Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Known to the Police > CHAPTER I MEMORIES AND CONTRASTS
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
During the summer of 1904 there were in London few men more unsettled in mind and miserable than myself. I had severed my connection with London police-courts—and well I knew it. I was not sure that I had done wisely or well, and was troubled accordingly. I missed more than words can express the miseries that had hitherto been inseparable from the routine of my life. For twenty-one years, day after day at a regular hour, I had turned my steps in one direction, and had gone from home morning by morning with my mind attuned to a certain note. It was not, then, a strange thing to find that mechanical habits had been formed, and that sometimes I found myself on the way to the police-court before I discovered my mistake. Still less was it a marvel to find that my mind refused to accept all at once the fact that I was no longer a Police-Court Missionary. I must in truth confess I felt a bit ashamed that I had given up the work. I felt that I was something of a traitor, who had deserted the poor and[Pg 2] the outcast, many of whom had learned to love and trust me.

I am not ashamed to say that I had been somewhat proud of my name and title, for the words "Police-Court Missionary" meant much to me, and I had loved my work and had suffered for it.

It was doubtless in accordance with the fitness of things that I should retire from the work when I did, for I am getting old, and dead officialism might have crept upon me, and whatever power for good I may have might have been atrophied. Of such a fate I always felt afraid; mercifully from such a fate I was prevented or delivered.

Still, I sorrowed till time lightened the sense of loss. By-and-by new interests arose, new duties claimed me, and other phases of life interested me. Four years have now lapsed, a length of time that allows sufficient perspective, and enables me to calmly take stock of the twenty-one years I spent in London police-courts. I do not in this chapter, or in this book, intend to review the whole of those years, but I do hope to make some comparisons of the things of to-day with those of twenty-one years ago.

The comparisons will, I trust, be encouraging, and show that we have progressed in a right direction, and that we are all still progressing. Two days of those years will remain ever with me—the day I entered on my work and the day I gave it up.

Of the latter I will not speak; but as the former opened my eyes to wonders of humanity, and humanity being of all wonders the greatest, I have something to say.

[Pg 3]

The conditions at London police-courts in those days were bad, past conception. No words of mine can adequately describe them, and only for the sake of comparison and encouragement do I attempt briefly to portray some of the most striking features of those days. Even now I feel faint when I recall the "prisoners' waiting-room," with its dirty floor, its greasy walls, and its vile atmosphere.

The sanitary arrangements were disgusting. There was no female attendant to be found on the premises.

Strong benches attached to the walls provided the only seats; neither was there separation of the sexes. In this room old and young, pure and impure, clean and verminous, sane and insane, awaited their turn to appear before the magistrate; for the insane in those days were brought by local authorities that the magistrate might certify them, and they sat, too, amongst the waiting prisoners.

The sufferings of a decent woman who found herself in such company in such a room may easily be imagined; but the sufferings of a pure-minded girl, who for some trifling offence found herself in like position, cannot be described. The coarse women of Alsatia made jests upon her, and coarse blackguards, though sometimes well dressed, vaunted their obscenity before her. Deformed beggars, old hags from the workhouse—or from worse places—thieves, gamblers, drunkards, and harlots, men and women on the verge of delirium tremens—all these, and others that are unmentionable, combine to make the[Pg 4] prisoners' room a horrid memory. Things are far different to-day, for light and cleanliness, fresh air and decency, prevail at police-courts. At every court there is now a female attendant; the sexes are rigidly separated. Children's cases are heard separately; neither are children placed in the cells or prisoners' room.

In those days policemen waited for the men and women who had been in their custody, and against whom they had given evidence, and, after their fines were paid, went to the nearest public-house and drank at their expense. Hundreds of times I have heard prisoners ask the prosecuting policeman to "Make it light for me," and many times I have heard the required promise given and an arrangement made. Sometimes I am glad to think that I have heard policemen give the reply: "I shall speak the truth"; but not often was this straightforward answer given.

In this respect a great change has come about, for policemen do not hold a conference with their prisoners in the waiting-room, and it is now a rare occurrence for a policeman to take a drink at his prisoner's expense.

And this improvement is to be welcomed, for it is typical of the improvement that has been going on all round. Gaolers in those days were "civil servants," and were not under police authority; now they are sergeants of the police, and under police discipline and authority. The old civil servant gaoler looked down from his greater altitude with something like contempt upon the common policemen, and this often led to much friction and unpleasantness. Now things[Pg 5] work smoothly and easily, for every police-court official knows his duties and to whom he is responsible.

But a great change has also come over the magistrates—perhaps the greatest change of all. Doubtless the magistrates of those days were excellent men, but they were not only officials, but official also.

