnight. Empty 
cigarette packets and the red matches that are very 
cheap and almost as uncertain as the French ones, 
are signs that Saturday was pay-day. In other 
streets, where stalls have never established a pre- 
scriptive right, the litter still prevails. Bits of 
clothing that once were rags, but now have passed 
that stage, boots that will no longer hold a foot 
even with the help of string, lie about the roadway. 
They have been dropped or thrown there a little 
thoughtlessly, for each house has a large tin dust- 
bin where these grim relics of poverty may be hidden. 
Sometimes a fight may explain the old black bonnet, 
with greasy velvet and only one string, or it may 
be the ecstasy of abandonment which bewitches a 
drunken woman. Throughout Sunday, and perhaps 
for longer, the streets are in this disorder, reminding 
the observer how sadly the smaller virtues of tidi- 
ness and order are forgotten in the course of a hard 
life, and how little pride is felt for a mean street 
by those who live in it. 
In the suburbs the very absurdity of the names 



4 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

given to the roads and houses proclaims the pride 
of the householder. The man from villadom is 
proud of his school, which has turned out two 
Members of Parliament and half a dozen councillors ; 
proud of his firm, which " does a bigger trade in 
French rabbit-skins than any other firm in the 
market "; proud of his friends ; proud of his flowers, 
his garden-roller, and that quiet terrace of houses 
of which he rents but a fortieth part. He will not 
allow fish-bones or bonnet-strings to lie ten yards 
from the gate, of Laburnum Villa. But in the 
river-side streets pride finds little place. Neither 
the name nor the condition of the street would 
suggest that anyone living there cared for this row 
of houses more than for any other. Thus the vicious 
circle of cause and effect is completed ; for it is 
because pride has had a fall and died away that the 
places where men live have grown ugly and squalid, 
till now there is little or nothing to be proud of, 
and none can justly blame the indifference of the 
householder. The growth of local government is 
undoubtedly producing a slow, corporate self-con- 
sciousness, which is often betrayed into unwise and 
inartistic extravagances, but will lead ultimately to 
better things. In the meanwhile the extent of 
the reforms accomplished is a little deceptive. The 
main streets, where comparatively few people live, 
are often paved with wood, and cleansed more 
regularly, though the untidy Sunday will be long 



STREETS AND HOMES 5 

endured and with great difficulty overcome. The 
side - streets, with their long rows of four or six 
roomed houses, each holding some fifteen to twenty 
people, the courts and alleys and squares, are 
allowed to keep their dust and rubbish lying out- 
side for days and days together. It may rot and 
smell, or flutter and roll about, but the public eye 
is not so generally offended. It is still the outside 
which is first to be cleansed. 

The small street, already noisy enough by very 
reason of its narrowness, must still retain the 
cobbles and setts of last century, while the macadam 
and wood is saved to please the ears of a wider and 
more powerful public. Once things are dirty, or 
noisy, or untidy, or unattractive, everything con- 
spires to increase the failing and weaken the powers 
of natural resistance. 

Apart from dust and rubbish, the streets lack 
beauty or shape. They are long, but not wide 
enough to be impressive ; and where the monotony 
is broken for the purposes of advertisement, it 
might with advantage have been preserved. Occa- 
sionally an old churchyard, now administered by 
the local authority, offers a sight of green trees and 
tulips. Here are aged folk on iron seats, securely 
guarded by uniformed attendants and notice- 
boards, for fear they may snatch wildly at a crocus, 
or roll on the grass for very joy at having reached 
the pensionable age. An open space, just large 



6 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

enough to surround a bandstand, where there is 
music once or twice a week, will break the line. 

One of these was espied by a small girl from a 
tramcar. "What is that? Look, daddy!" she 
asked, and pulled the good man's sleeve just as he 
was lighting his pipe. The man looked, and then 
lit his pipe, looked again, and said, with the pride 
of a ratepayer : 

" That is a recreation-ground." 

" What is that ?" still pursued the girl. 

" A place where you play games, in the manner 
of speaking. That's what a recreation-ground is, as 
you might say." 

The tram still stood stationary opposite the empty 
bandstand and its ring of forms and chairs, and the 
girl was looking hard, and her mind busy making 
pictures. 

" What sorts of games do you play there ?" was 
the final thrust. 

The man looked once again, took his evening 
paper from his pocket, spat over the side of the 
tram, and settled down to read. This is a question 
which all men are asking the lords of the earth. 
Some day an answer must be given. 

Apart from these rather limited delights, the 
streets can offer little recreation. The advertise- 
ment hoardings provide every colour and pictorial 
device that can arrest and stagger the ordinary eye. 
For the most part, they refer to the melodrama 



STREETS AND HOMES 7 

of the music-halls, and depict the villainous villain, 
the heroic hero, and sometimes, as a contrast to 
both, a parson in full robes, with a broad, impassive 
face. The local drama for ever clings to tragedy, 
and it is left for the purveyors of soap or milk or 
chocolate to exploit the art of comedy. On the one 
hand, there is a tendency, as the public eye grows 
glutted with horror and sensation, to grow more and 
more melodramatic ; while, on the other, the higher 
class of advertisement is every year becoming more 
genuinely artistic and educative. But in any case 
the poster is only an ephemeral joy to the man in 
the street. A rainy afternoon and a windy night 
leave them all in a sorry state, and forces the sensi- 
tive man to conclude that they are inevitably a 
disfigurement to the public street, and that a 
judicious attempt to suppress the less necessary 
ones by taxation and licence would be of advantage 
both to the revenue and the happiness of the State. 
The eye of the loafer in the street does not travel 
far before it is dazzled by a public-house. This and 
the school are the most frequent landmarks in 
the landscape, and their prominence suggests a 
strange contrast of dour solidity and garish fascina- 
tion. In the evening the lights of the public-house 
are the brightest in the street, and even in the day 
there is no brass so polished and no windows so 
well rubbed as those of even the smallest beer- 
house. On a Saturday night in the summer there 



8 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

are flowers on the counter ; in the winter, holly or 
paper decorations hang from the ceiling of the bar. 
There are many of these bright oases, so few counter- 
suggestions ; and in idle moments men are very 
moth-like. 

The shops are for the most part of unprosperous 
and desultory appearance. The small ones, which 
sell sweets, cigarettes, mineral waters, and the 
cheaper papers, are all very much alike. Outside 
they are fortified by the new bills of the halfpenny 
papers, sometimes a day and a half old, and an 
advertisement of " ice-cream soda " — a mixture of 
three ingredients which were meant to live alone. 
The windows are rarely clean, and the goods they 
expose to view are arrayed as they have been for 
the last six months. Shops of this kind are con- 
stantly changing hands, for as a rule the profits 
are not sufficient to pay the rent of the room they 
occupy. The bigger provision shops are less dismal 
in appearance, and certainly more prosperous, but 
over them too has crept the blight of disorder and 
weariness. The goods in the window are specked 
with dirt, the cards which tell their prices stained 
and dog-eared. 

Hurry and poverty, and the acute geographical 
separation of rich and poor, have dragged down 
the ideals of a London street, robbing it of charm 
and colour and all those odd formations by which 
Englishmen are wont to remember their native town. 



STREETS AND HOMES 9 

All those who have taste and delicacy of perception 
in these things have long ago fled to the West, or 
the North, or the South, leaving behind them men 
whose eyes are dimmed by the struggle of life, and 
whose fibres are so toughened that they have for- 
gotten to know and love the beautiful, and cannot 
be asked to recreate it, for they have lost the 
appetite. In the day when the absentee landlords 
of the river-side (many of whom live as far away as 
Eaton Square) come again to visit the streets in 
which their ancestors were content to dwell, build- 
ing solid houses beside their offices, they will put 
all this right. Instructions given to agents will 
be revised ; houses will be colour-washed, and that 
frequently ; the ugly will slowly give place to some- 
thing that has character and shapeliness, and 
windows will not always be monotonously square. 
Till then the prospect — morning, afternoon, and 
evening — is in all seasons weary and worn out, and 
who shall say that in a measure this does not pitch 
the key in which men live ? 

It is difficult to think of a street and forget its 
smells. In the winter they are a mere undercurrent 
to the senses, but July and August and a warm 
September bring them into prominence. The 
smells of factories and warehouses may be healthy 
enough, and easily forgiven by the man who passes 
the gates with perhaps a slightly quickened step. 
But the lads inside the factory or hop-yard may well 



10 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

grow tired of the flavour. The food-smells, however, 
are still more pungent and more pervading. As 
soon as the policeman on his nightly beat has passed 
beyond the odour of one sizzling fried-fish shop, he 
will reach that of another ; while the jam-maker 
betrays his whereabouts to everyone within half a 
mile. The flavour of strawberry lives in every 
mouth through all July. It comes in through the 
window in the sultry night, fills the streets, and 
lurks in the very police-station. But the third 
smell is the hardiest sinner. The vapour of the 
slum is so indefinable as to be more of an atmosphere 
than a smell ; it is the constant reminder of poverty 
and grinding life, of shut windows and small in- 
adequate washing-basins, of last week's rain, of 
crowded homes and long working hours. Those 
who have never left their river-side homes do not 
know of it, but for the man fresh from Christ Church 
Meadow or the Radley Links it pours out from each 
open door and hangs about every staircase in the 
model dwellings. To such a man it is a veritable 
oppression in the summer, and can only be com- 
bated by roses from the country, which some 
rectory gardens never forget to send. 

This cheerful panorama must close with the soft, 
gentle shower of dirt, which falls, and creeps, and 
covers, and chokes. No man can cope with it. Here 
and there a gifted woman keeps pace with the tide, 
cleaning and cleaning with the same uncomplain- 



STREETS AND HOMES ii 

ing consistency that some men show in drinking 
beer. Such a home will be fresh and spotless, 
despite a window opened wide in defiance of Nature's 
operations. But most of the neighbours are con- 
tent with a lower standard, and seek to compensate 
for a coating of dirt by the short-lived smartness 
of their ornaments. The factory chimneys are 
strictly forbidden to smoke, and nearly all obey 
with a will. 

The worst offender is the sewage destructor of 
the Borough Council, which seems beyond the 
reach of by-laws. But dust and dirt accumulate 
despite restrictions, and with them comes a sticki- 
ness that creeps from the fingers up the arm, and 
puts washing on almost the same plane as smoking, 
as a soothing practice associated with home and 
repose. The more fastidious are often declared, 
when they visit their dirtless friends in the country, 
to be looking pale and tired. The fault lies with 
their love of soap. Constant washing in hot water 
destroys the complexion, and makes the clean look 
ill, while a less particular native appears to thrive. 

The street must be left now, unsightly and 
despondent, with its smells and dust. Yet on a 
Saturday night in the summer it will be full of 
life and change, with a kaleidoscope of light hearts 
and laughing faces passing up and down. 

Let a pause be made to look at the homes where 
children are born and become old and die. Along 



12 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

the south bank of the Thames philanthropy and 
business have tried to join hands in the erection of 
vast piles of block buildings, six stories high, with 
stone staircases and four tenements to every floor. 
But it is doubtful whether so far the ends of the 
business man and the housing reformer can be made 
to meet — a difficulty not unknown to the tenants 
of these buildings. The evening visitor will sigh 
many times before he reaches the fifth flight. He 
may have fallen over the cube^sugar box on the 
wheels of a bygone trolley which stands outside 
No. 131 and serves as a perambulator and a barrow. 
He will have guessed the menu of some fifteen 
dinners or teas, and wondered why philanthropists 
are so opposed to light. He will also wonder how 
infant legs can scramble up and down to their 
crowded home a dozen times a day, and whether 
infant hearts are not sometimes unduly strained. 
Having struck his head against the wall on the fifth 
landing, he will add insult to injury by striking a 
few matches on the wall to see the number on the 
door. Reassured, he will knock and wait in the 
gloom, shrinking into the corner to make way for 
a family bound for the world below. If he is an 
old inhabitant, he will know of a way through the 
door. A hand inserted through a slit would grasp 
a string attached to the latch on the inner side. 
A sharp tug, a shove, and the door is open before 
him. By this simple and trusting device the mother 



STREETS AND HOMES 13 

is able to go out shopping, and leave the rooms 
empty, and the children returning from school or 
work can unlock the door without a key. It is 
counted a safe practice, for only the members of 
the family are supposed to " know the ropes," but 
the method is so common that any denizen of the 
buildings could find his way into half the tenements 
as he passed up or down the stairs. The keys 
themselves, moreover, provide but a meagre safety, 
for they are of the simplest pattern, and made so 
much alike as to be in many cases interchangeable. 
But there is little or no danger of burglary, for when 
household goods are made neither of silver nor gold, 
but of sham mahogany and heavily painted china, 
there is no need to employ the genius of Chubb or Yale. 
Having gained entrance by one means or another, 
the visitor will be compelled to walk warily in order 
to avoid a perambulator or bicycle, or even a chest 
of drawers, and possibly all three. The air will be 
heavily laden with a suggestion of fish and bedding, 
and the windows will be found tightly shut and 
latched. One or two may be open for an inch or 
two, but blinds and curtains will prevent there 
being much danger of a draught. The rooms appear 
to be of a comfortable size, but overladen with 
fumituTC, bought largely on the hire system, and 
not always calculated to outlive the final payment. 
The springs of the armchair touch the ground ; it 
rocks imeasily in a diagonal fashion, for only two 



14 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

out of four castors survive, the others having been 
put away in a drawer, with a wonderful collection 
of other oddments, which no one has the heart to 
throw away. There may be a piano, two notes 
missing (probably also in the drawer, in the hope 
that " they may come in useful some day "), half 
a dozen others quite dumb, and the rest very yellow, 
but vibrating with life. To atone for these defects, 
its legs are very knobby, and the candles are green, 
with pink flowers creeping round them. This also 
was bought on the hire system, when it was by no 
means new, but already had a Pythagorean remem- 
brance of many different lives in the West and in 
the East. For pianos begin in the West of London, 
and in their declining days sink farther and farther 
East; while barrel-organs arise in the East, and 
travel with the sun to soothe the savage breasts 
in Kensington. 

The rooms abound with photographs and me- 
morials of each Bank Holiday ; the drawers are so 
full that something will be trapped or pushed back 
each time they are opened. Letters and concert 
programmes are rarely destroyed, but linger in un- 
expected places for years together. Clothes soon 
overflow the small accommodation that exists for 
them. Skirts and Sunday hats hang on the back 
of every door, or droop listlessly from the bedposts. 
Worse than all, clothes are often laid on the bed 
under the mattress, to be neatly pressed, for a whole 



STREETS AND HOMES 15 

week. On the table are the signs of a meal through- 
out the day, for the teacups and crumbs of breakfast 
linger till the midday dinner. There is no sharp 
distinction between what is and what is not a bed- 
room. Where homes are small and families are 
large, there must needs be a bed of some sort in 
every room. Nearer the suburbs may be found 
some parlours that have never known bedding, but 
by the river-side there is not space for such niceties. 
Of pictures there are not many, for a photograph 
of a wedding or of a party on the beach at Southend 
has more personal interest, and is more naturally 
bought. Such pictures as do hang on the walls are 
always old ones in stUl older frames. It is doubtful 
whether any new pictures are being bought. Cer- 
tainly few or none can be seen exposed for sale in 
the shops. The themes of such works of art are 
the old simple themes of love and war; the tone 
they strike is sentimental and tragic. A boy of 
comparatively advanced taste found himself once 
in the rooms of an Oxford undergraduate, and, 
while studying the walls, was asked which picture 
he preferred. He fixed without hesitation on some 
engraving (a possession of the landlady rather thari 
the undergraduate) where a small drummer-boy was 
dying against fearful odds. There is always this 
natural bias towards tragedy where culture has 
not made its way. The general impression con- 
veyed by such a room is one of crush and messiness. 



i6 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

caused by a shortage of cupboards and chests of 
drawers, and that curious aversion of the poorer 
man or woman, " tenacious of his little wealth," 
to clear out of his castle every month the things 
that are no longer needed. Yet on occasions when 
poverty presses ruthlessly upon a family, when no 
single member is earning a regular wage, the house 
will grow sadly empty of these prized possessions . One 
by one they will travel to the pawnshop in borrowed 
newspapers, till at last but a single bed and the stove 
of the gas company remain. Then is the room 
bitterly tidy, yet barely a home. 

The same philanthropists have provided in these 
compact little tenements no scullery to contain a 
copper for washing clothes, a coal-hole, or a sink. 
The four families must use in common the single 
tap and sink that are to be found at the back of 
each landing. 

Furthermore, their pessimism made them think 
the idea of a bathroom fantastic and absurd. They 
would have explained, with a show of foresight, 
that the poor did not care for washing overmuch, 
and would be likely to use the bath as a receptacle 
for anything else rather than water and themselves. 
Their judgment was for the moment sound. Twenty 
years ago it is true that a bath in each tenement 
would have served variously as a waste-paper 
basket, a wardrobe, a dustbin, and a sink, or even 
possibly a bed. In the same way it once happened 



STREETS AND HOMES x^ 

that for many years the Thames Embankment was 
not used as a public thoroughfare, its true purpose 
being so far forgotten that its very loneliness made 
it a danger rather than a convenience. 

This business-like pessimism was so starved of 
ideal and hope as to be without true foresight. 
For it is only the man who believes in his fellows 
that can hope to foretell the tendencies of the future. 
Ten years or more have passed since these ugly 
barracks were set up. The children at the elemen- 
tary schools have begun to go regularly to the 
municipal baths. They have learnt the comfort of 
a weekly plunge, and the glow of a clean warm 
body. Working boys have banded themselves into 
clubs for cricket and football, boxing and wrestling, 
and found that all these things lead to bathing, 
sponging, and towelling. Thus the demand has 
arisen, and there is no supply. Many a boy would 
welcome the daily bath, and would not allow any 
domestic requirements to interfere with his enjoy- 
ment. It is too late. The buildings are so planned, 
the system of pipes so arranged, as to render the 
insertion of a bath all but impossible, for the altera- 
tions can only be made at considerable expense. 
So another fifty or a hundred years must roll by 
and the aspirations after health, kindled with much 
effort and dif&culty, must be all but stifled, because 
our builders were not filled with the optimism that 
can afford to laugh at mere common sense. 

2 



i8 ACROSS TH£ bridges 

The same ignorance of how their neighbours live 
led the builders to provide a small coal-box for each 
tenement, in which only two hundredweight can be 
held at once. This compels each family in the hard 
days of winter to indulge yet more freely in their 
economic vice. They are always tempted to buy in 
small quantities, and so pay exorbitant prices. In 
the matter of coal there is, once again, no oppor- 
tunity for the growth of better principles. They 
are for ever forced to buy coal by the hundred- 
weight, and pay fourpence more for every sack. It 
is true that co-operation is a slow growth, and in its 
imperfect stages conceals many dangers. But the 
architect who provided for a common coal-cellar 
(which might be guarded and administered by the 
porter of the buildings), or a common bathroom 
at the foot of each staircase, would have been indeed 
a practical prophet, opening the door to cleaner and 
happier common life. The builder of the seaside 
hotel leaves room for the tide to rise; the railway 
engineer makes allowance for the expansion of his 
metals. In future the builder of men's dwellings 
will be wise to keep his eye on the potential habits 
of his neighbours, and not set an everlasting seal 
across the doors of human development. 

Such buildings, although gigantic in size and by 
no means rare in number, still only represent a 
proportion of the housing accommodation. The 
majority of families will in all probability always 



STREETS AND HOMES 19 

occupy the ordinary three-storied house. These 
vary infinitely in conditions of health and comfort, 
but very few are cleaner or better built than the 
block buildings described. They have many fail- 
ings which make them far less desirable. It is un- 
common for one family to use a whole house. They 
may pay rent for the three stories, but one floor at 
least will be sublet or let out to lodgers. In the 
streets nearer the river-side, and in the smaller courts 
off the main streets elsewhere, the buildings are in a 
state of extreme dilapidation. The doors are no 
longer secure ; the stair-rail is gone (having often 
been made to serve as firewood in the winter, when 
coals are one shilling and sixpence a hundredweight) . 
There are ugly circles in the ceiling where the plaster 
has fallen and exposed to view the broken rotting 
laths. The walls of each room are thick with an 
accumulation, of old papers that should long ago 
have been stripped, if only to destroy the swarms 
of vermin that thrive between each layer of flowers. 
The outer walls are stained with perpetual damp ; 
in the upper rooms there are signs of leakage through 
the roof ; the floors have rotted into holes, where 
dirty stagnant water soon collects. Homes such as 
these are nearly always overcrowded, but are rarely 
tenanted for long. There is a difiiculty about the 
rent, or the woman upstairs has a grievance against 
the second floor, and several private hints to offer 
with regard to behaviour. A quick move is made 



20 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

to rooms of a similar kind. Insanitation and epi- 
demic dangers are naturally enough part of the 
heavy rent that everyone must pay who live their 
years in places such as these. Stale air and damp 
breed weakness when they do not give rise to fever. 
The figures of typhus and diphtheria vary with the 
seasons, and are carefully recorded ; but who keeps 
account of rheumatics, and chronic colds, and re- 
curring sores ? 

Between these dim haunts and the best type of 
block buildings there is every grade of house and 
building. The worst are the crimes of the avaricious 
against the weak, and even in the best the builder's 
ignorance has starved the life that he was meant to 
brighten and sustain. 

The builder must needs know something of those 
for whom he builds ; the architect " designs " a 
house, not for his board of direction, who are not 
going to live there, but for a number of families 
who need a home. The diamond merchant does 
not ask a plumber, but a jeweller, to cast a setting 
for his stones ; the gardener will at any rate be 
consulted when his conservatories are built. A 
knowledge of poor men, a sympathy with their 
struggle and defeat, and a yearning that they may 
climb to better days — these are the foundations on 
which houses and block dwellings may best be 
built. 



CHAPTER II 

FAMILY LIFE 

It is customary to point to the ideal of a united 
and home-loving family as the deepest tradition of 
English life. The English dinner, with its complete 
circle — the father at the head, the mother at the 
foot of the table, and the youngest saying grace — 
is a picture frequently compared with the restaurant 
life of the Continent, or the greater independence 
of boys and girls in the United States. So strong is 
the belief in this family life as the key to true 
English happiness, so intense the desire to retain it 
throughout the land,, that it has become usual to 
test each social or economic reform that is advanced 
by calculating its effect upon this national charac- 
teristic. It is, therefore, perhaps well, on entering 
the homes of poorer neighbours, to see how far the 
old ideal still holds its ground. It is natural that 
the authority of the father should not be quite so 
strong as in those other families where he is the 
only bread-winner, and is the natural support of 
every other member. In many homes by the river 

21 



22 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

he only contributes one half of the whole weekly 
income, the other half coming from his boys and 
girls, and perhaps also from his wife. This fact tends 
to weaken his traditional position, and to make 
children of sixteen openly independent. Until the 
age of fourteen a boy obeys his parents, and responds 
to such measure of discipline as may be expected ; 
but at that age he leaves school, and immediately 
earns enough to pay the rent. He now begins to 
be a person of more importance, whose wishes may 
be observed. At whatever hour he may come in 
from work, he may reasonably demand his tea ; 
while he was at school he must needs be in at the 
proper time, and take what he was given or go 
without altogether. As a wage-earner, hard at work 
all day, he claims the unquestioned right to stay 
out till eleven o'clock at night. This abdication of 
the father in favour of his children is more marked 
in the poorer quarters. There a boy of eighteen 
will often be found to be the main, if not the entire, 
support of a small family. He will, without com- 
ment, expect and receive two kippers for his tea, 
while his unemployed father will make the most of 
bread-and-butter. 

More prosperous homes may be found, where the 
father has regular and well-paid work, and rules 
with a firm hand. Until his son is nearly twenty 
he responds without thought of revolt to a steady 
discipline, returning home each night by the ap- 



FAMILY LIFE 23 

pointed hour, and avoiding such habits and prac- 
tices as his father has declared taboo. Such a boy 
is fortunate, but his case is far too rare. Parental 
discipline is, in fact, a sure sign of prosperity and 
respectability. 

The hours of work vary so greatly among the 
members of one family that the opportunity for 
common meals is confined as a rule to Sunday. It 
is impossible to sit down to a unanimous breakfast, 
for some go to work at 5 a.m., and others may not 
be due till 9 a.m. Each worker, as a rule, boils up 
his water on the gas-ring, makes a cup of tea, 
spreads a slice of bread with jam, eating it as he 
pulls on his boots, does such washing as is possible 
under the restrictions of both time and space, and 
hurries off to work, a few minutes late. One or two 
may come home to a midday dinner, but as a rule 
this is the privilege of the school-children, who come 
back soon after twelve. The workers take a packet 
of sandwiches to work, and supplement them at a 
coffee-room near the place of their work. Tea-time, 
like breakfast, is a running series of untidy meals, 
each adding to the litter of dirty cups and crumb- 
covered plates on the table. The school-children 
return in a bunch, with a good deal of noise, soon 
after half-past four, but those at work will come 
in singly at any time between six and nine. Thus 
through the week the family ring round the table 
is never formed. Sunday . dinner is the only time 



24 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

of reunion, and generally occurs at 2 p.m. The 
whole family does indeed assemble then and eat 
together, though in small homes where there are 
many children the younger ones will be found 
scattered over the room, eating their share on the 
bed or by the fire. At tea-time the family is about 
as certain to be together again, at this time rein- 
forced by uncles or aunts, or old friends, from other 
parts of London. These hospitable customs of 
Sunday afternoon explain the crowded state of 
trams and omnibuses at this hour, for nearly every- 
one has friends " over the water." Often the party 
is prolonged into the evening ; in some social circles 
music and dancing will carry it on till nearly mid- 
night. 

Apart from these Sunday celebrations, the whole 
family is scarcely ever found together. The possi- 
bility of a quiet evening spent in reading and games 
vanishes for want of chairs and cubic inches. The 
cramped space at home, the lack of attractions 
there, the monotony of the day's work, and the 
great difference in their working hours, all conspire 
to separate the boys and girls when the few hours 
of freedom come. Once on pleasure bent, they 
rarely hold together. Two sisters occasionally keep 
with one another, finding perhaps a couple of youths 
who are friends of one another, and the four make a 
very happy quartette, by no means averse to 
changing partners after a few weeks. Two brothers. 



FAMILY LIFE 25 

even when of the same age, nearly always separate, 
each finding a group of his own, each with his 
favourite street-corner from which he surveys life. 
It would be possible to attend a music-hall or a 
benefit concert every night of the year, and only 
find half a dozen instances of two members of a 
family being there together, content with each 
other's company. On Sundays some will attend 
one church or Sunday-school, some another. Should 
two or three attend the same service, they will be 
found in different pews. A boy may often belong 
to a club for two years, and his mother remain 
in complete ignorance of his whereabouts, for no 
questions are asked when he comes home and slinks 
to bed. A boy is often devoted to the baby of the 
family, but the affection does not long survive, and 
the boy at work has little to say to his brothers still 
at school. 

On Saturdays and Bank Holidays there is the 
same separation. Some will be playing cricket or 
football, some at the Crystal Palace, or on Black- 
heath, or at Hampstead, each with the small set of 
friends which constitutes their world of opinion and 
taste. The lucky ones may get a week's holiday 
in the year, but they will devise a way of spending 
it without consulting the others, and often scarcely 
telling them their destination. When away they 
will send many postcards, but the mother is the 
only one of those at home who will receive one. 



26 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

The units are living widely separated lives 
throughout the year, though they sleep each night 
in two small rooms. They only come home to eat 
and sleep, and at these times conversation is not 
very fruitful. The mother knows the name of her 
boy's most constant companion, but she does not 
know where the two wander each evening, and, 
should she ask, she will obtain the vaguest of 
replies. 

Yet there are occasions when the spark is kindled 
by some trouble or emergency, and the inherited 
instincts of many centuries burst into flame. Let 
one of the elder boys come into conflict with the 
police, and be summoned to the court. The whole 
family will rush to his assistance, proclaim his 
innocence, and breathe every sort of implication 
against the integrity of the Force. They will lose 
a day's work in order to throng the court and show 
a united front against the oppressors of the innocent. 
A troublesome inspector who is doubtful about the 
well-being of a child will bring upon himself the 
vindictive anger of a whole family. The mother, 
who knows so little of her children, and is ignorant 
of the facts which has led one of them into 
trouble, yet leaps like an unreasonable tigress 
to their defence. And who would have it other- 
wise ? 

The nurses at the hospital could speak of the 
family affection that illness or accident brings to 



FAMILY LIFE 27 

the surface. Sunday afternoon sees a long pro- 
cession of parents and brothers and sisters, armed 
with flowers and oranges and nuts, gathering out- 
side each hospital. No engagement is so sacred. 
It is unthinkable that a visiting day should be 
allowed to pass without a sight of some face from 
home. (It is, indeed, far easier in these days to 
find a Good Samaritan than a Spartan mother. The 
mingling of the two is the very flower of woman- 
hood.) 

Death is the greatest call to unity. For the 
moment the boy and girl desert their friends at 
the corner, and hover round the home where in the 
front room lies the one they have never really 
known. At all costs, there must be black clothes ; 
at any risk, work must be abandoned, in order that 
the family may in a body drive together to the 
fimeral. At such times of death, or illness, or 
disgrace, the cord is tightened, and ideals are found 
to be true in these dark days which in brighter ones 
are almost lost to sight. 

It is this undercurrent which makes a boy or 
girl so curiously unwilling to leave home, and which 
makes the average parent totally opposed to such a 
step. It would appear that there is little that the 
boy need regret to be compelled to leave behind. 
Brighter prospects in the country or in Canada, or 
even on the other side of London, are dangled before 
him ; but the family, though openly admitting the 



28 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

advantages of the change, oppose it bitterly in 
private, and it is not difficult for them to persuade 
the boy that rough times at home are to be preferred 
to prosperity among strangers. The more C37nical 
would explain that they fear a lonely and destitute 
old age, and wish to insure that children may be at 
hand to support them. But such foresight is alien 
to the nature of the river-side folk, and the cause 
must be looked for in that intermittent access of 
family affection. 

It is sometimes feared, when an educational 
authority attempts to do more than merely fill the 
child's mind, that it is destroying this family tie, 
and that a generation may arise who look instinc- 
tively to the State for the provision of food and 
clothes. Then indeed would parental responsibility 
be at an end, family bonds sundered, and the home 
but a dormitory of State-fed vmits. But there is 
one salient fact which answers these alarming 
theories. The family life is the natural life for all 
English-speaking people. The group instinct is so 
firmly inset in the national character that every 
healthy and hard-working man falls unconsciously 
into this way of living. The Poor-Law boy, who has 
never known a home-life himself, as soon as he has 
scrambled on to his legs and is in a good position, 
becomes the head of a model home-loving family, 
doing as much for his children as any father, and 
never reflecting that, because the State fed him, it 



FAMILY LIFE 29 

should feed them also. The object of those who 
feed and clothe and care for the bruised and hungry 
children at school is to raise up a sound and in- 
dustrious generation of parents, that will not fall 
back upon the State, but will be enabled by health 
and knowledge to support themselves and their 
families with old-fashioned independence. It is safe 
to assuihe that the home instinct will prevail. All. 
that is wanted is one generation of strong boys and 
girls. They themselves will then do all that is 
needed for their own children, and the State can 
once more confine itself to drains and bridges. The 
only alternative to systematic socialism is a genera- 
tion of good parents. The only way to produce 
good parents is to care for the children of the present, 
that they may grow to be good mothers and fathers 
of still better children. 

The centre and focus of this home-love is but a 
drab and often uncomely figure, for the mother of a 
poor family soon loses the bloom of youth. Hers is 
a life of struggle, a battling for ever against the 
lack of time and room and money. Only the 
widows and a few younger women, or those who 
have invalid or worthless husbands, go to work each 
day. The rest find that the daily round of home-life 
provides work enough for a pair of the most willing 
hands. The task set before her by the conditions 
of working life to-day is well-nigh impossible ; it is 
in all probability beyond her powers. She left 



30 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

school at fourteen, having learnt her hygiene and 
cookery and domestic economy, and was sent 
straight away to a factory to work ten hours a day 
for three shillings and sixpence a week. In the 
few hours of leisure no one could ask or expect the 
young girl to keep her knowledge of housewifery by 
using it at home. Her help there in the evening 
may not have been asked, and, if it had been, the 
monotony of her day's work would make her 
feel more anxious for a walk in the crowded 
streets with a foolish youth who called her foolish 
names. 

At eighteen or twenty she is married, and now 
she can have but a dim and confused memory of 
the puddings and soups she learned to make more 
than six years ago. The family grows, and daily 
duties thicken ; she is compelled to do as her 
mother did before her, and get along as best she 
can, content if she can only turn the corner of each 
week with the friendly aid of the pawnbroker. Her 
housekeeping is shiftless, her cooking primitive and 
wasteful, her cleaning less exacting as each J'ear 
passes. Her husband at times is " that cantan- 
kerous, you wouldn't believe." Sometimes there 
are blows, of which she says nothing. Her children 
throng her when she is muddled with more duties 
than she can fulfil, and with such poor equipment 
for her day's work. She tries to be stern, but ends 
by being hasty ; insists on obedience, but when she 



FAMILY LIFE 31 

should be enforcing her orders she is too busy or 
too tired. By the time she is thirty-five she is 
frowsy and shapeless, falling possibly into foolish 
habits, dropping into the public-house in an after- 
noon to banish the dreariness of her back kitchen, 
with its chipped cups and dirty antimacassars. She 
has begun to act a part to every well-dressed person 
she meets, and to teach the children a policy of 
grab and gratitude when in touch with philan- 
thropy. In a word, she has given up hope, and, 
finding that she could not keep pace with the tide 
of daily duties, she has grown content to drift. 
On gala days she dresses in far worse taste than in 
the days before marriage, cramming on more absurd 
finery and sailing under more impossible colours, 
and this only serves to make more obvious the dis- 
advantages of middle age. On ordinary days her 
dress is messy and unkempt, and everywhere about 
her are signs of a lost pride and confidence. Her 
voice has grown more shrill, her patience declines ; 
she learns to whine and nag. Her arguments are a 
tissue of exaggeration and untruth ; she accuses 
wildly and defends herself volubly. 

This is one of the bitterest tragedies that falls 
broken from the wheel of life. She is a failure, her 
struggle has been without romance, and in her old 
age she is not always pleasant or beautiful. But 
throughout she has been a wife and a mother, giving 
life to many children at the risk of her own ; loving 



32 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

them sincerely, if not wisely ; feeding them, as a rule, 
before herself in a harsh and unaffectionate way ; 
scrubbing while they played, washing while they 
slept, cooking and " setting to rights " while they 
chattered and ran about the room. At the crises of 
their lives they remember this, though they never 
talk about it ; and when her tired body is at last 
still and peaceful, many find that it was she who 
drew the strings together and made a home. With- 
out her they fall away as the staves of a barrel 
when the hoop is removed. She has been the 
centre because she has been the most permanent and 
the most important figure in the family life. The 
central fact of poor life is the earning of money, and 
some unwritten law forces each boy and girl to bring 
back their wages to the mother. Her purse or 
pocket is the common fund, and from this she dis- 
tributes the family income. They are the earners, 
but she is the spender. Many children bring her 
an unbroken wage, and she allows them sixpence 
back as pocket-money. It is the mother who 
decides the great issues of economy, giving a boy 
some contribution to a suit of new clothes, or find- 
ing some money for an extra holiday. She pays the 
rent and faces all visitors at anxious times. No 
negotiations with the pawnbroker will, as a rule, be 
conducted by any other member of the famUy. 

For she is the constant factor of the home. Others 
come and go, but she never disappears to camp or 



FAMILY LIFE 33 

Canada. Any week will find her at home in a long 
stretch of forty years. More than this, she " is 
about " from early till late. The others go to 
work, and return at all hours, but they may safely 
leave a message with her, for she is sure to be at 
hand throughout the day. Rarely does she go far 
from home. What wonder if so small an orbit 
should include a public-house ? 

Her burdened life is made easier by any service 
done to the children, and the lightening of her 
duties does not check her love for them. Rather 
will the work of the school and care committee tend 
to make her responsibility more sacred to her. 
For her task becomes more possible, her capacity 
for worry is no longer overtaxed. The strain of 
daily duties is relieved, and she has time to look 
at her children and love them more thoughtfully. 
If there is one thing that can never be destroyed by 
State action, it is the love of even the most careless 
mother for those she has borne. 

There are women who are very different from 
these sad strugglers, and rise above all the trials 
and obstacles of poverty and work. In the poorest 
street they may be found. Each room and each 
child is bright and tidy, and she herself radiant and 
uncomplaining, with never a sniff for those who do 
not manage so well as she. Here will be found a 
stronger sense of family ties, and more devoted 
children. But such cases are uncommon, for the 

3 



34 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

press of low wages and high rents is heaviest on 
the mother, and most of them bend beneath the 
weight. Yet, even so, they are the hope and the 
soul of home-life. We learn a new beatitude by the 
river-side : " Blessed are the mothers, for they shall 
be much loved." 



CHAPTER III 

CUSTOMS AND HABITS 

Food is cheap in price and quality alike. A shilling 
will buy a Sunday dinner for a family of five. But 
the vegetables, though large in size, will not be 
too fresh, and the meat will be black with the 
finger-marks of those critical ladies who pinch all 
the joints as they pass along the stalls in the road, 
and perchance buy one of them. Eggs are bought 
in some quantities, and fried, for they are too old 
to be boiled or poached. The milkman does a good 
trade in the better streets, for he sells in penny- 
worths, but in the poorer homes fresh milk is rarely 
seen. Tins of condensed milk are cheaper, and by 
reason of their sweetness save the supply of sugar. 
Methods of distribution seem seriously at fault 
when this should be so, for the cows are browsing 
ten miles away, while the condensed milk has far 
to travel and much to suffer before it reaches here. 
The children, as a consequence, are fed on tea, with 
a slight colouring of milk. The tea is cheap when 
bought by the pound, though inclined to be dusty 

35 



36 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

and unproductive. Unhappily, the practice of buy- 
ing in small quantities has increased of late years, 
and the science of housekeeping is utterly forgotten. 
When tea-time approaches, one of the elder children, 
still at school, is despatched to the little shop 
round the corner, and bidden to buy and bring 
back a pennyworth of tea, a halfpennyworth of 
sugar, twopence-halfpennyworth of tinned milk, a 
pennyworth of jam, and a loaf of bread. Butter 
and rice and soap are bought in similar quantities, 
at what calculation would soon prove to be a 
ruinous rate. It will be remembered among many 
families that in nursery days the staple dish for 
tea or breakfast was bread-and-butter, and that 
only on special days was bread-and-jam substituted 
for the plainer fare. But with South London 
children the opposite is the case. Jam is so much 
cheaper than butter that the child looks ordinarily 
for bread and " strawberry flavour." When given 
the opportunity at a party or a picnic, he will 
devote his attention to the luxury of bread-and- 
butter. The jam (twopence-halfpenny a pound) has 
much sugar in it of the cheaper sort, and much that 
is warm and greasy to the taste. Meat is reserved, 
as a rule, for Sunday, but certaia kinds of fish are 
seen daily in nearly every house. Numberless shops 
abound where skate and cod are fried in oil, and 
served out steaming over the counter, on scraps of 
old newspapers, with chip potatoes. A portion af 



CUSTOMS AND HABITS 37 

moderate size can be bought for threehalfpence, 
and constitutes a usual supper for a working boy. 
The taste will be found even stronger than the 
smell, but it is the most popular of all dishes, 
especially before going to bed. In addition to this 
fried fish, which is usually- eaten in the street, 
kippers (two for threehalfpence), or bloaters, or 
finnan-haddock are bought at the stalls in the street 
and cooked at home. Cheap fish, jam, and tea are 
thus the principal foods which make up the marrow 
and muscle of the river-side population. There are 
many additional dainties, proper to seasons of 
jollity or unusual prosperity, as shrimps, winkles, 
and water-cress. These are also the offerings of 
, hospitality on Sunday afternoon. 

