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IN DANISH AND RUSSIAN OLD-AGE HOMES.
Were I a worn-out worker, dependent for my daily bread on the charity of my fellows, I should certainly wish to change my nationality, and to become, without a moment's delay, either a Dane, an Austrian, or a Russian. For of all the nations in Europe these three best understand how to deal with the old and destitute, how to secure peace and comfort in their latter days for the folk who have fallen behind in the race. In England a visit to any of the abodes where the aged poor are housed is, as a rule, more depressing than a visit to a prison: at every turn one sees a troubled, discontented face, or hears a voice that tells of hopeless misery. In Denmark, Austria, and Russia, on the contrary, the homes reserved for the old people are the brightest and cheeriest of resorts; after an hour spent there, it is the outside world that seems gloomy and care.
Some little time ago a distinguished Englishman excited great amusement in Copenhagen by solemnly announcing, after a visit to an old-age home, that England could not possibly afford to provide for her worn-out workers as Denmark provides for hers. He had noted the many little comforts with which the inmates are surrounded; had noted how well they fare in all respects, how contentedly and happily they live; and he had therefore taken it for granted that such places must be expensive luxuries. Were he to give a little more attention to the
subject, however, he would find-and the fact, let us hope, would set him a-thinking-that although the cost of living is as high in Copenhagen as in London, the average cost per head in Danish old-age homes is considerably lower than in English workhouses. But then Denmark obtains good value for every penny she spends on her poor, whereas England-there are English workhouses where the officials cost more than the paupers.
Although I was never yet in an oldage home, whether Danish, Austrian, or Russian, where life was not well worth living, among old-age homes as among all things else there are better · and worse; and the very best are certainly the Danish. No other country, indeed, deals at once so kindly and so wisely with her aged poor as Denmark; there is no clubbing together of the old people there, no herding of the worthy with the worthless. On the contrary, infinite trouble is taken to sift them and sort them, so that the precise treatment he or she merits may be secured for each one of them. In Denmark no respectable old man or woman need ever become a pauper; no respectable old man or woman ever crosses the threshold of a workhouse. Should a man-or a woman-who has completed his sixtieth year, find himself without the wherewithal on which to live, he applies to the local authorities not for pauper relief, but for oldage relief; and this, by the law of 1891, they are bound to grant him, providing he can prove not only that his destitution is owing to no fault of his own, but that he has led a decent life, has worked hard and been thrifty; and that, during the ten previous years, he has neither received a single penny as poor-relief, nor been guilty of va
grancy, nor of begging. The old people who fulfil these conditions are placed in a class apart from ordinary paupers, in the privileged class: they are the veterans of industry, and the position they hold among their fellows is much the same as that held by invalided soldiers. Although they are housed, fed, and clothed at the expense of the nation, they are neither regarded nor treated in any way as paupers. In Denmark the word "pauper" is never applied to anyone above sixty, unless it be a case of Tekel. Infinite trouble is taken, indeed, to keep the members of the privileged class free from everything that smacks of pauperism; local authorities are forbidden by law to house them under the same roof as paupers, or to allow pauper officials to interfere with them. The old men retain their votes, all their other rights as citizens too; and this in itself raises an insuperable bar between them and paupers; for paupers in Denmark have no civic rights worth mentioning-not even the right to get married. Members of the privileged class who have relatives able and willing to take care of them, or who are strong enough to take care of themselves, are each provided with a small annuity, and the rest are lodged in old-age homes.
The mere fact that the doors of the Danish old-age homes are closed inexorably against all excepting those who have led decent honest lives, gives to the inmates of these places a certain standing in the world, which is to them an unfailing source of gratification-gratification, let it be noted, that costs not a single penny. Far from any discredit being attached to living in an old-age home, it is regarded as an honor to be there, as a proof of established respectability and general worthiness. And all that this means to the honest poor, only the poor themselves know. I once found a worthy old couple within hailing distance of
starvation. They had been living for months as the veriest sparrows because they could not face, they said, the disgrace of going to the workhouse. In these Danish homes it is delightful to see how the inmates, especially the old women, plume themselves on being there; there is something quite touching in the dignified, self-important airs they give themselves on the strength of being recognized members of the aged poor class. Evidently they look on mere paupers much as Prussian Junkers look on the rest of humanity -as persons between whom and themselves there lies a deep gulf. I hardly ever passed an hour among them but some old man or woman inquired anxiously whether I was quite sure I understood that paupers were never admitted into old-age homes. What they were given to eat, or wherewithal they were clothed, seemed to be a matter of but little account in their eyes compared with being free from association with the degraded. There is nothing these old people love quite so much as their afternoon cups of coffee; none the less had they to choose between going without their coffee or sitting side by side while they drank it with those pariahs, the paupers, in every old-age home in Denmark there would speedily be one meal less a day -this is a point on which there can be no doubt.
"Yes, I am real glad and thankful to be here," an inmate of a country old-age home once informed me. "I have a better bed to lie on than I ever had in my life before, and I am just as comfortable as I can be. But," she hesitated for a moment and then added, with an odd little flush on her honest weather-beaten face, "I don't think I could ever have made up my mind to come had that lot been here." She pointed as she spoke to the Fattiggaard, the place where the disreputable poor, ex-loafers and drunkards, are
housed in their old age. Her remark was greeted with a little murmur of sympathy by the other old women in the room, who all agreed that the home would be spoilt completely if they must share it with all sorts and conditions.
Not only are these institutions reserved exclusively for the respectable poor, but the respectable poor are taught to look on them as their own special property, as the place where they have a right to be their home in fact. This, too, is an unfailing source of gratification to the old people, and this, too, costs not a single penny. Whoever crosses the threshold of an old-age home, even though it be the Borgmester himself, goes there as the guest of the inmates, and must knock at the door of each room and wait for permission before he enters. Then, when he does enter, what a flutter of delight there is; what a bowing and curtesying and handshaking; for they dearly love to play the host, and regard the entertaining of strangers not only as a duty, but as one of the great pleasures of life. Among these old
Danes there is no trace of that dull hopelessness, that "just waiting" which is so marked a characteristic of the London poor in their old age; on the contrary, I always found them, when I paid them a visit, alert, eager for news, and on enjoyment bent. Feeble though they may be, many of them, the old men were evidently keenly interested in politics; they have votes, it must be remembered, and are extremely proud of the fact. Their faces glow with delight as they tell how the rival parties keep them well supplied with newspapers, and send carriages to take them to the votingbooth when the elction day comes round. They were staunch Democrats for the most part-at ministerial doings they were never weary of cavilling-none the less they were all fer
vently loyal, I noticed, devoted to their King, "the very best King in the whole world," as one of them assured me, "although he does make mistakes sometimes." Nor was it only in politics they were interested; they seemed quite in touch with all that was going on both at home and abroad, especially in England, "the country where all the money comes from"; the country, too, as they never failed to tell me, "where our own Princess is going to be Queen one day."
Nothing is more characteristic of the lines on which these homes are worked than the fashion in which the inmates and their official caretakers mutually demean themselves. I shall not easily forget the lofty dignity with which a poor bed-ridden old dame informed me, one day, that her servant of course came at once when she rang! And the officials attached to the homes are not only in theory, but in reality, the servants of the inmates. In one of our model London workhouses several hundred decrepit old men and women are forced to get up at six o'clock in the morning, the same time as the young and strong; and this simply for the sake of saving the officials the trouble of making two breakfasts! In Copenhagen short work would be made of any master or matron who ventured even to suggest such an arrangement. There the officials are never allowed to forget that it is their business in life to make their charges comfortable and happy; that they are in the home, in fact, for no other purpose than to cook for them, tend them, nurse them when they are ill, and give them a helping hand generally. They must watch over them of course and keep them out of harm's way; but they have express orders to interfere with them as little as possible. For Denmark holds, and very sensibly, that as these old people are all worthy old people there is no reason why they should be placed
under authority, worried, and thwarted. They go to bed when they like and get up when they like-within certain limits, of course they go for walks, too, and pay visits to their friends just when the fancy seizes them. They lead their own lives, in fact, and go their own way; and, so long as they behave themselves properly, and conform to the few simple rules in force for the general good, no one ever dreams of interfering with them. Should they abuse the liberty they enjoy, however; should they wax quarrelsome and thus prove an annoyance to their fellow-inmates; should they spend their pocket-money (for they have pocket-money, fourpence a week) on beer and cause public scandal; or should they in any way conduct themselves in an unseemly fashion-things are changed. In such cases as these the master or matron must of course intervene; and, if remonstrances prove unavailing, must appeal to the inspector who represents the local authorities. Then the offenders speedily find themselves bereft of their pocketmoney and forced to take their walks within the garden walls-every home has a garden. They may even, unless they at once change their ways, be driven forth from the home altogether, and sent to live with the paupers.
