THE TOWN CHILD.*
Mn. BRAY, as a member of the London County Council who concerns himself ardently with the children of the town, has already made his name familiar to students of social problems. In this book he expands his theories; but his work is not so much a scientific thesis as a collection of essays. Essays which have already appeared in periodicals are, in fact, the foundation of the book, and the existence of rather obvious joints is perhaps inevitable. Still, there is no more thoughtful writer on this subject than Mr. Bray, and we wish to pay a tribute to his enthusiasm and industry even when we differ from his conclusions most profoundly. We may say at once that what interests us most is that, in advocating State inter- vention throughout the whole of the upbringing of a child, he not only fully acknowledges the arguments of those who dread the debasement of the idea of the family, but even contends that his programme is framed with a view to pre- serving and honouring that idea. This might be mere forensic cunning in argument, but Mr. Bray's sincerity and religious conviction forbid us to think so. Mr. Bray lives among the scenes of poverty which are the background—indeed, very often the foreground—of all his arguments. His standpoint, at once religious and Radical-Socialistic, reminds us of that of Mr. C. F. G. Masterman, with whom, we believe, he has worked in common. Such men will always command a hearing, whether in Parliament or the County Council, because they speak with devotion and honesty. We hope Mr. Bray's book will be read and pondered, but we shall be surprised if many readers accept as proven the case for State inter- vention all along the line. This book is as good an example as we can call to mind of the fact that contact with the materials of a problem does not necessarily save the treat- ment of the problem from being thoroughly " viewy " and unpractical.
The first part of the book is psychological. It discusses in the technical language which psychology has invented the effect of environment on man, and the counter-effect of man on his environment. Environment is of two chief sorts,— there is the environment of the town, and the environment of the country. In the country the chief influence is the Nature element; in the town it is the human element. We cannot, however, admit that the two main environments of civilised mankind are capable of this sharp distinction. Like Mr. Bray, we anticipate the continued urbanisation of the popula- tion; but not only do we look forward to ameliorations of the town life which shall make the urban environment ultimately as healthy as it is stimulating, but we assert that the ameliora- tions have long since begun. The well-to-do classes fled the smoky towns when the rapid hugger-mugger expansion of the
"industrial revolution" set in; but the conception of great towns as a workshop too dreary to be dealt with seriously as a
place of habitation did not last long. It was recognised that many people must live there, and live there permanently. The movement began by which towns were to be made healthier by "lungs," by the broadening of streets and planting of trees,
* Tito Town Chad. By Reginald A. Bray. London: T. Fisher Unwin. [7s. 65. net.]
made more beautiful by the establishment of noble buildings and picture galleries, and made more interesting by the con- centration there of the obvious symbols of cultivated life. Of course, Mr. Bray knows and appreciates the extent of this movement as well as we do ; but he writes as though it did not exist. In other respects we cannot admit the justice of his sharp contrast between the country as nearly all good, and the town as nearly all bad. He wisely refuses to assume, in the absence of exact figures for a long enough period, that there is physical deterioration in the nation; but the rashness which he renounces in one case has no terrors for him in another, and be boldly rushes in to an assumption of the absolute healthiness of the country and the absolute unhealthi- ness of the town. The " country" generally means in practice
a village, and no one who has had any experience of the mani- fold ailments of villagers will consent to the truth of a contrast which is as violent as that between black and white. Even the
continual noises of towns may be a nerve-poison of which the human system becomes automatically tolerant. And we suspect that Mr. Bray writes of noise with the bias of some painful personal experiences. Alphonse Daudet called London "The City of Silence." There are people who cannot sleep in certain parts of the country in June for the nightingales. Even the objects of reverence, as they present themselves to the mind of a child, are found by Mr. Bray almost exclusively in the country. In the country there are the squire and the exalted mysteries of the manor-house. But is there nothing in the common sights of London to inspire reverence ? Is there not the trooping of the colour? Is there not the Lord Mayor in his coach ? Are there not frequent processions significant and impressive ?
Mr. Bray's programme for the salvation of the child by indirect or direct means includes a statutory minimum wage, the universal provision of meals in State schools, a municipal milk-supply, the feeding of mothers, the State support of widows with children, and the offering of prizes for lowering the infant death-rate. We need not retail all the points, which have often been placed before the public, though never so well backed as by the forcible writing of Mr. Bray. The minimum wage is regarded by Mr. Bray as the first essential in every social scheme; without it he thinks little or nothing can be done. As regards the feeding of school-children, he declares positively against all selective methods. The meals must be for all without question. We cannot ourselves see why, if meals were supplied to those children who were shown by medical inspection to require them—medical inspection, which is undoubtedly wanted, would work in most conveniently here —the cost of the meals should not be recovered from negligent parents who were able to pay without the excessive difficulty Mr. Bray imagines. We do not advocate this plan, or any other of State feeding, but as a matter of interest we should like to know why the machinery which recovered school-fees in the old days should be inadequate to recover meal-fees. As to reluctance in prosecuting guilty parents, we do not see the need for "an army of spies." The law would be set in motion at the word of the medical inspectors of schools. We should say that public opinion, if we may judge by the operations of
the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, becomes stronger every year in favour of such prosecutions. Prosecu- tions would be popular, not the reverse. Mr. Bray's argument for providing meals is characteristic:— "Neglecting that class of the community which under any circumstances would be unable to give children sufficient food, because the wages are too small or too irregular to purchase what is required, there is a much larger number of children, coming in many cases even from the home of the artisan, who remain delicate and ill-nourished because improperly fed. Those children have become accustomed to and demand a highly seasoned diet, rendered appetising by the copious addition of pickles and sauces—a diet which, while it stays the pangs of hunger, ruins the digestion and fails to supply sufficient material for the building up of the body. Compared with the cost of wholesome meals this diet is extravagantly expensive. It is common experi- ence that the children, with appetites deranged in this way, dislike and at first find a difficulty in assimilating the more nutritious and the more suitable sorts of food. Here then at the outset we are face to face with a widespread evil, entailing a waste of money and a waste of human energy. It would be difficult to exaggerate the harm done. We cannot educate the parents ; we must therefore educate the child. Mere hook lessons are futile and good words a fond delusion. The children must learn to like wholesome food by becoming accustomed to it in their earlier years, and they can only become accustomed to it by being provided with the means of testing its value by the
proof of actual consumption. They will not be supplied with such meals at home, they must therefore receive them at school. Nothing short of this will be of any avail."
Mr. Bray's scheme for settling the religious difficulty seems to us more visionary than anything in the book. He would have the State "neutral." By this he means, not that all religious teaching should be given out of school hours, but that religion and ethics as they present themselves to the mind of the teacher should be taught freely, and incorporated with all the other lessons, at the teacher's discretion. The teacher would apparently put his own religious experience at
the disposal of his class. We tremble to think what the result might be, and in spite of the excellence of the essay— excellent for its form and its high level of thought—we find it
difficult to believe that Mr. Bray really supposes that his plan would cause strife to cease.
The author's argument that the consciousness of family life would be intensified, not dulled, by State intervention is in- genious. The exactions of much physical drudgery, he main-
tains, leave no time for the contemplation of family joys in working-class households. The State would only set free the
time for this contemplation. Middle-class households have the time, and their family affections are stronger than those of the working class :—
"If, therefore, we desire to strengthen the family relation, we must endeavour to lessen the burdens of parenthood and so enlarge the possibilities of happiness. The contents of many of the previous chapters indicate the course that should be adopted. A minimum wage, improved housing conditions, State maintenance of widows, municipal schools, municipal dinners, municipal wash- houses, municipal playing-fields : the adoption of each or all of these proposals will add to and not detract from the vigour of the family. It is no doubt true, that if the State were to assume all the duties of the parent, the family relation, as such, would dis- appear. But there is at the present time a very large margin of safety, where the State may interfere with altogether beneficial result. In a town the security of the family is menaced by the presence of two dangers, which together bid fair to crush it out of existence. The first enemy is the cruel burden of the mere physical needs ; this subject has now been sufficiently elaborated. The second enemy which the family has to fight is the misdirected enthusiasm of its most ardent supporters. They rightly lay stress on the relation as an essential factor in the life of a nation, but they imagine that its integrity can best be preserved by being entirely neglected. Fearful of any change, and conning the past with a narrow and prejudiced mind, they assume an attitude of stubborn hostility towards all reform. If it be a question of providing work for the unemployed, meals for the children, pensions for the old ; if it be a matter of municipal trams, municipal wash-houses, municipal dwellings, in every instance they raise the cry that the independence of the family is threatened, and exhort their friends to fight the measure to the death. Is it surprising that the word family has come to stink in the nostrils of those who are striving to improve the conditions of the poor? Is it any cause for wonder if they begin to attack the family and inquire what manner of monster this is which can only be preserved by bringing as offerings to its den hungry children and suffering mothers ? There can be no doubt that men are beginning to regard the idea of family with hostility, because it is supposed to be a sort of ban that tabooes all efforts after social amelioration. It is time that these rash and ardent supporters of the family should realise the injury they are doing to the cause they have at heart."
We feel that we are among the inflexible individualists at whom the author aims his shaft. We cannot repeat here the arguments which have been set out at length in the Spectator ; but we would assure Mr. Bray and those who think with him
that we hold the doctrine of the "survival of the fittest," when employed as a legitimate sociological principle, in as much abhorrence as they. If man announced his inability to temper and modify in his own case the operation of the evolutionary development which prevails in the animal world, he would be disloyal to the brain-power God has given him, and unworthy of the name he bears. We differ only as to means, but as to those we differ fundamentally.
And we have experience to back our view that the family would perish under Socialistic legislation such as Mr.
Bray desires. We had such legislation, in effect, under the old Poor Law, and what was the result ? As the Commis- sioners reported in 1834, indiscriminate outdoor relief—only
another name for Socialism—was on the point of destroying the family. Children would not nurse their parents in illness or old age unless they were paid to do so by the parish.
Mothers would threaten to turn their children out of doors unless the parish would feed them. It is not a question of what might happen, but what did happen when the State undertook to be a universal Providence.