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CHILD LIFE FOR CHILDREN.

In 1868, after a pleasant week in a village on the coast of the Isle of Wight, it occurred to me what good it would do the poor children of London to see all the beauty of earth and sky, land and water, that had given us so much delight. I spoke somewhat tentatively to friends about the possibility of an excursion of poor London children to the island, but fear of a madhouse promptly shut my mouth: the consensus of opinion was so decisive that I could only agree with my friends that I'must be mad to think of it. However, we visited the same village every year with increasing delight, and in 1871, after three years of quiet consideration, I again spoke out, and was met with the same volume of objection, which was now, however, more definite yet less forcible, since, instead of asserting the madness of the idea, it took the form of practical objections, each of which seemed to me of no great force. Thus—the children would be lost on the journey; they would be unmanageable; they would be drowned ; they would quarrel and fight; they would get tired and want to go home; I should get tired and want to send them home; no house could be found for them; the expense would be enormous; the good would be very small. Objections of this kind could be met by making the trial and proving their value. A school excursion was announced ; a party of twenty went by rail to Portsmouth, crossed to Ryde, walked to Wootton Bridge (three miles), and within four hours of starting from London they were having dinner within sight of the sea, with the mainland in the distance. The next day they walked to Cowes and back, about ten miles; the next to Newport, and then to Carisbrook Castle and back, about twelve miles; the next, a van took them to Shanklin (twelve miles), then they walked through the Landslip to Ventnor, climbed over Boniface Down, and walked down to Wroxall, where the van met them and took them home to dinner, having seen about thirty miles of loveliness in about ten hours. The next day to Ryde and back; the next to play for a whole day on the beach, where they had always spent each evening, and the next they returned to London, where I said to my objecting friends, “We have not been lost by the way; have not been unmanageable; have not been drowned ; have not quarrelled; were not tired (except with bodily exertion), and certainly did not want to come home; a house was easily found for us; the expense was not enormous—about eighteen shillings each, including every expense from beginning to end. What the good is I cannot say.' The success was so complete, so unmarked by any, even the smallest, mischance, that objection was for once completely silenced, and every year our Isle of Wight Children's Party' was taken as a matter of course, which was expected to be a success and always proved so. The largest party numbered twenty-six, the smallest twenty.

In 1877 we had our seventh and last school party, for immediately on our return a cottage and an acre of ground was taken, near Sevenoaks, for a permanent holiday place for poor London children, and in 1880 a much larger house, with six acres of ground, was opened near Ingatestone, in Essex. Here poor London children are received for twelve days each, in parties of eight. A reference is required to a clergyman or surgeon to show that the children could not get a holiday in any other way; but beyond this no question is asked, and they are taken in order of application, except that children recommended by subscribers are taken at once, if really poor. But children are not taken on payment, nor unless their parents are really poor.

The object of this is to show how easy it is to do much good1. By the prevention of illness. 2. By giving great pleasure. 3. By showing that the world is not one huge London.

But there is behind this a larger thought—the desire to assert the right of every child to be a child, the wisdom of caring for the bodily health of even the poorest children (who are most likely to be hewers and drawers), the danger of putting a strain on the minds of half-fed, and therefore weakly, children, and the greater hope of school education being of permanent benefit if the body be strong and the mind freed from the cramping of the narrowest possible routine of existence. We do not expect good tables and chairs if the wood be warped and the workmanship bad; we do not look for fine strawberries if the roots be choked with weeds and the gardener careless of everything but watering at regular intervals; yet we expect children to grow into good men and women (and bemoan the depravity of the lower classes), when the development of the boy into manhood has been checked in every possible way, except that he has been sent to school regularly and taught to read and write. We expect a boy who has no playground but the street, no knowledge of the world beyond London (except from reading books), no experience of real pleasure to make life worth much to bim, nothing to develope in him the love of the beautiful, except a chance tree or a stray sparrow, no knowledge of any power but that of money, and none that shall make it seem worth his while to do anything but try to get money-we expect him to be a good workman, a good husband, a good father, because we have told him in school it is his duty. Always hungry, we expect him to learn to be moderate ; always between two huge brick walls, we expect him to develope into a right-thinking, broad-minded man; never knowing real freedom of mind or body, we expect him to learn self-government. And the lives of poor London girls are even more cramped than those of the boys; yet from them we expect even more virtues.

We all know the crimes of the London street boy; he plays tipcat in the street, he is rude, he shouts, he sings, he whistles ; the police say, with genuine fervour, ' The boys are our greatest trouble.' Yet if they had fair play and proper playgrounds; if we recognised that children want room, and free use of it, as well as flowers, or horses, or dogs, for proper development; if those who spend hundreds of pounds on flowers for the dinner-table, and on prodigal banquets for those who are not hungry, would spend one-tenth as much on hungry imprisoned childhood, what a difference there would be !

First as to health. No one will dispute the desirability of health in the labouring classes. The mere fact that their work is bodily, and that their ability depends greatly on their physical strength, is ample proof that, viewing them simply as mechanism for work that we wish to have done, we should do what we can to keep them healthy. It may seem brutal to speak of them simply as machines ; but it is far more common than may please us when we realise it. If a poor man, woman, or child be ill, there are hospitals provided at vast cost to heal them, and convalescent homes to complete their cure ; but illness is the only door through which a poor woman or child can pass to Nature. It is only when they are too weak to really and fully enjoy country life that they are permitted to know anything of it. But even from the purely utilitarian point of keeping the human machines in full work it would be cheaper to prevent illness than to cure it. A mill-owner notices the slightest defect in his machinery, and it is immediately put in good order. What would be thought of him if he allowed every machine to work without any care until it broke down, and then patched it up at great cost only to break down again sooner or later? Yet this is exactly what is done with the human machine, the most easy of all to be kept in order, the most difficult of all to mend.