The model old-age home for all Denmark is the new home in Copenhagen, which was built and organized under the direction of Herr Jacobi, who, as chief of the Poor Department, has done more than any other man in Europe to make the world understand that all schemes for bettering the condition of the respectable poor are foredoomed, unless based on classification. It is sheer waste of time, he declares-and no one can speak with more authority on the subject-trying to make decent old folk comfortable, if you shut them up with folk who are not decent. The new home is a fine building, standing
in a large, beautiful garden, and with another garden lying just beyond. All the rooms are bright and cheerfullooking, well warmed in winter, and well supplied with fresh air in summer; they are prettily furnished, too, although as simply and inexpensively as possible. The inmates-there are some four hundred of them-are allowed to take with them when they go any of their own little belongings to which they are specially attached; and these things give to the place a pleasant touch of homeliness which contributes not a little to the comfort of those who live there. The old men are on one side of the building; the old women on the other; while the married couples have special quarters of their own. There are no dormitories in any of the Danish homes; in the eyes of the Danish as of the English poor, dormitories are the very abomination of abominations. In this special home all the inmates sleep in bedrooms -two of them in some rooms, three, five, or six in others. These are their own private apartments, the smokingroom and sitting-rooms being of course common property.
In all the Danish old-age homes the food is excellent; but in the Copenhagen home it is better even than elsewhere, as the cooking of it is watched over by an expert, the former chef of a great restaurant, who takes immense pride in the dainty dishes he serves up for the city's old pensioners. Were he to see the hunches of hard beef that in English workhouses are placed before toothless old men and women, he would be horrified at our extravagance as well as at our inhumanity. The lucky old folk for whom he caters have every day dinners that they can eat in comfort, teeth or no teeth, dinners made up of stews and broths and cunningly devised concoctions of such things as sheeps' heads and tripe-all at once cheaper and more nutritious
than beef. The dishes are always highly seasoned, just as the class for whom they are provided like them; and they are served quite hot. In English workhouses the food is at best lukewarm. Then there are sweets as well as savouries, not heavy suet puddings, but real sweets, soft and light, made with milk and covered with jam sometimes. And these dinners cost less than the midday meal in workhouses; for there is no limit to the miracles that may be wrought by good cooking and skilful management. The inmates of the homes have their own little stores of provisions and find great pleasure therein. Twice every week a supply of bread, white, gray, and brown, is dealt out to them, as well as a supply of butter and cheese; and every day they are each given half a bottle of beer. First thing in the morning, at seven o'clock, large cups of hot milk are brought round to them in their own rooms. At eleven they make coffee for themselves, unless they be too feeble, in which case it is made for them; at twelve they have dinner; at three they again make coffee for themselves; and at five they have tea with cakes and whatever else the cook may supply. And they are as well clothed as they are fed, and as well supplied with amusement. A military band is told off to play for them in their garden, and there is a special theatre to which they are admitted free. Little wonder they sleep well o' nights and face the world cheerily during the day.
Large towns must of course have large old-age homes, and the home in Copenhagen is certainly perfect in its way. Still in Denmark it is not the large homes, but the small ones, those in country districts, that are the most attractive of all. There is one, for instance, at Fredensborg, only a good stone's throw away from the famous palace, that is quite charming. It is
a low white building, nestling in the side of a hill, well sheltered from cold! winds, and face to face with the sun. A passer-by would take it assuredly for an old farmhouse, standing as it does in a beautiful old-fashioned garden, one of the sort in which hollyhocks and lavender always grow. Under the trees there is a summer-house where the old people have their coffeewhen the weather is fine; for there are only some sixteen of them and they live together as one family, although. they each have a little private room to which they can retire when they wish for solitude. This home is the joint property of three villages, which also own jointly a workhouse and a forced-labor house. Now that they are compelled to provide a home for the respectable poor apart from the ordinary paupers, neighboring communal authorities often enter into some such partnership as this. There are communes, however, that prefer keeping the entire control of their institutions: in their own hands; and in these cases the arrangement adopted is very similar to that which would now be in force in England had Mr. Hutton's. Cottage Home Bill become law. A better-class working man and his wife are installed in a comfortably furnished house, and what respectable aged poor there are homeless in the village are sent to live with them under the close surveillance of the communal authorities. It is on the communal authorities that the full responsibility for the management of the home rests in the country, just as it is on the municipality that it rests in towns. The cost of the homes is divided between the State and the commune, or the municipality, as the case may be, one half of it being defrayed out of the yield of the beer tax and the other half out of the local rates.
I have visited old-age homes in all parts of Denmark, in large towns, in