It was five-and-twenty years ago, in the grimy little town of Howdon-on-Tyne - it was on the "ballast-hill" - the playground of its children - that a boy of twelve years old felled to the ground a boy who had gone to look at a girl who had turned aside to tie up her garter.
That boy has since become the author of "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon," in which he has not ceased to be faithful to his boyish idea of the sacredness of the modesty and virtue of an English girl. From its room in Northumberland Street, Strand, the same arm has dealt its manhood's blow at the whole herd of the "fornicators, adulterers, and whoremongers" of the land; and from the smoke rooms of the Clubs, and even from some in the offices of Whitehall, has been heard the magnified howl of the dirty-minded Howdon boy.
And passers-by that day did not give themselves time to understand, and said,"You should not fight." And cynical companions laughed at the little fool's rage: what were girls made for? But despite his critics, the young Howdon knight understood somehow, that to champion chastity was right; if the world would not help girls to wear it, he would.
Let us peep into the home in which this chivalrous lad was born. It was a home where every maxim was noble, every bit of joy was pure, and all life was lived with God; and a happier home the land did not contain. I love to peep through the window of that grimy little house in the barren street of Howdon, and to see the talkative, impulsive child taking turns with his sister at the rocking-horse which his Puritan father had made, in a room where they could hardly move, for a little bed was there where one of them slept at night; and their father's book-shelves and table were there, for there was no play-room, so he had given up part of his study for their games. There he sits preparing his sermons, looking off to smile at his children's fun, or to settle a dispute. To them he was a child, only many years older than themselves, and their games just as much as sermons seemed to belong to a minister and to God. He was their best friend, and always dear to them. It was he who made their toys, played with them, took walks with them, told them stories, and was full of manly tenderness to their young ways; and he did it all (as he preached on Sunday) that he might keep his children in the way to heaven. Strange virtues ripen rapidly at a home like this.
First thing in the morning, whilst still in his little study-bed, he would hear his father's firm kind voice correcting his errors as he went through his daily spelling lesson; and however he might dislike this, he knew well it was love that was requiring it, for the best of his companions was his father.
When breakfast was over, he knelt at family prayer; he quite understood that it was a whole-hearted sympathy with all his boy life, its joys as well as its weaknesses and dangers, which was speaking to God for him, and there were no set phrases to listen to, only family wants were said; God may care for rolling periods, but children do not.
When breakfast was over, the companion of his romps and maker of his rocking-horse taught him his Latin and history - him and his sister together. He never wanted to be disobedient, but at times his keenly realistic fancy made ruin of his father's "time-table," which was as methodically drawn out for daily subjects of instruction as if it were the time-table of a public school. He was an attentive scholar, but the reading about wicked deeds men had done made him angry. In forgetfulness of all school order, he would declaim and break into tears. "I wish God would give me a big whip that I could go round the world and whip the wicked out of it!" he broke out, when his slender, quivering frame could stand the reading of the story of some iniquity no longer; and he rushed away to cry.
In the little class in that minister's study and child's playroom, at Howdon, there were only two competitors - himself and his sister, and the seat on the teacher's knee served as top and prize - life really began for him.
He was a good little scholar, and never gave any trouble from badness; yet his father could not but wonder where his tender, passionate spirit would carry him. He looked at things with such human eyes, and saw so much that rosier cheeked children could not see. His limbs were spare; his blue eyes were lighted with a look which made him loved, especially of women and girls. One idea was always taunting him: there was God; and the world's sorrows bewildered him, and he drew himself to God, and in his childish way was happy. Some laughed, and said he was moon-stricken; and others called him a little child of heaven.
Something of the mother's spirit may be caught in the closing lines of an address in verse to a grandson, where she counsels him to various virtues, and closes with the call to cultivate-
"Love that endures and hopes and prays, And gathers strength, and brooks delays, And lives, and does the right."
Yet much as she loved right-doing, she was a mother, and with all the force of her tender nature she loved her flesh-and-blood boy, and it grieved her very soul that by right-doing he was so misunderstood by the every-day boys who paced the streets of Howdon.
