26 SEPTEMBER 1863, Page 11


rilHERE is, perhaps, no suffering incidental to humanity which the well-fed find it so hard to realize as the agony of star- vation. They dread that form of death by instinct more than any other, strive all their lives to secure themselves against it, and -admit that it is the pang which, if justification were possible, -would justify breaches of moral law. However they may legislate, all good men feel that actual pressing hunger takes the moral guilt out of theft. Still they realize it far less accurately than many diseases which they dread a great deal less, and shudder at sudden and horrible deaths, such as the fall of a student into Vesuvius, re- corded last week, with a chill horror which a tale of starvation very -often fails to excite. It is, perhaps, well that it should be so, or the _notices which occasionally appear among the legal reports would be a serious addition to the mental strain which is the drawback, as it is also the special feature, of modern civilized life. There was a little paragraph of the kind in the Times of Tuesday, an over- condensed report of an ordinary coroner's inquest, which when examined reveals a story filled with elements of horror such as Edgar Poe alone among fiction-makers, and Edgar Poe only when drunk with morphine, would have ventured to invent. The scene was, of course, Bethnal Green, the worst corner in that vast wilderness of houses which we call East London, which contains the population of Denmark, and is more utterly neglected by the well-to-do classes and governing men than the remotest corner of the kingdom. The victim was one George Marshall, an elderly man who had been a cooper, but, being run over, had for two years been unable to obtain employment. He was a married man, and after their furniture had all been sold his wife applied to the Union for aid. The case was not then an extreme one, and the guardians refused all assistance unless the man would enter the house, which he, sick, and wounded, and growing old, declared an alternative worse than death. If Miss Cobbe's stories of poor-house infirmaries are as true as we believe them to be, he had reason for his abhorrence, and in any case he must have lost the care and sympathy of his wife— a loss to a man slowly dying of disease which some at least of our readers may be able to appreciate. He remained in a wretched lodging, a single room, with a bedstead for all the furniture, for which they paid eighteenpence a week, and the wife went out to try and earn bread for both. She sold matches, get- ting rid of some fourpenn'orth a day, half of which was profit, and probably begging the amount of her rent. Out of these few pennies she had to feed her husband and herself, both of them usually eating a little dry bread once a day. Lying helpless there, the man had, his wife said, an overpowering crave for meat ; but in two years of labour she never once earned enough to be able to let him have it. The necessity for food increased with the pro- gress of the disease, but it was not to be obtained, and the man, worn down by two years of continuous hunger till his corpse excited a shudder among the jury, at last died of exhaustion—a fate the horror of which tires the imagination. It was the lot of the writer once to see a man starved into weakness, though still with his grasp of life remaining. Ho had been a powerful, healthy middy of eighteen ; but, wrecked on a deserted coast, he had lived nine days on clams, and as he was brought into hospital surgeons familiar with every form of suffering avoided a glance at his face. Ten years after, when again a healthy and heavy man, the look of suppressed torture which he then bore was still visible on his face ; yet his suffering had not been a fiftieth part of that endured by this poor cooper. The facts were confirmed by medical evidence, and by the appearance of the wife, who seemed, as a juryman said as she gave her evidence, to be dying of starvation then and there, and so horrified the Court that, as it broke up, a subscription was raised just to keep her alive. The jury found a verdict of death from want of sufficient food, and added a sharp censure upon the workhouse authorities.

The horror of the case is not, however, in the conduct of the guardians, and, indeed, they may be almost exonerated. The system of granting relief in aid of wages nearly ruined England, the tendency is always to return to it, and the only check yet dis- covered is that steady adherence to relief within the house, which in individual cases sometimes works so cruel a wrong. The true horror lies in the occurrence of such an incident in a city so full of wealth and liberality as London, the co- existence of such suffer- ing for two long years with the charity which would have relieved it. There is not the shadow of doubt that could London have been made aware of the existence of such a case the poor couple would have been drowned under benefits, and the fear of hunger, at all events, have passed away for ever. A very similar incident occurred a few months ago, but in that case the unfortunate man hap- pened to have attracted the attention of a gentleman with a known signature. He stated the facts with eirceeding brevity, but in a week the sufferer had received upwards of ninety pounds. There is, indeed, a readiness to give in some classes which almost suggests a belief that money will compensate for their habitual neglect of all things and men beyond their immediate range. There is money for any- thing, and most of all for any form of intelligible physical suffering, and the true evil is the want of some link between the abounding misery of the metropolis and its still more abounding readiness to relieve. The thirsty soil is side by side with the reservoir, but the channel which ought to be open is choked with respectabilities. In country districts the clergy of all denominations serve as ducts, and, on the whole, serve well. High Church or Low Church, Catho- lic or Dissenter, men whose lives are devoted to their work or men who simply follow an easy and respectable profession, they all do honest battle against the more terrible forms of misery, and as a rule succeed in alleviation. But what is a clergyman to do in a place like

Bethnal Green, a single scavenger in a main sewer? Or what is any one else to do? Bethnal Green is not a corporate entity like a country town, where even gossip has in such cases a beneficial effect. It is a mere aggregate of houses, without resident gentry, without resident proprietary, without any tie of common interest, or habits, or acquaintanceship among its various classes, without any one bond of unity except the parish officials, who are over- worked, underpaid, and regarded by the population who really want them much as policemen are by convicts. Is it quite impossible to remedy this defect in our organization, to supply the link so visibly wanting through the whole of Eastern London? Suppose the men whose fortunes are built out of the sweat of the men who congregate in those dreary regions established a society, with agents, with the direct and avowed object of supplementing the Poor-law. Such an enterprise would not require any large per-tentage upon their incomes or on the rental of the district. Or if that is too Utopian, suppose they pay a single agent, to whom the relieving officer may refer the cases which, being outside the Poor-law, still deserve the attention which can in happier districts be given by the clergy and the wealthier residents. Or suppose, again, that they made the places of the Union doctors worth the while of older men, and entrusted them, who know the poor, with the distribution of moderate funds. That last suggestion would directly link the Poor-law organization with the charity of London—an improvement urgently wanted in districts other than Bethnal Green. The local ministry,we doubt not, could suggest a dozen working plans; but the main thing required is an acknowledgment that organization is needed almost as much as money. It is the neglect apparent in all such districts, the utter dissociation between the well-fed and the poor, which requires to be removed first of all, and which, if the former class could realize starvation, would not exist for an hour. It is want of imagination, not of pity or liberality, which allows of the social anarchy amidst which such things can occur, the connecting link which is missing, and not the motive power.