Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Criminal and the Community
Part II - Chapter II - Poverty, Destitution, Overcrowding and Crime


WHILE the majority of prisoners were under the influence of drink at the time they committed the offences for which they are convicted, it is equally true that they are in prison because of their poverty. They are there because they are unable to pay the fines imposed on them. Their offences may be attributable to drink, but their imprisonment is due to want of money. There are many who are most estimable citizens, though poor; poverty alone does not lead them to prison. On the other hand, there are many people who drink to excess and do not transgress the law; their drunkenness alone does not lead them to jail; but while a man may be poor and virtuous, his poverty will compel him to live under conditions in which any vices he has may easily develop into crimes or offences.

It is sometimes said that poverty, and especially the poverty of the masses, is the result of drink, but no statement was ever more grotesquely untrue. That drink aggravates poverty is obvious; but no one can shut his eyes to the fact that all poor people do not drink, and that all teetotalers are not rich. Drink is often a cause of poverty; but to attribute poverty mainly to drink is wantonly to libel thousands of our poorer fellow-citizens who live far cleaner lives than many of their critics. On the other hand, it is equally unsafe to attribute drinking mainly to poverty, for many who indulge freely are possessed of considerable means, and the practice is not peculiar to any social condition. That some are driven to drink as a refuge from the monotony of their lives is undeniable; but if poverty makes some men drunkards it makes others. teetotalers. They see that their chances of “getting on" are less if they take drink than they would be if they kept strictly sober, and they abstain till they have attained their object; though they may make up for their abstinence afterwards.

Of prisoners convicted for committing petty offences —the largest number—many have been driven to offend by the squalor of their surroundings. Poverty tends to limit a man’s choice in work and in recreation. He is on the verge of destitution, having nothing in the way of reserve, and he is forced to take work that may and often does result in an income that is much less than the expenditure of energy necessary to obtain it. If he is a member of a family or has friends in the district where he is living, he can usually obtain assistance in the time of his distress; and he is himself counted on to render help when required. That such help is commonly given by the poor to the poor is a commonplace, but its importance in preventing destitution in places where poverty is always present is not sufficiently recognised.

The majority of working-class families live almost from hand to mouth. The utmost to be expected from them in the way of thrift is provision for pay in time of sickness from a friendly society ; and even that is not possible for all the members of a household. Provision may also be made for aliment from a trade union in time of unemployment; and in some cases for some period there may be something saved and set aside in the bank. They are accustomed to hear of their improvidence from people who have never known what it is to suffer from ill-health and consequent loss of income, and who would find their place in a lunatic asylum if they tried to live for a year under the circumstances of those whom they criticise and direct. Their lamentations and advice are sometimes echoed by the man who has risen from the ranks to comparative opulence, and who forgets that if his neighbours had been like him he would never have been where he is. The only capital they have is their health, and anything may happen to set aside the principal member of the family and throw the others into a struggle that may lame them.

The life of the individual worker is nearly always one of interdependence. In his early years he is dependent on his parents and his elder brothers and sisters. When he is able to work his wages go into the common stock, and by the time he can earn enough to support himself he may have to contribute to the support of his parents. Thrift in the case of any family cannot be estimated by the money saved, and in many of the model thrifty families it may be found that the cash saving has been made at the expense of starving the bodies and minds of the children. Time and again, well-doing families have become destitute after a severe and prolonged struggle, or after a short period in which they have suffered blow after blow, as a result of sickness or loss of work ; and as there is no public provision made for helping such people until they are quite destitute, and then only the minimum of relief is given them and they are set adrift to recover under conditions that render recovery almost impossible, it is wonderful that so many manage to survive.

Those who sink are not therefore to be condemned on that account as worse citizens than those who survive ; the time at which they have been struck by calamity may account for all the difference between them. We are all liable to sickness and death, but if either comes at one time rather than another it may make a very considerable difference to our families. When a man who is in a steady situation with a fair wage dies leaving no provision for his wife and family he is condemned. It is in vain to point out that he used his pay towards their comfort and in such a way as to ensure their fitness ; he ought to have been more careful; and tho very people who preach faith are the first to blame him because he took no thought of tomorrow, but did the best he could in the day that was his. The fact is that every man who thinks, among those that are dependent on the wages they earn— usually under a precarious tenure of their situations— sees that his choice lies between securing the best conditions in his power for his family in order that they may be the more fit to do their work in the world, and doing something less in order to lay by some money for them; between starving them in essentials during his lifetime to secure them from starvation should he die, and giving what he has while he is there to give, in the hope that he may live to see them develop healthily.

