Problems of a Great City

White, Arnold


ORACLES, who have never lacked a cutlet, tell us that the conditions of industrial life in England contrast favourably with those prevailing in countries where the standard of comfort is lower. Nevertheless, the social question in England is shrouded in greater darkness than the social questions of or . Nowhere in or in can be found the surging crowd of passionate seekers for work, who fight as wild beasts at the on winter mornings with monotony of want. It is true that here and there, as at Liege, Decazeville, or Antwerp, there is an eruption


of the Continental proletariat into aimless fury against their rulers. Great Britain has a rough average of 800,000 paupers entertained by the State, and probably half a million more supported from the resources of charity. No comparison, therefore, can be instituted between the English and Continental social questions without an allowance for the fact that, however appalling the mass of our national misery may be, provision has already been made for at least a million and a quarter of our social failures, who, but for the premium of insurance known as the Poor Law, would anticipate the coming struggle between the Haves and the Have-nots by several years. Great as was the sum of poverty and degradation inherited by this generation from that which preceded it, we are making no sensible reductions of this debt to humanity, and are in a fair way to hand down to the next generation greater embarrassment, with more efficient machinery for the manufacture of larger masses of human degradation. Such is the financial chastity of the present school of statesmen, that the maintenance of the national money debt at its present figure is


regarded with abhorrence, and the suspension of the Sinking fund is resorted to only under the menace of national calamity. The money debt is now £740,330,654, or less than £20 per head. In it was £45 per head. While, therefore, liability for past expenditure has relatively diminished, responsibility for the submerged stratum of our fellow-subjects has increased to almost unmanageable dimensions. In London alone there is a full of prostitutes; a full of known criminals; two full of folk without homes; for whom famine is ever on the horizon, and deficiency of food always in the foreground. As the rich grow richer the poor get poorer. Between and the great gulf fixed becomes deeper, wider, and blacker month by month and year by year. Imagination is needed to believe that once upon a time the flowed clear at the Tower, or that our country was ever known as Merry England. Night by night, and day by day, rise through the canopy of smoke the lamentations of those who rue the day they were born. I have seen men throw themselves


on the granite setts of the street, praying for death to end the hopeless misery of want of food and want of work. I have heard the wailing of hungry children, locked foodless into a bare insanitary room, while the mother, stung to exertion by maternal instinct all too soon after recent child-birth, seeks, like a beast of prey, for wherewithal to stay the famine of her young ones. I have watched unseen, strong men who had served their Queen, gaunt with want, gaze wistfully from the bridge parapet at the dark waters of the , longing to end troubles thrust upon them by the way of the world. From the cheap lodging-houses, from the railway arches, from the crowded streets, rises an ever-increasing volume of inarticulate and unquenchable misery. Compared with the nomadic tribes of tropic countries, where the curse of civilization is unknown, the nomads of London are but miserable savages. Capable of greater suffering, they are condemned to acuter pain. Hypocrisy, when crime fails, as a last resort may yield a crust. Mission rooms, covered with a rash of texts- Chaldee to the hungry and broken man-are


open to the vagrant and the " dosser." But it cannot be denied that, notwithstanding the combined efforts of all the churches and the machinery of all the societies, no real advance is being made in the process of killing out the prolific powers of evil. Statistics published by an optimistic Home Secretary may satisfy those who wish to blunt their sense of personal responsibility, that the curves of official pauperism and of crime are ever sinking in comparison with the numbers of the population.

The curve of misery is not included in official returns. It is not to be obtained either at the or at the Home Office. Ministers are not always to blame. They, poor souls, are but pith figures, dancing only when the electricity of public opinion energizes the cellulose of their puppet systems. When the current is at rest, their strength is to sit still, and thus the fatal moment of collision between the classes and the masses approaches with astronomical certainty.

As many causes have led to the existence of the social question, it is idle to look for


one sovereign cure and one alone. Panaceas do not exist to transmute the corrosion of national life into a healing process. As the causes are various, the remedies are many; and none is to be despised because it contributes but little to the solution of the problem. No man has hitherto attempted to deal with the social question as a whole. Many have concentrated energy on a stray symptom of the disease, and look for restored health when the general adoption of their own specific is an accomplished fact. Temperance people hold drink to be the cause of distress, though it is laid down by others that distress is the cause of the drink. Reckless and improvident marriages are considered by Malthusians to be at the root of our social trouble. Liberation of labour and the overthrow of the present economical system is believed by the advertised followers of and to be the right way to get behind the north wind in the struggle for existence. Those who have emerged from the competitive struggle with the spoils of war are justifiably content with the system of laissez-faire. "The poor in the lump is


bad" is the standpoint of many besides the Northern Farmer. Free trade and unfettered liberty for the play of economic laws is the gospel of the " fat and greasy citizen;" and any effort to lay impious hands on the ark of free contract is the unpardonable sin. Freedom! Liberty ! Freedom to starve; liberty to go to the devil. If Cromwellizes the frontiers of the Fatherland,, and thousands of Polish and German Jews fly to , s-in-the-East, , and , the master sweating-tailors are free to extort harder work for lower wage from their women and girl workers of English blood on account of the competition of foreign cheap labour; and the girl-wives and daughters are free to hawk their persons in the streets of our English city to fill up the chasm caused by the operation of the law of unrestricted competition. Reflection alone is needed to show that the death struggle of carnivorous animals, and the logical consequence of unrestricted freedom of contract, are convertible terms. The following is a statement from authoritative sources, expressed in official language:-


"Female labour is wretchedly paid. In shirt-making (for export) and similar employment a woman gets about ninepence to a shilling for a day's work of sixteen hours. There are hundreds of women who work for three-farthings an hour and find their own needles and cotton. The prices include: Shirts, three-farthings each; flannel drawers for Chelsea pensioners, one shilling and threepence a dozen; soldiers' leggings, two shillings a dozen; and lawn-tennis aprons, elaborately frilled, fivepence-halfpenny a dozen to the 'sweater,' the actual worker getting much less. In such kinds of women's work, however, the whole profit does not, as is supposed, go to the 'sweater,' but finds its way in great measure into the pockets of the middle-men and retail dealers. The public, too, have often in some degree the benefit of these starvation wages." The following details of fifty men employed by sweating tailors were obtained in reply to questions addressed to the men themselves:-