Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

frenzy of drunkenness and contention. No missionåry of Gospel truth has sought out his benighted race, and taught the vagabond the value that pious men place upon his soul—the anxiety that his fellows feel for his temporal advancement. He finds his gain in words that to him have no meaning, and in phrases that convey to him neither hope nor fear.

Why should Religion seat herself at ease, as though her pilgrimage were done, and build herself lofty dwellings, when there are a thousand by-places, even in London, where her foot has never trodden ?

Anon the vagabond assumes another character. He seeks some wellfrequented thoroughfare, and, crouching upon the pavement, mimics wretchedness almost to tears. His youth assists the cheat ; and though none who look upon his miserable face detect the cunning counterfeit, yet how few cast their mite into his ragged lap, or utter a word of pity for the houseless wretch !

The merchant, whose mind is busied with the intricate calculations that are to multiply his stores, cannot pause to succour a vagabond. He subscribes his guineas, and thus by money, endeavours to check the evil he sees, but otherwise cannot aid in arresting.

The busy magistrate, intent upon some scheme to wring the guilty, passes on, contented with the greatness of his purpose. He lives to make justice terrible, and smothers his sympathies under Acts of Parliament.

The wealthy idler, who has hardly known an unsatisfied desire, feels poverty to be dreadful only for its importunities, and marvels that, as he pays his poor-rates duly, how want can have the hardihood to approach him in the streets.

Yet the vagabond is insensible to the contumely of the neglectful crowd; for his state is so abject that he can feel no degradation, but chuckles over the pence that his knavery has won from the few, with as much satisfaction as the more fortunate speculator who has added thousands to his gains.

The parks are the favourite resort of the vagabond. The greensward is the gymnasium where he practises the feats which he has seen performed in the front of the booths at the suburban fairs ; and few who witness his various antics, reflect that the mimic is minus a breakfast. He never begs in the parks; there he seems to feel himself an independent vagabond ; and loses no opportunity of insulting the timid child of the well-to-do, who walks forth an advertisement of the parents' credit with the milliner or the tailor.

An over-dressed child is to us a painful exhibition. We fear that the tints of its gaudy vestments may stain the mind; and that its velvets, ribbons, and laces, are so many fetters on its beauteous limbs to stay its bounding impulses, and chain it down to the formal action of propriety.

The banks of the river and canals are also much frequented by the vagabond. By the latter he may be seen angling for minnows, or paddling his shoeless feet in the running water, basking in the sun, the very

embodiment of indolence. By the river he is a different thing ; there he is the type of enterprise and discovery. The rags which cover his legs are rolled up tightly round his thighs, and a battered tin saucepan is slung at his side. Thus prepared, he rushes into the mud left by the ebbing tide, and seeks to gather a meal from the garbage of the river. An emperor could not boast of greater appliances for his banquet. Now he finds a piece of cordage, whose strands were grown in the far west-then he rescues from the receding waters some chips of wood that were the produce of the eastagain, the mines of England supply him with a few bits of coal; and thus


he makes, as it were, the refuse of the world minister to his necessity. Such enterprise could discover new worlds, or improve the old ; but-he is a vagabond.

He is a great sight-seer; and, as though proud of his rags, he invariably selects the loftiest and most conspicuous position. He is a most unbiassed auditor at all public meetings that are held in the open air, and cheers both sides of the argument, knowing nothing, and caring as little concerning the ultimate success of either; although he sometimes wonders how those who have so much to eat can have anything to grumble about.

. You will sometimes find him at the entrance of a court, or under cover of a dilapidated hoarding, busily engaged at "pitch and toss." He handles the coins with the facility of a juggler, and his dirty face is painfully expressive of the gambler's intensity of excitement. He cheats and is detected; but a few boisterous words soon satisfy his opponent, and the game proceeds with increased watchfulness and redoubled ardour. He feels no shame in the detection, and all that he dreads to lose is his wondrous talisman that finds food to satisfy his hunger. Every day he feels its value more; and impatient at the tardiness of the street charity, he grows less fearful of punishment, and steals.

The offended laws have long since robbed him of his parents, and he is now without even the name of a home. His philosophy is equal to the privation, and an empty vault, a secret corner, or the market shambles, only afford him a place of rest.

His passions now begin to develop themselves, and Vice is still ready with her allurements. True, she comes not to him with painted cheeks and glittering attire ; her voice has not the dulcet tones, or her limbs. the lascivious gracefulness, with which she wins the wealthy sensualist to own her supremacy; but still the boisterous wanton has charms to lure him to her toils. His want and struggles have made him older than his years, and premature in his knowledge of suffering, he is equally advanced in criminality. He has heard drunken riot called enjoyment, and lewdness named as pleasure, and, believing in the truth, the vagabond, whilst yet a boy, becomes a zealous convert. Vice is a greedy tyrant, and exacts her dues with an immoveable severity, and the occasional pilferer becomes the confirmed thief.

