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In my opening chapter a slight reference was made to the Habitual Inebriates Act of 1898.

I now wish to deal more fully with this subject, for it has occupied much time in police-courts, and has held a large place in the public mind and interest.

The uselessness of short terms of imprisonment for persons frequently charged with drunkenness had been fully proved; they had not been found deterrent or reformative, the only practical result being that the lives of those constantly committed were considerably lengthened.

Sometimes I have felt that it would be good if the women to whom I now refer could have gone quietly out of existence, for I believe that the All-Merciful would extend greater mercy to them than they show to themselves.

But life has a firm grip upon women; and when it is devoted to animalism and idleness, when the cares and worries of home, children, and employment do not concern them, then indeed those lives are often lengthened out beyond the lives of their more virtuous and industrious sisters.

[Pg 46]

For these women prisons had proved useful sanatoria, and frequent sentences times of recuperation.

Small wonder, then, that new methods should at length be tried. The Habitual Inebriates Act came into being in 1898.

The Act adopted the definition of a much earlier Act as to what constituted the habitual inebriate, which was as follows:

"Those who, by the excessive use of intoxicating drink, are unable to control their affairs or are dangerous to themselves or others."

I quite believe that if the framers of this Act had realized the character of those who would come within its provisions, a far different definition would have been found. But the Act also conditioned that only those who were charged four times during the year with drunkenness should be dealt with, the great mistake being that no attempt was made previously to inquire into the character and condition of those that happened to be charged four times in the year. I suppose it was a natural inference that anyone so frequently charged must be of necessity a confirmed and regular inebriate. But the reverse proved true, for the worst inebriates, dipsomaniacs, and sots, escaped the meshes of the net so carefully spread.

They at any rate did not fall into the hands of the police so frequently; indeed, many of them did not at all. But the Act netted a very different kind of fish—a kind that ought to have been netted many years previously, and dealt with in a far more effectual manner than was now proposed.

[Pg 47]

The Act gave power to local authorities and philanthropic societies to establish inebriates' reformatories, which, after satisfying the requirements of the Home Office, were to be duly licensed to receive habitual inebriates qualified under the new law. These institutions were to be supported by an Imperial capitation grant for every inebriate committed, the local authorities being empowered to draw upon the rates for the balance.

Magistrates were given power to commit to these establishments for one, two, or three years, when the persons charged before them pleaded guilty to being habitual inebriates, and desired the question settled without reference to a higher court; but magistrates could not deal with them until they had been charged four times within the year.

If consent was refused, magistrates were empowered to send them for trial before the Judge and jury. Early in 1898 I took considerable pains to ascertain the exact character and condition of the persons who came within the provision of the Act. I found, as I expected to find, that they were idle and dissolute persons, nearly all of them women, and such women as only the streets of our large towns could furnish.

So much misapprehension and uncertainty prevailed as to the kind and sex of the persons who would be affected by the new law that the London County Council, after acquiring a valuable property in Surrey for the purposes of the Act, prepared for the reception of males. For this there was no excuse. A glance at the annual criminal statistics would have shown to what sex[Pg 48] the oft-convicted inebriates belonged, and an inquiry among the police would have revealed their true character and condition. A considerable time elapsed before these reformatories were ready, local authorities being very reluctant to use their powers, but at length the task of trying to cure London's grossest women of inebriety began. It was a hopeless task from the first. After eight years' experience its futility has been fully demonstrated.

In the Contemporary Review of May, 1899, I ventured to give a description of the men and women who would be dealt with. The women, I said, would consist of 80 per cent. of gross unfortunates, dominated by vice or mental disease, homeless and shameless women; 10 per cent. old women who live alternately in workhouses and prisons, with occasional spells of liberty and licence; and 10 per cent. of otherwise decent women, the majority of whom would be mentally weak.

