Another Workhouse Probe
The following article appeared on 7th December 1867 in All The Year Round, a magazine founded, owned and edited by Charles Dickens. It was probably written by Joseph Charles Parkinson — journalist, civil servant, social reformer, and one of the magazine's regular contributors. Although not explicitly mentioned in the text, the article is probably describing the Leek Union workhouse in Staffordshire. In 1866, the union paid £4.10s. to the Churchwarden of St Edward's Church for a hearse and harness. The cart-shed at the workhouse had to be enlarged to accommodate it.
ANOTHER WORKHOUSE PROBE.
"PREFER it, sir?" said the Staffordshire workhouse master, energetically; "they're downright fond of it, and proud, too, I can tell you, for there's none of the unions about here has a 'earse to touch it. No difficulty about getting 'em to attend funerals now; all the old men volunteer, and we've six nice suits of black, so that we give most of 'em an out in turn. You see there was a good deal of dissatisfaction before, for a corpse is a heavy thing to carry, our inmates bein' mostly old and infirm, and the ground between this and the cemetery stiff. Consequently, when the old inmates had to git up this hill — you can see it over yonder, sir, between the trees to the right — they grumbled, and said it wasn't fair. To the guardians? Oh, no, sir, they wouldn't go so far as that — but to each other; and then some of the board saw 'em struggling on, and almost breaking down with a coffin between 'em in the hot weather; and a motion was brought on and carried, and all was settled, and this beautiful 'earse got in less than three weeks; for our guardians are kind men, sir, and like to bury their paupers well. Can the infirm mourners ride on it? Well, two of 'em can, in front, and the rest follow two and two. I wish you could see 'em, sir; it makes a funeral good enough for anybody; and they're all anxious to go directly we've a death in the house. You see for yourself what the 'earse is" (patting it affectionately, as if it were a favourite snuff-box), "handsome and well proportioned, but yet neat; and I do assure you there aren't one like it in any of the unions in the county. It's curious, downright curious, too, to see how our people have taken to this 'earse. Sometimes, when one of 'em's ill, and it's known he won't get better, they'll talk quite eagerly among themselves as to whose turn it is to follow him as mourners, and what a weight he'd ha' been to carry if the 'earse hadn't been got. You see it's a bit of an out, that's what it is; and now they've something to be proud of; they like funerals, and had rather go to one than stay all day in the house. For there's hardly anything to do in burying an inmate now. Of course they have to carry It from the 'earse to the place where the service is read, and from there to the grave — but that's all; and they're allowed to rest even then. We've a very nice horse that goes out with the bread-van for the out-door relief, and we just put him into the shafts, and he takes the whole affair to the cemetery without bother or trouble to any one. Would you like to look inside? No? Well, it's very roomy and snug, and is as well finished there as you can see it is from here. No, sir; we never refuse 'em permission to follow, if it's their turn, unless they're too old; and it's wonderful — downright wonderful — how eager some of the very oldest of all are to put on one of the black suits and play at mourners, as you may say. There was an old inmate now, eighty-three, and nearly double with rheumatics. He always insisted on his right to go; and when some of the others said it weren't fair, for he was so slow in walking, they always had to wait for him, and no good either at helping to carry It when in the cemetery grounds; so when, on one terribly wet day, we kept him at home out of kindness, blest if he didn't take it so to heart that he kept his bed. I don't say it killed him, because at eighty-three you don't want to look far for reasons for being carried off; but he never fairly looked up after he wasn't allowed to follow the new 'earse. As for the old man you saw peeling potatoes in the back yard, and whose cough you asked after, he's been just a glutton for funerals ever since the carrying by hand was given up, and I've no hesitation in saying, from what I've seen, that this 'earse is a real comfort, as it ought to be, to every inmate in the house. Is there any feeling of sorrow at losing an old companion, or wish to show respect to his memory by following him to the grave? I should say they don't know what it means. It's just the pleasure of walking behind what they know is a handsome thing, and of getting away for a time from here. For there's not much friendship in workhouses. Paupers aren't like other people, paupers aren't; and there's not much caring for one another when they're once in the house.