As with food, so with clothes. Their immediate 
prices are very low, but they are of such a quality, 
and the manner of their purchase and use is so 
uneconomical, that if careful accounts were ever 
kept, the total amount spent on clothes by a family 
in the course of two years would be found to be far 
out of proportion to their whole income. A number 
of causes contribute to this. In the beginning, there 
is much personal vanity, which may be curbed 
forcibly by low wages and high prices, but never 
dies. This vanity takes the form of a desire to 
impress and to surprise, and it issues in a passion 
for new clothes that are very obviously new, and 
that are also tight, smart, and uncomfortable. 



38 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

extremely unsuited to either action or repose. 
Side by side with this common instinct lies the 
equally common dread of appearing to neglect 
social obligations. A funeral demands black clothes . 
Borrowed plumes rarely suffice, though it is some- 
times permissible for a woman to hire a heavy 
velvet cape or a large black hat. The clothes them- 
selves are almost invariably bought, and in the case 
of a large family the expense is very considerable. 
On Sundays they are enslaved by a similar tradition. 
It is a day for better clothes, for starched collars 
and bright boots, whether they be black or yellow. 
The mother, with a sense of bitter pride, will not 
allow her family to stray into the main streets 
should a week of depression have ended in the 
pawning of their Sunday clothes. The father him- 
self, deprived of his best shirt and collar, omits to 
shave, and kicks about his room in socks, having 
lain in bed till past midday, remembering with a 
sigh of relief that, at any rate, he cannot be ex- 
pected to go to church. The boy of sixteen 
acquiesces in this subservience to opinion, and 
remains indoors all day, caged for want of a collar. 

When sentiments such as these are deeply in- 
bred, it requires but a showy tailor's window, with 
offers of cheap ready-made suits, to tickle a young 
man's fancy into wild extravagance. A boy earn- 
ing twelve or fifteen shillings a week is always 
saving with an eye on a new suit for Sunday. He 



CUSTOMS AND HABITS 39 

buys, not one, but two or more in the course of a 
year, for their smartness is short-Kved. They are 
too cheap to wear for very long. They are not kept 
with sufficient care at home ; they are worn at 
the wrong times. Those tight green trousers, the 
waistcoat with fancy buttons, the coat which fits 
hke a glove, are not to be wasted on only local eyes. 
They are taken for a day in the country, and return 
soaked and shapeless, with seams awry and far 
more than the fashionable number of creases. They 
even go to camp, lie scattered in a tent with hay 
and treacle for companions, and in a week age very 
quickly. One good suit at nearly double their 
price, wisely worn and neatly folded, would last a 
year or more, while for the week-day evening an 
old coat and grey flannel trousers, with a well- 
tied scarf, would serve every purpose. On these 
points public opinion requires education, but with 
boys the process is comparatively easy, for they are 
of a highly imitative disposition. Boys and girls 
save consciously for their clothes, but the elder 
folk rely on some windfall or turn of fortune to 
repair their stock. There is far too little cleaning 
and mending and patching, far too great an im- 
patience for a new outfit when the old is torn or 
stained. 

A further cause of extravagance, and, indeed, of 
ill-health, lies in the strange fact that nearly every 
child and the majority of elder people wear far too 



40 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

many clothes. In the Kent hop-fields a boy will 
be found sitting on the edge of his bin, under a hot 
September sun, picking for ten hours a day, fortified 
by an old coat, a thick waistcoat, a knitted jersey, 
and two old shirts. On Blackheath two shirts are 
considered the right amount for both cricket and 
football. The tendency is perhaps most marked 
among small children at elementary schools. In the 
year 1909 over 14,000 children were examined, 
and only twenty-one were found to be insufficiently 
clothed. It is possible, and indeed justifiable, to 
guess the converse of these figures. It is almost as 
easy to find a child with too many clothes as it is 
rare to chance upon one with too few. The clothes 
are, indeed, old and dirty and torn, but their 
primary fault is excess rather than defect. The 
prevalence of vermin in summer is largely due to 
the wearing of two unwashed shirts and a per- 
petual jersey underneath other clothes. In this 
miserable weight the child runs all day long, grows 
tired and hot, more than usually susceptible to cold, 
and a more obvious prey to all the evils of dirt and 
insanitation. If the couple of cotton shirts could 
be discouraged, and a simple woollen or flannel one 
be made at home, the lad would be far happier, and 
the cost would very possibly be less. 

In the background of all calculations stands the 
usurious pawnbroker, the treacherous friend of 
every poor family. The annual clothing bill would 



CUSTOMS AND HABITS 41 

be fax less if it were not for the fatal ease with 
which the^blind, harassed mother can obtain his 
momentary assistance. A suit of clothes may be 
bought for a sovereign out of hard-earned savings, 
and worn with pride throughout a Sunday. But on 
the Monday the rent-collector will call ; all that 
remains of Saturday's wages is barely sufficient for 
the week's food, and the only realizable asset which 
can be dispensed with for six days is the new Sunday 
suit. On Monday morning a group of women, with 
bundles tied in old newspapers, will be seen outside 
the pawnshop, waiting for the doors to open at 
9 a.m. ; for this is a common weekly practice, and 
not the urgent measure of exceptional distress. It 
is true that on next Saturday night the suit will in 
all probability be redeemed, but the suit by then 
will have cost a guinea, instead of a pound, and 
every time it is pawned in future will add a shilling 
to the price. The pawnbroker is a scrupulously 
honest merchant, a money-lender who is always sure 
of his security, but his business is a blight upon the 
life of the district, and his system tempts almost 
beyond endurance the shiftless and improvident 
tendencies of his regular customers. 

Irhe wastage of money may be great in food and 
clothes, but pleasures are wonderfully cheap. There 
are so many things that provide pleasure which cost 
nothing. There is a great genius for watching 
among all Londoners. They are happy to look on 



42 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

at any scene that accidentally or by design may 
stimulate emotion. A funeral may be seen any 
day at no cost, and appeals to all. This and a fire- 
engine, an arrest in the street, an epileptic in a fit, 
the short quick appearance of friends at the police- 
court, are scenes in melodrama not a bit less moving 
than the sensations pumped up for sixpence at a 
theatre. A walk along the crowded street at night 
is an easy and inexpensive outing of which they 
never tire. Every cornet player and barrel-organ 
has a small group ; the open-air meetings are mildly 
enjoyable. In the street there is always something 
to be seen, and something may happen at any 
moment. 

These small excitements suffice to make many 
happy, and yearnings for blue seas and green fields 
are rare or unknown. For these things in them- 
selves are unsatisfying, and when a visit to the 
country does occur, a sudden rush will be made for 
the nearest shop or street, and if there are none 
there may be considerable discontent. The 
pleasures of a holiday consist very largely in the 
power and opportunity to purchase a number of 
cheap souvenirs, which give a wonderful degree of 
pleasure in proportion to their cost. No little lad 
is ever allowed to set out for a school-treat without 
a penny or two, for without the joy of spending money 
there is no holiday. A boy may plead that he has 
not the money with which to pay for a week's camp. 



CUSTOMS AND HABITS 43 

On inquiry it may be found that he has enough 
money to pay for his railway ticket and camp fees, 
but there is not enough pocket-money to make a 
real holiday possible, and without that surplus camp 
is not worth anything. 

The pennies spent on picture postcards buy much 
delight for those who scrawl upon them simple 
pleasantries that have some reference to the comic 
picture on the back. They are treasured and prized 
by those who receive them, shown to everyone who 
desires to see them, and to many who do not. The 
receipt of a letter is a very lasting pleasure. It is 
opened with great care after minute inspection, read 
very slowly, read again many times in the next six 
months, kept very often for an even longer period, 
and shown to a very wide circle of friends. The 
pleasure of mere gossip at the street-door or at the 
corner cannot easily be exaggerated. A group of 
boys leaning against the wall, or over the counter 
of some ice-cream shop, will discuss league football 
or county cricket from nine o'clock to midnight, 
while their mothers will find the same time pass very 
quickly as they rehearse the details of a suicide or 
sudden death, standing with their babies at the 
entrance of the court. 

Many and strange are the relaxations of workers, 
but the greater number of them cost little or nothing. 
Others there are, without doubt, as smoking, drink- 
ing, gambling, and betting, which make sad inroads 



44 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

into the weekly incomes and small capitals. But, 
save, indeed, for the unpardonable luxury of smoking, 
these are habits indulged in only by the minority, 
and the larger part of the English people enjoy life 
itself, demanding wonderfully little more. 

There are, however, luxurious habits which are 
growing up, and though involving in themselves only 
the expenditure of halfpennies, yet in the aggregate 
they imply a larger income than is usually the case. 
These habits are for the most part thoughtless con- 
cessions to comfort, smoothing the hard road of 
poverty. But for the poor man there can be few 
soft places if he is to keep pace with the exigencies 
of food and rent. It is more and more the custom 
of the working boy or man to spend a penny on 
being shaved, to spend a halfpenny on a tram when 
he has time and energy to walk, another halfpenny 
on an evening paper, another penny for having 
his boots blacked. All these little conveniences of 
civilization are pardonable as occasional extrava- 
gances, but as regular expenses they belong to a more 
prosperous type of life, where the struggle for daily 
bread is less acute. 

There stiU remain the ordinary pleasures of social 
contact with friends and neighbours. These cannot 
be so easily assessed. The attitude of the family to 
the other families in the same street, or in the same 
buildings, is always a little puzzling. The mother is 
often at pains to assure her visitor that they always 



CUSTOMS AND HABITS 45 

" keep themselves to themselves, and don't associate, 
as you might say, with none of them." When re- 
proached in the name of Christian charity, she would 
explain that she didn't know how it was, but she 
hadn't been brought up to have anything to do 
with people of that sort. " The language they use 
is that bad you wouldn't believe." The discrepancy 
is so great, indeed, that she even finds it necessary 
to prevent her children from having anything to do 
with the others in the street. A second visit will find 
the children playing stump cricket, in such harmony 
as the uncertain rules of the game will allow, 
apparently unconscious of the social barriers between 
them. The mother herself will be found deep in 
conversation with three despised neighbours, all 
united by expressions of mutual admiration and 
endearment against some interfering official. Pene- 
tration beyond her front-door would disclose the 
presence in her kitchen of sundry articles which she 
has freely borrowed from some neighbour. Why, 
then, this professed isolation ? It is, perhaps, the 
only form left to each family of asserting a certain 
inherent pride, for it is by contrast that men most 
easily come to respect themselves. By mutual 
contrast the families are each led to think them- 
selves a superior unit set in strangely inferior com- 
pany. But this is only the theory on which they 
rely to prove their own importance, and it rarely 
colours their daily conduct or their natural kindness. 



46 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

The boys find their friends wherever they please, 
and the girls do not regulate their hkes or dislikes 
by the social antipathies of their mothers. The 
men and the women find their own confidantes and 
companions with a similar freedom from snobbery 
or bias. As a family they do not make friends with 
another family, but hold apart. As individuals they 
follow the dictates of their own tastes. By this 
curious distinction friendship and intimacy is made 
possible without prejudicing the claim of each 
family to live on its own tin pedestal. The alleviation 
of many financial difficulties might be secured if co- 
operative enterprise was more successful. For 
individual charity and kindness there is a spon- 
taneous readiness among poor neighbours that is well 
known to all the world, but co-operation is not a 
natural growth. It will need years of careful 
fostering, much active sympathy, and many gentle 
leaders, living by the side of these families who are so 
jealous of predominance. 

When speaking of many thousands, generalizations 
are a little weak, but it is still possible to point to one 
or two tendencies that may be traced in every home 
in the river-side. The first is the blindness to the 
future. All resources of body, and mind, and 
pocket, are concentrated on the breasting of to- 
day's small waves ; the breakers of next week are 
unheeded. It is on this temporizing habit that the 
harpies who lend money are able to rely. There is 



CUSTOMS AND HABITS 47 

one such in nearly every street, a woman of middle 
age, who starts with a small capital of a few pounds, 
and ends with several hundreds. She lends shillings 
to wives who are pressed for rent, to girls who want 
new dresses, to boys who have gambled and lost. 
Her rate of interest, well known in the street and 
imposed without protest, is a penny in the shilling 
per week. It is only people who shut their eyes to 
the future who could ever borrow money so generally 
as the poor are in the habit of doing at 500 per cent. 
It is because of the same concentration on the 
present that boys are driven to accept work that 
pays best, and offers the least prospect of advance- 
ment or even bare continuance. It is for this reason 
that men and women lightly give up their work on 
some frivolous pretext. If the faculty of foresight 
were more commonly in use, the housekeeping of 
each family would be revolutionized, the daily 
customs and habits of each person almost entirely 
different. 

Finally, there is a well-nigh universal tendency 
to cling to the visible and concrete, and ignore all 
else. If a man is a soldier, let him wear uniform and 
medals ; if he is a rich gentleman, let him wear good 
clothes, and speak slowly, and quietly, and with 
authority ; if he is religious, a cross should hang from 
his watch-chain, or a button be stuck in his coat. A 
laurel-wreath or a letter of commendation is nothing 
to a silver cup and a gilt-lettered prize. There must 



48 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

be " something to show " for every effort. The rich 
man who lives simply, the athlete who runs and 
plays for honour, is much needed to startle the 
river-side, and to suggest some of those strange 
abstractions on which the public schools of England 
have laid the foundations of their greatness. Good- 
ness that is not translated into tangible symbols 
and rewards is an alien plant which must be brought 
in and allowed to grow quifetly and naturally without 
show of virtue, and if Httle is said about it the 
lesson will be learnt. 



CHAPTER IV 

BIRTH AND INFANCY 

Into this crowded river-side world several thousand 
babies are born each year. With many life is a lost 
hope from the first, the mere flicker of a damp match 
in the wind. Others struggle on for six months or a 
year, but only three-quarters of those bom will live 
to see school-days, to play games, or to look for 
work. In the darkest courts the number of children 
bom is far greater than elsewhere, but the proportion 
of these that survive the unequal struggle is far less. 
The story is a sad one, to which the ears of propriety 
are sternly deaf, but it must be briefly told. The 
south-eastern river-side is so much more guUty of 
hfant loss than any other part of London, the signs 
and symptoms which explain the grim figures of its 
shame are so patent to the eye of every observer, that 
no record of its life could be complete without some 
mention of these early deaths. 

The young mother has many to advise her as the 
time of her confinement approaches, but little or 
nothing is effected by way of preparation or pre- 

49 4 



50 ACROSS THiE BRIDGES 

caution. As a rule she is but an ignorant girl of 
eighteen or nineteen, still working for a long, ill- 
paid day at a factory, lifting weights, standing for 
many hours at a time, or bending over her task in 
some cramped position. As the time for her first 
confinement draws near, she grows easily tired and 
fretful, and a little frightened, but anxiety about 
her wages makes it impossible for her to give up 
work and stay quietly at home. No law forbids her 
to go to work, and she may struggle on at her place 
till the very last day. (The more thoughtful em- 
ployers, who still remember that they are in loco 
•parentis to those who work for them, will have given 
orders to their managers and foremen that such 
girls are to be released from work and paid their 
wages for a month before confinement.) No nurse 
or doctor is at hand to advise, and insist on proper 
diet and due precautions. The older women in the 
court ply her with strange specifics, recommending 
stout or even gin for keeping up her strength and 
spirits. Of the publicity and vile coarseness that 
has robbed birth of its sanctity this is no place to 
speak. In a room, dark and full of stale smell, on a 
bed that has never been clean, the baby is born. 
Outside the air is close and heavy ; the noise of the 
trains and the shouting in the streets never pause. 
A message has been sent to the nearest hospital, and 
a student and a nurse arrive. They do all that 
can be done in such pitiful surroundings to help the 



BIRTH AND INFANCY 51 

mother and the child. If there is danger, a doctor 
also comes from the hospital at any time of day or 
night. But the mischief has all too often been done 
in the weeks before they come, before anyone in 
authority was told that a little life was on the way. 
After the birth the girl is once more left to the advice 
and attentions of her well-meaning friends. Money 
is a pressing need, and all too soon she goes back to 
work, leaving the baby in the charge of some neigh- 
bour. Perhaps it is ignorance, perhaps ill-health, 
perhaps just poverty, but the end of this common 
story is that she cannot sustain the child, and it dies 
as suddenly as it came, an obscure life, figuring only 
on statistics, often unnamed. 

The early death of children is most common in 
the poorest parts, where famiUes are usually much 
larger, and the mother's duties far beyond her 
powers, and if the small baby had fewer brothers 
and sisters its chances of life would often be better. 
The impossible size of poor families is a grave, 
urgent problem, raising solemn questions which 
cannot long remain without an answer. The ill- 
assorted marriage, which accounts so often for these 
early deaths, is another factor of industrial evils 
most difficult to regulate. The dull-witted or 
imbecile, the epileptic and the alcoholic, marry and 
are given in marriage, while the nation stands by, 
building institutions and ruling out columns of figures 
for the sad results. A man of thirty had drunk 



52 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

heavily for years, and was at last struck down by 
alcohblic paralysis of the brain, and compelled to 
give up his work. He married a young girl, and 
became the father of thirteen children. Neither 
Church nor State had power to forbid this unholy 
union, and now half a dozen different authorities, 
penal, medical, and philanthropic, bear the burden 
of the seven children who survive. It is no inter- 
ference with human hberty to stay the hand of a 
man who strikes a living woman or a child, yet as a 
nation we hesitate to thwart the man or woman who 
by their wantonness are killing or maiming the 
children yet unborn. 

Three out of every four children escape the early 
dangers, and run about the home tiU they are old 
enough for school. But the bUght which kiUs half 
a garden's roses surely spoils the rest. It is im- 
possible that the evils of unhealthy parents, in- 
sanitary homes, unfed and unprepared mothers, 
should kill one-fourth of the children outright and 
leave the rest untouched. The problems of infantile 
mortality are also the problems of infantile vitality ; 
the measures which give hfe to the dying must also 
give strength to the living. 

Whenever, then, as in the case of the river-side, 
the number of baby deaths is exceptionally high, it 
is necessary to expect a low standard of health in 
those that grow up. In one volume of statistics the 
London County Council records that among the 



BIRTH AND INFANCY 53 

people of the river-side infant mortality is more 
common than anywhere else in London ; in another 
yolimie the medical officer reports : " The worst 
average physique is to be found in the low-lying 
areas along the Thames." 

The infant is not compelled to go to school till he 
is five years old, but he may be accepted for kinder- 
garten instruction when he is three. In the poorer 
quarters, where children are more numerous and the 
accommodation for them at home is Umited, they 
are usually despatched to school at the earliest 
possible moment. There are actually more children 
in London elementary schools at this non-com- 
pulsory age of three to five than in the succeeding 
period of five to seven, when every child must and 
does go to school. Thus the part is greater than the 
whole. This remarkable position will be understood 
when it is remembered that death is still very near 
to the London child even in the days of his middle- 
aged infancy, and many who survive three years 
drop out before the fifth birthday comes. 

In any case, however, there must be three years of 
liberty and growth at home before school life can 
begin. They have started with a handicap, as has 
been shown, and little is done to reduce the odds 
against them in their first few years. Children in 
large numbers prove a little trying to the un- 
methodical mother, whose nerves are not fitted by 
tea and late hours to endure the constant strain of 



54 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

their presence. The rooms are very small, and 
closely packed with furniture. Crawling infants, 
grasping at everything with sticky and destructive 
hands, sucking a china shepherdess as though she 
were really NeapoHtan ice, tumbling up and down 
the stairs, and crying loudly till smacked into silence, 
are really found to be rather " in the way." They 
are dehvered into the charge of an elder sister, aged 
nine or ten, who wheels them in some form of 
perambulator, while she goes on her mother's 
errands, looks into shop windows, or plays a game 
with other nursemaids of the same tender age. 
Boys over ten or eleven are rarely saddled with a 
baby, for manliness is an early growth, and boys in 
the sixth standard cannot be detailed for nurse's 
work. These little girls devote the majority of the 
hours out of school to infant brothers and sisters, 
and are real nurses. They do not grudge the duty 
as a hardship, and, in fact, it does not tie their move- 
ments very much, for they take the baby with them 
wherever they want to go, often leaving it fifty yards 
away for a quarter of an hour. They have more 
delight in the position than their mother would 
probably be able to find, and, as a rule, are patient, 
and good-tempered, and unselfish, even when the 
baby is exceptionally tiresome. The mother is 
devoted to the child in her own inexpressive way. 
When she is older, and someone asks how many 
children she has had, she will reply in a nonchalant 



BIRTH AND INFANCY 55 

way : " I've had eleven, and only lost four." Her 
manner is matter-of-fact, but each loss was a cruel 
blow after its kind, and though at the first recital of 
the names of the eleven she would forget one and 
have to begin again, yet there is a memory of each 
one's face, remembered usually as it was in sleep, 
clear and distinct, which never leaves a mother. 
Each baby is baptized at the time of the churching 
of the mother, but it is seldom that godparents are 
appointed other than the parents themselves. This 
ancient provision of the Church for the spiritual and, 
indeed, the material guardianship of the child, 
should the parents die or neglect their natural duties, 
has been almost completely neglected in the very 
places where it is most needed. Without undue 
interference, the godparent might by his friendliness 
with the family satisfy himself that the child was 
well cared for. He might without danger of offence 
supplement its clothes, or toys, or little luxuries, by 
some chance gift which betrayed more than ordinary 
interest. No doubt he would think himself unfit to 
instruct the child in morals or religion, but he might 
in a quiet way suggest that the small boy should be 
sent to a Sunday-school, and later to a boys' club or 
brigade. The number of people who know any one 
small London child is at present very small. His 
Christian name is known to his own family, though 
they are equally hkely in the hurry of the 
moment to use another. Outside this circle he is 



56 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

often an unnamed unit in a sticky and turbulent 
crowd. 

It is necessary to admit that small children are 
" dragged up " by their mothers. There is Uttle 
cruelty, perhaps too much kindness, the chief defect 
in the method usually employed being a rapid and 
unreasonable alternation between scolding and 
caressing. Unless on some pretext one of the eleven 
children can be kept at home, the mother has during 
all the school hours to take sole charge of the babies. 
She is busy cleaning, or washing, or cooking, taking 
advantage of an empty room. The children are 
sufficiently fidgety to interrupt her work and make 
her worried. It is a tiring duty, the teaching of 
obedience to children, the enforcing of orders and 
rules, and the untrained mother, already behind- 
hand with her house-work, finds the additional task 
beyond her powers. All the evils of weak discipline 
creep in ; there are terrible threats for small offences. 
Then, after the offence has been repeated, the threats, 
instead of being fulfilled, are merely repeated in 
more terrible form, and then at the wrong time and 
in the wrong way comes punishment. A lack of 
truthfulness vitiates the child's first impressions ; 
the mother is not truthful with the child ; she is soon 
noticed by a sharp urchin to be lying to his father. 
The small boy learns neither the habits of decency 
nor the language of innocence. His ears are fouled 
with strange recurrent words before he is six years 



BIRTH AND INFANCY 57 

old. When he was taken in days gone by to the 
public-house, in the arms of his mother, or toddling 
after, with one hand on her flimsy skirt, he was being 
introduced at an early age to a life that is without 
the restraints of decency. Custom breeds instinct 
as well as habit ; the imitative child with his sponge- 
like senses absorbs the life and ways around him 
without question or understanding. The law which 
forbids a child to enter a licensed house has not 
proved to be merely a penal enactment, a harsh 
compulsion on parents to protect their young 
children from a primitive knowledge of hfe's seami- 
ness. It has registered the voice of the best public 
opinion in any community, reminded the parent of 
her duties, and stimulated her to a more careful 
observance of them. So far from restricting the 
initiative of the parent, it will extend the view of 
her obligations towards the child. At first a little 
vindictive against the veto imposed on everyday 
custom, she ultimately will acquiesce in the sugges- 
tion that children should be screened and guarded ; 
her point of view wiU change unconsciously, and she 
will grow to observe the same principle in other 
directions. 

But the visits to the public-house were not the 
only danger in these three years of a child's life at 
home. The child is fed on such food as his elders 
happen to be enjo5ring, though, of course, in vastly 
smaller quantities. Tea is his daily drink, bread- 



58 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

and-jam his ordinary food, a bit of fish or a shrimp 
his luxury. The difference between a child and an 
adult is everywhere regarded as one of degree rather 
than of kind. He clamours for a taste of his elder 
brother's ice-cream, a mouthful of his sister's pastry, 
a sip of his father's beer or his mother's gin. Then 
he is very sick in a quiet corner of the staircase, and 
cries loudly to attract attention ; he is smacked, 
and cries with even better reason. For a time there 
is peace, but this is almost a daily programme. His 
clothes are a mere bundle of soiled cotton, for want 
of buttons and tapes wound tightly round him, and 
tied in a hurry with pieces of string. If it passes 
the wit of ordinary man to dress or undress an 
ordinary child, it would also puzzle most women to 
detach this bundle from the child within. In many 
homes the children are encased thus from day to 
day, the hands and face alone escaping the tangle, 
and coming within reach of soap and water. This 
accumulation of cheap cotton is hot and unhealthy, 
and cannot be expected to remain clean or tidy. 

The child in his first three years lives through long 
laborious days, scrambling up and down the stairs 
all morning and afternoon, or playing rather aim- 
lessly with the refuse in the gutter, while at night he 
accompanies his mother on a round of dissipation or 
social duties. At midnight women are seen with 
babies in their arms, still gossiping or quarrelling, 
unwilling to admit that day is really at an end. The 



BIRTH AND INFANCY 59 

child is asleep, but at a jest or sudden change of arm 
it will awake and cry. 

Nature cannot be blamed if the health of such 
children is never perfect, and, as a rule, quite pre- 
carious. They never learn to blow their nose, and 
grow content to breathe through the mouth, and 
sniffle all their school-days. They become so subject 
to sore places and abscesses as to seem rarely free 
from a rag or bandage on some limb or another. 
Countless physical deformities exist among them, 
which grow daily worse under such conditions ; any 
tendency to tubercular weakness gains a great start 
through lack of fresh milk, and air, and sleep. 
Eyes, mouth, and ears are often sore and inflamed 
through want of cleanliness and care. The out- 
patient departments of the hospitals are thronged 
with the smaller children ; the resources of medicine, 
treatment, and operation are for ever at their 
service, but the primary conditions of health at 
home have been forgotten. When the sick child 
should be quiet in bed, he is allowed to disobey and 
run about ; a weak heart develops, the child suffers 
from St. Vitus' dance, grows nervous and anaemic, 
and is never again robust. 

Nearly all these troubles of early childhood arise 
from carelessness and ignorance, rather than actual 
neglect. A woman of another world, with the 
exotic appearance of a suburb or the West, who calls 
once a week, gives advice, and drops a leaflet on 



6o ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

" Pure Milk," will effect nothing more than a possible 
bitterness and estrangement ; but some quiet, 
patient woman who lived near by, and was a neigh- 
bour in knowledge and sympathy, might by the 
mere dropping of a hint, or the doing of an unasked 
kindness, win her way slowly, till the lessons of a 
clean and tidy childhood have been so well learnt 
that they are not a task, but a natural inclination. 
Among all his hardships and troubles the child 
retains the imperturbable happiness of his kind. 
His birthday may pass forgotten, but every Bank 
Holiday will bring a toy. Even when there are no 
toys, the London child has not far to look before 
he espies a likely plaything. A couple of milk-tins 
and a piece of string, or a fish-bone and a nail will 
suffice. All the impossible combinations left by the 
street-cleaner are at his service. Though he might 
know the more constant happiness of secure health, 
yet, on the whole, these three years of infancy have 
many golden moments, and when the time comes 
for school-days to begin, the child has learnt the 
optimism of the true Londoner, and easily forgets 
all that is not happy and delightful. 



CHAPTER V 

EDUCATION AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 

The child's third birthday comes, and his mother 
gladly hands him over to the care of the educational 
authorities for eleven happy years. The boy does 
not time his arrival at school or his departure to 
coincide with the beginning or the end of term. 
He enters on the Monday after he is three, and leaves 
on the Friday afternoon before he is fourteen, in a 
hurry to start at school, in an equal hurry to begin 
work. This system results in a constant coming and 
going throughout the term. 

The boy may change his school several times to 
keep pace with his parents' change of address, and he 
may be absent for months together through accident 
or epidemic, but the great majority will be wonder- 
fully regular in their attendance for eleven full years. 
Here lies the hope of the nation ; this is the greatest 
lever of social reform. The homes may have failed 
to play their pa,rt in the formation of men, the streets 
may teem with every temptation to indolence and 
vice, the future may have its own industrial dead- 

6i 



62 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

locks and moral pitfalls for each lad, yet there is a 
golden chance for every true school in these eleven 
years to compensate for the handicaps of the present 
and prepare him for the future struggle. Charity 
and philanthropy and religious agencies may effect 
much, but they only deal with groups and sections. 
Every child must go to school. The whole nation is 
in the melting-pot. In the hands of those that stir 
and mould hes the responsibility of producing a new 
generation of hard workers and good parents. The 
parish priest or missioner sighs for a chance of 
influencing every life in his district, and if he were 
given each one for eleven years, how near he would 
hope to bring heaven upon earth ! To the Education 
Committee alone is this trust given. 

" Education is the preparation for a complete 
life." This definition by Herbert Spencer might 
well be written by way of ironic reminder on the 
note-paper of every Education Authority. Yet it 
would be indeed a puzzle to look forward and divine 
the fuU meaning of the complete life that might lie 
before the infant of three, toddling for the first time 
to school, hand in hand with an elder sister. For 
the first three years he must be in the infant school, 
learning his letters, drawing apples in white chalk on 
brown paper, gurgling over pictures, toying with 
highly coloured representations of dull geography 
under the surveillance of women teachers. When 
past these elementary stages, what is the educational 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 63 

ideal set before the average boy, whose school-days 
are to end when he is fourteen ? What type is it 
that the authorities seek to produce ? 

A glance at the syllabus would reassure the 
ordinary C5mic who still labours under the quaint 
delusion that French, and algebra, and violin- 
playing are taught in every London Elementary 
School at the expense of the ratepayer. Such a 
critic inveighs bitterly against a deterioration in 
manners, which he usually attributes to laxity in 
the way of punishment, and he is prepared to damn 
the whole of the present system as a gigantic waste 
of money, producing independence and ignorance, 
and Httle else. He is rarely anxious to suggest a 
constructive scheme by way of alternative, and his 
destructive criticism of the present system is, as a 
rule, very wide of the actual facts. For the syllabus 
was designed to leave a boy at fourteen with a 
thoroughly sound and practical knowledge of reading, 
writing, and arithmetic, and with such grounding in 
EngUsh, geography, and history as may enable him 
to read a newspaper or give a vote with some idea 
of what he is doing, or may suffice to be the founda- 
tion for further studies pursued elsewhere. There 
are additional subjects to which a modicum of time 
is given, as drawing, and singing, and recitation, and 
drill — all indispensable adjuncts to a child's educa- 
tion, for they teach him to control the eye, the 
breath, the voice, and the body. Last of all in our 



64 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

category, but first in the day's work, comes Scripture, 
whose place in the time-table constitutes a separate 
problem. 

But these are all subsidiary to the teaching of 
the three R's, which between them occupy more 
than half the twenty-four teaching hours of the 
week. Such in detail is the educational programme 
of London, and along these lines must travel close 
upon a million children for ten months in every 
twelve. It is at first a little difficult to see how 
any other ideal is practical so long as the regular 
compulsory education of a boy must end almost 
inevitably at fourteen. It is not easy to equip 
him more than partially for a struggle that must 
begin so early. Yet it is certain that the present 
object in view is dispiriting to master and boy 
alike, for a knowledge of reading, writing, and 
arithmetic is no education and no training, but 
merely the elementary condition of further know- 
ledge, to be satisfied at the age of ten or twelve. 

But the elementary schoolboy is labouring on 
with these mere rudiments for two or more years 
after all reasonable requirements have been satisfied. 
The intelligent visitor, looking at the notebooks of 
an average class, wiU be amazed at the high standard 
of neatness and accuracy, but he will find the 
excellence of a very visible order. The handwriting 
is admirable ; sixteen boys out of thirty can write 
compositions without a flaw in grammar or spelling. 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 65 

Yet it will occur to him that the powers of voluntary 
thought and reason, of spontaneous inquiry and 
imagination, have not been stirred. This very per- 
fection of form makes him suspicious as to the 
fundamental principles of our State curriculum. In 
public schools boys are not trained to be lawyers, 
or parsons, or doctors, but to be men. If they have 
learnt to work systematically and think indepen- 
dently, they are then fit to be trained for such life 
and profession as taste or necessity may dictate. 
But at our elementary schools we seem to aim at 
producing a million clerks a year ; for it is only to 
a clerk that this perfection of writing and spelling 
is a necessary training. Our syllabus in practice is 
not merely a general introduction to life ; the skill 
and enthusiasm of the teacher has made the three 
R's a science in themselves, and what was meant 
to be the elements of knowledge has become a 
specialized technical training for the rather dubious 
career of the city clerk. 

Neatness and order is the criterion of so much of 
the work done. The teacher tears a page ruthlessly 
from the copy-book, or scores it through and through 
with a blue pencil, not because the sums are wrong, 
but because the margin is too narrow or the date in 
the wrong place. Another practice of the same 
tendency may be found in the teaching of spelhng. 
A boy may be taught to spell more easily, as a rule, 
by sight than by memory. If he is warned to look 

5 



66 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

carefully at words, and especially at the manner 
of their formation from other words, he wUl soon 
learn to recognize by the trained instinct of the eye 
whether a word he has written is correct or not. 
It will therefore be common to find a boy writing 
a word wrongly spelt, and correcting it himself 
from the very appearance of the letters. This 
system may teach a boy to spell fairly consistently 
for the rest of his life, but it will undoubtedly be 
found to have spoilt the appearance of a copy- 
book, when the headmaster or inspector comes and 
whistles over the pages in order to have a general 
impression of the work. Accordingly, this simple 
means of learning to spell is rendered fruitless by 
the fashion of nearly aU schools to count a word 
that appears to be corrected as an ordinary mistake. 
The admirable practice of self-criticism is thus 
severely discountenanced, and all is sacrificed to 
the fetish of tidiness. 

The ideals which inspire and mould our syllabus 
should go farther than clerkly penmanship, but 
they must be guided not only by the industrial 
needs of modern London, but also by the relative 
capacity of small boys in the poor districts. It is 
difficult to exaggerate the extent to which mental 
capacity varies in river-side schools. Brain power 
is indeed born, not made, and, though it is obviously 
affected for better or worse, it is far from being 
dependent on home or family, food or clothes. The 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 67 

clean-collared and well-booted child of church- 
going parents is often painfully stupid, while the 
rough lad of the same age will snap at knowledge, 
and reveal astonishing powers of memory and 
imitation. Two such boys form a striking contrast. 
The difference, indeed, between the best and the 
worst in a class seems to the puzzled teacher to 
cover the whole gamut between wrangler and 
imbecile. The best boy will at the end of the term 
remember not only the substance of every geography 
and history lesson he has heard (and until he 
reaches the fifth standard he is not allowed the help 
of written notes), but the details of numbers, and 
places, and unimportant persons, that fall so lightly 
off his teacher's tongue. Often such boys remember 
in the parrot's fashion, distorting long words into 
meaningless absurdities, connecting two facts or 
names quite automatically, without any recollec- 
tion of the tie that binds them. But, on the whole, 
their powers of retaining knowledge, and even re- 
producing it (a far rarer gift among small boys of 
nine and ten) reach a very high standard. 

Side by side with them sit boys of the same age 
who remember but the vaguest shadows of what 
they read or hear. After repeated lessons on the 
Book of Joshua, they have but a dim memory of 
carnage. History is read again and again, but they 
still blindly identify all persons of the name of 
WiUiam in one composite personality who conquers. 



68 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

has red hair, is silent, and has something to do with 
an orange. Yet they must follow the same syllabus, 
share the same books, be set the same daily tasks, 
as the boys at the other end of the class. Their 
everlasting failure to achieve what is impossible for 
them brings the state of muddled despair which 
every teacher dreads. The contrast every hour is 
so acute that it comes to be accepted as quite 
natural. Twenty-five words of a certain recognized 
standard are set for dictation : three boys will 
always sail through them without a slip, and troop 
home very proudly ; three others wiU get every 
single one absurdly wrong. Five sums are set each 
Monday, with a similar result. In each subject the 
same contrast will baffle the teacher and depress 
or harden the spirit of the boy. 

Each class roughly divides itself into two main 
divisions of " hopefuls " and " very doubtfuls." 
The former are worth a really good education, and 
it seems a thousand pities that they should never 
touch such real education as the classics, or such 
valuable technical training as is afforded by a 
mechanical laboratory or an engineering shop. 
Their brains are largely wasted, for all mental 
training ceases at fourteen, and they pass out to 
work which makes little demand on their powers. 
Only two out of every 3,000 boys gain scholarships 
to secondary schools which may prevent this waste. 
The " central " or higher-grade schools, to which some 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 69 

boys are promoted, rarely persuade the boys to 
stay after they are fifteen, but their establishment 
is a sign of great hope. On the other hand, the 
" very doubtfuls," instead of wasting their brains, 
are wasting their own time and the money of the 
ratepayer. If they cannot write legibly and read 
in a rough way when they are twelve, they are not 
likely to get so much nearer the mark in the next 
two years at school as to make their stay there of 
any practical value. If it is admitted that some 
boys should never be allowed to leave school at 
fourteen, it is equally certain that there are other 
boys who need not be allowed to remain there after 
they are twelve. Classification of boys is becoming 
a more commonly accepted practice, and has led 
to the rise of the higher-grade schools, but it might 
be carried out to a far greater extent. It is possible 
at the age of eight, nine, or ten for teachers in 
consultation to decide to which of two classes a 
boy belongs, and to relegate him accordingly to one 
of two systems — the one designed to give him a real 
education or training, the other content to relin- 
quish him to the claims of unskilled labour at the 
age of twelve, when he wUl have learnt to read and 
write and do such arithmetic as may be likely to 
come in his way. Until some such^^ classification 
can be effected, the teacher is compelled to thrust 
upon every boy, whatever his capacity or subse- 
quent career, exactly the same syllabus. For such 



70 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

a very general purpose, the curriculum would appear 
to be safe and wise. It is the centre of perennial 
discussion, and liable to small changes every term. 
The vile corf us of our river-side children is the usual 
ground for the experiments of the faddy educa- 
tionahst, but, as a rule, it is only a few half-hours 
that are wasted in such nebulous pursuits as ele- 
mentary science and nature-study. The actual 
scope of the syllabus under present conditions is 
not so open to criticism as the method of the teacher 
in handling it. 