The men I described as idle, dissolute, and dishonest fellows, or worse. Eight years' experience of the working of the Act has verified my analysis. The report of the Government Inspector for 1906 amply proves it. Dr. Branthwaite (the Government Inspector), a properly qualified medical officer, has taken infinite pains to ascertain the mental condition of those committed to certified reformatories, and who became his special charge. I quote from his report for 1906:

"During the eight years the Act has been in operation 2,277 men and women had been committed to reformatories. Of these, 375 were men[Pg 49] and 1,902 were women." He thus classifies them as to mental condition: 16·1 per cent. as insane, defective, imbecile, or epileptic; 46·5 per cent. as eccentric, dull, or senile; 37·4 per cent. as of average mental capacity. This means that out of the total admissions for the eight years, 62·6 per cent. were practically insane, and therefore hopeless from a reformatory point of view. The remaining 37·4 per cent. were, he says, of average mental capacity. But the Inspector can only speak of them as he finds them; he cannot speak of their mental capacity when outside his reformatories. I can; therefore I wish to say here something about them. There exists a large class of men and women who, when placed under absolute control in prisons or reformatories, submit themselves quietly to the authority that controls and the conditions that environ them. They obey orders, they display no anger, they offer no violence; they are not moody or spiteful, but they fulfil their duties with some degree of cheerfulness and alacrity. Those who have charge of them naturally look upon them as the most hopeful of their prisoners. A greater mistake could not be made. It may be vice, it may be drink, it may be dishonesty, that is the master passion of their lives; it may be, for aught I know—and in reality I believe that it is—some inscrutable mental disease that causes their passions or weaknesses; but whatever the passion, and however caused or controlled, when these people are under absolute authority in places where the vice, passion, or weakness cannot possibly be indulged, then that passion, vice, or[Pg 50] weakness is absolutely non-existent for the time, and its victims appear as normal people.

But a far different state of mind and body exists when they are released from authority, for with liberty the old instinct or passion comes into fierce existence, and instantly demands gratification. While the released person has on the one hand gained considerably in health of mind and body, the sleeping passion too has gained in strength during the time it has hibernated. These persons, I am happy to believe, are not of normal mind, for they are helpless before the stress of temptation. In fact, decent as they may seem while in custody, the gratification of their particular vice is the only thing of importance in life to them. These unfortunate people, when at liberty, are in reality under authority of a different kind, and their obedience to the dark, mysterious authority that controls them is as implicit as if they were detained in prison or reformatory, for they do not question or gainsay its imperious demands. Small wonder, then, that nearly all the women who have been committed to inebriate reformatories revert to their old habits of life. To speak of their relapse is wrong, for in reality there is no relapse about it; they have only been held by force from their old life, which they resume when that preventive force is withdrawn.

But it has been a costly experience so far, at any rate, as London is concerned. The Government led off with a capitation grant of 10s. 6d. weekly. For the first few years it cost about £1 10s. per week, in addition to the outlay on land, buildings, and appointments, to keep each of these demented[Pg 51] women. Though this cost has now been considerably reduced, it is even now about £1 weekly. No one, I feel sure, would begrudge this outlay if there was the remotest chance of these extraordinary women living decently when released from the reformatories.

Sadly, but emphatically, I say no such chance exists. Let it be clearly understood that I am not making this terrible statement about inebriates generally, but only with regard to those women who fall into the hands of the police four times in one year, thus qualifying for committal according to the Act. The very hopelessness of these women excites my deepest pity, and because I pity them I point out plainly their condition, in the sincere hope that more satisfactory methods of dealing with them may be provided. The Inspector claims that it is better for these women to be detained in inebriate reformatories than to undergo a continual round of short terms of imprisonment, varied by spells of liberty spent in gross orgies upon the street. He says, too, that it is the cheaper course. There is some truth in his contention. Of the exact proportion of the monetary cost of the two methods I am not concerned, but undoubtedly, for the good of the community and the purity of our streets, lengthened detention in inebriate reformatories is infinitely better than short detention in prisons. I am not objecting to their lengthened detention, but to the method and objects of detention. If their detention is to be for the good of the public, let it be understood that the common weal demands it. But as they are a class altogether apart from ordinary women, even from[Pg 52] ordinary drunken women, they ought to be detained in institutions adapted for women of their condition only, and the absurdity of trying to cure vice-possessed women of the drink habit ought to cease.