From poverty to destitution is in many cases but a short step, and it may be taken by those who have done nothing to deserve it. Sickness, loss of employment, absence of friends who can assist, may drive a man to extremity; and then it is a hard task indeed for him to keep within the law and live. His sickness may enable him to qualify for parochial relief, but as soon as he is recovered so far as to be able to go about he may be cast adrift without means of support.

If a man does not live by working he can only support himself by the work of others; being destitute he must beg or steal. X 14 was a man of thirty-five years of age who was charged with theft. He was somewhat “ soft,” and had managed to support himself during the lifetime of his relations by casual labour. He was physically in good health and mentally not bad enough to obtain care from any public body. On the death of those who had looked after him he drifted to the common lodging-houses, but he had not enough devil in him to be attracted by any of the vicious or to indulge in any vices. He began to find difficulty in obtaining employment. Under the stress of his condition his mental defect became accentuated, and, though not prominent enough to call for official recognition, it hindered him in his efforts to obtain work. Asked why he had stolen, he gave a reply that in its reasonableness was striking. He said, “What was I to do? I tried the parish, but they could do nothing for me, for I’m quite weel. I tried beggin’, but I didna get much, an’ I was catched. You’re no sae often catched when you steal.” He did not want to steal, but it was the easiest thing to do. In begging he took a risk of apprehension for everybody he approached, and from most he would get nothing in the way of help. He took the same risk when he lifted something, but at any rate he drew no blanks. He had some very orthodox views on punishment; for he believed that the proper thing to do with a man who stole—when you caught him—was to send him to prison for so many days, the time to depend on the value of the property stolen; but he thought that the man who had suffered imprisonment for theft, and so paid the penalty, ought to be allowed to enjoy the proceeds of his theft; and he complained that though he had served so many days for the theft of a pair of boots, he had not been given back the boots on his liberation. I cite his case here, in spite of the fact that he was mentally defective, because he really stated correctly the dilemma into which a person is driven when destitute ; and because he appeared to be one who, had it not been for his poverty and destitution, would not have required attention either as a mentally defective or a criminal. His social condition gave no opportunity for the proper development of his mental powers, but stunted their growth. As for their quality, it is in no wise different from that of many who, thanks to better chances, are able to get themselves accepted as public leaders on the strength of an absence of showy vices, and tho exposition of a logical and narrow view of things; solid men and safe, free from levity and serious-minded.

Poverty is no crime, but it is something very like a police offence if the poor person is destitute. Everybody needs food, clothing, and shelter, and they cannot be had without money or its equivalent. A man may starve and go in rags rather than beg or steal, but he must sleep somewhere. He cannot pay for a lodging, and to sleep out is to qualify for sleeping in a cell. If the police were not better than the law in this respect our prisons would always be full. There are many men out of work who are far from anxious to get it; indeed, and for that matter, most people are quite content to do no more than they need ; and in spite of all that has been said of the blessedness of labour, there are few of the most earnest preachers against the idleness of others who would prefer to work longer hours for less pay rather than shorter hours for more.

We must discriminate; the objection to the man who will not work is that he is not content to want. When he gets like that he is so far from being an unemployed person that he has adopted the occupation of deliberately living off others ; that is his profession, and I am not at all sure that it is quite as easy as it is assumed to be by those who have not tried it. Certainly the amateur beggar makes but a poor show with the professional. His is, at any rate, a dishonourable and an illegal profession; but while in some cases he has been brought up to it, in many he has drifted into it through destitution. We ought to have no professional beggars and no professional thieves; but as they are in some way made, it does not help to an understanding of the question to label them “habitual,” condemn them, and neglect to ask, if they “growed,” how it was they began their career. Many of these full-blown specimens have been offered work at remunerative rates and have scorned it, which shows— that they did so ; that is all. It does not show that if in the beginning they had been taken in hand they would have refused to do their share of labour. All experiments of that kind only prove that the sturdy beggar finds it easier and pleasanter to beg than to do the kind of work offered to him; they teach nothing as to the causes which led him to begging ; and poverty and destitution are the most common causes.

In our large cities there are numbers of children who are destitute because of their parents being unable to provide for them, or failing to do so. They are cast on their own resources from a very early age, and have sometimes to assist in the maintenance of others. When they can, some of them leave the homes which have been far from sweet and take to living in common lodging-houses—in Glasgow we call them “Models,” with a fine sense of humour, for they offer the best of opportunities for the formation of citizens who will not be models. If the boy grows up as he can, and in the process develops anti-social qualities, it is not he who is most to blame; and when we condemn his conduct, as we must, we might at least admit that his course has largely been shaped by the destitution which it would have paid us better to prevent than to punish, when as its result we have allowed him to develop into a pest.

