In Darkest England and The Way Out by General William Booth

IN DARKEST ENGLAND and THE WAY OUT by GENERAL BOOTH (this Etext comes from the 1890 1st ed. pub. The Salvation Army) To the memory of the companion, counsellor, and comrade of nearly 40 years. The sharer of my every ambition for the welfare of mankind, my loving, faithful, and devoted wife this book is
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  • 1890
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(this Etext comes from the 1890 1st ed. pub. The Salvation Army)

To the memory of the companion, counsellor, and comrade of nearly 40 years. The sharer of my every ambition for the welfare of mankind, my loving, faithful, and devoted wife this book is dedicated.


The progress of The Salvation Army in its work amongst the poor and lost of many lands has compelled me to face the problems which an more or less hopefully considered in the following pages. The grim necessities of a huge Campaign carried on for many years against the evils which lie at the root of all the miseries of modern life, attacked in a thousand and one forms by a thousand and one lieutenants, have led me step by step to contemplate as a possible solution of at least some of those problems the Scheme of social Selection and Salvation which I have here set forth.

When but a mere child the degradation and helpless misery of the poor Stockingers of my native town, wandering gaunt and hunger-stricken through the streets droning out their melancholy ditties, crowding the Union or toiling like galley slaves on relief works for a bare subsistence kindled in my heart yearnings to help the poor which have continued to this day and which have had a powerful influence on my whole life. A last I may be going to see my longings to help the workless realised. I think I am.

The commiseration then awakened by the misery of this class has been an impelling force which has never ceased to make itself felt during forty years of active service in the salvation of men. During this time I am thankful that I have been able, by the good hand of God upon me, to do something in mitigation of the miseries of this class, and to bring not only heavenly hopes and earthly gladness to the hearts of multitudes of these wretched crowds, but also many material blessings, including such commonplace things as food, raiment, home, and work, the parent of so many other temporal benefits. And thus many poor creatures have proved Godliness to be “profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come.”

These results have been mainly attained by spiritual means. I have boldly asserted that whatever his peculiar character or circumstances might be, if the prodigal would come home to his Heavenly Father, he would find enough and to spare in the Father’s house to supply all his need both for this world and the next; and I have known thousands nay, I can say tens of thousands, who have literally proved this to be true, having, with little or no temporal assistance, come out of the darkest depths of destitution, vice and crime, to be happy and honest citizens and true sons and servants of God.

And yet all the way through my career I have keenly felt the remedial measures usually enunciated in Christian programmes and ordinarily employed by Christian philanthropy to be lamentably inadequate for any effectual dealing with the despairing miseries of these outcast classes. The rescued are appallingly few–a ghastly minority compared with the multitudes who struggle and sink in the open-mouthed abyss. Alike, therefore, my humanity and my Christianity, if I may speak of them in any way as separate one from the other, have cried out for some more comprehensive method of reaching and saving the perishing crowds.

No doubt it is good for men to climb unaided out of the whirlpool on to the rock of deliverance in the very presence of the temptations which have hitherto mastered them, and to maintain a footing there with the same billows of temptation washing over them. But, alas! with many this seems to be literally impossible. That decisiveness of character, that moral nerve which takes hold of the rope thrown for the rescue and keeps its hold amidst all the resistances that have to be encountered, is wanting. It is gone.
The general wreck has shattered and disorganised the whole man.

Alas, what multitudes there are around us everywhere, many known to my readers personally, and any number who may be known to them by a very short walk from their own dwellings, who are in this very plight! Their vicious habits and destitute circumstances make it certain that without some kind of extraordinary help, they must hunger and sin, and sin and hunger, until, having multiplied their kind, and filled up the measure of their miseries, the gaunt fingers of death will close upon then and terminate their wretchedness. And all this will happen this very winter in the midst of the unparalleled wealth, and civilisation, and philanthropy of this professedly most Christian land.

Now, I propose to go straight for these sinking classes, and in doing so shall continue to aim at the heart. I still prophesy the uttermost disappointment unless that citadel is reached. In proposing to add one more to the methods I have already put into operation to this end, do not let it be supposed that I am the less dependent upon the old plans or that I seek anything short of the old conquest. If we help the man it is in order that we may change him. The builder who should elaborate his design and erect his house and risk his reputation without burning his bricks would be pronounced a failure and a fool. Perfection of architectural beauty, unlimited expenditure of capital, unfailing watchfulness of his labourers, would avail him nothing if the bricks were merely unkilned clay. Let him kindle a fire. And so here I see the folly of hoping to accomplish anything abiding, either in the circumstances or the morals of these hopeless classes, except there be a change effected in the whole man as well as in his surroundings. To this everything I hope to attempt will tend. In many cases I shall succeed, in some I shall fail; but even in failing of this my ultimate design, I shall at least benefit the bodies, if not the souls, of men; and if I do not save the fathers, I shall make a better chance for the children.

It will be seen therefore that in this or in any other development that may follow I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That I have confidence in my proposals goes without saying. I believe they will work. In miniature many of them are working already. But I do not claim that my Scheme is either perfect in its details or complete in the sense of being adequate to combat all forms of the gigantic evils against which it is in the main directed. Like other human things it must be perfected through suffering. But it is a sincere endeavour to do something, and to do it on principles which can be instantly applied and universally developed. Time, experience, criticism, and, above all, the guidance of God will enable us, I hope, to advance on the lines here laid down to a true and practical application of the words of the Hebrew Prophet: “Loose the bands of wickedness; undo the heavy burdens; let the oppressed go free; break every yoke; deal thy bread to the hungry; bring the poor that are cast out to thy house. When thou seest the naked cover him and hide not thyself from thine own flesh. Draw out thy soul to the hungry– Then they that be of thee shall build the old waste places and Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations.”

To one who has been for nearly forty years indissolubly associated with me in every undertaking I owe much of the inspiration which has found expression in this book. It is probably difficult for me to fully estimate the extent to which the splendid benevolence and unbounded sympathy of her character have pressed me forward in the life-long service of man, to which we have devoted both ourselves and our children. It will be an ever green and precious memory to me that amid the ceaseless suffering of a dreadful malady my dying wife found relief in considering and developing the suggestions for the moral and social and spiritual blessing of the people which are here set forth, and I do thank God she was taken from me only when the book was practically complete and the last chapters had been sent to the press.

In conclusion, I have to acknowledge the services rendered to me in preparing this book by Officers under my command. There could be no hope of carrying out any part of it, but for the fact that so many thousands are ready at my call and under my direction to labour to the very utmost of their strength for the salvation of others without the hope of earthly reward. Of the practical common sense, the resource, the readiness for every form of usefulness of those Officers and Soldiers, the world has no conception. Still less is it capable of understanding the height and depth of their self-sacrificing devotion to God and the poor.

I have also to acknowledge valuable literary help from a friend of the poor, who, though not in any way connected with the Salvation Army, has the deepest sympathy with its aims and is to a large extent in harmony with its principles. Without such assistance I should probably have found it–overwhelmed as I already am with the affairs of a world-wide enterprise–extremely difficult, if not impossible, to have presented these proposals for which I am alone responsible in so complete a form, at any rate at this time. I have no doubt that if any substantial part of my plan is successfully carried out he will consider himself more than repaid for the services so ably rendered.





CHAPTER 1. Why “Darkest England”?

CHAPTER 2. The Submerged Tenth

CHAPTER 3. The Homeless

CHAPTER 4. The Out-of-Works

CHAPTER 5. On the Verge of the Abyss

CHAPTER 6. The Vicious

CHAPTER 7. The Criminals

CHAPTER 8. The Children of the Lost

CHAPTER 9. Is there no Help?


CHAPTER 1. A Stupendous Undertaking

Section 1. The Essentials to Success Section 2. My Scheme

CHAPTER 2. To the Rescue!–The City Colony

Section 1. Food and Shelter for Every Man Section 2. Work for the Out-of-Works–The Factory Section 3. The Regimentation of the Unemployed Section 4. The Household Salvage Brigade

CHAPTER 3. To the Country!–The Farm Colony

Section 1. The Farm Proper
Section 2. The Industrial Village
Section 3. Agricultural Villages
Section 4. Co-operative Farm

CHAPTER 4. New Britain–The Colony Over Sea

Section 1. The Colony and the Colonists Section 2. Universal Emigration
Section 3. The Salvation Ship

CHAPTER 5. More Crusades

Section 1. A Slum Crusade.–Our Slum Sisters Section 2. The Travelling Hospital
Section 3. Regeneration of our Criminals–The Prison Gate Brigade Section 4. Effectual Deliverance for the Drunkard Section 5. A New Way of Escape for Lost Women–The Rescue Homes Section 6. A Preventive Home for Unfallen Girls when in Danger Section 7. Enquiry Office for Lost People Section 8. Refuges for the Children of the Streets Section 9. Industrial Schools
Section 10. Asylums for Moral Lunatics

CHAPTER 6. Assistance in General

Section 1. Improved Lodgings
Section 2. Model Suburban Villages Section 3. The Poor Man’s Bank
Section 4. The Poor Man’s Lawyer
Section 5. Intelligence Department Section 6. Co-operation in General
Section 7. Matrimonial Bureau
Section 8. Whitechapel-by-the-sea

CHAPTER 7. Can it be done, and how?

Section 1. The Credentials of the Salvation Army Section 2. How much will it cost?
Section 3. Some advantages stated
Section 4. Some objections met
Section 5. Recapitulation

CHAPTER 8. A Pratical Conclusion




This summer the attention of the civilised world has been arrested by the story which Mr. Stanley has told of Darkest Africa and his journeyings across the heart of the Lost Continent. In all that spirited narrative of heroic endeavour, nothing has so much impressed the imagination, as his description of the immense forest, which offered an almost impenetrable barrier to his advance. The intrepid explorer, in his own phrase, “marched, tore, ploughed, and cut his way for one hundred and sixty days through this inner womb of the true tropical forest.” The mind of man with difficulty endeavours to realise this immensity of wooded wilderness, covering a territory half as large again as the whole of France, where the rays of the sun never penetrate, where in the dark, dank air, filled with the steam of the heated morass, human beings dwarfed into pygmies and brutalised into cannibals lurk and live and die. Mr Stanley vainly endeavours to bring home to us the full horror of that awful gloom. He says:

Take a thick Scottish copse dripping with rain; imagine this to be mere undergrowth nourished under the impenetrable shade of ancient trees ranging from 100 to 180 feet high; briars and thorns abundant; lazy creeks meandering through the depths of the jungle, and sometimes a deep affluent of a great river. Imagine this forest and jungle in all stages of decay and growth, rain pattering on you every other day of the year; an impure atmosphere with its dread consequences, fever and dysentery; gloom throughout the day and darkness almost palpable throughout the night; and then if you can imagine such a forest extending the entire distance from Plymouth to Peterhead, you will have a fair idea of some of the inconveniences endured by us in the Congo forest.

The denizens of this region are filled with a conviction that the forest is endless–interminable. In vain did Mr. Stanley and his companions endeavour to convince them that outside the dreary wood were to be found sunlight, pasturage and peaceful meadows.