But the legal advantages attaching to the life of a gross and disorderly woman are considerable—far greater than the advantages that are attached to a life of virtue and honest toil. "Only be bad enough, gross enough, violent enough, and you shall have your reward. Only get into conflict with the guardians of law and order four times in one year, and three years' comfort in an inebriate reformatory shall be your reward. There your work shall be limited, your leisure shall be certain, your food shall be plentiful and varied, and your recreation, indoors and out of doors, shall not be forgotten. There you shall live lives of comfort and comparative ease." So the State seems to say to the women of the class who at present fill our inebriate reformatories. And some are not slow to accept the invitation. I remember one massive young Irishwoman, who had a strong aversion to anything like honest work, saying to me one morning when she was again in custody: "Mr. Holmes, I am about sick of this: I'll go to a home for a year. Ask the magistrate to send me; it will do me good."

I declined to be the intermediary, so she appealed to the magistrate to send her away under the Act.

There being some doubt as to the requisite number of convictions, the magistrate added to the list by giving her fourteen days. At the expiration of her sentence—indeed, on the very day of her[Pg 53] discharge from prison—she got into collision with the police, and next day was again before the magistrate. She again asked the magistrate to send her to a reformatory. But she had another grievance this time: she told the magistrate that Mr. Holmes had insulted her. On being asked for particulars, she said that I had refused to help her to get into an inebriate reformatory, and further (and this was the insult), that I had said that she was big enough, strong enough, and young enough to work for her living. I pleaded guilty to the insult, and pointed out to the magistrate the physical dimensions of the prisoner. He smiled, and said there was some truth in my statement; but as the prisoner was young, there was hope of her reformation, so he committed her for two years. I ventured respectfully to tell him that he had but allowed her one of the legal advantages of an idle and disorderly woman.

Drink had no more to do with her condition than it has with mine, though to some extent it was useful to her; but vice and idleness were the dominant factors in her life, not drink.

The Habitual Inebriates Act of 1898 was followed by the Licensing Act of 1902, some clauses of which dealt with habitual inebriates, and provided for the compilation of a Black List.

Every person, male or female, charged with drunkenness, or some crime connected with drunkenness, four times in one year, was to be placed on an official list, whether sent or not sent to an inebriate reformatory. Their photographs were to be taken and circulated to the police and to the publicans. Publicans were prohibited under a[Pg 54] severe penalty from serving the "listed" with intoxicating drink within a period of three years. If the "listed" persons procured, or attempted to procure, any drink during that time they, too, were liable to a penalty not exceeding £1 or fourteen days. There was considerable fear and a strange anxiety among many of the repeatedly convicted as to what would happen to them when this Act began its operations.

But this wholesome dread soon disappeared. When its operations became known, the lists were duly made and circulated; the photographs were accurately, if not beautifully, taken; the police were supplied with the lists and the publicans with the photographs. But very soon the "listed" proceeded to procure drink and get drunk as usual, for a wonder had come to light. When charged under the new Act, instead of getting their usual month they received but a fortnight, for the Act did not allow a more severe punishment. True, they had committed more heinous offences, for they had defied the law, which said they must not procure drink, and their offences had been dual, for they had been drunk, too, and disorderly and disgusting as of yore. Nevertheless, their double offence entitled them to but half their former reward. Magistrates soon saw the humour of it, and soon got tired of it, and sometimes, when a charge was preferred against a "lister" under the Act, they ordered the police to charge the prisoners under the old Act, that more punishment might be given. But if these clauses were not successful from a legal point of view, they were from another.