At the other end of the ladder there are men who are refused work because they are or seem old, and who are driven down through destitution to become petty offenders. I remember when I was employed in the poorhouse a man was brought to be certified insane. He had attempted to sever a vessel in his arm in order that he might bleed to death, but his ignorance of anatomy—he was a pre-school-board man—had caused him to make an ugly gash at the wrong place. He was talkative, and his story was clearly told. He was about fifty years of age and was unable to follow the only trade he knew. He was an iron-worker and had done hard work in his day. He had never been a teetotaler, but he had always attended to his work. At times he made good wages, but he had suffered from periods of depression. Sometimes he had been able to save money, but it had always melted. He could get work when work was to be had, but for some year or two now he was physically unable to take a place. He had contracted a disease of the heart. His son had got married and had two children. He was a well doing and industrious young man; sober, steady, and a good workman. He had been supported by this son, of whom he spoke in the highest terms. He also was an iron-worker. The son had never grudged him his keep, nor had his wife. Why then had he attempted to kill himself? His explanation was as clear as it was unexpected. He said, “Doctor, do I look unhappy?” He did not; indeed he was rather cheerful. “Well, I never had ony melancholy, if that’s the name for’t. My son’s a good lad. He slaves as I slaved, and at the end he’ll drap tae. I’m done. I’ve enjoyed my life on the whole, but I’m fit for naething but to be a burden on him. He disna object; but there’s the weans. Every bite that goes into my mooth comes oot o’ theirs. If they’re to be something better than their faither or me, they’ll need mair of the schule ; and what wi’ broken time an’ low wages they’ll no get it. I want them to be kept frae work till they’re educated tae seek something better. He and I have had our share of hard work. I’ve had my sprees, but he’s a better man than I was—no a better tradesman; I’ll no say that—an’ I want his weans to hae a better chance than he had. No, I’m no a Socialist; I’m a Tory if I’m onytliing, but I never bothered wi’ political questions, though I’ve heard a heap o’ blethers on a’ sides. What? Hell? Noo, doctor, does ony sensible man believe in that nooadays? God’s no as bad as they make Him oot to be, an’ at onyrate I believe that death ends a’.” There was no shaking him. All he wanted was some lessons in anatomy—which he did not get. He insisted that he was as sane as any of us, and asserted that he could not be certified; but he was wrong there. The law takes most elaborate precautions to prevent people killing themselves, aye even when it has sentenced them to death, but so far it has not made any provision for enabling them to work for their living.

We hear of the unemployable who could not work even if he were willing, but apart from those who labour under mental or physical disabilities—and many of them can and do work—I have not met many of this class. There are many on distress works who make a very poor show; they are not fit for that kind of work, but that is a different thing altogether from saying that there is nothing they can do that is useful. Certainly in the ordinary sense it cannot be said of the^ man who is too old to secure employment that he is unfit for work. He is shut out by competition, the employer quite naturally preferring what he believes to be the more efficient workman. Few of the older men who are thus thrown on the scrap-heap take things in such a way that they try the open door of death, but the fact that they are condemned to forsake their occupation does prey on the minds of many and embitter their lives; and the fear of dismissal increases in intensity as their hair turns white. When the blow falls, if they have no resources what is to become of them? There are all sorts of schemes proposed for dealing on the one hand with the young and keeping them longer at school, and on the other hand with the older men and providing them with work. To an outsider it would seem that if the number of men employed is sufficient to produce what is required, and there is a large surplus of unemployed labour, those who are working are working too long. A stranger might be excused for thinking that if one man is working eight hours and another not working at all it would be better for both that each should work four hours; but if he said so he would only show his simplicity. The man who is employed would quickly point out that this would reduce his wages. Yet when a man gets promotion, whether in the public service or in private business, his salary and his responsibilities are increased—the former certainly, the latter in such a way that it becomes less easy to get rid of him—but his hours are usually reduced; for more money would be of little use to him if he did not get time to spend it. This is merely an observation, not a doctrine ; but it is difficult to see how employment is to be found for those who are willing and able to work unless we cease to improve machinery and produce less economically ; or increase our production enormously; or divide the work and the proceeds more evenly. In any case, and while that matter is being settled, we might recognise the dilemma into which those are thrust who cannot find work and are destitute.

