Home Bezer in Australia Autobiography Deprivation Regina v. Bezer Correspondence, etc. Site Search Main Index


Ed. ― Ten chapters of Bezer's autobiography were published as instalments in The Christian Socialist from 9 August 1851 until the demise of that journal brought his account to a premature close. Nonetheless, this truncated ― and, considering the circumstances,  surprisingly well written ― record forms both an interesting and an important portrayal, at first hand, of working-class life in Dickensian London. Some other slightly later accounts, taken from The Illustrated London News, appear under 'Deprivation'.


The Autobiography of One of the
Chartist Rebels of 1848

"And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him."

1 Samuel, xxii, v. 3.


"Let those who have in Fortune's lap
    Been softly nursed, repine
At days of childhood past and gone,—
    Their sorrows are not mine.

Let those whose boyish days were free
    From every ill and care,
Regret their flight, in pensive mood,—
    Their grief I cannot share.

Let those whose youth in pleasant years,
    Untroubled, swift, went by;
With aching heart sigh for the past,—
    With them I cannot sigh.

Let those whom now, in manhood's prime,
    No cares of peace bereave,
Lament the rapid pace of time,—
    With them I cannot grieve.

The retrospect of childhood's years,
    To me no pleasure brings;
Nor are my thoughts of boyish days
    The thoughts of pleasant things.

My youth was crossed, nor on my prime
    Does better fortune shine;
Then why should such a luckless wight
    O'er the dull past repine?

No! speed thee time—speed on, speed on!
    Thy haste I would not slack;
Still less, believe me, honest friend,
    I wish to see thee back.

Speed on—speed on then, to thy goal,
    And still with swifter wing!
From me thou can'st take nought away,
    Whatever thou mayst bring."



    ["A Chartist Rebel permitted to write in the Christian Socialist!  I'll not take in another num."—"Hold, 'Tory Bill,' say nothing rashly."  "What do poor people want?  Isn't there a prison for those who do grumble, and a workhouse for those who don't, with a Bible and Prayer-book in both places; and a Protestant (we'll have no Popery there)—a Protestant Chaplain to explain the texts properly, in order that they may know their duty to their superiors, and learn meekly to bow to all those placed in authority over them.  Can the rich do more?"—"Yes.  They can 'do unto others as they would be done unto.'  They can 'sell (hard saying) all they have and follow Christ.'  They can glorify God, and 'let his will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.'  They can confess (out of church as well as in it) 'that they have done that which they ought not to have done'—own that 'the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.'  Shake hands with the poor, and

'Brothers be for a' that.'

    "Is there anything remarkable then in your life?"

    "No, not very; except, perhaps, the Newgate affair—it is the life of millions in this 'happy land,' 'the admiration of the world, and the envy of surrounding nations'—where glorious Commerce has reached such perfection that everything, even the blood, and sweat, and lives, of white slaves, is bought cheap and sold dear,—so dear that the average lives of the poor in some towns amount to about seventeen years."

    "Oh, I see it all now!  You had nought to lose in 1848, and so your motto was, 'Down with everything, and up with nothing but anarchy, confusion, and civil war.'  Thank God, however, and the Special Constables, the 10th of April showed"

    "Showed what?—that class had arisen against class, where there ought to be no classes; that the lower orders had to wait a little longer; that there was a great gulf fixed between the poor and the rich which nothing but practical—mark! practical Christian Socialism can remove."

    "Pooh, pooh—there must be always poor—the Lord ordained it—it is His will;—besides, the rich are very charitable—very; good Dukes of Cambridges everywhere; and this is a fine country after all—full of soup-kitchens and straw-yards for the deserving poor; but they are never satisfied."—]

Shop fronts, Artillery Lane, Spitalfields

    Between the hours of eleven and twelve on the morning of Saturday, 24th August, 1816, in Hope-street, Spitalfields, stood a little barber's shop, serving for parlour, kitchen and bedroom as well.

    "They tells me as how you shaves here for a penny," said a patron of competition, who had been operated upon aforetime at the shop over the way for three halfpence.

    "Yes, sir, I does," was the bland reply.


Christ Church, Spitalfields

   The man, after being barberously used,—paid, was thanked, and the penny—the first that day—placed on the mantle-shelf by the proprietor of the establishment with a sigh; in five minutes after, the Chartist Rebel was born in that self-same shop, with that solitary penny between the three of us, and the brokers in the place for six weeks' rent at 4s. per week!  Strange to tell, mother and father were both confined on the same day—the former with a surplus population of one, the reward of twenty years' matrimonial love,—the latter with a drunken man in a dirty little watch-house, at the corner of Spitalfields' Church, the reward of knocking down the broker's man,—father considering in a moment of passion, that he was a surplus population of one in such an eventful hour as that.  "All's well however that ends well."  Father was up and out again in a few hours, (as well as could be expected, as the ladies say), five shillings were borrowed from a cousin in White's Row, and never paid, I believe, (but I can plead the Statute of Limitations; besides I was a minor then), and better still, the landlord forgave us the rent, saying it was all through me.  Thus was I worth to my parents, the first day I made a noise in the world, the sum of £1. 4s, sterling.  So it proved "good tidings of comfort and joy" after all.  My ungrateful parents have often told me that I was worth more to them on that day than I have been worth to them ever since.

    I can assure my readers that the fact of the goods and chattels being seized upon made no effect on me,—nay, it would have made none even if I had been seized upon myself; so that mammy had been seized with me I should not have minded, the little I wanted I had, and if I could have sung, I should have chanted

"I am content—I do not care,
 Wag as it will the world for me."

    Six months after my birth, my left eye left me for ever,—the small pox, the cause.  For two months I was totally blind, and very bad, the "faculty" giving me over for dead more than once.  The "faculty" were wrong; I recovered, minus an eye, and often have I been nearly run over through having a "single eye" towards the road; and often have I knocked against a dead wall, and hugged it as if I really loved the dark side of a question.  Ah, I've had many a blow through giving half a look at a thing!  How many times since I became a costermonger has a policeman hallooed in my ear, "Come! move hon there, vill yer! now go hon, move yer hoff!" while I've actually thought he was on duty in some kitchen with the servant girl, taking care of the house as the master and mistress were out.  It was not however so; there he has stood in all his beauty, a Sir Robert Peel's monument—a real one, alive,—and sometimes have I seen him kicking.



  "Then he got eddication,
  Just fit for his station,
For yer knows we all on us a summet must larn."

Mister Benjamin Block.

    Right, "Ben," but what?  Shall it tend to good or ill?  A most important question, that not only infinitely concerns the neglected victims of a bad or insufficient education, but society at large; evil training, sir, is like the measles—catching! he who commits a bad action has generally learned to do so, and then he learns another, and so the disease goes on.

    My education was very meagre; I learnt more in Newgate than at my Sunday school, but let me not anticipate.

    Among the many days I shall probably for life remember, is the 21st of December, 1821, when breeched for the first time, and twopence in my bran-new pocket, I proudly marched to Raven Row Sunday School and had my name entered.  From that hour, until the hour I finally left, which, with the exception of two intervenings of short duration, lasted nearly fifteen years, I can truly say I loved my school,—no crying when Sunday came round.

"I loved that blessed day
 The best of all the seven."

    I yearned for it;—whether it was because my home was not as it ought to have been, (a painful subject I shall feel bound to say something about in due order,) or because association has ever seemed dear to me, or because I desired to show myself off as an apt scholar, or because I really wanted to learn, or all these causes combined—most certainly I was ever the first to get in to school, and the last to go out.

Spitalfields - London's East End, North of the Thames

    I ought to have learned a great deal, say you, in fifteen years; well, in the opinion of some, I did, for notwithstanding the disadvantages I laboured under both at home and at school, and there only being six hours a week for me, I rapidly rose from class to class; at seven years old I was in the "testament class"—at eight, in the highest—shortly after, "head boy"—soon after that, "monitor"—at eleven, teacher—and long before I left, head teacher;—and yet, what had I learned? to read well, and that was all.  Three years ago I knew nothing of arithmetic, and could scarcely write my own name.

    I have just spoken of the disadvantages at school—I shall doubtless displease some of my readers in what I am going to say, but when I commenced this history, I determined that it should be a genuine one, and that I would put down my thoughts without reserve.  Now, that school did not even learn me to read; six hours a week, certainly not one hour of useful knowledge; plenty of cant, and what my teachers used to call explaining difficult texts in the Bible, but little, very little else.

    I am not going to enter into any theological discussion, but I am going to tell the discipline, routine, and teaching of an average London Dissenting Sunday School of a quarter of a century ago.

    'Tis nine o'clock, Sabbath-day morning, the girls and the boys, old and young, are promiscuously mingling together on the door steps; about a quarter past, the teachers begin to arrive, and the doors are opened—a rush up stairs, and a little order restored by the superintendent going round with the early attendance reward tickets, taking at least another quarter of an hour,—then a hymn sung, very likely the following:

"Not more than others I deserve,
 Yet God hath given me more."

And worse still—

"For I have food, while others starve,
 And beg from door to door."

    Now, I would rather believe in no God at all, than in such a one as is described in this verse.  What! praise the Great Supreme Being, who is no respecter of persons, for giving me plenty to eat, and causing others at least as good as I, to starve though surrounded with plenty; rank blasphemy! it is such teaching as this, that keeps up our monster social evils, from generation to generation, the young mind is taught to attribute that to God, which only "Man's inhumanity to man" has brought about.  However, I used to sing it most lustily, though sometimes hungry myself,—and so did my fellow scholars, whether hungry or full deponent is not able to say.  Well then, after the singing, an extempore prayer by one of the teachers in turn—a prayer, the language and meaning of which few children could, or desired to understand.  At last, about ten, the classes are arranged only to be disarranged at half-past, that being chapel time.  Afternoon at two, the same manner of "teaching the young idea how to shoot," till near three,—the classes are arranged again, and the teacher (probably not the one who taught in the morning) commences to teach, and what does he teach?  It is an A B C class, say, composed of twelve tiny little boys, number one says in a drawling dying tone, "hay," number two, "be-e," and so on, till some one makes a blunder, and then he's sent last, his blunder sometimes sharpening the wits of the rest, but more frequently causing jealousy and in some instances, (I have known them myself,) lasting hatred.  Even this secular education, bad as it was, did not last above half an hour.  The teacher would tell us to shut up our books, and talk to us about hell-fire, and eternal brimstone, and how wicked we was, and if we didn't believe all he said to us, we should be burnt for ever and ever, which of course made us feel very comfortable till four,—then another hymn, and an address delivered from the desk to all the children, the orator dwelling on some theological dogma, giving his own peculiar views in an exceedingly peculiar manner—a prayer—a rush out, and all was ended for a week.