The law, vigilant of its rights, soon seizes upon the depredator, and the yagabond boy takes his place at the bar of the police office. Even there he has no shame, for he knows that when his punishment is over, he shall return to his own haunts with an increased consequence. What has he to fear? Stripes ! He bore those when a babe. Coarse fare! He knew hunger at his mother's breast, for its fount was dried by poverty. Reproach! Poor fellow ! he has been spurned since he could remember. What else has he left to fear? Nothing, for society denies to the vagabond all but a physical existence.

In prison he is still the same. At first the restrictions of the jail are irksome to one who has been so long a wanderer ; but he is surrounded by companions whom he has known in the streets, or who are willing to receive him as an equal.

Who can doubt the termination of such a life? Justice having punished the offender, turns him again into the streets, as insensible of all moral guidances, and equally destitute, as when she consigned the vagabond to prison. Punishment has made him more careful of detection, and expe

rience given him greater cunning. Thus armed, he pursues his predatory warfare with the world, and in his turn hunted and goaded until his recklessness becomes desperation, he rushes again into the hands of justice. Then comes society, with its giant claims and pigmy sacrifices, and demands protection from the wrongs which its own selfishness has provoked.

The purloined handkerchief is amply revenged by the expatriation of the thief, and years of the most degraded and painful existence are set aside as an expiation by the insulted laws. As the felon quits the dock, perchance unmoved at the dreadful future which awaits him, hundreds of his fellow-men, rejoicing in their own moral worthiness, exclaim—“A vagabond !”

The name is a reproach alike to the wronger and the wronged ! Society has created other than natural wants and desires, and to insure their gratification, has hedged itself round with laws which it calls justice, and observances which it names morality. Is it not then its duty to instruct all in the mysteries of its creed, since it claims the right of punishing the ignorant ? Humanity answers emphatically-YES. But is it so ? Are the savage dens of London alone-to say nothing of other large towns—explored by a sufficiently humanizing influence? Does the Legislature seek to raise the wretched class which we have faintly pictured from its moral degradation, and by a recognition of its claims upon the sympathies of society, engender a corresponding regard for the rights of others ?

We fill our prisons, and then discharge their branded inmates into our penal settlements, to endure sufferings the most dreadful, and which stig. matize justice with the malignity of revenge. We expend devoted lives and charitable offerings in the civilisation of the distant savage, whose pagan worship recognises a good and an evil, and whose rude life is governed by the dictates of a morality. Why should we seek only to degrade and punish where we might instruct and reward? Why overlook the savagery and moral insensibility of those who speak our own language, and influence our own happiness, by the daily contact which we and our children have with them, directly or indirectly?

We are no advocates for interfering with the liberties of the subject. No ! we would take our stand in the foremost ranks of zealous supporters of civil as well as religious liberty. But this is not the question, nor does it apply to the case of the vagabond. What he calls liberty, we prove to be licentiousness. He knows nothing of the results of moral discipline, nor of the rewards of honest and consecutive labour. He is, in fact, like the wild ass's colt, and needs the harness and the break, by means of which alone have we any right to expect such results as self-content, industry, respectability. The duty of this training is doubtless parental; but where the parents, from whatever cause, are unable or decline to discharge the duty, then doubtless the duty is the State's, as parents.

But our observation of the treatment of the vagabond leads us to conclude that the State, as well as the parents, is surely guilty respecting our brother. The training he received from his parents truly was bad enough ; but when the State stepped forward and raised our hopes, we found its treatment only made the vagabond more hardened, more dangerous to society, and tenfold more the child of the devil. Instead of sending him to prison to suffer apparently vindictive punishment, le ought to have been placed in the Reformatory School, as a morally diseased patient to a moral hospital, not for a few days merely, but till he is morally convalescent. To accomplish

which he needs separation from evil associates, and requires a position where his moral faculties can be developed. When these are sufficiently strengthened, the work must be completed either by apprenticeship at home, or emigration to the colonies ; not as a branded convict, but as an emigrant labourer about to become a producing and consuming colonist, and thereby add strength rather than weakness to the parent state. These things are done elsewhere, and we know not why they are not done here. The means are available, however Herculean the task ; but while the VAGABOND believes that the withering indulgences in vice are all that he can know of GOOD, let Justice throw aside her balance, and acknowledge that she only retains her sword.


RAGGED CHURCHES. THREE months ago we called the attention of our friends to the question of Ragged Churches. In endeavouring to point out the vast importance of their general establishment, we referred to the successful experiments made at Aberdeen and Northampton, where great results, socially and religiously, have already followed the preaching of the Gospel to the “very poor.' saw that this class cannot, from their degraded and impoverished condition, go to our ordinary places of public worship; and that even if they did occasionally venture to cross their thresholds, they would not be likely (from the painful contrast between their own rags and wretchedness, and the welldressed pew-occupying congregation, of which they felt they formed no part) to return a second time.