It was their business to mete out punishment, and they did it. Some were old—too old for the office. I have seen one sleeping on the bench frequently, and only waking up to give sentence. Once while the justice nodded his false teeth fell on his desk; he awoke with a start, and made a frantic effort to recover them. No doubt these men were sound lawyers, but they were representatives of the community as it then existed; there was no sentimentality about them, but they were rarely vindictive.

The legal profession, too, has changed. Where are the greasy, drunken old solicitors that haunted the precincts of police-courts twenty-five years ago? Gone. But they were common enough in those days, and touted for five-shilling jobs, money down, or higher prices when payment was deferred. With droughty throats and trembling limbs, they hastened to the nearest public-house to spend what payment had been given in advance. Here they would remain till their clients were before the magistrate, and would then appear just in time to say: "I appear for the prisoner, your Worship." Horrid old men they were, the fronts of their coats and vests all stained and shiny with the droppings of beer. Frequently the [Pg 6]magistrate, unable to tolerate their drunken or half-drunken maunderings, would order them out of court; but even this drastic treatment had little effect upon them, for the next day, or even on the latter part of the same day, they, apparently without shame or humiliation, would inform his Worship that they were in So-and-so's case, and ask at what time it would be taken—as if, forsooth, their engagements were numerous and important.

The bullying solicitor, too, has disappeared or mended his ways. No longer is he allowed to bully and insult witnesses or prosecutors, and cast scurrilous and unclean imputations on the lives and characters of those opposed to him. Generally these fellows were engaged for the "defence."

They one and all acted on the principle that to attack was the best defence. I once heard an athletic young doctor ask a solicitor of this kind, who had been unusually insulting, to meet him when the case was over, assuring him also that he would receive his deserts—a good thrashing. The pompous, ignorant solicitor, with neither wit, words, action, utterance, nor the power of speech—he, too, has gone. One wondered at the strange fate that made solicitors of such men; wondered, too, how they passed the necessary examinations; but wondered most of all why people paid money for such fellows to defend them. Invariably they made their client's case much worse; they always declined to let "sleeping dogs lie," and were positively certain to reveal something or discover something to the disadvantage of the person whose interests they were supposed to be upholding. I remember one magistrate,[Pg 7] sitting impatient and fidgety while the weary drip of words went on, calling out suddenly: "Three months' hard labour, during which you can ruminate on the brilliant defence made by your solicitor!"

All these have passed, and police-courts have been civilized; for law is more dignified, and its administration more refined. Magistrates are up-to-date, too, and quite in touch with the new order of things and with the aspirations of the community.

Bullying, drunken, and stupid solicitors have no chance to-day. In all these directions great changes have come about, and great progress has been made.

But the greatest change of all is that which has taken place in the appearance of the prisoners and of police-court humanity generally.

Where are the "blue-bottle" noses now? Twenty-five years ago they were numerous, but now London police-courts know them not.

Where are the reddened faces that told of protracted debauch? They are seldom to be met with. Hundreds of times in the years gone by, in the prisoners' waiting-room, I have heard the expression, "He's got them on"; and I have seen poor wretches trembling violently with terror in their faces, seeking to avoid some imaginary horror. But delirium tremens seems to have vanished from London police-courts.

Do people drink less? is a question often asked. If I may be permitted to reply, I would say they do, and very much less; but whether they are more sober is another question.

[Pg 8]

Of one thing I am perfectly certain, and it is this: people are more susceptible to the effects of drink than they were twenty-five years ago.

Whether this susceptibility is due to some change in the drink or to physiological causes in the drinkers I do not know, but of the result I am, as I have said, quite sure.

I am inclined to believe that we possess less power to withstand the effects of alcohol than formerly. We seem to arrive at the varying stages of drunkenness with very much less trouble, and at very much less cost. The reverse process, too, is equally rapid. Formerly there was not much doubt about the guilt of a man or woman who was charged with being drunk. If the policeman's word was not quite sufficient, the appearance of the prisoner completed the evidence. But now men and women are mad drunk one hour and practically sober the next. Red noses and inflamed faces cannot be developed under these conditions. I have seen in later years a long array of prisoners charged with being drunk, and no evidence of tarrying long at wine upon any one of them, and no evidence of drinking either, excepting the bruises or injuries received.

This ability to get drunk quickly and to recover quickly leads sometimes to unexpected results; for some men, when released on bail, rush promptly to their own doctor and get a certificate of sobriety, and then bring the doctor as a witness.

His Worship is in a dilemma when the case is brought before him, for the police state that the man was mad drunk at 1 a.m., while, on the other[Pg 9] hand, medical testimony is forthcoming that at 2 a.m. he was perfectly sober.