"Casual wards? Yes, certainly; you shall see them now. But our guardians, I may tell you, are almost unanimous against tramps, and we've fewer of 'em than any workhouse in the neighbourhood. Why? Because" (triumphantly) "We give 'em nothing to eat! That's the way, sir, depend on it; and, in my opinion, if tramps weren't fed, there'd be an end of vagrancy. We don't work 'em, mind, or give 'em bedding, or let 'em wash. No, sir. We tried all that sort of new-fangled work, and it didn't answer — not it. They'd eat their suppers or their breakfasts fast enough; but when work-time came, they'd rather run away than do it. System of control — labour-master? Bless you, no. We tried 'em with stone-breaking, we tried 'em with oakum-picking, and we tried 'em with carrying water; but they took to none of 'em, and made off every morning, as regular as the clock came round. Not likely to take to it, unless they're made, your say? Give 'em decent beds and bread and gruel, and take care to make 'em work it out the next morning, as is done successfully elsewhere? Why should we, when our present plan answers as well as it does? Why, we've fewer tramps in our wards than any of the workhouses near, and why? Just because they ain't coddled here, and don't get fed. Why, sir, if my plan was adopted, I'd back myself to clear the whole country of vagrants in three months. What is my plan? Well, let the unions combine — for it's no use trying it, mind you, unless all act alike — and put out a notice saying that, after a certain date, no tramps will be relieved, on any pretence whatever. Now, I've had a good deal of experience — I have; nine-and-twenty years I've been master here, and I say that if a good white board were put outside every workhouse in England, and this notice written on it in large letters, and acted up to, there'd soon be an end of vagrancy. There should be fair notice given 'em — three months, say; and after that, let 'em look out! What are vagrants? That's what I want to know. Nasty good-for-nothing fellows, who leave their parishes, if they ever had parishes — which is doubtful — and come for help to people who've enough to do with their own poor.
"Have I ever heard of 'A Short Way with Dissenters,' by the man that wrote Robinson Crusoe? No, sir, I can't say I have; but I'd make a precious short way with vagrants, if I'd my will; and I'm certain that, if you don't feed 'em, they won't come. I'm speaking from experience, mind you. Why is it our neighbours get more than we do? Just because they give 'em food, and we don't. However, here we are at the women's tramp-ward; the men's is just like it on the other side, and you can see for yourself how they lie. Straw, sir — good straw, that's all; and I'd like to see the man who'd say it wasn't enough for vagrants. Rugs in cold weather? Clothes to put on, if their own are wet? No, sir, not a scrap; they've got a knack of tearing rags and clothes — tramps have; and we don't choose to put our union to expense; so they just lay down as they are, or naked, if they like it better, and are got rid of in the morning. Washing-place? God bless you, they're not a washing sort — vagrants aren't, and wouldn't care to use it, if we had. Quarrel or behave badly among themselves? Well, then they'd have to make it up again. We shouldn't hear them, for this ward, as you may see, is a good way from the house, and they might halloa and screech their hearts out without annoying anybody. But we're never troubled in this way, I assure you; and our vagrants aren't worth speaking of, they're so few since we've treated them properly. Does the Poor Law inspector approve of our sending casuals supperless to bed, and dismissing them breakfastless in the morning? I've no reason to think he doesn't, sir; he's never said so — and he's a very nice gentleman, is our inspector, and much liked by the board. No, sir, not old — about fifty or thereabouts; but enjoying very bad health, as I believe."