They must beg or steal, and if they get into the way of doing either they are liable to become less fitted and less inclined for other occupations. X 15 was an artisan earning a fair wage and enjoying good health. He was married to a woman who was a good housewife and manager. When he was about thirty-eight he was thrown out of work by a strike in an allied trade. A commercial crisis ensued and there was general distress. He managed for a time to keep his head above water, but his resources gradually were eaten away. His employers wound up their business, and when the local difficulty had passed he found that he had to look out for another place. While idle he had formed the acquaintance of others in like case. He had been a steady, stay-at-home man, but in their company he took to amusements which were harmless in themselves and new to him. He also imbibed a taste for beer, but he did not get drunk. The company was not bad company, but it was different from any he had been accustomed to, and it was not good for him. For a time he looked for work, but he did not find it. Others got settled, but the luck was against him, and he became discouraged and despairing. By and by he looked about in a half-hearted way, and gave more time to loafing than to seeking rebuffs. He was not destitute, as his family was able to keep the wolf from the door. In two years he was only interested in getting drink from anybody who would treat him, and in discussing public affairs with others who had fallen like himself. He had given up the idea of work and had degenerated from a good citizen to a loafer and, later, to a drunkard. He was never convicted, but he had to be warned because of his conduct towards his wife; and he died as a result of exposure wl^en drunk—to the relief of his family, who were in danger of being dragged into the mire by him. In this case his family saved him from destitution, but the loss of his work drove him almost imperceptibly into the ranks of the derelicts, in spite of the counter-influences of homo. In many cases there is no family to do what his did for him, and the process is more certain and easy.

Poverty compels men to live under conditions in which their vices may easily develop into crimes or offences; and it makes those who have transgressed the law less able to recover from the effects of a conviction and more liable to become habitual offenders ; but it cannot be said that the amount of convictions in Scotland is in relation to the poverty of any given district. In some parts of the highlands and islands, where poverty is pronounced, there is an entire absence of crime.

While no ratio can be traced between the amount of drinking or the degree of poverty and the number of crimes or /offences in Scotland, there is a very definite relationship between the density of the population and the incidence of breaches of the law. Not only is there more crime in the city than in the country, but from the densely populated parts of the city there are more committals than from the less crowded districts. The sanitary reformer has shown us that our city slums are breeding-places for diseases that do not confine their operation to the people who dwell there, but may easily infect those who live under more wholesome conditions; and substituting vice and crime for disease and death the statement is equally true.

By letting in light and fresh air to the houses where so many dwell we are able to save lives which would otherwise be crippled or destroyed by the insanitary conditions in which they are placed ; and just as surely we could break up the aggregations of people whose acquired way of living is fatal to the proper development of an enlightened civic spirit, if we were as eager to prevent as we are to punish wrongdoing. There they are ; born into little boxes of houses which are packed together in rows and built in layers one above the other in the air. Their home life is passed in similar boxes; and when they die they are put in smaller boxes and placed in layers under the earth. The health

officer would speedily interfere if we tried to house as many pigs to the acre as human beings; but we eat the pigs and cannot permit them to be raised under conditions that would be likely to result in their contracting disease. Also there are fewer people making a living by furnishing accommodation for pigs than for men ; and it is easier to regulate an occupation when those who are engaged in it are not influential, than when they are; for we have a traditional dislike to interfering with the rights of property. It is therefore much easier to punish a slum-dweller for breaking our sanitary regulations than a slum landlord for living off rotten dwellings.

It is well known that the worse the building is, the bigger the rent charged in proportion to the accommodation supplied. If a man owns house property he expects to make a profit when he lets it, from the difference between what he has paid for it and the rent he receives from it. X 16 is an old woman who is past work and has no resources. She has been in the poorhouse, but will not stay there, though better housed and better fed and kept cleaner than when outside. She is too old to settle down to the ordered life of the institution, and when all its advantages are enumerated to her and all available eloquence has been expended on her with a view to persuading ^ her that in her own interest she ought gratefully to accept its shelter, she sullenly and silently shows that her opinion of the place as a desirable residence does not coincide with that of those who are in no danger of being forced to live there. She rents a small house and takes in lodgers, intending to make her living from the difference between what she pays and what she receives in rent. Under the Glasgow sanitary regulations certain houses are “ticketed”; that is to say, their cubic content is measured, and a card is fixed on the door stating the number of cubic feet in the place and the number of persons who may be lodged therein. One adult is the allowance for every 600 cubic feet; and half that space is allowed for every person under twelve years. The sanitary inspector is entitled to demand admission at any hour in order to ascertain whether there is overcrowding. He calls one night and finds that the limit has been exceeded, and she is sent to prison, in default of paying a fine, for overcrowding. Of course there is a difference between her and her landlord, for she has broken the law. Precisely; but what kind of law is it that can reach only the poorer transgressor and allows the partner in profits to escape?