Other men, when detained in the cells, get quickly sober. Nor can they believe they have been drunk; indignantly they demand an examination by the police divisional doctor, and willingly pay the necessary bill of seven and sixpence for his attendance. This time it is the doctor who is in a dilemma; he knows in his heart that the man has been drunk; he also naturally wishes to confirm the police evidence; still, he cannot conscientiously say that the man is drunk. "He appears to be recovering from the effects of drink," is the testimony that he gives, and his opinion is attached to the charge-sheet for the magistrate's guidance. "No," says the prisoner, "I was not drunk; neither had I been drunk; but I was excited at being detained in the cells on a false charge." And he will call as witnesses friends who were in his company during the evening, and from whom he had parted only a few minutes previous to arrest. They declare that the prisoner was perfectly sober; that he could not possibly have been drunk; that they had only a limited number of drinks; that he was as sober as they were—the latter statement being probably true!

What can the magistrate do under such circumstances but discharge the prisoner?—and "Another unfounded charge by the police" is duly advertised by the Press.

I believe this to be the secret of so much contradictory evidence, and this new physiological factor must be taken into account when weighing[Pg 10] evidence, or much discredit will fall upon the police, when they have but honestly done their duty. It ought no longer to avail a prisoner who proves sobriety at one o'clock, sobriety at three o'clock, to contend that he could not possibly have been drunk at two o'clock. I have seen so much of drunkenness that I believe two hours a sufficient length of time to allow many men to get drunk and to get sober too.

I must not enter on an inquiry as to why this change has come about; I merely content myself with stating a fact, that must be recognized, and which is as worthy of consideration by sociologists and politicians as it is by judges and magistrates.

This facility of getting drunk means danger, for passions are readily excited, and delusions readily arise, and are most tenaciously held in brains so easily disturbed by drink. All sorts of things are possible, from silly antics to frenzy and murder; but, as I have said, the varying stages pass so quickly that only onlookers can realize the truth: for the victim of this facility is nearly always sure that the evidence given against him is absolutely false.

But prisoners generally have changed: I am not sure that the change is for the better. Time was when prisoners had character, grit, pluck, and personality, but now these qualities are not often met with. Formerly a good number of the vagabonds were interesting vagabonds, and were possessed of some redeeming features: they seemed to have a keen sense of humour; but to-day this feature cannot often be seen.

Prisoners have put on a kind of veneer, for both[Pg 11] youthful offenders and offenders of older growth are better dressed.

They are cleaner, too, in person, for which I suppose one ought to be thankful—even though, to a large extent, rags and tatters were picturesque compared with the styles of dress now too often seen. Loss of the picturesque has, I am afraid, been accompanied by loss of individuality, and the processions that pass through London police-courts now are not so striking as formerly. They are devoid of strong personality, and the mass of people in many respects resembles a flock of sheep. They have no desire to do wrong, but they constantly go wrong; they have no particular wish to do evil, but they have little inclination for good. In a word, weakness, not wickedness, is their great characteristic.

But weakness is often more mischievous and disastrous in its consequences than wickedness.

In the young offenders this lack of grit is combined with an absence of moral principles, and though the majority of them appear to know right from wrong, they certainly act as if they possess little moral consciousness.

Again I content myself with merely stating a fact, for I must not be led into philosophic inquiry or speculation as to the causes of this loss of grit, though I hope to say something upon the subject later on.

Crime, too, has changed in some respects. There are fewer crimes of violence; there is less brutality, less debauchery, less drinking; but—and I would like to write it very large—there is more dishonesty, which is a more insidious evil.

[Pg 12]

Here again I am tempted to philosophic inquiry, or to engage in some attempt to answer the question—Are we as a nation becoming more dishonest? I answer at once, We are.

For twenty-five years I have watched the trend of crime, for the past ten years I have closely studied our criminal statistics, and I can say that personal experience and a close study of our annual criminal statistics confirm me in this matter.

Some explanation of the growth of dishonesty may be found in the social changes that have been going on. As education advanced the number of men and women employed as clerks, salesmen, and business assistants multiplied, and it follows that the temptations to, and opportunities for, dishonesty multiplied also. For years a large transference of boys and young men from the labouring and artisan life to the clerk's desk or to the shop-counter has been going on. The growth in the number of persons employed as distributors of the necessaries of life, who day after day receive, on behalf of their employers, payments for bread, milk, meat, coal, etc., multiplies enormously the facilities for dishonest actions.

Most of those engaged in this class of work come from the homes of the poor, and in too many cases receive insufficient payment for arduous and responsible services. Still, I am sure that we must not look for the reason of this growing dishonesty in the multiplication of the opportunities, or to sudden temptations caused by the stress of poverty.