The reader will have discovered that this workhouse experience differs from the one recorded last week in every particular but one — the irresponsibility of the discipline and the self-constituted character of the rules. Here, as elsewhere, and we are now on the borders of Cheshire and Staffordshire, having crossed England in our search, the management is of the kind in vogue when the New Poor Law wiseacres determined to put down poverty and misfortune thirty years ago, with such modifications and "readings" as perfectly unfettered guardians may devise. The place is beautifully clean, the inmates are tolerably fed, the beds and bedding, day-rooms and sick-wards, are arranged with mathematical precision, and the entire establishment is as sternly repressive and soul-depressing as the most misanthropic could desire. To say the sick are insufficiently cared for, is to repeat that we are in a workhouse; to say that the aged and infirm are left to tend or annoy each other without help or supervision throughout the night, and that the entire establishment does not show a single trace of human interest or fellow-feeling, save the boasted hearse, is to repeat, consistently, that we are in a workhouse. To say that helplessness, misfortune, and infirmity are so many crimes and misdemeanours, is to iterate once more that we are in a workhouse. Yet some of the maladministration within the house seems to arise from sheer wantonness or ignorance, and not from deliberate cruelty, as in the casual wards. Thus, with but ten people ill, and a resident paid nurse to attend to them, we find the door of communication between her room and the male sick ward carefully locked at night, and the medicines administered by a pauper, whose appearance, open-mouthed, hollow-cheeked, and vacant, recalls Smike. He is described as "a very superior young man, who oughtn't to be in here," but he stares idiotically when addressed, and says wonderingly, after promptings by the master and coaxings by the nurse, "Yes, sir, I'm wardsman," in reply to a question as to another pauper's age!" He's hard of hearing: that makes him seem stupid," the master explains; and then, translating a request we have — twice, "Show the gentleman where you. sleep, can't you!" precedes us into a room judiciously divided from the nurse's by a stone staircase, three thick doors, a substantial flooring, and a lock and key at night. Some old men, who are too far gone in torpidity and old age to even lift their eyes from the fire they gaze into and sit round, an old man in bed, with eyes closed and sheet tucked under chin, in that terribly suggestive fashion which seems common to bed-ridden paupers, and a much younger man, who rises from his chair near the fire to assures us earnestly that he is as well as he could wish, and would like to be let out that make up the party. " Nothing much the matter with any of them," the nurse explains, nervously plucking at her apron with both fingers, as I have seen. witnesses do under cross-examination. " Why does the doctor put them on the sick-list, then?" "Oh, they're too old to be good for anything, for the old man in bed is more than ninety, and one of them sitting by the fire is eighty-five. The younger man is always praying, falling down on his knees in the middle of the day, when nobody expects it" — a compliance with the scriptural injunction concerning prayer without ceasing which has landed him in. the infirmary ward. " Not very strong in his head," the master opines; "though his father was a mayor, and he has relations well to do, who turned him off because he went speaking of some lawsuit." Old men, helpless from age and infirmity, together with a man "not strong in the head," looked after by a deaf wardsman with an impediment in his brain — this picture suggests such frightful possibilities, that we ask, with some particularity, the nurse's precise duty in regard to them. Indefinite supervision by day, and a generous trustfulness in fate by night, appear to form the code by which that functionary is governed. It is necessary, you. see, to lock the door dividing the sick-wards for women from the sick-wards for men; and as the nurse's room is with the latter, it follows that the deaf wardsman has sole charge during the hours when assistance is needed most. "No, sir, there is no bell, and no way of communicating to me from the ward where the old men are; but the young man has only to get up, and come up those stone stairs at the end of the passage, and then along this corridor, and if he kicks at the locked door at the end of it, my room's not far off, and I'm sure to hear if anything's wanted. But it's very seldom, I assure you, that I'm required. Oh, sir! of course I should. get up directly, if he came, and he'd be sure to come if anything was the matter." We suggest, diffidently, that locking up aged invalids and incapable paupers together, and leaving it to the conscience and judgment of the latter to decide upon the necessity for leaving a warm bed, and traversing a couple of cold corridors and a stone staircase, to kick at a door until a nurse is roused from her bed some yards off, appears a somewhat