X 17 is a woman of forty-two who has never been in prison before, and is under sentence for overcrowding. On a midnight visit the sanitary officer found six adults in a room ticketed for three and a half—a bad case. The woman’s story was that her daughter had been married to a young man some twelve months previously. He was an iron-worker and seemed decent enough. He lost his situation through bad trade and was unable to get another. Meantime a child was born. The young people wrestled along for a time; but after exhausting all the channels of aid which were open to them, they were turned out of their house for failing to pay the rent. Their furniture had been disposed of. The girl’s mother took them in to shelter them. She admitted she had kept them in lodgings for some weeks before the “sanitary” came down on her, and I suspect she had been warned, but as she said, “What was I to do?” Asked if she had informed the magistrate of the facts, she said she had not. “I pleaded guilty, because if ye dae that ye get aff easier,”

She could not even make the best of her case, but if she had been able to employ a lawyer she would not have required to transgress the law; and as for stating her own case, that is what few are able to do—till by experience they learn. Even when a person of education and means finds himself in conflict with the law, if he is prudent he gets an experienced lawyer to appear for him and present the truth in the way that will appeal most strongly to the judge.

Overcrowding not only breeds disease, but it tends to destroy the sense of decency, and affords opportunities for the commission of crime which ought not to exist. Now and again cases come before the courts that have to be heard with closed doors, and in every one of them this factor of overcrowding is present, affording the opportunity and inducing to the commission of the crime. The subject is so foul that it cannot be adequately treated here without grave occasion of offence. Unspeakable corruption is easy and possible, and it goes on because it is unspeakable.

It has often been said that poverty and destitution are not likely to.lead to the commission of crimes against the person, but rather to crimes against property and a priori there is something to be said for the statement ; but whatever the likelihood we need not concern ourselves with it when the facts are before us for examination. In the first place, the great majority of persons in prison for committing assaults of all descriptions are poor persons. It is a rare thing for one in a good position to be convicted of assault, and even the most cursory examination of those who are in prison for assaulting others will show that their social condition was a factor in the causation of the crime. I have pointed out the part that drink plays in the matter, and incidentally shown that it is mainly operative under the conditions which exist in closely populated districts ; but many of the minor assaults are committed by persons who are not under the influence of drink. Next to drink, among the women, the most common cause assigned by them for their imprisonment is “bad neebors.” They do not lose their tempers and fight with each other because they are poor or destitute, but poverty makes strange bedfellows and forces people to rub against one another in such a way as to give occasion for trouble; and to leave the fact out of account is simply to attempt to study man apart from his surroundings and to ignore the effect they have on his conduct.

In some parts of Glasgow—much as it has been improved during the last generation—there is literally no room for the people to live. A place to sleep in, to afford shelter from the weather, to take food in? Yes. Room for recreation or for quiet rest? No. The forbearance, the good-humour, the willingness shown to stand aside and allow another member of the family to monopolise the scanty accommodation, are wonderful; and they are the rule. Now and then, here and there, a breakdown occurs; and if it result in a breach of the peace, we are not concerned to recognise the cause, but only to punish the wrongdoers. “What’s done we partly may compute, but know not what’s resisted,” and are not disposed to find out.

A stair-head quarrel is a stock subject for the humorist; but try to live for a week in such close and constant contact with anyone, earning your living the while with exhausting labour, and your wonder will be that the peace is so well kept. The fact is that those people put up with a great deal more than their censors would stand, and that is one reason why they are so badly off. If they were as impatient of our smug mismanagement as we are of their transgressions we should have learned how to regulate our cities long ago. There is a great effort made to evangelise the poorer classes, and it is well supported by earnest men who are better off; it would not be a bad thing if the slums returned the compliment and started a mission to the West End. The a 'priori reasoner would then perhaps learn that while he might expect that crimes against property would in part be the result of poverty and destitution, because such crimes would relieve the poverty, though in an illegal way; crimes against the person are also frequently a result of poverty, not that they are committed with a view to its relief, but because discomfort, irritability, impatience of restraint, and other mental conditions which lead to assaults, are as much an outcome of poverty as it exists in the slums of our great cities as are hunger and want.