The Act came into force on January 1, 1902.[Pg 55] At the beginning of May in the same year—that is, in four months from commencing operations—339 names, mostly women, were on that List. I sometimes have the privilege of looking at the List, which has now grown to a portentous length. It is an education to look at those hundreds of portraits. I look at them with fear and wonderment, for they are a revelation—an awe-inspiring picture-gallery! I would like every student of humanity and every lover of his kind to have a copy of that List, to study those photographs, and ponder the letterpress description that accompanies each photograph. It would almost appear that we are getting back to primeval man, the faces are so strange and weird. Different as the faces are, one look is stamped upon them all—the look of bewilderment. They one and all seem to think that there is something wrong, and they wonder what it is. No one can glance for a single moment at those terrible photographs without seeing that there is something more than drink at the root of things. No one can meet them, as I have met them, face to face, can look into their eyes, and know, as I know, how pitifully sad, yet how horrible, are their lives, without affirming, as I affirm, that the State proclaims its ignorance when it classifies them as inebriates, and its impotence when it asks others to cure them of the love of drink. These are the women that fill our inebriate reformatories, and of whom the Home Office Inspector reports that 62·6 per cent. are not sane. Certainly they are not sane, and it is high time that the truth was realized and the fact faced. Is it scientific to call their disease[Pg 56] inebriety, when in sober truth it is something far worse—something that comes down through the ages, and in all climes and at all times has seized hold upon certain women—a something that never releases its hold till the portals of death are open for its victims? Oh, I could almost laugh at the irony of it all! Cure them of animal passion elemental in its intensity? Cure them of diseased minds and disordered brains, by keeping them for two or three years without drink? It cannot be done. But something can be done; only it is so simple a thing that I feel sure it will not be done. Yet if we had any thought for the purity of our streets, any concern for public morality and public decency, any consideration for the public weal, we should take these women aside, and keep them aside—not for one, two, or three years, but for the remainder of their natural lives, justified by the knowledge that they are not responsible creatures, and that pity itself demands their submission to kindly control and to strong-handed restraint.

But the Licensing Act of 1902 dealt with another class of women inebriates, and dealt with them in a drastic but unsatisfactory way. The law got hold of really drunken women this time, but it did not give them half the consideration extended to gross and demented unfortunates. It empowered magistrates to grant separation orders between married couples when either husband or wife became habitually drunken. In this Act the same definition of habitual inebriety that governed the 1898 Act was adopted, and husbands very promptly began to demand separation[Pg 57] orders on account of their wives' drunkenness. My experiences of the result of this Act are sorrowful to a degree; but I expected those results, for I knew that the clauses that empowered separation orders must be either inoperative or disastrous. Alas! they did not remain inoperative, for the number of discarded wives began quickly to multiply.

