« PreviousContinue »
(1) THE REFORM OF THE METHODS OF RELIEF. Relief--as it has been said-did not reach the needs of the poor. Guardians and philanthropists gave without sufficient realisation that the recipients had minds and feelings as well as stomachs. The guardians gave out relief on the rough-and-ready testimony of the relieving officer that “the applicant seemed destitute." The clergy and district visitors gave their doles without much knowledge, and often in reward of false statements. The effect was widespread demoralisation. Those passed over gave up effort to become applicants, those relieved sank in degradation and poverty increased. The pressing need was not more money to spend in relief, but more thought in the expenditure. With this view men and women associated themselves with the guardians or formed committees of the Charity Organisation Society. They brought the best thought to bear on common problems, and applied the best business methods to the administration of relief, " What folly," critics sometimes said, “to spend half an hour in deciding if a poor woman shall have balf & crown a week! We don't take more time to negotiate business involving thousands of pounds.” The reformers pursued their folly.
There were some who were more attentive on Boards than business men at their offices. One gave up his holidays for many a year to miss no meeting, he never failed to study every new suggestion, and watched every detail of administration. He saw that every rule was obeyed, every order carried out, and further, by visits in the homes of the poor, heard their tale from their own lips in their own surroundings.
The result of such activity of the application, that is to say, of the best thought to relief-has been a marked change. Out-relief is now given or refused with understanding. In three unions it has been abolished, to the immense advantage of all concerned ; in others it has been made more adequate to needs. Everywhere charity is given with some regard not only to the hunger of the applicant, but also to his character as a human being. Fewer people relieve themselves by giving a dole and forget the next-day consequences. Fewer people try to cope with poverty by means of gifts. There will never be another Mansion House Fand. Instead of the old doles—the irregular gifts of food and coals—there are now pension funds giving a means of quiet living to many hundreds of the worthy old, there are convalescent and country holiday funds, offering to thousands the opportanity for renewing their health and their memories, there are provident dispensaries through which the sick may obtain a doctor's care without begging a letter or wasting hours in the out-patient department, and there are gifts which, putting tools, machinery, or health within reach, enable the receiver to help himself and rise above the need of other help. Instead of the old institutions with their pauper nurses and deterrent measures, there are infirmaries bright as any hospital, with skilled nurses and resident doctors, homes in which the children are scattered far from pauper influences, some workhouses in which education rather than depression is the rule-often the reminder that if the law must be carried out strictly, humanity is present, and that a friend is near who will sympathise and try to help.
(2) THE PROVISION OF HABITABLE HOUSES. The development, however, of self-respect and other manly qualities could not proceed far while bad air and dirt depressed the national health. It was little use to try and stimulate men and women to exert themselves when their only living-rooms were unfit for habitation, and their only means for cleanliness in a dirty neighbourhood such water as they themselves could fetch in small vessels from distant stand-pipes. The reformers, therefore, early set themselves to open baths and washhouses an effort in which Charles Kingsley assisted,
--to provide recreation grounds, and to secure the substitution of sound for rotten houses. When, after sufficient agitation, “the unhealthy
” had been condemned, there was no great need of money to acquire the sites. Rich or richer people gave sufficient to build new houses, and then sometimes ladies were found-pupils of Miss Octavia Hill—who were constituted rent collectors and managers of the property.
Much has been said on the value of this method of charity, and too much cannot be said. A decent house, where the windows fit, where some ventilation is possible, where water can easily be got, and refuse easily got rid off ; where the colours are bright, and the oven convenient—is itself a powerful educational agent. But a houseeven when so arranged by the landlord-will hardly remain in the same condition without constant supervision. The ladies have been able to give such supervision, but, much more important, they have often become the recognised friends of the tenants. There is one who is always remembered because she nursed a tenant through his last illness; another whose advice at a crisis saved the whole family; and there are many through whom came lessons in punctuality and opportunities of pleasure.
The character of some areas has thus been altered. Whitechapel, through which narrow lanes meandered with overhanging houses—in which there were fætid courts approached through narrow doorways-where the underground offices and the filthy stairs made even visiting a danger-is now laid out in wide streets and well-built artisans' dwellings. Many are still managed by lady collectors. Would that the supply of such service had kept pace with the supply of dwellings !
The erection of baths, the provision of open spaces, and the building of houses would not be sufficient if the local authorities remained careless. They have not remained so, and, sometimes inspired by one who has succeeded in getting a place on the Board, or else yielding to outside pressure excited by those of wider views, they have taken charge of open spaces, worked baths, and enforced sanitary regulations. The recreation grounds of East London are not yet pictures such as Hyde Park offers in the West, but St. George's-in-the-East-the poorest parish in London--has now its flowers, its green grass, and its shaded walks. The baths are still far too few to tempt to their use people long careless of cleanliness, bat, under the enlightened care of commissioners, those which have been built are all that can be desired. The medical officers, if still without what they ask in the way of sufficient light and water, are more secare of support when they report naisances perhaps hardly comprehended by those who suffer, but known to be such by experts, and gradually the limited supply of water is coming to be regarded as a crime.