elaborate form of How not to do it. But both master and nurse are thoroughly convinced that any departure from the present admirable arrangements — bringing into use, for example, some rooms on the same floor as the nurse's room, in which beds were lying empty, and which have not been used since "the year of the cholera and Irish fever" — would be injudicious and unwise: so we prudently change the subject, and visit the day-room of the old men not on the sick-list. Fireless, comfortless, clean, and cold, and without old men. These are all at work, some in the garden, others about the outhouses; and in one of the latter we come upon a cluster of feeble wretches, some blear-eyed, and either palsied, or shaking with the cold, who are cowering together and coughing against each other this bitter November day in a place flowing with water, without a fire and open to the yard, of which it is a part. The water is not turned on to the brick floor for the sole purpose of giving the dotards cold. Potatoes are being scraped and washed by three or four of the least decrepit, and the others are blinking and winking by their side, because to be sheltered from the biting wind, and to sit down, is less chilling than their other alternative — standing in the open yard. "What is the matter with the old man making the painful noise when he coughs?" "Well, I didn't notice which one it was; but they're all very old, you see, and liable to coughs." Such a row of helpless, hopeless, withered faces! One of them essays to bow cringingly as we enter; but the rest, like their prototypes round the fire in the sick-ward, eye the potato peeling like worn-out puppets, to whom volition or change of gaze is impossible. The majority seem so torpidly inanimate as to be unconscious of all but cold; and there is not one among them to whom a warm room, kind treatment, and what are called " comforts," are not as necessary as food and clothing are to the healthy and strong. To shut those forlorn people out in a flagged exercise-yard, or to leave them neglected in an open out-house, is simply shortening their lives. Looking at them critically, it was difficult to understand how the line of demarcation is drawn between the sick and the infirm. If to need nursing, medical care, and constant warmth, be "sickness" in a parochial sense, assuredly the men before us were sick. Let the guardians who read this paper make a tour of their spick-and-span model workhouse for themselves, and forgetting for a moment the incomparable virtues of whitewash, and the saving grace of cold water, let them, this winter, talk to the old people who are sent out to work, listen to their ailments, and observe their infirmities; and if their experience does not affect the discipline of the place, our faith in the kindness of Cheshire squires is gone. The house is confessedly occupied by the old and worn out. Out of the one hundred and twenty-three inmates it contained at our visit, there were but two able-bodied men; yet the whole of the vast gloomy place, which has accommodation for double the number there now, is kept in order, and every domestic function discharged, by people who are admitted to be past work. Either, then, the classification is false, or tasks are improperly thrust upon those unable to discharge them; and as we have seen that the house does not suffer, it is tolerably obvious the paupers do. Those dim-eyed, purposeless old men haunt us. We want to master the details of their daily lives, to know the lying down and getting up of people to whom a funeral of one of their number is a treat, and who take a pride in following the ghastly hearse which they themselves are soon to fill.
We hastily ask the master to conduct us to the old men's sleeping-ward, and this is what we see a long room, light, airy, cold. Beds running down each side, leaving a clear space in the centre and between each. Floor, white and spotless. Walls without so much as a fly-spot to break their uniformity. Windows facing each other at regular intervals, so as to ensure a thorough supply of keen fresh air. Outside the door, and at the stair-head, is a washing-place, with a copious supply of cold water and a couple of towels, which were clean at our visit, and are changed "when necessary." Here the feeble old men in the potato-shed sleep. The door is locked which communicates with the master and the rest of the house, but they are mercifully allowed free access to the staircase, to the cold water, and the closet. There is no bell or other means of communication; no wardsman, no pauper nurses charged with the limited responsibility which it is equally common and wrong to thrust upon them. In this room, which would be excellent for healthy vigorous lads, but is desolately penal for the decrepit wretches sleeping in it, men of seventy, eighty, and ninety spend their nights, unguarded, uncared for, unremembered, until the hour comes for unlocking the door and permitting them to go forth to the yard or potato-shed again. "Is there no one here," we ask, "to act for you in case of accidents? Suppose one of the old men were suddenly taken ill, or had a fit, or were quarrelsome, is