The Commonweal/Volume 1/Number 2/Our Civilisation

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4438530The Commonweal, Volume 1, Number 2 — Our Civilisation1885Frank Kitz


The church bells were chiming their summons to Sunday worship as your correspondent issued forth on a mission to make a few random notes on how the “day of rest” is passed by the various classes of the population.

My first steps brought me to the belt of squares which constitutes the nucleus of his Grace of Bedford's property east of Tottenham Court Road. This neighborhood is a decayed Belgravia, and although outwardly the houses are hideous, inwardly they are handsome and commodious, faced by broad gardens and backed by trees, and possessing all those hygenic and sanitary conditions which make town life bearable.

Here are some of the inhabitants of this middle-class region wending their way to church. Notice this group of befurred and beflowetred misses, whose attempts to keep up to every latest fashion have resulted in distorting their bodies and imparting to their gait a camel-like waddle. And see, here come Pater and Materfamilias; evidently the world has used them well, if plumpness is a sign of contentment. These are soon joined by a specimen of the petrified maiden lady type, who carries, in addition to their Church-service, a small pug dog; and judging from the care she bestows upon it, she would not wish to enter the state of heavenly beatitude unaccompanied by her pet.

They merge at the church portals into a well-fed and well-clothed crowd containing many similar types, and settle down in their rented pews to listen to their favourite preacher expatiating on the blessings of poverty. I had noticed the heartless stare or shuddering averted gaze with which these lip-servants of the Nazarene Carpenter greeted the advent of a begaar or tramp if one chanced across their path, and my became filled with indignant thoughts on the condition of things which produces this contrast. I peered down into the kitchen and and saw my class busily preparing the midday meal for the return of these Pharisaical parasites, and I bethought me that whilst in their comfort and affluence they employ a whole army of our brothers and sisters as helots, to minister to their wants and drive them in carriages to the scenes of their mock worship, they insultingly deny the right of the working class to a brighter of better existence even on the seventh day. Where not wholly indifferent to the misery of those who produce their wealth, and to the pressing social questions around, they are feebly and futilely endeavouring to patch the system up by soup-tickets and tract distribution, and the insulting cant of the mission-hall, As I passed through the gates which an aristocratic landlord is allowed to maintain across our public thoroughfares in order that the common herd shall not disturb the quietude of those whom I have just described, I though the Social Revolution will find these people, and their more aristocratic congeners of Belgravia, unready, and overwhelm them.

A short, quick walk soon changes the scene, and I am in the midst of the narrow courts and streets which lie behind the deceptive frontages of Holborn. The narrow street through which I pass is filled with a choking, sooty atmosphere, which seems to begrime all it touches. On my left hand is a succession of courts, all ending in cul-de-sacs. In the centre of some and at the side of others are placed common dustbins, all overflowing with evil-smelling refuse. Barrow-boards and barrows lie about the entrance of the houses, and along the filthy, darksome passages, and on the flags of the narrow and horrible back-yards, is stored in the unsold greenstuff belonging to the costers who rent the lower part of the houses. The intended (illegible text) in close proximity to the sink-hole, down which ever and anon is poured (illegible text) of odourous slops. In the upper portions of these places there exists—(illegible text) about to write lives—a class of hand vegetable-sellers, too poor to (illegible text) barrows, and their wares are stored in the most convenient place to (illegible text) as the bedstead covers the largest place in these confined dens, the reader's imagination can supply the rest. These bedstead, by the way, are, like the wooden partitions compromising the rooms, swarming in summer with disgusting vermin. All the efforts which the unfortunate tenants, between their struggles for a hand-to-mouth existence, make for the extirpation of those pests are unavailing, on account of the dilapidated character of the property; and to get drunk in order that they may not be disturbed by these horrible companions is their frequent expedient.

A philanthropist who has dabbled in matters pertaining to the housing of the poor, and been able to reap five per cent. from her efforts, said recently that, after all, the one-room life was not so intolerable as it seemed. The one room here is shared in many cases by two and three families the honest amongst whom strive to maintain an existence by hand-selling and market-jobbing—a class who, when the fight becomes too severe, die by the roadside of want rather than enter the bastiles erected for the punishment of poverty; a class, moreover, whom no efforts of the Trades' Unions as such can affect, and to whom the utterances of a Brassey or Levi as to increased prosperity are a mockery, which some day they may reward as it deserves, if the rich will persist in shutting their eyes to these horrors, and make up their minds to defend what they know to be an iniquity. Amongst, and inextricably mixed with, them are those whose rebellion against the law and order of Society takes the form of prostitution, theft, and violence. And last, but not least, in these places are the stunted and weazened forms of the child-victims of the state of modern civilisation into which, according to religions cant, it has pleased God to call them. Unfortunate children! their homes in these filthy, reeking stones. The full weight of Society's injustice, of man's inhumanity to man, is endured by them; they are foredoomed to the cell, the dock, and the hospital and pauper wards; for Society will not relinquish its right to punish, though the irreparable wrong is committed by society itself.

If you ask who are those who week and maintain these human sites for the rents they produce, whose monopoly of the means of production and financial juggling are responsible for this horrible condition of things, search among the sleek churchgoers I have just left, pretending to be the followers of Him who whipped the money-changers from the temple. They are the comfortabilists whose comfort is purchased at the expense of the misery and degradation I have so inadequately described. How long they will enjoy their comfort so bought is a question for Revolutionary Socialists to answer.
F. Kitz

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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