Living in East London is still depressing to health. The death-rato among children is still too high, the average stature is still too low, the deficiency of vitality is still so great as to make it hard for the people to respond to the call on their self-reliance or to enjoy those gifts of God which depend on the use of thought and admiration. But the change is very marked, and again it is largely due to the action of those who hold that water and air and healthy dwellings are as necessary for the poor as for the rich.
(3) THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MEANS OF HIGHER EDUCATION,
When something was being done to check the demoralisation caused by a system of relief which regarded the people simply as animals to be kept quiet by gifts of food, and when also something was being done to increase the bodily energy of the people, it was time also to provide other things to satisfy their emancipated meatal and spiritual powers. Such things as classes and lectures, in which they might learn of great deeds done in c!d time, share the thoughts and fancies of thinkers, and follow the discoveries of men of science; such things as exhibitions of pictures, where, as through windows, they might look out into a larger and more beautiful world—also their own; and lastly, such things as concerts of high-class music, where their hopes and aspirations--which in their dumbness had been driving them to drunkenness or gambling, as the damb devil drove the possessed boy to cast himself into the fire-night find restful expression.
With this view, centres of University leading were established. A writer in the Progressive Perier has told his tale of their struggles ---
for the poor.
the small number first attracted by great names or from advertisements, the mockery of the wise of the time, the devotion of a few University and working men, the faith which survived all discouragement, and the justification which has followed.
With this view also classical concerts were given in schoolrooms on Sunday evenings and oratorios performed in churches. Again there were the objections that the poor did not care for such things, covering the greater objection that the poor ought not to care for such things. But against opposition there were found men and women ready to organise and to sing. Such music is still too rare, and the tendency of indolence to give only what is demanded is still strong; but enough has been done to show that the best music is not too good
The public and free performance of such music in the park, or in halls such as that of Columbia Market or the People's Palace, is within the reach of hope.
With the same end in view, picture exhibitions have been established, at which, year after year, shows of the best modern pictures have been offered. The liberality of certain owners-notably of Mr. G. F. Watts-has been unfailing, and for sixteen years a body of men and women have been found ready to do the worrying and responsible work of turning a schoolroom into a picture-galleryfitted with pictures, catalogues, and watchers—to entertain 70,000 persons. At first hardly any visitors could be induced to come, and those who did come tended to romp around; but now they come not only in great numbers, but for the most part with the intention of honest study, and with evident power of admiration. A permanent gallery where loan exhibitions may be frequent is now almost within reach, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Passmore Edwards and some other friends of the East End.
(4) THE MAKING FACILITIES FOR PERSONAL CONTACT. But all means for making the best common must be second to those which offer a life. The best of the day is not in the things which a man can pass on to others, in pictures, music, books, or lectures. It is in himself, in what he is, in what he has been made by all he has received. The chief thing, therefore, which those set themselves to do who had as their ideal a cultured society, was to bring about personal contact between East and West. Some such contact had been secured by meetings in which reforms had been carried out, on Boards, on school management committees, at clubs, as members of classes ; but a few hours' meeting does not give the touch which is given by neighbourhood. Thus it was that settlements were started.
A few University men-University being a convenient term to represent the recipients of the best gifts of the time--came to live in Whitechapel, intending to live their own lives and mako friends with their neighbours. They did not come as missionaries giving up for a period the decencies or even the luxuries to which they were used; neither did they come as proselytisers with some doctrine, social or religious, to preach. They came simply to live as they had found it best to live—to do such duties as fell to them as citizens, and to make friends. They came, and it would be pleasant if it were permissible to tell of this one and of that one, of instances of giving and taking, of what they were, and of what they did. Bat after fourteen years' experience of the life of Toynbee Hall, if the first thought be that it is a small thing to talk about in reference to half a million people, the second must be one of satisfaction.
The contact has been for mutual good. The “University men” have acquired the knowledge and sympathy necessary to judgment, and the neighbours have learnt as by no other means the value of what is taught at a University. Good-will—which is the best of all good things -has been made more common. This
paper must conclude as it commenced, by the reminder that it aims only to take account of the agencies within the writer's ken, and by the assertion that the strongest influences are the hidden and the spiritual. They, however, like the wind, blow unseen, and are only to be measured after they have passed.
The agencies of which some account has been given may by some readers be accounted secular. They seem to be directed by those whose aim is an earthly Paradise, and to have no object beyond the making of healthy and wealthy people. There is no proof which can be offered for or against this belief. For myself I can only say that those of these reformers I have most intimately known have seemed to me to be moved by the service of God to the service of man. . They have not been always orthodox; they have not been easily classed under any denomination ; but they have had a conception of a Divine Order which they have tried to copy and the sound of a call they have tried to obey. Many have gone about as though “under
" authority"; and so, while their efforts have been directly aimed to create better order, more consideration for others, and a greater enjoyment of life, their presence has sowed the seed of a nobler hope which will take the place of that which is decaying. The reverent are those who teach reverence.
SAMUEL A. BARNETT.