They replied in a manner that seemed to imply that we must be strange creatures to suppose that it would be possible for any world to exist save their illimitable forest. “No,” they replied, shaking their heads compassionately, and pitying our absurd questions, “all like this,” and they moved their hand sweepingly to illustrate that the world was all alike, nothing but trees, trees and trees–great trees rising as high as an arrow shot to the sky, lifting their crowns intertwining their branches, pressing and crowding one against the other, until neither the sunbeam nor shaft of light can penetrate it.

“We entered the forest,” says Mr. Stanley, “with confidence; forty pioneers in front with axes and bill hooks to clear a path through the obstructions, praying that God and good fortune would lead us.” But before the conviction of the forest dwellers that the forest was without end, hope faded out of the hearts of the natives of Stanley’s company. The men became sodden with despair, preaching was useless to move their brooding sullenness, their morbid gloom.

The little religion they knew was nothing more than legendary lore, and in their memories there dimly floated a story of a land which grew darker and darker as one travelled towards the end of the earth and drew nearer to the place where a great serpent lay supine and coiled round the whole world. Ah! then the ancients must have referred to this, where the light is so ghastly, and the woods are endless, and are so still and solemn and grey; to this oppressive loneliness, amid so much life, which is so chilling to the poor distressed heart; and the horror grew darker with their fancies; the cold of early morning, the comfortless grey of dawn, the dead white mist, the ever-dripping tears of the dew, the deluging rains, the appalling thunder bursts and the echoes, and the wonderful play of the dazzling lightning. And when the night comes with its thick palpable darkness, and they lie huddled in their damp little huts, and they hear the tempest overhead, and the howling of the wild winds, the grinding an groaning of the storm-tost trees, and the dread sounds of the falling giants, and the shock of the trembling earth which sends their hearts with fitful leaps to their throats, and the roaring and a rushing as of a mad overwhelming sea– oh, then the horror is intensified! When the march has begun once again, and the files are slowly moving through the woods, they renew their morbid broodings, and ask themselves: How long is this to last? Is the joy of life to end thus? Must we jog on day after day in this cheerless gloom and this joyless duskiness, until we stagger and fall and rot among the toads? Then they disappear into the woods by twos, and threes, and sixes; and after the caravan has passed they return by the trail, some to reach Yambuya and upset the young officers with their tales of woe and war; some to fall sobbing under a spear-thrust; some to wander and stray in the dark mazes of the woods, hopelessly lost; and some to be carved for the cannibal feast. And those who remain compelled to it by fears of greater danger, mechanically march on, a prey to dread and weakness.

That is the forest. But what of its denizens? They are comparatively few; only some hundreds of thousands living in small tribes from ten to thirty miles apart, scattered over an area on which ten thousand million trees put out the sun from a region four times as wide as Great Britain. Of these pygmies there are two kinds; one a very degraded specimen with ferretlike eyes, close-set nose, more nearly approaching the baboon than was supposed to be possible, but very human; the other very handsome, with frank open innocent features, very prepossessing. They are quick and intelligent, capable of deep affection and gratitude, showing remarkable industry and patience. A pygmy boy of eighteen worked with consuming zeal; time with him was too precious to waste in talk. His mind seemed ever concentrated on work. Mr. Stanley said: —

“When I once stopped him to ask him his name, his face seemed to say, ‘Please don’t stop me. I must finish my task.’

“All alike, the baboon variety and the handsome innocents, are cannibals. They are possessed with a perfect mania for meat. We were obliged to bury our dead in the river, lest the bodies should be exhumed and eaten, even when they had died from smallpox.”

Upon the pygmies and all the dwellers of the forest has descended a devastating visitation in the shape of the ivory raiders of civilisation. The race that wrote the Arabian Nights, built Bagdad and Granada, and invented Algebra, sends forth men with the hunger for gold in their hearts, and Enfield muskets in their hands, to plunder and to slay. They exploit the domestic affections of the forest dwellers in order to strip them of all they possess in the world. That has been going on for years. It is going on to-day. It has come to be regarded as the natural and normal law of existence. Of the religion of these hunted pygmies Mr. Stanley tells us nothing, perhaps because there is nothing to tell. But an earlier traveller, Dr. Kraff, says that one of these tribes, by name Doko, had some notion of a Supreme Being, to whom, under the name of Yer, they sometimes addressed prayers in moments of sadness or terror. In these prayers they say; “Oh Yer, if Thou dost really exist why dost Thou let us be slaves? We ask not for food or clothing, for we live on snakes, ants, and mice. Thou hast made us, wherefore dost Thou let us be trodden down?”

It is a terrible picture, and one that has engraved itself deep on the heart of civilisation. But while brooding over the awful presentation of life as it exists in the vast African forest, it seemed to me only too vivid a picture of many parts of our own land. As there is a darkest Africa is there not also a darkest England? Civilisation, which can breed its own barbarians, does it not also breed its own pygmies? May we not find a parallel at our own doors, and discover within a stone’s throw of our cathedrals and palaces similar horrors to those which Stanley has found existing in the great Equatorial forest?

The more the mind dwells upon the subject, the closer the analogy appears. The ivory raiders who brutally traffic in the unfortunate denizens of the forest glades, what are they but the publicans who flourish on the weakness of our poor? The two tribes of savages the human baboon and the handsome dwarf, who will not speak lest it impede him in his task, may be accepted as the two varieties who are continually present with us–the vicious, lazy lout, and the toiling slave. They, too, have lost all faith of life being other than it is and has been. As in Africa, it is all trees trees, trees with no other world conceivable; so is it here–it is all vice and poverty and crime. To many the world is all slum, with the Workhouse as an intermediate purgatory before the grave. And just as Mr. Stanley’s Zanzibaris lost faith, and could only be induced to plod on in brooding sullenness of dull despair, so the most of our social reformers, no matter how cheerily they may have started off, with forty pioneers swinging blithely their axes as they force their way in to the wood, soon become depressed and despairing. Who can battle against the ten thousand million trees? Who can hope to make headway against the innumerable adverse conditions which doom the dweller in Darkest England to eternal and immutable misery? What wonder is it that many of the warmest hearts and enthusiastic workers feel disposed to repeat the lament of the old English chronicler, who, speaking of the evil days which fell upon our forefathers in the reign of Stephen, said “It seemed to them as if God and his Saints were dead.”

An analogy is as good as a suggestion; it becomes wearisome when it is pressed too far. But before leaving it, think for a moment how close the parallel is, and how strange it is that so much interest should be excited by a narrative of human squalor and human heroism in a distant continent, while greater squalor and heroism not less magnificent may be observed at our very doors.

The Equatorial Forest traversed by Stanley resembles that Darkest England of which I have to speak, alike in its vast extent–both stretch, in Stanley’s phrase, “as far as from Plymouth to Peterhead;” its monotonous darkness, its malaria and its gloom, its dwarfish de-humanized inhabitants, the slavery to which they are subjected, their privations and their misery. That which sickens the stoutest heart, and causes many of our bravest and best to fold their hands in despair, is the apparent impossibility of doing more than merely to peck at the outside of the endless tangle of monotonous undergrowth; to let light into it, to make a road clear through it, that shall not be immediately choked up by the ooze of the morass and the luxuriant parasitical growth of the forest–who dare hope for that? At present, alas, it would seem as though no one dares even to hope! It is the great Slough of Despond of our time.

And what a slough it is no man can gauge who has not waded therein, as some of us have done, up to the very neck for long years. Talk about Dante’s Hell, and all the horrors and cruelties of the torture-chamber of the lost! The man who walks with open eyes and with bleeding heart through the shambles of our civilisation needs no such fantastic images of the poet to teach him horror. Often and often, when I have seen the young and the poor and the helpless go down before my eyes into the morass, trampled underfoot by beasts of prey in human shape that haunt these regions, it seemed as if God were no longer in His world, but that in His stead reigned a fiend, merciless as Hell, ruthless as the grave. Hard it is, no doubt, to read in Stanley’s pages of the slave-traders coldly arranging for the surprise of a village, the capture of the inhabitants, the massacre of those who resist, and the violation of all the women; but the stony streets of London, if they could but speak, would tell of tragedies as awful, of ruin as complete, of ravishments as horrible, as if we were in Central Africa; only the ghastly devastation is covered, corpselike, with the artificialities and hypocrisies of modern civilisation.

The lot of a negress in the Equatorial Forest is not, perhaps, a very happy one, but is it so very much worse than that of many a pretty orphan girl in our Christian capital? We talk about the brutalities of the dark ages, and we profess to shudder as we read in books of the shameful exaction of the rights of feudal superior. And yet here, beneath our very eyes, in our theatres, in our restaurants, and in many other places, unspeakable though it be but to name it, the same hideous abuse flourishes unchecked. A young penniless girl, if she be pretty, is often hunted from pillar to post by her employers, confronted always by the alternative–Starve or Sin. And when once the poor girl has consented to buy the right to earn her living by the sacrifice of her virtue, then she is treated as a slave and an outcast by the very men who have ruined her. Her word becomes unbelievable, her life an ignominy, and she is swept downward ever downward, into the bottomless perdition of prostitution. But there, even in the lowest depths, excommunicated by Humanity and outcast from God, she is far nearer the pitying heart of the One true Saviour than all the men who forced her down, aye, and than all the Pharisees and Scribes who stand silently by while these Fiendish wrongs are perpetrated before their very eyes.

The blood boils with impotent rage at the sight of these enormities, callously inflicted, and silently borne by these miserable victims. Nor is it only women who are the victims, although their fate is the most tragic. Those firms which reduce sweating to a fine art, who systematically and deliberately defraud the workman of his pay, who grind the faces of the poor, and who rob the widow and the orphan, and who for a pretence make great professions of public spirit and philanthropy, these men nowadays are sent to Parliament to make laws for the people. The old prophets sent them to Hell–but we have changed all that. They send their victims to Hell, and are rewarded by all that wealth can do to make their lives comfortable. Read the House of Lords’ Report on the Sweating System, and ask if any African slave system, making due allowance for the superior civilisation, and therefore sensitiveness, of the victims, reveals more misery.

Darkest England, like Darkest Africa, reeks with malaria. The foul and fetid breath of our slums is almost as poisonous as that of the African swamp. Fever is almost as chronic there as on the Equator. Every year thousands of children are killed off by what is called defects of our sanitary system. They are in reality starved and poisoned, and all that can be said is that, in many cases, it is better for them that they were taken away from the trouble to come.

Just as in Darkest Africa it is only a part of the evil and misery that comes from the superior race who invade the forest to enslave and massacre its miserable inhabitants, so with us, much of the misery of those whose lot we are considering arises from their own habits. Drunkenness and all manner of uncleanness, moral and physical, abound. Have you ever watched by the bedside of a man in delirium tremens? Multiply the sufferings of that one drunkard by the hundred thousand, and you have some idea of what scenes are being witnessed in all our great cities at this moment. As in Africa streams intersect the forest in every direction, so the gin-shop stands at every corner with its River of the Water of Death flowing seventeen hours out of the twenty-four for the destruction of the people. A population sodden with drink, steeped in vice, eaten up by every social and physical malady, these are the denizens of Darkest England amidst whom my life has been spent, and to whose rescue I would now summon all that is best in the manhood and womanhood of our land.