There is no slum district in Glasgow that does not contain a larger number of well-disposed than of evil-disposed persons; but a tenement may get a bad name through the misconduct of one or two of its inhabitants, and a street may be regarded as wild although there is only a minority of rowdy people living in it. We take no account of those who do not annoy us, and when the noisy people anywhere assert themselves we forget all about the others. When we interfere officially it is to find that, good and bad, they stand by one another. In this respect they are like gentlemen; they do not give one another away to outsiders; and it is an interesting sidelight on their view of the law that they do not look on its representatives as their friends. So often its interference results in making their condition worse that they distrust it; and it is often a greater terror to those who do well than to the evil-doer. It is no uncommon thing to see a woman who has been assaulted by her husband plead with the court to let him go, and make all sorts of excuses or tell the most incredible story to account for her injuries. Then we hear exclamations and reflections on the power of human love and the forgiving spirit of even a degraded woman. Human love is wonderful, but it is no more marvellous than human stupidity; and in these cases the woman is moved not so much by love of the man as by knowledge of the results to her and hers of our way of dealing with him. On the whole, she prefers to run the risk of ill-usage from him when he is at liberty, being assured of his protection against the ill-usage of others, to having to wrestle on in his absence and suffer from the disapproval of others who are as badly off, because of her disloyalty. See that her condition is really improved by his conviction and she will be less likely to perjure herself in the attempt to save him from the penalty of his brutality.

In every slum district there are some living who could afford to go elsewhere, but who remain where they are because it has never occurred to them that they should remove. They have gone to the district in its better days, and the change in its character has been so gradual that they have not taken much notice of it. They stay on just as men stay on at business after the need has passed, because they cannot think of doing anything else and are loth to seek fresh fields. It is not good for them that they should do so, but it is not bad for the slum; for old inhabitants of this kind exercise a good influence on many of the others.

Most slum-dwellers are not there because they prefer slum life, but because they are unable to pay for better accommodation. The smallness of their dwellings makes healthy home-life difficult and in some cases impossible. Having no room in the house for the recreation required after work, the man goes out to seek change. The opportunities offered to him are few, except those provided by private enterprise. There are the parks, and great advantage is taken of them ; but in Glasgow they are nearly all at considerable distances from the most crowded districts. The public bowling-greens are used to the utmost in the evenings, but are only available for a part of the year. The libraries attract comparatively few of those whose labour has entailed much physical strain on them ; and picture-galleries and museums appeal to only a very limited number of our fellow-citizens, working-class or otherwise.

It was once the idea of those who pleaded for the public provision of means of recreation that these should be of such a character as would “improve” the working classes. The intention was excellent, but the people themselves were left out of consideration, as is usual when efforts are made to recreate men instead of providing opportunity for them to amuse themselves. Perhaps they do not believe that it would be an improvement to conform to our ideals; at any rate, the great majority have not shown any eagerness to take advantage of the means for studying science and art which we have placed within their reach ; and they remain as regardless of the worship of these deities as the great mass of the richer people who quite honestly have sought to elevate them. The private caterer has found a way to interest them, for if he failed to do so he would lose his means of livelihood, and that fact may have helped to sharpen his powers of perception. He has to amuse men as they are, not as he thinks they ought to be; and our regulations quite properly debar him from doing so in an objectionable way. The entertainments provided may not be of a very high order, but the purpose of recreating thousands is served. If we regret that they do not seek something better, let us remember the monotony of their lives, the numbing effect of the conditions to which they are subject, and be thankful they do not seek worse.

The small house of one or two rooms in a tenement is what the majority have for a home, and when there is a family it is insufficient to enable them to evolve a complete and healthy home-life in it. Social intercourse is of necessity restricted, for there is no room for the gathering of friends; and though public entertainments, while valuable adjuncts, are poor substitutes for social intercourse, they are better than nothing. The public-house is almost the only place where the mass of town-dwellers can meet in a social way with their friends, and the perils attendant on such meetings are evident to all men. The effort to provide some substitute for it has taxed the ingenuity and baffled the attempts of many temperance advocates and social reformers. Much as they have been criticised, the music-halls and such places have been a powerful counter-attraction, but any means of public entertainment cannot in the end supply the need for social intercourse between kindred spirits. Some day the fact will have to be faced that the only real substitute for the public-house is the private house; and when that is fully realised the slums will go.

Many have to migrate from one district to another because of the nature of their work. They have not “steady jobs,” and though they may not suffer from unemployment, they may be engaged now in one part of the city and now in another. The result is that they have no abiding dwelling-place, and as a rule have only the barest acquaintance with their neighbours; for when people are moving about in this way they have neither the same opportunity nor the same desire to form friendships with those around them. Improvement in the means of locomotion has contributed to send employers and well-to-do people out of the crowded areas of the city and away from the parts wherein their employees reside. They see less of their workmen than did a former generation, and their wives and families know nothing about the men whose co-operation is required to secure their comfort. There is less of personal contact than there was and more chance of mutual misunderstanding. The bond between employer and employed becomes more and more a mere money bond ; each seeks to get as much as he can out of the other; and with it all there arises a general feeling of instability and insecurity, the necessary result of the absence of a spirit of fellowship such as can only spring from the existence of a personal as distinct from a pecuniary interest between man and man.

Where people are crowded together regulations are required for their health and comfort, and the liberty of each has to be restricted in the interest of the community. The more closely they are packed the more interference is required. Practices which in the country might be harmless or even laudable would be intolerable if permitted in the town. To make our rules operative we enact penalties against offenders— and sometimes enforce them. There are so many now that it is questionable if there is anybody in Glasgow who has not at one time or another been a transgressor. The man from whose chimney black smoke has issued, or who has obstructed the footpath by leaving goods outside his shop-door, does not worry over, because he is not seriously worried by, such laws. He may swear a little when summoned, and say evil things about the officiousness of the authorities, but it is a small matter to him even though he is fined. The man who finds himself in court for using strange oaths in public or for spitting in or upon a tramcar has more worry over the business. Even a small fine makes a serious inroad in his day’s earnings, and the loss of time attending the court docks him of the pay by which he might discharge the fine. However much it may be required, every extension of the police regulations for the government of a city implies an increase in the number of offences and offenders dealt with ; and while it is necessary that transgressors should be made to cease to do the things the law condemns, it does not follow that the wisest means are always taken to secure this object.

A crusade against consumption will meet with hearty approval everywhere; but if the crusaders allow their zeal to direct their energies wrongly their good intentions cannot be held as an excuse for the harm they do. In a city that is ordinarily covered with a haze, and sometimes with a cloud, of smoke; where the inhabitants for the most part live in tenement houses that by no stretch of fancy could be called spacious ; where the workers are in many cases subjected to severe physical strain by the nature of their work; and where the weather is variable and trying; it is not surprising that many should suffer from “colds.” They are under the necessity of spitting, and they spit not out of joy of spitting, but because they have to. The practice is filthy— it is all the evil things that can be said of it; and it should be discouraged. The best way would be to alter the conditions that occasion it; the worst way is to make the spitter a comrade of the criminal before the bar of a police court.

As with this so with many other offences ; they are manufactured without due regard to the injury that may be caused by their enforcement. It is an easy thing to place burdens on the backs of others, but nr fairness to them it should first be ascertained whether they can bear them. Many of our laws are transgressed because of ignorance or helplessness ; and neither is an excuse. We are. all supposed to know the law, and surely no greater irony could there be than such a hypothesis. If everybody knew the laws there would be no need for lawyers ; and if the lawyers were agreed as to what is the law at any time there would be little need for judges. So well is it recognised that even the judges differ, that one set is employed to correct another; and a final decision is only arrived at because there is not another set yet provided to differ from them. If a layman does not know the law he may be punished for his ignorance ; but if a judge x does not know it the person in whose favour he has given a decision may be punished by payment of the costs of appeal. Let us not be too hard then on the ignorance of the man who has transgressed one of our numerous commandments.

In the country, and where people are not crowded together, there are offenders against good government; but there each one knows the other, and when a man commits a petty offence, though the local constable sees it, he may be judiciously blind if in his judgment that is the best course to take. He knows the inhabitants—they are his friends—and he reacts to the opinion of the district. If he makes an arrest the matter is discussed, and when the offender comes before the court, magistrate and prisoner meet as persons who know one another. Judgment is given on a knowledge not only of the offence, but of the offender, and all parties in the case are tried by the public. In the city it is not possible for the policeman to know the people who live in his district, nor for them to know him. This is a great disadvantage to begin with, for he is not able to distinguish between those who may be corrected and restrained by their friends without the need for their being charged and those who cannot be so dealt with. He arrests a person whom he does not know for committing an offence. The prisoner is brought before a judge who knows neither of them, save officially, and judgment is given according to scale. As for informed public opinion directed on the proceedings, there is none. In the city as in the country, however, if an offender is known as being ordinarily a well-behaved man he may not be prosecuted. If he is overcome by drink someone may see him home or send him there. It is not so much a question of his being well-to-do; it is a question of his being known. If not known, no matter what his means he cannot be sent home in a cab; but he may be taken to the police station in a wheelbarrow.

