The young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them. -- LAMENTATIONS iv., 4.
The writer of these words bewailed a state of War and Captivity -- a state of things in which the great relations of human life are broken up and desecrated. But it is strange to find that the most flourishing forms of civilization involve conditions very similar to this. For, if any man will push beyond the circle of his daily associations, and enter the regions of the abject poor, he will see how the hostile forces of privation, and hunger, and unguided impulse, have laid waste the sanctities of existence in the abodes and in the breasts of thousands as with sword and with fire. There is no essential difference in starvation, whether it ensues from the ravages of an invading host or from the lack of means. Temptation is a fierce legion; and death looks no more terrible under a Babylonian helmet, than it does upon the gaunt faces of men who die upon the bare floor or wallow in rags. The worst calamity in a calamity -- if I may use such an expression -- the most deplorable thing in any of the great evils of life, occurs when the selfish instinct within us is aroused, by want or terror, to such a degree that it overwhelms all social limitations, absorbs every sympathy, and leaves nothing but an intense individualism. This is the result in a sudden shock of danger, when the alarmed instinct is the first that starts to the summons. Sometimes, in protracted peril, it grows into an actual delirium of selfishness, and drowns even the sense of fear -- as men amidst the horrors of a shipwreck will commit the most brutal excesses, and even rob the dying. And thus, in the desolation of Jerusalem as described by Jeremiah, the very yearnings of maternity were swallowed up by this fierce instinct.
"The hands of tender-hearted women cooked their own children; They were their food, in the destruction of the daughter of my people."
And results as bad as this appear in the conditions of poverty, suffering, and social degradation. Every fine chord of human nature is seared, sodden, torn from its sockets, in the darkness of the moral faculties and by the pressure of animal wants. The poor man is conscious of nothing but privation and suffering. He gazes at the power and discipline and pomp of society all about him, not as an ally but as a captive, or as a savage foe. The whole wears the aspect of a besieging army, and the Ishmaelitish feeling predominates. In the midst of the City he becomes an Arab of the desert, a robber of the rock. Now, it makes little difference whether the circle is wider or narrower, whether the siege is a moral or a literal one, whether the agent is the sword or the condition of society. The essential results will be the same. The civilization of New York may and does hem in a desolation as fearful in kind as that of Jerusalem, and involves sufferings as keen, and wakes up instincts as fiercely selfish. And one whose sympathies with the wide humanity are as fresh and clear as the Prophet's were with the woes of his people, might draw closer within these various circles of prosperity and refinement and activity, that lend such attractiveness to the great city -- this magnificent girdle of commerce, embossed with the symbols of all nations -- these arteries of traffic, filled with circulating wealth and power -- these groups of fashion and of beauty, whose cheapest jewels would open the kingdom of heaven to ten thousand souls; he might pass within all these bands of "civilization," and in some alley, or "Five Points," sit down and weep for the calamity of his brethren. He would behold there War and Captivity enough to fill an entire volume of Lamentations. Captivity! were men ever bound by a darker chain, or trampled by a harder heel, than those victims of destitution and of their own passions? War! did the Jew behold any hosts more terrible pressing into Jerusalem, than you and I might see if we looked about us? The entrenched filth that all day long sends its steaming rot through lane and dwelling, through bone and marrow, and saps away the life. Cold that encamps itself in the empty fire-place, and blows through the broken door, and paralyzes the naked limbs. Hunger that takes the strong man by the throat, and kills the infant in its mother's arms. And still another traitorous legion that, equipped with the fascinations of the bottle and the shamelessness of harlotry, appeals to the passions of the brutal and proffers comfort to the hearts of the sad. War and Captivity in the midst of peace and refinement -- is it not, my friends? And, with all this, may we not expect that fierce instinct of selfishness which overwhelms every other impulse, and breaks out in crime? Ah! and do we not discover a counterpart to that saddest feature of all in such circumstances -- a desecration even of the parental instinct? Fathers, beating their sons into the career of guilt; and mothers -- worse than those who made horrid food of their own children -- offering their daughters to the Moloch of lust in the shape of some "gentlemanly" devil with a portable hell in his own breast!