To what, then, shall it be attributed? I do not hesitate to answer this question, by replying at[Pg 13] once: To that lack of moral backbone and grit to which I have alluded; to the absence of direct principles; to the desire of enjoying pleasures that cannot be afforded, and of spending money not honestly acquired. Some people to whom I have spoken on this subject have said to me: "But these are the faults of the rich; surely they are not the sins of the poor." And I have said: "Well, you know more of the rich than I do, so maybe they are characteristic of both." Though I do not believe them to be national characteristics, sorrowfully I say the trend is in that direction. I know perfectly well that some people will say that this is the croaking of one who is growing old, and that old men always did, and always will, believe in the decadence of the present age.

But this is not so. I am a born optimist. I believe in the ultimate triumph of good. I believe that humanity has within itself a sufficiency of good qualities to effect its social salvation. Nevertheless, I am afraid of this growing dishonesty, for I have seen something of its consequences. Sneaking peculations, small acts of dishonesty, miserable embezzlements, falsified accounts, and contemptible frauds, have damned the lives of thousands, and the strands of life are covered by human wrecks, whose anchorage has been so weak that the veriest puff of wind has driven them to destruction.

I know something of the evils of drink; I have seen much of the blighting influence of gambling; but dishonesty is more certain and deadly in its effects among educated and ignorant alike: for it begins in secrecy, it is continued in duplicity, it[Pg 14] destroys the moral fibre, and it ends with death.

I have said that the police-court processions are not so interesting as in years gone by: probably that is a superficial view, for humanity is, and must be always, equally interesting. It may not be as picturesque, but that is a surface view only, and we really want to know what is beneath. But the underneath takes some discovering, and when we get there it is only to find that there is still something lower still.

Much has been said of late years about the increase of insanity. Whether this increase is more apparent than real is a debatable point. I am glad to know that more people are certified than formerly, and that greater care is taken of them. This undoubtedly prolongs their existence, and consequently adds to their number. But whatever doubt I may have about the actually insane, I have no doubt whatever about the increase in the number of those who live on the borderland between sanity and insanity, and whose case is far more pitiful than that of the altogether mad.

Poor wretches! who are banged from pillar to post, helpless and hopeless, they are the sport of circumstances; they are an eyesore to humanity, a danger to the community, and a puzzle to themselves. For such neither the State nor local authorities have anything to offer. If committed to prison, they are certified as "unfit for prison discipline." If they enter the workhouse, they are encouraged to take their discharge at the earliest moment. They cannot work, but they can steal,[Pg 15] and they can beg. They have animal passions, but they have less than animal control. They can perpetuate their species, and pile up burdens for other generations to bear. Nothing in all my experiences astonishes me so much as the continued neglect of these unfortunate people. Prisons have been revolutionized; dealing with young offenders has developed into a cult; prisoners' aid societies abound; the care, the feeding, the education, the health, and the play of children have become national or municipal business: but the nation still shirks its responsibility to those who have the greatest claim upon its care; for these people are still in as parlous condition as the lepers of old. My memory recalls many of them, and profoundly do I hope that in the great changes that are impending, and in the great improvements that are taking place, consideration of the poor, smitten, unfortunate half-mad will not be wanting.

Surely I am not wrong in affirming that, when the State finds in its prisons a number of people who are constantly committing offences, who are helpless and penniless, and whose mental condition is so low that they are not fit to be detained even in prison, provision should be made for their being permanently detained and controlled in institutions or colonies, with no opportunity for perpetuating their kind. In our dealings with the "unfit" we have, then, made no progress, and we are still waiting and hoping for a solution of this distressing evil. To show how this evil grows by neglect, I offer the following instance:

I happen to be a churchwarden, and when leaving church one Sunday morning I was asked[Pg 16] by the verger to speak to a man and woman who sat by the door. They had come in during the service, and asked for the Vicar, in the hope of obtaining relief.

The man was wretched in appearance—much below the usual size—and was more than half blind; the woman was equally wretched in appearance, and not far removed from imbecility. I knew the man at once, and had known him for twenty years. I had met him scores of times at London police-courts, where he had been invariably committed to prison, although certified as "unfit." He had been in the workhouse many times. In the workhouse he had met with the poor wretch that sat by his side. They were legally and lawfully married, and were possessed of three children—or, rather, they were the parents of three children, for other folk possessed them; but doubtless they would make their losses good in due time, the couple being by no means old.

The number of women charged with drunkenness has increased largely during late years, and the list of those constantly charged has grown considerably.

From this it would appear safe to conclude that female intemperance generally has largely increased.

Many people have come to this conclusion, and are very apt with figures which seem to prove their case.