there no one in charge?" The workhouse is too well conducted for any possibility of the kind. "Never have any trouble of that sort, I do assure you; and never find it necessary to put any one in charge. Of course the least infirm among them naturally takes the lead; but we've no wardsmen, it ain't necessary. As for a fit, or anything being wanted, one of 'em would get up, of course, and come down-stairs and through the other ward, and then knock at the door nearest my room, and I should be sure to hear directly." " Are paupers always ready to help intractable other? Are there not sometimes bad and intractable characters among them?" " Well, we never meet with any such. All is quiet and orderly when they're once locked up; and as for squabbling or fits, we never have anything of the kind." In short, the arrangements are of the best possible kind; a bell would be a superfluity, and a wards-man or night-nurse rather a nuisance to the people than otherwise. Listening to this, and silenced by the courteous firmness with which the master puts us right, we recall an ugly circumstance which happened at Bethnal-green workhouse a couple of years since. In just such a ward as this, aged and infirm men were locked up at night, without fire or light, as here; but with this apparent advantage over their Staffordshire fellows — a pauper wardsman had strict orders to call the master if anything went wrong. One night an old man suddenly fell out of bed, and lay somewhat unaccountably on the floor. After a time, one of his neighbours called on the pauper in charge, who, finding him "quite cold," refused to rouse any one unnecessarily for a dead pauper, and, after grumbling at being disturbed, retired comfortably to bed again, and the body was removed in the morning. Now, a considerable fuss was made concerning this dead pauper and his fate. Journalists said it was cruel to lock up aged helpless people and leave them to each other's tender mercies. The Poor Law Board, ever watchful, considerate, and kind, instituted an official inquiry, and every one concerned was examined and absolved. The master, since dismissed, was rather complimented than otherwise by the local press; the pauper witnesses contradicted each other and themselves, and made their evidence worthless; and after some fitful indignation on the part of the public, discussion, like the poor wretch who occasioned it, died out and was forgotten.
It had been formally shown that it was a mistake to suppose the ward was isolated; for bells, conveniently hung, and of sonorous ringing powers, were shown to be there only a fortnight after the sad event. It happened, however, to the present writer to feel doubtful concerning this pauper's death, and the circumstances surrounding it, and to inspect the ward and examine witnesses for himself, some days before the official inquiry began. Accompanied by a friendly guardian and the rector of the parish, he obtained admission to the workhouse, and examined the ward and pauper death-bed. The bells were not then put up, and the condition of things sworn to at the official inquiry proved not to exist. After the untoward death, and its more untoward publicity, efforts were successfully made to smoothe things over; and by the. time the official inquiry was held, all the arrangements and everybody concerned were blamelessly immaculate, except the pauper who obstinately fell out of bed and died for want of help. It was the accident of publicity, and the awkward questions it raised, that made bells necessary. Visiting committees of guardians had examined and reported favourably upon the workhouse arrangements every month, and every other precaution had been taken to show that this was one of the many best possible establishments, produced by the best possible system in the best possible of official worlds. The pauper died, questions were asked, and indignation shown; and lo! bells were affixed, and any such wickedness as locking up the aged and infirm without light or fire earnestly and: successfully repudiated.
How many paupers die thus from neglect, without discovery? Here, for example, the condition of the poor creatures we have just seen coughing in the cold — worn-out agricultural drudges, who seemed to be mutely asking permission to end their days peacefully and without pain — absolutely demanded warmth and care. Their age and infirmities make night-nursing essential, not merely to their comfort, but to their life; and to shut them up together through the long dark hours, without supervision or help, is to bid them die. Who, knowing anything of workhouse pauper-nature, its callousness, its servility, its cruelty, thinks it likely that there would be any disposition to rouse the master in case of the illness of a mere "inmate"? "No use disturbing Mr. Blank when the man's feet were quite cold, and he was as good as dead; for Mr. Blank couldn't bring life back again to a dead man, could he now?" was the reason given to us at Bethnal-green for not knocking up the labour-master. And cases are plentiful in which men and women have died through the neglect and indifference of the fellow-paupers entrusted to look after them.
It was a pauper nurse at the Holborn Union workhouse who, on her own responsibility, plunged the dying Timothy Daly into a warm bath on an inclement day in December; and a pauper nurse who improperly applied fuller's-earth to his sores. It was a pauper nurse who, at last, mercifully killed off Richard Gibson, at the St. Giles's Union, by giving him gin; and a pauper wardsman who left Robert Scolly to die unaided, on finding "he could not, or would not, answer" when. asked whether he were ill. The Poor Law Commissioners, in those consolidated orders which have been so carefully framed, and through the non-enforcement of which so much cruelty and misery is caused, insist that in large workhouses a paid porter shall be employed, as they "believe it to be of a rare occurrence that a pauper can be safely trusted to exercise the power and perform the duties of porter;" and this rule should apply a thousand-fold to all positions demanding delicacy and care. If pauper nurses are as thoroughly inefficient as we have seen, what is to be looked for when there is not even a pretence of deputing duties to any one pauper among the rest? The fate of everybody's business is proverbial; and when, as at the sick and old men's wards just seen, there are passages, and stairs, and wards to be traversed before help can be procured, the fate of an old creature, suddenly smitten in the night, can be easily guessed. He would groan, and be told, surlily, to "make less noise." He would struggle, perhaps, and then become still — with the stillness of death — but unless his condition made him actually disagreeable to the rest, it is childish to suppose any one in. the house would be roused. On inquiring of the master as to what would happen if a given case occurred, the invariable, "Well, it never does happen, you see — we never have any trouble of the kind," smoothes over all difficulties. We are asked to assume that old men of eighty are never ill until a Union doctor declares infirmary treatment necessary — that a hard-worked master is personally fond of being roused out of bed at night; that Staffordshire and Cheshire paupers are exceptionally full of the milk of human kindness, and without harshness to each other, or sycophancy to those above them — we are asked to assume any or all of these highly probable contingencies, and, in that case, we need have no fear that the paralytic and infirm are at all likely to be killed off. But, with the harsh coughs and death-like looks of the wretches cowering in the potato-shed still before us, the elaborate cleanliness and bare neatness of this long chamber jar upon one as much as if it were a living tomb. Nor is there any more trace of its being the home of people with the same wants and feelings as ourselves, than would be found in a row of trestles upon which corpses were to rest. Not a shelf, not a book, not a tray-stand, not a solitary attempt at cheap decoration, relieved the dreary uniformity. It made one's eyes ache to note the comfortless cleanliness of the chilly chamber and the prison-like regularity of the rows of couches. Not a word can be said against the beds, as beds; though the master was " unable to say" whether at this time they accommodated two inmates each, or one. They are clean and fairly comfortable. It is the absence of all human personal interest, of every trace of individuality, which strikes us as repulsively harsh for any but a criminal class. A prison, cleanly, well ventilated, but still a prison, where the inmates are looked after according to fixed rules, and where any yielding to personal tastes, any attempts at rendering the last earthly resting-place of the unfortunate, the broken-down, and the afflicted, home-like, is against the rules — such was our estimate of this dreary establishment. The axiom enunciated at the tramp-ward, "Starve vagrants, and there'll be an end of vagrancy," is paraphrased within the house into, " Withhold necessaries from paupers, and you'll make pauperism unpopular." This might be defended, if idle, worthless scamps were battening upon the poor-rates. In such a case, by all means make their discipline and regimen harsh. Hem them in by rules and regulations, forbid them comforts, and, while finding them with food and shelter, rigorously exact labour in return. And these admissions may be made with the more confidence, when it is remembered that the present inmates are, almost without an exception, declared by the parish authorities themselves to be unfit for work.
The children are at school, and, passing the receiving-ward, we enter a large room where an organ and other fittings show that it serves the double duty of chapel and schoolroom. Both boys and girls are being taught here, under a male and female teacher respectively, and lock well fed and happy. There are evidently no undue hardships for them. Their young blood keeps them in a glow in the coldest yard; and as for being locked up in the dark together at night, their only trouble is that the plaguy schoolmaster sleeps in the next room, and has a knack of appearing in his nightgown directly a comfortable pillow fight begins. This is the boys' view, and if field-labour or other out-of-door work could be substituted for this nasty schooling, which never did anybody good yet, and never will, why they would, they think, be tolerably satisfied with their lot. The sacred board-room, with firm-looking chairs, which suggest equal firmness in their users, and a general air of formality judiciously calculated to awe the pauper mind; a board-room, the sole ornament of which is the black harness decorating a corner, and some framed regulations, signed "Courtenay," for the Poor Law Board, is shown next. This harness hasn't been used yet, and is waiting for the guardians to approve it. "You see, what we had was rather worn when we put it along with such a 'earse" — the master, whose talk is not otherwise cocknified, persists in speaking of the gloomy caravan as if it were the dialect of the Gaels — "such a 'earse as ours is: it looked downright shabby; and so our guardians agreed to have new, for, as I said before, they're kind men, and like to bury their paupers well."
Laundries, admirably arranged, are shown, with hot and cold water laid on to each washing tank. In one, an imbecile female dwarf of sixty is rubbing her brown and wizened bust with soapsuds with a slow deliberate motion, as if trying to remodel it a better colour. She responds to the "Now then, Sally, look sharp!" of the master, by making the most grotesquely hideous grimace it has been our fortune to see save in a gurgoyle or a pantomime.
The lavatories, are copiously supplied with water and clean towels. We see a bakery next, in which excellent loaves have just left the oven and their tins, and are being ranged in warm brown rows on racks, by a shrewd baker, whose face and clothes are pervaded, like Mr. Tulliver's, with a general mealiness. We see the old women's day-rooms, with the infirm inmates dotted about like bundles of old clothes, some gibbering affably to the air, and others self-complacent and gossiping, as dowagers at a five o'clock tea. A table, and the means of sitting down to it, comprise the comforts and amusements provided here for old age. The old women have, however, these advantages over their brethren — the windows of their room look out upon the country, instead of a prison-yard, and they are not turned out of it to mope in the damp between meal-times. The tank at the top of the house, immediately under the latticed lanthorn window which is so conspicuous an object from the road, and a loft in which the scent from pauper-grown and pauper-gathered onions strongly asserts its equality with onions differently circumstanced, claim our notice next; and we gradually beat back to the room in which we first found the master. Then came a delicate duty — the duty of making our entry in the visitors' book.
Great people — a living duchess and a dead lord, a duke, and an earl's son; philanthropic people — notably a gentleman from Ireland, whose entry was methodically enthusiastic, and who iterated every item of approval like an inspired appraiser; official people — the guardians and the representative of the Poor Law Board — had all concurred in recording their intense admiration of this workhouse and its arrangements. Her grace's comments are mildly rapturous, with an undercurrent of implied feeling that if a harsh fate had not compelled her to be a duchess, she would choose the Elysian life led by the paupers here. The inspector has not a word to say upon the palpable defiance of the law in the tramp-wards, or about the neglect of the sick and old, but has carefully examined workhouse, infirmaries, and arrangements, a few months since, found everything in capital order, and would report "very favourably" to the Poor Law Board; adding, in a consistent postscript, that the ventilation of one ward is "very defective," and that some air-bricks should be put in.
In the face of these glowing statements, it requires some courage to hint, in writing, that, while the able-bodied and the children are well cared for in this workhouse, the arrangements for the aged and sick are susceptible of improvement, and that the practice of starving casual paupers is not in accordance with the requirements of the day. Yet we make bold to do this, in the name of All the Year Round, on the master asking us "to write something in the visitors' book." Whereupon that worthy, obviously staggered at our audacity, promptly changes the subject to "the new 'earse," which, to his mind, condones all shortcomings, and upon the beauties of which he dilates eloquently until we leave.
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