When the Bill was before Parliament I spent some weeks in a vain endeavour to prevent some of the worst consequences that I knew would follow, and have followed. I contributed several articles to leading reviews; I wrote to The Times and scores of other influential papers; I wrote to leaders of temperance societies; I circularized the Members of both Houses, pointing out the enormity and the absurdity of putting drunken wives homeless on the streets; I pleaded, I begged, with heart, voice, and pen, for just one chance to be given the miserable women. My efforts were vain. No one supported me. I was a voice crying in the wilderness. It might be thought that I was asking for some great thing or some silly thing. I asked for neither. Let my readers judge. We had established inebriate reformatories at the public cost. We were filling them with the grossest unfortunates, of whom there was no hope of redemption; these women we were maintaining for two or three years in comfort. Will it be believed? I asked that drunken, but not immoral, women should be given equal chances of reformation. I asked that when a wife's drunkenness was proved, that she should, whether she consented or not, be committed for[Pg 58] one year to an inebriate reformatory, and that the husband's contribution for her support should be paid to the institution that controlled her. But the House of Commons would have none of it; the House of Lords would not entertain it; the Christian Churches would not support it; the guardians of public morality ignored it. Drunken wives, though physically weak and ill, though mothers of young children, though decent in other ways, were not to be allowed one chance of reformation, were not to be considered for one moment worthy of treatment equal to that given to demented and gross women of the streets. "Pitch them out!" said our lords and gentlemen of both Houses. "Get rid of them!" said the Christian Churches. Husbands have not been slow in taking this advice, for they have been pitching wives out and have been getting rid of wives ever since. But the public do not get rid of them so easily. It has to bear the burden that cast-off wives bring, and that burden grows with every separation granted; so wives hitherto moral are fast qualifying for the legal advantages given to unspeakable women, and by-and-by, when the cast-out women behave themselves sufficiently badly, and the police take them into custody four times in a year—then, and not till then, when it is too late, both Houses of Parliament, the Christian Churches, and the guardians of public morality offer them the reforming influences of an institution for the cure of inebriety.

[Pg 59]

Contrasts: the Young Commission Agent and a Brave Old Man.

One of the first men to apply for a separation order under the Act was a thriving commission agent—i.e., a bookmaker—who had married a barmaid. His jewellery was massive, and there was all over him the appearance of being extremely well-to-do. He brought with him a solicitor to advocate his cause, and witnesses, too, were forthcoming. His young wife, when asked for her statement, did not attempt to deny that she was sometimes the worse for drink, but contented herself by saying that her husband drank a great deal more than she did, but it took less effect. She also said if she did drink, her husband was the cause of it, for he was unfaithful to her. She readily agreed to her husband's offer of £1 weekly, so the order was promptly granted, and she went her way alone. The husband, I noticed, was not so lonely, being accompanied by a well-dressed female.

The second act of this unseemly farce was played before the same court after a three months' interval. The commission agent, again fortified by his solicitor's presence, applied for an abrogation of the order made upon him for his wife's maintenance. Her lapse into immorality was duly proved, her defence—which, of course, was no defence at all—being that her husband was worse than herself, for he had been living with the woman now in court for some months. The magistrate had no option—for private opinion must not prevent the due fulfilment of the law—so the order[Pg 60] was quashed. Henceforth the husband was free of all obligations, pecuniary or otherwise, excepting that he might not legally marry till his wife's death. Whatever her faults were, I must confess that I felt very sorry for her. Young, friendless, and homeless, she was already on that polished, inclined plane down which many are precipitated to the lowest depths, from which nothing short of a miracle could save her. A few minutes later I was speaking to her outside the court, and asking about her future, when the opulent commission agent and his expensively dressed but non-legalized wife passed us. Triumph was written on his coarse face, and, turning to his cast-off wife, he snapped his fingers in her face, and said: "I knew I should soon get rid of you!" using, of course, vulgar embellishment. To such contemptible blackguards, men without an atom of decency, this Act has provided a ready means for getting rid of wives when their company proves distasteful. But oh the chivalry of it, especially when the fellow who participated in the wife's wrong-doing comes cheerfully to give evidence against her! When I think on these things, I believe that I have some faith still in physical chastisement.

But I turn gladly—nay, eagerly—to another side of the question; for all men are not made on the same lines as the opulent bookie, for which we have need to be thankful. Among some of the men who, driven almost distraught by the misery they had endured—and only those who have to endure it can tell how great that misery is—have applied for separation orders on account[Pg 61] of their wives' habitual drunkenness, I have met some that shone resplendent amid the moral darkness so often connected with police-court cases.