It is divine charity to heal the sick, to bind up the wounded ; how godlike, and yet how simply human, to keep our children well, and to abolish children's hospitals by preventing sickness in children!

Second, as giving pleasure to children. This may be thought by many to be superfluous: they may think that children are able to find pleasure by and for themselves. The sick may claim medicine, but charity is not called upon to provide them, or any others, with amusement. There may be some, however, who think, as I do, that without a happy childhood a boy or girl is not likely to develope into VOL. X.-No. 56.

PP

full and profitable manhood or womanhood. But I leave this point, because the other two are amply sufficient to justify what I am pleading for; only saying, that of all pleasures that children have, the purest and the most real are those of country life. For this reason I have animals in abundance, but none in cages, however large. Ducks, chickens, pigeons, dogs, a pony and a cat: with these more even than with trees or flowers children hold communion, and many messages of affectionate remembrances are sent to all by name. Dobbin, Boxer, Woolly, and Tibby are household names in many a poor London dwelling. I have also flowers and fruit, that town children may know how little they cost, how easily grown, and how different in the country from those they see in town.

Third, as showing that the world is not one huge London. This is the chief object I have in view. Others besides myself now recognise the children's right to health ; all recognise their right to good schooling. I hope in time an intimate knowledge of Nature will be held to be an indispensable part of their education. It has been said to me that I do them harm by taking them for a few days from poverty to give them a taste of things they cannot hope to have again ; that I make them dissatisfied with the lot in which their lives have been cast. It is exactly this latter that I hope to do. To make them discontented without showing them that there is a possible and probable issue to good from their discontent may be wicked; but to show that the world is not one vast London, that the pleasures of Nature are not difficult to get and are certainly not costly, that the pleasures of conventional town life are not the only ones, nor even the best; to open their minds by the actual contact with what in school they only read of, to make them dissatisfied with paltry amusements, often demoralising and seldom elevating, to make them desire to escape from the cramping life, is to do them one of the greatest services I can; and so is it to show them also that there is no real barrier between town and country life, that trees and flowers, fields and birds, are not parts of some charmed circle that can never be entered by any but a fortunate few. The belief that the luxuries or even comforts of life are not attainable by the children of the poor is one that tends to deaden any effort to escape from the thraldom of poverty by giving no hope of success.

There has been much rejoicing that the first scholar' of the London School Board is now a senior wrangler, or something equally honourable, at one of the oldest universities. But this career, successful as it is, speaks only of intellect, and it is urged by some, with much clear appreciation of what education really is, that a few years' foreign travel shall complete the educational outfit of this very hardworking scholar. To the children of the rich formal schoolwork is the least important means of education : why should it be the only means given to the poor, who from the circumstances of

their homes want more rather than less of the means of full education? Variety of scene for the children of the rich; the attic or the kitchen, with the huge brick-walled prison-like school, for the poor ; foreign travel for the one, the pavement for the other; cricket and football, with long holidays, for those, pegtop and marbles, with the policeman for inspector and the horses' feet for companions, for these!

The child of a rich man has his independence of judgment and of action fostered by variety of occupations, by school friendships, long holidays, filled with agreeable diversity of scenes and pleasures; to the poor town child school is the only place of education besides the pavement; Nature is known only as something read of in books, of which a glimpse may be occasionally seen at a tea feast, under careful supervision, in a suburban field. To him life is not a bountiful variety of pleasures, but a weary monotony of school and home; at one all work, at the other no play, where he cannot make a noise without being a nuisance or worse. Why he should care to live, what he has to look forward to, is not very clear; and possibly no greater service could be done him than to give him means of spending half his time in more free communion with Nature, that the world should seem to be a something bright and pleasant, and not a dreary aggregation of houses and policemen ; that enjoyment should be known as a proper accompaniment of life and not a something unobtainable except by stealth and in more or less unwholesome form.

The benefits of such a modification in the life of poor town children would probably be permanent. Country life, good food, fresh air, would give strong bodies; and this would be much better than doses of quinine and iron combined with semi-starvation of both body and mind. The ills we now only tinker might thus be wholly removed, not by a vastly increased expenditure of money, but by a wiser use of it, giving every poor town child six months of rural life, and thus, besides giving vast enjoyment, replace a sickly crowd by an equal number of sturdy helpful men and women.

No doubt the political economists will be up in arms, or rather would be if there were any chance of this being done, and cry out against the pauperisation of the whole nation by relieving the parents of the care of their children and encouraging large families. I should be quite prepared to discuss this if there were need. Meanwhile I will merely point out that in a very few years the present generation will have passed away, and the next will be what the life of the children of to-day makes it.

As a practical illustration of the difference between a cramped and a free childhood, I add the following, which has been sent to me :

I was born in the City of London and spent my whole life there, never till I was twenty-five sleeping in any house but the one in which I was born. In my childhood when I played it was in the street, amongst the horses and carts and people, and my play was neither frequent nor hearty. Toys I knew but little of,

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