But even figures can lie, for a woman who has been convicted ten or twelve times in the year has furnished ten or twelve examples of female[Pg 17] inebriety; but, after all, she is but one individual. And to get at approximate truth, we must ascertain the number of separate individuals who have been charged. Nor will this give us the whole truth, for it must also be ascertained who are the women that are constantly charged. To what class do they belong? What is the matter with them? Why are they different from women generally? Such inquiries as these have been conveniently avoided.

I will endeavour to supply the missing answers.

Eighty per cent. of the women charged repeatedly with drunkenness belong to one class, and may be described as "unfortunates." The number of these women has increased tremendously during the last twenty years. The growth of London accounts partly for this increase in the number of "unfortunates," and the growth of provincial towns supplements the growth of London. In all our large centres we have, then, a large army of women whose lives are beyond description, whose vocation renders drinking compulsory, and whose habits bring them into conflict with the police. Their convictions, which number many thousands, should be charged to another evil.

Of the remaining twenty per cent. I must also give some description. Ten per cent. of them are demented old women, who spend their lives in workhouses or prisons, upon whom a small amount of drink takes great effect.

The remaining ten per cent. may be considered more or less respectable, but my experience has led me to believe that less rather than more would be a fitting description. I want it to be clearly[Pg 18] understood that I am now speaking of women "repeaters," not of women who are occasionally charged with drunkenness.

In considering female intemperance, the above must be eliminated, and when this is done I think it will be found that the alleged increase of drunkenness among women is not proved. At any rate, it is not proved by criminal statistics. But a great change has come over women: they are no longer ashamed of being seen in public-houses, for respectable women are by no means careful about the company they meet and associate with in the public-houses. In police-courts I have noticed this growing change. Time was when few or no women were found among the audiences that assembled day by day in the courts. It is not the case now. Formerly, if women had any connection with cases that were coming on, they discreetly waited in the precincts of the court till they were called by the police or the usher.

It is very different now, for there is no scarcity of women, ready to listen to all repulsive details of police-court charges. Sometimes, when the order is given for women to leave the court, some women are ready to argue the matter with the usher; and when ultimately compelled to leave, it is evident they do so under protest, and with a sense of personal grievance.

Perhaps it may be natural for police-courts to supply to the poor and the tradesman class that excitement and relish the higher courts and divorce courts furnish to those better off.

In one direction I am able to bear direct testimony to the virtue of women, for they are more[Pg 19] honest than men, and their honesty increases rather than diminishes. This is the more remarkable as opportunities for dishonesty have become much more numerous among women. Still, in spite of multiplied opportunities, dishonesty among women seems to be a diminishing quantity. I am glad to find that our annual statistics for some years past confirm me in this experience.

But my experiences do not furnish me with any reason for believing that we have made any progress with the housing of the very poor. The State, municipal authorities, and philanthropists still act upon the principle, "To him that hath it shall be given." Consequently, they continue to provide dwellings for those who can pay good rents. In another chapter some of my experiences with regard to the housing of the very poor will be found, so I content myself here with a few reflections and statements. During the years covered by my experience the rents of the very poor have increased out of all proportion to their earnings. I have taken some trouble to inquire into this question, and when speaking to elderly men and women living in congested streets, I have obtained much information. "How long have you lived in this house?" I asked an elderly widow. "Thirty years. I was here long before my husband died." "What rent do you pay?" "Thirteen shillings per week." "But you can't pay thirteen shillings." "No, I let off every room and live in this kitchen." We were then in the kitchen, which was about nine feet square. The house consisted of four rooms and a back-yard about the same size as the kitchen; there was no forecourt. "What[Pg 20] rent did you pay when you first came here?" "Six shillings and sixpence." The rent had doubled in thirty years.

"Who is your landlord?" "I don't know who it is now, but a collector calls every week."

"Why don't you go somewhere else?" "I can't get anything cheaper, and I like the old place, and I don't have to climb a lot of stairs."

This little conversation exactly outlines the lot of the poor, so far as their housing is concerned: they must either take a "little house and let off," or make their homes in one or more of the very little rooms. Let me be explicit. By the very poor I mean families whose income is under twenty-five shillings weekly—women whose husbands have but fitful work; women who have to maintain themselves, their children and sick husbands, when those husbands are not in the infirmary; widows who have to maintain themselves and their children, with or without parish assistance; and elderly widows or spinsters who, by great efforts, maintain themselves.

For these and similar classes no housing accommodation has yet been attempted. Yet for them the need is greatest, and from neglecting them the most disastrous consequences ensue.