    I ask, is such education as this worth having? is it suitable? is it that sort of "milk for babes," calculated to nourish and strengthen, and elevate the growing man, who will grow for better or for worse.  You inquire, perhaps, "Would I advocate a purely secular education?"  I cannot say I would.  I would inculcate the being of a God—a God of justice—of love-of mercy; more—I would impress on the young mind, that this world of ours was a probationary state, that they that done evil were punished here and hereafter, and they that done good, their reward was with them, and future glory in another and better world than this; but beyond this, I would no further go; all else I would leave entirely with the parents, and their respective ministers, every creed standing on its own foundation, without help or hindrance from the state.

London poor.


"A crust of bread, a bed of straw, and rags."


    Father kept a barber's shop, trade was brisk, and times much better than they are now, so that when he really did attend to his business; he cleared a good round sum weekly.  Mother also earned at cotton winding (before machinery, or rather the monopoly of machinery altered it,) nine or ten shillings weekly; yet there we were, miserably poor, and the quotation at the head of this chapter was literally my experience for years during my childhood, except a few short months that I remained with my aunt, who, though well off, treated me shamefully, and I ran home again, that being the lesser evil.

    Father was a drunkard, a great spendthrift, an awful reprobate.  Home was often like a hell; and "Quarter days"—the days father received a small pension from Government for losing an eye in the Naval Service—were the days mother and I always dreaded most; instead of receiving little extra comforts, we received extra big thumps, for the drink maddened him.  The spirit of the departed will pardon, and, I verily believe, will rejoice at my speaking thus plainly, not only because it is the truth, but in order to show, as I shall show, the power of Christian principles as exemplified in the after life of him who was as a "brand plucked from the burning."

    Father had been an old "man-o'-wars man," and the many floggings he had received while serving his country, had left their marks on his back thirty years afterwards; they had done more,—they had left their marks on his soul.  They had unmanned him; can you wonder at that?  Brutally used, he became a brute—an almost natural consequence; and yet there are men to be found even to this day, advocates of the lacerating the flesh and hardening the hearts of their fellow creatures simultaneously.

    The loss of a considerable sum of money by my father while at sea through the chicanery of his sister, tended, I doubt not, to increase his love for drink.  Church or chapel was never thought of by him from his youth till he was upwards of fifty years of age; then—but I will give the facts without comment.

    The late Mr. Isaacs, of Gloster Chapel, Hackney, used to lecture on Tuesday evenings, at the time I am speaking of, at Staining Lane Chapel, City.  This gentleman was a favourite minister with my mother, and she was constantly begging father to go and hear him, without avail; she would always get ridiculed for her pains, till Tuesday evening, November 15, 1823, I think,—on that night he offered himself to go if mother would treat him to some gin.  She did, and we all three went; father scoffing and swearing, and mother, I doubt not, inwardly praying on our journey.  The service had commenced; indeed, the text—the 40th Psalm, 1st verse ("I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me and heard my cry")—was just being read as we entered.  Presently I noticed, child as I was, the altered looks of father, and as the minister seemed to increase in energy and zeal, father literally trembled again, so much so that several of the congregation noticed it.  At length the service ended, and directly we got out, father said, "Mary, my dear,"—the first kind words I had heard him utter for years—"Mary, my dear, let us go home.  God have mercy upon me, a miserable sinner."  Not a word else, to my recollection, escaped him that night.  We all kept awake, for the scene appeared to my young mind terrible.  The agony of father was indescribable for several days.  At last, without any visitor coming to him, but solely through reading the Bible, hope dawned upon him, and from that time till he died, above eight years, he was a changed man—no more drunkenness or immorality.  At the expense of being laughed at, and called a canter, as I know I shall be by some who read this, I cannot refrain from giving a few lines from a hymn he never seemed tired of singing, because they exactly pourtray his altered character and feelings:—

"These eyes that once abused their sight
 Now lift to Thee their watery light
          And weep a silent flood."
              *             *             *
"These ears that once could entertain
 The midnight oath, the lustful strain,
           Around the festal board,—
 Now deaf to all the enchanting noise,
 Avoid the throng, detest the joys,
           And press to hear Thy word."

    The consequences, however, of this remarkable change in my father did not better our pecuniary circumstances.  This may appear strange, but it is easily explained.  My father's conscientious convictions would not allow him to open his shop on Sundays, and as it was a very poor neighbourhood, Sunday was better than all the week beside to him.  His customers rapidly fell off because he was not such "a jolly good fellow" as he was wont to be.  All called him mad, the publicans especially condemning him as a matter of course; his constitution, too, was so much injured by drink, that the sudden change to strict sobriety seemed utterly to prostrate him, and he was always ill.  Mother's work also got slack and worse paid.  Still they persevered, and still things got worse, and though "a dry morsel with quietness" was a glorious improvement on the past, they could not at last meet the expenses of the veriest necessities of life.  The climax to all was, that the Government pension was stopped altogether, in consequence of father petitioning for an increase, the authorities offering him the hospital.  Our little home, which though humble, had become precious to us, was broken up, the persecuted saint went to Greenwich College, and mother and I became out-door paupers to a parish in the City that father claimed through his apprenticeship.  "All these things were against us," except that they made a lasting impression on my youthful mind, and I stuck to my Sunday school and to my faith with all the fervour and enthusiasm God had given me.

Greenwich Hospital and Royal Naval Asylum, south aspect, c. 1800.



    The parish allowed us four shillings weekly, and with that miserable stipend, and about two shillings more for cotton winding, we managed to pay rent and buy bread till the near approach of Easter in the next year; then we bought buns—not for the purpose of eating, (though we did eat them after all), but for the purpose of selling again.  Three shillings and one little basket were borrowed for this important occasion:—mother put two shillings' worth of buns in the basket, and one shilling's worth in the tea-tray for me, and off we trudged different ways.  Mother had given me my round, but then it was much nearer home and Sunday school than I cared about, and worse still, it was a leading thoroughfare.  Did I want people to see me?  No.—"if people couldn't buy buns without seeing the seller, it was strange," so with aching heart, and scalding tears, and scarlet face, I walked up and down the most by-streets, and whispered so low that nobody could hear me,

                         "Hot cross buns!
 One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns,"

till, all the gods of Homer will bear me witness, they were as cold as the corpse of a Laplander; still I called them hot from seven till twelve, and took the magnificent sum of Twopence! ... Philosophers talk of never giving up,—I think it was Charles II. who said, after reading the following epitaph on a tombstone,

"This man never knew fear!"

"Then he never snuffed a candle with his fingers,"—and I say to any philosopher of nine years old,—cry hot cross buns for the first time, for five hours, till you are as cold as they are, and hungry enough to eat the "stock," and then if you don't talk of giving up, you are a noble little fellow.  I went home—folks had laughed at me, had rejoiced when I wept, but only two persons had bought,—I went home, I say, determined most dutifully to present mother with the remains of my merchandise, thinking, of course, she had sold out, and would be ready to sell mine too, when lo! my venerable and courageous parent had sold none at all; having met a person she had known years before when she was better off, her courage failed, and she came home again almost directly, and had been looking for me all round the neighbourhood.  To tell you the real truth, reader, I was right glad of this, spite of our desperate circumstances—it prevented her finding fault with me; so after we had had our soiree of tea and buns, mother moved, and I seconded, a resolution, to the effect that we would never go out with buns any more, hot or cold.  But then what was to be done?  "I'll get a place," said I. "You, boy! so young and so ailing?"  "I will;" and so I did the very next Monday.—May God forgive my tyrant master for the acute sufferings I then endured....

    "If you please, Sir, do you want a boy?  My name is —; mother winds cotton for you, sir; father is in Greenwich College, and we are in great distress—almost starving, sir; I'll be very willing to do anything."  "Why, you're so little!  What's your age?"  "Past nine, sir, and I'm very strong!"  "What wages do you want?"   "Anything you please, sir." (The healthy competition was all one side.)  "Well, come to-morrow morning, six o-clock, and if you suit I'll give you three shillings a-week; but bring all your victuals with you—we have no time for you to go home to your meals."  Thus was I duly installed at a Warehouseman's in Newgate Street.

    Black slavery is black enough, I doubt not, and white slavery is a very horrid thing in all its ramifications, for it has many—the factory children, and so on;—there is pity, however, manifested towards these unfortunates, and sometimes help, but who ever thought of errand-boy slavery?  "Willing to do anything."  Yes, and anything I did,—wait in the cold and sleet for half-an-hour each morning at master's street door—clean a box full of knives and forks, a host of boots and shoes in a damp freezing cellar—gulp down my breakfast, consisting of a hunk of bread, perhaps buttered, and a bason of water bewitched, called tea, in the cold warehouse—run to Whitechapel with a load they called a parcel—back again—"John, make haste to Piccadilly with this"—back again—"John, your mistress wants you to rub up the fire-irons and candlesticks, and clean the house windows"—"John, look sharp, and have your dinner, you're wanted to go over the water with a lot of things," (dinner! God help me! a penny saveloy when it was not in the dog days, and a "penn'orth of baked plain" when it was, or bread alone at the latter end of the week)—trail along with my bag full of "orders" along Blackfriars, Walworth, London Road, City, and back to Newgate Street—"John, look alive, of Islington Green, wants this parcel directly"—back again—"Now, John, all the 'orders' are ready for the West, so as soon as you've had your tea (tea!), you can start; you needn't come back here to-night,—bring the bag in the morning."  Though master said my time was from six to eight, yet it was always half-past seven, sometimes later, ere I could start to the "West," which meant haberdashers shops up Holborn, Soho, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly, over Westminster Bridge to two shops near the "Broadway," and then, eleven o'clock at the earliest, trudge home to Spitalfields, foot-sore and ready to faint from low diet and excessive toil, and this, too, for years without one day's intervention save Sundays, for my master was religious of course.  Every night would I crawl home with my boots in my hand, putting them on again before I got in, trying to laugh it off while I sank on my hard bed saying, "never mind mother, I don't mind it, you know I'm getting bigger every day."  Indeed 'tis hard

"To smile when one would wish to weep,
 To speak when one would silent be,
 To wake when one would wish to sleep,
 And wake to agony."