And it seems to me that if one with a prophet vision and a prophet heart, widened to the compass of humanity, should thus go into these waste places, nothing would affect him more; nothing would strike a deeper and tenderer chord in his bosom; than the condition of these little ones amidst the siege and terror. And, comprehending all their need -- their moral as well as their physical destitution -- he might exclaim, as describing the most pitiable spectacle of all -- "The young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them."
And I think that every one of you who has reflected at all upon this subject, must feel that, of all the conditions of Humanity in the darker regions of the City, there is none more sorrowful, more momentous, and at the same time more hopeful, than the condition of the Children of the Poor. And I do not call your attention to this subject to-night with the expectation of proclaiming any fresh doctrine, or offering any novel suggestion, but because in a series of discourses like the present I cannot consistently pass by such a prominent phase; and more especially because I wish to push the old truth from your heads into your hearts, so that you may be excited to immediate and practical action.
I purpose then, in regard to the Children of the Poor, to maintain one or two principles, to state a few facts, and to consider some remedies; and these will constitute the divisions of my discourse.
In the first place then, I lay down a general principle which divides itself into two specific principles. I maintain that we are under peculiar obligations in regard to children. Of all our duties, except those which we owe directly to God -- of all the ways in which we are required to show our duty to God -- I know of none more peremptory than this. It is the obligation of an instinct that appears everywhere; that swells in the breasts of the rudest people; that mingles with the most tender and beautiful and sacred associations of human life.
Childhood and Children! is there any heart so sheathed in worldliness, or benumbed by sorrow, or hardened in its very nature, as to feel no gentle thrill responding to these terms? Surely, in some way these little ones have "touched the finer issues" of our being, and given us an unconscious benediction. Some of you are Mothers, and have acquired the holiest laws of duty, the sweetest solicitudes, the noblest inspirations, in the orbit of a child's life. And, however wide the circle of its wandering, you have held it still, by some tether of the heart, bound to the centre of a fathomless and unforgetting love. Some of you are Fathers, and in the opening promise of your sons have built fresh plans and enjoyed young hopes, and even in the decline of life have walked its morning paths anew. Many of us have felt our first great sorrow, and the breaking up of the spiritual deep within us, by the couch of a dead child. Clasping the little lifeless hand, we have comprehended, as never before, the reality of death, and through the gloom, covering all the world about us, have caught sudden glimpses of the immortal fields. And, all of us, I trust, are thankful that God has not created merely men and women, crimped into artificial patterns, with selfish speculation in their eyes, with sadness and weariness and trouble about many things carving the wrinkles and stealing away the bloom; but pours in upon us a fresh stream of being that overflows our rigid conventionalisms with the buoyancy of nature, plays into this dusty and angular life like the jets of a fountain, like floods of sunshine, upsets our miserable dignity, meets us with a love that contains no deceit, a frankness that rebukes our quibbling compliments, nourishes the poetry of the soul, and, perpetually descending from the threshold of the Infinite, keeps open an arch-way of mystery and heaven.
And now, just consider what a child is -- this being thus fresh from the unknown realm, tender, plastic, dependent; a bud enfolding the boundless possibilities of humanity, and growing rank, running to waste, or opening in beauty, as you turn, neglect, or support it -- just consider what a child is; and he must be far gone in indifference or depravity, who does not recognize the specific duty growing out of a general obligation which is forced upon us by the intrinsic claims of that child's nature. If we were appealed to by nothing else but its drooping reliance and natural wants, there would be enough to draw our attention to every phase of childhood that comes within our sphere.