What else can the police do? We take men of good physique and character, many of them country-bred and unacquainted with the complexities of city life. They are paid the wages of a labourer, and with a uniform invested with powers and duties of the most varied kind. They must be able to keep people from offending, or to arrest them if they do offend; they must know the law ; they must be prepared to act as doctors on emergency—what must they not be able to do? We multiply our complaints, and cast on their shoulders duties we ought to perform ourselves;

blaming them not only for any blunders they may commit, but also for our own. We compel them to make arrests and then lament the result. X 18 is sent to prison in default of paying a fine, on conviction for using obscene language. She is seventeen years of age, but does not look more than fifteen. In years she is a young woman, but in body and in character she is a big girl. She is the eldest of a family, the father of which is a casual labourer. The mother does occasional charing. Both take drink, but neither has ever been convicted or charged. The girl is employed in a factory and earns about enough to support herself. At night she wants some fun after her day’s work, and she does not want to assist all the time in the household. She plays with other and younger girls and is probably their leader. There is no playground for them but the street corner, except they take the “back close,” which is not lit and which might be a source of greater evil than the street. A complaint is made to the police of the bad language used by the girls. It is certainly lurid ; but where have they learned it? The decorative expressions complained of are part of the current vocabulary of many in the district, but are used with more restraint by the elders. We have all our pet adjectives, which differ in different localities and are of the nature of slang. In the West End a thing may be “awfully nice,” though nothing can be at once awful and nice; in the East End the adjective may be quite as inappropriate, but everybody knows its signification; and so with other parts of speech. True, their language is filthy, but it does not shock those who use it; and that is perhaps the saddest thing about it. The girls are warned, but they persist in speaking their own language, and in bravado ornament it profusely and shout opprobrious words at the policeman. One is caught. She has not necessarily been worse than the others in her behaviour, but she has either run in the wrong direction or not fast enough to escape. She is taken to the police station and warned. The complaints persist. Again she is arrested. She is the bad one; she was taken before.

On her liberation from prison she had lost her work. She was shunned by the other girls, whose mothers forbade them to associate with one who had been in prison, lest they should be taken in charge also. It is an offence to associate with some classes of offenders and criminals, and the cautious among the dwellers in these districts do not care to take risks, so they try to keep clear of anyone who has been in the hands of the police. The law may be right enough, but you will not get them to believe that the innocent person is safe ; not if he is poor. “Keep awa’ frae Jeannie. She’s been in the nick; an’ if they see you wi’ her they’ll maybe think you’re as bad, and land ye there tae.” They would help her if they could, but they fear that association with her would only hurt themselves and do her no good. Those who have been in prison themselves will go with her, and those who are reckless; to their company she is confined, for she mil not take to religion and the help of its professors. She is soon back again; as cheerful and as tractable as any girl could be.

In essence it is a common story. The police could have done nothing else in the circumstances, and she had no grudge against them, but admitted that they had treated her fairly; can as much be said for those who by persistent nagging force the hands of their officials, and who are more bent on punishing offenders than on mending their bad manners? We have lost the personal interest we ought to have in our neighbours; we have gone out from among them ; we have cast on officials duties we ought to undertake ourselves as citizens, and the result is an increase in the number of offences. In themselves these offences are small matters, but the offenders in many cases find themselves in prison for the first time as a result; and it is the first time that counts. Every time a man is sent to prison for a small offence committed he has been given a push towards the life of a habitual offender; and the poorer and more destitute he is the greater difficulty will he have in overcoming the effect of that conviction. His first appearance may be on account of a small transgression, but there is a common saying that is often taken to heart—“As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.”

The absence of personal interest in their neighbours on the part of men in crowded districts not only permits atrocious assaults and homicides to take place in the very heart of a densely populated district, but it allows thieves to exercise their profession unmolested because unknown. It also enables them to escape observation when they are being sought for. The city is their hunting-ground and their refuge.

Crime is largely a by-product of city life. It might be mitigated if we were more public-spirited; but it will always be an evil crying out against us, so long as we permit conditions to exist which shut men into dens under circumstances that make decent communion and fellowship between them difficult if not impossible, and compel them to remain there till they can pay a ransom to the man who holds up the land for his profit or his pleasure.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast