THE LAMBETH "CASUAL."
ALL London has been this week admiring the heroism of the gentleman who last week passed a night in a casual ward for the benefit of the Pall Mall Gazette, and we remember few incidents of late years so shocking as that admiration. A gentle- man, presumably of good physique, or he would not have been selected for such a task, and in good health, or he would never have risked the barefoot walk from bath to lair, resolved that he would pass one night in a ward opened by official charity and managed by official persons for the benefit of houseless English- men. He drove to the spot in a carriage and. returned in a carriage, the time did not allow of his feeling the worst incident of poverty, its ravening hunger, and he was sustained all through by the secret consciousness that he was only acting, had no degra- dation to fear, and need never again see or speak of the inside of a casual ward. And yet the feat was regarded as heroic, more heroic than if the adventurer had undertaken to face a gang of 'iners or arrest a burglar in the midst of his fraternity. So utter is the dislocation of society, so complete the severance between its parts, that for a man of one caste to sleep one night in an official ward occupied by men of another has been pronounced an heroic deed. The admiration felt of the feat would of itself be a condemnation of our society, even were there not the worse fact behind that the admiration was perfectly justified. To the majority of English gentlemen a charge among the bullets would have been a far less trial. Out of the civilized street, with gas and pavement and police, the visitor stepped at once into a roaring wild beasts' den, tenanted by men white indeed as to their skins, but as little civilized for any good purpose of civilization as the wildest of the tribes which M. du Chailla affirms that he has lived among. There is not a conception in Dante more grotesquely horrible than the one which the contributor to the Pall Mall Gazette has painted so well; the shed open to the January wind, filled with the roaring, blasphem- ing, obscene crowd of naked Englishmen, hungry and cold and lousy, shameless as devils, lazy as savages, finding in obscenity a relief from hunger, in swearing a solace like tobacco, in crime only an excitement, yet in the midst of it all paus- ing to listen to a story told by a tramp from a workhouse, who knew not as he spoke that he was surpassing Dickens in his own art on his own ground, and throwing on the scene, to which be probably did not object, its one gleam of genuine light. Imagine the scene,—the naked and half-naked crowd herding in their bunks, wolfishly seizing fragments of coarse bread, roaring out songs which made the few decent tramps threaten a physical chastisement which we half-wonder was not administered, and then amid the horrible uproar all, even the wretched young ruffian with the refined voice called Kay, thief by his own state- ment, worse by the statements of others, pausing to listen sympa- thetically to this :- 'They are a rummy lot, them deaf and dumb,' said the storyteller. -. 'I was at the workhouse at Stepney when I was a young 'un, don't you know; and when I got a holiday I used to go and see my old woman as lived in the Borough. Well, one day a woman as was in the house ses to me, ses she, 'Don't you go past the Deaf and Dumb School as you goes home?' So I sea, 'Yes.' So ses she, 'Would you mind Galli& there and takin' a message to my little gal as is in there deaf and dumb ?' So I ses, 'No: Well, I goes, and they lets me in, and I tells the message, and they shows me the kid what it was for. Pooty little gal! So they tells her the message, and then she begins making orts and crosses like on her hands. What's she a dein' that for ?' I ses. ' She's a talkin' to you,' ses they. 'Oh!' I ses, what's she talkin' about?' ' She says you're a good boy for comin' and tellies' her about her mother, and she loves you.' Blessed if I could help laughin' ! So I ses, There ain't no call for her to say that.' Pooty little kid she was ! I stayed there a goodish bit, and walked about the garden with her, and what d'ye think? Presently she takes a fancy for some of my jacket buttons—brass 'uns they was, with the name of the "house " on 'em—and I cats four on 'em off and gives her. Well, when I give her them, blow mo if she didn't want one of the brass buckles off my shoes. Well, you mightn't think it, but I gave her that too.'.— 'Didn't per gat into a row when you got back?' some listener asked.— 'Rather! Got kep without dinner and walloped as well, as I wouldn't tell what I'd done with 'em. Then they was goin' to wallop me again, so I thought I'd cheek it oat ; so I up and told the master all about it.' —' And got it wnss ?'—' No, I didn't. The master give me new buttons and a buckle without saying another word, and my dinner along with my supper as well.'
Dante drew his pictures from hell, the Gazette from the casual ward of the Archbishop of Canterbury's London parish, but the main difference between them is the difference of locale. No wonder respectable London is startled when brought face to face with such a reality, convinced for a week that its comfortable sleep is taken above a cesspool, sensible for• a moment of the stench from the moral miasma reeking down below. We trust the shudder will last a little longer than shudders usually do, and be as sharp and painful while it lasts as, a physical fit
of ague. It is our disgrace all this, as mesh as that of thaw poor wretches, that we suffer respectability-to blind us, and swallow little opiates of dogma and tonics in the shape of culture till we become insensible, are as little awake to the lives, and characters, and habits, and wants of the class at the base of society—weak because of its rotting base,--as if we were actually asleep.
The first reflections produced by the narrative are of course patent. The externals of this savagery must be improved first of all. Mr. Farnall, a person who, whenever he turns up in public, as he does about twice a week, leaves the impression that he has an idea of duty outside routine, has swept away the shed, but brick wards need watchfulness as much as wooden ones. There ought to be a bright light and a warder in every such place, light which shall give respectability some fair chance of maintaining order, a warder paid to keep awake and see that external civiliza- tion at least shall be maintained, that it shall not be dangerous to carry boots into a workhouse yard, certain loss to be dressed with decency. Guardians must be induced to find accommo- dation as good and as bare as that of prisons or of the charitable refuges, and if necessary coerced by sharp legislation into attending to their responsibilities. The stint of work should be exacted as sternly and regularly as in prison, the discipline made as thorough as that of a reformatory school, the decent tramps—and there were comparatively decent man even in that shed— encouraged to support the visible authority of the ward. They Would have done it even there, had there been one warder with a staff to legalize their proceedings. Major Lyon and guardians of his stamp say much of the necessity of making the casual wards distasteful, and they are not wrong except in the motive which prompts the argument, but the way to make them distasteful is to civilize them, to enforce order and decency, and that silence which is so oppressive to the lawless. Why should not silence be an absolute rule after ten o'clock, or why admit casuals at seven, hours before sleep to men of their habits—culture and crime equally producing that form of sleeplessness—is even possible. That much Mr. Villiers can secure, and probably will, for it is one feature of an over fastidious society that it pities these utter outcasts who can never tread upon its heels, these floating atoms in the human cess- pool, more than it don the labourer, whose wretchedness may be as deep, but who is not outside civilization, and may, as he ascends, be troublesome. More has been done in England in tan years for the convict and the casual than in a century for the labourer. Mr. Villiers will find plenty of support in Parliament in reforming London workhouses, and if he does not choose to avail himself of it—for able as he is, he avoids initiative much too carefully—some one else must. But when that has been done, nothing has been accomplished of all that ought by this time to be finished. The nation is bound to strike at the root of the evil, or at all events try to strike, try whether it be not possible not only to extinguish the Lambeth shed, but the want and the vice which made a visit to that shed such an abomination. It may be that effort will in one respect fail. It may be that no chemical compound of many substances such as society has become can be manufactured without a nasty precipitate, that a residuum is a necessity no more to be got rid of than sewage, but at least deodorization is not beyond the potency of science, and we are bound to try its power. Severity, as recommended by the Pall Mall Gazette, is in a society constituted like ours out of the ques- tion, even were it justifiable to punish the uncivilized for mere idleness while the civilized may be as idle as they please. Too many tramps are industrious men out of work, or Irishmen un- civilized but not criminal, for us to declare every tramp, as our cor- respondent Ll. D." seems to wish, "presumptively a criminal," but discipline up to the point of maintaining order is always just, and almost always beneficial. We may go on improving dwell- ings, supervising lodging-houses—which need supervision quite as badly as the Lambeth shed—and suppressing violence, but -it is only by creating wants physical as well as mental that we shall ever succeed in enlisting the allies without whom we can effect n othing, the uncivilized class themselves. Get tramps to want civilization, though it be but the civilization of an orderly pot-house, and half our work is done. That want can be created—and we know how wearisome the truism sounds— only by education. To our minds the worst fact con-
n ected with the narrative of the Pall Mall Gazette is that it will instruct every class save one, the wretched sectarians who now alone in England prevent the first and greatest measure from without for the improvement of our people, universal and com- pulsory education ; who will not cleanse a cesspool unless the buckets are stamped with some profession of faith ; who value proselytes more than men, and would see the English people go back to woad sooner than they should advance as members of any sect but their owa. If anything could make us tolerate a work- man Parliament, it would be the sharp and final lesson these men would get, the revolutionary energy with which such an assembly would strike, not at casual wards, but at the ignorance and neglect and misery which fill them, till London this week feels as if it had been sleeping, like the brave author of the narrative which has awakened it, on a bed made endurable only by turning the blood which spotted.it downwards to the floor.