But our purpose this evening calls us away from these brighter images of childhood, to consider those who are surrounded with the most savage aspects and the worst influences of the world. And, beside the absolute duty which is imposed upon us by their natural position, I observe that the Children of the Poor create an appeal to prudential considerations. They form a large proportion of those groups known in every city as "The Dangerous Classes." For they will be developed somehow. If they receive not that attention which is demanded by their position; if they are left to darkness and neglect; still, it is no mere mass of negative existence that they constitute. There is vitality there and positive strength, in those lanes and cellars, put forth for evil if not drawn towards the good. We must not confound ignorance with torpor of spirit or bluntness of understanding. One of the most remarkable characteristics of vagrant children is a keen, precocious intellect. A boy of seven in the streets of a city is more developed in this respect than one of fourteen in the country -- a development, of course, which is easily accounted for by the antagonisms with which the child has had to contend, and the devices which have been inspired by the sheer pressure of want. He has been pitched into the sea of events to sink or swim, and those sharpened faculties are the tentacles put forth by an effort of nature in order to secure a hold of life. And there is something very sad and very fearful in this precocity. The vagrant boy has known nothing of the stages of childhood, conducting with beautiful simplicity from one timid step to another, and gradually forming it for the realities of the world. But the neglected infant has wilted into the premature man, with his old cunning look, blending so fantastically, so mournfully, with the unformed features of youth. Knowing the world on its worst side -- knowing its hostility, its knavery, its foulness, its heartless materialism -- knowing it as the man does not know it who has only breathed the country air, and looked upon the open face of nature. Is it not very sad, my friends, that the vagrant boy should know so much; and, without one hour of romance, one step of childish innocence and imagination, should have gone clear through "the world" which so many boast that they understand -- the knave's world, the libertine's world, the world of the skeptical, scoffing, Ishmaelitish spirit? And yet he has so little real knowledge -- there is such a cloud of ignorance and moral stupor resting upon his brain and heart! So much of him is merely animal, foxy, wolfish, and this sharpened intellect only a faculty, an instinct, a preternatural organ pushed out to gain subsistence with. It is a terrible anomaly, and yet, I say, it is none the less an active power, and shows us that, however neglected, the child of the abject poor is not dormant or undeveloped. In the first place, very likely, it has developed itself into a dogged atheism -- a sulky unbelief. The brain of the vagrant boy is active with speculation as well as with practice -- he has some theory of this life in which he lives, and, as might be expected, a theory woven with the tissues of his own experience; woven with the shadows and the lurid lights of his lot. A gentleman passing one day through the streets of Edinboro', saw a boy, who lived by selling fire-wood, standing with a heavy load upon his back, looking at a number of boys amusing themselves in a play-ground. "Sometimes," says the writer, "he laughed aloud, at other times he looked sad and sorrowful. Stepping up to him I said -- 'Well, my boy, you seem to enjoy the fun very much; but why don't you lay down your load of sticks?'... 'I wan't thinking about the burden -- I wan't thinking about the sticks, sir.' 'And may I ask what you were thinking about?' 'Oh, I was just thinking about what the good missionary said the other day. You know, sir, I don't go to church, for I have no clothes; but one of the missionaries comes every week to our stair, and holds a meeting. He was preaching to us last week, and among other things he said -- "Although there are rich folks and poor folks in this world, yet we are all brothers." Now, sir, just look at these lads -- every one of them has fine jackets, fine caps, with warm shoes and stockings, but I have none; -- So I was just thinking if those were my brothers, it doesn't look like it, sir -- it doesn't look like it. See, sir, they are all flying kites, while I am flying in rags -- they are running about at kick-ball and cricket; but I must climb the long, long stairs, with a heavy load, and an empty stomach, whilst my back is like to break. It doesn't look like it, sir -- it doesn't look like it.'" Or, take the following instance, which I extract from the Records of one of the Benevolent Societies of our own city: "Can you read or write? said the visitor to a poor boy. Marty hung his head. I repeated the question two or three times before he answered, and the tears dropped on his hands, as he said, despairingly, and I thought defiantly -- 'No, sir, I can't read nor write neither. God don't want me to read, sir. Indeed, so it looks likely. Didn't He take away my father since before I can remember him? And haven't I been working all the time to fetch in something to eat, and for the fire, and for clothes? I went out to pick coal when I could take a basket in my arms -- and I have had no chance for school since.'" Now this is fallacious and dangerous reasoning, my friends; nevertheless, it is reasoning, and shows that the mind of the poor boy is not inactive as to the problems of life. And the intellect which is so acute in theory will soon drive to practice. Stimulated by that selfish instinct which, as I have shown, will under pressure absorb every other consideration, he speedily commences the career of crime. And have you ever looked into this matter of crime? Or do you know it only as a monstrous fact in the social mechanism, and in the records of human nature? If so, it would be well for us to consider the way in which it appears to the violator of right -- the way in which things look to him who works inside the web of guilt. And we may be sure that it does not look to him as it does to us from the midst of respectabilities and comforts, or from a high intellectual and moral stand-point. Now I am not going to justify crime, or to indulge any sentiment upon the subject. But, really, one of the most practical questions that can be asked is -- "Why is this one, or that one, a criminal?" Do I say that the guilt should be imputed to the condition -- that it is all owing to circumstances? No: but I do say that, in nine cases out of ten, crime is no proof of special depravity apart from general depravity, and that the circumstances have just so much weight as this -- that put you or me in those same circumstances, in nine cases out of ten, we should be criminals too. In the same circumstances, my friends; and this involves a great deal. It involves an hereditary taint stamped in the very mould of birth; it involves physical misery; it involves intellectual and moral destitution; it involves the worst kind of social influence; it involves the pressure of all the natural appetites, rioting in this need of the body and this darkness of the soul. And it implies no suspicion of a man's moral standard -- it is no insult to his self-respect -- to tell him that, under similar conditions, it is extremely probable he would have been a criminal too. Reasoning in an arm-chair is very proper, and often very accurate, but the logic of starvation is too peremptory for syllogisms. There is a sort of compound made up of frost, damp, dirt and rags, which works double magic: it sometimes converts a thief into a philosopher, and sometimes a philosopher into a thief. I am not speaking, however, of the mere impulse of animal want, but of this condition where the counter-acting forces are dormant. And for this reason you and I can draw no immoral conclusion from the doctrine of circumstances. We could not be like the moral leper who infests the dark regions of the city -- we could not be like the child of sin and shame who broods there -- without losing our identity. In contemplating this matter, the feeling for ourselves should be simply one of humility and thankfulness. We have grown up in pure light and air, appeased with the comforts, and braced by at least the current morality of society. But, concerning those degraded ones, what some call "charity" is no more than "justice." It is no more than justice to say -- all the conditions being considered -- that as to a vast majority of them, crime is no proof of special depravity. It is the genuine humanity that is there -- not base metal. It came from the common mint -- somewhere you will find upon it a faint scar of the Divine Image -- but the coin was pitched into this bonfire of appetite and blasphemy, and it has come out a cinder. Thus, proud and happy Mother, might your boy have been a defaced and distorted being, kicked, cuffed, knotted with frost, blackened with bruises; a pick-pocket, a wharf-rat, a panel-thief; with his intellect sharpened to an intense and impish cunning -- only knowing that it is a hard world, and he must get out of it what he can. Thus, fond Father, might your daughter, whom the very winds must salute with courtesy, have gone through the streets at night -- a painted desolation, a reeling shame. Do you think these were made of better texture than those who blacken and fester yonder? Do you think that when these last came into the world there was no milk in mothers' breasts for them, no Divine solicitude about them, no tenderness in the heart of Christ; but that they were the refuse, whirled into existence as the great wheel of Life shaped the finer mould of the respectable and the happy? I tell you that God made them complete souls, and stamped His Image upon them -- but they have fallen into the dark and dreary ways; the fierce flames have hardened them; the foul air has tainted them; and their special depravity, over and above the common depravity, is the infection of circumstances. The young boy, the young girl, driven by necessity and sharpened with cunning, run into crime. They are all educated; for circumstances -- not merely books -- are education; but this is their seminary, and the alphabet is spontaneous, and the science of quick growth. And with the consequences of all this exposure and temptation we are all mixed up; and, if the claim of the child in its intrinsic position does not move us, prudential considerations should -- the consideration of what society does suffer, and must suffer, if these conditions are not changed.
Such, then, are some of the principles involved with my theme. Let us in the second place pass to consider, very briefly, a few of the facts. Briefly, because I have no time for details, and because the general state of the case is but too well known to you.
It is a fact, then, that there are among us a vast number of children in the most miserable and perilous condition. In the year 1849, the Chief of Police reported the destitution and vice among this class of vagrants as almost "incredible." In that report he says -- "The offspring of always careless, generally intemperate, and oftentimes dishonest parents, they never see the inside of a school-room, and so far as our excellent system of public education is concerned, it is to them a nullity." It appears that, at that time, in 12 wards of the city, there were 2,955 of these children, of whom two-thirds were females between the ages of 8 and 16. I am informed, also, by the Chief of Police, that 100 per cent. should now be added to this estimate; not all attributable, of course, to growth in depravity, but to the increase of population, especially by immigration. I understand, moreover, that within the past year there have been ten thousand arrests, and five thousand commitments of boys alone between the ages of 5 and 15.
These are naked statistics, affording you an outline of the actual state of things. Need I paint the costume and the scenery, and describe the sad and awful drama in which these children play their parts? I could not if I would. But think of that vast amount of young life running to waste, sweeping through the sewers of the social fabric, an under-current of taint and desolation! Think of them, starved, beaten, driven into crime not merely by necessity, but by the very hands of their parents! and think of them this night, cuddling in rags, shivering on straw, cradled in reeking filth, drinking in blasphemy and obscenity and cunning policies of sin, under that dark canopy that shuts out social sympathy, and hides the very Face of God. And if you have, I will not say parental hearts, but human souls, you will ask if there ought not to be some remedy, and will say that all who can should help in administering that remedy.
And remedies there appear to be, my friends. For, while I said that there is no condition in the city more sad and momentous than that of these children of the poor, I said, likewise, that there is none more hopeful. The essential and comprehensive remedy of all I indicated in the close of the last discourse, and shall have occasion to dwell upon in the next. That remedy is the practical operation of Christianity -- first of all in our own hearts, and then flowing out in action. I mean especially the method of Jesus, which consisted not of mere teaching but of help -- which touched not only the issues of the sin-sick soul, but the weakness and want of the body. To the demoniac, to the leper, to the impotent man by the pool, he brought not abstract truths, but words of healing and works of practical deliverance. How striking is the fact that the freshest and noblest charities of this nineteenth century are only developments of the manner in which the Redeemer soothed the sorrows and vanquished the evils of the world! For those institutions which especially excite the public interest at the present day, are those whose plan it is first to remove the children of the poor from those wretched and foul conditions upon which I have laid so much stress, and to lead them to a higher culture by extending, first, the hand of temporal relief. They aim to break up the sockets of custom, and to introduce the degraded child to fresh motives of action and fields of endeavor; to throw around him the atmosphere of a true home, and to blend intellectual, and moral, and religious training with that true charity which teaches one how to assert his own manliness, and support himself by the honest labor of his own hands. Now I do not wish to be invidious, I am glad that such a constellation of philanthropic promise has risen upon the dark places of the abject poor. I point with pleasure to what has been accomplished in the Sahara of the Five Points, and in what still remains to be done I discern a field broad enough to prevent collision and dispute -- broad enough to employ the means and the generous energies of thousands. With equal pleasure I refer to that "Juvenile Asylum," with its noble interposition ere the feet of the erring boy shall take the second step in crime, and which has recently rendered still more efficient its system of labor and relief by extending the benefit to girls. But as I wish this evening to concentrate your sympathies, I call your attention especially to the institution known as "The Children's Aid Society," the general character and the practical results of which I will briefly state. Its main object is sufficiently indicated by its name. Its machinery is simple, and acts upon the principle just laid down. It seeks first to remove the poor child from the coil of evil influences which have been thrown around him, and which have been daily strengthened by the sharpest pressure of animal necessities. It comprehends the two-fold benefit of education and labor in its system of "Industrial Schools." Of these, at the present time, in this city, there are eight, in which a multitude of children are educated, taught to work, supplied with a warm dinner daily, and with such clothing as they can learn to make. In connection with these there is one shoe-shop, in which thirty or forty boys earn a livelihood. Another object of this society is to find employment for its beneficiaries out of the city, and during the past year places in the country have been found for one hundred and twenty-five, where their employers treat them as their own children.
In institutions like these, then, you perceive the indications of a remedy for the condition of these children of the poor -- a system of help which gives something more than spiritual instruction on the one hand, something more than mere food and clothing on the other; which combines measures of relief and nourishment for the demands of our whole nature in the form of the ignorant and suffering child; and which, better than all, lifts him out of the humiliating condition of a mere pauper or dependent, and sets him in a channel of manly exertion, self-development, and self-support; which not only does the negative work of removing a mass of evil from society, but makes for it the positive contribution of an improved and educated humanity. I do not say that all the relief lies here, that it will do all that is needed, or that nothing better will be devised. But I think the tendency of these institutions is the right one, and that they indicate the way in which this great social problem is to be solved. But it is not necessary to say that the faith which we cherish in such a system is dead without works; and that something more is needed than a few model institutions working here and there. This matter makes a practical claim upon us all, in the fact that, in one way or another, we may all help forward this method of relief -- we may help it forward as active laborers in the very midst of the field, as teachers and missionaries, or contributors of our goods and money. Each knows what he can best do -- what is his special, Providential call in the matter; but let him be assured that he has a call; and that this spectacle of exposed, needy, suffering childhood is not a mere spectacle for his sympathies, but a field white with a harvest that waits for his effort. Have we nothing but sympathies wherewith to answer the poor woman's prayer -- a prayer that echoes through so many hearts in this great city -- "May the Lord spare my Archy from the bad boys, and from taking to the ways of his father!"
There is one thing which strikes me as very affecting in the condition of any child. It is when that condition is necessarily a melancholy one -- when the circumstances which hem it around cast over the surface of that young life an abiding gloom. A melancholy child! What an anomaly among the harmonies of the universe; something as incongruous as a bird drooping in a cage, or a flower in a sepulchre. The musical laughter muffled and broken; the spontaneous smile transformed to a sad suspicion; and the austerities of mature life, the fearful speculation, and forecast of evil, fixed and frozen on a boy's face! And then the sorrow of a child is so absorbing -- for he lives only in the present. In the afflictions which fall upon him, man has the aid of reason and faith -- he looks beyond the present issue, he detects the significance of his calamity, and strengthened thus a brave heart can vanquish any sorrow. But, as Richter beautifully says -- "the little cradle, or bed-canopy of the child, is easier darkened than the starry heaven of man." Surely, then, it is a blessed thing to contribute aught that will lighten this gloom, and place the child in natural conditions.
But there is one phase of this subject which, in its appeal to us, is more eloquent than all the rest. It is where there are children who stand not merely in the intrinsic claim of their childhood; or in their touching sadness; or pushing their energies into vice and crime; but nobly struggling against the tide of evil -- struggling to bear up in their lot -- enduring and achieving for the sake of those who, young as these children are, are dependent on them. If I had time, I think I could write a "Martyrology;" not following the track of famous men, whose faces look out upon us from the brutal amphitheatre and from the fire with a halo of glory around them, and whom we behold, by the vision of faith, with their gory robes transfigured to celestial whiteness, waving palms in their hands; but tracing out incidents in the lives of some of the children here in our city -- not dead, but living martyrs! O! I think I could write such a Martyrology, with blood and tears, over many a gloomy threshold, on the walls of many a desolate room; and let future generations come and read it -- a fearful record of human suffering -- a sweet memorial of human virtue -- when many of these old woes, we trust, shall have passed away for ever.
Permit me, in closing, to present two or three incidents illustrative of this heroism and sacrifice among the Children of the Poor.
