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time of the first public meeting of the “Health of Towns Association.” To this day the look of everything at that meeting is distinctly impressed upon me: the platform; the empty chairs upon it; the table and bottle of water; the crowd round us, which were all new to me, are remembered as vivid first impressions are. And when, after waiting some time, a number of men came in — many of them of great importance — and I saw my grandfather amongst them, how proud and glad I felt that his efforts to interest others had been successful, and that he now had all this strength on his side.
I did not understand all that passed, but I knew when the speakers praised him ; and when his speech came, towards the end of the meeting, I felt the thrill of his voice, and liked all those other people to hear it too—I liked them to feel what he was.
But stronger even than the pride in him was the belief that people must be moved by the truth that was being brought forward; for, even more than himself, I loved his cause. He lost himself in it, and I caught from him the desire, above all else, for the progress of the thing itself.
It is pleasant to me now to see the words, only partly understood then, in which the public men with whom he worked expressed the feeling with which he inspired them. “Benevolent,” “ earnest, “indefatigable,”—this is what they call him when mentioning his name. Again and again he was thanked in the House of Commons and House of Lords for what he had done.
“The country was indebted to Dr Southwood Smith and Mr Slaney,” says Sir Robert Harry Inglis, M.P., “ for its first knowledge of the real condition of the poorer classes.
classes. Their unwearied labours for the instruction of the Legislature and the public on these subjects were unrewarded by emolument or fame; though the value of their services was beginning to be appreciated, and they would be more highly estimated by posterity than in their own day.”
And Mr Slaney himself says that “for the powerful manner in which he had first described the actual condition of the poor in their present dwellings; for the clearness with which he had shown that their most grievous sufferings were adventitious and removable; and for the untiring zeal with which he had continued to press these truths on the attention of the Legislature and the public, Dr Southwood Smith deserved the gratitude of his country.”
In bringing in the first sanitary measure in 1841, Lord Normanby speaks of what Dr Southwood Smith had “ taught” him; and in 1847 the same tone is still used.
In bringing in the Health of Towns Bill in 1848, Lord Morpeth, then Home Secretary, gracefully disclaims his own share in the work, and alludes to my grandfather, amongst others, when saying,
"Several persons of very great accomplishment, and, what is more to the purpose, of most ardent benevolence, both in and out of this House, have taken great pains, in a way which does them infinite credit, to inform and excite the public mind on this subject ; and now, mainly by the accident of my position, I find myself at the last hour (as I trust it may prove to be) entering upon the fruit of their labours and gleaning from their stores.”
All they could say of his devotion to the cause of the people and the saving of life was true. Silently, almost unconsciously, and as the most natural thing he could do, he pursued his point. As far as unceasing labour could enable him, he carried on both his professional and his public work; but when it became a question between private fortune and public good he never hesitated — he steadily and persistently chose the latter.
THE TEN YEARS' STRUGGLE FOR SANITARY
It is not easy to convince a whole nation of the truth of new principles, however closely they may in reality affect its welfare; not easy to produce a degree of conviction that shall lead to practical, tangible results. The early workers in the public movements, such as that for Sanitary Reform, have first to spread such a knowledge of existing evils as shall create a general feeling of the need for improvement. They have to educate the public until it believes in that need. And when the vis inertia of ignorance and indifference is overcome, they have to encounter the active opposition of those whose interests are bound up with the old abuses, and whose property would be affected were the evil swept away. Even