A sorrowful-faced old man, nearly seventy years of age, applied to the magistrate for advice. His wife for some years had been giving way constantly to drink. His home was ruined; he was in debt. He produced a bundle of pawn-tickets, etc. "Have you any sons and daughters? Cannot they influence her?" "They are married, and are all abroad. They cannot help me; but they send me money when I require any. They want me to go to them, but I cannot leave her." "Do you earn any money?" "Oh yes! quite sufficient to keep us. I have had a good place for forty years." "Well," said the magistrate, "I cannot advise you, but you can have a summons against her for habitual drunkenness. Will you have one?" "Yes, sir," said the bewildered old man. The summons was served upon the wife, and in due time they appeared before the court.

A pathetic couple they were; neither of them appeared to exactly understand why they were there. He knew that he had to prove his wife's drunkenness, and he did it simply enough. It was the old, old story of drink, neglect, waste, and dirt—no food provided, no house made tidy, no beds made, no washing of clothes. That was the negative side. The pawnings and debts, and cuts and wounds she had received from falling, formed the positive.

The old woman denied nothing, but said it was[Pg 62] all true. When asked for her defence, she could only reiterate: "He's been very good to me; he's been very good to me." When asked about his means, the old man said he thought that he could allow his wife 10s. a week. The magistrate thought that 7s. was as much as he could afford, and made the order accordingly. The couple waited in court till the separate orders were delivered to them, and then tremblingly rose to go, he to his lonely home and she to ——. I accompanied them into the streets, and said to the old woman: "Where are you going to live?" She replied: "I am going home." "But you are separated. The magistrate has given your husband an order which says that you must no longer live with him." "Not live with my husband! Where am I to live, then?" I do not think that either of them understood till that moment what a separation order meant, for the old man said: "You can't live anywhere else." Then, turning to me, he said half defiantly: "I suppose I can take her back home if I like?" "Certainly," I said; "but you cannot come to the magistrate for another order." "I will never ask for another. I don't want this"; and he tore it in twain.

"Come on." And he offered his arm to his old and bewildered partner, and away they went—he to endure patiently and still to hope; she, touched by his faithful love, to struggle and, perchance, to conquer. He was a brave old man—a Sir Galahad with bent back and frosty locks. I watched them as they slowly disappeared along the street. Old as they were, they were passing[Pg 63] through love to light. For I saw them many times after that day; I made it my business to see them, and to give them such encouragement as I could: they sorely needed it. So I learned the story of their lives.

She had been a good wife and mother till late in life. Then her children had all dispersed, and great loneliness came upon her. She had not even the prattle of a grandchild to cheer her. Her husband was away so much from home, for he worked many hours.

Old age steals away the power of self-control, and loneliness is hard to bear, and drink promised to cheer her. The old man's faithfulness was her only anchorage, but it held. The battle went sometimes against her, but from the day they stood before the magistrate the old woman began to gain strength, and with strength came hope and happier days.

I have selected these two instances because they fully illustrate the dangers and the weakness of this system. But these two by no means stand alone, and I am not exaggerating when I say that hundreds of men have consulted me about their wives' drunkenness, all of them expecting some help or relief from the Act. When I have explained to them exactly how it affected them and what a separation order meant, by far the greater number went away sorrowing, and most of them have added: "I thought she would be put in a home for a time, where I could pay a little for her. I cannot put her homeless into the streets; I should not be able to sleep if I knew she was out." Of course not; what decent husband could?[Pg 64] And this feeling has, I am glad to say, been characteristic of husbands who have suffered intensely and long, and who through it all have been good and patient husbands. I do not wish it to be understood that I think evil of every husband who enforces a separation order on account of his wife's habitual drunkenness—far from it; for I know only too well that with some it has been a bitter and last resource, nothing else being apparently possible. But I do say this, and for this reason I have told the above stories: that this law places it in the power of a worthless husband, who cares not what becomes of his wife, to get rid of her and his responsibilities at practically the same time, but does nothing for the unfortunate husband who hopes for his wife's reformation, and who has still some respect for her; also that it consigns wretched women to a position that is certain to bring about their complete demoralization, for it submits them to temptations they cannot withstand.

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