But this book is no mere lamentation of despair. For Darkest England, as for Darkest Africa, there is a light beyond. I think I see my way out, a way by which these wretched ones may escape from the gloom of their miserable existence into a higher and happier life. Long wandering in the Forest of the Shadow of Death at out doors, has familiarised me with its horrors; but while the realisation is a vigorous spur to action it has never been so oppressive as to extinguish hope. Mr. Stanley never succumbed to the terrors which oppressed his followers. He had lived in a larger life, and knew that the forest, though long, was not interminable. Every step forward brought him nearer his destined goal, nearer to the light of the sun, the clear sky, and the rolling uplands of the grazing land. Therefore he did not despair. The Equatorial Forest was, after all, a mere corner of one quarter of the world. In the knowledge of the light outside, in the confidence begotten by past experience of successful endeavour, he pressed forward; and when the 160 days’ struggle was over, he and his men came out into a pleasant place where the land smiled with peace and plenty, and their hardships and hunger were forgotten in the joy of a great deliverance.

So I venture to believe it will be with us. But the end is not yet. We are still in the depths of the depressing gloom. It is in no spirit of light-heartedness that this book is sent forth into the world as if it was written some ten years ago.

If this were the first time that this wail of hopeless misery had sounded on our ears the matter would have been less serious. It is because we have heard it so often that the case is so desperate. The exceeding bitter cry of the disinherited has become to be as familiar in the ears of men as the dull roar of the streets or as the moaning of the wind through the trees. And so it rises unceasing, year in and year out, and we are too busy or too idle, too indifferent or too selfish, to spare it a thought. Only now and then, on rare occasions, when some clear voice is heard giving more articulate utterance to the miseries of the miserable men, do we pause in the regular routine of our daily duties, and shudder as we realise for one brief moment what life means to the inmates of the Slums. But one of the grimmest social problems of our time should be sternly faced, not with a view to the generation of profitless emotion, but with a view to its solution.

Is it not time? There is, it is true, an audacity in the mere suggestion that the problem is not insoluble that is enough to take away the breath. But can nothing be done? If, after full and exhaustive consideration, we come to the deliberate conclusion that nothing can be done, and that it is the inevitable and inexorable destiny of thousands of Englishmen to be brutalised into worse than beasts by the condition of their environment, so be it. But if, on the contrary, we are unable to believe that this “awful slough,” which engulfs the manhood and womanhood of generation after generation is incapable of removal; and if the heart and intellect of mankind alike revolt against the fatalism of despair, then, indeed, it is time, and high time, that the question were faced in no mere dilettante spirit, but with a resolute determination to make an end of the crying scandal of our age.

What a satire it is upon our Christianity and our civilisation that the existence of these colonies of heathens and savages in the heart of our capital should attract so little attention! It is no better than a ghastly mockery–theologians might use a stronger word–to call by the name of One who came to seek and to save that which was lost those Churches which in the midst of lost multitudes either sleep in apathy or display a fitful interest in a chasuble. Why all this apparatus of temples and meeting-houses to save men from perdition in a world which is to come, while never a helping hand is stretched out to save them from the inferno of their present life? Is it not time that, forgetting for a moment their wranglings about the infinitely little or infinitely obscure, they should concentrate all their energies on a united effort to break this terrible perpetuity of perdition, and to rescue some at least of those for whom they profess to believe their Founder came to die?

Before venturing to define the remedy, I begin by describing the malady. But even when presenting the dreary picture of our social ills, and describing the difficulties which confront us, I speak not in despondency but in hope. “I know in whom I have believed.” I know, therefore do I speak. Darker England is but a fractional part of “Greater England.” There is wealth enough abundantly to minister to its social regeneration so far as wealth can, if there be but heart enough to set about the work in earnest. And I hope and believe that the heart will not be lacking when once the problem is manfully faced, and the method of its solution plainly pointed out.


In setting forth the difficulties which have to be grappled with, I shall endeavour in all things to understate rather than overstate my case. I do this for two reasons: first, any exaggeration would create a reaction; and secondly, as my object is to demonstrate the practicability of solving the problem, I do not wish to magnify its dimensions. In this and in subsequent chapters I hope to convince those who read them that there is no overstraining in the representation of the facts, and nothing Utopian in the presentation of remedies. I appeal neither to hysterical emotionalists nor headlong enthusiasts; but having tried to approach the examination of this question in a spirit of scientific investigation, I put forth my proposals with the view of securing the support and co-operation of the sober, serious, practical men and women who constitute the saving strength and moral backbone of the country. I fully admit that them is much that is lacking in the diagnosis of the disease, and, no doubt, in this first draft of the prescription there is much room for improvement, which will come when we have the light of fuller experience. But with all its drawbacks and defects, I do not hesitate to submit my proposals to the impartial judgment of all who are interested in the solution of the social question as an immediate and practical mode of dealing with this, the greatest problem of our time.

The first duty of an investigator in approaching the study of any question is to eliminate all that is foreign to the inquiry, and to concentrate his attention upon the subject to be dealt with. Here I may remark that I make no attempt in this book to deal with Society as a whole. I leave to others the formulation of ambitious programmes for the reconstruction of our entire social system; not because I may not desire its reconstruction, but because the elaboration of any plans which are more or less visionary and incapable of realisation for many years would stand in the way of the consideration of this Scheme for dealing with the most urgently pressing aspect of the question, which I hope may be put into operation at once.

In taking this course I am aware that I cut myself off from a wide and attractive field; but as a practical man, dealing with sternly prosaic facts, I must confine my attention to that particular section of the problem which clamours most pressingly for a solution. Only one thing I may say in passing. Then is nothing in my scheme which will bring it into collision either with Socialists of the State, or Socialists of the Municipality, with Individualists or Nationalists, or any of the various schools of though in the great field of social economics– excepting only those anti-christian economists who hold that it is an offence against the doctrine of the survival of the fittest to try to save the weakest from going to the wall, and who believe that when once a man is down the supreme duty of a self-regarding Society is to jump upon him. Such economists will naturally be disappointed with this book I venture to believe that all others will find nothing in it to offend their favourite theories, but perhaps something of helpful suggestion which they may utilise hereafter. What, then, is Darkest England? For whom do we claim that “urgency” which gives their case priority over that of all other sections of their countrymen and countrywomen?

I claim it for the Lost, for the Outcast, for the Disinherited of the World.

These, it may be said, are but phrases. Who are the Lost? reply, not in a religious, but in a social sense, the lost are those who have gone under, who have lost their foothold in Society, those to whom the prayer to our Heavenly Father, “Give us day by day our daily bread,” is either unfulfilled, or only fulfilled by the Devil’s agency: by the earnings of vice, the proceeds of crime, or the contribution enforced by the threat of the law.

But I will be more precise. The denizens in Darkest England; for whom I appeal, are (1) those who, having no capital or income of their own, would in a month be dead from sheer starvation were they exclusively dependent upon the money earned by their own work; and (2) those who by their utmost exertions are unable to attain the regulation allowance of food which the law prescribes as indispensable even for the worst criminals in our gaols.

I sorrowfully admit that it would be Utopian in our present social arrangements to dream of attaining for every honest Englishman a gaol standard of all the necessaries of life. Some time, perhaps, we may venture to hope that every honest worker on English soil will always be as warmly clad, as healthily housed, and as regularly fed as our criminal convicts–but that is not yet.

Neither is it possible to hope for many years to come that human beings generally will be as well cared for as horses. Mr. Carlyle long ago remarked that the four-footed worker has already got all that this two-handed one is clamouring for: “There are not many horses in England, able and willing to work, which have not due food and lodging and go about sleek coated, satisfied in heart.” You say it is impossible; but, said Carlyle, “The human brain, looking at these sleek English horses, refuses to believe in such impossibility for English men.” Nevertheless, forty years have passed since Carlyle said that, and we seem to be no nearer the attainment of the four-footed standard for the two-handed worker. “Perhaps it might be nearer realisation,” growls the cynic, “if we could only product men according to demand, as we do horses, and promptly send them to the slaughter-house when past their prime”–which, of course, is not to be thought of.

What, then, is the standard towards which we may venture to aim with some prospect of realisation in our time? It is a very humble one, but if realised it would solve the worst problems of modern Society. It is the standard of the London Cab Horse. When in the streets of London a Cab Horse, weary or careless or stupid, trips and falls and lies stretched out in the midst of the traffic there is no question of debating how he came to stumble before we try to get him on his legs again. The Cab Horse is a very real illustration of poor broken-down humanity; he usually falls down because of overwork and underfeeding. If you put him on his feet without altering his conditions, it would only be to give him another dose of agony; but first of all you’ll have to pick him up again. It may have been through overwork or underfeeding, or it may have been all his own fault that he has broken his knees and smashed the shafts, but that does not matter. If not for his own sake, then merely in order to prevent an obstruction of the traffic, all attention is concentrated upon the question of how we are to get him on his legs again. Tin load is taken off, the harness is unbuckled, or, if need be, cut, and everything is done to help him up. Then he is put in the shafts again and once more restored to his regular round of work. That is the first point. The second is that every Cab Horse in London has three things; a shelter for the night, food for its stomach, and work allotted to it by which it can earn its corn.

These are the two points of the Cab Horse’s Charter. When he is down he is helped up, and while he lives he has food, shelter and work. That, although a humble standard, is at present absolutely unattainable by millions–literally by millions–of our fellow-men and women in this country. Can the Cab Horse Charter be gained for human beings? I answer, yes. The Cab Horse standard can be attained on the Cab Horse terms. If you get your fallen fellow on his feet again, Docility and Discipline will enable you to reach the Cab Horse ideal, otherwise it will remain unattainable. But Docility seldom fails where Discipline is intelligently maintained. Intelligence is more frequently lacking to direct than obedience to follow direction. At any rate it is not for those who possess the intelligence to despair of obedience, until they have done their part. Some, no doubt, like the bucking horse that will never be broken in, will always refuse to submit to any guidance but their own lawless will. They will remain either the Ishmaels or the Sloths of Society. But man is naturally neither an Ishmael nor a Sloth.

The first question, then, which confronts us is, what are the dimensions of the Evil? How many of our fellow-men dwell in this Darkest England? How can we take the census of those who have fallen below the Cab Horse standard to which it is our aim to elevate the most wretched of our countrymen?

The moment you attempt to answer this question, you are confronted by the fact that the Social Problem has scarcely been studied at all scientifically. Go to Mudie’s and ask for all the books that have been written on the subject, and you will be surprised to find how few there are. There are probably more scientific books treating of diabetes or of gout than there are dealing with the great social malady which eats out the vitals of such numbers of our people. Of late there has been a change for the better. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor, and the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords on Sweating, represent an attempt at least to ascertain the facts which bear upon the Condition of the People question. But, after all, more minute, patient, intelligent observation has been devoted to the study of Earthworms, than to the evolution, or rather the degradation, of the Sunken Section of our people. Here and there in the immense field individual workers make notes, and occasionally emit a wail of despair, but where is there any attempt even so much as to take the first preliminary step of counting those who have gone under? One book there is, and so far as I know at present, only one, which even attempts to enumerate the destitute. In his “Life and Labour in the East of London,” Mr. Charles Booth attempts to form some kind of an idea as to the numbers of those with whom we have to deal. With a large staff of assistants, and provided with all the facts in possession of the School Board Visitors, Mr. Booth took an industrial census of East London. This district, which comprises Tower Hamlets, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Hackney, contains a population of 908,000; that is to say, less than one-fourth of the population of London. How do his statistics work out? If we estimate the number of the poorest class in the rest of London as being twice as numerous as those in the Eastern District, instead of being thrice as numerous, as they would be if they were calculated according to the population in the same proportion, the following is the result:

Inmates of Workhouses, Asylums,
and Hospitals .. .. .. 17,000 34,000 51,000

Loafers, Casuals,
and some Criminals .. .. 11,000 22,000 33,000

Casual earnings between
18s. per week and chronic want 100,000 200,000 300,000

Intermittent earnings
18s. to 21s. per week .. .. 74,000 148,000 222,000

Small regular earnings 21s. per week .. .. 129,000 258,000 387,000 ——- ——- ——- 331,000 662,000 993,000

Regular wages, artizans, etc.,
22s. to 30s. per week .. .. 337,000

Higher class labour,
30s. to 50s. per week .. .. 121,000

Lower middle class,
shopkeepers, clerks, etc. .. 34,000

Upper middle class
(servant keepers) .. .. .. 45,000 ——-
It may be admitted that East London affords an exceptionally bad district from which to generalise for the rest of the country. Wages are higher in London than elsewhere, but so is rent, and the number of the homeless and starving is greater in the human warren at the East End. There are 31 millions of people in Great Britain, exclusive of Ireland. If destitution existed everywhere in East London proportions, there would be 31 times as many homeless and starving people as there are in the district round Bethnal Green.

But let us suppose that the East London rate is double the average for the rest of the country. That would bring out the following figures:

East London. United Kingdom.

Loafers, Casuals, and some Criminals 11,000 165,500

Casual earnings or chronic want .. 100,000 1,550,000

Total Houseless and Starving .. 111,000 1,715,500

In Workhouses, Asylums, &c. .. 17,000 190,000 ——– ———- 128,000 1,905,500

Of those returned as homeless and starving, 870,000 were in receipt of outdoor relief. To these must be added the inmates of our prisons. In 1889 174,779 persons were received in the prisons, but the average number in prison at any one time did not exceed 60,000. The figures, as given in the Prison Returns, are as follows: —

In Convict Prisons .. .. .. .. .. 11,600 In Local Prisons.. .. .. .. .. .. 20,883 In Reformatories.. .. .. .. .. .. 1,270 In Industrial Schools .. .. .. .. 21,413 Criminal Lunatics .. .. .. .. .. 910

Add to this the number of indoor paupers and lunatics (excluding criminals) 78,966–and we have an army of nearly two million: belonging to the submerged classes. To this there must be added at the very least, another million, representing those dependent upon the criminal, lunatic and other classes, not enumerated here, and the more or less helpless of the class immediately above the houseless and starving. This brings my total to three millions, or, to put it roughly to one-tenth of the population. According to Lord Brabazon and Mr. Samuel Smith, “between two and three millions of our population are always pauperised and degraded.” Mr. Chamberlain says there is a “population equal to that of the metropolis,–that is, between four and five millions–“which has remained constantly in a state of abject destitution and misery.” Mr. Giffen is more moderate. The submerged class, according to him, comprises one in five of manual labourers, six in 100 of the population. Mr. Giffen does not add the third million which is living on the border line. Between Mr Chamberlain’s four millions and a half, and Mr. Giffen’s 1,800,000 I am content to take three millions as representing the total strength of the destitute army.

Darkest England, then, may be said to have a population about equal to that of Scotland. Three million men, women, and children a vast despairing multitude in a condition nominally free, but really enslaved;–these it is whom we have to save.

It is a large order. England emancipated her negroes sixty years ago, at a cost of #40,000,000, and has never ceased boasting about it since. But at our own doors, from “Plymouth to Peterhead,” stretches this waste Continent of humanity–three million human beings who are enslaved–some of them to taskmasters as merciless as any West Indian overseer, all of them to destitution and despair?

Is anything to be done with them? Can anything be done for them? Or is this million-headed mass to be regarded as offering a problem as insoluble as that of the London sewage, which, feculent and festering, swings heavily up and down the basin of the Thames with the ebb and flow of the tide?

This Submerged Tenth–is it, then, beyond the reach of the nine-tenths in the midst of whom they live, and around whose homes they rot and die? No doubt, in every large mass of human beings there will be some incurably diseased in morals and in body, some for whom nothing can be done, some of whom even the optimist must despair, and for whom he can prescribe nothing but the beneficently stern restraints of an asylum or a gaol.

But is not one in ten a proportion scandalously high? The Israelites of old set apart one tribe in twelve to minister to the Lord in the service of the Temple; but must we doom one in ten of “God’s Englishmen” to the service of the great Twin Devils– Destitution and Despair?


Darkest England may be described as consisting broadly of three circles, one within the other. The outer and widest circle is inhabited by the starving and the homeless, but honest, Poor. The second by those who live by Vice; and the third and innermost region at the centre is peopled by those who exist by Crime. The whole of the three circles is sodden with Drink. Darkest England has many more public-houses than the Forest of the Aruwimi has rivers, of which Mr. Stanley sometimes had to cross three in half-an-hour.

The borders of this great lost land are not sharply defined. They are continually expanding or contracting. Whenever there is a period of depression in trade, they stretch; when prosperity returns, they contract. So far as individuals are concerned, there are none among the hundreds of thousands who live upon the outskirts of the dark forest who can truly say that they or their children are secure from being hopelessly entangled in its labyrinth. The death of the bread-winner, a long illness, a failure in the City, or any one of a thousand other causes which might be named, will bring within the first circle those who at present imagine themselves free from all danger of actual want. The death-rate in Darkest England is high. Death is the great gaol-deliverer of the captives. But the dead are hardly in the grave before their places are taken by others. Some escape, but the majority, their health sapped by their surroundings, become weaker and weaker, until at last they fall by the way, perishing without hope at the very doors of the palatial mansions which, maybe, some of them helped to build.

Some seven years ago a great outcry was made concerning the Housing of the Poor. Much was said, and rightly said–it could not be said too strongly–concerning the disease-breeding, manhood-destroying character of many of the tenements in which the poor herd in our large cities. But there is a depth below that of the dweller in the slums. It is that of the dweller in the street, who has not even a lair in the slums which he can call his own. The houseless Out-of-Work is in one respect at least like Him of whom it was said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”

The existence of these unfortunates was somewhat rudely forced upon the attention of Society in 1887, when Trafalgar Square became the camping ground of the Homeless Outcasts of London. Our Shelters have done something, but not enough, to provide for the outcasts, who this night and every night are walking about the streets, not knowing where they can find a spot on which to rest their weary frames.

Here is the return of one of my Officers who was told off this summer to report upon the actual condition of the Homeless who have no roof to shelter them in all London: —

There are still a large number of Londoners and a considerable percentage of wanderers from the country in search of work, who find themselves at nightfall destitute. These now betake themselves to the seats under the plane trees on the Embankment. Formerly they endeavoured to occupy all the seats, but the lynx-eyed Metropolitan Police declined to allow any such proceedings, and the dossers, knowing the invariable kindness of the City Police, made tracks for that portion of the Embankment which, lying east of the Temple, comes under the control of the Civic Fathers. Here, between the Temple and Blackfriars, I found the poor wretches by the score; almost every seat contained its full complement of six–some men, some women–all reclining in various postures and nearly all fast asleep. Just as Big Ben strikes two, the moon, flashing across the Thames and lighting up the stone work of the Embankment, brings into relief a pitiable spectacle. Here on the stone abutments, which afford a slight protection from the biting wind, are scores of men lying side by side, huddled together for warmth, and, of course, without any other covering than their ordinary clothing, which is scanty enough at the best. Some have laid down a few pieces of waste paper, by way of taking the chill off the stones, but the majority are too tired, even for that, and the nightly toilet of most consists of first removing the hat, swathing the head in whatever old rag may be doing duty as a handkerchief, and then replacing the hat.

The intelligent-looking elderly man, who was just fixing himself up on a seat, informed me that he frequently made that his night’s abode. “You see,” quoth he, “there’s nowhere else so comfortable. I was here last night, and Monday and Tuesday as well, that’s four nights this week. I had no money for lodgings, couldn’t earn any, try as I might. I’ve had one bit of bread to-day nothing else whatever, and I’ve earned nothing to-day or yesterday; I had threepence the day before. Gets my living by carrying parcels, or minding horses, or odd jobs of that sort. You see I haven’t got my health, that’s where it is. I used to work on the London General Omnibus Company and after that on the Road Car Company, but I had to go to the infirmary with bronchitis and couldn’t get work after that. What’s the good of a man what’s got bronchitis and just left the infirmary? Who’ll engage him, I’d like to know? Besides, it makes me short of breath at times, and I can’t do much. I’m a widower; wife died long ago. I have one boy, abroad, a sailor, but he’s only lately started and can’t help me. Yes! its very fair out here of nights, seats rather hard, but a bit of waste paper makes it a lot softer. We have women sleep here often, and children, too. They’re very well conducted, and there’s seldom many rows here, you see, because everybody’s tired out. We’re too sleepy to make a row.”

Another party, a tall, dull, helpless-looking individual, had walked up from the country; would prefer not to mention the place. He had hoped to have obtained a hospital letter at the Mansion House so as to obtain a truss for a bad rupture, but failing, had tried various other places, also in vain, win up minus money or food on the Embankment.

In addition to these sleepers, a considerable number walk about the streets up till the early hours of the morning to hunt up some job which will bring I copper into the empty exchequer, and save them from actual starvation. I had some conversation with one such, a stalwart youth lately discharged from the militia, and unable to get work.

“You see,” said he, pitifully, “I don’t know my way about like most of the London fellows. I’m so green, and don’t know how to pick up jobs like they do. I’ve been walking the streets almost day and night these two weeks and can’t get work. I’ve got the strength, though I shan’t have it long at this rate. I only want a job. This is the third night running that I’ve walked the streets all night; the only money I get is by minding blacking-boys’ boxes while they go into Lockhart’s for their dinner. I got a penny yesterday at it, and twopence for carrying a parcel, and to-day I’ve had a penny. Bought a ha’porth of bread and a ha’penny mug of tea.”

Poor lad! probably he would soon get into thieves’ company, and sink into the depths, for there is no other means of living for many like him; it is starve or steal, even for the young. There are gangs of lad thieves in the low Whitechapel lodging-houses, varying in age from thirteen to fifteen, who live by thieving eatables and other easily obtained goods from shop fronts. In addition to the Embankment, al fresco lodgings are found in the seats outside Spitalfields Church, and many homeless wanderers have their own little nooks and corners of resort in many sheltered yards, vans, etc., all over London. Two poor women I observed making their home in a shop door-way in Liverpool Street. Thus they manage in the summer; what it’s like in winter time is terrible to think of. In many cases it means the pauper’s grave, as in the case of a young woman who was wont to sleep in a van in Bedfordbury. Some men who were aware of her practice surprised her by dashing a bucket of water on her. The blow to her weak system caused illness, and the inevitable sequel–a coroner’s jury came to the conclusion that the water only hastened her death, which was due, in plain English, to starvation.

The following are some statements taken down by the same Officer from twelve men whom he found sleeping on the Embankment on the nights of June 13th and 14th, 1890:-

No. 1. “I’ve slept here two nights; I’m a confectioner by trade; I come from Dartford. I got turned off because I’m getting elderly. They can get young men cheaper, and I have the rheumatism so bad. I’ve earned nothing these two days; I thought I could get a job at Woolwich, so I walked there, but could get nothing. I found a bit of bread in the road wrapped up in a bit of newspaper. That did me for yesterday. I had a bit of bread and butter to-day. I’m 54 years old. When it’s wet we stand about all night under the arches.’

No. 2. “Been sleeping out three weeks all but one night; do odd jobs, mind horses, and that sort of thing. Earned nothing to-day, or shouldn’t be here. Have had a pen’orth of bread to-day. That’s all. Yesterday had some pieces given to me at a cook-shop. Two days last week had nothing at all from morning till night. By trade I’m a feather-bed dresser, but it’s gone out of fashion, and besides that, I’ve a cataract in one eye, and have lost the sight of it completely. I’m a widower, have one child, a soldier, at Dover. My last regular work was eight months ago, but the firm broke. Been doing odd jobs Since.”

No. 3. “I’m a tailor; have slept here four nights running. Can’t get work. Been out of a job three weeks. If I can muster cash I sleep at a lodging-house in Vere Street, Glare Market. It was very wet last night. I left these seats and went to Covent Garden Market and slept under cover. There were about thirty of us. The police moved us on, but we went back as soon as they had gone. I’ve had a pen’orth of bread and pen’orth of soup during the last two days–often goes without altogether. There are women sleep out here. They are decent people, mostly charwomen and such like who can’t get work.”

No.4. Elderly man; trembles visibly with excitement at mention of work; produces a card carefully wrapped in old newspaper, to the effect that Mr. J.R. is a member of the Trade Protection League. He is a waterside labourer; last job at that was a fortnight since. Has earned nothing for five days. Had a bit of bread this morning, but not a scrap since. Had a cup of tea and two slices of bread yesterday, and the same the day before; the deputy at a lodging house gave it to him. He is fifty years old, and is still damp from sleeping out in the wet last night.

No. 5. Sawyer by trade, machinery cut him out. Had a job, haymaking near Uxbridge. Had been on same job lately for a month; got 2s. 6d a day. (Probably spent it in drink, seems a very doubtful worker.) Has been odd jobbing a long time, earned 2d. to-day, bought a pen’orth of tea and ditto of sugar (produces same from pocket) but can’t get any place to make the tea; was hoping to get to a lodging house where he could borrow a teapot, but had no money. Earned nothing yesterday, slept at a casual ward; very poor place, get insufficient food, considering the labour. Six ounces of bread and a pint of skilly for breakfast, one ounce of cheese and six or seven ounces of bread for dinner (bread cut by guess). Tea same as breakfast,–no supper. For this you have to break 10 cwt. of stones, or pick 4 lbs. of oakum.

Number 6. Had slept out four nights running. Was a distiller by trade been out four months; unwilling to enter into details of leaving, but it was his own fault. (Very likely; a heavy, thick, stubborn, and senseless-looking fellow, six feet high, thick neck, strong limbs, evidently destitute of ability. Does odd jobs; earned 3d. for minding a horse, bought a cup of coffee and pen’orth of bread and butter. Has no money now. Slept under Waterloo Bridge last night.

No. 7. Good-natured looking man; one who would suffer and say nothing clothes shining with age, grease, and dirt; they hang on his joints as on pegs; awful rags! I saw him endeavouring to walk. He lifted his feet very slowly and put them down carefully in evident pain. His legs are bad; been in infirmary several times with them. His uncle and grandfather were clergymen; both dead now. He was once in a good position in a money office, and afterwards in the London and County Bank for nine years. Then he went with an auctioneer who broke, and he was left ill, old, and without any trade. “A clerk’s place,” says he, “is never worth having, because there are so many of them, and once out you can only get another place with difficulty. I have a brother-in-law on the Stock Exchange, but he won’t own me. Look at my clothes? Is it likely?”

No. 8. Slept here four nights running. Is a builder’s labourer by trade, that is, a handy-man. Had a settled job for a few weeks which expired three weeks since. Has earned nothing for nine days. Then helped wash down a shop front and got 2s. 6d. for it. Does anything he can get. Is 46 years old. Earns about 2d. or 3d. a day at horse minding. A cup of tea and a bit of bread yesterday, and same to-day, is all he has had.

No. 9. A plumber’s labourer (all these men who are somebody’s “labourers” are poor samples of humanity, evidently lacking in grit, and destitute of ability to do any work which would mean decent wages). Judging from appearances, they will do nothing well. They are a kind of automaton, with the machinery rusty; slow, dull, and incapable. The man of ordinary intelligence leaves them in the rear. They could doubtless earn more even at odd jobs, but lack the energy. Of course, this means little food, exposure to weather, and increased incapability day by day. (“From him that hath not,” etc.) Out of work through slackness, does odd jobs; slept here three nights running. Is a dock labourer when he can get work. Has 6d. an hour; works so many hours, according as he is wanted. Gets 2s., 3s., or 4s. 6d. a day. Has to work very hard for it. Casual ward life is also very hard he says, for those who are not used to it, and there is not enough to eat. Has had to-day a pen’orth of bread, for minding a cab. Yesterday he spent 3 1/2d. on a breakfast, and that lasted him all day. Age 25.

No. 10. Been out of work a month. Carman by trade. Arm withered, and cannot do work properly. Has slept here all the week; got an awful cold through the wet. Lives at odd jobs (they all do). Got sixpence yesterday for minding a cab and carrying a couple of parcels. Earned nothing to-day, but had one good meal; a lady gave it him. Has been walking about all day looking for work, and is tired out.

No. 11. Youth, aged 16. Sad case; Londoner. Works at odd jobs and matches selling. Has taken 3d. to-day, i.e., net profit 1 1/2d. Has five boxes still. Has slept here every night for a month. Before that slept in Covent Garden Market or on doorsteps. Been sleeping out six months, since he left Feltham Industrial School. Was sent there for playing truant. Has had one bit of bread to-day; yesterday had only some gooseberries and cherries, i.e., bad ones that had been thrown away. Mother is alive. She “chucked him out” when he returned home on leaving Feltham because he could’nt find her money for drink.

No. 12. Old man, age 67. Seems to take rather a humorous view of the position. Kind of Mark Tapley. Says he can’t say he does like it, but then he must like it! Ha, ha! Is a slater by trade. Been out of work some time; younger men naturally get the work. Gets a bit of bricklaying sometimes; can turn his hand to anything. Goes miles and gets nothing. Earned one and twopence this week at holding horses. Finds it hard, certainly. Used to care once, and get down-hearted, but that’s no good; don’t trouble now. Had a bit of bread and butter and cup of coffee to-day. Health is awful bad, not half the size he was; exposure and want of food is the cause; got wet last night, and is very stiff in consequence. Has been walking about since it was light, that is 3 a.m. Was so cold and wet and weak, scarcely knew what to do. Walked to Hyde Park, and got a little sleep there on a dry seat as soon as the park opened.

These are fairly typical cases of the men who are now wandering homeless through the streets. That is the way in which the nomads of civilization are constantly being recruited from above.

Such are the stories gathered at random one Midsummer night this year under the shade of the plane trees of the Embankment. A month later, when one of my staff took the census of the sleepers out of doors along the line of the Thames from Blackfriars to Westminster, he found three hundred and sixty-eight persons sleeping in the open air. Of these, two hundred and seventy were on the Embankment proper, and ninety-eight in and about Covent Garden Market, while the recesses of Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges were full of human misery.

This, be it remembered, was not during a season of bad trade. The revival of business has been attested on all hands, notably by the barometer of strong drink. England is prosperous enough to drink rum in quantities which appall the Chancellor of the Exchequer but she is not prosperous enough to provide other shelter than the midnight sky for these poor outcasts on the Embankment.

To very many even of those who live in London it may be news that there are so many hundreds who sleep out of doors every night. There are comparatively few people stirring after midnight, and when we are snugly tucked into our own beds we are apt to forget the multitude outside in the rain and the storm who are shivering the long hours through on the hard stone seats in the open or under the arches of the railway. These homeless, hungry people are, however there, but being broken-spirited folk for the most part they seldom make their voices audible in the ears of their neighbours. Now and again, however, a harsh cry from the depths is heard for a moment, jarring rudely upon the ear and then all is still. The inarticulate classes speak as seldom as Balaam’s ass. But they sometimes find a voice. Here for instance is one such case which impressed me much. It was reported in one of the Liverpool papers some time back. The speaker was haranguing a small knot of twenty or thirty men: —

“My lads,” he commenced, with one hand in the breast of his ragged vest, and the other, as usual, plucking nervously at his beard, “This kind o’ work can’t last for ever.” (Deep and earnest exclamations, “It can’t! It shan’t”) “Well, boys,” continued the speaker, “Somebody’ll have to find a road out o’ this. What we want is work, not work’us bounty, though the parish has been busy enough amongst us lately, God knows! What we want is honest work, (Hear, hear.) Now, what I propose is that each of you gets fifty mates to join you; that’ll make about 1,200 starving chaps–And then?” asked several very gaunt and hungry-looking men excitedly. “Why, then,” continued the leader. “Why, then,” interrupted a cadaverous-looking man from the farther and darkest end of the cellar, “of course we’ll make a–London job of it, eh?” “No, no,” hastily interposed my friend, and holding up his hands deprecatingly, “we’ll go peaceably about it chaps; we’ll go in a body to the Town Hall, and show our poverty, and ask for work. We’ll take the women and children with us too.” (“Too ragged! Too starved! They can’t walk it!”) “The women’s rags is no disgrace, the staggerin’ children ‘ll show what we come to. Let’s go a thousand strong, and ask for work and bread!”

Three years ago, in London, there were some such processions. Church parades to the Abbey and St. Paul’s, bivouacs in Trafalgar Square, etc. But Lazarus showed his rags and his sores too conspicuously for the convenience of Dives, and was summarily dealt with in the name of law and order. But as we have Lord Mayor’s Days, when all the well-fed fur-clad City Fathers go in State Coaches through the town, why should we not have a Lazarus Day, in which the starving Out-of-Works, and the sweated half-starved “in-works” of London should crawl in their tattered raggedness, with their gaunt, hungry faces, and emaciated Wives and children, a Procession of Despair through the main thoroughfares past the massive houses and princely palaces of luxurious London?

For these men are gradually, but surely, being sucked down into the quicksand of modern life. They stretch out their grimy hands to us in vain appeal, not for charity, but for work.

Work, work! it is always work that they ask. The Divine curse is to them the most blessed of benedictions. “In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread,” but alas for these forlorn sons of Adam, they fail to find the bread to eat, for Society has no work for them to do. They have not even leave to sweat. As well as discussing how these poor wanderers should in the second Adam “all be made alive,” ought we not to put forth some effort to effect their restoration to that share in the heritage of lab our which is theirs by right of descent from the first Adam?


There is hardly any more pathetic figure than that of the strong able worker crying plaintively in the midst of our palaces and churches not for charity, but for work, asking only to be allowed the privilege of perpetual hard labour, that thereby he may earn wherewith to fill his empty belly and silence the cry of his children for food. Crying for it and not getting it, seeking for labour as lost treasure and finding it not, until at last, all spirit and vigour worn out in the weary quest, the once willing worker becomes a broken-down drudge, sodden with wretchedness and despairing of all help in this world or in that which is to come. Our organisation of industry certainly leaves much to be desired. A problem which even slave owners have solved ought not to be abandoned as insoluble by the Christian civilisation of the Nineteenth Century.

I have already given a few life stories taken down from the lip: of those who were found homeless on the Embankment which suggest somewhat of the hardships and the misery of the fruitless search for work. But what a volume of dull, squalid horror–a horror of great darkness gradually obscuring all the light of day from the life of the sufferer might be written from the simple prosaic experiences of the ragged fellows whom you meet every day in the street. These men, whose labour is their only capital, are allowed, nay compelled to waste day after day by the want of any means of employment, and then when they have seen days and weeks roll by during which their capital has been wasted by pounds and pounds, they are lectured for not saving the pence. When a rich man cannot employ his capital he puts it out at interest, but the bank for the labour capital of the poor man has yet to be invented. Yet it might be worth while inventing one. A man’s labour is not only his capital but his life. When it passes it returns never more. To utilise it, to prevent its wasteful squandering, to enable the poor man to bank it up for use hereafter, this surely is one of the most urgent tasks before civilisation.

Of all heart-breaking toil the hunt for work is surely the worst. Yet at any moment let a workman lose his present situation, and he is compelled to begin anew the dreary round of fruitless calls. Here is the story of one among thousands of the nomads, taken down from his own lips, of one who was driven by sheer hunger into crime.

A bright Spring morning found me landed from a western colony. Fourteen years had passed since I embarked from the same spot. They were fourteen years, as far as results were concerned, of non-success, and here I was again in my own land, a stranger, with anew career to carve for myself and the battle of life to fight over again.

My first thought was work. Never before had I felt more eager for a down right good chance to win my way by honest toil; but where was I to find work. With firm determination I started in search. One day passed without success and another, and another, but the thought cheered me, “Better luck to-morrow.” It has been said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” In my case it was to be severely tested. Days soon ran into weeks, and still I was on the trail patiently and hopefully. Courtesy and politeness so often met me in my enquiries for employment that I often wished they would kick me out, and so vary the monotony of the sickly veneer of consideration that so thinly overlaid the indifference and the absolute unconcern they had to my need. A few cut up rough and said, No; we don’t want you. “Please don’t trouble us again (this after the second visit). We have no vacancy; and if we had, we have plenty of people on hand to fill it.”

Who can express the feeling that comes over one when the fact begins to dawn that the search for work is a failure? All my hopes and prospects seemed to have turned out false. Helplessness, I had often heard of it, had often talked about it, thought I knew all about it. Yes! in others, but now began to understand it for myself. Gradually my personal appearance faded. My once faultless linen became unkempt and unclean. Down further and further went the heels of my shoes, and I drifted into that distressing condition “shabby gentility.” If the odds were against me before, how much more so now, seeing that I was too shabby even to command attention, much less a reply to my enquiry for work.

Hunger now began to do its work, and I drifted to the dock gates, but what chance had I among the hungry giants there? And so down the stream drifted until “Grim Want” brought me to the last shilling, the last lodging, and the last meal. What shall I do? Where shall I go? I tried to think. Must I starve? Surely there must be some door still open for honest willing endeavour, but where? What can I do? “Drink,” said the Tempter; but to drink to drunkenness needs cash, and oblivion by liquor demands an equivalent in the currency.

Starve or steal. “You must do one or the other,” said the Tempter. But recoiled from being a Thief. “Why be so particular?” says the Tempter again “You are down now, who will trouble about you? Why trouble about yourself? The choice is between starving and stealing.” And I struggled until hunger stole my judgment, and then I became a Thief.

No one can pretend that it was an idle fear of death by starvation which drove this poor fellow to steal. Deaths from actual hunger an more common than is generally supposed. Last year, a man, whose name was never known, was walking through St. James’s Park, when three of our Shelter men saw him suddenly stumble and fall. They thought he was drunk, but found he had fainted. They carried him to the bridge and gave him to the police. They took him to St George’s Hospital, where he died. It appeared that he had, according to his own tale, walked up from Liverpool, and had been without food for five days. The doctor, however, said he had gone longer than that. The jury returned a verdict of “Death from Starvation.”

Without food for five days or longer! Who that has experienced the sinking sensation that is felt when even a single meal has been sacrificed may form some idea of what kind of slow torture killed that man!

In 1888 the average daily number of unemployed in London was estimated by the Mansion House Committee at 20,000. This vast reservoir of unemployed labour is the bane of all efforts to raise the scale of living, to improve the condition of labour. Men hungering to death for lack of opportunity to earn a crust are the materials from which “blacklegs” are made, by whose aid the labourer is constantly defeated in his attempts to improve his condition.

This is the problem that underlies all questions of Trades Unionism and all Schemes for the Improvement of the Condition of the Industrial Army. To rear any stable edifice that will not perish when the first storm rises and the first hurricane blows, it must be built not upon sand, but upon a rock. And the worst of all existing Schemes for social betterment by organisation of the skilled workers and the like is that they are founded, not upon “rock,” nor even upon “sand,” but upon the bottomless bog of the stratum of the Workless. It is here where we must begin. The regimentation of industrial workers who have got regular work is not so very difficult. That can be done, and is being done, by themselves. The problem that we have to face is the regimentation, the organisation, of those who have not got work, or who have only irregular work, and who from sheer pressure of absolute starvation are driven irresistibly into cut-throat competition with their better employed brothers and sisters. Skin for skin, all that a man hath, will he give for his life; much more, then, will those who experimentally know not God give all that they might hope hereafter to have–in this world or in the world to come.

There is no gainsaying the immensity of the problem. It is appalling enough to make us despair. But those who do not put their trust in man alone, but in One who is Almighty, have no right to despair. To despair is to lose faith; to despair is to forget God Without God we can do nothing in this frightful chaos of human misery. But with God we can do all things, and in the faith that He has made in His image all the children of men we face even this hideous wreckage of humanity with a cheerful confidence that if we are but faithful to our own high calling He will not fail to open up a way of deliverance.

I have nothing to say against those who are endeavouring to open up a way of escape without any consciousness of God’s help. For them I feel only sympathy and compassion. In so far as they are endeavouring to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and above all, work to the workless, they are to that extent endeavouring to do the will of our Father which is in Heaven, and woe be unto all those who say them nay! But to be orphaned of all sense of the Fatherhood of God is surely not a secret source of strength. It is in most cases–it would be in my own–the secret of paralysis. If I did not feel my Father’s hand in the darkness, and hear His voice in the silence of the night watches bidding me put my hand to this thing, I would shrink back dismayed;– but as it is I dare not.

How many are there who have made similar attempts and have failed, and we have heard of them no more! Yet none of them proposed to deal with more than the mere fringe of the evil which, God helping me, I will try to face in all its immensity. Most Schemes that are put forward for the Improvement of the Circumstances of the People are either avowedly or actually limited to those whose condition least needs amelioration. The Utopians, the economists, and most of the philanthropists propound remedies, which, if adopted to-morrow, would only affect the aristocracy of the miserable. It is the thrifty, the industrious, the sober, the thoughtful who can take advantage of these plans. But the thrifty, the industrious, the sober, and the thoughtful are already very well able for the most part to take care of themselves. No one will ever make even a visible dint on the Morass of Squalor who does not deal with the improvident, the lazy, the vicious, and the criminal. The Scheme of Social Salvation is not worth discussion which is not as wide as the Scheme of Eternal Salvation set forth in the Gospel. The Glad Tidings must be to every creature, not merely to an elect few who are to be saved while the mass of their fellow are predestined to a temporal damnation. We have had this doctrine of an inhuman cast-iron pseudo-political economy too long enthroned amongst us. It is now time to fling down the false idol and proclaim a Temporal Salvation as full, free, and universal, and with no other limitations than the “Whosoever will,” of the Gospel.

To attempt to save the Lost, we must accept no Limitations to human brotherhood. If the Scheme which I set forth in these and the following pages is not applicable to the Thief, the Harlot, the Drunkard, and the Sluggard, it may as well be dismissed without ceremony. As Christ came to call not the saints but sinners to repentance, so the New Message of Temporal Salvation, of salvation from pinching poverty, from rags and misery, must be offered to all. They may reject it, of course. But we who call ourselves by the name of Christ are not worthy to profess to be His disciples until we have set an open door before the least and worst of these who are now apparently imprisoned for life in a horrible dungeon of misery and despair. The responsibility for its rejection must be theirs, not ours. We all know the prayer, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with food convenient for me”–and for every child of man on this planet, thank God the prayer of Agur, the son of Jakeh, may be fulfilled.

At present how far it is from being realised may be seen by anyone who will take the trouble to go down to the docks and see the struggle for work. Here is a sketch of what was found there this summer: —

London Docks, 7.25 a.m. The three pairs of huge wooden doors are closed. Leaning against then, and standing about, there are perhaps a couple of hundred men. The public house opposite is full, doing a heavy trade. All along the road are groups of men, and from each direction a steady stream increases the crowd at the gate.

7.30 Doors open, there is a general rush to the interior. Everybody marches about a hundred yards along to the iron barrier–a temporary chair affair, guarded by the dock police. Those men who have previously (i.e., night before) been engaged, show their ticket and pass through, about six hundred. The rest–some five hundred stand behind the barrier, patiently waiting the chance of a job, but less than twenty of these get engaged. They are taken on by a foreman who appears next the barrier and proceeds to pick his men. No sooner is the foreman seen, than there is a wild rush to the spot and a sharp mad fight to “catch his eye.” The men picked out, pass the barrier, and the excitement dies away until another lot of men are wanted.

They wait until eight o’clock strikes, which is the signal to withdraw. The barrier is taken down and all those hundreds of men, wearily disperse to “find a job.” Five hundred applicants, twenty acceptances! No wonder one tired-out looking individual ejaculates, “Oh dear, Oh dear! Whatever shall I do?” A few hang about until mid-day on the slender chance of getting taken on then for half a day.

Ask the men and they will tell you something like the following story, which gives the simple experiences of a dock labourer.

R. P. said: –“I was in regular work at the South West India Dock before the strike. We got 5d. an hour. Start work 8 a.m. summer and 9 a.m winter. Often there would be five hundred go, and only twenty get taken on (that is besides those engaged the night previous.) The foreman stood in his box, and called out the men he wanted. He would know quite five hundred by name. It was a regular fight to get work, I have known nine hundred to be taken on, but there’s always hundreds turned away. You see they get to know when ships come in, and when they’re consequently likely to be wanted, and turn up then in greater numbers. I would earn 30s. a week sometimes and then perhaps nothing for a fortnight. That’s what makes it so hard. You get nothing to eat for a week scarcely, and then when you get taken on, you are so weak that you can’t do it properly. I’ve stood in the crowd at the gate and had to go away without work, hundreds of times. Still I should go at it again if I could. I got tired of the little work and went away into the country to get work on a farm, but couldn’t get it, so I’m without the 10s. that it costs to join the Dockers’ Union. I’m going to the country again in a day or two to try again. Expect to get 3s. a day perhaps. Shall come back to the docks again. Then is a chance of getting regular dock work, and that is, to lounge about the pubs where the foremen go, and treat them. Then they will very likely take you on next day.”

R. P. was a non-Unionist. Henry F. is a Unionist. His history is much the same.

“I worked at St. Katherine’s Docks five months ago. You have to get to the gates at 6 o’clock for the first call. There’s generally about 400 waiting. They will take on one to two hundred. Then at 7 o’clock there’s a second call. Another 400 will have gathered by then, and another hundred or so will be taken on. Also there will probably be calls at nine and one o’clock. About the same number turn up but there’s no work for many hundreds of them. I was a Union man. That means 10s. a week sick pay, or 8s. a week for slight accidents; also some other advantages. The Docks won’t take men on now unless they are Unionists. The point is that there’s too many men. I would often be out of work a fortnight to three weeks at a time. Once earned #3 in a week, working day and night, but then had a fortnight out directly after. Especially when then don’t happen to be any ships in for a few days, which means, of course, nothing to unload. That’s the time; there’s plenty of men almost starving then. They have no trade to go to, or can get no work at it, and they swoop down to the docks for work, when they had much better stay away.”

But it is not only at the dock-gates that you come upon these unfortunates who spend their lives in the vain hunt for work. Here is the story of another man whose case has only too many parallels.

C. is a fine built man, standing nearly six feet. He has been in the Royal Artillery for eight years and held very good situations whilst in it. It seems that he was thrifty and consequently steady. He bought his discharge, and being an excellent cook opened a refreshment house, but at the end of five months he was compelled to close his shop on account of slackness in trade, which was brought about by the closing of a large factory in the locality.

After having worked in Scotland and Newcastle-on-Tyne for a few years, and through ill health having to give up his situation, he came to London with he hope that he might get something to do in his native town. He has had no regular employment for the past eight months. His wife and family are in a state of destitution, and he remarked, “We only had 1 lb. of bread between us yesterday.” He is six weeks in arrears of rent, and is afraid that he will be ejected. The furniture which is in his home is not worth 3s. and the clothes of each member of his family are in a tattered state and hardly fit for the rag bag. He assured us he had tried every where to get employment and would be willing to take anything. His characters are very good indeed.

Now, it may seem a preposterous dream that any arrangement can be devised by which it may be possible, under all circumstances, to provide food, clothes, and shelter for all these Out-of-Works without any loss of self respect; but I am convinced that it can be done, providing only that they are willing to Work, and, God helping me, if the means are forthcoming, I mean to try to do it; how, and where, and when, I will explain in subsequent chapters.

All that I need say here is, that so long as a man or woman is willing to submit to the discipline indispensable in every campaign against any formidable foe, there appears to me nothing impossible about this ideal; and the great element of hope before us is that the majority are, beyond all gainsaying, eager for work. Most of them now do more exhausting work in seeking for employment than the regular toilers do in their workshops, and do it, too, under the darkness of hope deferred which maketh the heart sick.


There is, unfortunately, no need for me to attempt to set out, however imperfectly, any statement of the evil case of the sufferers what we wish to help. For years past the Press has been filled with echoes of the “Bitter Cry of Outcast London,” with pictures of “Horrible Glasgow,” and the like. We have had several volumes describing “How the Poor Live” and I may therefore assume that all my readers are more or less cognizant of the main outlines a “Darkest England.” My slum officers are living in the midst of it their reports are before me, and one day I may publish some more detailed account of the actual facts of the social condition of the Sunken Millions. But not now. All that must be taken as read. I only glance at the subject in order to bring into clear relief the salient points of our new Enterprise.

I have spoken of the houseless poor. Each of these represents a point in the scale of human suffering below that of those who have still contrived to keep a shelter over their heads. A home is a home, be it ever so low; and the desperate tenacity with which the poor will cling to the last wretched semblance of one is very touching. There are vile dens, fever-haunted and stenchful crowded courts, where the return of summer is dreaded because it means the unloosing of myriads of vermin which render night unbearable, which, nevertheless, are regarded at this moment as havens of rest by their hard-working occupants. They can scarcely be said to be furnished. A chair, a mattress, and a few miserable sticks constitute all the furniture of the single room in which they have to sleep, and breed, and die; but they cling to it as a drowning man to a half-submerged raft. Every week they contrive by pinching and scheming to raise the rent, for with them it is pay or go and they struggle to meet the collector as the sailor nerves himself to avoid being sucked under by the foaming wave. If at any time work fails or sickness comes they are liable to drop helplessly into the ranks of the homeless. It is bad for a single man to have to confront the struggle for life in the streets and Casual Wards. But how much more terrible must it be for the married man with his wife and children to be turned out into the streets. So long as the family has a lair into which it can creep at night, he keeps his footing; but when he loses that solitary foothold then arrives the time if there be such a thing as Christian compassion, for the helping hand to be held out to save him from the vortex that sucks him downward–ay, downward to the hopeless under-strata of crime and despair.

“The heart knoweth its own bitterness and the stranger inter-meddleth not therewith.” But now and then out of the depths there sounds a bitter wail as of some strong swimmer in his agony as he is drawn under by the current. A short time ago a respectable man, a chemist in Holloway, fifty years of age, driven hard to the wall, tried to end it all by cutting his throat. His wife also cut her throat, and at the same time they gave strychnine to their only child. The effort failed, and they were placed on trial for attempted murder. In the Court a letter was read which the poor wretch had written before attempting his life:-

MY DEAREST GEORGE,–Twelve months have I now passed of a most miserable and struggling existence, and I really cannot stand it any more. I am completely worn out, and relations who could assist me won’t do any more, for such was uncle’s last intimation. Never mind; he can’t take his money and comfort with him, and in all probability will find himself in the same boat as myself. He never enquires whether I am starving or not. #3–a mere flea-bite to him–would have put us straight, and with his security and good interest might have obtained me a good situation long ago. I can face poverty and degradation no longer, and would sooner die than go to the workhouse, whatever may be the awful consequences of the steps we have taken. We have, God forgive us, taken our darling Arty with us out of pure love and affection, so that the darling should never be cuffed about, or reminded or taunted with his heartbroken parents’ crime. My poor wife has done her best at needle-work, washing, house-minding, &c., in fact, anything and everything that would bring in a shilling; but it would only keep us in semi-starvation. I have now done six weeks’ travelling from morning till night, and not received one farthing for it, If that is not enough to drive you mad–wickedly mad–I don’t know what is. No bright prospect anywhere; no ray of hope.

May God Almighty forgive us for this heinous sin, and have mercy on our sinful souls, is the prayer of your miserable, broken-hearted, but loving brother, Arthur. We have now done everything that we can possibly think of to avert this wicked proceeding, but can discover no ray of hope. Fervent prayer has availed us nothing; our lot is cast, and we must abide by it. It must be God’s will or He would have ordained it differently. Dearest Georgy, I am exceedingly sorry to leave you all, but I am mad–thoroughly mad. You, dear, must try and forget us, and, if possible, forgive us; for I do not consider it our own fault we have not succeeded. If you could get #3 for our bed it will pay our rent, and our scanty furniture may fetch enough to bury us in a cheap way. Don’t grieve over us or follow us, for we shall not be worthy of such respect. Our clergyman has never called on us or given us the least consolation, though I called on him a month ago. He is paid to preach, and there he considers his responsibility ends, the rich excepted. We have only yourself and a very few others who care one pin what becomes of us, but you must try and forgive us, is the last fervent prayer of your devotedly fond and affectionate but broken-hearted and persecuted brother.
(Signed) R. A. O—-.

That is an authentic human document–a transcript from the life of one among thousands who go down inarticulate into the depths, They die and make no sign, or, worse still, they continue to exist, carrying about with them, year after year, the bitter ashes of a life from which the furnace of misfortune has burnt away all joy, and hope, and strength. Who is there who has not been confronted by many despairing ones, who come, as Richard O—- went, to the clergyman, crying for help, and how seldom have we been able to give it them? It is unjust, no doubt, for them to blame the clergy and the comfortable well-to-do –for what can they do but preach and offer good advice? To assist all the Richard O—-s’ by direct financial advance would drag even Rothschild into the gutter. And what else can be done? Yet something else must be done if Christianity is not to be a mockery to perishing men.

Here is another case, a very common case, which illustrates how the Army of Despair is recruited.

Mr. T., Margaret Place, Gascoign Place, Bethnal Green, is a bootmaker by trade. Is a good hand, and has earned three shillings and sixpence to four shillings and sixpence a day. He was taken ill last Christmas, and went to the London Hospital; was there three months. A week after he had gone Mrs. T. had rheumatic fever, and was taken to Bethnal Green Infirmary, where she remained about three months. Directly after they had been taken ill, their furniture was seized for the three weeks’ rent which was owing. Consequently, on becoming convalescent, they were homeless. They came out about the same time. He went out to a lodging-house for a night or two, until she came out. He then had twopence, and she had sixpence, which a nurse had given her. They went to a lodging-house together, but the society there was dreadful. Next day he had a day’s work, and got two shillings and sixpence, and on the strength of this they took a furnished room at tenpence per day (payable nightly). His work lasted a few weeks, when he was again taken ill, lost his job, and spent all their money. Pawned a shirt and apron for a shilling; spent that, too. At last pawned their tools for three shillings, which got them a few days’ food and lodging. He is now minus tools and cannot work at his own job, and does anything he can. Spent their last twopence on a pen’orth each of tea and sugar. In two days they had a slice of bread and butter each, that’s all. They are both very weak through want of food.

“Let things alone,” the laws of supply and demand, and all the rest of the excuses by which those who stand on firm ground salve their consciences when they leave their brother to sink, how do they look when we apply them to the actual loss of life at sea? Does “Let things alone” man the lifeboat? Will the inexorable laws of political economy save the shipwrecked sailor from the boiling surf? They often enough are responsible for his disaster. Coffin ships are a direct result of the wretched policy of non-interference with the legitimate operations of commerce, but no desire to make it pay created the National Lifeboat Institution, no law of supply and demand actuates the volunteers who risk their lives to bring the shipwrecked to shore.

What we have to do is to apply the same principle to society. We want a Social Lifeboat Institution, a Social Lifeboat Brigade, to snatch from the abyss those who, if left to themselves, will perish as miserably as the crew of a ship that founders in mid-ocean.

The moment that we take in hand this work we shall be compelled to turn our attention seriously to the question whether prevention is not better than cure. It is easier and cheaper, and in every way better, to prevent the loss of home than to have to re-create that home. It is better to keep a man out of the mire than to let him fall in first and then risk the chance of plucking him out. Any Scheme, therefore, that attempts to deal with the reclamation of the lost must tend to develop into an endless variety of ameliorative measures, of some of which I shall have somewhat to say hereafter. I only mention the subject here in order that no one may say I am blind to the necessity of going further and adopting wider plans of operation than those which I put forward in this book. The renovation of our Social System is a work so vast that no one of us, nor all of us put together, can define all the measures that will have to be taken before we attain even the Cab-Horse Ideal of existence for our children and children’s children. All that we can do is to attack, in a serious, practical spirit the worst and most pressing evils, knowing that if we do our duty we obey the voice of God. He is the Captain of our Salvation. If we but follow where He leads we shall not want for marching orders, nor need we imagine that He will narrow the field of operations.

I am labouring under no delusions as to the possibility of inaugurating the Millennium by any social specific. In the struggle of life the weakest will go to the wall, and there are so many weak. The fittest, in tooth and claw, will survive. All that we can do is to soften the lot of the unfit and make their suffering less horrible than it is at present. No amount of assistance will give a jellyfish a backbone. No outside propping will make some men stand erect. All material help from without is useful only in so far as it develops moral strength within. And some men seem to have lost even the very faculty of self-help. There is an immense lack of common sense and of vital energy on the part of multitudes.

It is against Stupidity in every shape and form that we have to wage our eternal battle. But how can we wonder at the want of sense on the part of those who have had no advantages, when we see such plentiful absence of that commodity on the part of those who have had all the advantages?

How can we marvel if, after leaving generation after generation to grow up uneducated and underfed, there should be developed a heredity of incapacity, and that thousands of dull-witted people should be born into the world, disinherited before their birth of their share in the average intelligence of mankind?

Besides those who are thus hereditarily wanting in the qualities necessary to enable them to hold their own, there are the weak, the disabled, the aged, and the unskilled; worse than all, there is the want of character. Those who have the best of reputation, if they lose their foothold on the ladder, find it difficult enough to regain their place. What, then, can men and women who have no character do? When a master has the choice of a hundred honest men, is it reasonable to expect that he will select a poor fellow with tarnished reputation? All this is true, and it is one of the things that makes the problem almost insoluble. And insoluble it is, I am absolutely convinced unless it is possible to bring new moral life into the soul of these people. This should be the first object of every social reformer, whose work will only last if it is built on the solid foundation of a new birth, to cry “You must be born again.”

To get a man soundly saved it is not enough to put on him a pair of new breeches, to give him regular work, or even to give him a University education. These things are all outside a man, and if the inside remains unchanged you have wasted your labour. You must in some way or other graft upon the man’s nature a new nature, which has in it the element of the Divine. All that I propose in this book is governed by that principle.

The difference between the method which seeks to regenerate the man by ameliorating his circumstances and that which ameliorates his circumstances in order to get at the regeneration of his heart, is the difference between the method of the gardener who grafts a Ribstone Pippin on a crab-apple tree and one who merely ties apples with string upon the branches of the crab. To change the nature of the individual, to get at the heart, to save his soul is the only real, lasting method of doing him any good. In many modern schemes of social regeneration it is forgotten that “it takes a soul to move a body, e’en to a cleaner sty,” and at the risk of being misunderstood and misrepresented, I must assert in the most unqualified way that it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek the salvation of the body.

But what is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive? You might as well give a tract to a shipwrecked sailor who is battling with the surf which has drowned his comrades and threatens to drown him. He will not listen to you. Nay, he cannot hear you any more than a man whose head is underwater can listen to a sermon. The first thing to do is to get him at least a footing on firm ground, and to give him room to live. Then you may have a chance. At present you have none. And you will have all the better opportunity to find a way to his heart, if he comes to know that it was you who pulled him out of the horrible pit and the miry clay in which he was sinking to perdition.


There are many vices and seven deadly sins. But of late years many of the seven have contrived to pass themselves off as virtues. Avarice, for instance; and Pride, when re-baptised thrift and self-respect, have become the guardian angels of Christian civilisation; and as for Envy, it is the corner-stone upon which much of our competitive system is founded. There are still two vices which are fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to remain undisguised, not even concealing from themselves the fact that they are vices and not virtues. One is drunkenness; the other fornication. The viciousness of these vices is so little disguised, even from those who habitually practise them, that there will be a protest against merely describing one of them by the right Biblical name. Why not say prostitution? For this reason: prostitution is a word applied to only one half of the vice, and that the most pitiable. Fornication hits both sinners alike. Prostitution applies only to the woman.

When, however, we cease to regard this vice from the point of view of morality and religion, and look at it solely as a factor in the social problem, the word prostitution is less objectionable. For the social burden of this vice is borne almost entirely by women. The male sinner does not, by the mere fact of his sin, find himself in a worse position in obtaining employment, in finding a home, or even in securing a wife. His wrong-doing only hits him in his purse, or, perhaps, in his health. His incontinence, excepting so far as it relates to the woman whose degradation it necessitates, does not add to the number of those for whom society has to provide. It is an immense addition to the infamy of this vice in man that its consequences have to be borne almost exclusively by woman. The difficulty of dealing with drunkards and harlots is almost insurmountable. Were it not that I utterly repudiate as a fundamental denial of the essential principle of the Christian religion the popular pseudo-scientific doctrine that any man or woman is past saving by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I would sometimes be disposed to despair when contemplating these victims of the Devil. The doctrine of Heredity and the suggestion of Irresponsibility come perilously near re-establishing, on scientific bases, the awful dogma of Reprobation which has cast so terrible a shadow over the Christian Church. For thousands upon thousands of these poor wretches are, as Bishop South truly said, “not so much born into this world as damned into it.” The bastard of a harlot, born in a brothel, suckled on gin, and familiar from earliest infancy with all the bestialities of debauch, violated before she is twelve, and driven out into the streets by her mother a year or two later, what chance is there for such a girl in this world–I say nothing about the next? Yet such a case is not exceptional. There are many such differing in detail, but in essentials the same. And with boys it is almost as bad. There are thousands who were begotten when both parents were besotted with drink, whose mothers saturated themselves with alcohol every day of their pregnancy, who may be said to have sucked in a taste for strong drink with their mothers’ milk, and who were surrounded from childhood with opportunities and incitements to drink. How can we marvel that the constitution thus disposed to intemperance finds the stimulus of drink indispensable? Even if they make a stand against it, the increasing pressure of exhaustion and of scanty food drives them back to the cup. Of these poor wretches, born slaves of the bottle, predestined to drunkenness from their mother’s womb, there are–who can say how many? Yet they are all men; all with what the Russian peasants call “a spark of God” in them, which can never be wholly obscured and destroyed while life exists, and if any social scheme is to be comprehensive and practical it must deal with these men. It must provide for the drunkard and the harlot as it provides for the improvident and the out-of-work. But who is sufficient for these things?

I will take the question of the drunkard, for the drink difficulty lies at the root of everything. Nine-tenths of our poverty, squalor, vice, and crime spring from this poisonous tap-root. Many of our social evils, which overshadow the land like so many upas trees, would dwindle away and die if they were not constantly watered with strong drink. There is universal agreement on that point; in fact, the agreement as to the evils of intemperance is almost as universal as the conviction that politicians will do nothing practical to interfere with them. In Ireland, Mr. Justice Fitzgerald says that intemperance leads to nineteen-twentieths of the crime in that country, but no one proposes a Coercion Act to deal with that evil. In England, the judges all say the same thing. Of course it is a mistake to assume that a murder, for instance, would never be committed by sober men, because murderers in most cases prime themselves for their deadly work by a glass of Dutch courage. But the facility of securing a reinforcement of passion undoubtedly tends to render always dangerous, and sometimes irresistible, the temptation to violate the laws of God and man.

Mere lectures against the evil habit are, however, of no avail. We have to recognise, that the gin-palace, like many other evils, although a poisonous, is still a natural outgrowth of our social conditions. The tap-room in many cases is the poor man’s only parlour. Many a man takes to beer, not from the love of beer, but from a natural craving for the light, warmth, company, and comfort which is thrown in along with the beer, and which he cannot get excepting by buying beer. Reformers will never get rid of the drink shop until they can outbid it in the subsidiary attractions which it offers to its customers. Then, again, let us never forget that the temptation to drink is strongest when want is sharpest and misery the most acute. A well-fed man is not driven to drink by the craving that torments the hungry; and the comfortable do not crave for the boon of forgetfulness. Gin is the only Lethe of the miserable. The foul and poisoned air of the dens in which thousands live predisposes to a longing for stimulant. Fresh air, with its oxygen and its ozone, being lacking, a man supplies the want with spirit. After a time the longing for drink becomes a mania. Life seems as insupportable without alcohol as without food. It is a disease often inherited, always developed by indulgence, but as clearly a disease as ophthalmia or stone.

All this should predispose us to charity and sympathy. While recognising that the primary responsibility must always rest upon the individual, we may fairly insist that society, which, by its habits, its customs, and its laws, has greased the slope down which these poor creatures slide to perdition, shall seriously take in hand their salvation. How many are there who are, more or less, under the dominion of strong drink? Statistics abound, but they seldom tell us what we want to know. We know how many public-houses there are in the land, and how many arrests for drunkenness the police make in a year; but beyond that we know little. Everyone knows that for one man who is arrested for drunkenness there are at least ten and often twenty–who go home intoxicated. In London, for instance, there are 14,000 drink shops, and every year 20,000 persons are arrested for drunkenness. But who can for a moment believe that there are only 20,000, more or less, habitual drunkards in London? By habitual drunkard I do not mean one who is always drunk, but one who is so much under the dominion of the evil habit that he cannot be depended upon not to get drunk whenever the opportunity offers.

In the United Kingdom there are 190,000 public-houses, and every year there are 200,000 arrests for drunkenness. Of course, several of these arrests refer to the same person, who is locked up again and again. Were this not so, if we allowed six drunkards to each house as an average, or five habitual drunkards for one arrested for drunkenness, we should arrive at a total of a million adults who are more or less prisoners of the publican–as a matter of fact, Isaac Hoyle gives 1 in 12 of the adult population. This may be an excessive estimate, but, if we take half of a million, we shall not be accused of exaggeration. Of these some are in the last stage of confirmed dipsomania; others are but over the verge; but the procession tends ever downwards.

The loss which the maintenance of this huge standing army of a half of a million of men who are more or less always besotted men whose intemperance impairs their working power, consumes their earnings, and renders their homes wretched, has long been a familiar theme of the platform. But what can be done for them? Total abstinence is no doubt admirable, but how are you to get them to be totally abstinent? When a man is drowning in mid-ocean the one thing that is needful, no doubt, is that he should plant his feet firmly on terra firma. But how is he