As a body of instructors, trained in the art of 
teaching, the staff of the elementary schools is a 
muracle of efficiency. The public school master 
would pale before their task, and sink beneath the 
handicap. The size of the class ; the daily choice 
between noise, if the windows are open, and smell, 
if they are shut ; the physical unfitness of the boys ; 
the lack of co-operation at home, and the conse- 
quent absence of foundations on which to build, 
seem to be hostile conditions so enormous in then- 
aggregate as to preclude any very perceptible pro- 
gress in the whole class. But the teacher has the 
great weapon of method, almost unknown to the 
pubUc schools, who thrive so well without it that 
50 per cent, of their boys are able to satisfy the 
moderate requirements of Responsions in Latin and 
Greek at the age of eighteen, when they have learnt 
httle else for the previous ten years. The London 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 71 

teacher, in his training-college, has mastered the 
technique and theory of his work. A hundred 
methods are at his command to draw out the back- 
ward, to untie the knots in the confused mind, to 
stimulate the lagging interest of the lazy. He can 
by anecdote or illustration convey any fact of 
geometry or any precept of morals. By question 
and answer he is able to lead on the boys till they 
learn the new truth from their own lips, and so 
remember it for ever. It is a wonderful — almost 
a thrilling — sight to see the first-rate teacher carry 
his boys with him through the conquest of India, 
over the new-found continent of Australia, or even 
through the magical possibilities of the metric 
system. Even the sulky laggard with the black 
eye and torn trousers on the back bench fixes his 
gaze on the blackboard, with its chalk-marks of 
many colours ; and the stupid little sniffler in the 
front, apt sometimes to presume on his deafness, 
shoots up a hand and says " Calcutta " under his 
breath almost before the pointer has fastened on 
the spot. History is a long fairy-tale, geography 
an inexhaustible cinematograph, arithmetic one 
great conjuring trick, in the hands of a man who 
has learnt his art. No trick of the voice nor device 
of illustration or gesture is forgotten ; every re- 
source of shape and colour is employed ; and the 
absorption of the teacher's own personality in his 
subject is as complete as though he were an actor 



72 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

enthralling 3,000 willing listeners, instead of three 
score httle boys. Such remarkable powers as these 
are not by any means exceptional. The really good 
teacher wiU be found in almost any school in London, 
while the average certificated man is an extra- 
ordinarily good teacher when compared with his 
colleague in a public school. The untrained man 
can only marvel at how much he has left unlearnt. 

Yet this very power to teach has brought its 
own insidious danger. The smaU boy in the infant 
school has found the path of learning fairly smooth. 
Every device of clay, and chalk, and wood, and 
cardboard has been set at the disposal of his 
teacher, that the first stages of learning may be 
traversed with a minimum of effort to his little 
brain. On reaching the boys' department, he finds 
a sterner discipline, and more work is expected of 
him. But the same tendency, though in a less 
measure, prevails here also. There is too much 
teaching, and too little work. The teacher, ready 
to use the powers that his training and experience 
have given him, works too hard, while the boy's 
share in the struggle is too light. It is possible to 
make education too easy for children, and to rob 
learning of the mental discipline, which often wearies, 
but in the end produces concentration and the 
capacity to work alone. The bright boy may win 
his way to the seventh standard without ever finding 
the work hard or laborious. He is never set with 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 73 

a long list of dates or strange names in front of him, 
and told that in an hour he must master the con- 
tents of two whole pages of dry fact. The long 
struggles with Latin syntax and Greek accidence 
are imknown to him, and there is little in the present 
system of teaching to take their place. He is rarely 
left to himself with a book in his hands, forced to 
concentrate all his mind on the dull words before 
him, with no one at hand to explain or make the 
memory-work easier by little tricks of repetition 
and association. The stem discipline of the old 
classical system effected a more vital control of the 
wUl over the brain, and made it possible for the boy, 
on leaving school, to meet the 10,000 separate facts 
of anatomy, or the 1,000 cases in his law reports, 
and assimilate them without despair. The boy who 
leaves the seventh standard with every promise, and 
enters the service of a railway company, is first 
required to sit down by himself and master the 
symbols of the telegraphic code. This he finds 
extremely irksome, for the only work he has ever 
done alone before is the learning of racy poetry, 
which is the very mildest form of mental discipline. 
" Silent reading " is occasionally allowed in odd 
half-hours, though it finds no recognized place on 
the time-table. It might well be a regular subject, 
for reading aloud is but a poor gift compared with 
the practice of reading in private. School libraries 
could with advantage be made larger and more 



74 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

varied, and more direct encouragement given to 
boys to read both in and out of school. There is 
a very genuine love of tales among all boys. A 
glance at a school-teacher's diary will illustrate this : 
" On Friday the sky is dark with the promise of 
snow, and the playground shining with mud. Long 
face; in Standard IV. Football quite impossible 
to-day, though it is our one hour in the week for 
organized games. Borrow a volume of Grimm's 
' Fairy Tales ' from the vicarage. After play- 
time in the afternoon there is a most wonderful 
silence for three-quarters of an hour, while I read 
three of the simpler stories. Now and then a laugh. 
Here and there I make a few ' tags ' out of recurring 
phrases, and a sort of chorus is formed, so that on a 
given signal they all join in, with the proud smile 
of men who know their part; Waterfield is the most 
enraptured. He sits forward, head in hands, en- 
thralled by every syllable, impatient of the slightest 
noise or interruption. For once the wizened face 
is stiU, and the fidgety limbs at rest on the seat. 
At the end of each story there is a little round of 
clapping and a buzz of comment. But Waterfield 
calls for sUence, as he sees another story is about 
to begin. Even Newing, the captain of the standard, 
feels in a large measure compensated for the loss 
of football. As for the rest, their attitude may be 
expressed by saying that it is the only time I have 
been able to sit down this week." 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 75 

This natural love of reading books might well 
lead in the upper standards to a moderate amount 
of home-work. The boy of ability would relish the 
opportunity of doing unaided work and trying his 
powers ; the lazy boy would be thrown on his own 
resources, and compelled to use his mind. Further, 
it would provide occupation for the many empty 
and unprofitable hours out of school ; it would 
bring the education of the children more prominently 
before the parents, and assume their co-operation by 
forcing them to make some provision for the boy to 
sit indoors at night. 

The working hours each day are absurdly short 
for a clever boy over twelve. Five hours a day, 
spent on tasks so easy that he finishes the majority 
of them without a mistake, does not give him suffi- 
cient time in which to do justice to his abilities, 
and make the progress which they demand. 

The excess of teachrag and lack of private work 
is to some extent accounted for by the size of the , 
class. The casual visitor to a public school pushes 
open the door of a class-room, and sees a number of 
boys silently bending over their work, while the 
master sits at a desk with a boy beside him. The 
two are going over the boy's work done out of 
school hours, noticing his favourite mistakes and 
special points of weakness. The rest of the class 
are grinding their heads against some brick wall, 
earning how hard a thing it is to learn. The 



76 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

master is not " giving a lesson " in Latin ; he is 
said to be " taking his form " in Latin, and he is 
taking them one by one. 

The same visitor will push open the swing-door 
of an elementary school class-room, and his eyes 
will fall on quite a different scene. The teacher 
will in all probability be standing at the blackboard, 
the boys ranged in exact rows, each head covering 
the one in front, hands clasped behind the neck in 
unanimous response to the command " neck-rest " 
given at the beginning of the lesson. The class is 
being taught as one whole, the teacher thinking 
necessarily of no particular boy. Individual tuition 
is all but impossible when the average class is but 
a few short of sixty, and most subjects are studied 
for but half an hour at a time. Exercises are 
indeed corrected, but there is little or no chance of 
pointing out to each boy the nature of his mistakes, 
and calling his attention to the particular place 
where confusion or ignorance is blocking his pro- 
gress. In so large a class the teacher can only 
with infinite labour remember the characteristics 
of each boy's work ; the knowledge of individual 
minds struggling with entirely different difficulties 
is denied him. 

The present size of classes is the great bar to true 
education. It renders the teacher's task heart- 
breaking, because impossible ; it deprives the boy 
of the essence of education, for the hints and 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 77 

suggestions, warnings and protests, spoken to him 
alone, abide more firmly in his memory than any 
exhortation given to the whole class. Until a little 
more money is spent on a larger staff of teachers, 
the large amount already being spent will not bring 
its full value. A teacher is not a machine for 
keeping discipline or delivering lectures to great 
numbers ; his highest function is to steady an 
ambitious boy, to quicken another who is lazy, to 
clear another who is confused, to know and to guide 
each, not merely to inform all. 

This is the vital and urgent reform which will 
prove" the key to almost any other. It is the 
primary duty of everyone who cares for boys, 
believes in education, and yearns for a better 
generation, to press, in and out of season, for 
smaller classes in every school. 

It is not possible to leave the question of syllabus 
and teaching without some comment on the present 
position of Scripture. The necessity does not arise 
from the fact that of late years an unseemly hubbub 
has raged round the whole question and confused 
the issues, but from the simple truth that for the 
small boy instruction in Christianity is vastly more 
important than anything else. For religion at all 
ages touches the deep springs of life, whence issue 
motive, action, temper, and point of view. The 
Gospel, earnestly taught and rightly understood, 
does not merely furnish the boy with a moral com- 



78 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

pass, pointing like some eternal policeman to the 
good and the safe way. Rather is it true to say that 
he is possessed and permeated by a greater spirit 
than his own, so that as he grows older he tran- 
scends himself, takes vows which of his own will 
he could never observe, and cherishes ideals that 
were never born of self. Much of this must be 
done in the elementary schools, for only one-fifth 
of the boys attend Sunday-school. Realizing all 
this a little dimly (for the multitude, not being a 
philosopher, is a little muddled as to the process 
by which its conclusions have been reached), 
the State has enacted that the. children in 
Government schools shall receive instruction in the 
Bible. 

Accordingly, Bibles are provided for the use of 
upper standards, New Testaments for the lower 
ones — for economy must be effected somewhere, and 
perhaps the teacher's version of the Old Testament 
is wiser in the case of small children. After the 
attendance register has been closed on the stroke 
of nine o'clock, late boys have been dealt with in a 
summary way, and a monitor sent off to inquire 
after some absentees, Scripture will begin and con- 
tinue for thirty-five or forty minutes. On two days 
a week the teacher will tell stories from some 
appointed book in the Old Testament ; on two other 
days the class will read aloud a Gospel, pauses being 
made for correction and explanation ; and on the 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 79 

fifth morning the boys will be left to commit certain 
well-known passages to memory. 

At the end of nine years the intelligent boy will, 
under a good teacher, have gained a knowledge of 
the outlines of Scripture history and the Gospel 
narrative. How far such knowledge will have been 
interpreted by the light of the teacher's private 
belief, so as to give the facts their full value and 
significance — ^how far even the Christian code of 
morals and conduct will have been learnt — are 
points which wUl depend entirely on the views and 
the personality of the teacher. Here lies the key 
to every difficulty that throngs around this question 
of religious education. It is the life and creed of 
the teacher which decides the content and import 
of the vague terms, " undenominational instruc- 
tion." It is this very fact which makes every 
earnest man view the present situation with some 
concern. It is now the natural duty of every teacher 
to take his standard in Scripture. It is open to him 
to claim exemption, bu.t such cases are so rare as to 
be negligible. In any school where six men are 
engaged in this work of religious instruction it 
must happen that they are not all qualified for the 
task. One or two may, by the secrets of their 
private life, have rendered themselves unfit to teach 
the truths of the Bible ; one or two are honest 
sceptics and unbelievers, to whom the Christian 
moral code is a fine ideal, but a little pedantic in 



8o ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

practice, while the facts of the Gospel story are 
little more than a beautiful myth. All such men 
are both unfit and, indeed, unwilling to undertake 
the duty of teaching Scripture. They betray their 
own scepticism, teach perfunctorily, or even grudge 
the time, and steal it to make up arrears in other 
subjects. Boys are notoriously quick to notice 
change of manner and tone of voice, and they quickly 
grow to attach the same importance to a subject 
as their teacher seems to do. Here lies a grave 
danger, for nothing is more surely destined to eat 
out the meaning and spirit of Christianity than to 
commit the teaching of it to unfit and unwilling 
men. So long as the question is wrapped in such an 
unfortunate complexity, the only reform immedi- 
ately possible would be to restrict the actual teach- 
ing of Scripture to the two or three men in each 
school who volunteered to undertake the duty. 
Each class might well assemble, as at present, in 
its own room for the roll-call of names, and then 
each boy might read in silence the passage for the 
day. The practice of private reading is of educa- 
tional value, is welcomed by the boys, and would 
engender in some a natural habit. After a quarter 
of an hour, two standards would join together, and 
one of the masters would in ten minutes explain 
and ask questions on the passage. Thus only three 
out of six men would be required to give actual 
instruction, and he would not find it impossible to 



AT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 8i 

teach 120 boys, if the period only lasted for ten 
minutes. 

This possibility is little more than a makeshift, 
but it would obviate certain dangers of the imme- 
diate present without embarrassing a final settle- 
ment of the whole question. The things needed 
to hasten mutual agreement are a recognition that 
teachers are of more value than schools, and that 
the capital of a spiritual community lies necessarily 
in men rather than buildings. 



CHAPTER VI 

SCHOOL INFLUENCES 

The gap left by the deficiencies of home-life is not 
merely one of education, to be filled by knowledge. 
In the ten years of his school-days the small London 
boy looks to his school to give him far more than 
an adequate knowledge of reading, writing, and 
arithmetic. If he is to learn to be a sportsman 
and play the man, the lesson must be taught at 
school. If his character is to be formed, his self- 
control more certain than that of his father, the 
slow process must be begun at school. The primary 
object of a school is not to convey knowledge or to 
teach a trade, but to make boys into men. It 
is a long and often weary task, requiring patience 
and much watching, wisdom, and S3mipathy. It 
is very difficult at an elementary school, because the 
boy wiU look to become a man at the age of four- 
teen. But this handicap does not relieve the school 
of its duty ; it only trebles the anxiety. It is made 
yet more difficult by the absence of co-operation in 
the home. The secondary school assumes that 

3a 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 83 

when away from school the boy is in much the same 
atmosphere, exposed to the same tone and current 
of opinion. The elementary school must struggle 
against the tide, recognizing that with many boys 
every hour at home is a step back. Here, again, 
the difficulty can only serve to increase the need for 
developing this function of the school. The teacher 
is indeed in loco parentis; the boys must find their 
school a veritable alma mater — rpe^ofievoi ovx v-rro 
/I'^Tpvia'i aXX' viro /jurjrpo^. 

It is round the figure of the teacher that the 
development of a boy's character must centre, and, 
oddly enough, this very name of " teacher " points 
straight to the secret of the trouble. The most 
casual observer will have asked why in secondary 
schools there are master s,hutiD. the elementary schools 
there are teachers. The difference in name hides a 
very real and serious divergence. In the secondary 
schools, and especially in the case of the residential 
ones, the men are indeed masters of the boys, con- 
trolling, regulating, having them in their power to 
mould and develop. In the schools of the poor the 
authorities appoint teachers, selecting them with 
the same limited notion of their work. There are 
a few great and wonderful exceptions, all the 
greater because they struggle with but little 
encouragement against an almost overwhelming 
handicap. Save for them, the teachers are only 
teachers, doing their work in class often with 



84 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

marvellous aptitude and success, yet they are never 
"masters." 

A number of visible reasons account for this. 
Their position in the educational system is un- 
fortunate. They have many employers, and a 
wilderness of rules and regulations. Their attitude 
towards the inspectors is often defensive and 
suspicious, where it is not openly hostile. There is 
mutual distrust, each trying to outwit the other, 
together destroying all the many advantages that 
might be derived from the present system. The 
inspectors represent different authorities, and give 
by no means the same advice. Some are obviously 
looking for slackness or evasion of the regulations, 
and for little else. Such things breed much bitter- 
ness, and make impossible the open sympathy and 
sharing of experience which is the condition of 
progress. A similar grudge is nourished against 
the majority of school managers, who are nominally 
the employers of the teachers, but know nothing of 
them or their work. It is possible to teach in a 
school for a year and see but three of the managers, 
and only one of them on more than one occasion. 
The accumulation of regulations by the local 
authority is now so phenomenal, the insistence upon 
formal procedure so intolerable, that the real em- 
ployer {i.e., the county authority) of the teacher 
earns his most bitter cynicism and contempt. This 
condition of petty aggravation and revolt, added to 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 85 

all the more serious grievances about pay and 
pension, combine to make the average teacher a 
thoroughly discontented man. It may be that the 
fault is with him, and that lack of enthusiasm has 
led him to this jaundiced state of mind, but it is 
far more probable the truth is on his side, and the 
conditions of work and pay should be improved. 
However it may happen, the discontent is deep and 
widespread. No teacher is without his grievance, 
and a large number are for ever bemoaning their 
choice of a profession from which there is no means 
of escape. 

This fact constitutes a very serious reason to 
account for the failure of a teacher to be a master. 
For discontented men will fulfil their routine duties, 
but they will add nothing to the spirit of the place. 
Many have adopted the work at far too early an 
age, because in some country village they were 
tempted by the mention of a headmaster's wage in 
London to visions of a dazzling career. They have 
found out now that as a career it is not worth 
choosing, but it is too late to retreat, and it is too 
late also to change their point of view, and think 
of it as a life. Few men, on finding that there is 
no profit in that on which they have risked their 
all, will take high ideals as a substitute. If the 
teacher is really to work from high motives of 
social service and missionary enterprise, they must 
be his at the outset. At present boys are in the 



86 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

hands of disappointed men, chafing at the many 
burdens of their work, protesting at every change, 
yet impatient of the present. To a man who is not 
devoted to his work there is everything in an 
elementary school to depress him still further. 
Much of the work may appear a monotonous and 
profitless round ; the number of his boys, and their 
quick and complete disappearance, robs it of acute 
human interest. The surroundings of the school 
are wretched. The teachers' room is a dingy refuge, 
as a rule, and but a poor place to spend the two 
hours between morning and afternoon school. Con- 
siderable physical discomfort arises from the long 
hours of standing and talking, the constant noise, 
and smell, and stickiness. All these circumstances 
tend to make the man with a natural bias against 
his work still more unlikely to regard it as a high 
and hopeful vocation. In the end the mind of the 
teacher concentrates entirely on the relation of 
salary to work. This is the death-blow of educa- 
tion. 

The main practical reason for the inability of the 
teacher to do much more for the boys than teach 
them arises from this unhappy point of view, for it 
is because he is out of sympathy with the purpose 
of his work that he lives far away from the school 
where he teaches. In poor districts it would be 
difficult to find a twentieth of the total number of 
teachers living within two miles of the homes of 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 87 

their boys. The effect of this is, of course, disas- 
trous. The boy sees his teacher walking briskly 
from the tram to the school at a quarter to nine in 
the morning ; he sees him walk still more quickly 
back to the tram on the stroke of half-past four. 
Between these times there are five hours of lessons 
and two hours in which the teacher is hidden away 
at rest in the teachers' room. It follows that the 
boy associates him entirely with the class-room, 
connects his face with desks and ink-pots, copy- 
books, blue pencil, and the cane. He knows him 
just as a teacher, but as a man not at all. The con- 
verse is inevitably true. The boy's Christian name 
and home address may be found easily by reference 
to the register, but they are scarcely ever remem- 
bered by the teachers. The only way to remember 
an address is to use it either by writing or visiting ; 
the only way to remember a Christian name is to 
use it in conversation with parents or friends. All 
this is necessarily outside the experience of men 
whose home is in a very different part of London. 
They have no real knowledge of the boy's Hfe. 
They do not see him at home, or in the street at 
night, when his nature is free and he is ready to 
share himself with anybody. The cream of the 
work is missed by the teacher from the suburbs ; 
he knows only the grinding necessities of teaching 
and class-discipline. Unknown and unknowing, he 
and the boy live their own separate lives, with few 



88 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

points of vital contact. At fourteen the boy slips 
away out of the life and ken of the teacher. He 
would not so have escaped a master. Probably 
away at work from eight in the morning till six or 
seven at night, he has the very smallest chance of 
seeing again his old teacher, who is only in the 
district from 9 a.m. till 4.30 p.m. on five days a 
week. When a lad is compelled to leave school and 
start working-life at so early and undeveloped an 
age, he stands in far greater need of someone to 
stand by and watch in the rough places of tempta- 
tion, drift, despair. 

So many children find little help at home. The 
parent's natural function is to advise, guide, and 
warn, but boys are often deprived of this first 
chance. The teacher at school is God's second 
chance for every boy who does not find moral 
strength and right impulses at home. Should he 
live within twenty yards of his school, he will be 
in the very centre of all his old boys, for schools 
spring so thickly in the populous river-side that the 
1,000 children at each one aU live in the streets 
immediately surrounding it. In those half-dozen 
streets the old teacher will be almost as great a 
force as the old village schoolmaster, who has 
trained every boy and man in the place to habits 
of work and honesty, and has created the tone and 
common sense of the whole neighbourhood. Boys 
at any stage of difficulty, or in any moment of 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 89 

success, will come and tell him what is before them, 
never ceasing to regard him as an old master. As 
things are now, even the boy who is attracted by 
ties of affection or admiration to his old teacher, 
and would, hke to report progress two years later, 
does not know where to look for him, and the 
stifling of natural desires for praise and judgment 
leads in the end to a forgetful independence. 

Thus it comes about, partly by circumstance, 
partly by his own fault, that the man is not happy 
in his work at school. Yet the faces of the women 
teachers reflect no discontent, no weariness of spirit 
or monotony of work. They seem born to their 
task,, and cling to their work, even when marriage 
claims their, leisure hours. Each snuffling infant 
has a particular claim on their care and protection. 
The mothering instinct endows their teaching with 
personal force. Disciphne reaches its truest standard 
in the girls' school. The relation of teacher and 
child is happy, and natural, because the teacher is 
absorbed in the human interest of her work. With 
infinite patience, labour, and enthusiasm, she leads 
her fifty girls along, rewarded by their devotion 
and her own infectious happiness. Teaching is so 
much more natural to the woman's nature that it is 
perhaps to be expected that she would more readily 
transcend the hardships of the river-side school, and 
be radiant with success, while the man is sick at 
heart with the weariness of his spiritless toil. 



90 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

Yet there are other forces at work in a school 
beside the personaUty and influence of his teacher 
which tell upon an Enghsh boy. The discipline 
which reduces fifty volatile little London boys to 
those rows of studious figures in the crowded silent 
class-room must surely be effecting a great deal. 
Probably there is nothing more remarkable than 
the subsidence of the utterly undisciplined and im- 
pudent street boy into habits of obedience and 
respect when within the walls of his school. Far 
too often silence and order are procured by a con- 
sistent use of the cane. Where this is so, discipline 
is a very superficial advantage, missing its true 
purpose ; producing external order, but not teach- 
ing automatic self-control. It is universally recog- 
nized by the best teachers that a man should be 
able to keep his class quiet without ever resorting 
to the cane, which should be reserved for serious 
offences. The daily use of force destroys in the 
mind of the boy and teacher alike the whole idea 
and value of corporal punishment, robbing it of 
the dignity and disgrace which always attaches to 
an occasional weapon. With this exception, the 
discipline of an elementary school, from a miUtary 
point of view, is, with a few exceptions, very high 
indeed. But the military conception of discipline 
is the power of one man to enforce instant and un- 
conditional obedience from many others. The 
average secondary school is held together by the 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 91 

converse aspect of discipline — the power of the 
many over the one. The common notions among 
such boys as to what is " all right " (at a later age, 
" good form ") and what is " rotten " (or " bad 
form") are far more potent and constant arbiters of 
action and conduct than the voice of a master. 
This discipline of custom and tradition forbid and 
compel many more things than the rules of the 
school or the authority of the house-master. It 
enters into every moment of the boy's life, shapes 
his manners and character without force or struggle. 
Honour and loyalty are rarely enjoined, but grow 
naturally from the sheer infection of the school. 

It is here that the elementary school is so weak. 
There is no tradition or cohesion to foster the 
growth of such discipline. Nothing outrages the 
common sense of what is right or wrong ; there is 
no conventional code to restrain a boy's folly or 
wildness. The tale-telling habit is painfully common 
in nearly every school, and often openly encouraged 
and reUed upon by the teacher as a means of 
detecting the actual offender. There is no natural 
revolt on the part of the boys against " sneaking." 
They have no word for it, and that shows that they 
do not either approve or condemn the practice. 
It is never suggested or assumed by the teacher 
that they should punish one another. An appeal to 
the sense of shame at any breach of honour or fair 
play will meet at first with wonderfully little 



92 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

response, for the accepted conventions of other 
schools have never reached as far as the river-side. 

These school treasures of common tone and 
mutual discipline lie locked up in public schools, 
held from the boys who need them most by the 
present caste system of education in England. The 
vice of in-breeding reaches its most dangerous 
limits in the staffing of English schools. The public 
schools produce their generation of men, each fed 
on the spirit of these schools, make their selection, 
and suck back a few to help them produce another 
generation of like-minded men. 

The elementary schools, with the same blindness, 
produce a million boys of another spirit, train a 
few of these to be teachers, and draw them back 
when they have gained all their knowledge of school 
life from these same elementary schools. The double 
evil is crudely expressed by saying that all public 
school masters were once public school boys, and 
that all elementary teachers were once boys at 
elementary schools. There is, fortunately, a grow- 
ing opinion in favour of " cross fertilization," a 
system by which Enghsh schools might share their 
different excellences, so that masters may be also 
good teachers, and that teachers may be also 
masters. For the rigid exclusion of the present 
caste system is destructive to either type of school. 
Many of the public schools need the old board 
school boy as much as the elementary schools need 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 93 

a leavening of public school boys on their staff. 
When the second half of this process is accom- 
plished, the small river-side boys will be subjected 
slowly to the unconscious discipline which should 
be the chief instrument of every educational 
establishment. 

Correlative tO' this strong discipline of the many 
upon the one is the pride of school. This is a factor 
in a boy's life most strangely forgotten by the 
educational authorities. The visitor to the riverT 
side is bewildered to find that a small boy does not 
think his school much bettei- than another, and 
that the boy now at work scarcely resents, his old 
school being described as a " rough old place." 
The capacity for .. pdace-worship and - affection is 
strong in all boys. If these sentin^ents are not 
kindled and used for the development of his character 
and the shaping of his life, the authorities are set- 
ting aside some of the natural instincts moat obviously 
designed to help all education. The affection for 
school or college centres round its name, its peculiar 
characteristics, its special tone or message. Such 
possible causes seem to be almost purposely missing 
from the elementary school. The schools, for the 
most part, were given the same name as the street, 
and even the Cockney imagination cannot vest such 
places as " Green Street," " Wood Street," " Cam- 
den Park Road," with the magic of affectionate 
association. Improvement in these directions is 



94 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

now noticeable, and it is to be hoped that the 
tendency to give distinctive names to new schools 
in London will spread throughout the country. 
There is a similar unimaginative sameness about 
the buildings. All elementary schools are so wonder- 
fully and fearfully alike as to add force to the 
dangerous impression in the mind of the boy that 
there is not much difference between one and 
another. A few oddities and peculiarities would 
have spoilt the uniformity of design, and made it 
a little more difficult for the new inspector to be 
quite so certain of finding blindfold the teachers' 
room in every school. The value of a school is 
marked, further, by the imposition and growth of a 
personality as definite as that of a man, and in- 
finitely more permanent. The accessories and marks 
of such a thing are a good name for the school — a 
coat of arms, a motto, a song, a school cap and 
cricket colours, and everything else that may 
suggest an individual difference from other schools. 
Further means of stimulating the school spirit may 
be found in more constant meetings of the whole 
school, a more elaborate prize-giving, an annual 
festival to celebrate the anniversary of its founda- 
tion. At present these measures for making the 
school a world in itself, and more than a mere unit 
in a great uniform' system, are but seldom called 
into use. As an illustration of what does happen, 
a school-teacher's diary may again be quoted : 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 95 

" The prize-giving comes, but after little expecta- 
tion. A formal notice was received from head- 
quarters three weeks ago to this effect : ' Your 
prize-giving has been fixed for November 30. 
Mr. M., your London County Council member, has 
arranged to give away the prizes.' It sounded 
rather chilly and mechanical, and the proceedings 
have done nothing to vary the impression. The 
prize-giving has been timed for 11 a.m., so that 
after play-time the whole of the boys' school is 
drawn up in ranks in the hall, where they must 
stand and watch proceedings. Mr. M. is detained 
by the antics of the girls and infants below, so we 
wait for half an hour. For five minutes there is 
silence, then a shuffling of feet and a murmur ; 
then we are bidden to practise Christmas carols 
in order to occupy the time. This we do in rather 
a desultory and irrelevant way. At last there is 
a stir near the door, and all necks are craned in 
that direction. I look anxiously for a little pro- 
cession of school-managers, and friends, and parents, 
a chance inspector, and a few old boys. Surely 
there will be a shout or a cheer, a school song, a 
waving flag, perhaps a bouquet for the ladies, or 
musical honours, or fireworks. No such luxury 
finds place in the official programme. A tired- 
looking man enters, followed by a good wife and 
a lady of phlegmatic appearance, who, we are 
given to understand, represents the six school- 



96 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

managers. There is no applause ; the procession 
is too meagre and commonplace to elicit any spon- 
taneous outburst, and we have been waiting im- 
patiently for half an hour. It is now 11.30, and 
the proceedings must be hurried through before 
midday, for we have a return match then against 
M. Street School, which is of far greater importance 
than this chill ceremony. Mr. M. begins his duties 
without delay. A very large number of boys seem 
to have won prizes, which are awarded for that 
combination of punctuality and visible progress 
which in the eyes of the Council is held to represent 
the sum of all virtues. Quite six boys from each 
standard file before him in a long unbroken line. 
To each a book, or paint-box, or medal isgiven, with 
a quick handshake and a monotonous formula : ' I 
congratulate you, Albert'; 'Thomas, I congratulate 
you.' The prizes are at last all gone ; feet stir 
once more uneasily on the floor. A smaU good boy 
with a Band of Hope face mounts a chair and 
recites in tones of shrill emotion ; the upper 
standards sing some joUy song that is all too short. 
This comprises the entertainment. Then the com- 
pUments. Mr. M. makes some rather involved 
observations on the relative merits of industry and 
cleverness, and, on the motion of the headmaster, 
three cheers are given for him and the ladies, in 
return for their excessive and altogether remarkable 
kindness in coming at all.. Mr. M. retaliates by 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 97 

asking the boys to give three cheers for their 
teachers. The response is distinctly ordinary, for 
we have been standing upright for an hour, and 
downstairs our enemies from M. Street are already 
sliding about in the playground. With an air of 
melancholy satisfaction, the cavalcade re-forms, and 
our visitors pass out through the door — Mr. M., his 
good wife, and the lady of phlegmatic appearance. 
Verily the sins of omission at such a time are very 
great !" 

There is, however, a bright side among these 
many deficiencies of school life. In the organization 
of games as a definite and regular part of school- 
work lies the hope of the future. There are already 
one or two schools in each district where teachers 
spend time and money unsparingly in teaching the 
boys to play a skilled and sporting game at football 
and cricket. They organize local leagues for school 
teams, spend half their dinner-hour in coaching and 
refereeing, give up Saturday mornings, meet many 
a levy for proper equipment, and provide out of 
their modest salaries talent-money for the most 
successful. The work of such men deserves the 
highest recognition and encouragement, for the 
results of their efforts are even greater than they 
themselves are able to realize. In such schools 
200 boys will stay in the dinner-hour to watch a 
school football match in the playground and cheer 
their side, and a like number swarm to see the cricket 

7 



98 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

in the nearest park. In addition to these school 
matches, many schools have adopted a system of 
" organized games," in which each of the classes 
is allowed an hour a week out of school-time, in 
which they are taught how to play games. The 
stem ethics of cricket and the hardness of strict 
football react upon their character almost more 
effectually than anything else. They begin to 
learn to be proud of their school, to hate foul play. 
The old boys of such a school may always be recog- 
nized in later years by infallible signs : they play a 
better game than other boys ; they obey the referee, 
and are defeated without dispute ; and, lastly, they 
are proud of their old school, thinking it different 
from every other. In the school itself there is a 
marked change when organized games are the order 
of the day. Discipline is far more easily main- 
tained ; the cane is used one-tenth the nimiber of 
times. Something much nearer government by con- 
sent seems to obtain where a master is foremost in 
the teaching of games ; and when such men do 
punish, they do so with infinitely more effect. 
Many a boy who has spirit and temper, but little 
ability, and who passes to a life of hard, unskilled 
labour, could say with justice that the organized 
games he had played at school had done more for 
him than all the weary hours in the class-room, on 
which miUions of pounds are spent each year. 
Along this line lies a new world of hope and 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 99 

progress. The few teachers who are leading the 
way by their own energy and self-sacrifice might 
well be reinforced, while other schools who have not 
entered into games with the same zest must be 
quickened into a new effort. Playground accom- 
modation sadly needs revision and extension, albeit 
at great expense. At present there is not room for 
a quarter of the boys to play anything properly, and 
messy, disorderly games are likely to do as much 
harm as the real sport will do good. The parks and 
open spaces must be used still more generally if a 
high standard of play is to be reached. The equip- 
ment provided by the Council might well be more 
carefully organized, and issued on a more generous 
scale. It is more than foolish to neglect such 
opportunities of real education as these school games 
offer ; it is more than ungrateful to refuse assistance 
when teachers here and there are labouring so un- 
grudgingly to secure the real education of boys into 
men. 

Perhaps the most beneficial of school influences 
lies in the direction of health. A growing appre- 
hension as to the average physique of London 
school-children, strengthened by such statistics as 
are obtainable from the system of medical inspec- 
tion recently introduced, has led to the furtherance 
of many schemes, promoted once again to repair or 
mitigate the deficiencies of the home. The present 
endeavour is to do more than make the children 



100 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

healthy ; it seeks to make them value health and 
understand the conditions which promote it, in 
order that they, in their turn, shall prove more 
careful parents. The weakening of parental re- 
sponsibility for the moment by the active teaching 
and enforcing of cleanliness may quite naturally 
lead to the increase of responsibility of parents in 
the next generation. For clean children should 
become clean parents, and it is notorious that when 
parents themselves are clean, they do not allow 
their children to be any less particular. 

It is true that the school buildings are not yet 
altogether beyond reproach. The staircase is often 
badly ventilated, and preserves its smell of wet and 
old clothes through all the holidays — a welcome to 
the teacher returning from the sea. The class-room 
has large windows, but the noise of the passing 
carts and trains is often so great when they are open 
as to make even the stuffiness of infant life to be 
preferred. With these minor exceptions, the rooms 
are all that can be desired. The care with which 
the rooms are decorated by every device known to 
the teaching profession — the bright fire in winter, 
the flowers in summer — contribute to make school 
a very sunny and attractive home. The boy who 
is ill and tired would often prefer to sit at his desk 
in school by the fire than to mope in a comfortless 
room at home. 

The careful teacher insists on personal tidiness 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES loi 

among his boys : rough heads and dirty faces are 
sent off to the lavatory to be brushed and washed. 
On special days an order is given beforehand that 
boots must be more smartly cleaned. The more 
serious cases of verminous boys are strictly dealt 
with under the clauses of the Children Act. A 
trained nurse attends at regular intervals and in- 
spects every child. If anyone is found dirty, the 
parents are twice warned of his condition. If no 
notice is taken of the warning, after a reasonable 
interval, the child is taken to a cleansing station 
and thoroughly washed. Should this happen often, 
the parents may be prosecuted for neglect. As a 
rule, the warning proves sufficient to produce the 
desired effect, the parent being stimulated to a 
sense of his duties without any further action by 
the State. 

The most pleasant picture of the health pro- 
gramme may be seen any morning in the streets, 
when a whole class is being led by the teacher to 
the swimming-baths for half an hour's swimming 
lesson. It is a wildly happy procession. They 
form up in two lines against the wall outside the 
town-hall. Already boots and stockings, collar or 
scarf, have been taken off, and every button that 
is not fundamental has been undone. When the 
tail of the procession has passed through the door, 
a dozen yelling boys are already in the water, for 
every moment is precious. The teachers, unfor- 



102 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

tunately, do not join their boys in the bath, but 
shout directions from the bank to the minority who 
are learning to swim. Many of the boys seem con- 
tent to splash about, but by the time they reach 
the seventh standard very few will be found who 
are quite unable to swim. At the clapping of hands 
they are back in the dressing-boxes, four in each, 
and fully twenty minutes elapse in arranging tat- 
tered coats and trousers. Boots whose soles are 
tied together with a piece of string, which must also 
serve as a short lace, and stockings which have two 
or three possible entrances, require very careful 
handling. 

A system of regular inspection of every child by 
a qualified doctor has already begun, but so far 
no adequate arrangement has been provided for 
the treatment of cases. Boys whose eyesight was 
declared injurious to Work and health alike eighteen 
months ago are still reading and writing, with the 
tip of their nose next to the work. The inspection 
has revealed a fearful prevalence of small deformities 
and physical drawbacks, which have long hindered 
the progress and marred the happiness of the child's 
school life. When accommodation is provided for 
dealing with those troubles, school will indeed re- 
move the handicap that is laid on these small 
children, and give them a clear start with a strong, 
healthy body. 

Drill has for long found a place in the syllabus, 



SCHOOL INFLUENCES 103 

but up to the present it has not been practised with 
sufficient diligence to effect any great improvement 
in the carriage and walk of the London boy. 
Lounging habits and stooping shoulders still grow 
at the age of ten. More time and thought must be 
given to this weekly drill if the clean, healthy limbs 
are to be also supple and erect. 



CHAPTER VII 

/ 

\ ' CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 

The school gates are only open for six hours a day 
and for five days of the week. The normal child 
is awake and about for fourteen hours a day, and 
thus has sixty or seventy waking hours in the week 
in which he must provide his own occupation. 
The educational authorities suggest little to him ; 
they provide no home-work, do not very actively 
encourage private reading, they lock up the play- 
ground. It is not surprising that the Cockney 
youngster of eleven is ready to accede to his mother's 
suggestion that he may find someone to employ 
him for these odd hours out of school. The good 
woman has a natural bias towards adding a shilling 
a week to the family income, and she quiets any 
scruples by the moderately true reflection that it 
is better for him to be getting used to work than to 
run about the streets in idleness and mischief. If 
the work itself was not injurious to body or mind, 
and was limited strictly to an hour or two a day, 
it would, perhaps, be a wise choice, so long as the 

104 



CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 105 

school programme is limited to six hours a day. 
It is better for a boy to wander round the streets 
for the purpose of delivering newspapers, than to 
wander round for no purpose at all. Unhappily, 
the conditions of a schoolboy's work are usually 
very different. It is more common to find them 
selling than delivering papers, and this is a disastrous 
occupation. It involves late hours and exposure 
to every sort of weather ; it puts a premium on the 
natural impudence of a London boy, which school 
is trying to repress ; and because the majority of 
his customers only want to see the racing news, it 
introduces him at an early age to the technique 
of betting and gambling. 

Another favourite pastime with schoolboys is 
to do the work of a lather-boy at a small barber's 
shop. The same evils operate here. The work 
is notoriously unhealthy, the hours are late, and the 
moral atmosphere not beyond reproach, such shops 
being often used for a number of unlawful purposes; 
Others are busy delivering and collecting milk- 
cans from five in the morning till the very minute 
when school begins, and generally ask permission 
to eat their breakfast, which they have brought 
in their pocket, during the half-hour properly 
devoted to undenominational instruction. In the 
afternoon they fall asleep at their desk. Some 
drag carts and barrows on a weary round, relieving 
the strain on the arms by a string across the handles, 



io6 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

against which they press their chest and so trundle 
along. Hence come white faces and weak hearts. 

The work done is therefore nearly always a 
hindrance to the education and development of a 
boy. It may keep him out of boyish mischief, but 
generally at a heavy cost. The pay is usually 
absurdly small, save in the case of selling newspapers, 
where earnings in the flat-racing season may reach 
to as much as thirteen shillings a week. Half the 
number of boys in a school will in the course of the 
year do some sort of work outside school, but the 
employment is of the most casual order, and often 
lasts only for a few days. The general effect of 
the practice is undoubtedly bad, and can form no 
part in a civilized time-table of a child's life. 

The schoolboys who do not work spend the 
greater part of the day in the streets, living a crowded 
day, full of incident, taxing every nerve, and pro- 
ducing the restless, fidgety nature of the town. 
If diaries were kept, a day's entries would contain 
more than that of any respectable adult in the City. 

8 to 9 a.m. : Got up, began to wash, had breakfast, 
finished washing, looked for stud, found some 
string in one of mother's drawers. Ran to school. 

9 to 12 midday : School. Got the stick once for 
talking. Lost my cap, 

12 to 12.20 p.m. : Care Committee dinner. Told I 
should not have any if I shouted any more. Got 
two helpings. 



CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 107 

12.20 to 2 p.m. : Played football in the court. 
They said it wasn't a goal, so I went down the road. 
Had a ride on the back of a waggon ; nearly run over 
by a tram. Given a penny, and told not to do it 
again. Bought some ice-cream. Stoggins came 
along. Had a fight. Found two cigarette pictures 
in the gutter. Ran to school. 

2 to 4.30 p.m. : School. Found a piece of blue 
chalk on the desk ; swopped it for a piece of string 
and a picture of a ship. Kicked the boy Adams 
in playtime because his big brother pinched me. 

4.30 to 5 p.m.: Went home for tea. Told not to 
worry, and sent to buy some tea, and sugar, and 
jam, and bread. Broke the plate. Old lady gave 
me twopence. Went home, smacked, but dodged 
two out of three. Had tea and ran out. Met 
Jackson and Murphy. Climbed into waste ground ; 
threw stones at hoarding. Dropped a penny some- 
where ; thought Murphy had it ; fought Murphy ; 
found it in my shoe. Went to see moving pictures. 
Lent penny to brother. Saw a drunk man taken to 
police-station. Got inside boy's club ; said I was 
fourteen ; thrown out. Met Stoggins ; gave me a 
halfpenny ; had some rock. Played football with 
bit of wood in street ; just missed the window ; ran 
away. Waited outside Nag's Head to see the 
" beno " come home. Saw Murphy's mother fighting, 
A man had a fit. Listened to a man playing a cornet. 

11.30. p.m. : Went to bed. 



io8 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

A youth of ten, on being required to write a 
composition on " Streets," and advised to begin by 
explaining their purpose, started out with the 
naked truth of his own experience : " Streets are 
made for us to play in." 

It is an easy journalistic trick to be merely funny 
when writing other people's diaries for them, but 
the foregoing is the relation of bare fact with no 
humorous purpose. The daily doings of a small 
boy out of school form a rapid succession of incon- 
sequent episodes, calculated to produce smart, 
resourceful, but unreliable men at the age of fourteen. 
The games they play in the street or court are 
wildly lawless, begin and end without much thought. 
Friendships grow old in a day, fights are forgotten 
in an hour. Life is a giddy kaleidoscope of danger, 
catastrophe, and unexpected windfalls. On Satur- 
days some will walk to the nearest park and attempt 
games of a more serious nature ; a few will wander 
far into the suburbs or the West End. As a rule, 
however, they find their myriad occupations within 
a mile of home. 

The relation of home and school constitutes a 
serious factor in every system of education. It is 
unfortunate that the only times when parents and 
teacher meet are, as a rule, occasions of mutual blame 
and recrimination. Either the boy comes home 
from school with a red card demanding that he 
should be cleaner, and the mother is aggrieved at 



CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 109 

this aspersion on the credit of the family ; or the 
teacher is considered to have punished too severely, 
and the indignant parent stamps into the class- 
room to protest against the cruelty to her small 
son. On neither occasion does the mother show to 
great advantage, and the father is always pushed 
very much in the background when the rights or 
failings of the children are concerned. Between 
these occasional outbursts, there is normally a 
vague feeling of dissatisfaction and latent hostility 
which destroys any sense of co-operation. The 
mother and teacher rarely meet to compare notes 
or express mutual appreciation of their efforts. 
There should be many pleasant points of contact. 
The parents might with advantage be invited, as 
is done in some schools of the district, at the time 
of the prize-giving, to visit the premises, and see 
how their children are taught, and inspect some of 
the work that has been done, both good and bad. 
Each mother would be led to take more interest 
in the education of the child if she was informed 
by the issue of a simple report at the end of the term. 
In such documents it is unwise to confuse and 
bewilder the good woman with a long list of marks. 
The careful use of adjectives for progress and posi- 
tion in each subject is more easily understood. The 
parental interest is stimulated by being told that 
a boy is backward in arithmetic and spelling, but 
draws] ^ with reality, and shows great taste for 



no ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

history. A teacher who takes the boy's drawing- 
book to the home, and shows the mother what her 
grubby ten-year-old can do, will share a common 
pride, and find that he has won an ally of some 
importance. Boys who are ill might be more 
frequently visited ; for at no time is the sympathy 
and allegiance of the mother more surely to be won. 
Tactics such as these are urgently necessary, if the 
present antipathy is to disappear and a new point 
of view established. 

Many difficult problems, at present almost 
without an answer, will solve themselves when the 
mother ceases to be always on the defensive, and is 
encouraged to take a pride both in her boy and his 
school. At present the difficulty of school dinners 
centres round the position of the mother. Her 
apathy towards the education of her child, her 
severance from any sense of partnership with the 
school, make her sometimes ready to snatch 
advantages but slow to bear her proper share. Her 
lack of responsibility arises not from the fact that 
so much is done for her, but that so much is done 
without her. As long as the education of the boy 
is taken completely out of her hands, so long will 
she be apt to stand aloof, regard every committee 
as a natural enemy, and grasp at all that she can 
by any manoeuvre hope to be given. The absence 
of home-work, visiting, reports, and all natural ties 
between school and home are the real enemies of 



CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL in 

parental responsibility. No mother is harmed 
by kindness done to her child, so long as every 
such kindness exacts from her a higher standard, 
and insures her active co-operation with the 
school. 

It is undeniable that many of the children are 
hungry, and that in such a state the efforts of 
education may do more harm than good. Improper 
or insufficient feeding makes a boy nervous and 
worried ; every lesson is a task, every little duty a 
burden. He grows sulky and tearful, and loses 
the bright optimism which should enable a boy 
to get over his little troubles. Very few eat much 
breakfast, for even the youthful appetite is not 
brisk after a night in a stuffy and overcrowded 
bedroom. Until the habits and conditions of home- 
life are greatly changed, children will not ask for 
much breakfast, because the demand for food will 
always depend upon the supply of fresh air. By 
midday the body and mind have been sufficiently 
exercised to require food of some sort before further 
effort is wise or healthy. No argument, moral or 
economic, can ever in this country defeat the claims 
of a hungry child. His need of food will always 
be the primary fact, though the means of satisfying 
it may give rise to a score of different opinions. 

School ceases for two months in the year, and 
the teachers and authorities retreat into oblivion. 
Yet education must take cognizance of what happens 



112 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

in the gaps. Physical deterioration, the lack of 
occupation or discipline, will all prove a handicap 
to the teacher at the beginning of the next term, 
and make his first fortnight's work an uphill struggle. 
The holidays at present constitute a distinct set- 
back to the processes at work in term-time. Let 
the teacher again speak for himself : " Two weeks 
of freedom in the streets and very lax control at 
home have played havoc with habits of attention 
and discipline. The holidays have done little good 
to body or mind. Handwriting has fallen off, and 
will take a fortnight to recover itself, for no one has 
held a pen in the last two weeks. Reading is the 
old series of stumbles, for eyes are unused to print. 
The mistakes of six months ago rise again ; the Old 
and the New Testament are once more confused ; 
' 'is ' and ' his ' used interchangeably ; the borders 
of the United Kingdom have faded away completely. 
This is the common price paid for all holidays, but 
the boy's holidays seem to be hardly worth it. 
They are all glad that school has begun again, 
their mothers delighted to have once more six hours' 
peace a day. On the second day they set down on 
paper all that they have done in the holidays. 
The redoubtable Stoggins (just ten years old) has 
all the airs of a distracted family man. ' I had 
to take my baby out all the holidays. My aunt 
died, and my mother made a pudding.' Silver, 
the diminutive paper-seller says : ' I was at work 



CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 113 

all the holidays, except three days, but I bursted 
a boy's football.' The fat, sleek Torman, with 
long, damp hair and greasy velveteens, admits 
that ' he sleeps in all the holidays '; while the restless 
Padder is proud of having been up all one night ; 
and others claim to have been out till 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. 
There are accounts of how they tried to find a place 
to play football, but failed, and so just ran about." 
The mother finds holiday -time a great strain 
on her temper and patience. There is nothing for 
the children to do inside the house or outside it. 
Sometimes a girl may be employed to help clean 
and cook, and a boy may be sent on errands, but 
for a large part of the day they must be left to their 
own resources. It is in the holidays that street 
accidents happen, for boys and girls alike run at 
random along every street, without a glance on either 
side, hopping on to the back of carts and waggons, 
jumping off at the first sight of danger in front, 
without a thought of the perils behind. A few have 
uncles or cousins in the country, to whom they 
may be sent for a week in the summer, but the great 
majority rely for their knowledge of the country 
on the day-trips that are becoming such a common 
event. Nothing needs more thought and careful 
organization than the taking of small children into 
the country. At present there is more money 
wasted in this direction than in any other ordinary 
form of charity. 

8 



114 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

The number of school-treats increases every year. 
Benevolent newspaper proprietors send the whole 
of an elementary school for a day to Epping ; a 
virtuous child will obtain two or three more treats 
through church or chapel ; while other organizations 
hover round the poorer quarters, collecting parties 
of ragged children, whose only qualification is 
poverty. Many such boys will have the opportunity 
of a day in the country two or three times in the 
course of one summer. Such days are of surprisingly 
little value to the child. They add nothing to his 
health. A long walk to and from the station, an 
early start and late return, a long hot day in tight 
Sunday clothes, over eating and much running about, 
will make the child infinitely tired before he reaches 
home, and upset him for two or three days to come. 

Such visits, moreover, teach him very little about 
the real country. He goes with a thousand others, 
and they are careful to carry all the essentials of 
town-life with them. They always frequent some 
curious spot in the country which is a perfect oasis 
of urban vulgarity, and prefer to live in the madding 
crowd rather than shun it altogether. Here will 
be found automatic machines of every design, shoot- 
ing-galleries, sweet-stalls, and, possibly, the ice- 
cream man, with as vile a compound as his comrade 
by the river-side. All the pleasures and occupations 
are Cockney ones. The very food has a familiar 
taste, for pork-pies, potted shrimps, and cheap jam 



CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 115 

are not true country fare, but the unhappy elabora- 
tions of the town. The day is too short and too 
crowded to give the fresh air a chance, and the child 
leaves the fields behind, tired rather than refreshed, 
with a vague impression that in the country you 
have to walk a long way, and toffee is more ex- 
pensive. The excitement of the station, the train, 
the signals, the big dinner, the prizes, have made 
him happy. But these things are not part of the 
country life his friends wished to show him. Yet 
every summer a considerable amount of money is 
spent to secure for each child two or more of these 
profitless expeditions. Someone pays three return 
fares into the country each summer for each small 
boy. The same amount of money would provide 
each child with a full week at some cottage in the 
country. This is the ideal way for a child to spend 
his holiday. Under the aegis of such a society as 
the Children's Country Holiday Fund (18, Bucking- 
ham Street, Strand, W.C), the boy is drafted off 
to live for a week in some cottage, sharing the simple 
food, the games, and habits of country boys, and 
learning there, perhaps, the happiness of real family 
life. There is only one railway journey, and nothing 
so tiring and exciting as to counteract the healthy 
influence of an uninterrupted week among the fields. 
The boy learns a few of the mysteries of Nature. 
He stands speechless at first before the milked cow 
or the shearing of sheep, but soon recovers his Cock- 



ii6 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

ney assurance sufficiently to ask questions and make 
suggestions. In three days he will have entered 
more into the real spirit of the country, and seen the 
normal cause of life there, than in thirty trips and 
treats. The work of the Children's Country Holi- 
day Fund does more for London children than all 
the day-trip funds together, for a week is far more 
than seven days. He sees family life as it should 
be, and it will encourage him in later years to take 
his own family away together for a holiday. 

The child can never quite make up his mind 
about the country, but he is never in doubt about 
his anxiety to go there. They will advance a dozen 
different reasons, most of them inspired by rather 
priggish reading-books. Their memories of the 
country grow dim in the winter, and lead to a most 
chaotic state of mind. Recourse may again be had 
to the school diary : " Tom Parr writes of the country 
thus : ' It is so beautiful to hear the birds singing 
some of their best songs,' with half a suggestion 
that the Epping thrush keeps the pick of his 
repertoire for the one day when Tom is there to 
hear. ' There is not so many policemen in the 
country ; that is why I would rather live there ' ; 
thus Master Richard, who has already been two 
or three times in a police-court, before reaching the 
dangerous age of ten. The true subjective touch 
is furnished by a boy who writes, ' The only people 
in the country are the people who come for the 



CHILD-LIFE OUTSIDE SCHOOL 117 

summer holidays,' forgetting that some poor fellows 
have to live there all the year round. The observant 
and imaginative Brown, after enumerating at great 
length all the more common agricultural pursuits, 
concludes thus : ' Then others make iron ladders 
for the railway signals.' Brown's mind was busy 
when he looked out of the railway carriage window. 
The greater variety of animals in the country puzzles 
the boy's mind not a little. Lockett insists that 
horses in the country are principally used for hunting 
rabbits, while Billett grows confused about food, 
saying that ' veals ' are good to eat, but pigs are 
only fit for cows." 

Education cannot be confined to schools and 
teachers. The home, the holidays, the country, 
must be all included in the great scheme of making 
men. There is a natural yearning for play and 
adventure, which holiday-classes and scout patrols 
will utilize. There is in the roughest boy a strange 
passion for flowers and cornfields, for ugly animals 
like toads and fish, that cannot be neglected, and 
can only be satisfied by visits to the real country. 

And behind all these most valuable expedients 
for pursuing education beyond the school lies the 
ultimate need of the present situation — the closer 
co-operation of the parent and the teacher. 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE BOY AT WORK 

The boy at fourteen leaves school for ever. As a 
rule, he will never again visit the premises, and 
possibly ten years may elapse before he will see 
his teacher. If he has reached the seventh standard, 
he wiU be a useful and intelligent lad, with a good 
handwriting and good general knowledge, not ser- 
vile, but ready to obey. He has probably been a 
monitor of some sort, and learnt to exercise a little 
authority, if not to be a task-master to himself. 
The seventh standard are as good-looking and 
promising a set of boys as may be found anywhere 
in the country. Never in his life does a river-side 
boy touch so high a level as in his last six months 
at school. What a strange transformation in 
twenty years to the coarse, colourless face of the 
working man, with his clumsy habits and slow, 
limited intelligence. The contrast is on every tram. 
It is difficult to find a good-looking man of forty 
among the crowd on top, coming home from work, 
but among the boys who leap on and off at the back 

ii8 



THE BOY AT WORK 119 

of the tram there is rarely one that has not a bright 
face of much promise. These changes of bright 
eyes to dull, of pink face to grey, of jump and skip 
to slouch and lounge, are symptoms of the great 
tragedy of the city. The boy is ground on the wheel 
of Hfe by the stern process of hard work and economic 
struggle, and what emerges is a calamitous distor- 
ton][of the seventh-standard monitor. 

The boy leaving school is faced with a choice. 
Neither he nor his parents appreciate its importance. 
His father should know well the comparative chances 
of a skilled and an unskilled career ; but long years of 
hard work and mechanical poverty have destroyed 
foresight and imagination, and he finds it difficult to 
take his stand by the side of his fourteen-year-old 
boy, and see by the light of his own experience 
another life stretched out before him. The rocks 
which he has struck, the gulf of unemployment 
which he has faUed to bridge, lie all before his son ; 
but though men see behind them our crises and 
misfortunes, they do not always read them as mis- 
taken choices, the results of short-sighted cupidity. 
So the father and mother who have suffered cannot 
always save their children from the same mistakes 
and the same suffering. 

The choice before the boy of fourteen is between 
two or three different kinds of work. As a rule, the 
work which is easiest to obtain offers the highest 
wages, but the worst prospects. To this class be- 



120 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

long all such occupations definitely recognized as 
boy's work, in which it would be considered absurd 
to employ anyone except a boy. Thus a lad will 
be employed as " beer-boy " in the wharf or dock, 
acting as general messenger to a group of men, who 
pay him seven or eight shillings a week to fetch 
their tea, drinks, and tobacco, all through the day. 
As a van-boy to a railway company or a firm of 
carriers, he will earn the same amount ; as a news- 
boy he will make even more money. Such a choice 
is tempting to boy and parent alike. The boy 
hands to his mother all but sixpence of his wages, 
and a sudden addition of seven shillings to the 
family income each week is a recompense for many 
unseen evils in the future. The work itself is full 
of incident and adventure, more attractive to a 
fidgety boy of fourteen than the office or warehouse, 
and is easily to be found, because small boys leaving 
school are preferred to older ones. " Who chooses 
here will find what' many boys desire " — money, 
freedom, excitement. But in three years' time 
comes unemployment and poverty. He now wants 
a man's wage, and is only fit for a boy's job. 

The second kind of work consists of those places 
which a boy may be asked to fill in factory or 
warehouse, and in its prospect varies infinitely. 
The boy is needed very often to do little more 
than run errands, sweep and tidy, carry and fetch 
for other men. In food factories boys are engaged 



THE BOY AT WORK 121 

and dismissed at random, and the work has httle 
more promise than that of the first class. In other 
factories and warehouses the boy, by steady work 
and by showing such aptitude as even unskilled 
labour demands, may keep his place and grow old 
in the service of the same firm. The pay is as good 
as a van-boy's or a beer-boy's, but the work far 
more monotonous. " Who chooses me shall have 
what he deserves." The steady boy may work 
without interruption for a growing wage to the end 
of his days ; the erratic and light-headed youth 
will find himself on the surplus list, liable to be 
" put off " work for months at a time. 

There remains a third choice, only within the 
grasp of a few boys. An unusually neat and quick 
boy may be picked out by his headmaster and 
recommended to some city office. He may apply 
to the railway company to enter their regular em- 
ployment, and satisfy himself with two shillings and 
sixpence a week for a couple of years. Engineering 
works are few and far between in the river-side 
district, but should a boy obtain entrance here, or 
become in any way a learner at a trade, he will only 
receive a nominal wage, insufficient to pay for his 
tram-fares and daily dinner. Such opportunities do 
not demand merely a pecuniary sacrifice on the 
part of the parent. If progress is to be made, and 
the stiff ladder climbed, the boy must give up his 
spare hours to evening classes and private study. 



122 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

The office-boy must learn shorthand and book- 
keeping, the apprentice must know his mechanics 
and chemistry, or the brightest career will prove 
the very blindest of alleys. When other boys, 
whom he knows to be less capable, are earning more 
and working shorter hours, it needs much sacrifice 
and strength of mind for a boy to keep his eye on 
these distant heights. " Who chooses me must give 
and hazard aU he hath." The conditions of success 
are very stem, and many a brave starter falls out 
before he has reached halfway. 

The choice between these three openings is the 
turning-point of life (though it is well to remember 
that for many boys only the first two alternatives 
are possible). After five years the three roads 
diverge very quickly, and it grows each year more 
difficult to believe that these varied types of men 
once lived in the same street, and sat together at 
the same inky desks. In thirty years' time, many 
who chose the first road will have begun the long 
series of journeys between prison and common 
lodging-house ; those who followed the second will 
be working men, with large families, still in the 
drab streets by the river-side ; while the few who 
dared the stiller way wUl have grown more pros- 
perous, and disappeared to the golden heights of 
Clapham or Tooting, or even to Hampstead itself. 

It is, therefore, of supreme national importance 
that the right kind of boy should choose the type 



THE BOY AT WORK 123 

of life for which by character and abiUty he is best 
fitted. Should the incompetent boy essay to be a 
clerk or engineer, and faU, the nation would lose 
little. The employer will be irritated, and may 
found on this one instance a wild and sweeping 
condemnation of the poor ; the boy will be dis- 
appointed, and lose the very self-confidence which 
was his greatest asset. But the country as a whole 
has lost nothing by the mistake. 

The converse is infinitely more serious. For when 
a boy of more than average ability and sound 
character, having no opportunity to obtain work 
which demands self-improvement and contains a 
corresponding promise of advancement, is driven 
instead to unskilled and even casual labour, the 
nation is losing all his gifts and the whole of his 
developed possibilities. Such a case is far too 
common. The chances of a career are not too 
many or too obvious, and no one may be at hand 
to point them out. The natural desire of the parent 
that the boy, after being a consumer of food for 
fourteen years, should now become a contributor, 
the anxiety of the boy for a free rough life, and the 
absence of a friendly organization to advise both 
impartially, all conspire to drag down the boy to 
a level of life that is far below his capacities. As a 
result, a thousand lives are wasted every year, and 
men toil in the dockyards who, if they had chosen 
the life of training and development, might now be 



124 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

designing Dreadnoughts from an armchair, or 
labouring at even higher service for their country. 
It is idle for any political party to promise economy 
of State moneys and make no effort after economy 
of brains. 

It is the natural function of a neighbour to advise, 
though always a delicate task. The means of 
effecting this economy in the boy-ability of England 
lies in the direction of advice as much as com- 
pulsion. The establishment of a juvenile labour 
exchange, having an advisory committee at each 
elementary school, marks the recognition of this 
fact. The task before such an organization is not 
merely " to find some job " for the boy. Boys can- 
not be poured indiscriminately from school into 
the labour market, as water slips from reservoir to 
tap. The life of any community is far more of a 
puzzle. There is ideally one place, and one place 
only, for each boy, and he can only be fitted into 
it by a deliberate estimation of his capacity and 
tastes, and a constant siirvey of the opportunities 
afforded by the local industries. Such a task im- 
plies the co-operation on each advisory committee 
of the teacher, who can solve the first half of the 
equation, and the labour exchange expert, who 
should be in a position to solve the second half. 

The responsibility in each case is very great, for 
a boy's life hangs in the balance. The duties are 
not easy, for the right opening must be found, the 



THE BOY AT WORK 125 

boy and his parents fully persuaded that along this 
road lie welfare and happiness ; and the only 
weapons are tact and personality. Here is scope 
for the friend who comes, perhaps, from outside 
the district, and sees with clearer perspective the 
roads of skilled and unskilled labour opening out 
before each boy. As a school manager or member 
of a care committee, he has shared the life of the 
school, so far as his spare time will allow — played 
or umpired in the school games, watched the tone 
and tendencies of the elder boys — and so earned his 
right to advise and suggest. A thousand men of 
this type are wanted in London alone. 

The choice once made, whether by himself or 
another, the boy very soon falls into the routine, 
of work, and in the first fortnight ages rapidly. 
Hitherto the smoking of cigarettes was a furtive 
prankj only delightful because forbidden ; now it 
becomes a public exhibition, denoting manhood, 
independence, and wealth. This is a S3miptom of 
an unhappy and premature transition. While stUl 
at school, wealth was a matter of an odd penny or 
two, soon come and gone in a hundred different 
ways. Now he keeps sixpence or even a shilling 
out of his weekly wage, and is a regular customer 
at the nearest ice-cream and sweet-stuff shops. 
His new position at home as regular wage^earner 
entitles him to a sudden access of independence, 
which he finds very agreeable. He now buys his 



126 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

own clothes (to a large extent), spends his hohdays 
according to his own taste, is allowed to remain out 
at night till ten or eleven o'clock, and begins to 
pass outside the jurisdiction of parental punish- 
ment. These new privileges, coming just as the 
stern discipline of school is finally relaxed, are likely 
to strain the character of a boy of fourteen most 
unduly. For his work has by no means taken the 
place of school or home. A lively youngster is often 
regarded as a welcome diversion by the older men 
in the factory or warehouse. Independence and 
boyish repartee win an easy laugh, and the boy is 
encouraged to ape the man till he is in danger of 
becoming an intolerable nuisance. At such an age 
he is peculiarly trying to the manager of a boys' 
club, being at first restive against any discipline of 
rules or tradition of respect and silence. Yet it is 
at this very time that club life and discipline are 
most essential, if the value of school is to be pre- 
served and the excessive freedom of his new life in 
some way balanced. 

The boy does not, as a rule, keep his first place 
for very long. The reasons for his leaving are put 
in many different ways, but commonly amount to 
the simple fact that the work he does is only worth 
a boy's wage, and that he must leave it as soon as 
he shows signs of becoming a man. A firm of 
carriers may employ a thousand drivers, and a like 
number of van-boys. But the career of a driver is 



THE BOY AT WORK 127 

forty years, that of a van-boy only four ; so that a 
driver will outlive ten van-boys in the service of the 
firm. In other words, of every ten boys who dangle 
their legs over the tailboard of a van, only one can 
reasonably hope to stay on and become a driver. 
Another of the ten may aspire to a permanent 
position as stable-hand or checker, but there will 
still be eight boys thrown out of work at the age 
of seventeen and eighteen. These periods of idle- 
ness come to nearly every boy, but vary in length 
from a week to two years. With some they are 
recurrent evils, no one year being without a period 
of unemployment, until gradually the gaps widen, 
and a man grows up who is more accustomed to 
being out of work than to any other condition. 

It is when the boy is out of work for the first 
time that he feels it most acutely. It is a terrible 
thing to be unwelcome. For a few years the lad 
has worked with a light heart, fuU of chaff and 
repartee, has found his position at home easy and 
comfortable, has made many a congenial friend in 
the street or club, and enjoyed life in the careless 
sociable way of a true London boy. Some Saturday 
comes, and the boy is paid off with the intimation 
that he need not come again. Often some excuse 
is offered to the effect that business is slack, or the 
boy has been late in the morning, or found playing 
in the yard. But the boy knows well enough that 
these pretexts are meant to hide the real truth 



128 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

that he is no longer wanted, for another boy of 
fourteen can step into his place, fresh from school, 
and do his work equally well for a slightly lower 
wage. 

On Monday morning the search begins. An 
early start must be made, for some firms begin work 
at six o'clock, and perhaps a laggard may not arrive 
in time, and so forfeit his place. " Down the river- 
side and over the City " is the laconic description 
which a boy gives of his early pilgrimage. The 
large firms hang out a board, " No hands wanted," 
on the outer gate, and there^is no appeal against 
that. At other places the boy asks his question, 
and waits till the busy manager or foreman can see 
him. Sometimes his name and address are taken, 
and he is told that they will " drop him a postcard." 
At first the boy is hopeful, and counts this as a 
chance, but after it has happened twenty times, he 
comes to regard it as a charitable^refusal. After 
his early round is over, the boy tries his second 
string, and adjourns to the public reading-room to 
see the advertisements in the newspapers. Two or 
three of them seem worth following up, though 
many miles apart. A further tramp ensues, but 
at each place there have been twenty or thirty 
applicants, and the vacancy has been long since 
filled. There are a number of possible third strings. 
The labour exchange is just worth trying; a 
friendly parson or club manager may know of 



THE BOY AT WORK 129 

something ; while perhaps a brother-in-law in 
regular work might speak a word for him. 

This daily programme is continued for several 
weeks, with disastrous effect. A hundred refusals, 
curt, genial, roundabout, have made the boy realize 
that his labour is not much needed. At home he is 
becoming more and more unwelcome, for he eats 
more than he did when still a schoolboy, and con- 
tributes even less. The doors of his club may 
possibly be closed against him, if he cannot pay his 
subscription and no friend is at hand to lend the 
penny. It is a grim prospect. Morning, afternoon, 
and evening — work, home, and even sometimes at 
his club — he is not wanted. Collars grow dirty and 
boots begin to crack ; the ends of his mouth are 
turning down ; his hair is not so often brushed ; 
the lining of his cap begins to show ; pins take the 
place of buttons ; the scarf is less carefully adjusted. 
The boy is losing his native self-confidence, almost 
ready to accept the world's opinion that he is not 
wanted. The change in appearance reflects only 
too surely a moral dilapidation within. He ceases 
to care, to be particular, mixes more readily with 
the chronic loafer, learns something of his tricks 
and evasions. At night his old pals gather round 
him and ask his luck, supply him with cigarettes, 
and include him in their plans. Were it not for 
their natural and unaffected constancy, the boy 
would fall more rapidly. Their generosity to one 

9 



130 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

of their number out of work is often unwise (for, 
being too long continued, it deprives him of the 
stimulus to search for work), but it is a silent and 
unexpected tribute to friendship which betrays the 
real boy-nature. 

Months pass on, and the boy flags in his daily 
search, beginning to rely on odd jobs and the casual 
chances which come to every man if he only stands 
long enough at a busy comer. By now his clothes 
are so ragged, his boots so unsightly, that he is too 
disreputable to be offered work at the ordinary firm. 
The knowledge of this fact is a final blow to his self- 
confidence. If the boy does not pull himself to- 
gether and find work, and has no friend at hand 
to feed him and clothe him, so that he may be fit 
for it, within twelve months it is more than likely 
that he wiU find himself lodged in barracks — or 
prison. For crime and the recruiting sergeant draw 
upon much the same class in South London. The 
lad who is becoming an habitue of the street comer 
and coffee-stall has these strange alternatives before 
him. It is from this class that the army recruits a 
large proportion of her London men ; it is at this 
stage in a boy's life that the prison first sees his 
face. The choice is a momentous one. For the 
army will make a man of him, if he serves for long 
enough, but prison may dash all his hopes. The 
period of unemployment is a dark one, and always 
liable to react unfavourably on the boy's character ; 



THE BOY AT WORK 131 

but sometimes it only lasts for a few weeks, and the 
boy is soon his old self again, work and wages 
secure for a few years, if not for life. 

The work itself is hard and long. Overtime is a 
constant practice with many firms, who pay but 
little for the extra hours, and do not regard them as 
an optional addition to the full day's work. At the 
busy times of the year a boy of fifteen or sixteen 
may be at work from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., earning as 
much as eight or nine shillings for the week. 
Occasionally tea is given to those working overtime 
in lieu of extra payment, and where this is done in 
a generous spirit, the change may be of advantage 
to the boy. No one ever knows when he will be 
required to work overtime, nor for how long, and 
this fact makes evening engagements very pre- 
carious during the busy seasons. The big employers 
are generally very ready to revise their time-table 
in the interests of the boys, but the smaller ones 
keep so close an eye on their small margin of profit 
as to be often oblivious of the flesh and blood that 
they employ. It is passing strange that an em- 
ployer who has caught the spirit of his public school 
and college should yet be unable to see any special 
reason why the boys in his office should be allowed 
a week's holiday in which to go to camp. 

On the river-side wharves boys are frequently em- 
ployed on Saturdays till 4 or 5 p.m., and thus pre- 
vented from ever playing football or cricket. In 



132 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

many other quarters the same thoughtlessness will 
be found. But, as a rule, when the matter is brought 
before the heads of the bigger firms, they realize the 
mistake, and are as anxious as anyone to put it 
right. It will generally be found that in matters of 
hours and conditions of work a quiet consultation 
with the principal employers is the surest means of 
reform. Should this course fail, legislation and 
compulsory by-laws are inevitable, but they are a 
poor substitute for that other policy which assumes 
the employer to be a man and a neighbour. By 
the paying of wages to each man, woman, or child, 
the employer incurs a separate and distinct obliga- 
tion. No subscription to Christmas dinners, or 
crippled homes, or seaside camps can become his 
proper contribution to the solution of the social 
problem. The performance of his social duties lies 
within his factory gates, inside the office walls. The 
housewife who governs her little kingdom on the 
other side of the kitchen door with wisdom and 
sympathy, the man of leisure who is satisfied as to 
the conditions of his golf-caddies, and the page-boys 
at his club, these have fulfilled their primary social 
obligation. When they have done this, the work 
of the cheque-book and the visiting of the sick and 
poor are supererogatory, welcome signs of a readiness 
to meet more than their own natural obligations. 
Subscriptions are the excess of human kindness, and 
mark the overflowing love ; but as a substitute for 



THE BOY AT WORK 133 

social order and sympathy within a man's own circle 
of industry they are the accursed device of most 
Satanic selfishness. No employer can afford to give 
one guinea to charity till he has so recast the system 
under which his labourers work for him as to be 
assured that in serving him they sacrifice unduly 
neither health nor morals nor religion. It is the 
assumption of this truth which awakens men to feel 
the weight of their position and the issues that hang 
on their life. A surfeit of compulsory legislation 
ignores the possibility of establishing such an in- 
dustrial ethic, and banishes for ever the human 
element of employment. 

When the evils of long hours, of overtime, and 
unemployment have been fully weighed, it still 
remains to estimate the general effect that six years 
of uninterrupted work have had upon the boy when 
he reaches twenty. Physically he is tougher, boast- 
ing, perhaps, more sinew than actual muscle. The 
emaciated loafer does not look an athlete, but he 
carries a heavy bag for half a mile, and seems to 
think sixpence easily earned. In some occupations 
the boys, if allowed to remain long, grow ill and 
weak. Tea-packing covers them with dust, destroys 
their appetite for anything save drink and cigarettes, 
and leads them into tubercular trouble. The saw- 
dust of the timber-mills has often a like effect. In 
certain processes of leather-dyeing boys are wet 
through nearly all day long, and grow rheumatic 



134 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

forty years before their time. Van-boys suffer from 
insufficient sleep and exposure to weather. 

The average boy, however, is physically improved 
by his six years of work. But the charm of life has 
hardened into rather a weary round. School-days 
were very varied ; no two were alike. They had 
so much more incident, more of the unexpected, 
both in pain and pleasure. After the excitement 
of the first two weeks, working days are very drab. 
Little demand is made on intelligence, initiative, or 
imagination in the wharves, tanneries, or food-stuff 
factories of South London. Work grows so mono- 
tonous that its very monotony no longer occasions 
comment. The boy never thinks of his work as a 
feature of his life ; it lies at the back of his mind as 
an unmentioned necessity, stripped of all interest or 
romance. He is loath to speak of it, for it is a dull 
thing, of which nothing can be predicated, and no 
conversation can live which begins from this start- 
ing-point. No group of lads talking at the corner 
on a summer evening would ever be found to be 
speaking of work. The mother knows her son works 
at the warehouse at the other end of the High Street, 
and that it brings into her pocket twelve shillings a 
week, but it would not occur to her to ask him his 
exact function in the production of cheap jam or 
cake, and he would find no interest in explaining 
the part he played. He neither enjoys nor actively 
loathes his work. Now and then something more 



THE BOY AT WORK 135 

than usually unpleasant happens, and he puts ou 
his coat with the sudden and unreasonable dignity 
of the Cockney, draws his wages, and walks away 
rather loftily into a very uncertain future. Little 
explanation is made at home — where it is most 
reasonably expected — but his friends that night 
learn the facts, embellished by a detailed conversa- 
tion which has been subsequently set in order to 
make the action more abundantly justified. Work 
is lightly thrown up and lightly entered upon. A 
few boys are proud of their work, confident of the 
future, in danger of a pharisaical and uncharitable 
prosperity. The bulk, however, live with a blind 
eye both to the future and the past. 

At fourteen they were full of life, quick to respond 
to every change in circumstance and chance. In 
the next six years the thirst for excitement goes 
unsatisfied, and long ten-hour days deaden the quick 
impulses and searchings of a schoolboy. Eyes are 
not so bright, words come more slowly, the circle of 
ideas is contracting. Work, and wages, and food — 
a grim chain of cause and effect, stifling the breath 
of fresh life and interest, and leaving the world sadly 
limited in motive and ideal. If nothing else than 
these arises to catch the boy's mind and fire his will, 
what can the observer expect but the early stages 
of a dull material middle age ? 

The average boy engaged on unskilled work is 
wonderfully oblivious to the chances of the future. 



136 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

The days of fairy-tales are over, and castles in the 
air rarely delight him. There are few Dick Whitting- 
tons. The most prevalent impression seems to be 
that to-morrow will in all probability be very like 
to-day, that next year, save for a slight rise in wages, 
will be but a repetition of the present. There is a 
dim anxiety for a better job, but it is a rare phase 
usually connected with some momentary idea of 
marriage. The desire to be a foreman stirs very 
few to unusual effort. Ambition is dead in many 
a boy, kUled by the dulness of that work, which 
demands but mechanical attention, and receives 
nothing more. 

This dulness of industrial work arises, no doubt, 
from the scientific division of labour, which cheapens 
production, while increasing efficiency and profit. 

A hundred years ago, the boy who worked for a 
tea-merchant on a small river-side wharf would board 
the sailing-vessel just home from China, listen to the 
sailors' yarns of foreign parts, lend a hand as the tea 
was unloaded and carried to the wharf. 

He would assist at the weighing, tasting, unpack- 
ing, labelling, and be present also at the sale and 
despatch of every hundredweight. He would handle 
spices and tapestry, and learn something of the varied 
riches of the world, and survey the long chain of 
human cleverness from the first owner to the final 
user, for he and half a dozen others would comprise 
the whole staff of the East Indian merchant. 



THE BOY AT WORK 137 

But now the boy fills a very different place in the 
quickened commerce of the world. He never moves 
all day from his corner in the tea-factory, packing 
tea with both hands into an endless line of boxes, 
all exactly the same size and shape ; or else he sticks 
labels on to these boxes for sixty hours a week, and 
the action of his hands never varies by an inch from 
hour to hour. As it is with tea, so also with biscuits, 
and jam, and leather, and flour. Romance and 
interest have yielded to speed and profit. There 
can be only one result from this monotony of 
daily work. Power to think is deadened, natural 
buoyancy suppressed. But the drudgery which 
requires so little effort must bring to every restless 
spirit a swift reaction when its claim upon him 
ceases. 

The buzzer goes, the factory gates swing open, the 
time-keeper is busy with his notebook, the crowd of 
men, women, boys, and girls swarm out into the 
street. Now there is life again. No mere chatter 
or conversation, but shouts and cries ; no smiles, 
but loud, harsh laughter. Cigarettes are lighted, 
tongues loosed, minds begin to move again. A stray 
curate in a new hat, a coloured pair of socks, or a 
bright motor — nothing can escape the quick eye of 
the boy and girl released from work. No people are 
so much alive, when the day's work is over, as these 
vivacious folk by the river-side. Their rough spirits, 
so free and inconsiderate, make them uncomfortable 



138 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

and disagreeable fellow-passengers to the more sedate 
citizens in omnibus or tram. 

But to their work they turn a dull, nonchalant 
mind, divorcing it from life as a dead season in 
which reason, taste, sensation are all asleep. Great 
is the torpor of unskilled industry, and great and 
dangerous the reaction in freedom's hours. 



CHAPTER IX 

SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 

It is about seven o'clock in the evening of each 
weekday that the " Heads," as they are pleased to 
call themselves, can be seen gathering at the corner 
of the street. They are a group of working fellows, 
their average age perhaps seventeen, joined together 
by different chances. Bill the Silent and Bill the 
Conqueror are an oddly-matched pair, but they are 
as indispensable to each other as concave and convex, 
and it would be strange to find them far apart. To 
them is added Buster the Wit, because he lived in 
the same buildings once. He brings with him Bert 
and Alf as a chorus to his jokes. Percy lends dis- 
tinction to the group by his bright ties, and no one 
objects to Fatty hanging on the edge of the crowd 
as a foil to Percy and a butt for Buster's jokes. So 
all groups are formed, whether by Galilee or the 
River Thames, units and couples stretching hands 
until they form a circle. 

It is only at this time of the day that the Heads 
can hope to meet. Early morning has no spare 

139 



140 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

minutes, and the dinner-hour is not a sociable time, 
for a boy does not, as a rule, choose his " mates " 
from among those with whom he works. These 
evening hours are the whole of their life, the time 
when they are really awake. The group forms very 
gradually each night, and those who are working 
overtime will not stroll up till ten o'clock ; for all 
the Heads go home first when work is over. The 
programme of spare hours begins almost invariably 
with tea in the kitchen, a wash (generally described 
as a " sluice ") at the tap in the yard or on the land- 
ing, and the putting on of a collar and another coat. 
The exact order of these preparations varies, but it 
is quite clear that the washing and dressing is not 
in honour of the tea, which he probably eats by 
himself, but a tribute to the publicity of the street. 
All this may last an hour, for the Heads are quite 
timeless in their pleasures, and the evening is un- 
divided by the exactitudes of the clock. When 
they meet, they will do nothing very wild or wonder- 
ful, but merely enjoy the reaction from a dull day's 
work. Percy's working clothes are old and worn, 
bespattered with oil and mud ; hence the efflorescence 
of bright ties and new suits. Buster's foreman is a 
stern taskmaster, and thus foments a demand for 
utter liberty of wit and fancy in the evening. A 
quiet, tame boy may be content to sit at home each 
night, reading the parish magazine, or listening to 
the gossip of his mother and a neighbour ; but the 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 141 

Heads would think this only another form of con- 
finement, no more tolerable than the ten hours they 
have already spent inside factory walls. They only 
ask to be out in the streets, free to turn wherever 
they like, to mix with others, learn the news, and 
form a chorus of taste and opinion. The Londoner 
hates to be alone, is most at home when one of a 
suffocating crowd. He likes to go to church, if he 
is sure he will have to scramble for a place. The 
prospect of an empty pew, with room to stretch his 
legs, will make him shiver. So the Heads find half 
their happiness in being what they would call a 
" click," which is a far more genial affair than the 
old word " clique " would ever suggest. 

The rendezvous for some " clicks " is a pillar-box 
or a railway-arch, or a coffee-stall ; but the Heads 
prefer a sweetstuff and cigarette shop, where they 
sit on the counter, and someone buys something 
about every ten minutes. This innocent and rather 
useless vigil, varied by an occasional stroll, will last 
for fully three hours. The more obvious pleasures 
are threefold. In the first place, there is the charm 
of eating, drinking, and smoking. Fatty, of the 
bright and bulging cheeks, indulges in these to a 
remarkable extent between the ordinary meals of 
the day. Stodgy pastry, lime-juice, and pale acid 
tablets, chocolate, nuts, and fruit, all serve to 
supplement the staple fare at home of kipper and 
fried fish. There is also in these small shops a 



142 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

wealth of variety in mineral waters quite unknown 
to Kensington. The teetotaler in the West knows 
only a barren choice of ginger-beer and lemonade, 
but here is displayed a host of fizzy coloured drinks, 
reinforced by a number of hot mixtures made from 
the essence of raspberry, pineapple, ginger, or 
peppermint. These odd refreshments are but caviare 
to the general, but to the Heads each has its 
peculiar merits, and they choose with the inexorable 
certainty of the connoisseur. There is far less 
variety in the matter of smoking. Only Percy and 
Bill the Conqueror buy the cardboard packets of 
cigarettes where you get ten for threepence, with a 
picture of a sailor and a lifebelt on the outside, and 
the photograph of a dancing lady or famous general 
slipped in as a gratuitous afterthought. Bert and 
Alf and the others buy five small cigarettes for one 
penny in a paper packet (easily squashed, and 
therefore carried like a fountain-pen in an upper 
waistcoat pocket). The great joy of a cigarette lies 
in the lighting of it, and in the first two whiffs. So 
much is this the case that each one commonly lights 
his " fag," draws in the smoke twice, inhaling deeply, 
breathes it out, spits, and says something, and then, 
holding his cigarette in his right hand, extinguishes 
it with the thumb and first finger of his left, and 
replaces it in the bottom right-hand pocket of his 
waistcoat. Ten minutes later the process will be 
repeated, and by this means, though the boy will 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 143 

seem always to be smoking, he will only consume a 
penny packet in a day. Where boys come under the 
influence of a public-school or college mission, it is 
noticeable that they begin to smoke pipes instead 
of cigarettes, for the boy is a highly imitative person. 
Once the fashion sets strongly in favour of pipes, 
there wiU be only an occasional return to cheap 
cigarettes ; and since smoking is necessary, the 
greatest reform lies in the substitution of the pipe 
for these dusty, noxious little whiffs. 

The second pleasure to be derived from this 
haunting of the streets is the joy of wearing some- 
thing a Httle brighter than working clothes. The 
variation may be merely a new tie of green and 
red and gold, or a straw hat with a brown ribbon, 
or a scarf-pin, or a white silk scarf peeping from 
underneath the waistcoat, like a nineteenth-century 
" slip." On Saturday evening and all through 
Simday the change will probably be very thorough, 
and may include gloves, stick, bright waistcoat. 
These varieties add a lustre to ten shillings a week, 
and make the Sunday promenade an active pleasure 
and no mere formality. Bill the Conqueror has 
an athletic reputation, and feels it incumbent upon 
him to appear in something rather striking at these 
times, while Percy, with his good looks and wavy 
hair, never presents the same complete picture on 
two successive Sundays. Bert and Alf are mere 
hangers-on, and feebly echo the taste of their 



144 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

leaders. Buster is rather reckless with his money, 
and can only rise to a butterfly bow, and Fatty 
does his best by wearing clothes that are far too tight 
for him. 

The third pleasure arises from the sociable in- 
stincts of the Heads. In the heart of their families 
they are strangely non-communicative, and shrink 
into their shell and live a life apart ; but once out- 
side their homes they are not really happy and 
confident till they have found their group. A 
sense of security and importance seems to invest 
each one when he becomes a member of the " click." 
It forms a world where Bill the Conqueror may 
gain his right position as leader, where Percy may 
share conventions of dress and manner with Bert 
and Alf, where Buster may enjoy an audience, and 
where Bill the Silent may absorb knowledge in 
peace, and feel he is among great men. The con- 
versation, if overheard, would appear but a 
desultory rechauffe of the evening newspaper and 
an athletic weekly, with such local and personal 
news as may be of immediate interest. For the 
greater part of the year football holds the stage. 
Cricket is never quite such an engrossing topic, 
though the fortunes of the Surrey county team are 
followed with that breathless and extravagant in- 
terest which demands a copy of every edition of 
the " Star." A most amazing knowledge is betrayed 
of the personal appearance, character, and moral 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 145 

weakness of each individual player. Their native 
village, -the year of their birth, and their manner of 
livelihood in the off-season are all matters of common 
knowledge to the cigarette-smoking enthusiasts. 
None of the Heads are without a cricket or football 
guide in the inside pocket of their coat, and thither 
they will refer in argument for the day of Tunni- 
clifie's birth, or the average weight of Aston Villa's 
forwards. 

This genius for hero-worship is not confined to 
the cricket or football fields. Boxers or wrestlers, 
runners and cyclists, weight-putters, and dog- 
fanciers, who seem obscure people to their employers, 
and to the smaU-minded men at Westminster, are 
in the sweetstuff shop assumed to be national 
celebrities, their times, weights, and records stored 
away in minds that seem capable of containing little 
else. Even Bill and Percy, leaders themselves, 
are stiU followers at heart, and talk constantly 
about famous people, more- rarely of themselves. 
Their tongue likes to dwell familiarly on popular 
heroes : fame earns a far greater tribute than mere 
wealth or power. Sport may be momentarily 
eclipsed by a murder or local scandal, but these are 
very ephemeral topics, and all their details will 
be forgotten as soon as they have begun to fade 
away in the halfpenny press from headlines into 
paragraphs. 

The conclusions and moral judgments occasion- 

fo 



146 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

ally passed in the course of such conversations are 
rarely or never original. Certain formulae, adopted 
from fathers or the Press, or arising in the Stock 
Exchange and filtering through the public-houses 
till they pervade all streets, are counted sufficient 
to crown and dismiss the subject. The Heads 
never talk about plays they have seen or books 
they have read, they never touch on work or religion, 
and only Buster in his wUdest witticism ever invades 
the field of politics. Their wit is usually borrowed 
from some catch at the music-hall, which does duty 
a thousand times, even among those who never saw 
the sketch in which it comes. 

For ordinary purposes of argument the tu quoque 
suffices in this disguise, whUe Buster, with his 
wrinkling face, can raise a laugh by the mere use 
of extravagant nicknames. He wUl shout " Sexton 
Blake !" after some chance slouch hat in the street, 
though the face beneath it is far less romantic than 
that of the sixpenny detective. A man running 
after a tram must be called Dorando at any cost, 
whUe an ugly, clumsy fellow who interrupts can 
always be silenced by the name of a recent mur- 
derer. 

It is perhaps hardly to be expected that these 
groups and couples of gossiping boys should for ever 
remain content with their own society. There are 
always within sight similar groups of girls, giggling 
and sucking sweets, talking over the petty scandals 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 147 

that darken and yet relieve the drudgery of their 
Uves. Sooner or later nearly every one of the 
Heads feels the desire to walk out with a young 
lady. Some begin as early as sixteen, and will 
have quarrelled with half a dozen possible brides 
before they are twenty-one. Very few will reach 
the latter age without a flash of romance attaching 
to them. With Percy " walking out " is merely 
a matter of companionship, and involves no definite 
thought of matrimony. There may come a time 
when the pair make certain promises to each other, 
but this will not be till a year or two of regular 
meetings and excursions have passed. The proceed- 
ing throughout is so casual and non-committal as 
to make it a very temporary arrangement, terminable 
without prejudice by either party at a day's notice. 
The first meeting will be through a very easy and 
informal introduction, effected with or without a 
third person. An arrangement is made to walk 
together on certain nights, Percy to buy sweets 
and pay tram-fares, the girl to decide the time, 
place, and route. (Very often the girl brings a friend 
or sister, and Percy brings Bert, and a happy 
quartette is formed.) Some evening the habit will 
lapse, but no feelings will be hurt ; there will be 
no burst of dramatic indignation, no moping over 
unrequited love. It would be hard to define the 
pleasure of walking arm-in-arm on these vague 
terms of companionship. The publicity of the 



148 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

arrangement is a mild enjoyment. For at first 
they elect to walk in the bright and crowded streets, 
and Percy, being still young enough to desire to 
be thought older, hkes it to be seen that he has 
reached the susceptible age when a girl looks upon 
him with design. The talk seems to be very one- 
sided. The girl always appears to be narrating 
all the more angry conversations she has had with 
her foreman or employer during the past week. 
" 'E says to me, 'e says, ' You're a cat.' I don't 
see as what 'e 'as any cause to say such a thing as 
that, so I says to 'im, I says, ' Come to that, you're 
no better yourself ' — and I 'ad 'im there, Percy. 
He didn't say nothing else, and I don't know as 
what I shall leave on Saturday now that we've 
come to what you might call an understanding 
like." Percy replies with a good many unintel- 
ligible reminiscences of what he and his friends have 
been doing lately in the field of sport. " BiU and 
me was in, and we only wanted ten runs, and Bill 
he shouted to me to run, and I ran, and the fellow 
who was umpiring at the other end, as what walks 
out with my sister, he was cleaning out his pipe, 
and didn't see, so I just looked at him like, and he 
said ' No-ball ' ; and after a bit of talk with the 
other side, who don't know how to play a sporting 
game, we went on, and Fatty got five not out." 
There would perhaps be utter boredom on either 
part if the situation were not saved by an amorous 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 149 

jest on the part of Percy, an encouraging shriek 
from the girl, and a good deal of mutual nudging. 
Percy has pursued these tactics with a string of 
girls, but Bill the Silent, on the contrary, has never 
had more than one girl. It is improbable that 
he will ever have the nerve to give her up ; so in 
the end they will marry and be happy for ever. 
Percy's fate will come some day. After a year of 
this rather meaningless " walking-out," the relation 
will ripen into one of open courtship. Percy has 
had time and opportunity to make up his mind 
and change it half a dozen times, and at last faces 
the possibility of marriage with the girl who has 
walked beside him for so many evenings. At this 
point he must put his spare time more unreservedly 
at her disposal, and few, indeed, are his free even- 
ings. No arrangements can be made for Sunday 
or a Bank Holiday which do not include her in the 
programme, and, indeed, incorporate her wishes. 
Some of his habits, possibly even his religion, may 
have to be changed in response to her demands. 
BiU the Silent becomes a still more abject slave, 
and is expected to come and sit in the kitchen of 
the girl's mother, to convince her family that he 
is a " quiet, well-spoken young man." This he 
does most effectively by sitting on the edge of a 
chair, turning his bowler hat in both hands, and 
saying nothing. After the evening stroll, he accom- 
panies the girl home, and stays outside the half-open 



150 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

door saying good-night in sheepish manner fo 
nearly an hour. 

The sociable instinct which caused the Heads to 
hang on to each other, and later to break off and 
join a girl in their spare hours, may lead them to 
more expensive means of dissipation. None of them 
will go alone to any place of entertainment, unless 
he is moderately certain of meeting the others 
there. But on Saturday or Monday nights it may 
well be that they feel ready for some more certain 
excitement than the streets are likely to afford. 
There must be in every life an occasional desire for 
an hour or two of extra sensations, uncommon to 
the daily round. The choice of programmes before 
such a group with only sixpences in their pockets is 
unhappily small, unless they are willing to leave 
South London behind, and tramp across the river. 
If Percy is to take his young lady with him, the 
two wiU probably go to some local concert, promoted 
to support the finances of a cricket or football club, 
whose members are not sufficiently regular with 
their subscriptions, or to serve as a " benefit " to 
some local celebrity, who was never really so famous 
as at the end of his career. The concert will be 
very respectable, the programme will be a long one, 
and there wUl be a great many stewards with gay 
rosettes, who pass with an air of mystery backwards 
and forwards through the curtain at the side of the 
platform. A long interval enables conversation to 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 151 

flow more freely, and Percy will walk about and 
talk to other friends. The songs are old favourites, 
and have nearly all made their bow in the music- 
halls, whence they are borrowed with all the gestures 
and " tags " of the popular artistes who first pro- 
duced them. The verses of a song are widely 
separated from each other by a volume of patter, 
built into a mosaic of riddles, funny stories, and 
popular allusions. The singer also contrives to 
put in a modicum of step-dancing, and occasionally 
asks the audience to join in a repetition of the 
chorus. In this way a " song " may last for fully 
twenty minutes. There may or may not be con- 
juring (the supply of jugglers seems to be running 
short in these days), but there will certainly be a 
prolonged exhibition of step-dancing, and a number 
of recitations from funny gentlemen in pantomime 
costumes, who call themselves " eccentrics " with 
a nice modesty. An exhibition bout of boxing or 
wrestling may figure largely on the bills, but in 
reality it bears a tame appearance to the uninitiated, 
for though the boxers are naked to the waist and 
look very Herculean, no one seems likely to be hurt. 
The songs and recitations fall very sharply into two 
classes, farcically comic and morbidly sentimental. 
Real pathos and real comedy are unknown. There 
is no music, no light touch, nothing that is either 
natural or artistic. The music and the words 
alike seem to be written with a very heavy hand, 



152 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

and perhaps for that reason make the surer appeal 
to simple hearts. Yet it is a thousand pities that 
so little effort should be made to provide concerts 
in which real music and genuine humour should 
find a place. The task is a delicate one, and for 
some years results might be disappointing ; but 
ultimately the truth and simphcity of real art must 
evoke response. 

When Percy and Bill are not thus bound by the 
ties of courtship, the Heads may perhaps frequent 
in a body one of the numerous music-haUs, where 
the performances are short and crowded ; the 
programme consists of ten or twelve " turns," or 
items, each lasting for about ten minutes. Admis- 
sion costs anything from twopence to two shillings, 
but on certain nights soldiers and Territorials are 
admitted free, if they will only come in uniform. 
There is comparatively little in many of the songs 
and sketches to which the broad-minded could take 
exception, though perhaps the whole programme is 
calculated to lower rather than to raise the ideas 
of the audience. As in the popular concerts, the 
whole entertainment is pitched in a very minor 
key, the songs being false and unreal, the sketches 
far removed from ordinary life. 

The Heads wUl wait outside for half an hour 
in order to secure the first row in the gaUery, whence 
they can call to friends in the pit, and wiU add a 
swing to the performance by joining in every chorus 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 153 

with most unmusical warmth, and flinging chance 
comments to each artist as he appears. They 
probably suffer little harm from any one of the items, 
or, indeed, from the whole programme. Yet the 
whole atmosphere of the place is low. It was at 
the music-halls that Bert first met the elder man 
in the gay tight checks, who took him to see the 
Derby " f or a treat," and will prove the evil genius 
of a reckless and dissolute life, unless some stronger 
force shall depose his influence. It was here also 
that Alf met the young girl of engaging frankness 
and dangerously high spirits, who may lead him 
to the shame that darkens lives not yet begun. 
Attendance at a music-hall as a weekly practice is 
commonly held to denote a careless and irreligious 
life ; and though there may be in all districts some 
good men and steady lads who are not ashamed to 
frequent these places, it is still a safe rule that the 
worst boys are the habitues, and the best boys do 
not go at all. At the best it is a poor entertainment, 
at the worst it is the gate to every temptation, 
and no man who is trying to help a boy can view 
with anything but apprehension his return to the 
gallery door. Once again a lost opportunity for 
good has become a positive evil. The theatres 
should lead opinion, foster righteous indignation, 
appeal to the highest sense of beauty and truth. 
The drama by the river-side has forgotten these 
ideals ; it measures the tone of public taste 



154 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

and opinion, and then strikes a full two notes 
below. 

Such and such are the relaxations open to the 
Heads in their spare time — a strange medley of 
influences in the moulding of men's character. 
They would appear to offer but a poor choice, and 
should they accept them all in turn, they would be 
braced neither in body or mind for the struggle of 
manhood. There are, happily, in many parts other 
alternatives for spare time offered by philanthropy 
and the State in their more enlightened moments. 
The growth of boys' clubs throughout England in 
the last fifty years has focussed the attention of 
many a professional or City man upon the problems 
of boy-life. Scarcely any parish exists now in 
South London where there is not provision made 
in some form for the spare time and interests of 
working boys. The necessity of such clubs is 
admitted by the most casual, and even those who 
make no effort to support them are sufficiently 
tolerant to be loud in their praise. The methods 
of these clubs will be found in any district to be 
of an infinite variety. The purely negative purpose 
which they serve, however, is common to them all. 
As a shelter from the street, an alternative to music- 
halls and boxing saloons, as a substitute for a better 
home and longer school-days, the club in its most 
primary aspects begins to justify its existence. It is 
better for the Heads to be inside than outside, because 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 155 

the outside is bad. But nothing that is negative Uves, 
and a club that is merely a shelter can have no 
permanent effect. A shelter is only a temporary 
expedient, and suggests a storm of rain in Piccadilly, 
or a tardy tram on the Embankment. It is good 
that Bert and Alf should be withdrawn for a few 
evenings in the week from the emptiness and tempta- 
tions of street life ; but they must always be near 
these dangers, and if by their hours in the club they 
are not better equipped to face them, the club has 
not done one half of its work. 

Four walls and a roof do not make a club ; it is 
more than a building, though it may be found in 
a mere shed behind the vicarage or in a stable 
underneath the railway arch. The negative soon 
merges into the positive good, when a notice-board 
is hoisted, and a name appears. For the elementary 
advantage of a club lies in the corporate sense which 
it creates, and leaves to grow into a whole body of 
tradition and unspoken laws. Whatever the specific 
purpose, rules, or occupations in a club, the mere 
belonging to it does good to the indecisive Bert. 
He has learnt httle of the strict home-code, which 
regulates many a boy's life and instincts else- 
where, felt nothing of tradition or place-worship 
at his school. The social instinct, aheady notice- 
able in the street, is easily kindled into a flame 
of devotion to " the club." He becomes one of a 
group, which is a concomitance of spirit and purpose 



156 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

rather than mere chance, and while retaining his 
cherished independence, wins all the fresh benefits 
of a community. Apart from strict rules and 
regulations, which affect conduct rather than charac- 
ter, apart from the advice or appeal of his club- 
manager, he is a better fellow inside the club than 
he was outside it. His thoughts and language in 
the streets were agreeably elastic. When at a 
music-hall or boxing saloon they were readily 
altered to the spirit of the place, and became a 
little lower, without his being conscious of the 
change ; just as insensibly inside the club language 
and thoughts become a little cleaner and higher. 
He already gambles constantly, and can barely 
conceive any issue of interest, where money is not 
at stake ; yet he wiU, as a rule, refrain from his 
practices while on club premises, not so much 
because of the strict rules which forbid betting there, 
but rather because he realizes that it is a wrong 
and unsuitable place for that stamp of occupation. 
The same feeling grows up in Alf with regard to 
indecent or blasphemous words ; they are common 
enough in street and home, and late at night his 
drunken mother uses them as terms of maudlin 
endearment, but in the club they are out of place. 
Side by side with these restrictions there grows in 
Fatty a greater carefulness in dress and appearance, 
a deference to the wishes of others, and something 
of the unselfishness of a citizen. These vague effects 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 157 

axe produced by every club, and in varying measure 
upon every one of their members, so that even the 
failures and backsliders who disappear after a few 
months are a little better for their short experience 
of corporate Ufe. 

These preventive and general advantages are of 
the essence of every boys' club, but an examination 
of the further and more substantial benefits reveals 
a wide divergence in aim, and method, and result. 
All clubs keep boys from the streets ; all clubs 
imbue them with a corporate spirit ; and they nearly 
all go a great deal further, but in very different 
directions. In one the emphasis may be laid on 
discipline ; in a second club, rather on friendliness. 
One club is military, another is educational, a third 
athletic and gymnastic, a fourth social, with a 
strong religious basis. There are differences in pay- 
ment, rules, government, and tone. Therefore, in 
enumerating the advantages of boys' clubs in 
general, it is necessary for the critic to go from one 
club to another ; for in no single club can the strong 
points of all be found in harmonious combination. 

The Heads gain much from the discipline en- 
forced. They have been much in need of it since 
they left school, and, if it is exercised by a man 
whom they like and admire, they will acquiesce in 
it readily enough, and soon forget that they ever 
found it irksome. This club discipline reminds Bill 
the Conqueror of many things that he would other- 



158 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

wise ignore. Punctuality, both in payment of sub- 
scription and attendance at some necessary meeting, 
reliability in performing any duties allotted to him, 
readiness to abide by authority and to bury a 
grievance for the sake of the club, are habits only 
learned by the rigid enforcement of club rules. 
These are virtues often missing in the boy who is 
successful at games and easily popular with all his 
kind. He has taken his prominence for granted, 
and done little to repay admiration. Once formed 
these habits are of the utmost value to the character 
of such a promising boy. For Bill, who even in the 
second standard at school was already a leader, is 
a bit of an egoist, and the function of his club is to 
prune the more objectionable forms of his conceit 
without injuring his value as a distinct individual — 
a task performed with varying success for other 
boys by the public schools. At a certain age re- 
pression is the kindest medicine for all, and those 
who leave school at fourteen are in danger of losing 
half the dose. With the North-Country boy this 
egoism commonly takes the form of having very, 
fixed opinions on serious matters at an early age. 
Buster, on the contrary, usually exploits himself 
from an intense desire to be funny, to have the last 
word, to attract attention. He is at times pain- 
fully apt in his interruptions, but his irrepressi- 
bility becomes a social nuisance if not sternly 
checked. The discipline enforced by the club 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 159 

manager, and accepted by the members, will teach 
even Buster the possibilities of silence. Such dis- 
cipline will, of course, never be allowed to separate 
the Heads from their club manager by setting up 
authority as a barrier rather than a link. The 
personal contact of Mr. X. with Bill the Silent and 
Bill the Conqueror is the opening for great personal 
help. He will be a schoolmaster and elder brother 
to them both, and in this relationship supply the 
stimulus and curb they respectively require. In 
this way Bill the Silent will be discovered as a man 
of unexpected thought, and force, and S57mpathy ; 
while Bill the Conqueror will be doubled in value by 
being reduced to a sense of his own proportion. 
True discipline proves not a bar to friendship, but 
rather its most essential aspect. For the boy does 
not have a schoolmaster at his side when such an 
influence is usually most operative, and elder 
brothers offer little by way of advice and warning. 
A substitute is sadly needed, and confidence in the 
judgment of Mr. X. saves the Heads and many others 
from silly mistakes. They respond very quickly to 
personality, conceive a warm affection for any elder 
man who tries to help them. Their genius for 
friendship leads to a spontaneous desire to give and 
receive confidence ; they are swayed and moulded 
the more easily by example and suggestion. An 
element of true discipline in the club will prevent 
this tendency to affection from developing into an 



i6o ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

unwholesome and dangerous familiarity. A very 
wise admixture of love and authority produces 
perfect discipline. 

The club, however, has uses and attractions more 
obvious to the Heads. Their daily work may tire 
and dullen them, without developing either limbs 
or mind. A club provides them with every oppor- 
tunity for systematic exercise. Boxing and wrest- 
ling will make them hardy and supple, and teach 
them to look every man in the face. Billiards will 
train the eyes and steady the hand, and even 
draughts and dominoes have some subtle influence 
on manners and morals, when played by strict rules 
in the atmosphere of a club, where fair play is 
valued above victory, and gambling is not needed 
as an accessory to the interest of the game. It is 
quite certain that, as they grow accustomed to 
play every game for its own sake with zest and 
fairness, they are adding to their calibre, and learning 
to hate all secrecy and trickery. For Fatty and 
Percy there is drill and every form of gymnastic 
exercise, the very conditions of which are habits of 
health and cleanliness. Long-distance running has 
of late come into great vogue, and though it may 
be contended that five or seven miles in the evening 
on rough roads is a heavy tax for anyone who has 
already worked for ten hours, it cannot be denied 
that this stem athleticism demands a more careful 
life. When setting out for a club-run through the 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY i6i 

streets of the City, along the Embankment, and 
home by Westminster Bridge, the Heads, for obvious 
reasons, first wash their bare legs, though many 
other athletes would only find this necessary on 
their return. But the washing of legs is not enough 
to win a race. A stricter diet, omitting pastry, 
sweets, and cigarettes, becomes almost a fixed habit 
for poor Fatty throughout the year, and Percy must 
go to bed an hour earlier than aforetime. All this 
is building a stronger race of men and fathers, 
addicted to a more regular life, demanding those 
baths and better houses which the pessimism of the 
nineteenth century has denied them. 

It is good for Buster's mind to be full of league 
football and county cricket, for these are live, clean 
things, and without them his quick mind and ready 
tongue may sink to far less reputable topics of 
thought and conversation. But it is far better still 
that he should play cricket and football himself on 
Saturday afternoons. The rules of cricket are so 
framed as to be an almost exact parallel of the best 
moral code ; the spirit of football — ^help your side 
to score without fouling — is the spirit also of life. 
Several conditions are necessary to make the ethics 
of these games really effective. There must be in- 
tense keenness, continuity of play, rigorous ad- 
herence to rules and conventions. It was found 
that when the Heads grouped themselves into a 
team of their own accord, gathering each Friday 

II 



i62 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

night at the sweetstuff shop to pick the eleven, 
they did not hold together for very long. The 
captain was too autocratic or too lax ; the motives 
of the committee and the accuracy of the treasurer 
, were not above suspicion. A run of successes 
carried them on, but six successive losses played 
havoc with the loyalty of the team, and a Saturday 
came when only four of the most faithful reached 
the field of play. The very captain was among the 
deserters, preferring to adopt the easier role of a spec- 
tator at the " Spurs" or "Arsenal " cup-ties rather 
than lead half a team to defeat. When their head- 
quarters are at some boys' club, they secure thereby 
a measure of permanence. They may choose their 
own captain, and be responsible for their own 
finances (far better so) ; but their position as the 
representatives of a whole club gives them more 
confidence. They receive more encouragement, 
awaken more interest, procure, very possibly, the 
services of a strict referee or umpire, and are held 
more firmly to the honour of the game. The service 
rendered by the London County Council in the pro- 
vision of free pitches for cricket and football in 
their open spaces, and by the Playing Fields Society 
in the letting of full-sized grounds at low rents, can- 
not be praised too highly. They have earned the 
gratitude of every boys' club where games are played 
in organized fashion, for without them serious 
cricket and football would be well-nigh impossible. 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 163 

The only drawback lies in the growing demand for 
fresh spaces. London is so choked by a ring of 
spreading suburbs that the freedom of a grassy 
field is hard to find. Some day the gates of Hyde 
Park will be flung open wide, and the cricketers 
from the river-side will bat and bowl in these idle 
pastures. 

Many clubs are actively engaged in promoting 
the further education of working boys, and some 
achieve remarkable results in this direction. By a 
close coroperation with the evening schools in the 
neighbourhood, it is possible to lay before every boy 
a course of evening study suited to his taste and 
capacity, and likely to prove of great benefit to 
his future. Great sums of money and an unspeak- 
able amount of thought and labour, both in teaching 
and organization, are spent ungrudgingly every 
winter. A few exceptional boys owe their advance 
in life, and their whole development of mind, to 
these efforts. They learn shorthand, and type- 
writing, and foreign correspondence, and climb to 
posts of high responsibility in their City office. 
Others are taught mechanics, machine-drawing, and 
all the arts and crafts which will enable them to 
succeed their father as plumber or engineer. Yet 
these few are wonderfully few when measured by 
the magnitude of the effort made to help them and 
the multitude of the class from which they come. The 
reasons of this disappointment are not far to seek. 



i64 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

The Heads have never attended evening classes 
with any regularity at all. Bill the Conqueror and 
Buster are clever boys, with bright faces, quick to 
pick up. They have always found it easy to learn, 
but they have always stopped halfway. Ten hours' 
work in the day does not tire their mind, because it 
has probably not made any use of it at all ; but they 
are certainly jaded, and find it difficult to concen- 
trate on any subject that has not immediate interest. 
They can appreciate songs, talk, and moving pic- 
tures, but any study which makes a real demand on 
their powers, and does more than tickle the senses 
of imagination, will soon forfeit their attention. 
They have often been persuaded to enrol them- 
selves at an evening school in the middle of Sep- 
tember, but by Christmas they are liable to give 
up the struggle, and spend their spare time in less 
exacting occupations. A thriving school with first- 
rate teachers will have 800 names on its register by 
the middle of November, and there will be 500 
names by Easter, when nearly all educational pro- 
grammes collapse. But even these figures are a 
little delusive, for on narrow scrutiny it will be 
found that a large number of the gallant 500 who 
finished at Easter only joined the classes in January, 
and that a very small proportion indeed of the 
original 800 survived the full six months. One 
season's tuition in most subjects is of comparatively 
little value, but there are few even among these 



SPARE TIME OF THE WORKING BOY 165 

who are faithful for a full session who continue their 
course for a number of years. Nearly every boy 
under twenty has at some time or another been to 
evening classes, but only a tiny minority have perse- 
vered and obtained the consecutive teaching of a 
three years' course. The teachers work gallantly 
against many odds ; the organization is perfected 
by every device that experience and real earnest- 
ness can devise. Yet in the end the system is all 
but defeated in the case of the average boy by the 
long hours of his work and the uncertainty of his 
overtime. Bill the Conqueror promised to attend 
regularly, and paid his admission fee in three 
successive autumns. In December each year over- 
time became the rule rather than the exception. 
For three weeks he would be absent, and after that 
unwilling to return. At present the conditions of 
his daily work constitute so serious a handicap that 
the efforts of clubs and evening schools to continue 
his education are altogether thwarted. There are 
brilliant exceptions. Some boys will climb any 
obstacle, and will learn when all others are asleep 
or at play. But the Heads are only average boys, 
and are overcome by the circumstances of work and 
home. Until these are altered, the great oppor- 
tunities of education will only reach a sparse 
minority. 

On certain evenings in the week Fatty may be 
seen walking through the streets clutching a carbine 



i66 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

with attempted nonchalance, as though it were really 
only an umbrella of some new design. Playful re- 
marks fly after him from some passing girls, who 
think that a gun makes a boy in mufti look ridicu- 
lous. But this latest recruit to the Territorials takes 
the chaff of his friends in good part, keeps his head 
up, and attends his recruit drills very steadily. The 
system of training does not occupy much of his spare 
time at present, and so escapes the difficulties of 
overtime and social engagements. The few evenings 
devoted to it are well spent, contributing to the 
appearance no less than the character of the boy. 
The fortnight in camp during August is the time 
when Fatty (who will soon lose his name) really 
benefits in every way. The unemployed and chronic 
loafers are not accepted in the Territorials, so that 
he is thrown among decent working fellows like 
himself, and is all the better for the comradeship 
of camp. He returns to work thoroughly fit, far 
more alert in sense and limb, and if he is not a very 
experienced soldier, he is, at any rate, a manlier 
citizen. As an instrument of general education 
and social service, the Territorial movement can 
have no critics. 



CHAPTER X 

A boy's character and religion 

Much has been said of a boy's spare time, for it is 
during this period of his Hfe that his character is 
forming, and it is on that uncertain process that 
the happiness of his whole life will depend. The 
forces which sway a boy's impulses or stiffen his 
will-power come very largely in the hours of freedom, 
when a choice of occupations and companions is 
open before him. It is probable that by the age 
of twenty his character will have set, tendencies 
have hardened into qualities, and the manner of 
the man will be determined. It is well, therefore, 
to review briefly the warring forces and instincts 
of a boy in these five years of transition. 

There is nothing dour, grim, or reticent in the 
being or the manner of the London boy. A life- 
long diet of tea, cheap jam, and fish produces a more 
vivacious and neurotic lad than is commonly found 
in the North. His speech is quicker, his ideas more 
chaotic, his motives a more inconsequent series. 
A boy who has drunk in from early infancy the 

167 



i68 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

moving life and spirits of the streets can never be 
so deliberate of intention, so dilatory in judgment, 
as the country child. One mood is immediately 
succeeded by its opposite. The Chaplain-General 
may enthral him for thirty minutes, and keep him 
in an ecstasy of attention, for there is no stillness 
like the absorption of a hundred noisy boys. Two 
minutes after the service is at an end, the babel of 
noise makes the cynic smile and think it all of no 
account. But he is wrong. The London boy is 
so elastic that the volume of the subsequent noise 
is an eloquent witness to the deep impression of 
five minutes before. It is unfair to blame the boy 
for showing a vacillating and inconsistent disposi- 
tion. But the quick transience of mood and motive 
makes his character the more difficult to gauge or 
mould. His emotional and affectionate tempera- 
ment give him a charm and buoyancy that will 
often lead others to overrate his worth, and cause 
them much subsequent disappointment. He is 
easily drawn to a higher level, but easily slips back 
for what are apparently the most trivial of reasons. 
He rises again to the higher level, and climbs 
beyond it, and whether he is at the top or bottom, 
is apt to regard his condition with a measure of self- 
complacency that is not without charm. Few 
interests obsess him utterly, and he rarely shows, 
either in work or game, the application of his 
brothers across the Tweed. On Fridays and 



A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION 169 

Saturdays the football captain is a proud and 
distinguished figure, his mind enveloped in the for- 
tunes of the game, and he seems to live for nothing 
else. Yet on the following Wednesday, at the 
annual meeting of the club, he is tmaccountably 
absent, and it is rumoured that he has gone to 
Lewisham to see an aunt. 

AU boys are forgetful, but the phases of the 
London boy are more baffling than usual, and 
make it difficult to see beneath the surface real, 
permanent qualities of a single identity. His 
enemies will call him fickle, but they are unfair in 
this, for behind these rapid changes there is, as a 
rule, no attempt to deceive ; they merely reflect the 
chaos and inconsequence of a boy's motives. In 
this way it happens that the growth of character 
is not a single spasm nor a smooth and regular 
process, but is rather to be compared to the needle 
of a compass which swings backwards and forwards 
for a time before it gradually steadies itself and 
settles down ; and from that moment it points in 
a fixed direction. If it be argued that this is true 
of all men, it would be fair to answer that with the 
London boy at this period the preliminary skirmishes 
of the needle are more violent and prolonged, and 
do not seem governed by the ordinary laws of the 
pendulum. 

There is much in the life of the working boy to 
coarsen his mind and upset his better instincts. 



170 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

A brief survey of his general character has showed 
that he has all the natural qualities of a gambler. 
The opportunities for gratifying such instincts are 
frequent and seductive. While yet a schoolboy, 
he played pitch-and-toss with secret exuberance on 
the stairs of his buildings ; now that he is older, a 
group of his mates may entice him to the fiat roof 
of the model buildings some early Sunday morning, 
and there, under the sky, 150 feet above the river, 
a game of " banker " will be screened from the 
notice of police and parent. Even boys who live 
in better houses are drawn into the practice of 
betting. In a large number of City offices and river- 
side factories and warehouses it is the annual custom 
to hold a sweepstake on the "Derby" or the " Oaks." 
Even if he had any convictions on the point, the 
office-boy of fourteen could hardly be expected to 
stand out from the general subscription and refuse 
his sixpence. Should he be lucky enough to draw 
a horse, he will be chaffed genially about his chances, 
and will learn how to find out from the evening 
paper the odds against the horse that he has drawn. 
His interest awakened, he may be led to place another 
rare sixpence in the hope of doubling an uncertain 
gain. The petty technique of betting fascinates 
a quick mind, and whether he wins or loses in his 
first effort, he is likely to continue reading the 
sporting news, occasionally risking an odd shilling. 
This is most true, where he is not allowed by his 



A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION 171 

employer, or not encouraged by a club to take 
an interest in football and cricket. In a year or 
two the amount of his weekly risk has increased 
out of all proportion to the slow rise in his wages, 
and has become a serious drain on his resources. 
Betting is an elusive evil, confounding argument 
by the subtlety of its nature, but there are three 
clear ways in which it spoils the life of the working 
boy. First, it costs him more than he can afford — 
for on a year's betting every boy loses. Secondly, 
it produces an unhealthy craving for excitement, 
which makes him a bad worker. Thirdly, it brings 
inevitably with it a flashy and material order of life, 
which weakens the hold of moral principle and 
excludes the spirit of religion. 

Few boys are to be seen in these days inside a 
public-house ; the habit of drinking to excess does 
not seem to come till a later age, and there are many 
signs that here, too, there is a great abatement. 
But while the abuse of alcohol grows every year 
more rare, the insidious forms of moral evil threaten 
the boy at every step. As an infant the words of 
vice were familiar to his ears. If he scrambled too 
far from the door of home, his mother (a decent 
woman) recalled him by foul, unmeaning words 
that blasphemed and degraded her own motherhood. 
At school, before he was fourteen, older boys hinted 
at some of the secrets of life. Indecency is not so 
rare in an elementary school. At the place of his 



172 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

work, pictures of vice will be passed round, little 
pamphlets of foul suggestion will be lent to him. 
The recent increase in this kind of printing is a 
somewhat alarming symptom of laxity in opinion, 
if not in conduct. These vile seductions come to 
the boy at a dangerous age. The restless cravings 
of impurity within are fomented by the open 
tolerance of vice, and many a lad who left school 
in all innocence has fallen into evil ways before he 
is twenty. When to these special forms of tempta- 
tion are added all those adverse influences of poverty 
which tend to make all men careless of exact truth 
or honesty, it will be seen that the growing character 
is stiffly handicapped by the forces of evil, and less 
wonder will be felt if some bright-faced boys turn 
in a few years to sullen, irresolute and vicious 
loafers. 

In the lives of some boys there is something to 
hold them back, and give them the self-control 
which keeps moral danger at arm's length. One 
has a good mother, and her nature is woven into his, 
bringing a strength and natural goodness which 
responds to her appeals, and reaches after her 
standards. Another has a cautious, self-preservative 
instinct which enables him to mix freely with all 
he meets and yet to " look after himself, and do 
nothing foolish," as he assures an older friend with 
quaint yet justified conceit. Many boys are dis- 
tracted from taste for gambling by more solid in- 



A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION 173 

terests. The real antidote to all boyish failings is 
some form of education and discipline (as outlined 
in the description of a boys' club) which provides 
distractions from the baser things in life, and, in 
these new objects of interest teaches a firmer self- 
control. It is a fine thing, reflects the boy, to 
swagger at a street corner in a pearl-buttoned 
waistcoat, and name the odds on each horse in the 
St. Leger with indifference, but it is a finer thing 
still to pace up the street in shorts and striped 
jersey at the head of a panting line. The boy who 
has given his heart to Saturday cricket, and who 
sleeps at night with one eye on the headship of 
the league, has no spare time or thought for anything 
so abstract as horse-racing. 

Moreover, a club offers him duties and responsi- 
bilities. He may become an official or member of 
the club committee, and now and then is left in 
charge. A number of small duties devolve on him ; 
in him are vested powers of exclusion and discrimina- 
tion. In helping to govern others he learns self- 
control, and finding that his stability and good-will 
is assumed, lives up to this new standard. New 
ideas of form and convention possess his mind, and 
he begins to place muscle above scarf-pins. The 
clean, healthy boy who is constantly taking violent 
physical exercise can never brood over his tempta- 
tions. The spirit of a good club is against loafers ; 
the hero-worship of the younger boy leads him to 



174 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

emulate the athlete rather than the dressy spindle- 
shanks who " knows a thing or two." Legislation 
may improve the earlier conditions of a boy's life, 
and so reduce the handicap against him in his 
moral struggle, but it can never rob life of its 
temptations. The common-sense cure for those 
who are falling is the distraction afforded by more 
healthy pursuits and the building of a surer self- 
control. 

The boy is not naturally reflective. He will walk 
along a street on his way to work every morning 
of the year, and never know its name, pass a huge 
building and never wonder whether it is a bakery 
or a prison. Thus it comes about that he might 
see a church in every other street and a parson on 
every third doorstep, and yet never ask himself 
very pointedly what all this religion is about, and 
whether he could have any use for it. He is rarely 
or never hostile ; on the whole, if he ever thinks 
about it at all, he is glad that there is a church in 
the street and a parson close at hand. But his 
point of view is normally that of a friendly looker- 
on. Only a fifth of the children attend Sunday- 
school, and barely i per cent, are to be found there 
after the emancipating age of fourteen. The very 
choir boys are likely to desert at the same age, and 
it is a grave question as to whether they are not 
the worse for the part they have taken in the church 
services for five years past. 



A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION 175 

Though a mere outsider, the average boy recog- 
nizes tacitly that rehgion is right, or, as he would 
put it, " the Christian life is the best." He asso- 
ciates it with abstention from certain habits, and 
thinks of it as a path to almost certain prosperity. 
It is unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, that the 
steady church-going fellow should work with greater 
diligence and gain promotion earlier than the 
rougher lad. This respectability of the church- 
going section robs Christianity of its old ideals. 
No longer in the garb of poverty, but in the glossiest 
of hats and the longest of frock-coats does the typical 
Christian reveal the supremacy of his faith. 

Evil assumes such a very definite and hideous 
shape that virtue is more unmistakable than usual. 
A boy's understanding proceeds very largely by 
contrast, and he recognizes transparent virtue by 
its marked difference from all that he knows to be 
wrong. A very acute division arises in his mind 
between good and evU, Christian and un-Christian. 
The former does not drink, or swear, or gamble, 
and goes to concerts, but never to a music-hall. 
On the positive side little more is demanded than 
that he should dress better and go to his Sunday 
service. There is a great gulf fixed, and it is easy 
to tell on which side a boy elects to stand, for the 
gambling and swearing test occurs almost every 
day of the week. This violent distinction between 
white and black, losing sight of the fact that all men 



176 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

are a dullish grey, is meant to reflect an undoubted 
spiritual truth, that all men are either struggling 
or sliding, but it does so in an unfortunate way. 
Virtue has become abstention from vice, and the 
line between them is the rigid line that divides 
positive and negative. 

This view of religion does equal harm to both 
sides. Those who have forsaken what is wrong 
are tempted to think the struggle over, and lose 
sight of the hills beyond, while the ordinary boy 
is too honest to think himself possessed of great 
moral force, and cannot face such an utter change 
of life. He is moderately happy where he is. He 
confesses that the other kind of life is a better one, 
though he has, as a rule, little love for the men 
who lead it, and has many a story to illustrate the 
inconsistency of some notorious " Christian " em- 
ployer. He will advance these shortcomings of 
the good as a preliminary reason for not joining the 
ranks, but soon shifts his ground a good deal nearer 
the truth and explain that " it's no good for me, 
because I should never stick it, with all the fellows 
chipping me, and all." For virtue is so distinct 
that the beginning is very conspicuous, and excites 
much comment. It is inevitable that the boy 
should draw a hard line, where vice and virtue both 
seem so exaggerated ; and it is perhaps well that 
there should be a reluctance to begin the profession 
of faith when he sees so little chance of living up to it. 



A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION 177 

So long as the boy is ready to believe that religion 
is right, but very loath to begin its practice, it will 
be seen that the difficulties of the clergy in this 
direction are very considerable. Three dangers at 
least face their eagerness. Any measure of for- 
malism in religion may for the moment excite awe 
and wonder, but it will leave the boy convinced 
more firmly than before that it is all beyond hipi, 
the Icinguage and spirit of a world where he has no 
place. It is true that he asks rather too much when 
he expects to be able to understand everything, 
and gain an answer from religion to every question. 
Yet care may well be taken to make the services 
simple and the appeal direct. 

This does not mean that there should be anything 
ecstatic or unduly emotional. Here lies the second 
danger, for the London boy is far too prone already 
to yield to such methods. The result of an emotional 
appeal is but a temporary access, which gives 
place, as a rule, to a most deplorable reaction. Every 
precaution should be taken against any such 
possibility, for there is always a slightly effeminate 
strain in the river-side boy, and every effort is needed 
to brace him into a hardy manliness. 

A third danger lies, oddly enough, in a very different 
direction. Boys sometimes think that the power 
of a religious faith is some objective force that comes 
from outside to arm him against all troubles, and 
makes possible the complete abdication of will- 

12 



178 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

power. This conception of religion as a substitute 
for will, releasing him from all the minor struggles 
of choice and desire, will explain many a lad's 
fall. He expected that it was all going to be done 
for him, and that he would walk along a clear path. 
The slowly-forming character of the working boy 
may indeed suffer sadly by the unwise presentation 
of religious truth. 

There are ways, however, in which religion may 
and must appeal to all that is good in a boy, reveal 
much that was never expected in him, and then, by 
quick and natural growth, possess and permeate his 
whole being, tiU without shame or effrontery he takes 
his place as a regular worshipper and worker in the 
Church of Christ. The force of corporate worship 
and common service, so vital a power to the heroes 
of earlier days, awakes still a response in the boy's 
indifferent heart. Alone and by himself, the course 
of conviction and practice is no smooth one. But 
when gathered together with others of like mood 
and age in club, brigade, patrol, or Bible-class, 
reUgion is a more natural and spontaneous growth. 
The spirit of the places interprets so much that is 
dry and difficult at first; well-remembered h3Tnns 
hammer it in with relentless rhythm ; high, unselfish 
ideals are no longer quixotic. It is in a brotherhood 
of some kind that boys learn, it is in a brotherhood 
that they will keep their pledges of purity and 
devotion, and it is as a brotherhood that they will 



A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION 179 

serve others. This power is nowhere so manifest 
as in the summer camp. A boy is always at his 
best under the sky. Perhaps by its associations, 
perhaps by its rude simphcity, a tent at night seems 
to awaken inner natures that have been asleep all 
through the year. A camp with no definitely 
religious purpose, with the most nominal service 
and perfunctory chaplain, still serves as a reminder 
of old forgotten better thoughts, and all the serious 
strands that get somehow woven into every careless 
life. A small complacent little youth of fourteen 
arrived at camp for the first time one August day, 
looked round at the tents, the hedges, and the 
swimming bath, and then put his hands in his 
pockets, and remarked, "I've never seen anything 
like this in my life before " ; and by the end of the 
week he would have been able to say he had never 
felt anything quite like camp ; but that is not the 
sort of thing small boys talk about. 

Further help in this direction comes from the idea 
of voluntary service as the natural and necessary 
accompaniment of religious belief. Rewards for 
attendance at Sunday service or Bible-class, undue 
privileges for communicants or committee boys, 
prove to be deadly enemies to a boy's religious 
development. The system will long survive in 
the Sunday-schools, but at fourteen a boy is ready 
for a new discipline, which shall teach him that the 
reward for work is more work, the answer to worship 



i8o ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

is a demand for further sacrifice. Let the boy who 
shows signs of religious conviction be set to work 
at one of a hundred rough tasks in his club or church. 
There is a double gain in this. The dangers of uncon- 
scious hypocrisy — strangely great in quick, unthink- 
ing boys — will be securely guarded against ; and the 
boy's idea of true religion will be set along healthy 
lines. He will grow to be an active layman, no 
mute clergy-fed worshipper. The scrubbing of a 
floor, the visiting of " slackers," the delivery of 
club magazines and notices, are humdrum duties, 
but when undertaken as rewards, they may become 
the very sacrament of Christian service. 

Side by side with the readiness to work at un- 
romantic tasks there must grow within the boy a 
life of private devotion. Otherwise work will 
become a fetish, an end, in itself, and the boy who 
has scrubbed his floor or tramped on a weary round 
will be in danger of that complacency which folds 
its hands and conceives all religious obligations to 
be at an end. But religion cannot be part of a 
weekly programme, punctuated by work and 
pleasure. It is a life and a spirit, issuing in many 
noble acts ; but it is not possible to take a string of 
unselfish deeds, apart from the inner source which 
inspires them, and call these rehgion. Rather is 
it the whole of every day, containing in itself pleasure 
and idleness. It is because it is not possible to 
oppose the part to the whole that the dualism of 



A BOY'S CHARACTER AND RELIGION i8i 

pleasure and religion is absurd. Slowly, very 
slowly, will the Christian Gospel thus absorb the 
boy's whole self, and attune all his tastes and 
occupations to the Platonic ii/Mvo<} which is the 
secret of happiness. This only comes when the boy 
has faced himself, and found his real faith in moments 
by himself. He is not always willing to speak 
freely about this, but if he is saying his daily prayers 
and reading for his own help some verses of the Bible, 
he is winning his way to a strength of spirit that 
will be a tower and bulwark not only to himself, 
but to many a weaker friend. This discipline of 
the inner life is the stem necessity for prolonged 
and constant faith, and the overcoming goodness 
which " makes the fairest liUes bloom at the very 
gates of hell." 

This ideal of meditation and devotion, almost 
monastic in its demands, seems far removed from 
the cheeky van-boy. Suggestions of private prayers 
and the reading of the Bible seem to ignore the scant 
privacy of a 12-foot bedroom with four noisy occu- 
pants. Is this indeed the same world as that in 
which a carpenter was Christ and a shoemaker 
became a saint ? 

If it is not so, then the clergy of South London 
have made a strange mistake. These forgotten 
men, not always majestic in appearance or eloquent 
in speech, lead happy lives of unobtrusive service. 
They have surrendered all that they might work 



i82 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

here ; their reward comes neither in money nor in 
visible success ; they never know one half the sym- 
pathy and gratitude they earn. The depression of 
a long drab summer afternoon spent in visiting 
specious or sullen mothers, the idle men, and the 
uncomplaining sick, may tear their hopes or ruffle 
their humour. Orators in the park beat wildly 
against them, gossip and scandal dissect, and rub, 
and bite, but the old black guard never wavers. 
For they have learnt the great secret, which is no 
secret, and know for ever that Christianity is hope, 
and that if a boy in a rough home or warehouse is 
to lead the clean and helping life, to build a character 
that is strong without conceit, he must find the' 
help and follow the pattern of Christ. 



CHAPTER XI 

YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 

The race of life is hurrying on from boyhood to 
manhood, but a few drop out from the straight 
course each year. Perhaps they had little stamina 
at the very start, or lacked the proper equipment 
for running in the heat of 'the day; possibly the 
rules were too hard. There are few sadder things 
than the first serious stumble of a boy. Dazed 
by the sudden change in horizon, vaguely aware 
that he may be " put away " for many years, he 
endures torments that are not without effect. His 
mother covers him with a storm of reproach, hints 
very clearly at the gallows, stupefies him with 
abuse, brings him to tears by her own weeping ; 
while to the world she defends him bitterly with a 
blind eye to the truth, asserting at every pause 
that " he has always been a good boy, and if he is 
let off just this once he will never do it again." 
Yet not such a sad moment to the reflective, for 
with proper understanding and treatment of the 
boy it is more than probable that this will be both 

183 



i84 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

the first and last offence. There may have been 
one specific cause for the offence which makes it an 
unexpected lapse from a steady record, but it is 
more probably the first outward symptom of a secret 
deterioration. The elements of a boyish crime are 
a desire for something, the opportunity to obtain 
it with probable impunity, the lack of self-control 
to restrain him. Crime begins as soon as the urchin 
is tall enough to stand on tip-toe and see the penny 
on the top of the kitchen dresser, which his mother 
has put there for the milkman when he calls. He 
is not old enough to calculate the chances of detec- 
tion, but the desire for sweets is strong within him, 
and with one sticky grab he enters on a career of 
crime. 

While at school the desire for money grows as the 
ways of spending increase. A few pence in pocket 
make a holiday infinitely more happy and adven- 
turous for him and his " mates " ; a tram will take 
them farther afield ; there will be the means of 
refreshment ; and perhaps these gay young fellows 
in the seventh standard may like to finish up with 
an hour at " the moving pictures." A schoolboy 
rarely has tasted the pleasures of dress, but in a 
few years ties and waistcoats will tempt him. Only 
sixpence a week remains, as a rule, for pocket-money, 
and this will not go far if a taste for music-halls 
and mild gambling begins to show itself. Later on 
come periods of unemployment, when the desire 



YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 185 

for money is great indeed, when every shop window 
and every open door is a fierce temptation. Long 
hours of idle wandering and disappointment are 
twice dangerous — they make the need of money 
more urgent, while weakening the power of re- 
sistance. 

The second factor is the opportunity, and here, 
again, the way is clear to the young offender. The 
open stalls in the road, pUed high with oranges and 
nuts, offer an easy practice-ground to the young 
" artful dodger." Penny-in-the-slot gas meters 
protect their wealth by a thin plating of tin, easily 
broken by any instrument in the hand of a small 
Bill Sykes. Employers are sometimes a little lax 
in the checking of petty cash expenses, and the 
office-boy notices that the stamp account is a possible 
source of a little weekly bonus. The more adven- 
turous will find many doors insecurely fastened, 
and cash-boxes in full view within, their old locks 
responsive to any piece of bent wire. 

The third factor, most marked in offences against 
the person, is a lack of self-control. There may be 
a burning desire, opportunity and secrecy may be 
assured, but if there is sufficient restraint from 
within the act will never be committed. Unhappily, 
this self-control is not too common in South London, 
and it is not so easily taught to boy or man. In 
many lives impulse reigns, reason and moral instinct 
only being summoned after the act to consider the 



i86 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

future and condemn the past. It is because impulse 
so largely governs the London boy that many 
juvenile offences seem unaccountable, and the boy 
can only suggest that " something seemed to come 
over me like, and I did it." There is a ready for- 
giveness in most London hearts for small offences 
against truth and honesty, and the boy is thus 
without the very definite prohibition which holds 
back other small hands, and makes us a nation of 
honest and successful shopkeepers. When the 
reasons against stealing are not very clear-cut, and 
the power to resist desire far from strong, it might 
seem miraculous that only a sparse minority of 
working boys fall into the hands of the police. Yet 
it must be remembered that though there is no 
clear notion of meum and tuum implanted in the 
boy, yet honesty is a natural and almost mechanical 
quality with him. It is indeed the best policy, as 
commercial an asset as a pair of strong arms — in 
fact, the very condition that work imposes. Thus 
honesty with a working boy is the rule, and dis- 
honesty a rare exception. 

It will be readily surmised that, since the desires 
of youth are greedy rather than vindictive, the 
great majority of juvenile offences are cases of 
theft. There is always a stream of high-spirited 
fellows in the police-court summoned for playing 
football, or swearing, or gambling in the street, and 
dismissed with a few words of advice and a small 



YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 187 

fine ; but the proper " youthful offender " is one 
arrested on a more serious charge. There is an 
occasional variation in the direction of assault or 
moral offence, but nine-tenths of the boys arrested 
are charged with some form of larceny. 

Ten years have seen a revolution in the treatment 
of these boys. There has been a total change of 
principle and point of view. The old heresy of 
making the punishment fit the crime, although set 
to haunting music in a more cheerful context, has 
given place to a new theory, by which the punish- 
ment is made to fit the criminal. When a boy is 
apprehended for the first time and brought before 
the bench, and his guilt fully proved, the magistrate 
is asked to view the actual offence not as the chief 
guide in determining punishment, but as a mere 
index or symptom of his general condition. It is 
upon what the boy is, and not upon the single act 
committed, that the magistrate will focus his atten- 
tion. This is the true point of view of the optimist 
who remembers that the boy is only a beginner, and 
stands at the most critical stage of life. Losing 
sight of the crime, save as evidence of character, 
and thinking only of the young criminal and his 
points of weakness, the magistrate is led to weigh 
alternative methods of treatment, rather than 
measure out by mere arithmetic a dose of imprison- 
ment. 

Yet boys are quick to measure the gravity of the 



i88 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

offence by the amount of punishment it brings, and 
any treatment of juvenile offenders must carry with 
it such penalties of discipline and hard work as are 
likely to deter the friends of the accused from ever 
following his example. Thus, while a rebuUding of 
character is the main object of reformative treat- 
ment, no method can be satisfactory which makes 
the process so easy and delightful as to rob it of a 
certain sting and struggle, which should be asso- 
ciated instinctively in the mind of every boy as a 
necessary consequence of guilt. The reformer that 
is needed must have something of the Spartan in 
him, and show both hope and penetration. He 
will have two clear objects before him. He must, 
in the first place, fill the boy's life and mind with 
such fresh interests and occupations as may serve 
to distract his mind. An emptiness of life produces 
a distorted moral vision, in which the needs and 
desires of self are predominant. Acts of vice and 
dishonesty are committed at such moments when 
the boy's thoughts are obsessed by the momentary 
gratification of his desire. The boy out of work 
steals because hunger has obliterated all else in his 
mind. Another suffers from the brooding desires of 
immorality, because there is a lack of healthy 
interests to banish vile thoughts. 

It is not surprising, then, to find that boyish 
crimes are most commonly committed in the stress 
of unemployment. It is further true that, as a rule, 



YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 189 

boys in prison have few hobbies or pastimes. They 
are not great cricketers or politicians ; the country 
boys have httle interest in flowers or birds ; the 
standard of elementary education and general 
knowledge is abnormally low. For reasons such 
as these it is that the poor man becomes a criminal, 
whUe a richer man of the same moral weakness, 
who can buy a different distraction every month, 
remains legally innocent. The provision of hard 
work, education, games, and hobbies will go far to 
reduce the claims of self to a more reasonable pro- 
portion. 

Yet even when sufficient distractions have arisen 
to enlarge his vision, and occupy his mind with a 
more varied programme, there will be danger of a 
sudden reversion to old ways. Thus the second 
object of the reformer is to build character, to induce 
habits of restraint". For it is only by a growth in 
the powers of self-control that a sudden relapse will 
be averted. 

Such, in brief, are the principles upon which the 
new treatment of juvenile offenders is slowly 
developing. It is now to the true advantage of the 
guilty boy to be prosecuted, in order that the causes 
of his deterioration may be discovered and firmly 
arrested. The mercy of the employer who refuses 
to inform the police and merely dismisses the boy 
is now sadly misplaced. The boy in such a case 
can only get casual and unskilled work, for other 



igo ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

employers would need a reference, and that would 
be fatal to his chances. There is no one set over 
him to guide and warn and encourage, no discipline 
imposed ; on the contrary, there is every reason why 
he should steal again. As soon as the growing 
elasticity and reasonableness of the present system 
is realized, employers will with confidence prosecute 
their office-boys and junior clerks, while mere dis- 
missal will rank as the lazy indifference of a callous 
and uncharitable man. 

The youthful offender under sixteen is no longer 
charged in the ordinary police-court among the old 
and hardened prisoners. The proceeding is stripped 
of the glamour which so curiously attaches to the 
sordid precincts of a police-court, for the case is 
heard quietly in an ordinary room, where the for- 
malities are as simple as possible, and from which 
the admiring public is excluded. When reports in 
the press, which seek to make childish theft funny 
and heroic, have been finally prohibited, there will 
be no pride in the small boy's heart, but something 
a little nearer shame. 

If the case is proved, the boy is usually remanded 
for a week. Conviction is only the first half of the 
magistrate's duty ; with young offenders, the second 
half, which consists in adopting a method of treat- 
ment, is quite as important, and demands much 
inquiry and evidence as to his home-life, character, 
and prospects. During these days of waiting, the 



YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 191 

boy under sixteen, if not released on bail, is sent 
to a remand home, where he will be retained under 
wise discipline till he is due again at the children's 
court. There is a strange and sad little crowd at 
such places, coming and going, none staying for 
more than a fortnight, and some but for a night. 
The youngest is not yet in trousers, and was found 
at midnight on a doorstep, with no mark of identity. 
He will be charged with wandering — though, in 
truth, he cannot walk — and the law, with another 
twinkle in its grey eyes, will go on to complain that 
he had no visible means of subsistence. Such a 
child will spend his second birthday happily enough 
in the shelter of some home, where he will stay 
till he is a strong lad of sixteen. The older ones 
do not look very desperate, though hunger and 
short nights have begun to mark their faces. They 
spend the week at work in the classes of the remand 
home, playing in the yard, not altogether averse 
to their captivity, though a little alarmed at the 
uncertainty of the future. 

When the boy again appears at court, the magis- 
trate is informed of the result of inquiries, and is 
able to form some idea of his character. If under 
fourteen, he may not be sent to prison, but there 
are twelve alternative methods of the treatment, 
detailed with some pride by a clause in the Children 
Act. If the surroundings at home seem unfavour- 
able, he will be committed to an industrial or 



X92 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

reformatory school. To the former are sent inno- 
cent children under fourteen whose parents are unfit 
or missing, together with a few real offenders who 
are very young. The reformatory school only re- 
ceives children, up to the age of sixteen, who have 
committed an offence which would be in an adult 
punishable by imprisonment. Thus the industrial 
school is filled with younger children, who are there 
through their parents' shortcomings rather than 
their own ; while the reformatory school has need 
of a sterner discipline, for it contains the older 
children, each of whom has committed some act 
of violence or dishonesty. 

If there is a good mother and a well-ordered 
home, the young offender will not be sent away by 
the wise magistrate, for there is no home like home. 
Stripped of all the cant sentiment that surrounds 
it, the value of life at home still remains for every 
boy a vast, unanswerable fact. But where the 
offenders (the great majority of whom are boys) 
have no home, or one barely worthy of the name, 
they will be sent to a reformatory or industrial 
school, where they will stay tUl they are judged 
ready and fit for working life. These schools 
develop them in body by much drill and well- 
organized games, teach them to work skilfully and 
steadily, and continue their elementary education 
till they have reached a standard of average pro- 
ficiency. 



YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 193 

Such schools vary far too greatly in their effi- 
ciency and moral tone. It is true that the value 
of the school as a reforming agency must always 
depend very largely upon the personality of the 
superintendent, yet it may not be out of place to 
point to three general points of weakness in the 
present system. In the first place, the financial 
position of most schools makes it necessary for the 
governing committee to rely to some extent on 
the profits accruing from the work of the boys. 
This position affects the industrial training of the 
boys, by forcing the authorities to view the institu- 
tion now and then as a manufacturing business 
rather than an educational and moral agency. 
Secondly, the standards and methods of discipline 
appear often to harden and embitter rather than 
build up habits of self-control. Finally, there is a 
laxity in the supervision of boys discharged on 
licence which nullifies in many cases the good effects 
of four years' training. When these difficulties have 
been overcome, and the schools staffed throughout 
by the right type of men, the great volume of 
thought and work and generosity represented by 
these schools will reap an even greater reward than 
at present. 

After sixteen the young thief is too old for such 
schools. Yet, even so, prison is no longer the 
necessary punishment. He may, like any other 
offender, be put on probation for twelve months. 

13 



194 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

In this case the sentence is deferred for a year, 
during which time he has opportunity to retrieve 
his character, and is given the advice and assistance 
of a probation officer. If he takes advantage of 
this respite, and settles to regular work, he will 
hear no more of the matter ; but should the proba- 
tion officer, in one of his weekly reports, have reason 
to complain that the boy has broken the terms of 
his promise, the offender is brought summarily to 
the police-court, and sentence passed upon him. 
This new system of probation applies to offenders 
of any age and either sex. It is the recognition by 
the State of such certain facts in daily life as 
personal influence and genuine repentance. 

Many boys take full advantage of their period 
of probation, and never appear again in the police- 
court. Stump, for instance, was a doubtful case, 
but in the end justified the system. He had formed 
a group of adventurous boys for purposes of petty 
larceny, and, though most of them were barely 
seventeen, they succeeded in capturing a good deal 
on crowded nights from the stalls in the road. 
Stump was undoubtedly the worst offender, and 
the police, to whom many complaints had been 
made, were not sorry when they succeeded at last 
in catching him red-handed — with a second-hand 
skirt under his arm, which he had snatched from 
the barrow of an old-clothes dealer. He had long 
been known to be a thief, but this was in the eyes 



YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS 195 

of the law his first offence. The magistrate was 
such an optimist as to see the germ of good in 
Mr. Stump, aged seventeen, though his appearance 
was neither honest nor attractive. It appeared, 
moreover, that he had never had much of a chance, 
for his home was a poor one, he had never been to 
work since he left school, and he had no decent 
friends. Conviction and sentence were accordingly 
postponed, and he was handed over for twelve 
months to the care of a probation officer. Now 
came his chance. Work was found for him, and, 
though he felt ten hours a day in a factory a very 
grim change from the unchecked independence of 
the street-life, there was enough character in his 
small squat person to repress his yearnings and 
make him a steady workman. He was made a 
member of a boys' club, and spent most of his 
evenings in cheerful company, acquiring many new 
interests and topics. They taught him to box and 
run. Some evenings he might be seen darting along 
the road in club colours, past the very stalls where 
he used to snatch and pilfer. Summer found him 
at camp, fast friends with his new-found set of 
ordinary working boys, still rather surly in face and 
manner, but beginning to be recognized as an occa- 
sional wit and a stanch sportsman. His character, 
when developed, had many surprises for his friends, 
and Stump is now a pillar of society, as immov- 
able as a churchwarden. This natural and friendly 



196 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

supervision has done far better for him than the 
expensive machinery of prison. 

If probation seems too lenient, or has already 
proved unsuitable, a boy between sixteen and 
twenty-one may now be sent to a Borstal institu- 
tion. The minimum sentence is twelve months, 
and a longer period will insure a greater chance of 
reform. Under this treatment (either at Borstal, 
near Rochester, or at Feltham), the boy learns to 
work hard without stopping for a minute ; he is 
subjected to a stern discipline, but finds that by 
hard work and good conduct he may gain certain 
privileges of association and liberty. He is dis- 
charged only on licence, and is supervised with some 
vigilance. If on regaining liberty he shows no 
disposition to work and live honestly, his licence is 
revoked, and he serves an additional three months. 

This is but a bare summary of a great thoughtful 
plan to save the beginner from a career of crime. 
Behind it is an effort to distinguish one type from 
another, and provide alternative methods of treat- 
ment ; and in any treatment proposed for young 
offenders is a desire to distract them from the bad 
and to rebuild the good. 



CHAPTER XII 

MARRIAGE 

Marriage, the most common of all youthful offences, 
marks the decisive change from boy to man, and 
is thus the very hinge of life. Education is at an 
end, work has been chosen, and character nearly 
formed. The long sequel of forty years or more 
lies before him. As long as he stayed at home, 
adding his ten or twelve shillings to the family 
funds, he was a boy and a son ; but when he takes 
a wife and rents a room or two of his own, he becomes 
a man and a husband, all too likely to forget that 
he still remains a son. Marriage seems to be 
accepted as a normal and expected landmark to 
be passed at about this time. It is certainly sur- 
prising to see how few men remain single after 
twenty-five. 

There are a number of practical reasons to, 
account for this readiness to incur the burden of a 
family. The boy of eighteen begins to find that 
home comforts are not satisfying. With his wages 
he can reasonably expect a little more consideration 

197 



198 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

and independence. The younger children make the 
house turbulent and dirty. His mother's habits 
are a little messy, and he hardly cares to ask a 
friend to come home with him. His sister monopo- 
lizes the passage or the doorstep for an interview 
with her young man. He observes that the family 
has grown larger, and its demands on space more 
various, while the size of the house remains the 
same. He may try the pseudo-independence of 
lodgings, but usually finds them an expensive and 
unreal luxury. Meals must be cooked, beds made, 
and rooms scrubbed out ; no one will do this for 
mere board and lodging save a wife. Such con- 
siderations do not of themselves drive a youth to 
marriage, but they pave the way for natural affec- 
tion, and add reason to desire. The girl herself 
desires a similar independence from a crowded 
home, and she knows well that, if she would marry 
at all, it must be while she is young. For few women 
marry after thirty by the river-side. 

Yet this is not the full tale. The Cockney boy 
is just as affectionate as the Celt ; he has not the 
latter's serious passion, but he does possess a quaint 
sarcasm and quick criticism, which makes him an 
even more delightful companion. If the Cockney 
girl is an equally charming person, as her friends 
maintain, it is not surprising that the real cause of 
most river-side marriages is love — the cause of all 
real happiness and sorrow. Love does not end 



MARRIAGE 199 

with London Bridge. It dances in many eyes on 
the south bank as the couples pick their way along 
the crowded streets, makes tired hearts fresh, and 
many small minds big. Even the unhappy mar- 
riages, where the body has forestalled the heart, 
begin in some form of love. 

Nineteen or twenty is the common age. It is 
at this time that love begins to predominate, and 
the comforts of home no longer satisfy. The date 
is fixed by varying considerations. The youth waits 
often till his wages touch a certain point, at which 
he will earn enough for two. The habit of keeping 
a blind eye to the future prevents him from dividing 
the weekly sum by four or five. As soon as the 
determined limit is reached (generally about a pound 
a week, or even less), the time has come, and the 
banns are called. Sadly often the marriage comes 
earlier than this, in order to save a child from shame, 
and earn for it the hollow blessing of a legitimate 
name. 

The ceremony of marriage has curiously little 
emphasis set upon it by custom in these parts. 
A funeral demands special clothes and carriages, 
very considerable expense, and to attend such an 
event second cousins will take a day off work, and 
think it but dutifully spent. Yet a marriage is, by 
comparison, almost unnoticed. Among the really 
poor wedding-presents are almost unknown. It 
occurs most frequently on Saturday or Sunday, a,s 



200 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

it is hardly worth while to lose a day's work. Yet 
few attend it outside a small circle of lady friends. 
The bride will hire a cape and a hat for half a day, 
in which a hundred others have blushed and made 
their vows ; the bridegroom may commit himself 
to a new suit. In a large parish, weddings are so 
frequent, and occur so much at the same time, 
that they tend to lose solemnity. At Christmas 
and Easter boys and girls are married, not in couples, 
but in batches. The service is cut short, but not 
made thereby any easier to understand. It is 
hurried through on both sides, and the chance 
worshipper in the church would realize with horror 
that this was the crisis in two lives, and the signal 
for the birth of many more. 

The honeymoon lasts but for a few hours, and is 
spent inside a public-house near the church. At 
this festivity the circle of friends is a little wider, 
and tongues flow more freely. At last a move is 
made for the new home, where a room has been 
engaged for three shillings and sixpence, a week's 
rent having been paid in advance. Under these 
sordid auspices does the married life open. 

The happiness of the first few married years must 
depend on the measure of love that has brought the 
two together. If the boy and girl are really fond 
of one another, the marriage, whether forced or 
natural, will remain a happy one. The first few 
years will test the bond severely. The furniture 



MARRIAGE 201 

cannot be bought outright, but is purchased on 
the hire system, which is often but the ugHest form 
of usury. The weekly pa3anent will make a sad 
hole in wages, and it will drag on for more than 
the first twelve months. Then the children begin 
to come. The mother finds it difficult to keep her 
regular work, and for fourteen years the man is 
the only breadwinner. At the end of that time 
comes the period of their greatest prosperity, for 
the children one by one leave school, and add their 
earnings to the family income. For ten years 
father and mother are in comparative ease. But 
this is the summit of working life, and from this 
point starts the last downward curve. The chil- 
dren now are leaving home, and taking with them 
the shillings they had contributed, till at last the 
father and mother reach again the dire poverty 
from which they started. Poverty makes some 
mothers and fathers cling the more closely to each 
other, but with many it is a grave strain upon their 
affection, giving occasion for complaint and grumble, 
sharpening the tongue and embittering the temper, 
so that in the end vice and violence obliterate all 
love. This economic curve, which begins and ends 
in poverty, makes a system of early marriage 
natural, and, indeed, necessary. For if the man 
and woman did not have their children while they 
were still young, they would find it difficult to 
maintain them all the years of their schooldays. 



202 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

The boy does not give up all his spare time to 
his wife after marriage. He still frequents his club, 
and plays his game of billiards or football. It is 
always doubtful whether clubs for married men are 
a genuine gain in the social life of the district, for 
the husband who has been away at work all day 
might well spend the evening with the wife, who has 
herself just come back from her work at the jam 
factory. Of all the thousand couples strolling along 
the Old Kent Road on Saturday night not more 
than ten or twenty will be married. It is, unhappily, 
not common for husband and wife to be seen walk- 
ing out together in the evening, as they did but a 
year before, in the days of courtship. A wedding 
seems to end all nudging and giggling. The arrival 
of the first baby is a signal for a return to some- 
thing like the old spontaneous affection, and the 
three may occasionally be seen together, paying 
triumphant visits on Sunday afternoon to a child- 
less aunt at Hackney or Hammersmith. Children 
are indeed the great reminder of the marriage bond, 
and when all love for the woman seems dead and 
out of mind, many an impulse will be restrained 
and many a sacrifice made " just for the sake of 
the children." 

After two or three years love has a yet harder 
struggle. The woman has grown middle-aged very 
quickly, and has lost attraction. Her hair is 
dishevelled all day long ; she is shapeless and un- 



MARRIAGE 203 

comely. Her voice seems to have nothing between 
a piercing nasal shriek of anger and the thick rapid 
tones of one in drink. The man begins to harden 
and coarsen, smiling less frequently, more sparing 
of words. Their home grows more and more im- 
possible as a comfortable resting-place when the 
children begin to multiply. 

Poverty, ugliness, and hard work are a hard 
strain on the marriage bond, and often it breaks 
somewhere, and husband and wife are again " two 
folk," as they say in the North. When the home 
is so small and crowded, division comes more 
quickly. In other places the incompatible may 
lessen the risk of an actual quarrel by seeing little 
of one another ; but by the river-side the resources 
of a two-roomed tenement do not allow that con- 
venient absence which makes the heart grow fonder. 
The man cannot escape his wife's nagging voice, 
and she has no relief from his vile, drunken habits. 
Great wretchedness ensues ; aU week long flows the 
stream of peevish and surly recrimination, swollen 
on Saturday by drink to the point of violence. In 
such a home continuance of the marriage brings 
pain to the woman, misery to the man, while the 
children grow old and cunning before they can read 
or write. 

Yet, even so, there is an instinctive dislike for 
the separation allowed by law, and for every case 
that comes before the magistrate there must be 



204 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

three or four ill-matched couples who prefer to 
struggle along under the same roof or to separate 
of their own accord. If the opportunities for actual 
divorce were brought within the reach of the work- 
ing man, it seems probable that there would be the 
same disinclination to take advantage of them. 
Where separation does ensue at present the woman, 
as a rule, finds it possible to keep her children by 
her own earnings, but the man wanders off, sends 
no money to her for maintenance, and finds it 
difficult to remain faithful to his marriage vows. 
It seems, therefore, likely that the liberty of divorce 
would be more appreciated by the man than the 
woman. 

At the heart of our trouble lies a low material view 
of marriage. The clergy could do much to make 
the wedding a more solemn time ; a crusade of 
married women might do more. The ideal of 
marriage will rise slowly by infinite work among 
individuals. There should be more open and direct 
teaching about it in the boys' clubs and girls' clubs. 
It should neither be shunned nor merely treated as 
a joke in ordinary conversation. The standard will 
rise not so much by ecclesiastical pronouncement or 
legal rigidity, but by the labours and works of men 
and women who have in their own lives learnt and 
shown something of the fulness of human love. 



CHAPTER XIII 

THE WORKING MAN 

Occupations of manhood vary infinitely, and so 
produce very different types of labourer. Work by 
the river-side is of such a kind as to make men heavy 
and dull, for it is mostly unskilled labour, asking 
only for strong, enduring bodies. 

When school, games, and marriage are well behind 
him, the ordinary workman by the water's edge 
slips into his groove, and will be likely to stay there 
till the end of his days. Occasions for romance and 
excitement have passed ; there will be little to stir 
his sluggish pulse for his remaining forty years. 
The bulk of his life will be confined within dull and 
narrow limits. These cramping features consist in 
much hard work, in which thought or interest are 
not asked or wanted ; a settled wage, with no room 
for ambition ; a struggling home, which any chance 
mishap will plunge into acute poverty. The rigid 
time-table of each day's work, the colourless routine, 
and the shabbiness of things about him will in a 

205 



2o6 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

few years stifle his boyish longings for all the best 
things in life. 

A simple old gentleman walked slowly once along 
a road, stopping a man now and then on his way 
to work. Each time he put the same odd question : 
" Kiss your wife before you left this morning ?" 
The men were startled, and then, with the usual 
charity for the foibles of age, they would break 
into a grin and come as near a blush as a working 
man of forty can hope to come. But the answer 
in each case was curiously identical : " Oh no, sir ; 
we gave that sort of thing up a long time ago." 
Five out of six replies were verbally the same, and 
the sixth man was unmarried. Such statistics are 
of more value than many chest measurements or 
baby weights. For they reveal the inwardness of 
life across the bridges, and discover there a new 
form of heart disease which is destructive of happy 
life. 

At thirty a man has given up playing games, 
making love to his wife, reading books, or building 
castles in the air. He is dangerously contented 
with his daily work. Early rising no longer vexes 
his sleepy soul, for it is an instinct now to roll 
out of bed and light the gas ; he no longer shivers 
as he turns into the dark wet street. Boys turn up 
their collars, put hands in pockets, and scutter along 
the streets, not a little aggrieved that the hour is so 
early and they a little late. But the older man 



THE WORKING MAN 207 

lights a pipe and trudges with heavy feet at a slow, 
even pace, with no signs of worry or animation in his 
face, his thoughts inscrutable. 

The grind and discomfort of daily life are accepted 
without grievance or comment as a usual and almost 
necessary state of affairs. His home is made 
neither healthy by his landlord nor tidy by his 
wife. He gets poor value for the money spent on 
food and drink. His working clothes are dirty and 
shapeless, his Sunday ones dreadfully uncomfortable, 
yet he does not rebel. When at work he stands for 
ten hours feeding his machine in a hot oily atmo- 
sphere, or drives his waggon in the pouring rain, 
or rolls barrels across the wharf while an August 
sun pours upon his back. The Socialist orator in the 
evening reminds him of these obvious facts, exag- 
gerates the hardship and privation, compares the 
humble packer and his wage to the sleek director 
of companies, " with good capon lined," dictating 
smooth letters in the inner office, bright with 
mahogany and Turkish rugs. The working man 
stops on his way home to listen to the orator for a 
few moments at the edge of the crowd. He removes 
his pipe from his mouth, spits with foresight, and 
puts it back in the other corner. Then he sUdes off 
home, still inscrutable, yet with little thought of 
revolution in his heart. 

For with that strange lack of perspective, which 
is the result of all hurried and incomplete education, 



2o8 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

the man does not grumble against his big troubles, 
but nurses a long and bitter grievance against some 
petty annoyance or injustice. He was long ago 
resigned to a very moderate wage, with little chance 
of increase : the long hours and the monotony of 
his task do not make him bitter. Indeed, they kill 
the very spirit which makes revolt thinkable, and 
deprive him of the time or initiative to stand outside 
himself and review the conditions of his life. He 
does not nourish hatred against the unseen landlord 
or grasping agent who exacts six shillings a week 
for two cramped and dilapidated rooms. Nor does 
he cry out to local authorities for better sanitation 
or big open spaces. He is but a poor, unambitious 
social reformer. Imagination has died within him ; 
his mind is wooden, and makes no response to the 
fervid appeal of the orator. 

Instead of any such outbursts he indulges in little 
and peculiar grievances in matters where his safety 
and welfare are scarcely concerned at all. It may 
be that someone in authority has said something 
to him " which he had no cause to do, with him 
being what he is, if you take my meaning." Oftener 
still is he troubled by some change in an old-estab- 
lished custom. It was the habit of " the old gentle- 
man " {i.e., the senior partner) to shake hands on 
some great day of the year with all the men working 
at the wharf. His son succeeds him, and raises the 
wages, but he omits this Uttle ceremony. Many a 



THE WORKING MAN 209 

tongue is set wagging slowly, and many a time it is 
heard in the yard : " No, what I says is that it ain't 
the same, not as what it was when the old gentleman 
was here, and all." The changing of the name of 
some street, the pulling down of a public-house, will 
awake resentment in the minds of men who lived 
half a mile away, but passed them daily on their 
way to work. Though they may never enter 
church through the year, yet they will view with 
little favour the new vicar who departs from old ways. 
There is a terrible finality in the career of an 
unskilled labourer. Ambition soon is crushed, for 
the future holds, as a rule, no hope or possibility of 
a high wage or position. Accordingly, the man 
sighs neither with hope nor regret. He knows 
neither the pleasant surprises nor the disappoint- 
ments of promotion. If at the age of twenty-five 
he is a packer or a drayman at twenty-five shillings 
a week, he will in all likelihood be earning just as 
much when he is fifty. There is nothing in his 
work to make him think about it ; he passes no 
remark upon the incidents of the day when he 
returns to his wife at night. His task varies so 
little that any native ingenuity and resource dies 
of disuse ; he is fain to accept the estimation of the 
industrial world and become a slow machine — a 
mere pound-in-the-slot automaton, which runs down 
at the end of the week, and is sometimes a little out 
of order on Monday morning. 

14 



210 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

At home there is little to balance this depression 
of self. The surrender of his individuality to 
material necessities might be checked by domestic 
interests. He shows certainly a strange fondness 
for babies, and often handles them with marvellous 
dexterity in their awkward midnight moments. 
The more prosperous man is often seen in a summer 
evening, wheeling a perambulator of rather old- 
fashioned design (as it seems to the bachelor eye) 
with pride and contentment. The first of the babies 
is perhaps more favoured by such paternal attentions 
than the later ones, and few fathers are seen with 
more than two children at the same time. In this 
they are wise. 

The care of the children is delegated to the mother. 
It is she who chooses the school, and interviews the 
teacher, the inspector, or the magistrate. The 
father is only called in to administer punishment 
in its more severe forms. As a rule, he is a sterner 
judge and executioner, but more just, for he does 
not act in impatience or temper. He seems often 
to ignore his children, and he certainly takes little 
part in their education, though when he does make 
some pronouncement it has the force of absolute 
decree. The child is brought up to fear the parent 
he sees so little, and though this passes in the days 
of independence, the son will not easily come to 
understand his father. Yet, despite his indifference, 
every man is the better for his fatherhood. Rough 



THE WORKING MAN 211 

and troublesome patients in hospital can often be 
only managed by the experienced nurse, who puts 
a little child in their charge. Responsibility begets 
self-control. 

The care and management of the house is so 
much in the mother's hands that it is really more 
her home than his. The man rarely brings in a 
friend to sit by the fire and chat. Such social 
delights are tasted elsewhere. The neighbours who 
do come in are, as a rule, the wife's friends. It is 
she who entertains and makes the laws of hospitality. 
In her hands will rest the management of the 
furniture, the decision of what shall be pawned or 
redeemed. If a move is to be made, she will choose 
the new home and superintend the removal on a 
small cart or coster-barrow. The husband only 
demands that, as far as possible, his conservatism 
in small things shall be respected. He would object 
with some force to the removal of some old photo- 
graph that for fifteen years has been perched on a 
chest of drawers. A new wall-paper would dismay 
him, and if he could not find his spare pipe in its 
usual place there would be grave dissatisfaction. 
If a stranger calls, he will leave it to his wife to 
represent the family interests ; and if there is any 
need for diplomacy, the case will be safer in her 
hands. For she has the readier tongue and quicker 
grasp of an advantage. Though still maintaining 
his headship of the family, and asserting it on occa- 



212 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

sions with ruthless force, the wife on ordinary 
days reigns as ruler of the home. As a natural 
result she has more pride in any good points that 
it may have, and she is more likely to resent its 
position in a rough and crowded quarter. The man 
sees very little of it, and notices still less. He is not 
ashamed of its state or situation, and exhibits no 
sense of proprietorship. Should he happen to spend 
the evening at home, with an interval about 9 p.m. 
for "a walk round," he will sit by the fireside, 
strangely silent, often with his hat on but his coat 
off, making no attempt to talk, and showing no 
desire to listen. There he will sit with the apathy 
of a bullock, the model of a home-loving husband. 
Thus the self of a man, deadened already by the 
manner of his work, does not often revive and expand 
in his hours at home. He pursues a policy of animal 
contentment, and does not allow the ordinary 
domestic ties and affections to quicken his lethargic 
soul. By this he robs himself of yet another side 
of life, which sharpens all the sensations and 
memories, and enriches the hard days of a really 
happy man. 

In the hours of leisure he is most likely to unbend 
and show what manner of man he is. For ten hours 
he hibernates at work each day ; on Sunday he does 
the same in bed till one o'clock. Yet there is no 
longer the boyish reaction in the few hours that 
remain. He does not run along the streets to 



THE WORKING MAN 213 

pleasure any more than he does to work. He never 
sings — unless he is drunk, and then rather as a 
melancholy duty. At church he is found silent 
through the h5mins ; the rollicking chorus at the 
music-hall will be very pleasant, but he will not 
join with the boys and girls about him. Affection 
rarely moves him to be demonstrative, laughter is 
far less frequent than in old days. Many old saws 
and sayings fall from his lips, but rarely the point- 
less quips of youth. At sixteen when, facing a 
stranger with a growing moustache, he would 
ejaculate " Woolwich Arsenal and the Spurs," 
adding, after a minute, by way of explanation, 
" eleven a side, you know," and then running away. 
But now his personal observations are heavy and 
obvious, and when he tells a story it is not racy or 
flippant, but a long rigmarole, which repeats a 
tedious conversation that occurred one day whien 
he met a man still less gifted in repartee. It is as 
intelligent and pointed as the table talk of an 
average golfer. The witty bus-conductor, so often 
thought an average Cockney, does not live by the 
river -side, but farther away, in streets that are 
almost suburban. 

Many hours perhaps in the week are spent in a 
public-house. The proceeding is very leisurely, for 
often he will stand outside for half an hour before 
pushing open the swing-doors. After a couple of 
glasses, drunk with great deliberation, he will 



214 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

emerge and lean for another thirty minutes against 
the wall. Only a small minority drink frequently 
to excess, and they are usually the casual workers 
from the common lodging-house. The man in 
regular employment will be merry and perhaps a 
little quarrelsome on Saturday night, but his nightly 
dissipation is a very moderate affair. The quieter 
spirits send out a boy with white chipped jug to 
the public-house, and drink their pint at home, 
with little sign of thirst, often spreading their 
enjoyment over a couple of hours. 

Games are too violent for his slow, heavy limb ; 
but he is still a keen reader, talker, and spectator 
in such matters. The feverish anxiety for the 
success of the " Spurs," the eagerness to buy a 
pink sheet on Saturday night, the immense know- 
ledge of biographical details in the football world 
has passed from him ; but he still " follows up " 
his favourite local boxer or wrestler, gazing on him 
with admiration, carrying about his photograph, 
accompanying him with other like-minded sup- 
porters to each contest in London. This will lead 
almost necessarily to a little betting, for the old 
instincts of twenty years ago are by no means dead. 
The more adventurous maintain their interest in 
horse-racing, and lose many a shilling in the hope 
of gaining ten. There is little gambling over cards, 
for there is nowhere to play, save, perhaps, in a quiet 
corner of the warehouse at the dinner-hour. On 



THE WORKING MAN 215 

the whole the speculative instincts of the adult 
find scope in the activities of other people rather 
than their own. 

Politics stir them very little, even at the time of 
election. Very many have no vote, because they are 
always moving ; the maj ority of themore settled do not 
attend the party meetings, but profess great indiffer- 
ence. They have but the vaguest notion of the issues 
before the country, or the meaning of party catch- 
words. Old scandals sink deep and live for ever ; 
anything that affects the reputation of the candidate 
is likely to prove a more potent influence than the 
gravest flaw in his cause. In argument they fall 
back on a few well-worn shibboleths, which are so 
axiomatic as to be beyond examination or dispute, 
and which they apply with both hands in the 
clumsiest way imaginable. Morning papers are 
almost unknown, and the evening ones are only read 
for the sporting news they offer. The real source 
of political information and opinion is the Sunday 
paper, which generally puts the matter very strongly 
on one side or the other. In the end the elector's 
mind by the river-side is empty of logic, or reason^ 
or clear fact, and from the muddle of party cries 
and untrue scandals he plucks a tangled skein which 
he calls his opinion, and is whirled away in a motor- 
car by a grateful party, to record his vote for cheap 
food or expensive ships. 

His amusements are rare. He is not a regular 



2i6 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

attendant at the music-hall, though his admiration 
for local celebrities will often draw him to a benefit 
concert. He smokes and drinks with a regularity 
which gives the appearance of great steadiness, 
and hides from him the fact that, though the total 
amount expended varies not at all from week to 
week, it is always more than he can afford. Once 
or twice a year he indulges in the wild pleasures of 
youth, and goes into the country for his annual 
" beno." This mysterious word covers two rather 
different festivities. Each large firm, as a rule, 
closes for one day in the summer, and proceeds 
en masse for a day in Kent or on the south coast. 
Senior partner and junior partner, manager, foreman, 
clerk, warehouseman, and office-boy are all ex- 
pected to accept the generous invitation, and all 
save the most timorous and temperate will be there. 
There is a lunch — a very big lunch — an interval 
in which each, group pursues its own amusement, 
a second heavy meal, and a late journey home. 
There are a number of toasts and speeches, much 
drinking, and great jollity. The other sort of 
" beno " dates from a public-house in the neigh- 
bourhood, which collects subscriptions from its 
habitues, and on some fixed Sunday drives them out 
to a Kentish village, where there is little to do save 
drink and play skittles in the good old-fashioned 
way. They return just before midnight with blazing 
Chinese lanterns and loud cornets, dashing up in 



THE WORKING MAN 217 

the speedy coaching style to the kindly hostelry 
that sent them out. They have been drinking all 
day, but they adjourn for a parting glass to the old 
familiar counter, while the children of the street 
swarm over the empty waggonettes, for which they 
have long waited. It is a sorry exhibition, for the 
hard worker from the wharf or warehouse deserves 
a better holiday than this liquorous debauch. On 
Bank Holidays he will enjoy himself more quietly, 
for only the few go far afield. 

Little provision is made for the reasonable and 
innocent enjoyment of the adult's spare hours. 
The parks might by way of experiment become model 
beer-gardens one bright summer. They would be 
healthier and more reputable than the average 
public-house. Drinking would become a modest 
natural habit, the chance accompaniment of social 
intercourse, a mere accessory of family life, and not 
an occupation in itself. 

There are in every quarter men who do not fall 
into this mechanical animalism. Undaunted by 
the stiffness of an unused mind and the handicap 
of time, they set their face towards knowledge. 
They read and think, attend classes at working 
men's colleges, fiercely dissect the arguments of 
the demagogue, quote from Spencer and Darwin 
with a flourish, and become oracles among their 
fellows. Such men lead temperate and economical 
lives, dress in dark clothes, and wear badges at all 



2i8 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

corners of their coats. They may grow cranky 
and cantankerous, measuring themselves by the 
unread crowd they have left, rather than by the 
thoughtful savants, whose names are magic in their 
ears. 

Another small circle, with less mental power, 
but more spirit and character, are separated out 
from the ten thousand toilers, and form the church- 
going population. The standards of dress and 
conduct are more rigid with them, and their homes 
reflect the change. They prove loyal to their 
pledge, and if they have not the finely-tempered 
spirituality of the saint, they are hewers of wood 
and drawers of water in the building of the river- 
side church, and without their staimch adherence 
and steady lives the Gospel would lack the most 
striking witness to its truth. 

Yet the rank and file have only the reflected in- 
fluence of the ambitious and the good. They work 
on in their many thousands, leading a life so in- 
complete that they are in truth not more than half 
alive. Their faces betray the materialism of their 
middle age. The features have thickened, and 
move slowly as they speak or listen. The mouth 
is nearly always obscured by a moustache, but 
if it were free it would be hard and meaningless. 
Each one is different from another, yet has so little 
personality. Their virtues are unfailing ; there is 
a bedrock of solid goodness ; from this issue their 



THE WORKING MAN 219 

acts rather than from impulse or calculation. Few 
men would beat their wives when sober ; they are 
kind to all animals, far too sentimental about chil- 
dren, generous to a fault. Sombre and undistin- 
guished in dress, stolid in manner, with an even and 
monotonous voice, who would recognize in them the 
vivacious nuisance of sixteen, who stole the butter 
on Saturday night at a holiday camp, that his hair 
might be sleek in church on Sunday ? The gaiety 
of age which leads the crisp little colonels of Mayfair 
into check trousers and scarlet handkerchiefs finds 
no counterpart in the shambling old men across 
the bridges. It is indeed a waste of the long span 
of life if the fidgety youngster and gay Lothario 
shall spend his last thirty years in a struggle that 
lacks heart and purpose, and only makes him a 
clumsy, imperturbable machine. Even when he 
has paid the price, losing his individuality and 
drudging faithfully along, he stands for ever on 
the precipice of instant poverty. Illness or accident 
or the tricks of trade depression may bring him to 
the gate of the workhouse, and disband the family 
that he loved without romance or demonstration. 
It is a sorry picture, even when the uglier details 
are in the shade, and the glow of industry and good 
nature is allowed to spread all over it ; sorrier still 
when it is remembered that the man who keeps his 
work and pays his rent is counted a success by the 
river-side. These slow, heavy-witted men are the 



220 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

steady workers who make trade possible : they are 
law-abiding citizens, forming public opinion, good 
parents of many children. If they even figured in 
statistics, they would be characterized as " doing 
well " ; the police do not know them singly, and 
on inquiry would report them as honest and respect- 
able working men of blameless character. They 
are the steady bulk of the community, insuring the 
peace of the district by their habits and opinions 
far more effectively than any vigilance of police 
or government. Yet, if they are indeed satisfactory, 
how low are the civic standards of England, how 
fallen the ideals and beauties of Christianity. No 
man that has dreams can rest content because the 
English worker has reached this high level of regular 
work and rare intoxication. Waves of divine dis- 
content must sweep the river-side ; men must not 
throw away the treasures of boyhood, and smother 
the spark of life with corduroys. The best of to-day 
shall be the laggards of to-morrow ; for the best 
may at present reassure our fears, but they cannot 
satisfy our hopes. 

Failures abound in every street. These are men 
who have not that maximum of work and minimum 
of character which mark the rank and file. They 
will drift sooner or later from the settled home, 
and be found in a common lodging-house, leading 
a life different from all others, helping to form a 
class which baffles and alarms the country* Of 



THE WORKING MAN 221 

every ten boys who chased trams and cars along the 
road, and then grew to love a girl, nine will settle 
into the steady pace of working men, but the tenth 
will slip out of the ranks, and those who have a 
care for him must follow him to some very strange 
scenes and company. 



CHAPTER XIV 

FAILURES 

There are many better sleeping places on a misty 
night than the Embankment benches, and one of 
them is an old rambling doss-house by the river-side 
of South-East London. The homeless man would 
not find it very easily, unless he should see a knot 
of men in the street leaning against the wall and 
pillar-box with an air of permanence. 

He must leave the muddy road with its desolated 
horse-trams behind him, plunge bravely down a 
dark passage, go sideways and bow his head, pull 
the first wooden door towards him, push the second 
away, persevere with the passage, and he will arrive. 
It is a large, oddly-shaped room, lit by a few gas-jets 
that hang from the ceiling at very jaunty angles, 
and warmed by a generous fire, which is the sovereign 
deity of the little state. For does not every man 
cook his food on a grid before its friendly blaze, 
which does not distinguish between a bloated 
herring and a humble onion ? Are not thirty tea- 
pots of dented tin filled from the giant coppers at 

222 



FAILURES 223 

its side ? And if in the rainy season a man must 
forswear the foppery of a second suit or change of 
handkerchief, he needs but to stand by that fire, 
dodging the many cooks and scullions, and if he 
does not melt first, he will soon be dry. It answers 
the claims of necessity, and comfort, and health, 
and sociability. And if anyone looks for sentiment 
in our kitchen, he may guess rightly that, when 
some of the old faces are in the cosy workhouse, 
with its warm pipes and tidy bedsteads, or the 
younger ones away on " active service," making 
baskets and door-mats at His Majesty's expense, 
they forget the stupid pictures and discoloured- 
walls of the lodging-house, recalling and longing 
for the great red fire. 

Who are these men to whom the fire ministers ? 
They are the flowers and weeds, the mud and slime 
that cling to God's embankment, because the river 
of life is too swift for them. One half the world 
calls them " poor devils " ; the other half, " lazy 
devils " ; but it is always devils — always a half 
contempt which passes by on the other side. 

There is room (as the London County Council 
counts room) for eighty such in the old tenement. 
But the visitor will not find more than one-third 
the number as he comes into the light of the fire 
on any night at eight o'clock. For some are already 
in bed upstairs — a quaint dormitory with the 
scrupulous twenty-three inches of separation between 



224 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

bed and bed, but scarce three seconds between the 
snores. Some are keeping appointments of different 
kinds " up the street " or " round the corner," the 
exact venue being invariably the same. Some are 
not yet in from the solid triumph of a full day's 
work, and some have not found work and dare not 
come. 

Each man is in a different attitude. There is a 
blessed variety of pose in this hotel which the 
private drawing-room would never sanction, and 
which the club smoking-room can hardly attain. 
The adversity of last night has combined with the 
ill-judged prosperity of this afternoon to make Bill 
very sleepy, and he lies inert against the wall, his 
upper limbs huddled, the lower ones stretched out 
in all their ungainliness, and on his face the sem- 
blance of a child's smile. Half a dozen more sit on 
a bench, back or head or elbow leaning on the table 
behind. They gaze without comment at the kipper 
twirling before the fire, and at the plate which Fatty 
has so thoughtfully set beneath. Fatty himself 
shambles to and fro with glad preoccupation, now 
at the bench cutting his loaf into some half-dozen 
slices, now at the fire tending to the climax of his 
day's work. Flashy is pluming himself before the 
mirror. The gloss of youth is still on his cheek. 
Another year in haunts such as these, and the firm- 
ness and hope of his boy's face may be gone ; angles 
will begin to show themselves, the mouth run down 



FAILURES 225 

at the corners, and the eyes grow either furtive 
or brazen. But to-night he has still some cause for 
the vanity which leads him to give ten minutes' 
close attention to his scarf. With vigour and pre- 
cision he plies the clothes-brush, as though it were 
an ink-eraser struggling with a blot. 

Cocky eats. Nothing else can be predicated of 
him for the moment. His eye is fixed on those old 
scraps of meat and bone before him. There is a 
grim concentration of all bodily senses and mental 
powers which seem to preclude thought or conscious- 
ness of anything else. Yet not so. Next to him 
sits the wretched Fishy, with the pink shreds of 
an evening newspaper before him, murmuring over 
full details of murders, and gloating over stories of 
rich and pious men who have proved rogues. Dirt 
and disease have not made him pleasant to look 
upon, and as for his morals, not even his con- 
federates would trust him with more than the 
" price of a drink." Fishy is a low, shuffling 
creature, and he knows it. He chances to raise 
the paper, and finds that Cocky has pushed a basin 
of tea towards him. Gripping it in his right hand» 
with a dingy thumb well inside the rim, he drinks 
freely, leaving the bottom scarcely covered, and 
shoves it back. Cocky glances at the result, 
mutters " I don't think !" with a meaningless com- 
placency, and relapses into a further struggle with 
his dismembered supper. 

15 



226 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

In other corners may be seen the Twins disputing 
over a cribbage-board where all the pegs are black, 
or foolish Albert teaching the cat to leap over a 
bowler hat, or unnoticed Daddy mumbling over his 
disordered memories of Crimean days. 

The door swings to and fro as men come in and 
out ; the gas makes nervous obeisance to the 
draught. The succession of petty activities proceeds, 
and the great fire grows redder and hotter all the 
while. 

It is, perhaps, well to glance at the forces which 
rule this strange brotherhood. A short, stumpy 
man, with an ill-favoured moustache, and for 
present purposes the name of George — this is " the 
guv'nor," sole proprietor of the river-side hotel. 
The penurious habits of an old uncle, who lived 
poorly that he might die rich ten years ago, en- 
abled the nephew, who was in the greengrocery 
line, to take the old building on lease, and seek 
easier profits, though his, indeed, was a nature 
more suited to guide the destinies of cabbages than 
of men. A nervous affectation of heartiness in his 
greeting each time that he " just pops in to see 
you're all right," and a quick flush when he suspects 
ridicule or contradiction, suggest that the crown 
rests uneasily on his brow. And his kingship is, 
indeed, no sinecure. He finds himself responsible 
to the authorities for the clean and careful housing 
of eighty tired men, from each of whom he must 



FAILURES 227 

exact some two shillings and elevenpence a week. 
He must face inspectors at any moment, and defend 
his realization of their ideals of hygiene and sanita- 
tion. Nor is this easy, when standards differ, and 
men spit with such facility. Often enough he is 
the buffer between detective and lodger, forced to 
own that he does know the baptismal names of 
Pat and Fishy, and yet fearing to drop a hint of 
their whereabouts. For prudence demands that he 
should win both the confidence of the lodgers and 
the good favour of the authorities. Should either 
suspect an intrigue with the other party, George 
may be forced to return to his cabbages in the 
Walworth Road. But the blood of neither the 
Cecils nor the Churchills flows in his veins. He is 
too self-conscious for diplomacy, and bluff is no 
game for a timid man. 

A strong, straight man, whose tact was common- 
sense honesty, and whose tool was his own per- 
sonality, might spread much goodness and stability 
into the little ground-floor back. A rigid ad- 
herence to the rules of payment, and a sterner 
insistence on decent language and clean habits as 
due to the community and the place, would be a 
good beginning. For George is sometimes lenient 
over the nightly fivepence, and it is not always clear 
that his motive is pity rather than fear, or, indeed, 
that pity would be in season ; and should he chance 
to appear at a moment of turmoil, his mild protest — 



228 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

" Better language, please !" — seems to strike a note 
that is little more than interrogative. Yet to a 
very large degree the place might take its tone from 
the personality of the owner. The permanence and 
authority of his position give him an intangible 
power, which may stimulate the good or thwart the 
evil habits of this common life. He might say 
little, never preach, and only advise when asked ; 
always be remembered as " the guv'nor," yet spend 
his spare hours with the men over cribbage, or 
dominoes, or nap. The reformer would do well to 
bear in mind that the licensed proprietor is as 
potent a factor for good or evil as the foreman in a 
warehouse or a don at a college. It might be 
possible to scrutinize the character of any applicant 
for such a license as carefully as is done in the case 
of a publican. The issue is far weightier ; for, 
though the lodging-house keeper touches a smaller 
circle, his influence strikes far deeper, and his 
supervision is more constant. Under the prevailing 
system, a man of weak calibre, or, indeed, of 
notoriously loose character, may be licensed to act 
landlord ; and the house will open its doors to the 
professional gambler and all those who traf&c in 
men's weakness. 

The second level of internal government is 
reached when the lodger first meets " the deputy," 
whom modern history chooses to disguise as 'Elf- 
His title is the same in all lodging-houses, and it 



FAILURES 229 

hits the true pathetic note. For 'Elf must always 
be an understudy to George, commissioned to mind 
the place when old friends in Walworth are to be 
revisited. His authority is second-hand, and may 
be revoked by any whim or impulse of his chief. 
The duty of collecting " kip-money " generally falls 
to him. Throughout the evening the black note- 
book with the limp elastic is in and out of his 
pocket, and stiff grimy fingers record by ticks and 
crosses the lot of each man — for a stroke means a 
six-foot bed upstairs, with sheets and a pillow, but a 
cross points him to the door. All this in the 
middle of many odd jobs. For Fatty and Bill may 
fetch and cook their supper, but it is for the " deputy " 
to clear away the plates. His washing-up is made 
easier by their habit of running the last crust round 
the plate before supper is counted at an end. The 
fire must be made up each hour from that odd 
assemblage in the bucket to which all nature con- 
tributes ; the copper must be filled with water from 
the tap in the yard ; Flashy is crying out for soap 
with some impatience ; Daddy wants a "bit of 
something " to wrap round his bad leg ; and others 
are clamouring for the dominoes. With their few 
pence the lodgers have bought the right to com- 
mand 'Elf, and freely use this last privilege of 
independent gentlemen. In so far as he is willing 
in his service, genial to the sober, and deferential 
to the drunk, 'Elf is teaching the primary laws of 



230 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

social goodness and happiness ; and the kitchen 
suffers when the infirmary claims him for a month. 
Payment takes the form of the oldest bed in the 
darkest corner, some food, and a couple of shillings 
a week ; for no man is expected to assess the moral 
value of a servant in determining his wage. 'Elf 
was appointed to his duty when he had fallen out 
of the ranks at the wharves through old age and 
rheumatism. As an old habitue of the place, he 
knew its ways, and his standard of honesty was 
just so much above that of the other lodgers as to 
inspire some confidence without suggesting any- 
thing snobbish or exotic. There are so many masters 
to serve, and his position midway between George 
and the lodgers is at times so delicate, that the 
function of " deputy " is not exercised by any one 
man for very long. It is to be regretted that the 
" deputy " has not a more clearly-defined authority 
and a greater security of tenure. 

The third phase of internal government is the 
least tangible of all. Eighty men cannot gather 
together for food and shelter in any place without 
creating some form of community-sense in each 
individual. Behind the vacillating authority of 
George and 'Elf there must be stirring a public 
opinion, the least common measure of sentiment and 
tradition. As a guide and regulator of conduct, 
its operations may be fitful and obscure, but no one 
can deny its existence. A rough analysis of its 



FAILURES 231 

sources and a survey of its effect is all that observa- 
tion can achieve. The circumstances of place and 
time contribute in some measure to the prevailing 
tone. For though men come and go, passing from 
here to prison or infirmary, or hop-field or labour 
colony, and returning with little comment on either 
side, there is a definite clientele. A complete 
stranger is rare ; an old habitue (Daddy has been 
here intermittently for sixteen years) is always 
here or hereabouts. Furthermore, no man is very 
good, and none are anything but poor. The result 
is a tendency to fellowship and forgiveness, though 
grudges are possible and fights not unknown. Yet 
there is a oneness, and it is the spring of much 
charity. In the second place, there is a " blood 
set," as in most communities. Patsy and Flashy 
are among the leaders. They are lusty men, 
younger, as a rule, who still find consolation in a 
bright scarf ; a trifle arrogant, contemptuous of 
those they fear, speaking in louder tones than the 
other lodgers, singing or humming when they will, 
but discountenancing the habit in Fishy or Nobbier. 
These gay fellows set the pace, and from them we get 
our rules and manners. For it is, indeed, in small 
matters rather than in great that public opinion 
speaks out boldly. As a third constituent, the 
moral fog in the street has drifted in through the 
low door. Hurried and incomplete education, 
laissez-faire at home, and shambling poverty for 



232 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

many years have tinged judgments here as they have 
outside. Cheap papers and superficial minds have 
acted and reacted on each other, and at the end 
our community is puzzled and baffled by great 
questions of public interest, or by unexpected events. 
So it is accustomed to seize on one aspect of the 
matter, and, having chosen a fitting formula, to 
close the discussion by repeating the aphorism many 
times, patching the threadbare parts with one or 
two unvarying adjectives. 

Save when the actual money is demanded, the 
internal government is almost invisible, and several 
years might pass before its form was detected. 
When dragged to light, it does not amount to so 
very much. Yet it is wise to remember that the 
safest reform starts from within, and that what 
government obtains already might well be strength- 
ened. A good centurion must be found, who will 
give his deputy a more official position, and en- 
courage the expression of the common will. For 
there is a oneness underneath. 

If there is little sign of self-government within 
the common lodging-house, there is an abundance 
of external authorities, seeking by coercion and 
restraint to govern the lives of the human failures, 
so that they may not become dangerous or disagree- 
able to the more successful. 

The corduroys of the workhouse, the khaki of 
the prison, and the red flannel of the Poor Law 



FAILURES 233 

infirmary, are all familiar uniforms to shapeless 
Bill and unhealthy Nobbier. It is a strange 
itinerary that they have pursued for thirty years — 
tasting the cold comfort of every kind of Govern- 
ment institution, and a good number of philan- 
thropic ones, learning to answer glibly the same 
circle of questions, well versed in the fallibility of 
officials. The lodging-house is a place in close con- 
tact with every branch of State activity. At each 
phase of his life the loafer is in the hands of some 
authority, penal or friendly, and those who follow 
his career will gain a varied experience of local 
government and organized charity. 

" The London County Council," said Bill one 
night, in three slow gulps, throwing a scornful accent 
on the first syllable of each word, " is, in the manner 
of speaking, neither one thing nor the other." As 
respecting the control of lodging-houses, this vague 
declamation is singularly true ; for its authority here 
is very nebulous. It compels every lodging-house 
keeper to register his address, but the only con- 
dition attached to registration is that the applicant 
must be able, if asked, to produce certificates of 
character from three householders. The notorious 
receiver of stolen goods, the dishonest, the incom- 
petent, and the immoral, can all obtain with ease 
such certificates, and, when armed with these, the 
Council cannot, under any circumstances, refuse 
them the privileges of registration. Moreover, three 



234 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

convictions of a breach of the by-laws must be 
obtained in the police-court before any name can 
be removed from the register. No evidence of dis- 
order, or drunkenness, or vice would justify the 
Council in cancelling the licence. Deprived of any 
right to select the keepers of the houses, or control 
them by threat of dismissal, the Council is com- 
pelled to rely on its powers to issue by-laws and 
enforce them by inspection. 

The by-laws are a pretty piece of motherly legisla- 
tion. They aim at something clean and chilly, like 
a fives-court or a cell. Elaborate provisions are 
solemnly laid down for the airing of beds and the 
dusting of dustbins. The " deputy " is informed at 
what hour he must empty his bins, and at what hour 
he may sweep the floors. But in reality 'Elf " does 
the thing that's nearest," and the order in which 
his innumerable duties must be performed is settled 
by the comings and goings of George. Finally, the 
good Council, having worked themselves up into an 
ecstasy of parental solicitude, demand that, as a 
visible sign and symbol of their affection, the by- 
laws shall be hung in a prominent place. But it is 
sad to relate that, when someone wished to refer 
to them, there was no trace of a copy anjrwhere on 
the premises, and some doubt seemed to exist in 
the mind of George as to whether he had ever 
received one from the authorities. This network 
of restrictions and demands must of necessity 



FAILURES 235 

depend for all its value upon the energy of a 
human inspector, who may call once or twice a 
week. 

For some years the inspector's son happened to 
be the " deputy " in the house, and then his inter- 
pretation of the by-laws was a little casual. Week 
by week the place grew more evil-smelling and 
insanitary. Wet boards in the floor rotted into 
holes and made way for puddles ; plaster fell in 
little nuggets from the walls, and no one suggested 
their replacement ; beds sprang up in dark corners, 
their linen and blankets approximating to the same 
indescribable colour ; windows ceased to open ; the 
primary decencies of sanitation were forgotten. Yet 
the inspector continued to smile and be sociable. 

Since the departure of this valuable " deputy," 
the inspector's conscience has taken a turn. His 
manner is a trifle brisker, his stay in the kitchen 
less prolonged. He now stands in the middle of 
the kitchen, though once he was content to lounge 
against the wall, smoking a pipe with a silver rim 
round the bowl. Whispers of ventilation in the 
bedrooms and a regular use of the neighbouring 
laundry have been heard, and it is certain that with 
the spring is coming a breath of fresh air and a hope 
of better things. Under any circumstances, how- 
ever, the CouncU would gain their end more surely 
were they to make the " guv'nor " rather than the 
inspector the instrument of their beneficent inten- 



236 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

tions. But their power to select or reject a lodging- 
house keeper is so restricted that they must per- 
force trust to their inspector. 

For the present the whole attitude of the Council 
remains one of mere tolerance and suspicion. They 
are slow to perceive the possible uses and advantages 
of a lodging-house, and sink back into a pessimism 
which stifles reform and allows evils to grow un- 
checked. In the kitchen there is a vague hostility 
towards them as a meddlesome authority, and George 
seems to hover between fear and contempt. 

The Poor Law officials turn the same weary eye 
upon the doss-house. They must accept Bill now 
and then for a time either at the infirmary, or the 
casual ward, or the workhouse. Out he goes and 
back he comes ; in his better moments the porter 
is pleased to be facetious at his reappearance. The 
report of the Poor Law Commission is eloquent in 
its condemnation of the present methods for dealing 
with these then. It will suffice here to say that 
" the casual ward " is a fit title for the place, and 
the other departments might well be renamed " the 
haphazard house " and " the indeterminate infirm- 
ary." This absence of any system of classification 
in these sad assemblies, this pessimism which colours 
the whole routine of Poor-Law administration, has 
served to keep under many a young fellow who has 
just fallen for the first time from the level of in- 
dependence. He learns from the veteran to cringe 



FAILURES 237 

to the lowest official, to evade the rules, and to 
degrade himself in his own estimation. 

The hatred of the Poor Law and its provisions 
is a bitter instinct among the men. Fishy will 
describe with minutest detail the method by which 
dpng men are discharged from the infirmary. (As 
a rule, any detailed story may be discredited, for 
the details have come from the telling and retelling 
of the story, and not from any exactness of memory.) 
It would, however, appear to be true that in some 
infirmaries the doctor on his rounds does not ask 
each man how he feels, but, in order to avoid the 
risk of many conversations, consults only the nurse. 
It rests with her to describe the state of the patient, 
and on her verdict may depend his immediate 
discharge as temporarily cured. The men allege 
that if they are able to do the hard work of the 
ward — scrubbing and cleaning, and making the 
beds — the nurse purposely gives a slightly unfavour- 
able report of their condition, and they are allowed 
to stay another week. But should a man be lazy 
or too tired to work, the nurse will say cheerfully 
that he "is all right again now," and the man is 
given his discharge. It is impossible to say how 
much truth there may be behind these allegations, 
for the evidence of these men is often the expression 
of petty spite. But the matter may justify in- 
vestigation. 
To the Distress Committee, and similar agencies 



238 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

for the unemployed, the men of the lodging-house 
are outcasts. No man who gives a lodging-house 
as his address will be allowed to enter his name upon 
the register of unemployed persons. It is found to 
be a convenient maxim that a man living in such 
a place is not one of the genuine and more recent 
unemployed, but belongs to the chronic class of 
loafer and wastrel ; and since it is more urgent to 
find work for the former to prevent them sinking 
to the level of the latter, it is idle to cumber the 
lists with the name of the " dosser." In a vast 
majority of cases this rough test is valid enough, 
but here and there it operates unjustly. Albert 
has lived here for sixteen years, working two or 
three days a week at his semi-skilled trade of packing 
slates. He is very hurt at his summary rejection. 
" Born and bred as you might say in the parish, and 
married twice at the old church, and all. Distress 
Committee, you call it ; Distrust Committee, I 
say." 

To the police they -are for ever suspect. No man 
will be allowed out on bail if his address should 
prove to be a lodging-house. With some members 
of the force relations are genial enough, but this 
is the happy hunting-groimd for perplexed detec- 
tives. And the general suspicion with which they 
view a lodging-house is undoubtedly justified by 
their experience. Here and there a sergeant is 
popular, but it is more usual to hear wild tales of 



FAILURES 239 

police conspiracy, oppression, and corruption. There 
is much jubilation when one man reads aloud from 
the Sunday paper of some constable in a remote 
part of the country who has been fined five shillings 
and costs. 

The hand of the failure is against every man's ; 
he is outcast and suspect. The hospital alone 
escapes condemnation. The unanimous verdict is 
that " lodgers are treated there the same as other 
men." Never a murmur of scandal or blame, 
nothing but stories of kindness, on which the memory 
lingers quite as long as it broods over grievances 
against all other institutions. 



CHAPTER XV 

FAILURES [continued) 

The idleness of the failure is not complete. He has 
spasms of work, and these are, as a rule, the measure 
of his worth. Yet it is in reviewing the chances 
of work that hope seems almost to fade away. Does 
the river beneath the windows cast a spell upon 
the men within ? The poet thinks it murky and 
deep, filled with the romance of a world-wide com- 
merce ; the sightseer on the bridge observes that 
it is very big and very muddy, and perhaps recalls 
the dead and shapeless bodies for which Lizzie 
Hexham and her father searched ; but the " dosser " 
is only conscious of it as a place where boats and 
barges may come to-morrow and unload their beet, 
or grain, or timber, where he may get work, or 
where, more likely, he may find that he is not 
wanted. Yet it may well be that the river has 
imperceptibly soaked into his life, that the uncer- 
tainties of wind, and tide, and fog have bred in him 
the haphazard nature that comes from life on the 
water, and leaves little food in the larder or money 

240 



FAILURES 241 

in the purse for an unseen to-morrow. And there 
is a deeper mark than this. The sea may bring 
restless habits, but the river stupefies a man, making 
him drowsy with false content. 

For they are almost entirely the river-side crowd, 
the shuffling figures that throng the wharves each 
early morning. By one route or another they have 
come to be casual labourers : with some it is a destiny 
inherited (with little else) from river-side fathers, 
but many have been cast out on the river-bank by 
an economic tide from the land. They do not belong 
to the upper class of river-side labourer, who is 
regularly attached to some factory or wharf, and 
earns his thirty shilUngs a week throughout the 
year. Such a one has a house, and wife, and family, 
a piano, a grey jersey, and a trade union. But it is 
not so with the lodger. They form the immense 
surplus of river-side labour. At one wharf they 
may be known to the foreman (every man has a 
brother-in-law who is better off than himself), and 
when extra hands are needed they may rely upon 
a day's work. But boats do not come in every day 
(" The Port of London ain't like what it was !") ; and 
when they do, men are sometimes a little late, owing 
to " a bit of business " ; while here and there a 
much-abused junior partner inclines to the belief 
that a suction-pump unloads his grain more cheaply 
and speedily than a train of men proceeding down 
a plank with a sack across the neck. And the 

16 



242 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

men are not all very efficient. Daddy will describe 
himself in the next census els a " water-side labourer," 
should this grisly parasite of sixty-five live for 
another month. In truth, he can only hobble from 
quay to quay, holding a rope or " mindin' a barrer," 
his cap and scarf awry, his feet bursting through 
discoloured boots. 

Through these and other causes it comes about 
that two days' work in a week, bringing in some 
ten or twelve shillings, is a fair average throughout 
the year for even a well-grown and able-bodied 
man. This sounds a tolerable position for a bachelor 
of quiet habits, but it is a mere statistical abstrac- 
tion. In reality a man earns twenty-eight shillings 
one week, and nothing at all in the ensuing fort- 
night. Work, like the weather, is of all sorts, 
cannot be foreseen, and is the last refuge of the 
conversationalist. The unloading of a barge is a 
protracted and laborious task for muscle and sinew 
that is fed on tea, and fish, and beer. It may begin 
soon after midnight, and be carried on until late 
in the next evening, varied only by a torrent of 
rain or some hours of keen frost. The work is by 
no means unskilled. The packing of slates on a 
boat or a cart is just as much an art as the fixing 
of them on a roof. Albert is an expert in the 
matter, and is never idle so long as the slate-boat 
is in the river. " But the trade ain't nothing like 
what it was — nothing hke." Each night the same 



FAILURES 243 

dirge goes round the kitchen, the cry of men who 
are not wanted. For all river-side work strength and 
endurance alone are asked ; character is no asset 
in the casual market. On his sober days Bill 
is as much in demand as any man, for his drink 
and immorality are irrelevant. Figures indeed 
might even prove that those who drank most 
heavily obtained the most work. The truth, of 
course, lies in the converse of this cynical judg- 
ment. 

A thirsty nature, however, demands other sources 
of revenue, and when the river is " quiet," recourse 
must be had to the innumerable means of livelihood 
which are furnished by any public thoroughfare. 
The costers in the roads come for the most part 
from beyond the river, and a shilling a day may be 
earned by pushing the barrow over the bridge in 
the morning and trundling it back again at night. 
Pat is employed now and again by the coffee-stall 
proprietor at the corner to act as unofficial policeman 
and prevent " the boys " from becoming too frisky 
at the approach of dawn. Others fill the gap by 
begging and borrowing, holding a horse's head, or 
dogging the steps of some commercial traveller 
who looks too successful to carry his own samples 
from the cab to the shop-door. Fishy never goes 
down to the river at all, but relies entirely on street- 
hawking. An old conviction has robbed him of his 
licence, so he can only sell perishable goods. In the 



244 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

winter months such goods are so perishable as not 
to be worth seUing. Accordingly he takes the risk 
of dealing in cheap jewellery, which is perishable 
enough in all truth, but the law has no imagination. 
He dodges the police with varying success, being 
fined iive shillings about once a month. But some 
magistrates will not convict so old a friend. Such a 
trade yields a fair profit, for brooches are cheap 
enough in Houndsditch, yet highly valued by young 
ladies of Camberwell as symbols of an equally 
perishable affection. So Fishy jogs pleasantly along 
from week to week, generally well furnished with 
stock, which the exigencies of time and place compel 
him to carry on his person. Weedy and helpless 
he looks in his sloppy frock-coat, born for some 
bygone wedding in other parts ; yet when pride or 
drink overcomes his caution he will draw from the 
cavernous recesses of his pocket two dozen of 
brooches and of rings and other unnamed enormities, 
which men and women would never buy save as 
gifts to one another. He sleeps at night among 
his rubies and sapphires ; for he interprets the 
Golden Rule as bidding him to do to others what he 
expects they would do to him ; and such a code 
makes men very cautious of one another. To Fishy 
and others of his kind a crowd spells prosperity, and 
indeed such occasions of national rejoicing as the 
first Wednesday in June are so suggestive of both 
pleasure and business that the doss-house is emptied 



FAILURES 245 

of nearly all its lodgers — hawkers and river-side 
labourers alike. 

The action of the Distress Committee has left 
to them only one municipal activity. They may 
not trim the hedgerows of some snug asylum or dally 
with the primroses in the park ; new roads and 
bridges must be made by firmer and more honest 
hands. It is only the blessed uncertainty of English 
weather that can force the local council to rely on 
casual and discredited labour. 

At two o'clock on a January morning the thick 
black line of men will begin to form in the back 
street behind the town-hall. They stand in couples, 
as submissive as any theatre queue, while the snow 
falls with just that silent and pitiless accumulation 
that makes all men a little afraid of the winter. 
For five hours the line grows and the snow falls. 
Feet in long gaping boots have long been dead to 
all feeling, the snow is an inch deep on each round 
shoulder, bodies are so tired that they can hardly 
shiver. At half-past seven, when there are fifteen 
hundred men in Une, the doors of the yard are opened, 
and the first thousand are engaged to sweep the 
snow. The odd five hundred turn away with a 
curse, the elect begin with as hearty a curse to work 
for ten hours at fivepence an hour. They will not 
be paid till half-past five that afternoon, so that 
the dinner-hour is merely an occasion when twopence 
may or may not be borrowed for a glass of beer. 



246 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

In the afternoon some men fall out, and the others 
grow listless in their work. Sodden, aching feet 
are with diiificulty dragged from one side of the 
street to the other, and shovels scrape half-heartedly 
under the frozen snow. Mr. Buggins, of Streatham, 
as he passes by, comments with some relish on this, 
and declares that night to his good wife that " even 
if you give these unemployed fellows a good job 
they won't do it " ; and Mrs. Buggins counters with 
a similar anecdote about her charwoman's husband. 
The moral enthusiasm of Mr. and Mrs. Buggins leads 
to a consideration of the attitude of these men to 
work and their fitness for anything better than they 
already enjoy. What do they think of this weary 
catalogue of chances ? Are these few 'and infrequent 
opportunities indeed the measure of their worth ? 

Their attitude once again is very largely negative. 
They do not naturally care, or think, or talk about 
what work they find to do. The interest of their 
lives, the material for their thought or conversation, 
comes from the halfpenny evening paper, from the 
gossip at the corner, and the moving pictures at the ' 
music-hall. The rolling of a barrel or the semi- 
circular motion of a packing-case on alternate 
comers does not fire the imagination. Costering 
may appeal to the speculative instinct, but, as a 
rule, work is a blank impersonal necessity, neither 
hateful nor acceptable, not the subject for comment 
or reflection. 



FAILURES 247 

When they first sUpped into the lodging-house, 
it was but to be for a few weeks till they found 
regular work. But now it is doubtful Whether the 
same prospect has power to stir their cold-blooded 
content. They are not satisfied, but they are not 
always struggling. A weekly wage means private 
lodgings and Sunday clothes, with little anxiety or 
hunger. But it seems a long way off, after ten 
years of a casual's life, and in the meanwhile 
there is rough comfort and camaraderie in the old 
place, by the light of the great red fire. So fifteen 
or twenty years pass away, and then the infirmary, 
and perhaps a nameless grave. Men drift so easily 
to these quicksands, and few escape when once 
engulfed. They find little spur to work, and no 
interest in its performance ; neither the work itself 
nor the wages it may bring seem able to constrain 
the wiU. 

It may still be considered whether, after ambition 
has been stirred, the men are by character or 
physique fitted for the life of an ordinary artisan. 
Cancer is always among them in its most hideous 
forms : 20 per cent, of the men show traces of 
phthisis ; rheumatism and dyspepsia are inseparable 
from the manner of their lives ; incurable and in- 
famous diseases check the vitality of any men who 
have served in the army. Here and there sight is 
failing, a finger or so missing, a leg crippled with 
ulcers. And the strongest will usually succumb to 



248 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

a sudden attack of pneumonia or typhoid. Thus, out 
of the little regiment of eighty some thirty remain 
whose bodies can endure both work and weather. 

But with them a more subtle malady has wrought 
havoc in these irregular years. Patches of in- 
dustry with great gaps of idleness have sapped the 
moral calibre and bred a craving for change. Some 
are utterly incapable of working for four contintious 
hours. They must take a stroll round the corner, 
and have " a spit and a draw " with a pal. Many 
can do a hard day's work, but fail to be regular or 
punctual at the end of a week or a month. They 
cannot justly be blamed, for they are in the grip 
of a moral consumption, alternating between fever 
and debility. The secret of a steady normal life 
is gone from them. Creatures of chance, they now 
can serve no other master. 

Where shall the observer look for religious creeds 
or moral standards in this strange disorder ? Such 
considerations seem more unreal and abstract than 
ever in this company. And at the end he may 
perhaps find no trace, and so grow cjmical. One 
truth may be ventured at the very outset. Morals 
and religion are not separated so sharply here as 
in some other classes. The religious man is expected 
to be so highly moral that an occasional tendency 
to be sanctimonious is not remarkable. If Pat 
were to go to Mass on Sunday, and pray each night 
by his bed upstairs, he would be expected to quit 



FAILURES 249 

gambling, and drink, and a certain evil humour ; 
and such abstention would cause no surprise, for 
religion is recognized by a very strict negative 
morality. Its positive side is far less vital, being 
sadly limited to the wearing of certain clothes and 
collars, and attendance at church or chapel. A 
high moral standard without profession of religion 
is equally inconceivable to the lodgers. The 
abstainer and the prude are without hesitation 
written down as religious men. For this reason 
the rich man is always assumed to be religious, for, 
as a rule, he is not seen drunk. This necessary 
association of a high moral standard with a religious 
profession may in part account for the refusal to 
adopt either. The attitude is a polite non possumus. 
The lodgers form an oasis, acutely conscious of their 
isolation. The churches are not for them ; the 
street preacher will not be allowed within the doors. 
There is such a thing -as religion, and with it goes 
a clean, disciplined life. These are good things, and 
make men more steady and independent, but they 
are for men with regular work and settled homes. 
Doss-house men are apart, outside the scheme. 
Nothing much is expected of them by police or 
public ; their futility is taken to be proved by their 
presence in the kitchen. There may be a few con- 
firmed hypocrites, who are the camp followers of 
religion, and fawn on every new curate, but the 
prevailing tone is one of isolation and indifference. 



250 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

When the stimulus and co-operation which a 
church or chapel supplies is thus absent, each man 
is left to the dictates of his own impulse or of his 
own character. There are few resolute purposes 
here, swaying a man's actions, bracing him against 
difficulty and temptation. 

It is unusual to find a man whose mind is dominated 
by one uninterrupted intention throughout a whole 
week. There is, then, no settled character. They 
are essentially slaves of the hour. Mood succeeds 
mood, and to each they respond in their actions, 
thus making for themselves a very inconsistent 
record. Of self-control there is little, tempers rise 
and fall. Pat has been convicted of twenty crimes, 
in each case the victim of an impulse. This lack 
of purpose is matched by an inability to look ahead 
and gauge the future ; the kip-money is earned from 
day to day, the chances of next winter are beyond 
the veil. This moral and economic drift are the 
features of the lodging-house, where life is an 
aggregate of moments. 

This verdict seems to have banished all religion 
and morality from the place ; but that were a silly 
thing to do, when eighty men are living there. 
With no one of them, perhaps, does the Gospel 
form the framework of their life, since they know 
no framework whatsoever. They have not yet 
found religion to be a guide to conduct, or a power 
to struggle for good against bad. Prayer is not a 



FAILURES 251 

fact, because God is not near ; the Bible and the 
Prayer-Book speak of distant things. But there 
does beat within every man some slow response to 
the call of his Creator. Few would openly deny 
the existence of a God, none would maintain that 
denial to themselves. In addition to this, there 
is a very real apprehension of another world, though 
details are commonly ignored. The most striking 
symptom of their belief that, after all, there is 
something in religion, lies in their ultimate concession 
that the religious man is better than the careless, 
and has something which cannot be obtained else- 
where. 

Just as they are not pagan, so they are not 
entirely non-moral. There is no code or standard 
imposed on one another, but social virtues are 
evident on every night of the week. Should half 
a pound of shag be set on the table on Christmas 
Eve, on the understanding that all must share, it 
win not disappear into pocket or locker. Sixty 
pipes will dip and dip again, the mountain will 
become a molehill, but at the end of three days 
some will still be there. They may steal each 
other's goods, but the common propertyis moderately 
secure. Any injury to the kitchen cat or her family 
would be forcibly resented, for rough kindness to 
animals is natural, and cruelty quite abnormal. 
In their judgment of others, the tone is one of 
extreme and sometimes almost reprehensible mercy 



252 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

to the wrong-doer. Far more wonderful than this 
forgiveness is the power to forget. Fights occur 
sometimes, and often hard, half-murderous blows, 
but a week after comes a complete resumption of 
the old familiarity. These virtues, with the give- 
and-take generosity in food and money which is so 
entirely instinctive, combine with the religious 
intuitions, which are the inheritance of every man, 
to make a foundation. It is on such natural good- 
ness that the labour colonies have been able to 
build such results as they have here and there 
obtained. And for those who consider what can 
be done for such men by moral and religious agencies, 
these foregoing assumptions are the grounds of hope. 
The root of the trouble may be in part economic, 
but even in the sociological complexity of the 
doss-house, religion should play her part. She must 
not spend her entire strength in shouting at the 
cause or bewailing the result ; but, taking men that 
are broken by circumstance and sapped by their 
own weakness, she must still do her work of reclama- 
tion. It is a task of infinite difficulty. The Gospel 
seems weak, if it does not carry bread to the starving 
and a lodging to the homeless. Yet the one con- 
dition of any religious effort in the doss-house is 
the complete abandonment of the usual policy, and 
an invariable refusal on the part of a discreet parish 
clergyman to give any form of material relief. It 
is only by such a detachment as this that the spiritual 



FAILURES 253 

force will be discerned by hungry men. But where 
is this preaching of an empty-handed gospel to 
strike their ears ? Not in the house itself, save at 
the suggestion of the lodgers ; not in the church, 
for lodgers do not go there often from pure motives ; 
but surely at the street corner just outside, where 
they stand and spit and mutter in their own most 
natural way. These, then, are the only hints to 
the Church of this day — no relief funds, but a service 
in the street outside. 

They seem feeble expedients for such a campaign, 
and they will indeed never be enough. Such men 
as these are only led to believe by the example of 
a more complete devotion. The old story is true 
to-day. Such hearts are only won by the washing 
of feet and binding of cut fingers, when done by men 
as poor as they, living in their midst strict lives of 
unobtrusive service. Some day a body of men 
may rise out of the Church, and live like wandering 
friars in places such as this. They will surrender 
without a sign much that they had rightly valued, 
pass singly or together from one such place to another, 
working and eating as each day may dispose, sharing 
all things. They will preach only a little, but when 
a few men come together, they will read some verses 
and ask questions. With the same quietness they 
will help and tend the sick, showing these to be the 
ordinary actions of life. When men see such 
Christianity before their eyes, they will believe, and 



254 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

the appeal of religion will strike home. The Bible 
will no longer speak of distant things. 

Till then morality will be chaotic, and religion 
vague. Men will come and go each night. Flashy 
must pass from the coxcomb to the criminal, and 
grow a greater nuisance. Bill must die behind a 
flimsy screen in the workhouse, and be buried one 
afternoon when the chaplain is not too busy. In 
the long ward of a prison hospital Pat will watch 
the mists gather for the last time across unending 
moorland. Others will fall in the street, and earn 
at last the publicity of a crowd, and ambulance, 
and inquest ; or perhaps be found one morning with 
stiff and purposeless face on an Embankment bench. 
Yet they all once crept " with shining morning face 
unwillingly to school." 



CHAPTER XVI 

CONCLUSION 

It might well be supposed that so long a catalogue 
of hardships and shortcomings could have no very 
hopeful conclusion. The foregoing chapters have 
but sketched the sequence of river-side life, and 
few suggestions of remedy have given to their pages 
the colour of hope. For they reflect a compara- 
tively brief experience, which is not justified in 
outlining anything more than the spirit of reform. 
The child has been bom into a world of untidy and 
unprosperous streets. His parents have endowed 
him with no abundance of health or skill. The 
early years were spent in stuffy rooms. Food, 
clothes, and pleasures proved to be cheap and 
gaudy, and short-lived. School-years gave great 
happiness, yet left much in him undiscovered. 
Work came full early and oppressed his boyhood. 
There were relaxations, bursts of freedom, mistakes 
and times of trouble. Undaunted by a rather 
featureless prospect, he married, and became the 
head of yet another struggling home. Then he 

255 



256 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

settled to the sober round of a middle-aged work- 
man, or crumbled away into a dissolute loafer, 
content with the occupations and comforts provided 
by the life of a lodging-house habitue. Strong or 
weak, foreman or wastrel, he will be the father of 
others, who must make this journey or fall at the 
very start. 

Many million lives are hemmed within these 
narrow limits, and their promise perishes as a cramp- 
ing manhood absorbs the fulness of youth. Each 
" happy new year," ushered in by much jollity, 
and overcrowded watch-night services at every 
church, is appallingly the same. There is much 
happiness in each, but not enough newness to give 
spring and force to the life of the worker. The 
very extent and oppression of the prevailing poverty 
is so unmeaningly great that men in other parts are 
always in danger of accepting it as an unalterable 
fact, mercifully distant from their own experience. 
Yet when numbers are so large, and areas so ex- 
tensive, the practical mind is forced to consider the 
huge aggregate of life and ability that is lost each 
year to a country that needs both. The purely 
material aspect must awake every Englishman to 
a sense of his share and interest in this state of things. 
No bank or company can allow assets to lie fallow, 
its property undeveloped. No country that has 
joined the struggle for supremacy can allow the 
finest human material to grow stiff or die for lack 



CONCLUSION 257 

of help and understanding. Every boy and girl 
must grow to their best and fullest, for in the end 
the greatest country is not she whose work-people 
are the strongest animals, or the most reliable 
machines, but rather she whose work-people are 
the best men and women in the world. 

The first impression on the practical man is one 
of gigantic waste. The actual loss of life is suffi- 
ciently appalling to compel the notice of every 
patriot. Immorality grows unchecked, and brings 
its penalty upon innocent and guilty alike. The 
pavements of London are strewn with the wrecks 
of womanhood, and little children pay the wages 
of their mother's sins. Idiot girls are allowed to 
become an easy prey to the more callous of men, 
and retreat to the workhouse each year to bring 
forth imwanted children tainted with the mother's 
taint. Many another child, born in honest wedlock, 
dies in a home which is not fit for family life, but 
which the owner has never seen ; or dies because 
his mother works when she should not, and the 
employer remains in innocence of his guilt. The 
children that die in a single London borough in 
their first twelve months would be enough, if they 
lived, to form a regiment, or man a ship, or fill a 
factory each year. Some would grow to be men of 
ability, many prove good fathers of another genera- 
tion. But they are all obliterated by the hardness 
of poor life, and the harvest of their strength and 

17 



258 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

talents is never reaped. Thus does a country lose 
more than she can count or know. 

The physical waste among those who survive 
is a further loss, and a far greater expense to the 
State. The defective offspring of parents, whose 
union should never have been allowed, lack from 
the first some of the parts or senses of life, and will 
soon lapse into the cold embrace of Government 
institutions, enduring forty years of well-organized 
apathy in the nearest workhouse or asylum. The 
normal child who reaches an ordinary manhood will 
miss the full perfection of his physique. For there 
is an abundance of native strength, sinew, and endur- 
ance in the average boy. More careful housing,, 
larger playgrounds and open spaces, regular holidays 
and hours, and healthier work and food would 
produce a race of men as hardy as the dalesmen of 
the north, as elastic as the little men from Japan. 
Already on middle-aged fish and glutinous jam, 
some bodies and muscles are developed that are 
probably stronger than those of country boys. This 
minority of strong men goes to prove the physical 
possibility of the London lad, and to enforce the 
lament that so much strength is allowed to lie latent 
and undeveloped behind narrow chests and puny 
arms. The standards for an army or navy recruit 
might easily be raised in every direction, if the 
physical resources of the boy were brought into full 
play. At present there are many white faces that 



CONCLUSION 259 

might be blooming, thousands of thin legs and arms 
that were meant to be strong, and a whole army 
of coughing, short-winded men who were born to 
be Ol5mipic heroes. These men so unnecessarily 
weak rob the country of more than their own strength, 
for they hand on the curse of phthisis or nervous 
debility to another generation, and throw a fresh 
handicap in the scale that weighs down their chil- 
dren's chances. Yet many who bewail the lack of 
vitality in working people, and look gloomily into 
a future of spectacles, and crutches, and cotton- 
wool, have it in their power to save this waste of 
bone and sinew if they will. They can, privately 
as emplojTers, or publicly as citizens, reduce, if not 
actually remove, the causes which turn lusty boys 
into weaklings, and sap the country of a hardy rank 
and file. 

No less serious to the practical man is the leakage 
of mental power in the premature transition from 
boy to man. It is not confined to those extreme 
cases where a boy of genuine ability, failing through 
some mischance to gain a scholarship, or forbidden 
by an over-cautious father to accept it, is forced 
to content himself with manual work. It is true 
that in every borough there are numerous examples 
of this suppressed capacity. Boys who might 
become classical scholars lick labels on to parcels 
for ten years, others who have literary gifts clean 
out a brewer's vat. Real thinkers work as porters 



26o ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

in metal warehouses, and after shouldering iron 
fittings for eleven hours a day, find it difficult to 
set their minds in order. These are flagrant instances, 
not uncommon, but only forming a small proportion 
of the whole labouring class. 

Yet with even the average boy there is a marked 
waste of mental capital between the ages of ten and 
thirty, and the aggregate of this loss to the country 
is heavy indeed. Ten years at school conquer 
many of the drawbacks at home, and discover a 
quick receptive mind in the normal child, eager for 
knowledge, and apt to reproduce. The size of the 
classes prevents full use being made of these un- 
doubted powers, but the seventh standard boy is 
alert and intelligent, trained to work methodically 
and think quickly. Many opportunities have been 
lost in these years at school, but after fourteen there 
is a more disastrous relapse. The brain is not taxed 
again, and shrivels into a mere centre of limited 
formulae, acting automatically in response to appe- 
tite or sensation. The boy at work sees more of 
the world, but though experience gives more 
material for thought, and might well suggest more 
knotty problems than before, he seems to use his 
mind less and less. His general education fails 
utterly. Asia is but a name that is difficult to spell, 
though at school he spoke of its rivers and ports 
with the familiarity of a hardy traveller. But he 
has not once thought of Asia since he gazed on the 



CONCLUSION 261 

class-room map, and cheered in his heart the name 
of Florence Nightingale. It is probable that the 
vocabulary of the working man at forty is actually 
smaller than it was at fourteen, so shrunk is the 
power of the mind to feed upon the growing ex- 
perience of life. The modern educational system 
fails to grip the boy ; having learnt to read and write, 
to understand history and geography, he should 
wish to use these gifts through life. But his ten 
years at school result in a very temporary access 
of ability, and the man of fifty is found but little 
more intelligent than his uneducated grandfather 
of pre- Victorian days. 

Of the majority of boys it is true to say that only 
half their ability is ever used in the work they find 
to do on leaving school. The other half curls up 
and sleeps for ever. In tastes, pleasures, and 
manners the process is the same. Seventh standard 
boys enjoy Shakespeare and good music ; in thirty 
years they will with difficulty remain awake under 
the ordeal. If the progress of the boy through the 
school could be maintained in any way, the electors 
of this country would be men of such high taste 
and intelligence, as to lay at rest all the fears of 
those who doubt democracy. 

This waste of high average ability will only be 
checked by an increased watchfulness and breadth 
of outlook on the part of those who administer 
educational funds. As a school - manager or a 



263 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

member of the County Education Committee, as 
a worker on care committees or juvenile labour 
exchange committees, men or women with a httle 
leisure who know that education neither begins nor 
ends with the class-room, can with infinite patience 
and discretion watch the unfolding possibilities of 
each child, and see that he reaches the highest level 
of life within his grasp. Regulation of the hours 
of boy-labour, the enforcing of evening classes 
between fourteen and eighteen, will some day 
strengthen the hands of these workers, and change 
the slope of life, so that a boy who has climbed to 
the top of his school, shall not then slide down into 
manhood, but continue to climb still higher. The 
workers on these school committees are labouring 
with rare enthusiasm in this direction, but their 
numbers might well be redoubled, and among them 
is a place for everyone who would save for 
this country the brain and talent of its normal 
children. 

But the greatest riches of the river-side lie in the 
natural goodness of its people. In spite of every 
stupidity and mistake, in spite of the failure and 
wreckage of weak souls, here, born of the struggle 
of life, unfold those lives of love and perseverance, 
that are to the traveller that has eyes to see as the 
golden furze on the bleakest slope of the mountain- 
side. Generosity touches a point reached nowhere 
else, and does so by the prompting of instinct. 



CONCLUSION 263 

rather than as the result of exhortation and conscious 
virtue. The family may consist of ten very different 
people, who have little to say to each other, and 
are never demonstrative ; yet one member of it 
will support by his own wages all the others for many 
months, and will see nothing unselfish in the surrender 
of all his pocket-money. For he has only done an 
ordinary and expected thing, and does not look for 
gratitude or applause. The father or mother will 
go without the food the children want ; the elder 
brother will abstain that the younger one may eat, 
for it is an unwritten law that first the children must 
be fed. 

It is almost as unquestionably a duty to support 
neighbours, though they may have moved to the 
street but a month before, and their name is barely 
known. The mother of the more prosperous home 
will not stop to consult her family, but will without 
hesitation help those who live above her or in the 
next house. She will not pay their rent, but she 
will lend odd shillings and give much food, never 
thinking of return. This is the most perfect 
charity. Wedding-presents are very rarely given, 
but no funeral of friend or relative can be allowed 
to pass without a wreath or cross of flowers. Sym- 
pathy in its most manifest forms comes from every 
house in the street, when accident or death falls on 
any family. Benefit concerts are always more 
successful than those for any other purpose. Col- 



264 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

lections for a " friend in need " or for a testimonial 
to a " friend indeed " occur monthly in every street. 
Money is given to objects and people most remote 
and unknown. No one finds it so hard to refuse 
food to the hungry as those who themselves have 
rarely had enough. To work and to suffer for 
others is a natural feature of every day. Without 
show and, seemingly, without trouble, the man 
with two coats or two crusts gives one to a com- 
parative stranger who has none. This is not 
quixotic, not marvellous or exacting in the eyes of 
the poor. 

There are other signs of this fundamental good- 
ness. Boys who lead a hard life at home and at 
work rarely speak of the struggle. Yet an occa- 
sional glimpse into a comfortless home reveals the 
uncomplaining hardiness of the boy, who, in the 
midst of every known temptation keeps a steady 
course. Motherless children come to school all 
clean and tidy, cared for by an elder sister of sixteen, 
who herself must work ten hours a day. Mothers — 
but who can say what the mother does in the little 
home that is kept swept and garnished, where the 
children are clean and neat, while the wolf is kept 
from the door, by the mother's work ? The fight 
against that despair, which, if it comes, brings dis- 
honesty and perpetual untruth, is so stern for many, 
that their rigid adherence to a careful, virtuous life 
points to a rare vein of goodness in the strata of 



CONCLUSION 265 

the river-side. For though poverty brings its quiver 
of temptations to all, attacking first one side and 
then another of a boy's humanity, and though few 
have the help of a positive and personal religion, 
yet the vast majority will never break the law or 
see a prison wall. 

Does it, therefore, appear strange to some that 
with so much spontaneous and inbred straightness 
of living there should not be higher standards and 
a more general endeavour after purity and tem- 
perance — the respectable virtues of better folk ? 
Perhaps. But they are like lilies in a muddy pool — 
these virtues in the river-side. Deep in the pool's 
turbid bottom they have their roots, and because 
they are stronger and more beautiful than the 
weeds that grow around them, they thrust their 
way to the slime-covered surface of the stagnant 
waters. Without the mud, their beauty would be 
less glorious ; without the struggle, their strength 
less wonderful. 

"All 's lend and borrow : 
Good, see, wants evil ; 
Joy demands sorrow ; 
Angel weds devil." 

Lilies here and there, yet a wilderness of mud, and 
many struggling weeds. Many lives there are like 
shafts of hght in a dungeon, yet the fuller revelation 
of faith and power has still to come. There is here 
the same want of development ; the moral strength 



266 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

of a nation hangs in the balance. For the material 
is very good. The nature of the people is essen- 
tially religious, and, in spite of all, their strongest 
traditions and instincts are in close accord with the 
spirit of Christianity. Perhaps for want of men 
the Church is able to lead but a few to a clearer 
knowledge of the faith that is theirs already ; 
perhaps for want of insight she does not always see 
how far the water-side labourer has travelled along 
the road that leads to Calvary. Where there is 
much native kindness, there are foundations for 
a Christian life that shall reach and embrace every 
home, and there are signs that every man and woman 
will some day walk in the steady light of a personal 
certain faith in things unseen. In the meantime 
goodness abounds, but does not reach either its 
cause or its ideal. 

Waste upon waste — in body, mind, and spirit. 
" One wrong more to man, one more insult to God." 
It is by economy in this wealth of our inheritance 
that England will survive competition, and stamp 
all history more deeply still with the impress of her 
worth. This aspect alone of the life across the 
bridges should stir each watchful patriot to the 
impatience that cries for knowledge. And know- 
ledge alone can lead him to reform. 

In this the appeal lies to the pocket of the business- 
loving Englishman. Let him see that there is no 
unnecessary leakage in the resources of the nation's 



CONCLUSION 267 

humanity. But there is a deeper thought awakened 
by the sight of helpless infancy and stunted man- 
hood. No one can look upon the way of life that 
lies before the child of the water-side without an 
uneasy shiver, as he reflects that in a sense he is 
allowing this order of things to continue without 
end. Patriotism has no meaning unless it implies 
fraternity ; there can be no motherland without 
brotherhood. The flag of a country stands not for 
broad acres, or cliffs, or castles, but for the men and 
women and children who make up a race. It is 
them that the flag, and all who honour it, must 
serve and protect. There are countless ties between 
those who use the same speech, see the same stars, 
and are fenced in by the same rough sea. The 
streets are common to all ; the flagstones on the 
embankment echo at night first under the tread of 
the Cabinet Minister on his way to Westminster, 
and a minute later will click under the loose shoe 
of some obsequious beggar, who was once an im- 
pudent boy. Black weeks in South Africa closed 
the disordered ranks of Englishmen at home. The 
fears and hopes of a country are all alike till they 
are divided by speech into rough and smooth. The 
paltry shillings in a rich man's pocket are not his 
for long ; they have been, and will again become, 
the riches of some boy, who must save two more, 
if he would go for a week to camp. Vast is the 
interchange between all men who shelter between 



268 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

the same seas. Great is the claim of the struggler 
upon the comfortable, when they kneel in the same 
church and worship the same God. And if the 
claim is great how serious the responsibility upon 
those who have for the sufferings of those who 
have not. When satisfied that all is not well beyond 
the bridges, that his own countrymen are dying 
or drooping for want of a chance, the rich man dare 
not ask himself like Scrooge or Dives, whether it 
is his fault that things are so, and rest content with 
his own complacent answer that it is not his fault. 
If he is a man who has love for his country and a 
care for the future, he will first ask, what is wrong ? 
And then, after thought and scrutiny, wUl come 
a second and more searching question : What can 
I do to help ? 

For although it is so manifestly true that all men 
in England have much in common, and it is still 
one race that makes the Empire great, yet the habits 
of a hundred years have done much to divorce 
masters and men. From this separation have arisen 
half the evils of poverty, and reform can only come 
through a union that is based on mutual sympathy 
and understanding. 

The geography of every town makes the trouble 
abundantly clear, and nowhere is the separation 
so marked as in the City of London. The land of 
dividends is roughly in the West ; beyond the 
Bank or across the bridges is a vast unknown land 



CONCLUSION 269 

oi wages. If only the houses of rich and poor lay 
side by side, and flats were also tenements, poverty 
would never have grown so baffling. The isolation 
of classes is carried much farther than this mere 
allocation of separate streets. The son from the 
West, having played in the seclusion of his own 
nursery, and walked in a padlocked square, is sent 
away to a school where he mixes with boys of the 
same kind. He makes his friends and forms his 
habits there in a community which only represents 
one thousandth part of the British people. He 
passes on to a University, where he makes more 
friends, and hardens his habits into a character. 
Yet here again he meets but the same thousandth 
part of the country that he had met before at school 
and at home. He is then sent forth to govern or 
play his part among a people of whom he knows 
but a tiny fraction. He continues his life in the 
same clean, unrufiled circles. The members of his 
club are irreproachable ; he is iU at ease in a 
restaurant where the best dinner costs sixpence. 
His cricket-club instinctively arranges fixtures with 
other clubs of the same temper. The only stragglers 
with whom he has spoken have been servants, 
waiters, clerks, and cabmen, and in each case the 
relation in which they stand to him has vitiated the 
chance of comradeship. 

Thus arises a double ignorance. Rich and poor 
are at cross-purposes ; neither can understand 



270 ACROSS THE BRIDGES 

why the others say and do such unaccountable 
things, wear such odd clothes, or have such absurd 
tastes and prejudices. EvUs have grown apace, and 
made life dark for the poor. Some of the rich 
do not yet know how dark that life has grown ; 
others know, but do not see how they can do any- 
thing. 

Before legislation can sweep boldly along the path 
of reform, the men who vote and the men who 
rule must have greater knowledge of each other's 
lives, or the laws will be thoughtless, passionate, 
vindictive. Let some of those who are called to 
govern or administer learn in the school of fact, 
and not accept mere figures and reports as any 
substitute for the sight and knowledge of a poor 
man's life. Before they have framed policies and 
chosen parties, they would be wise to live in an 
ordinary street among poorer neighbours than they 
have hitherto known, not as philanthropists, but 
as learners and sharers, watching children grow 
into men, grieving over the quick fading of women's 
beauty, troubled by the dilapidation of the young 
loafer, thinking and wondering how all these things 
shall change. 

The most urgent need in all social questions is 
for this knowledge and sjnnpathy. There can be 
no great change that is safe and useful before 
this understanding between man and man has 
come. Though the sight of open misery and 



CONCLUSION 271 

vice unashamed rouses the hearts of men, who 
must stand by, to passion and infinite longing, 
yet the most pressing duty is to wait. A 
change of spirit must come rather than a change 
of Government. 

The horizon of the thousandth part, so secure 
within the porticoes of ugly Kensington and the 
buttresses of ancient schools and colleges, must 
first be widened to include in their survey of England 
the listless figures by the river-side. With a change 
of spirit and a widening of horizon will come a 
sense of trouble, and shame, and responsibility. 
And with a feeling of responsibility will arise an 
anxiety to arise and learn, and then at last will 
come the knowledge that gives a broad basis for 
reform. 

Yet legislation will not then prove to be the greatest 
agent in the deliverance of the underfed and over- 
worked. For deliverance will not come from a thou- 
sand laws or constitutions, but only by the growth 
of a race of a thousand parents and employers, 
good landlords and builders. As men grow, con- 
stitutions crumble. For if there came this new 
spirit upon the country, not merely the rulers, but 
every man who walked on carpets, would recast 
his relations with all those who served him. The 
landlord and builder would raise their ideals and 
methods ; the employer would be at infinite pains 
to govern his small kingdom with thought and 



272 ACROSS THE|BRIDGES 

understanding ; the officer would learn to serve and 
study his men, knowing that discipline is barren 
without guidance and interest. The man with youth 
and energy would devote a generous measure of 
spare time to the supervision of games and clubs, 
or take a modest place on labour exchange or care 
committees. Knowledge and service act and react 
upon each other. For the man who begins to 
know something of another's need wants to do 
something, and anything that he does will bring 
him into further contact with those he seeks to 
know. 

It is by the different point of view in the average 
man, by an accumulation of small differences in 
his deahngs with others, that the new heaven and 
earth wUl come, rather than by any sweeping measure 
of compulsion or restraint. 

The first great struggle is for men to realize that 
across the bridges there is a great need, which is 
a reproach to their common sense because it is a 
great waste of strength and goodness, and to their 
manliness because it is unutterably sad. Some, 
moreover, need to learn that there is a bridge, after 
all, which will bear them to these countless homes 
of poverty. They will find the way across the river 
if they come, natural and unassuming, with a pure 
heart and ready hand, anxious only to serve and 
learn. They cross, perhaps, in fear and wonder, 
but find on the other side a happiness which makes 



CONCLUSION 273 

them stay. They meet there gentler spirits with 
more indomitable courage than their own, and 
others who are more weak and sinful than they 
can understand ; slowly they begin to share and 
join hands with all, and in the end rejoice that they 
are as other men. 



BILLING AND SONS, LTD., PRINTERS, GUILDFORD 



, ;:" ;'ii, i'