The State will lend money to the man who has a fair and regular income; municipal authorities and philanthropic trusts will build for those who can regularly pay high rents; but the very poor are still hidden in prison-houses, and for them no gaol deliverance is proclaimed, so they huddle together, and the more numerous the building improvements, the closer they huddle. The new[Pg 21] tenements are not for them, neither is any provision made for them before they are displaced, so a great deal of police-court business arises in consequence, to say nothing of greater and more far-reaching evils. But I deal more fully with housing in my next chapter.

In dealing with child offenders, vast improvements have been made. To-day rarely, indeed, are children sent to prison, and we appear to be on the verge of the time when it will be impossible for anyone under the age of fourteen to receive a sentence of imprisonment. The birch, too, is more sparingly used, and only when there appears to be no other fitting punishment. One magistrate quite recently, in ordering its infliction, declared it was the first time he had done so for twelve years. The courts do not run with the blood of naughty lads, as some suppose; but the birch has not disappeared, and the lusty cries of youthful delinquents are sometimes to be heard.

While I hate cruelty and do not love the birch, I would like to place on record the fact that I have never known it administered too severely, or any serious injury inflicted.

The statement that the most powerful policeman is selected for the duty is fiction pure and simple. In London, at any rate, the sergeant-gaoler or his deputy administers the birch. Whatever else may be charged against the police, cruelty to children cannot be brought against them, for the kindness of the Force to children is proverbial. And this kindness is reflected in police-courts. Nowhere are children more considerately[Pg 22] treated. I agree with the movement in favour of separate courts for children, because I would not have children's actions considered as criminal; but, in the light of my experience, I am bound to disagree with many of the statements made by some advocates of the movement. Children are tenderly treated and considered in the London police-courts of to-day.

But I am more concerned for the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys between fourteen and twenty years of age, who, having little or no home accommodation, crowd our streets, especially on Sunday evenings, and make themselves a nuisance to the staid and respectable.

For these the bad old rule and simple plan of fines to be promptly paid, or imprisonment in default of payment, still prevails; but of this I have more to say in a chapter on Hooliganism.

Years ago the brute, coarse and cruel though he was, was different from the brute of to-day; for, at any rate, he was an undisguised brute. Youthful offenders, too, had more pluck and self-reliance; in fact, while offences remain much the same, and the ways in which offences are committed have not altered greatly, the bearing and appearance of the offenders have completely changed. Rags are not so plentiful as they were, and child offenders are very much better dressed; for civilization cannot endure rags, and shoeless feet are an abomination. Veneer, then, is very palpable to-day in police-courts. This may be indicative of good or evil. It may have its origin in self-respect, in changing fashions, or in deceit; it may be one of the effects of insufficient education, or it may be a [Pg 23]by-product of the general desire to appear respectable. It may also be claimed as an outward and visible sign of the improved social condition and the enlarged financial resources of the poor. The change in speech, too, is strongly noticeable; the old blood-curdling oaths and curses spiced with blasphemy are quite out of fashion.

Emphasis can only be given to speech to-day by interlarding it with filthy words and obscene allusions. This method of expression is not confined to the poorest, for even well-dressed men adopt it, and the style and words have now passed on to thoughtless young people of both sexes.

There are no "women" to-day. Times have improved so greatly that every woman has become "a lady." The term "woman" is one of reproach, and must only be used as indicative of scorn or to impute immorality. Magistrates have tried hard to preserve the good old word and give it a proper place, but in vain. "Another woman" always means something very bad indeed; she is one that must be spoken of with bated breath. Even the word "female" carries with it an implication of non-respectability.

Indeed, so far have we progressed in this direction, and so far does the politeness of the Force extend, that when giving evidence against a woman of the worst possible character an officer will refer to her as "the lady," not as the prisoner. Sometimes, as I have already hinted, the magistrate intervenes at this point, and tries to preserve some of the last shreds of respectability that still attach to the once-honoured word.

[Pg 24]

Here again one might speculate as to what has produced this change, and ask whether the development of obscene language has anything to do with the abandonment of the words "woman" and "female." Personally, I am inclined to believe that it has. "What did he say?" peremptorily asked an irate magistrate of a young and modest constable. "Your Worship, the words were so bad that I don't like to repeat them." "Write them down, then." The officer did so. "Well, they are pretty bad, but you will soon get used to them. They don't shock me, for I hear them all the day, and every day." The magistrate was correct, and, more the pity, his words are true. The old oaths were far less disgusting and far less demoralizing. The invocation of the Deity, either for confirmation of speech or for a curse upon others, argued some belief in God, which belief has probably suffered decay even among the coarse and ignorant. Still, if police-court habitués and their friends continue to embellish their speech with obscenity, then their last state will be worse than their first. Likely enough, this fashion in speech has much to do with the substitution of the word "lady" and the abandonment of the word "woman." It may be, after all, only a clumsy attempt to speak courteously, without casting any imputation on the moral character of the person referred to. That, however, is the only redeeming feature I can find in the matter, which is altogether too bad for words. I only refer to the subject because I wish to be a faithful witness, and these changes cannot be ignored, for they are full of grave portent.

[Pg 25]

Profoundly I hope this fashion will change, and if appeal were of any use, I would honestly and earnestly appeal to all my poor and working-class friends to set themselves against this vile method of expression, and to encourage a higher standard of thought and speech.

But I must now give a little consideration to some legal changes that have taken place, from which much was expected, and from which much has followed. Whether the results have been exactly what were expected, and whether the good has been as large as we looked for, are moot points. It is, of course, true of social problems, and peculiarly true of humanity itself, that evil defeated in one direction is certain to manifest itself in another, so that standing still in social life, or in individual life, must and does mean retrogression, when the old evils assert themselves differently, but more speciously guised. Briefly, the new Acts that have had most effect in London police-courts are the First Offenders Act, the Married Women's Protection Act (1905), and some clauses in the Licensing Act of 1902.

The former Act has undoubtedly kept thousands of young people from prison, for which everyone ought to be supremely thankful. It was, perhaps, impossible for us to have a reform of this magnitude without some evil attaching to it, for we have not as yet discovered an unmixed good. This beneficent Act has been much talked of and widely advertised. The public generally have been enraptured with it, and magistrates have not been[Pg 26] slow to avail themselves of its merciful provisions, though generally exercising a wise discretion as to their application.

But human nature is a strange mixture, for while excessive punishment hardens and demoralizes a wrong-doer, leniency often confirms him. It is, and must always be, a serious matter to interpose between a wilful wrong-doer and the punishment of his deeds; but the punishment must be just and sensible, or worse evils will follow. The utmost that can be urged against this well-known Act is that it has not impressed on the delinquent youth the heinousness of his wrong-doing, and this is the case. True, he has been in the hands of the police, and he has been admonished by the magistrate; he has also been in the gaoler's office, and bound in recognizance to be of good behaviour. But this is all, for nothing else has happened to him. He has not been made to pay back the money stolen, neither has he been compelled to make any reparation to those he has injured. The law, then, has considered his offence but slight, and his dishonesty but a trivial matter. In his heart he knows that, though he has purged his offence as far as the law is concerned, he has not absolved his own conscience by any attempt to put the matter right with the person he has wronged; consequently, he is quite right in arguing that the law has condoned his offence. Frequently, then, he goes from the court a rogue at heart. Hundreds of times I have tried to persuade young persons, who have been charged with dishonesty and dealt with as first offenders, of the duty and necessity of paying[Pg 27] back the money dishonestly obtained, but I never succeeded. The law had done with them; nothing else mattered. The wrong to the individual and to their own conscience was of no consequence.

Human nature being, then, so constructed, it cannot be a matter for surprise that the First Offenders Act failed in conveying to young persons who had fastened around themselves the deadly grip of dishonesty that the law considered dishonesty a most serious matter. Many of the young offenders could not realize this, for, to use their own expression, "They got jolly well out of it." But such results might have been foreseen, and ought to have been foreseen.

This matter is, however, now attended to, for Mr. Gladstone's Probation Act (1908) empowers magistrates to compel all dishonest persons that are dealt with under the Act to make restitution of stolen property or money up to the value of £10. I have long advocated this course, which is both just and merciful—just to the person who has been robbed and just to the robber; merciful because it compels the wrong-doer in some degree to undo the wrong, and enables him to break the chains of his deadly habit. It will also prove to him that the law is not so tolerant of dishonesty as he believed. Common-sense, too, says that the pardoned rogue ought not to profit from his roguery, while the person he has robbed has to suffer, not only the loss of goods or money, but also the trouble and expense of prosecution.

Most respectfully, then, would I like to point out to all magistrates that they may now order dishonest persons dealt with under this Act to make[Pg 28] restitution up to £10. It is to be hoped that our magistrates will freely avail themselves of this permissive power, and make young rogues "pay, pay, pay." It matters not how small the instalments nor how long a time the payments may be continued, for I feel assured that nothing will stem the onward sweep of dishonesty, and that nothing will bring home to young offenders the serious character of dishonesty so much as the knowledge that great inconvenience, but no pecuniary benefit, can come to those who indulge in it.

The Married Women's Protection Act came at last. It was inevitable. There was a horrible satire contained in the suggestion that in England, with its humanity and civilization, after a thousand years of Christianity an Act to protect women against their legal husbands should be necessary; but it was.