    Certainly I could have left my place, for this is a free country.  What then, should I have got another?  And if I had, that's not all—my master was my mother's master; and if I had discharged myself, he would have discharged her; he has told me so often—which of course is free trade—so I toiled on, for father was as it were dead to me, and mother always ailing, and I saw no alternative but the workhouse, that worst of all prisons so dreaded by the poor,—so I toiled on, I say, till I was about eleven years of age; then typhus fever laid me prostrate, and for weeks I was to all appearance dying.  I was glad to hear that the parish doctor gave me up, and the farewell of my teachers and my fellow Sunday scholars I loved so well, and my poor dear father who crawled on crutches to see me, was, though affecting, happiness to me.  I felt an ardent desire for death—but it was not to be.  I at last recovered.  Still was I thankful even for my illness, inasmuch as it gave me a respite from

"Iscariot Ingots Esquire,
 That highly respectable man."




    My Master was continually inquiring after my health, though he gave not a sixpence towards improving it; but when I had sufficiently recovered, sent for me, and offered to take me back at 4s. a week instead of 3s., and give my mother full work besides, if I complied with his request.  I did so, and the day after heard that five boys had discharged themselves during my three months' illness.  I had to go through the same routine—endure the same bullying—but mother did get more work, (though at ld. a pound, the same as she got 4d. four years before, and 2d. for just before my illness, but then that was to make up, I dare say, for the extra 1s. he gave me).  Well, Father would come out of the College; he rallied somewhat, and went "a barbering" round Bethnal-green, a sort of itinerant shaver.  The parish stopped the supplies immediately; but Father cleared about 6s. or 7s.—Mother about 3s. 6d., which, with my earnings, amounted to 13s. or 14s. per week;' provisions were dearer then than they are at the present time, yet as we were very economical, not only did we manage necessaries, but our home became gradually more comfortable.  As winter, however, came on, Father's rheumatism—as bad an ism as a man can be plagued with,—I speak feelingly—laid him on his beam ends; and separation was again our fate.  The "College" received him till he died.  Mother, too, just at this time fell dangerously ill; and for many nights—hard as I worked in the day—I had no rest.  God bless the poor! they saved her life when parish doctor, and parish overseer had passed her by, and said that the workhouse would take me, after they had buried Mother;—the poor neighbours—not the rich ones—played the part, as they always do, of good Samaritans, by rushing to the rescue, and nursing her in turns night and day for weeks, without fee, or thinking of fee.  God bless the poor!  Amen!

London Policeman ("Peeler")
ca 1850

    Master's tyranny became more and more insupportable.  I will give the reader an instance.  In the second week of Mother's illness, I was sent to Mile-end Road with a parcel, and as we then lived in High-street, Mile End New Town, close by, nature predominated over my fear of offending, and I came home; it was thought Mother would not live an hour.  I stayed that hour, and yet she breathed—and I ran back with quick step but heavy heart.  "What has made you so long, sir?"  I told him the truth, and he kicked me!  I never remember feeling so strong, either in mind or body, as I did at that degrading moment; I threw the day-book at him with all my might, and before he could recover his presence of mind, sprang on the counter, and was at his throat.  I received some good hard knocks, which I returned,—if not with equal force,—with equal willingness, crying, "Oh, if my poor Father were here,"—"I'll tell Father"—"I'll go to the Lord Mayor"—"I'll tell everybody."  The tustle didn't last long, and the result was that we gave each other warning; and I, nothing daunted, threatened to stand outside the street door, and create a crowd by telling every one as they passed all about it; whilst he threatened, in his turn, to give me into custody for tearing his waistcoat and assaulting him, saying I should get into Newgate Closet before I died.  The spirit of prophecy must have manifested itself in a remarkable manner at that moment to that great man.  For, lo! as he said, so it came to pass, though many years afterwards.  I will not however, give him all the praise.  The "signs of rebellion" were just then rather clear.  I was, to all intents and purposes, a "physical force rebel," and I doubt not that "the coming event cast its shadow before" the mind's eye of the immortal W. that is to say, if the immortal W. had a mind.

    The craven, on that day week, asked me to stay with him; I refused, except for a week longer; that same night, though, I "got the sack."  It was past nine o'clock when I started for the West, and trailing up Holborn-hill with my bag full of orders nearly dragging the ground behind me, a policeman—a new policeman we called them then—stopped me: "You sir, what er ye got in there, a?"  Now I was not in the best of humours just then; indeed, "Crushers" were never very popular with me;—so, (alluding to the policeman who had stolen a leg of mutton a while before, and which was all the talk), I answered promptly, looking at the gentleman as impudently as an embryo Chartist well could, "Legs o' mutton."  "I'll leg o' mutton yer," says he; and off I was taken to the Station.  The Superintendent behaved very kindly to me, sending the policeman back with me to Master's, with the complimentary message, that "M. ought to know better than send so young a boy at so late an hour, with such a load, round the West-end, and that the 'Force' had strict orders to stop any one with loads after nine o'clock, so I had better go in the morning."  Master at once gave me my wages, and ordered me not to come again, telling me at the same time that when Mother got better, she need not apply to him for work.  But what think you? the next day he sent for me again, and I staid with him two months longer, for 5s. a-week, which, with the parish allowance, that had dropped to 3s. was all that we had.

Holborn Hill,
from the corner of Snow Hill, with Farringdon Street on the left
and St. Andrew's Church in the background. ca. 1830.

    The Superintendent of my Sunday-school about this time offered me a place at 1s. a week and my victuals, and didn't I close in with the offer without hesitation!  The word victuals decided me at once, for Mr. A. kept two Ham and Beef Shops, and the bare idea of becoming a "beef-eater" was so agreeable a novelty, that without a moment's warning to my Newgate-street master, I went to my new situation.  I trust my vegetarian readers will pardon my backsliding; I had been compelled to luxuriate so long on vegetable marrow, that I confess it appeared no marrow to me, and I desired a change; besides, you know, I was led into temptation;—Ham and beef, after bread and potatoes!  Oh!  'Twas a consummation devoutly to be wished!

Holborn Hill from opposite St. Andrew's Church,
with the entrance to Shoe Lane on the left of the Church, c. 1830.

   I did not keep this good place, however, but about four months, and it was my own fault.  The apprentice, who was also Master's nephew, was a wild animal of seventeen years old, and Mr. A. told me from the first, that I was to try and reclaim him.  "John, talk to him, I know you can, and though he is five years older than you, your example will shame him into reformation."  I did talk to him like a parson, at first, and acted as I talked; but alas, evil communications corrupt good manners.  At last he influenced me, not I him; and though I cannot recollect committing any really immoral or dishonest act, I became very flighty and careless, and incurred the displeasure of my kind master, who at length discharged me, and served me right, for the following very dirty spree:—one day we had cooked an extra quantity of hams and rounds of beef, and then got into the coppers to swim, as the apprentice called it; he escaped without observation, but I staid enjoying myself, and floundering about in this novel bath for the people, till, who should come right into the cookery but mistress herself; it was all over with me; I implored for mercy but in vain.  Master, with tears in his eyes,—he was a glorious soul—said that he wished he could discharge his nephew instead of me, but we must part; he gave me a most excellent character to my next place, a Chemist's, at the corner of Jewin-street, which I kept for near five years.  What happened there to me, my Christian experience during those five years, the effects the agitation for the "Reform Bill" had on my mind, &c., shall form the subject of my next chapter.  What I have already written, and what I shall write for a little time, is not very interesting to the readers of this journal, I dare say—it is merely one of "the simple annals of the poor;" but as John Nicholls has it "It may perhaps, appear ridiculous to fill so much paper with babblings of one's self; but when a person who has never known any one interest themselves in him, who has existed as a cipher in society, is kindly asked to tell his own story, how he will gossip!"  Exactly so.


    I once clothed myself in sackcloth and ashes, literally so; and this is how it was,—attend, reader, while I explain, for, believe me, it is important.  We had a library in our Sunday school; ah, we just had such a library,—"Drelincourt upon Death" with the lying ghost story attached, that Defoe forged, (little thinking, good soul, that it would be made a Sunday school Old Bogie of); then "Allen's" I think, or "Aleyn's" "Alarm to the Unconverted," and many others too, nearly all of the same stamp.  But two bright stars in this black firmament we had—Nos. 85 and 86, I shall never forget the numbers, how many times have I read them—Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," and Bunyan's "Holy War."—My own dear Bunyan! if it hadn't been for you, I should have gone mad, I think, before I was ten years old!  Even as it was, the other books and teachings I was bored with, had such a terrible influence on me, that somehow or other, I was always nourishing the idea that "Giant Despair" had got hold of me, and that I should never get out of his "Doubting Castle."  Yet I read, ay, and fed with such delight as I cannot now describe—though I think I could then.  Glorious Bunyan, you too were a "Rebel," and I love you doubly for that.  I read you in Newgate,—so I could, I understand, if I had been taken care of in Bedford jail,—your books are in the library of even your Bedford jail.  Hurrah for progress!  How true it is, that

"Even the wrong is proved to be wrong!"