Take, for instance, the account of a writer who tells us that in the street he "met a little girl, very poor, but with such a sweet sad expression," adds he, "that I involuntarily stopped and spoke to her. She answered my questions very clearly, but the heavy, sad look never left her eyes a moment. She had no father or mother. She took care of the children herself; she was only thirteen; she sewed on check shirts, and made a living for them." He went to see her. "It is a low, damp basement her home. She lives there with the three little children, whom she supports, and the elder sick brother, who sometimes picks up a trifle. She had been washing for herself and little ones. 'She almost thought that she could take in washing now,' and the little ones with their knees to their mouths crouched up before the stove, looked as if there could not be a doubt of sister's doing anything she tried. 'Well, Annie, how do you make a living now?' 'I sew on the check shirts, sir, and the flannel shirts; I get five cents for the checks, and nine cents for the others; but just now they wont let me have the flannel, because I can't deposit two dollars.' 'It must be very hard work?' 'O! I don't mind, sir; but to-day the visitors came, and said we'd better go to the poor-house, and I said I couldn't like to leave these little ones yet; and I thought if I only had candles, I could sit up till ten or eleven, and make the shirts.' ... She had learned everything she knew at the Industrial School.... She never went to church, for she had no clothes, but she could read and write.... 'It was very damp there,' she said, 'and then it was so cold nights.'"
I will, in the next place, introduce you to a garret-room, six feet by ten. The occupants are a poor mother and her son. The mother works at making shirts with collars and stitched bosoms, at six shillings and sixpence per dozen, for a man who pays half in merchandise, and who, when she is starving for bread, puts her off with calico at a shilling a yard that is not worth more than fourpence! But he is not the martyr in the case. When the visitor entered, her son George, about twelve years old, "was just coming in for dinner, pale and apparently exhausted by the effort of climbing the stairs, and sank down upon a rough plank bench near the door." He worked in a glass-factory, earning a bare subsistence. "He is a little old man at twelve," says the narrator, "the paleness of his sunken cheeks was relieved by the hectic flush; his hollow dry eye was moistened by an occasional tear; and his thin white lip quivered as he told me his simple story; how he was braving hunger and death -- for he cannot live long -- to help his mother pay the rent and buy her bread. 'Half-past ten at night is early for him to return,' said the mother; 'sometimes it is half-past eleven and I am sitting up for him.' Sometimes, in the morning, she finds him awake, 'but he don't want to get up, and he puts his hands on his sides and says, 'Mother, it hurts me here when I breathe.' I can work, and I do work,' adds she, 'all the time -- but I can't make as much as my little boy.'"
One more account. It is of a beggar-girl who "lives," as the narrative goes on to say, "in a rear building where full daylight never shines -- in a cellar-room where pure dry air is never breathed. A quick gentle girl of twelve years, she speaks to the visitor as he enters -- 'Mother does not see you, sir, because she's blind.' The mother was an old woman of sixty-five or seventy years, with six or seven others seated around. 'But you told me you and your mother and little sister lived by yourselves.' 'Yes, sir -- here it is;'" and at the end of the passage the visitor discovers a narrow place, about five feet by three. The bed was rolled up in one corner, and nearly filled the room. "'But where is your stove?' 'We have none, sir. The people in the next room are very kind to mother, and let her come in there to warm -- because, you know, I get half the coal.' 'But where do you cook your food?' 'We never cook any, sir; it is already cooked. I go early in the morning to get coal and chips for the fire, and I must have two baskets of coal and wood to kindle with by noon. That's mother's half. Then when the people have eaten dinner, I go round to get the bits they leave. I can get two baskets of coal every day now; but when it gets cold, and we must have a great deal, it is hard for me to find any -- there's so many poor chaps to pick it. Sometimes the ladies speak cross to me, and shut the door hard at me, and sometimes the gentlemen slap me in the face, and kick my basket, and then I come home, and mother says not to cry, for may be I'll do better to-morrow. Sometimes I get my basket almost full, and then put it by for to-morrow; and then, if next day we have enough, I take this to a poor woman next door. Sometimes I get only a few bits in my basket for all day, and may be the next day. And then I fast, because, you know, mother is sick and weakly, and can't be able to fast like me.'"
These my friends, are some of the "short and simple annals of the poor." But those of whom Gray spoke rest peacefully in the "country churchyard;" their spirits are in heaven, and their history is embalmed in his own immortal Elegy. But these records are of those who yet live and suffer -- "Martyrs without the palm."
And could I summon them here to-night, and would the Master but enter as when upon earth, surely he would look upon them in tender pity; would bless them; would take in his arms those whom the world has cast aside and overlooked. Nay, perhaps he would transfigure their actuality into their possibility, and we might see "the angels in their faces," pleading with us before the Father's throne!