From the facts brought to light by the City Missionaries, it is plain that there is a frightful amount of brutal and heathen ignorance on which the ordinary ministrations of the Gospel never tell, and who, in consequence, live and die in their sins. We believe, therefore, that we but gave expression to the growing convictions of multitudes, when we declared that it was not enough that we should have Ragged Schools, and Bible Classes for young men and women as well as young children, as well as “Mothers' Meetings, and other “ Aids” to the development of Christian principle and practice. It “ pleases God” now, as truly as it did when Paul was a herald of the Cross, “ by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.” With all our previous efforts, we have not hitherto done homage to the grand miracle of the Gospel dispensation, that " to the poor the Gospel is preached.” The poor, yea," the very poor;" where are they not, even in this, the richest and most prosperous country in the world ? And, alas ! if the great majority of them are poor for both worlds, is there not a cause ? Has the Christian Church stooped, as becomes her character and office, in order to “lift up the beggar from the dunghill, and to set him among princes P” even among those who, once outcast and vile, are made, through the power of Gospel truth, accompanied by the energy of the Holy Spirit, “ kings and priests unto God ?”. True, she has begun to seek out the young, and has already brought up rich treasures from the deep mine into which a shaft was sunk in faith and hope, by “ a band of men whose hearts God had touched.” But with regard to the crowds of adults--men and women, youths and maidens, who were born too early, or who live too late for Ragged Schools--to purify, bless, and save, little or nothing spiritually has been done for them. And now the idea of Ragged Churches is suggested, and is beginning already to threaten the overthrow of that barrier which hitherto has enabled Satán to reign undisturbed over a multitude who have been “taken captive at his will.“ We therefore reiterate with solemn emphasis That we said in our March Number, that what is needed for the evangeliza

tion of these masses, is a place where, in a community and brotherhood of want and woe, where “fraternal feeling" in adversity would draw the poor to each other, where any remains of self-respect would not be woundedwhere, coming forth quietly out of their garrets and dark haunts, they might' meet together, and be met by one who, full of yearning pity for their souls, was ready to pray with and to pray for them, to lead them to sing the songs of Zion, and, above all, TO PREACH TO THEM ABOUT GREAT SINS AND A GREAT SAVIOUR. That is what we want in London, and all the cities and towns of the empire ! We have been much gratified in finding that, as one result of our appeal

, a single donation of £20 was offered for the advancement of the great object in view. But, more than this ; the subject being brought up for discussion, there comes to light the pleasing fact, that the experiment has been for some time more extensively made than we were at all aware. From a statistical table now before us, it appears that in London and the neighbourhood, no less than thirty-five places for religious instruction have been opened for the classes whose spiritual interests have been so long neglected, and that these have been attended by ragged congregations amounting to fourteen hundred and twelve individuals.

No doubt the organization in many instances has been imperfect, as is always the case with efforts which are new and tentative in their character. And, besides, the publicity or notoriety which attaches to an ordinary house of worship in any locality has been wanting, as in the case with those

Ragged Churches,” erected and known as such at Aberdeen, Northampton, and elsewhere. We do not, indeed, hold it essential to the commencement and progress of the movement, that separate structures should be reared, bearing on their very front their specific title and design, and in point of architecture and accommodation inviting the “very poor” to repair thither, as to a religious house intended for their own benefit, and where, without intermixture with other classes, they may hear the Word of Life.

But we do believe, that for the permanence and success of the enterprise, as well as for the enlisting of public sympathy and support in its behalf, it is necessary that either the “ Ragged School" should also be known in the district where it stands as “ The Ragged Church " also, or what we submit is still better, that like the chapel attached to the school, or vice versâ, the ideal of Christian instruction for adults, as well as children, for the Lord's day and the week day together, will only be consummated when the

Ragged Church” and Ragged School shall stand side by side all over the land. And now, we begin to cherish the expectation that such a consummation may yet be reached. We do not disguise from ourselves or our friends, the difficulties which lie in our path.

We can well conceive that conscientious objections will be made by many earnest Christians, who may think that this scheme must lead to the violation of ecclesiastical order, and to other abuses and evils incident, in some cases, perhaps, to an ambitious desire on the part of persons not duly qualified to usurp the functions of a regular ministry; It is not to be con cealed, that there are obstacles arising from these and kindred causes. And yet, in the case before us, catholicity of feeling must and will lead to the cutting of a knot, which it might be vain to seek to unloose. The peril is imminent,-souls are perishing, even while we dispute

or hesitate, and if we cannot unite in "saving them with fear, and pulling them out of the fire,” they shall very soon have

gone to the place where the voice of mercy cannot reach them. Let there be

mutual concessions in this matter. Let wise men, men of understanding of the times,” ever keeping steadily in view the glory of Christ, and the salvation of the masses, see what can be done, and what is the common ground on which they can co-operate. Evangelical church: men, remembering that what Dr. Arnold

called “The Antichrist of priesthood," and the doctrine

of an exclusive Apostolical Succession, is alike repugnant to

« AnteriorContinuar »