I am digressing though;—let's see, we were talking of sackcloth and ashes.  My teacher, at the time I was speaking of, was an earnest gloomy soul who, if he delighted in anything, delighted in minutely describing the wrath to come; and he could do it well.  How have I cried while listening to him, and how pleased he'd be at my tears, as if sorrow and religion were inseparable.  One Sunday afternoon he was particularly eloquent on the anger and vengeance of God, and as a climax, told us about the men of old who went in "sackcloth and ashes," and whose "tears were gathered up in the Lord's bottle" (D—— was always very grand and figurative at expounding).  As I went home I felt dreadful, yet a beam of hope shone—oh, if I could only get the opportunity, nobody seeing me, of doing as the "ancients" did, I should be saved!  So, begging of father and mother (I was not nine years old at the time) to let me stay in, while they went to chapel—I actually undressed myself to the skin, got out of the cupboard father's sawdust bag, wrapped myself in it, poured some ashes over my head, and stretched myself on the ground, imploring for mercy, with such mental agony and such loud cries that the people in the house heard me, and told my parents about it, though nobody even then knew the truth.  Readers will doubtless laugh at this childish folly,—I marvel if some of them have not committed quite as fantastic tricks, if they would only own it!  One fellow-scholar I told this to a few years ago, and who is now an infidel through such teaching, admitted that he had done precisely the same.  Yes, through such teaching,—and I know several such cases,—children have been brought to compare themselves to the Manasseh and the "Chief" of sinners, till the rebound in after years has led them to suppose that they are no sinners at all, and now they laugh at everything sacred, because everything sacred was mauled about and distorted to suit the views (views!) of anybody who unfortunately "had a call."  They were told to believe in a God of vengeance, and worse still, partiality, and so now they believe in no God; they have been told that there were "children in hell not a span long," and rather than believe that, they have banished every idea of a future state altogether.  It had nearly that effect on me.  "High Calvinists," prepare to meet your God! your gloomy, blood-stained, fanatical, teachings, have been one of the principal causes of the spread of atheism among us.  Oh, my dear fellow Sunday school teachers! we have done that which we ought not to have done—we have bent the twig the wrong way—it is we, not infidels, but we who have often "turned the truth of God into a lie", and made a creature of Him Who is the Creator, we have crippled the glorious image God had made, and then—horrible—then likened it to the imagemaker.

    Of course I was "converted" as they call it—oh, to be sure!—and made head-boy of, because I was a "miserable sinner," and didn't I get promoted for it; and wasn't I monitor, and teacher—ay, teacher long before I was twelve years old,—and didn't I join the Church at sixteen, and was baptised, and called a "dear promising youth," one who was to be a "burning and a shining light," a minister in "God's own time," one of those "few champions for the truth" who would prove to all the world that nearly all the world was damned, and that the "elect precious" meant only our own precious selves?  But now "I am an apostate," say you; am I?  Judge not that ye be not judged.  I am earnest in propagating that which I think to be truth now, and so I was then, but I did it ignorantly, and shall be forgiven.

    One thing must not be omitted in these humble memoirs; and that is, to give my testimony against those persons who are so fond of saying, that religious people are so because it is their interest, and that their zeal is in accordance with their pay.  I must admit that there are many white-washed walls, many hypocrites; I could lay bare facts relative to the conduct of both ministers and people, black enough, God knoweth.  What then?  Such statements would only cause additional pain to conscientious men of all creeds, and serve no good purpose either.  Besides, if we are to attack persons for principles, there is an end to all argument,—yet is the outward walk of professors, the first, the primary thing the poor unlettered men look at—no logic is so powerful with us as that,—and if the outward walk be wrong, most of us jump to wrong conclusions.  I deny, however, most emphatically, and with long experience on my side, I deny, that the motives of Christian people, as a rule, are impure.  Those who look after and get the "loaves and fishes" form the exception, and this exception is principally confined (will the Editor allow this sentence to be inserted?) to the parsons—indeed, when they have dined, there are nothing near twelve baskets' full of fragments remaining, they'll take care of that.  In the Christian world or in the outer, both among the Dissenters and in the Church, those get the most pay who do the least work.  There were always collections, monthly, quarterly, and annually, besides tea-meetings and other dodges, for the "dear minister" at the chapel I was a member of; and often have I gone hungry, and mother too, because we gave our very bread into the "plates" at the door, which the deacons on both sides thereof held so close to each other that they seemed to say, "No thoroughfare to Dissenters on the voluntary principle."  Yet the "dear minister" didn't work a tenth part so hard as I did in the cause,—but then, mine was a "labour of love."  Just as if preaching couldn't be a labour of love also; I see no reason why people couldn't make sermons and make tents too (especially as there's a surplus population of them—I mean parsons, not tents: just now) in 1851 as they did in 51.  Perhaps, however, it's all through machinery....  At all events, I feel that I am now meddling with things too high for me, and that the bare suggestion is a kind of spiritual rebellion.  You must pardon my egotism though, if I describe my Sabbath day's work:—'Tis a summer's Sunday morning.  I rise at six o'clock, and get to Spital Square by seven, in order to commence the out-door services, which closed after eight; school just after nine, hard at it, arranging the classes (I was superintendent at this time), till chapel service, which I had to commence, being clerk—giving out the following hymn, perhaps,

   "Well the Redeemer's gone
     Before His Father's face,
 To sprinkle o'er the burning throne!
 And turn the wrath to grace!!

(Reader, pause, and ask yourself solemnly the question, if this is a true, a reasonable, a scriptural picture of the unchangeable God, in Whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning, and Who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.)  Well, chapel would not be over till one, and at halfpast, I'd be teaching a select singing-class; at two, school commenced again; at four, I would go out distributing tracts, if it wasn't my turn to deliver the address to the children, then at half-past four; this took me till evening service (often have I had my tea at Spitalfields' pump).  Evening service closed, a prayer-meeting in a large room close by, at which I gave an address one Sunday, a fellow teacher composing the hymns suitable—he giving an address the next Sunday, and I composing the hymns that night for him, which, by-the-bye, as it was rather a novel thing, every hymn sung for upwards of a twelve-month being original, soon filled the place, and we could often boast of having a larger congregation than the minister of the chapel.  I was never home till after ten at night.  I did it without pecuniary reward, or dreaming of it, and this toil, for toil it was, though I did not think so then, lasted a considerable period.

Palm Sunday, Spitalfields



    I have been requested by more than one valued friend to insert a few hymns and other compositions of my earlier years.  There are several reasons for respectfully objecting, but two will very likely suffice.  First, I can't, because but one is preserved; and secondly, I won't, because that one is not worth preserving.  Indeed, if I am to go on jabbering at this rate, there'll be nobody to read the Rebel's Autobiography save the Rebel himself, and I want to get over that part relating to my religious experience as quickly as can well be, connecting it together at once, without referring again to the subject.—I have been a Churchman as well as a Dissenter, and the being a Churchman for a few months made me a Dissenter for ever.  Mother was a Churchwoman according to Act of Parliament.  The poor old body didn't perfectly comprehend the difference between a church that was established by law and a church that wasn't, and I have often thought that if others had, been as dark in their understandings on the matter as she was, there would have been much less malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness among us.  But no; we have "perfectly comprehended" how to differ, forgetting—some of us, I fear, wilfully—that it would be much easier to agree.  A good old minister once said: "There is Calvinist-street, and Baptist-street, and Wesleyan-street, and Independent street, and Church-street, and Dissent-street, all leading to the High Road, if we are but sincere, and we needn't jostle each other, though the streets are narrow."  That's it, sincerity

"He can't be wrong whose life is in the right."

    But then that's not orthodoxy.—Well, its my doxy, and I am writing my auto., if you please.—I protest against a great deal that is called Protestantism and Dissent from a great many Dissenters, yet must I have a "Slap at the Church."—This phrase is borrowed.  When I was errand-boy at the Doctor's, the agitation for the Reform Bill, the whole Bill, and—botheration to it—nothing but the Bill, was all the go.  I well remember the bellman going round Cripplegate, announcing the majority of one, and the excitement created round the neighbourhood.  Among the many periodicals living on the agitation, was one yclept "A Slap at the Church,"—my master's favourite paper; for master was a great radical—one who'd beat his wife and shout for reform with all the enthusiasm of a glorious freeman; like many radicals in the present day, who can prate against tyranny wholesale and for exportation, and yet retail it out with all their hearts and souls, whenever they have an opportunity.  Well, this "Slap at the Church" I'd con over in my leisure moments.  I don't recollect what it contained, except that it was of a very meagre and abusive description; but I do recollect that there was always on the frontispiece a superior wood engraving of an exceedingly elevated character, most likely a Bishop, who was sure to be represented as enormously stout.  I never had the honour of seeing but one Bishop in my life, but I have been taught both by oral and written traditions to believe, that to be a Bishop you must be a fat man; and so rooted and grounded was I in this faith, that when a Bishop who happened to be remarkably thin passed through Newgate Prison, while I was examining for a few months the place, I wouldn't believe it was one.  "He is indeed," said the Governor, "it is the Lord Bishop of —."  "Then, sir," said I, "the Whigs have been starving not only the People but the Priests, and there will be a raw, for they won't stand it."

    In a former chapter it has been told you, that mother and I were paupers.—Now mother, directly she got on the "books," was expected to attend her parish Church; I say expected, because that was the emphatic expression of the poor-law guardian, and all paupers know that when his worship the guardian expects a thing, he generally gets it.  Moreover, there were some free seats made on purpose for paupers, so admirably constructed that most of the dearly-beloved rich brethren—separated of course by pews, in direct contradiction to the injunction of that uncouth Christian Socialist James—could see how their poorer brethren behaved themselves. An excellent arrangement,—else, there would have been nothing to look at but the clergyman, and nothing to hear but merely the gospel.  If those seats hadn't been filled by a respectable number of non-respectable dependants on our free institutions, the awful spectacle of Fraternity would have been exhibited in all its revolutionary deformity in the very House of God-shocking!  So, to obviate such infidelity as that, Twopenny Loaves—always of the same size—and Sixpence, were given away weekly to all who could claim the parish, and who couldn't claim a conscience.  I was one of that number,—yes, for more than six months every Sunday morning, one of that number. "B——, why don't your son come with you? you know he's on our books."  "I'll tell him, sir."  She knew how hard it was to get me away from my dear Sunday school.  At last the order came, ay, the order—do you doubt my word ? do you tell me that this is England? I repeat, the order;—tyrants can play their game by more moves than one—the order, in the shape of the following protestant inquisitorial mandate, given by the Right Honourable the Guardian, in the year of our Lord, 1828, in the city of London as aforesaid.  "Your boy belongs to us the same as yourself, and we shall expect him next Sunday; if he don't come, why, of course we can't keep two of you, that's all I got to say."  So I went—was ushered into the presence of the Rector, and examined in the most pompous manner imaginable, "Do you know your Catechism?"  "Yes, Sir;" (I meant the Assembly Catechism by Watts).  "What is your name?"  "My name, sir?"  "Yes." " ... " "Who gave you that name?"  I hesitated:—the question was repeated with an extra frown, and I replied, "Uncle, sir; I think he wished me to be named aft—" "Tut, tut; how have you brought up this boy, Mrs. B.?"  "If you please, sir," said mother in all proper humility, and with a profoundly reverent curtsey, "he goes to a Dissenting Sunday School."  "Yes, sir," I added, as bold as a quaker just seized on, "I'm a Dissenter."  "Dear, dear, a youth like him talk in this manner!  You ought to know better, B——."  "Can you read, boy?"  "Yes sir," (I could with truth have added—"a great deal better than you read the prayers to-day").  "Do you know the Lord's prayer?"  "Yes, sir."  "The Belief?"  "I believe not, sir."  "Well, you must learn all these things."  And so I did; and I don't know that I'm any the worse for it; perhaps better; but I do think that the effects of learning them would have been different, had the wandering sheep been kindlier treated by the shepherd.  He didn't put me in his bosom, or even carry me on his shoulder to the fold, but he dragged me there, and that was one of the reasons at least, that I wandered again.  I was confirmed at Bow Church, (by the way, I have made a mistake—I have seen two Bishops; but upon my word, he who confirmed me, I don't know if he was fat or lean),—it was all a task.  After Confirmation, I sat on the same bench with mother, till one practice, which above all others, to my mind, young as it was, appeared even then absolutely revolting, caused me to leave:—the vile paupers partook of the Sacrament after the respectable among the congregation!  Yes; when they had supped off the sacred elements, the lower orders had the leavings—Spiritual Lazaruses, waiting for the crumbs falling from a Saviour's table, the "Common-people's" Saviour.  A long way off, in the Southern States of America, black people take the Lord's Supper after the white people, and "talented lecturers," who can't bear black slavery (no more can I, or white slavery either) expatiate on this matter with "thrilling" eloquence, and amid loud cries of "shame, shame."  Yet is this same damning insult to God and man perpetrated in our own Temples, and "talented lecturers" never think of crying "Woe, Woe."  Never mind, my black and white brother slaves, The Eternal will set all to rights soon.  The day is near, that great day—the books shall be opened, and the first shall be last, and the last first, Glory to God in the highest!  This sure and certain hope, though, shouldn't deter us from speaking out on these matters.  God hates wrong in all its forms, as much as we ought to hate it, and He will help them who help themselves.  The "Board" took 6d. a-week off the allowance three weeks after I refused to go any more to Church—I don't know why, because they wouldn't tell us, and I'm not going to insinuate any thing; but such was the fact; and if it was because of that refusal, why I won't grumble; to be fined only 6d. a-week for conscience sake is very cheap as the market goes.  Ask France.

    You must not suppose that I have not been to a Church since—I have many times—the first day, the service appeared very cold and dead-like, but that perhaps was, because I was so used to Dissenting forms of worship; for afterwards I gradually warmed towards it, and there is nothing in the Church service (which appears to me to be very Socialist), at all justifying such a scandalous separation of the Lord's people as I have just been describing.  Indeed, Dissenter as I am, (though for reasons Dissenters little think of,) I do love the idea of a National Church, but then it must be National; —a Church for the people—the poor man's Church, till there are no poor.  Don't let's whitewash the thing.  "Well, what is to be done?"  Done! you have to do very little; your great work is to undo—fall back upon primitive principles and primitive practices; let there be one action, and there will soon be but one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism.  Hunt after the foxes less and the people more, and you will not have to hunt after them long; think of the "labour aggression," and you need not fear the "Papal aggression."  Come to the help of the Lord against the mighty, and the mighty shall fall, and the weak your real strength, shall gather themselves together and take shelter under your protecting wing; they have gone under other wings and found them hollow; take advantage of this circumstance.  Many Dissenters have strayed farther from the good old way than you, and if they had the power would be much greater despots than you, with all your faults, have ever been.  Take advantage of this circumstance, I say, in your favour; and let the Spirit and the Bride say "Come," and we will come.  Fewer creeds and more deeds and we will come.

    This is my Slap at the Church, given, I appeal to God, in all humble sincerity.  There must be something done by somebody soon.  Will you do it? 

Bezer would have been familiar with such a street scene.



    My employer, the chemist, retired from business with, he admitted, a good round sum (the profits on physic are rather considerable), so I had to retire too, from that business, with half-a-crown he gave me—no doubt a fair share of the earnings we had accumulated during five years.  Shortly after I got a place at Camberwell.  The fact of its being so far from mother and school was unpleasant; but then, I had my victuals again—an important consideration—a good bed to lie on, for the first time in my life, and more enjoyed the pure air, to me, an unadulterated cockney, not so valuable but almost as yellow as a guinea, after seeing for so many years little else than mud; having an intimate acquaintance with tiles, but no knowledge of stiles; not remembering anything of fields, except of Spitalfields and Moorfields, which were no more fields than a horse-chestnut is like a chestnut horse.  The change was like emigrating to another country—another world.  I had lived previously for a long time in Whitecross Place, near Barbican.

    It is said, God made everything.  I don't believe it; He never made Whitecross Place, the entrance to which was the narrow way that leadeth unto stinks.  A gutter passed through the middle of the court—a pretty looking gutter, from which the effluvia rose up, without ceasing, into our elegant second floor front; a room, or rather a cell (we paid 2s. 3d. rent weekly, for the blessed privilege of breathing in the accumulated filth below); a hole in which the bugs held a monster public meeting every night, determined to show what a co-operative movement could do.  I say, God never made Whitecross Place.  He is not the author of filthy lanes and death-breeding alleys.  Landlords and profit-mongers make them, and then proclaim national fasts to stay the progress of the cholera.  "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap."  Camberwell looked more like God's work, a great deal, and getting up as I did at daylight every morning, with my master, to help him to dig in his beautiful garden, made me so happy, and so healthy-looking during my five months' stay there, that my brother and sister Cockneyites scarcely knew me, when I returned to Dirtshire.  I made a great mistake in leaving that place; not that the situation was over remunerative, or the master over kind.  He kept a grocer's shop—that is to say he sold everything—a sort of co-operative store, of which he was the sole manager, and I the only member; doing all the cheating according to his order.  I will not be too hard upon him, though he did make the halfpenny bundles of wood smaller, by taking out the middle pieces for his own fire-side; though he did sell the same batter at three different prices, and performed other numerous innocent trade devices, by which he became a landlord, and builder of several houses, and was looked upon as a respectable man of some standing in society, too magnanimous to pick a pocket, and not hungry enough to steal a penny loaf.  I will not be too hard upon him, I say, for he salved his conscience every night by reading prayers, and every week by going to chapel.  Beside, he was not worse than his glorious descendants, the chicory dealers in Fenchurch Street, and certainly not worse than the system that engenders and maintains so much hypocrisy and wrong, nor worse than my former employers to wit.  The first would cut his ribbons and nearly everything else two yards shorter than their warranted value, and then sell them at an "enormous sacrifice;" for ever "selling off," yet never sold; a bottomless pit of "bankrupt's stocks."  Every article he sold he lost at least fifty per cent by; yet did he live well by his losses, keeping his servants, and his country house at Norwood.  How was it done?  That question puzzled me for a long while,—how anybody could live by their losses—till one day an Irishwoman selling murphies explained it beautifully.  Says she, "Sir, by my sowl I loses by every tatie I sells."  "How do ye manage to live, then, Biddy?"  "Och, I sells so many on 'em, that's it."  Ay that's it, and the many fifty per cents.  W—— lost kept his head above water.  He'd have certainly sunk, had he lost one fifty per cent., but he took good care of that.  Well, even my ham and beef man could oil his stale saveloys day after day, and ticket them as fresh Germans; so with my friend, the chemist, whose antibilious pills (I have made some thousands of them, God forgive me), were the best in all the world—proved so by hundreds of testimonials in the possession of the philanthropic inventor, whose self-interest was the last thing he dreamed of.  The care of the afflicted was this philosopher's sole aim, and the only reason of his "twenty years' ceaseless study of that dire and excruciating pain, the head-ache."  I don't think he lost much by his pills, or he'd have said so, for he was a man of strict truth, and benevolence, withal; advice was given gratis, which advice invariably ended in pills; gluttony in pills was a cardinal virtue—the more you took the better—for him.  So with the Calvinist grocer, whose high, or rather low, antinomian principles had taken such deep root, that he thought no more of lying and cheating to save three farthings, than the Whigs do to save their places.  And so used had I been for many years to help in these swindling transactions, that no qualms of conscience caused me to leave Camberwell but this:—On the 16th day of April, 1833, I was helping the servant to shake a carpet, in the lane, when her attention was directed to a woman who had fallen on the ground a little way off.  I ran with her to assist, and it was mother—poor mother!  She had gone to Greenwich College, that being her regular day to see her husband, and did see him, but it was in the "dead house," and then walked from there to Camberwell, to pour out her grief with the only soul she could, but the sight of me had unnerved her, and she fainted away on the high-road.  It appears father had fallen suddenly ill, and though both our directions were with the nurse, she had omitted to let us know, hence our friend, without shaking hands with either of us, stepped into the river—the river.  His last words were, according to his attendant and fellow wardsmen,

"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,
 Stand dressed in living green."

and so he swam over to the other side, without a murmur or a doubt.  "Ah," says some very clever reasoner, "his brain was turned;" yes, thank God, it was—the right way.  "May I die the death of the righteous, and my last end be like his."

"A happy man, though on life's shoals,
     His bark was roughly driven;
 Yet still he braved the surge because
     His anchorage was in heaven."

    We shall meet again.  I would not lose that blessed faith for all the "reasoners" in the world.  He was buried in the College ground, keeping death-company with those who had fought for their king, their country, and their grog.  The warriors rest there in peace; when shall the hated name be altogether forgotten?  Oh! for the hour when

"War shall die, and man's progressive mind
 Soar as unfettered as our God designed?"

Oppression must cease first, though; let the Peace Society remember that.

    Mother, who was never of a very strong mind, was this time nearly broken hearted, and she so earnestly begged of me to leave my place, and get one nearer her, that I did so, certainly against my own inclination, for the little surplus of money I had over and above my urgent necessities helped to comfort her.  But I did leave it; and then began again a bitter struggle for bread.  Week after week did I crave leave to toil; but, no; the curse which to me would have been a blessing, was denied, and destitution—the very poor know what I mean by that terrible word—was really felt by us.  At last a cousin says to me:—"Why don't you learn the snobbing [Ed.—unskilled shoe-making], Jack; I'll teach you for nothing, and the first money that you earn you shall have."  "Agreed." (I dare say some of my readers think that my father might have learned me to shave; I think so, too; but, for some reasons or other, he ever had a repugnance to it, and that's all I can say in explanation.)  The first week of my "snobbing" we lived upon mother's pauper allowance, and the last two old chairs we sold for 1s. 9d.  The second week I earned by "sewing" 1s. 10½d., and I lived on that with bread at 8d. a quartern loaf; a pound of which, and a "ha'porth" of treacle, was my day's allowance, with a halfpenny baked potato, and a suck at the pump, for my supper.  Can any Vegetarian beat that?  I had 4½d. left on Sunday, which I expended on threepen'orth of bread, a pen'orth of pea-soup, and my treacle.  The next week I rose to 2s. 6d., and rose my extravagance in the same ratio, not saving a cent.  The next week, 3s. 9d., a shilling of which I gave mother.  She thought that I had had my victuals given me the last three weeks, but I deceived her, as she had often deceived me aforetime, by saying she had had a meal when she hadn't, in order that I might have it; so it was only tit for tat.  Well, after that "George" gave me 5s. a-week, for a month, and then I worked again for myself, and earned about 6s. weekly, not increasing for a long time, because each new part of the mystery shown me necessarily backened me for a while.  At last, in less than a year, I became a snob, but not a shoemaker; not a tradesman.  No; it would be harder for me to learn to make a good shoe, than perhaps, if I had never learned how to make a bad one.  Cousin was what is called a "Chambermaster,"—making up on his own account, "Bazil work;" and after buying leather, and all the etcetras, how much do you think he had for them? 1s. 4d., which was soon reduced to 1s.  Mind, ladies, "spring heels," labour, materials, and all.  Of course, the leather was of the worst description; the insoles only paper and oilcloth cuttings, from the dust yards, and the stitches—I can't exactly state their length, because we were never particular for an inch or so, but they were well black-balled over, to look tidy to the eye, and ticketed as ladies' shoes, of superior quality, only 1s. 9d.—the warehouseman and shopkeeper getting 9d. a pair between them, and the maker not above 3½d.  Well may a friend of mine cry, "Cheap, cheap, cheap, means cheat, cheat, cheat."

    Cousin managed, by the help of his wife cutting out and binding, and one of his children sewing, to earn a pound, or perhaps a little more, weekly, but I never could rise above 10s., and this by dint of hard and close work, so much so, that in two years I was nearly blind, and the doctor ordered me to abandon it at once, on pain of losing my sight altogether.



    While I was a "Snob" I fell, (they may well call it falling), in love, and I proved myself quite as much a snob in that, as in trying to make shoes.  There were some marvellously pretty girls, teachers in Artillery-street Sunday School,—most of whom got mated while there, as a reward, I suppose they thought, for their labours; but I loved the ugliest of the lot, as my wife will testify, who was not the ugliest of the lot, as she also is willing to testify.  Mary B—, at the time I was 18, was 25 years of age; very short, much pitted with the small pox, bandy, and remarkably bad tempered.  Yet, how I loved her, no "Lyrics of Love" can tell; and the many poems I wrote, and took them myself to her in order to save postage, and get one smile, which was hard enough to get,—I can tell you, by reason of her plurality of frowns, are too sublime for this periodical.

    I could, I think, write a whole chapter on love-all about "divine images" and "angelic forms,"—and how the sun shone when she smiled, and how all the stars looked dim when she didn't—for lovers can tell the weather by signs better than anybody else—but age, and reason, and the one object in writing this "auto," call on me to stay; nor should I have mentioned this circumstance at all, had not the fact of her jilting me three separate times (the false Bloomer!) been one of the principal causes of my leaving my first love—my Sunday School—and having led me thence by degrees to the very confines of atheism.

    There were two young men in our school, called severally "David" and "Jonathan," from the fact of their being always together; and their hearts seemingly knitted together by long affection.  We (for I was David) had joined the school together, got promoted together, distributed tracts together, joined the same church together, been baptised together, and—oh, tell it not in Gath!—kept company with the same woman together; but that, "David" didn't know, till one Sunday night, having missed her for a while, who should come into the Chapel but her own delicious self and—yes, and "Jonathan!"  I was just going to give out a hymn, for which I immediately substituted another, commencing with

"How vain are all things here below,
 How false, and yet how fair."

And I did sing it too, as spitefully as a disappointed one of five feet high well could.  "Jonathan" carried off the prize.  How she could have induced him—for it was she I'm sure—bothered me, but I attribute it to her tongue, which was of considerable length—most ladies' tongues are.

    Well, nothing seemed to go right after Mary refused to be such a fool as to cast in her lot with a boy earning ten shillings a-week.—The Chapel looked gloomy and desolate, and I quarrelled with everything.  Even the parson I rebelled against—serve him right, though, for he was very proud and overbearing to us teachers, refusing even to let the scholars meet to sing; so I and one of the deacons headed a little band of malcontents, and opened an opposition shop to preach the gospel of brotherhood in; that deacon is now the minister of a flourishing congregation in the Tower Hamlets.  After a time I left him too, and became Clerk at a little Chapel, the minister of which used nearly every Sunday to say that nobody but himself preached the truth; and so must his small congregation have thought, for when he died, they all split up into individuals, refusing to listen to any other man.—What hard thoughts of God!

    About this time I unfortunately got married, and I did very wrong.  Without any clinging to the unnatural Malthusian doctrines, I own we did very wrong—both of us.  Thank God I did not deceive her; she knew precisely my circumstances, and bitterly, very bitterly, have we suffered for our folly.  When I married, I was porter at twelve shillings a-week, at a place where they bound books for the Bible Society;—every man, woman, and child working there, were terribly beat down in their wages.  Good Christian people distribute Bibles to the poor at a very cheap rate, with the words "British and Foreign Bible Society" outside;—and inside it is written "Cursed is he that grindeth the faces of the poor."  Outside and inside—the comparison is indeed odious,—oh the cursings I have heard in that place! not a soul throughout the establishment, that I knew of, even professed religious principles, except myself, and I got discharged for doing so.—I was singing a hymn quite in a low tone while working; one of the mistresses happened to hear me and imperiously ordered me to desist, though songs were often sung among the binders up-stairs.  I replied, that I thought it strange I couldn't praise God while working among Bibles, and so was immediately sent about my business.  This was but three months after my marriage, and get another place I couldn't.  God knoweth I tried, as a drowning man would try to get to land, for our little home we had somehow scraped together—and which was much more comfortable than we have ever been able to get up since—was every week going—going—going, and our little child every week coming—coming—coming; and at last it came.  That was a horrible day—the birth-day of my first boy!  Wife, it was thought, would die; and I knew why die—from sheer staring want.  No joy was in our nearly empty room, but all was desolate, and the very blackness of despair.  "Why not apply to the parish?"  Because ever since the day the guardian had told mother that he wouldn't "keep two of us," it ran in my head, and mother's too, that if I applied, her money would be stopped.  It was a foolish idea, but we had nourished it for so many years that it became as it were a creed, and so rather than rob mother, as I thought, why, let us all die!  The next morning, that we might not die, I went to aunt's at Old Ford—my rich aunt's, she that had gotten her brother's money,—and she shut the door in my face.  From thence I went to Brixton.  "What for?"—To sing, to beg, to cadge: I was thinking of omitting this portion of my life; but no, the truth shall be told—the whole truth.  That was a hard day's work, that 7th day of February, 1838.  Fancy now; I, a hungry man, running before daylight (for I did run) all the way from Ray Street, Clerkenwell, to Old Ford, half hoping, half-despairing, half-mad, to a rich relation I despised, and whom I had not seen for years, to ask her for a miserable five shillings, because I knew her miserly, ugly heart—the being refused with the brutal taunt, that it "served me right and my fool of a wife too".  The crawling back homewards down-spirited and ready to perish, with no text in all God's ward floating in my turning brain but job's wife's advice, "Curse God, and die," "Curse God, and die."  While wandering along Whitechapel Road, the sudden idea struck me that I would sing a hymn or two for bread and wife, and child—but I couldn't just there, known as I was all about the district.  So on I went through the city, and passed over London Bridge, determined to begin at once, stepped into Thomas Street for that purpose, and then stepped out again; and thus I acted in several streets along the Borough.  However, I would commence, that I would, when I got to the other side of the "Elephant and Castle."  But no, courage failed again, and on I travelled.—I will not weary my reader as I was wearied, by recounting my repeated trials, and my as repeated failures, till I got right on to Brixton.  Necessity, it is said, has no law, and I began to feel the truism by then; nobody knew me there surely, and if they did, here goes—"God moves"—begin again—"God moves in a"—out with it, and so I did, almost choking,

"God moves in a mysterious way
 His wonders to perform."

Just before I had concluded singing the hymn, a penny piece was thrown out, and without waiting to thank the donor, or even to give any further specimen of my vocal abilities, I pocketed the affront and went and spent it in Gin!  "Oh you impostor!"—it is a lie!  "Oh you drunkard!"—another lie!  I was never drunk in my life, and I dare to say never an impostor.  I own my first thoughts were for bread, but I felt too far gone for that, and an invisible spirit seemed to say, Have some gin, it will give you courage.  And so it did, whether false or true; it answered my purpose, for I went on again with energy to the tune of "Church Street,"

"God moves in a mysterious way,"

and then, hymn after hymn, and street after street, without flagging, while the coppers came rattling down like manna from heaven.  Whether it was my singing loudly—for I had a good strong voice at that time,—or my peculiar earnest manner, I know not, but, when I counted up my gains at about six o'clock, they amounted to six shillings, and, I think, fourpence.  Heavy at heart, and yet much lighter than before, I laid out threepence in bread and cheese and beer, and began to march home, so tired, that in spite of my eagerness to see how things were, I did not reach it till late at night; and when I did, the first words that greeted me from her mother were, "Hush, for God's sake, Jane is dying;" and from my mother "Why, John, my boy, you look dying too—where have you been to?"  "Oh I've been—don't bother me."  And then a faint voice from the bed, "John,"—I ran to her side, and, says she, "where have you been to?"  I whispered, "I've got a place, my dear, got to go to-morrow, a good place, too—cheer up."  It was a lie! but a white one, and I believe it is not recorded against me in the book above.  I then put the six shillings on the table, and sank into a chair exhausted.  "Why, where did you get all that money?"  said both mothers at once, "I've earned it," said I, "Well earned it—don't bother me."  And so I had earned it, for that was a hard day's work both for body and mind, was that same 7th day of February, 1838.  Quite as hard days, however, were yet in store—in the next chapter I will tell you all about it, and how and why I became a Rebel—a chapter I think of dedicating to my Lord John Russell, for he ought to know why men become Rebels.

Picturesque Sketches of London - 1852



    The second morning of my begging experience, I took out sixpence, and afterwards was sorry for it, for somehow I could not begin my wretched toil, till all was expended, nor did I get rid of my last penny till towards evening.  During all these hours—for I started early—I must have travelled many miles, round the north of London, all the time, just going to begin, but not commencing.  When it was just dark, however, I summoned courage enough to strike up in a back street at Holloway,

"O God, our help in ages past,
 Our hope for years to come."

No money:—then

"Grace, 'tis a charming sound."

But no money.  Thinks I, I'll just sing my favourite "God moves," and then if nobody gives me anything, I'll just give up for to-day at any rate,—and nobody did, so home I went, and then saw doubly my folly, for Jane was still worse, and the money I had gotten the day before was nearly gone.  My mother's pauper allowance was all mortgaged for victuals eaten nearly a week ago, from a chandler's shop; and her mother was as poor as ourselves, not having had a place as monthly nurse—the labour on which she depended—for many months; and her husband Jane's father—had left them and gone no one knew where, ever since his child was five years' old.  Well, on the third morning, after praying to God most heartily, that He would open a new path, and in the meantime, give me the courage of a Christian under these trying circumstances, (I note this fact, because I had not really prayed for some days, and because on that day I did seem to have more faith and courage), I went out, determined, as a punishment for my yesterday's weakness, to commence at once.  And sure enough, in Wilderness Row—a thronged thoroughfare, and not a quarter of a mile from my residence—begin I did, and got a halfpenny while singing a hymn.  Now, thought I, I've put my courage to the test, and paid penance into the bargain; but for fear I should be seen by those who know me, I'm off farther a-field.  At Islington I fairly began my day's work, and had scoured it well by two o'clock, with four shillings save one farthing, (a poor old woman would make me take a farthing, with many apologies that she hadn't more, God bless her), as my reward.  I ran home with this sum, with the intention of going out again after an hour's rest.  But fortitude failed when the stern necessity had temporarily hidden itself—there was enough for the day, and I didn't like my new business well enough to work at it till we were all getting hungry.  Besides, I began already to think that, by perseverance, I could get any day enough food and something to spare,—in other words, could live much more comfortably by begging than by hard work.  Look at the Tariff, legislators,—2s. for draining one's very life-blood out by incessant laborious toil, from six in the morning till eight at night—3s. 11¾d. merely for asking for it, from nine till two P.M.  Oh! if that idea had taken root, as it has taken root in thousands, spite of your treadmills and vagrant laws—what an accomplished beggar I'd have been by this time!  This idea, however, was only a passing one with me, but mark—I got bolder every day.  The next day was Saturday, and I, by dint of keeping my sense of shame in the background for ten hours, managed to scrape up either a few halfpence under or over 7s.—I don't recollect which—but I do remember having a Sunday's hot dinner on the following day.  No remarkable proof of my powers of memory by the way, for when a man has to go without a dinner for weeks and months consecutively, and then happens to make a mistake and get one, a hundred chances to one but he remembers the "why and because";—dinner time comes regularly enough, but dinner and dinner time are not quite synonymous terms.  I can't say that I much enjoyed my hot mutton and dumplings; for though wife had got somewhat better, she couldn't eat a bit, and the unceasing thinking of how I gained it, made me feel very uncomfortable;—not that I thought I had done wrong, nor do I think so now, but most certainly, a potatoe, with the knowledge that I had sweated for it, would have gone down much easier.  On that day I sang too, but then it was in the dark at S—es Street Chapel, Bethnal Green.  The congregation little thought when I gave out, with a deep sigh,

"God moves in a mysterious way,"

Street scene, Bethnal Green, ca 1900

that I had sung it scores of times on the previous days in the streets!  Ah! the heart only knoweth "its own bitterness," a wise arrangement.  On Monday morning (pardon, reader, if I weary you by being so particular,—I am telling, as briefly as I can, of eight days of real agony, and the telling of it seems to relieve me even at this hour)—on Monday morning, after,—like a "giant refreshed" with two strong cups of tea and a bit of yesterday's mutton, I started off for Brixton again, with this idea, that I'd go day after day the same round, once more, saving every farthing over necessities, for capital to buy things to sell again in the streets,—that was better than begging.  Well, I got but 2s. 9d. all day—yes, I got something else—a threat to be sent to the "Mill" just handy.  "That'll cure you of your singing about here, I'll warrant," said a gentleman to me—what a many spurious things people do warrant to be sure!  Now that gentleman was no social doctor at all, though he might have been one of the many social quacks.  Being sent to the "Mill" would not have cured me, or at least if it had cured me of that disease, it would have perhaps brought on a worse—thieving.  Prisons are not hospitals for social disorders, I'll warrant, though they ought to be, I'll warrant.

    Tuesday, had 1s. 7d.  I was out many hours too, but very low-spirited.  Just as I was going to commence, I met a person I had known from childhood—an old schoolfellow; we talked over the days that were gone, and when we parted, the reminiscence seemed like a cold weighty stone at my heart.  He went on his way, not knowing of my day's task;—if he had, he would have helped me, I believe, with his last penny;—but then he was poor, and nothing seemed so recoiling to me as that any one should know what I did for my bread.  I think it was on this day that I began singing in a street where some other beggar, with a woman and two children was imploring the inhabitants for relief.  I didn't notice him at first, but he soon called me aside, and with a terrible oath said he'd kill me if I dared to oppose him.  I tried to explain, but to little purpose, and we parted with the comfortable assurance from him "that I was either jolly green or a b—y rogue, and that if I didn't know that to come and cadge in a street where another cadger was working, was not against the rule in the "Siety," he'd make me know it by jumping my guts out."  I think I hear the ejaculation, "There was a wretch past all redemption."—Nonsense; he might have been redeemed with very little trouble; there was at least the germ of something good in that man; ay, that man—his sentiment was manly after all; if you take away the chaff, and the rough way in which it was delivered, and sift it well, the wheat will appear, meaning simply this, "Don't enter into such public competition with your fellow-man, and thus rob him of his share—there's room enough for all, if you'll only give all fair play."  The man was right, and so was the "Siety."

    Wednesday.  A very lucky day; 9s. and odd—including a half-crown a lady gave me.  "Ma'am, this is a half-crown."  "I'm aware of that," says she, as a tear started to her beautiful eye.  "God bless you!"  "And God bless you," I repeated, "Pray let me tell you why I am thus;"—but no,; with another most benevolent look, she vanished.  I have often thought she knew me; whether or not, she did right, and she did wrong.  She happened to do right by giving that half-crown to me, because I expended it properly, but she did wrong in not inquiring and ascertaining first.  The people who give half-crowns away in the streets must have good hearts, but not very sound judgments; they err on the right side, but still they err.  If benevolent people would give with judgment, not depending on any society, but on their own personal observations, they would do twenty times more good, and save half their money.  In all my eight days' cadging experience, I was never asked a question; so I might have been an impostor all the while.  Well, well, better give an impostor now and then money, by mistake, than miss the blessed opportunity of saving a poor starving wretch from dying, by withholding a penny, or even half-a-crown, if God has made you steward of a good many.

Part of the Strand, c. 1825, showing the site of the modern Burleigh House
and the Strand Palace Hotel.

    I put away, out of the 9s., 5s., with the determination to begin on Saturday with that trifle, if I couldn't get more, by the sale of memorandum books, and other stationery.  On Thursday morning, going along Fleet Street, or the Strand, I saw, what I looked out for every day in my travels—a bill up in a window, for "A Man Wanted;" and I lost three parts of the day before I could get an answer.  And the anxiety I felt—the war between hope and fear, all those hours—was very severe.  "Call again in an hour;" then "another hour," and so on.  At last the lottery turned up a blank.  He couldn't take me, because I'd been out of work so long, "six months, and above; oh, dear no."  Suppose I'd told him what I had been doing the previous week, it would have been an "O, dear, no," most heartily given.  That's it, you see.  Once an outcast, mind what you're at; if you are only hungry six hours, why they'll give you to eat, but if hungry six months, O, starve away, or beg, or steal, there's plenty of workhouses and jails for such obstinate burdens, and we pay rates, and very heavily too, to keep them out of our sight.  God save the Queen!—I went on late that afternoon to Chelsea, sick at heart with hope delayed, and then—as it had been many times before—blasted—and took seventeen pence, the last money I got by singing in the streets.

    The next day I became a Rebel, and this was how it was, "Lord John,"—all facts, without a comment.  Going up Holborn on Friday morning, I met a man carrying a board with bills on it, having words to the following effect:—"Give no money to beggars,—food, work, and clothing, are given away to them by applying to the Mendicity Society, Red Lion Square."  What, food, work, clothing, given away!  O! here's good news!  Let them give me work though, and I'll find food and clothing myself.—"I say, governor," to the man with the board, "what's all that mean?"  "What's all what mean?" said as comical a looking figure-head as any Great Exhibition directed by phrenologists could well produce.  "That bill."  "Vy, dos'ent yer know?"  "No."  "Vell you is raw, and no flies."  Now what this distinguished agent of the Association meant by raw, I did not then comprehend, and what flies had to do with his reply is also a mystery which future enlightened generations must unravel; for he did'nt tell, and I did'nt ask him.  I wanted just then to get at something else.  "Do, my good fellow," said I, "pray do tell me if I really can get food, work, and clothing, and how."  "Is yer a beggar?"  "No—yes."  "Now none of yer lies, 'cos if yer is'nt a beggar, the gemmen vont giv yer not nuffin."  "I am, I am, my friend."  "Vell then, you must get a ticket."  "A ticket?"  "Yes, or it's not no account I tells yer."  "And how am I to get a ticket?"  "Vy go to Russell Square, or any o' them air grand cribs, and axxe the first gemman you meets."  "Shall I say you sent me?"  "O no, yer fool; jist axxe, I tells yer, for a ticket for the Mendickety Siety, and they'll give it yer, and then take it to the place what's directed, and then (with a leer—such a leer!) you'll see what you will see."  I thanked him, and started for Russell Square, full of wonderment.  Sure enough, I did get a ticket, of the third person I asked.  Here was fortune!—food, work, clothing, by just applying for it; and I had not known of it before; well, I was a fool, as the man just told me.  Food, work, clothing! and with joy and boldness I knocked at the office door in Red Lion Square.  "What do you want," said the opener.  "Here's a ticket, sir," (showing it for fear he wouldn't believe me) "I want to see the gentlemen inside."  "O, go round the corner; that's your way," and he slammed the door in my face.  Ah! stop till I see the gentlemen, they'll not speak to me so, thought I, as I went round the corner, and down some dirty steps.  And then such a scene presented itself to me as never can be effaced from my memory!—a hundred—fully a hundred, of the most emaciated, desolate, yet hardened, brutal—looking creatures, were congregated together in the kitchen, the majority of them munching, like so many dogs, hunks of bread and cheese.  I was told to pass on, and then another hundred daguerreotype likenesses of the first hundred met my bewildered gaze, waiting to pass a wooden bar one by one.  Of course I had to stay my turn; and not knowing how to be "jolly" with them—for even these neglected miserable wretches were jolly—I got finely chaffed.  I dare not attempt to write their filthy remarks;—one man, however, in all that Devil's crowd, took pity on the "green one," and I began to tell him all about the food-work-and-clothing idea, which still kept wandering about my brain, though it seemed trying to find an outlet as if tired of stopping there.  I shall never forget how heartily he laughed, as I related to him my affair with the board-man,—Bill Somebody, of the "Dials," whom he appeared to know very well.  After informing him how long I had begged, and pretty well all my circumstances, he said to me, "I tells you what, old flick, you've been deceived, its all lies,—they only give you a bit of bread and cheese, and you must be up to snuff to get that,—not one in a hundred gets more.  Clothing's all my eye.  And them as gets work, it's to break stones at six bob a-week—its all lies I tell you."  Now by this time I scarcely knew who to believe—the gentlemen who advertised such good things, or the poor beggar who had branded them as liars.  But in about an hour longer, I found out.—It was my turn to pass the barrier—I was ushered into a room by a beadle, and stood behind another bar like a criminal; and on the other side sat six gentlemen, as people call bears that are dressed well; when the following dialogue, nearly word for word, took place, between me and the chairman:—"Well, what do you want?" I fumbled for my prize ticket, and said, "Here's a ticket, sir,—a gentleman gave me in Russell Square."  "Well, well, what do you want, I say?"  "If you please sir, I met this morning a man carrying a board on which was stated that I could get food, work, and clothing,—but I only want work, sir."  "Are you a beggar?"  "Yes, sir."  "How long?"  "Eight days."  "Only eight days,—are you sure of that?" (with a cunning infidel leer).  "Yes, sir, that is all."  "Are you married?"  "Yes, sir."  "Ah, I thought so.  How many children have you got?"  "One, sir."  "O, I wonder you didn't say a dozen—most beggars say a dozen.  How do you beg?"  "I sing hymns, sir."  "O, one of the pious chanters,"—with a grin at the gentlemen, who grinn'd too, at his brilliant wit.  "Have you applied to your parish?"  "No, sir."  That did it,—that truth,—if I had told a lie, the wrath of his worship the Chairman might in time have been assuaged, but telling the truth proved I was not "up to snuff," for in a loud, angry voice he called the officer, and thus addressed him,—"Officer, you see that fellow—you'll know him again—he goes about singing hymns; he says only eight days,—is that a truth?"  "O dear no," said the lying scamp, "I've known him for years!"  "Ah, now, mark him well, watch for him, and directly you catch him, lock him up, and send for me.  We'll have this gentleman before a magistrate, and he shall sing hymns on the treadmill."—Now its some time before I break loose, but when I do, I never stay at a half-way-house—all the way there and no stoppages,—is my motto; so I retaliated, as every honest man ought to do when he's insulted and belied by a thing that feeds on him according to law.  I retaliated, I say, with equal warmth, calling him a liar (a scriptural phrase by-the-bye) point-blank, and all the gentlemen too;—"you advertise lies, said I, wholesale, now lock me up, and I'll show the magistrate and the world that you are the impostors, and obtain money under false pretences from the benevolent."  Well to be sure, I expected to be collared every moment.—Yet I fired away, bang, bang, till I was more than a match for the Chairman, who at last listened staring, without saying a word, but just a grunt now and then, like a pig as he was.  One of the gentlemen at length said—"Give him some bread and cheese, and let him go," (I was hungry enough, for not a bit of anything had I tasted since eight in the morning, and then it was late in the afternoon).  Well, they gave me another prize (!) ticket, entitling me to half-a-pound of bread and a piece of cheese, and I went back into the kitchen to get it, pocketed it, and was about to sheer off, when the beadle stopped me and ordered me to eat it there.  "I shall not," said I.  "You must."  "I won't."  "Then give it back."  "I won't do that either."  "Then come along with me," and I was again before the immortal six.  "Sir, he won't eat his bread and cheese."  "O, then let him give it back."  "He won't do that, sir."  "You must, sir," said the Chairman to me.  "I won't."  "You must, I tell you, it's the rule, and you must obey it."  "I don't care about your rules, I want to share it with those I love, who are as hungry as I am, and if you are a Devil with no natural feelings, I am not.  Get out of the way, beadle," and out I rushed, like one mad, through the crowd of astonished beggars, right into the street, without one stopping me.

Commercial Road

    After I had got home, and told them of my adventures, (I had told them of my singing propensities a day or two before), I went downstairs to the landlord to pay him a week's rent out of the four I owed him, and the good fellow said, "Never mind, if you haven't yet got any work, I don't take any till you do, I'm sure you'll pay me—how long have you been out of work?"  "Near seven months," I said, with a sigh, thinking more of the dogs I had encountered in the day than anything else.  "Ah," says he, "there'll be no good done in this country till the Charter becomes the law of the land."  "The Charter?"  "Yes, I'm a Chartist—they meet to-night at Lunt's Coffee House on the Green—will you come?"  "Yes."  It was only a "Locality" meeting, but there were about sixty people present, and as one after another got up, oh, how I sucked in all they said!  "Why should one man be a slave to another?  Why should the many starve, while the few roll in luxuries?  Who'll join us, and be free?"  "I will," cried I, jumping up in the midst.  "I will, and be the most zealous among you—give me a card and let me enrol."  And so, Lord John, I became a Rebel; that is to say:—Hungry in a land of plenty, I began seriously for the first time in my life to enquire WHY, WHY—a dangerous question, Lord John, is'nt it, for a poor man to ask? lending to anarchy and confusion.

    Well, but it wasn't my fault, you know.  When you are out of a place, you are about the first one to cry there's something wrong.—Now I was out of a place, and so I cried the same.  Politics, my Lord, was with me just then, a bread-and-cheese-question.  Let me not, however, be mistaken;—I ever loved the idea of freedom,—glorious freedom, and its inevitable consequences,—and not only for what it will fetch, but the holy principle;—a democrat in my Sunday School, everywhere—and whether the sun shines on my future pathway, or the clouds look black as they have ever done, neither sun nor cloud shall alter my fixed principle.

"A boy I dreamt of liberty;
 A youth—I said, but I am free;
 A man—I felt that slavery
 Had bound me in her chain.
 But yet the dream, which, when a boy,
 Was wont my musings to employ,
 Fast rolling years shall not destroy,
 With all their grief and pain."

* See John Critchley Prince, "The Sunday School."


[Home] [Bezer in Australia] [Autobiography] [Deprivation] [Regina v. Bezer] [Correspondence, etc.] [Site Search] [Main Index]