This Act came in the very fulness of time. Everybody was tired and altogether dissatisfied with the old and ineffectual plan of sending brutal husbands to prison. This feeling arose not from sympathy with brutal husbands, but from pity to ill-treated wives, for it was recognized that sending brutal husbands to prison only made matters worse. Briefly, the Act empowered married women who had persistently cruel husbands to leave them, and having left them, to apply to the magistrates for a separation and maintenance order, which magistrates were empowered to grant when persistent cruelty was proved.

Police-courts then became practically divorce-courts for the poor, for thousands of women have claimed and obtained these separation orders.[Pg 29] It seems just, and I have no hesitation in saying it is right, whatever may be the consequences, that decent suffering women whose agony has been long drawn out should be protected from and delivered out of the power of human brutes. But in a community like ours we are bound to have an eye to the consequences.

Women very soon found that it was much easier to get separation than it was to get maintenance. However modest the weekly amount ordered—and to my mind magistrates were very lenient in this respect—comparatively few of the discarded husbands paid the amounts ordered: some few paid irregularly, the majority paid nothing. The "other woman" became an important factor, and the money that should have gone to the support of the legal wife and legitimate children went to her and to illegitimate children. Such fellows were, then, in straits. If they left the "other woman," affiliation orders loomed over them; if they did not pay their legalized wives, they might be sent to prison. Some men I know found this the easiest way of paying their wives "maintenance," for they would go cheerfully to prison, and when released would promptly start on the task of again accumulating arrears.

Undoubtedly very many women were much better off apart from their husbands—at any rate, they had some peace—but mostly they lived lives of unremitting toil and partial, if not actual, starvation. On the whole, this Act, which was quite necessary and inspired by good intentions, has not proved satisfactory. But married men began to ask, "Why cannot we have[Pg 30] separation orders against habitually drunken wives?"

Why, indeed! The principle had been admitted, and "sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander." Joan had been protected; Darby must have equal rights. And Darby got them, with something added. The Licensing Bill of 1902 put him right, or rather wrong. Under some provisions of this Act habitual drunkenness in case of either husband or wife became a sufficient reason for separation, and police-courts became more than ever divorce-courts for the poor. But Darby came best, or rather worst, out of this unseemly matter, for there was no need for him to leave his wife and his home before applying for a separation. He might live with his wife in their home, and while living with her apply for a summons against her, and this granted, he might continue to live with her right up to the time the summons was heard—might even accompany her to the court, and drink with her on the way thither. Then, proving her drunkenness to the magistrate's satisfaction, he could get his order, give her a few shillings, go home and close the door against her, leaving her homeless and helpless in the streets. She may have borne him many children, she might be about to become a mother once more; in fact, the frequent repetition of motherhood might be the root-cause of her drunkenness. No matter, the law empowers him to put her out and keep her out. Such is the law, and to such a point has the chivalry of many husbands come. But Darby may go still further, for he may call in "another woman" to keep house and look after the children. In a sense he[Pg 31] may live in a sort of legalized immorality, and do his wife no legal wrong; while, if she, poor wretched woman, with all her temptations and weaknesses, yields but once to a similar sin, all claim to support is forfeited, and she goes down with dreadful celerity to the lowest depths. Plenty of good husbands, and brave men they are, refuse to take advantage of this Act, and bear all the unspeakable ills and sorrows connected with a drunken wife, bearing all things, enduring all things, and hoping all things, rather than turn the mothers of their children into the streets. But it is far different with some husbands, whose lives and habits have conduced to, if they have not actually caused, their wives' inebriety; to them the Act is a boon, and they are not backward in applying for relief. I have elsewhere given my views as to the working of these special clauses, but I again take an opportunity of saying that the whole proceedings are founded in stupidity. In action they are cruel, and in results they are demoralizing to the individuals concerned, and to the State generally. All this is the more astounding when one realizes that the Act might easily have been made a real blessing; and it is more astounding still when the temper and tone of society is considered.

We demand, and rightfully demand, that first offenders shall have another chance. Has it come to this—that a wretched wife, who, through suffering, worry, neglect, or ill-health or mental disturbance, has given way to drink, shall have less consideration than the young thief? So it appears. We scour London's streets, we seek[Pg 32] out the grossest women even civilization can furnish—women whose only hope lies with the Eternal Father—and we put them in inebriates' reformatories, and keep them there, at a great expense, for two or three years. Money without stint is spent that they may have the shadow of a chance for reclamation. Organized societies are formed for their after-care when released from the reformatories. And yet we calmly contemplate married women, otherwise decent but for drink, real victims of inebriety, being thrust homeless into the streets, with the dead certainty that they will descend to the Inferno out of which we are seeking to deliver the unfortunates.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved