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The People of the Abyss by Jack London

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In such conditions, the outlook for children is hopeless. They die
like flies, and those that survive, survive because they possess
excessive vitality and a capacity of adaptation to the degradation
with which they are surrounded. They have no home life. In the
dens and lairs in which they live they are exposed to all that is
obscene and indecent. And as their minds are made rotten, so are
their bodies made rotten by bad sanitation, overcrowding, and
underfeeding. When a father and mother live with three or four
children in a room where the children take turn about in sitting up
to drive the rats away from the sleepers, when those children never
have enough to eat and are preyed upon and made miserable and weak
by swarming vermin, the sort of men and women the survivors will
make can readily be imagined.

"Dull despair and misery
Lie about them from their birth;
Ugly curses, uglier mirth,
Are their earliest lullaby."

A man and a woman marry and set up housekeeping in one room. Their
income does not increase with the years, though their family does,
and the man is exceedingly lucky if he can keep his health and his
job. A baby comes, and then another. This means that more room
should be obtained; but these little mouths and bodies mean
additional expense and make it absolutely impossible to get more
spacious quarters. More babies come. There is not room in which to
turn around. The youngsters run the streets, and by the time they
are twelve or fourteen the room-issue comes to a head, and out they
go on the streets for good. The boy, if he be lucky, can manage to
make the common lodging-houses, and he may have any one of several
ends. But the girl of fourteen or fifteen, forced in this manner to
leave the one room called home, and able to earn at the best a
paltry five or six shillings per week, can have but one end. And
the bitter end of that one end is such as that of the woman whose
body the police found this morning in a doorway in Dorset Street,
Whitechapel. Homeless, shelterless, sick, with no one with her in
her last hour, she had died in the night of exposure. She was
sixty-two years old and a match vendor. She died as a wild animal

Fresh in my mind is the picture of a boy in the dock of an East End
police court. His head was barely visible above the railing. He
was being proved guilty of stealing two shillings from a woman,
which he had spent, not for candy and cakes and a good time, but for

"Why didn't you ask the woman for food?" the magistrate demanded, in
a hurt sort of tone. "She would surely have given you something to

"If I 'ad arsked 'er, I'd got locked up for beggin'," was the boy's

The magistrate knitted his brows and accepted the rebuke. Nobody
knew the boy, nor his father or mother. He was without beginning or
antecedent, a waif, a stray, a young cub seeking his food in the
jungle of empire, preying upon the weak and being preyed upon by the

The people who try to help, who gather up the Ghetto children and
send them away on a day's outing to the country, believe that not
very many children reach the age of ten without having had at least
one day there. Of this, a writer says: "The mental change caused
by one day so spent must not be undervalued. Whatever the
circumstances, the children learn the meaning of fields and woods,
so that descriptions of country scenery in the books they read,
which before conveyed no impression, become now intelligible."

One day in the fields and woods, if they are lucky enough to be
picked up by the people who try to help! And they are being born
faster every day than they can be carted off to the fields and woods
for the one day in their lives. One day! In all their lives, one
day! And for the rest of the days, as the boy told a certain
bishop, "At ten we 'ops the wag; at thirteen we nicks things; an' at
sixteen we bashes the copper." Which is to say, at ten they play
truant, at thirteen steal, and at sixteen are sufficiently developed
hooligans to smash the policemen.

The Rev. J. Cartmel Robinson tells of a boy and girl of his parish
who set out to walk to the forest. They walked and walked through
the never-ending streets, expecting always to see it by-and-by;
until they sat down at last, faint and despairing, and were rescued
by a kind woman who brought them back. Evidently they had been
overlooked by the people who try to help.

The same gentleman is authority for the statement that in a street
in Hoxton (a district of the vast East End), over seven hundred
children, between five and thirteen years, live in eighty small
houses. And he adds: "It is because London has largely shut her
children in a maze of streets and houses and robbed them of their
rightful inheritance in sky and field and brook, that they grow up
to be men and women physically unfit."

He tells of a member of his congregation who let a basement room to
a married couple. "They said they had two children; when they got
possession it turned out that they had four. After a while a fifth
appeared, and the landlord gave them notice to quit. They paid no
attention to it. Then the sanitary inspector who has to wink at the
law so often, came in and threatened my friend with legal
proceedings. He pleaded that he could not get them out. They
pleaded that nobody would have them with so many children at a
rental within their means, which is one of the commonest complaints
of the poor, by-the-bye. What was to be done? The landlord was
between two millstones. Finally he applied to the magistrate, who
sent up an officer to inquire into the case. Since that time about
twenty days have elapsed, and nothing has yet been done. Is this a
singular case? By no means; it is quite common."

Last week the police raided a disorderly house. In one room were
found two young children. They were arrested and charged with being
inmates the same as the women had been. Their father appeared at
the trial. He stated that himself and wife and two older children,
besides the two in the dock, occupied that room; he stated also that
he occupied it because he could get no other room for the half-crown
a week he paid for it. The magistrate discharged the two juvenile
offenders and warned the father that he was bringing his children up

But there is no need further to multiply instances. In London the
slaughter of the innocents goes on on a scale more stupendous than
any before in the history of the world. And equally stupendous is
the callousness of the people who believe in Christ, acknowledge
God, and go to church regularly on Sunday. For the rest of the week
they riot about on the rents and profits which come to them from the
East End stained with the blood of the children. Also, at times, so
peculiarly are they made, they will take half a million of these
rents and profits and send it away to educate the black boys of the


All these were years ago little red-coloured, pulpy infants, capable
of being kneaded, baked, into any social form you chose.--CARLYLE.

Late last night I walked along Commercial Street from Spitalfields
to Whitechapel, and still continuing south, down Leman Street to the
docks. And as I walked I smiled at the East End papers, which,
filled with civic pride, boastfully proclaim that there is nothing
the matter with the East End as a living place for men and women.

It is rather hard to tell a tithe of what I saw. Much of it is
untenable. But in a general way I may say that I saw a nightmare, a
fearful slime that quickened the pavement with life, a mess of
unmentionable obscenity that put into eclipse the "nightly horror"
of Piccadilly and the Strand. It WAS a menagerie of garmented
bipeds that looked something like humans and more like beasts, and
to complete the picture, brass-buttoned keepers kept order among
them when they snarled too fiercely.

I was glad the keepers were there, for I did not have on my
"seafaring" clothes, and I was what is called a "mark" for the
creatures of prey that prowled up and down. At times, between
keepers, these males looked at me sharply, hungrily, gutter-wolves
that they were, and I was afraid of their hands, of their naked
hands, as one may be afraid of the paws of a gorilla. They reminded
me of gorillas. Their bodies were small, ill-shaped, and squat.
There were no swelling muscles, no abundant thews and wide-spreading
shoulders. They exhibited, rather, an elemental economy of nature,
such as the cave-men must have exhibited. But there was strength in
those meagre bodies, the ferocious, primordial strength to clutch
and gripe and tear and rend. When they spring upon their human prey
they are known even to bend the victim backward and double its body
till the back is broken. They possess neither conscience nor
sentiment, and they will kill for a half-sovereign, without fear or
favour, if they are given but half a chance. They are a new
species, a breed of city savages. The streets and houses, alleys
and courts, are their hunting grounds. As valley and mountain are
to the natural savage, street and building are valley and mountain
to them. The slum is their jungle, and they live and prey in the

The dear soft people of the golden theatres and wonder-mansions of
the West End do not see these creatures, do not dream that they
exist. But they are here, alive, very much alive in their jungle.
And woe the day, when England is fighting in her last trench, and
her able-bodied men are on the firing line! For on that day they
will crawl out of their dens and lairs, and the people of the West
End will see them, as the dear soft aristocrats of Feudal France saw
them and asked one another, "Whence came they?" "Are they men?"

But they were not the only beasts that ranged the menagerie. They
were only here and there, lurking in dark courts and passing like
grey shadows along the walls; but the women from whose rotten loins
they spring were everywhere. They whined insolently, and in maudlin
tones begged me for pennies, and worse. They held carouse in every
boozing ken, slatternly, unkempt, bleary-eyed, and towsled, leering
and gibbering, overspilling with foulness and corruption, and, gone
in debauch, sprawling across benches and bars, unspeakably
repulsive, fearful to look upon.

And there were others, strange, weird faces and forms and twisted
monstrosities that shouldered me on every side, inconceivable types
of sodden ugliness, the wrecks of society, the perambulating
carcasses, the living deaths--women, blasted by disease and drink
till their shame brought not tuppence in the open mart; and men, in
fantastic rags, wrenched by hardship and exposure out of all
semblance of men, their faces in a perpetual writhe of pain,
grinning idiotically, shambling like apes, dying with every step
they took and each breath they drew. And there were young girls, of
eighteen and twenty, with trim bodies and faces yet untouched with
twist and bloat, who had fetched the bottom of the Abyss plump, in
one swift fall. And I remember a lad of fourteen, and one of six or
seven, white-faced and sickly, homeless, the pair of them, who sat
upon the pavement with their backs against a railing and watched it

The unfit and the unneeded! Industry does not clamour for them.
There are no jobs going begging through lack of men and women. The
dockers crowd at the entrance gate, and curse and turn away when the
foreman does not give them a call. The engineers who have work pay
six shillings a week to their brother engineers who can find nothing
to do; 514,000 textile workers oppose a resolution condemning the
employment of children under fifteen. Women, and plenty to spare,
are found to toil under the sweat-shop masters for tenpence a day of
fourteen hours. Alfred Freeman crawls to muddy death because he
loses his job. Ellen Hughes Hunt prefers Regent's Canal to
Islington Workhouse. Frank Cavilla cuts the throats of his wife and
children because he cannot find work enough to give them food and

The unfit and the unneeded! The miserable and despised and
forgotten, dying in the social shambles. The progeny of
prostitution--of the prostitution of men and women and children, of
flesh and blood, and sparkle and spirit; in brief, the prostitution
of labour. If this is the best that civilisation can do for the
human, then give us howling and naked savagery. Far better to be a
people of the wilderness and desert, of the cave and the squatting-
place, than to be a people of the machine and the Abyss.


"My father has more stamina than I, for he is country-born."

The speaker, a bright young East Ender, was lamenting his poor
physical development.

"Look at my scrawny arm, will you." He pulled up his sleeve. "Not
enough to eat, that's what's the matter with it. Oh, not now. I
have what I want to eat these days. But it's too late. It can't
make up for what I didn't have to eat when I was a kiddy. Dad came
up to London from the Fen Country. Mother died, and there were six
of us kiddies and dad living in two small rooms.

"He had hard times, dad did. He might have chucked us, but he
didn't. He slaved all day, and at night he came home and cooked and
cared for us. He was father and mother, both. He did his best, but
we didn't have enough to eat. We rarely saw meat, and then of the
worst. And it is not good for growing kiddies to sit down to a
dinner of bread and a bit of cheese, and not enough of it.

"And what's the result? I am undersized, and I haven't the stamina
of my dad. It was starved out of me. In a couple of generations
there'll be no more of me here in London. Yet there's my younger
brother; he's bigger and better developed. You see, dad and we
children held together, and that accounts for it."

"But I don't see," I objected. "I should think, under such
conditions, that the vitality should decrease and the younger
children be born weaker and weaker."

"Not when they hold together," he replied. "Whenever you come along
in the East End and see a child of from eight to twelve, good-sized,
well-developed, and healthy-looking, just you ask and you will find
that it is the youngest in the family, or at least is one of the
younger. The way of it is this: the older children starve more
than the younger ones. By the time the younger ones come along, the
older ones are starting to work, and there is more money coming in,
and more food to go around."

He pulled down his sleeve, a concrete instance of where chronic
semi-starvation kills not, but stunts. His voice was but one among
the myriads that raise the cry of the hunger wail in the greatest
empire in the world. On any one day, over 1,000,000 people are in
receipt of poor-law relief in the United Kingdom. One in eleven of
the whole working-class receive poor-law relief in the course of the
year; 37,500,000 people receive less than 12 pounds per month, per
family; and a constant army of 8,000,000 lives on the border of

A committee of the London County school board makes this
declaration: "At times, WHEN THERE IS NO SPECIAL DISTRESS, 55,000
children in a state of hunger, which makes it useless to attempt to
teach them, are in the schools of London alone." The italics are
mine. "When there is no special distress" means good times in
England; for the people of England have come to look upon starvation
and suffering, which they call "distress," as part of the social
order. Chronic starvation is looked upon as a matter of course. It
is only when acute starvation makes its appearance on a large scale
that they think something is unusual

I shall never forget the bitter wail of a blind man in a little East
End shop at the close of a murky day. He had been the eldest of
five children, with a mother and no father. Being the eldest, he
had starved and worked as a child to put bread into the mouths of
his little brothers and sisters. Not once in three months did he
ever taste meat. He never knew what it was to have his hunger
thoroughly appeased. And he claimed that this chronic starvation of
his childhood had robbed him of his sight. To support the claim, he
quoted from the report of the Royal Commission on the Blind,
"Blindness is more prevalent in poor districts, and poverty
accelerates this dreadful affliction."

But he went further, this blind man, and in his voice was the
bitterness of an afflicted man to whom society did not give enough
to eat. He was one of an enormous army of blind in London, and he
said that in the blind homes they did not receive half enough to
eat. He gave the diet for a day:-

Breakfast--0.75 pint of skilly and dry bread.
Dinner --3 oz. meat.
1 slice of bread.
0.5 lb. potatoes.
Supper --0.75 pint of skilly and dry bread.

Oscar Wilde, God rest his soul, voices the cry of the prison child,
which, in varying degree, is the cry of the prison man and woman:-

"The second thing from which a child suffers in prison is hunger.
The food that is given to it consists of a piece of usually bad-
baked prison bread and a tin of water for breakfast at half-past
seven. At twelve o'clock it gets dinner, composed of a tin of
coarse Indian meal stirabout (skilly), and at half-past five it gets
a piece of dry bread and a tin of water for its supper. This diet
in the case of a strong grown man is always productive of illness of
some kind, chiefly of course diarrhoea, with its attendant weakness.
In fact, in a big prison astringent medicines are served out
regularly by the warders as a matter of course. In the case of a
child, the child is, as a rule, incapable of eating the food at all.
Any one who knows anything about children knows how easily a child's
digestion is upset by a fit of crying, or trouble and mental
distress of any kind. A child who has been crying all day long, and
perhaps half the night, in a lonely dim-lit cell, and is preyed upon
by terror, simply cannot eat food of this coarse, horrible kind. In
the case of the little child to whom Warder Martin gave the
biscuits, the child was crying with hunger on Tuesday morning, and
utterly unable to eat the bread and water served to it for its
breakfast. Martin went out after the breakfasts had been served and
bought the few sweet biscuits for the child rather than see it
starving. It was a beautiful action on his part, and was so
recognised by the child, who, utterly unconscious of the regulations
of the Prison Board, told one of the senior wardens how kind this
junior warden had been to him. The result was, of course, a report
and a dismissal."

Robert Blatchford compares the workhouse pauper's daily diet with
the soldier's, which, when he was a soldier, was not considered
liberal enough, and yet is twice as liberal as the pauper's.

3.25 oz. Meat 12 oz.
15.5 oz. Bread 24 oz.
6 oz. Vegetables 8 oz.

The adult male pauper gets meat (outside of soup) but once a week,
and the paupers "have nearly all that pallid, pasty complexion which
is the sure mark of starvation."

Here is a table, comparing the workhouse officer's weekly

7 lb. Bread 6.75 lb.
5 lb. Meat 1 lb. 2 oz.
12 oz. Bacon 2.5 oz.
8 oz. Cheese 2 oz.
7 lb. Potatoes 1.5 lb.
6 lb. Vegetables none.
1 lb. Flour none.
2 oz. Lard none.
12 oz. Butter 7 oz.
none. Rice Pudding 1 lb.

And as the same writer remarks: "The officer's diet is still more
liberal than the pauper's; but evidently it is not considered
liberal enough, for a footnote is added to the officer's table
saying that 'a cash payment of two shillings and sixpence a week is
also made to each resident officer and servant.' If the pauper has
ample food, why does the officer have more? And if the officer has
not too much, can the pauper be properly fed on less than half the

But it is not alone the Ghetto-dweller, the prisoner, and the pauper
that starve. Hodge, of the country, does not know what it is always
to have a full belly. In truth, it is his empty belly which has
driven him to the city in such great numbers. Let us investigate
the way of living of a labourer from a parish in the Bradfield Poor
Law Union, Berks. Supposing him to have two children, steady work,
a rent-free cottage, and an average weekly wage of thirteen
shillings, which is equivalent to $3.25, then here is his weekly

s. d.
Bread (5 quarterns) 1 10
Flour (0.5 gallon) 0 4
Tea (0.25 lb.) 0 6
Butter (1 lb.) 1 3
Lard (1 lb.) 0 6
Sugar (6 lb.) 1 0
Bacon or other meat (about 0.25 lb.) 2 8
Cheese (1 lb.) 0 8
Milk (half-tin condensed) 0 3.25
Coal 1 6
Beer none
Tobacco none
Insurance ("Prudential") 0 3
Labourers' Union 0 1
Wood, tools, dispensary, &c. 0 6
Insurance ("Foresters") and margin 1 1.75
for clothes
Total 13 0

The guardians of the workhouse in the above Union pride themselves
on their rigid economy. It costs per pauper per week:-

s. d.
Men 6 1.5
Women 5 6.5
Children 5 1.25

If the labourer whose budget has been described should quit his toil
and go into the workhouse, he would cost the guardians for

s. d.
Himself 6 1.5
Wife 5 6.5
Two children 10 2.5
Total 21 10.5
Or roughly, $5.46

It would require more than a guinea for the workhouse to care for
him and his family, which he, somehow, manages to do on thirteen
shillings. And in addition, it is an understood fact that it is
cheaper to cater for a large number of people--buying, cooking, and
serving wholesale--than it is to cater for a small number of people,
say a family.

Nevertheless, at the time this budget was compiled, there was in
that parish another family, not of four, but eleven persons, who had
to live on an income, not of thirteen shillings, but of twelve
shillings per week (eleven shillings in winter), and which had, not
a rent-free cottage, but a cottage for which it paid three shillings
per week.

This must be understood, and understood clearly: WHATEVER IS TRUE
ENGLAND. While Paris is not by any means France, the city of London
is England. The frightful conditions which mark London an inferno
likewise mark the United Kingdom an inferno. The argument that the
decentralisation of London would ameliorate conditions is a vain
thing and false. If the 6,000,000 people of London were separated
into one hundred cities each with a population of 60,000, misery
would be decentralised but not diminished. The sum of it would
remain as large.

In this instance, Mr. B. S. Rowntree, by an exhaustive analysis, has
proved for the country town what Mr. Charles Booth has proved for
the metropolis, that fully one-fourth of the dwellers are condemned
to a poverty which destroys them physically and spiritually; that
fully one-fourth of the dwellers do not have enough to eat, are
inadequately clothed, sheltered, and warmed in a rigorous climate,
and are doomed to a moral degeneracy which puts them lower than the
savage in cleanliness and decency.

After listening to the wail of an old Irish peasant in Kerry, Robert
Blatchford asked him what he wanted. "The old man leaned upon his
spade and looked out across the black peat fields at the lowering
skies. 'What is it that I'm wantun?' he said; then in a deep
plaintive tone he continued, more to himself than to me, 'All our
brave bhoys and dear gurrls is away an' over the says, an' the agent
has taken the pig off me, an' the wet has spiled the praties, an'
I'm an owld man, AN' I WANT THE DAY AV JUDGMENT.'"

The Day of Judgment! More than he want it. From all the land rises
the hunger wail, from Ghetto and countryside, from prison and casual
ward, from asylum and workhouse--the cry of the people who have not
enough to eat. Millions of people, men, women, children, little
babes, the blind, the deaf, the halt, the sick, vagabonds and
toilers, prisoners and paupers, the people of Ireland, England,
Scotland, Wales, who have not enough to eat. And this, in face of
the fact that five men can produce bread for a thousand; that one
workman can produce cotton cloth for 250 people, woollens for 300,
and boots and shoes for 1000. It would seem that 40,000,000 people
are keeping a big house, and that they are keeping it badly. The
income is all right, but there is something criminally wrong with
the management. And who dares to say that it is not criminally
mismanaged, this big house, when five men can produce bread for a
thousand, and yet millions have not enough to eat?


The English working classes may be said to be soaked in beer. They
are made dull and sodden by it. Their efficiency is sadly impaired,
and they lose whatever imagination, invention, and quickness may be
theirs by right of race. It may hardly be called an acquired habit,
for they are accustomed to it from their earliest infancy. Children
are begotten in drunkenness, saturated in drink before they draw
their first breath, born to the smell and taste of it, and brought
up in the midst of it.

The public-house is ubiquitous. It flourishes on every corner and
between corners, and it is frequented almost as much by women as by
men. Children are to be found in it as well, waiting till their
fathers and mothers are ready to go home, sipping from the glasses
of their elders, listening to the coarse language and degrading
conversation, catching the contagion of it, familiarising themselves
with licentiousness and debauchery.

Mrs. Grundy rules as supremely over the workers as she does over the
bourgeoisie; but in the case of the workers, the one thing she does
not frown upon is the public-house. No disgrace or shame attaches
to it, nor to the young woman or girl who makes a practice of
entering it.

I remember a girl in a coffee-house saying, "I never drink spirits
when in a public-'ouse." She was a young and pretty waitress, and
she was laying down to another waitress her pre-eminent
respectability and discretion. Mrs. Grundy drew the line at
spirits, but allowed that it was quite proper for a clean young girl
to drink beer, and to go into a public-house to drink it.

Not only is this beer unfit for the people to drink, but too often
the men and women are unfit to drink it. On the other hand, it is
their very unfitness that drives them to drink it. Ill-fed,
suffering from innutrition and the evil effects of overcrowding and
squalor, their constitutions develop a morbid craving for the drink,
just as the sickly stomach of the overstrung Manchester factory
operative hankers after excessive quantities of pickles and similar
weird foods. Unhealthy working and living engenders unhealthy
appetites and desires. Man cannot be worked worse than a horse is
worked, and be housed and fed as a pig is housed and fed, and at the
same time have clean and wholesome ideals and aspirations.

As home-life vanishes, the public-house appears. Not only do men
and women abnormally crave drink, who are overworked, exhausted,
suffering from deranged stomachs and bad sanitation, and deadened by
the ugliness and monotony of existence, but the gregarious men and
women who have no home-life flee to the bright and clattering
public-house in a vain attempt to express their gregariousness. And
when a family is housed in one small room, home-life is impossible.

A brief examination of such a dwelling will serve to bring to light
one important cause of drunkenness. Here the family arises in the
morning, dresses, and makes its toilet, father, mother, sons, and
daughters, and in the same room, shoulder to shoulder (for the room
is small), the wife and mother cooks the breakfast. And in the same
room, heavy and sickening with the exhalations of their packed
bodies throughout the night, that breakfast is eaten. The father
goes to work, the elder children go to school or into the street,
and the mother remains with her crawling, toddling youngsters to do
her housework--still in the same room. Here she washes the clothes,
filling the pent space with soapsuds and the smell of dirty clothes,
and overhead she hangs the wet linen to dry.

Here, in the evening, amid the manifold smells of the day, the
family goes to its virtuous couch. That is to say, as many as
possible pile into the one bed (if bed they have), and the surplus
turns in on the floor. And this is the round of their existence,
month after month, year after year, for they never get a vacation
save when they are evicted. When a child dies, and some are always
bound to die, since fifty-five per cent. of the East End children
die before they are five years old, the body is laid out in the same
room. And if they are very poor, it is kept for some time until
they can bury it. During the day it lies on the bed; during the
night, when the living take the bed, the dead occupies the table,
from which, in the morning, when the dead is put back into the bed,
they eat their breakfast. Sometimes the body is placed on the shelf
which serves as a pantry for their food. Only a couple of weeks
ago, an East End woman was in trouble, because, in this fashion,
being unable to bury it, she had kept her dead child three weeks.

Now such a room as I have described is not home but horror; and the
men and women who flee away from it to the public-house are to be
pitied, not blamed. There are 300,000 people, in London, divided
into families that live in single rooms, while there are 900,000 who
are illegally housed according to the Public Health Act of 1891--a
respectable recruiting-ground for the drink traffic.

Then there are the insecurity of happiness, the precariousness of
existence, the well-founded fear of the future--potent factors in
driving people to drink. Wretchedness squirms for alleviation, and
in the public-house its pain is eased and forgetfulness is obtained.
It is unhealthy. Certainly it is, but everything else about their
lives is unhealthy, while this brings the oblivion that nothing else
in their lives can bring. It even exalts them, and makes them feel
that they are finer and better, though at the same time it drags
them down and makes them more beastly than ever. For the
unfortunate man or woman, it is a race between miseries that ends
with death.

It is of no avail to preach temperance and teetotalism to these
people. The drink habit may be the cause of many miseries; but it
is, in turn, the effect of other and prior miseries. The temperance
advocates may preach their hearts out over the evils of drink, but
until the evils that cause people to drink are abolished, drink and
its evils will remain.

Until the people who try to help realise this, their well-
intentioned efforts will be futile, and they will present a
spectacle fit only to set Olympus laughing. I have gone through an
exhibition of Japanese art, got up for the poor of Whitechapel with
the idea of elevating them, of begetting in them yearnings for the
Beautiful and True and Good. Granting (what is not so) that the
poor folk are thus taught to know and yearn after the Beautiful and
True and Good, the foul facts of their existence and the social law
that dooms one in three to a public-charity death, demonstrate that
this knowledge and yearning will be only so much of an added curse
to them. They will have so much more to forget than if they had
never known and yearned. Did Destiny to-day bind me down to the
life of an East End slave for the rest of my years, and did Destiny
grant me but one wish, I should ask that I might forget all about
the Beautiful and True and Good; that I might forget all I had
learned from the open books, and forget the people I had known, the
things I had heard, and the lands I had seen. And if Destiny didn't
grant it, I am pretty confident that I should get drunk and forget
it as often as possible.

These people who try to help! Their college settlements, missions,
charities, and what not, are failures. In the nature of things they
cannot but be failures. They are wrongly, though sincerely,
conceived. They approach life through a misunderstanding of life,
these good folk. They do not understand the West End, yet they come
down to the East End as teachers and savants. They do not
understand the simple sociology of Christ, yet they come to the
miserable and the despised with the pomp of social redeemers. They
have worked faithfully, but beyond relieving an infinitesimal
fraction of misery and collecting a certain amount of data which
might otherwise have been more scientifically and less expensively
collected, they have achieved nothing.

As some one has said, they do everything for the poor except get off
their backs. The very money they dribble out in their child's
schemes has been wrung from the poor. They come from a race of
successful and predatory bipeds who stand between the worker and his
wages, and they try to tell the worker what he shall do with the
pitiful balance left to him. Of what use, in the name of God, is it
to establish nurseries for women workers, in which, for instance, a
child is taken while the mother makes violets in Islington at three
farthings a gross, when more children and violet-makers than they
can cope with are being born right along? This violet-maker handles
each flower four times, 576 handlings for three farthings, and in
the day she handles the flowers 6912 times for a wage of ninepence.
She is being robbed. Somebody is on her back, and a yearning for
the Beautiful and True and Good will not lighten her burden. They
do nothing for her, these dabblers; and what they do not do for the
mother, undoes at night, when the child comes home, all that they
have done for the child in the day.

And one and all, they join in teaching a fundamental lie. They do
not know it is a lie, but their ignorance does not make it more of a
truth. And the lie they preach is "thrift." An instant will
demonstrate it. In overcrowded London, the struggle for a chance to
work is keen, and because of this struggle wages sink to the lowest
means of subsistence. To be thrifty means for a worker to spend
less than his income--in other words, to live on less. This is
equivalent to a lowering of the standard of living. In the
competition for a chance to work, the man with a lower standard of
living will underbid the man with a higher standard. And a small
group of such thrifty workers in any overcrowded industry will
permanently lower the wages of that industry. And the thrifty ones
will no longer be thrifty, for their income will have been reduced
till it balances their expenditure.

In short, thrift negates thrift. If every worker in England should
heed the preachers of thrift and cut expenditure in half, the
condition of there being more men to work than there is work to do
would swiftly cut wages in half. And then none of the workers of
England would be thrifty, for they would be living up to their
diminished incomes. The short-sighted thrift-preachers would
naturally be astounded at the outcome. The measure of their failure
would be precisely the measure of the success of their propaganda.
And, anyway, it is sheer bosh and nonsense to preach thrift to the
1,800,000 London workers who are divided into families which have a
total income of less than 21s. per week, one quarter to one half of
which must be paid for rent.

Concerning the futility of the people who try to help, I wish to
make one notable, noble exception, namely, the Dr. Barnardo Homes.
Dr. Barnardo is a child-catcher. First, he catches them when they
are young, before they are set, hardened, in the vicious social
mould; and then he sends them away to grow up and be formed in
another and better social mould. Up to date he has sent out of the
country 13,340 boys, most of them to Canada, and not one in fifty
has failed. A splendid record, when it is considered that these
lads are waifs and strays, homeless and parentless, jerked out from
the very bottom of the Abyss, and forty-nine out of fifty of them
made into men.

Every twenty-four hours in the year Dr. Barnardo snatches nine waifs
from the streets; so the enormous field he has to work in may be
comprehended. The people who try to help have something to learn
from him. He does not play with palliatives. He traces social
viciousness and misery to their sources. He removes the progeny of
the gutter-folk from their pestilential environment, and gives them
a healthy, wholesome environment in which to be pressed and prodded
and moulded into men.

When the people who try to help cease their playing and dabbling
with day nurseries and Japanese art exhibits and go back and learn
their West End and the sociology of Christ, they will be in better
shape to buckle down to the work they ought to be doing in the
world. And if they do buckle down to the work, they will follow Dr.
Barnardo's lead, only on a scale as large as the nation is large.
They won't cram yearnings for the Beautiful, and True, and Good down
the throat of the woman making violets for three farthings a gross,
but they will make somebody get off her back and quit cramming
himself till, like the Romans, he must go to a bath and sweat it
out. And to their consternation, they will find that they will have
to get off that woman's back themselves, as well as the backs of a
few other women and children they did not dream they were riding


In this final chapter it were well to look at the Social Abyss in
its widest aspect, and to put certain questions to Civilisation, by
the answers to which Civilisation must stand or fall. For instance,
has Civilisation bettered the lot of man? "Man," I use in its
democratic sense, meaning the average man. So the question re-

Let us see. In Alaska, along the banks of the Yukon River, near its
mouth, live the Innuit folk. They are a very primitive people,
manifesting but mere glimmering adumbrations of that tremendous
artifice, Civilisation. Their capital amounts possibly to 2 pounds
per head. They hunt and fish for their food with bone-headed spews
and arrows. They never suffer from lack of shelter. Their clothes,
largely made from the skins of animals, are warm. They always have
fuel for their fires, likewise timber for their houses, which they
build partly underground, and in which they lie snugly during the
periods of intense cold. In the summer they live in tents, open to
every breeze and cool. They are healthy, and strong, and happy.
Their one problem is food. They have their times of plenty and
times of famine. In good times they feast; in bad times they die of
starvation. But starvation, as a chronic condition, present with a
large number of them all the time, is a thing unknown. Further,
they have no debts.

In the United Kingdom, on the rim of the Western Ocean, live the
English folk. They are a consummately civilised people. Their
capital amounts to at least 300 pounds per head. They gain their
food, not by hunting and fishing, but by toil at colossal artifices.
For the most part, they suffer from lack of shelter. The greater
number of them are vilely housed, do not have enough fuel to keep
them warm, and are insufficiently clothed. A constant number never
have any houses at all, and sleep shelterless under the stars. Many
are to be found, winter and summer, shivering on the streets in
their rags. They have good times and bad. In good times most of
them manage to get enough to eat, in bad times they die of
starvation. They are dying now, they were dying yesterday and last
year, they will die to-morrow and next year, of starvation; for
they, unlike the Innuit, suffer from a chronic condition of
starvation. There are 40,000,000 of the English folk, and 939 out
of every 1000 of them die in poverty, while a constant army of
8,000,000 struggles on the ragged edge of starvation. Further, each
babe that is born, is born in debt to the sum of 22 pounds. This is
because of an artifice called the National Debt.

In a fair comparison of the average Innuit and the average
Englishman, it will be seen that life is less rigorous for the
Innuit; that while the Innuit suffers only during bad times from
starvation, the Englishman suffers during good times as well; that
no Innuit lacks fuel, clothing, or housing, while the Englishman is
in perpetual lack of these three essentials. In this connection it
is well to instance the judgment of a man such as Huxley. From the
knowledge gained as a medical officer in the East End of London, and
as a scientist pursuing investigations among the most elemental
savages, he concludes, "Were the alternative presented to me, I
would deliberately prefer the life of the savage to that of those
people of Christian London."

The creature comforts man enjoys are the products of man's labour.
Since Civilisation has failed to give the average Englishman food
and shelter equal to that enjoyed by the Innuit, the question
AVERAGE MAN? If it has not increased man's producing power, then
Civilisation cannot stand.

But, it will be instantly admitted, Civilisation has increased man's
producing power. Five men can produce bread for a thousand. One
man can produce cotton cloth for 250 people, woollens for 300, and
boots and shoes for 1000. Yet it has been shown throughout the
pages of this book that English folk by the millions do not receive
enough food, clothes, and boots. Then arises the third and

There can be one answer only--MISMANAGEMENT. Civilisation has made
possible all manner of creature comforts and heart's delights. In
these the average Englishman does not participate. If he shall be
forever unable to participate, then Civilisation falls. There is no
reason for the continued existence of an artifice so avowed a
failure. But it is impossible that men should have reared this
tremendous artifice in vain. It stuns the intellect. To
acknowledge so crushing a defeat is to give the death-blow to
striving and progress.

One other alternative, and one other only, presents itself.
This accepted, it becomes at once a question of business management.
Things profitable must be continued; things unprofitable must be
eliminated. Either the Empire is a profit to England, or it is a
loss. If it is a loss, it must be done away with. If it is a
profit, it must be managed so that the average man comes in for a
share of the profit.

If the struggle for commercial supremacy is profitable, continue it.
If it is not, if it hurts the worker and makes his lot worse than
the lot of a savage, then fling foreign markets and industrial
empire overboard. For it is a patent fact that if 40,000,000
people, aided by Civilisation, possess a greater individual
producing power than the Innuit, then those 40,000,000 people should
enjoy more creature comforts and heart's delights than the Innuits

If the 400,000 English gentlemen, "of no occupation," according to
their own statement in the Census of 1881, are unprofitable, do away
with them. Set them to work ploughing game preserves and planting
potatoes. If they are profitable, continue them by all means, but
let it be seen to that the average Englishman shares somewhat in the
profits they produce by working at no occupation.

In short, society must be reorganised, and a capable management put
at the head. That the present management is incapable, there can be
no discussion. It has drained the United Kingdom of its life-blood.
It has enfeebled the stay-at-home folk till they are unable longer
to struggle in the van of the competing nations. It has built up a
West End and an East End as large as the Kingdom is large, in which
one end is riotous and rotten, the other end sickly and underfed.

A vast empire is foundering on the hands of this incapable
management. And by empire is meant the political machinery which
holds together the English-speaking people of the world outside of
the United States. Nor is this charged in a pessimistic spirit.
Blood empire is greater than political empire, and the English of
the New World and the Antipodes are strong and vigorous as ever.
But the political empire under which they are nominally assembled is
perishing. The political machine known as the British Empire is
running down. In the hands of its management it is losing momentum
every day.

It is inevitable that this management, which has grossly and
criminally mismanaged, shall be swept away. Not only has it been
wasteful and inefficient, but it has misappropriated the funds.
Every worn-out, pasty-faced pauper, every blind man, every prison
babe, every man, woman, and child whose belly is gnawing with hunger
pangs, is hungry because the funds have been misappropriated by the

Nor can one member of this managing class plead not guilty before
the judgment bar of Man. "The living in their houses, and in their
graves the dead," are challenged by every babe that dies of
innutrition, by every girl that flees the sweater's den to the
nightly promenade of Piccadilly, by every worked-out toiler that
plunges into the canal. The food this managing class eats, the wine
it drinks, the shows it makes, and the fine clothes it wears, are
challenged by eight million mouths which have never had enough to
fill them, and by twice eight million bodies which have never been
sufficiently clothed and housed.

There can be no mistake. Civilisation has increased man's producing
power an hundred-fold, and through mismanagement the men of
Civilisation live worse than the beasts, and have less to eat and
wear and protect them from the elements than the savage Innuit in a
frigid climate who lives to-day as he lived in the stone age ten
thousand years ago.


I have a vague remembrance
Of a story that is told
In some ancient Spanish legend
Or chronicle of old.

It was when brave King Sanche
Was before Zamora slain,
And his great besieging army
Lay encamped upon the plain.

Don Diego de Ordenez
Sallied forth in front of all,
And shouted loud his challenge
To the warders on the wall.

All the people of Zamora,
Both the born and the unborn,
As traitors did he challenge
With taunting words of scorn.

The living in their houses,
And in their graves the dead,
And the waters in their rivers,
And their wine, and oil, and bread.

There is a greater army
That besets us round with strife,
A starving, numberless army
At all the gates of life.

The poverty-stricken millions
Who challenge our wine and bread,
And impeach us all as traitors,
Both the living and the dead.

And whenever I sit at the banquet,
Where the feast and song are high,
Amid the mirth and music
I can hear that fearful cry.

And hollow and haggard faces
Look into the lighted hall,
And wasted hands are extended
To catch the crumbs that fall

And within there is light and plenty,
And odours fill the air;
But without there is cold and darkness,
And hunger and despair.

And there in the camp of famine,
In wind, and cold, and rain,
Christ, the great Lord of the Army,
Lies dead upon the plain.



{1} This in the Klondike.--J. L.

{2} "Runt" in America is the equivalent of the English "crowl," the
dwarf of a litter.

{3} The San Francisco bricklayer receives twenty shillings per day,
and at present is on strike for twenty-four shillings.

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