Next after his father as playmate, he looked for those with whom nobody else would play. He would go a holidaying with a cripple who could not climb, and play at marbles with a beggar, and give him half his dinner. "Let me try," he would say to anybody he saw vainly struggling with a difficulty, though they were twice his size and strength.
He was considered quite silly in his tearful horror of the wickedness of "pulling" birds' nests; the sorrow of the little woman-bird quite broke his heart, and he did not conceal it, and wondered if it would be wicked to kill the boys who "pulled" them. The boys did not see it, thought him a lunatic, and laughed at him.
His mother had but one main plea, that he would try to "Avoid the appearance of evil." It was constant.
"I cannot, mother," was his one reply.
Her own beautiful heart had always faith in him. It was at her knee that he unconsciously formed his boyish heroic disdain of appearances, and love of realities, and when she died, life seemed more sacred and precious, because he might now write a book, showing the power which comes down out of mothers, and drives destiny into their sons.
The consequence of his disregard of appearances brought bitter tears to her eyes, not that it was wickedly done, but that he himself suffered such wrongs by it. True, generous, pure, forgiving, he was utterly unworldly-wise, and was pious in ways that "did not become his year."
Her last words to him were full of tenderness for his tenderness. She knew his keen sensitiveness at grieving her while she lived - how would the tears flow when he remembered the little inevitable pains he had given, and she was gone! "Now I want you to promise me never to think of any pains you may have given me," she said.
"I'll try, mother," he replied.
"I did not tell you to try, but to do it?'
"He seems to have had what I count now as a sort of beautiful craze," said one who had been a boy companion of his. "Nobody in Howdon wonders that William Stead has done strange things," he continued, "but they would all wonder if he ever did what was ungenerous and unkind."
He has taken his own road in life, but he has never lost the beautiful unselfishness which seemed to his more worldly-minded boy comrades a craze, and made him the half-mystery, half-pride of his native little town - as those well know who have the pleasure of his acquaintance today; and they are unhappily few, for he is almost a hermit in his retirement.
In spite of occasional passionate outbursts of his generous youthful wrath, he and his sister had their quiet hours of honest plodding at their Latin, arithmetic, and Bible lesson; and all their work was solidly and thoroughly done from breakfast time till the neighbouring workmen's bell went at noon. Then the father might be seen, his children running a long by his side, going through the streets black with soot beneath skies veiled with the smoke of the furnaces where the busy and hardy people of the town-earned their living, to find pleasure and contentment in a walk through a lane between blackened stumps of hedges, or along a foot-path by the Tyne, talking among themselves about men of the past, or the ships that went to-and-fro along the river with merchandise, and the countries to which they belonged, and the God who was over all. And the children grew to think their father was the wisest and cleverest being next to God.
Whatever was the opinion of the town upon the growing boy, he was the hero of his home.
"I cannot tell you how I love your brother," one of his London literary friends said to the sister who had shared these home classes and walks with him. The friend and he had just returned from the Bow Street Police-Court, where he had been committed to take his trial on technical charges, which might land him in penal servitude.
"Then you will not wonder at my love for him," she said, looking at him with sweet sisterly pride - as if tomorrow he was to be crowned king, "knowing him as well and as long as I have done."
No pity of him was in her look, nor was there superb disdain of his accusers, only womanly contentment, satisfaction, and joy. Happy is the brother who, in the midst of a misguided national howl, still enjoys the exquisite homage of the sister who learnt her Latin grammar with him, and for thirty following years has known his secret heart.
As a mere child, he was never only the son of a family; he was what the Bible means by a son of man, and could not rest in anything for himself; the life and needs of others were incessantly growing upon him. At a very early age, he delighted the Band of Hope by telling it the tales he had heard, and to-day its grown-up members can still hear the grinding, grinding of the mill at the bottom of the sea, which made the sea so salt, of which he told them then.
He loitered wherever things went wrong, in Howdon or a thousand miles or years away; and the heroes of the right who threw themselves against wrong, hip and thigh, were persons more real and glorious to him than the folks about him, and served him as companions when in the Howdon fields, or in his chamber alone; and he grew to believe that God was not dead; that this world was His, and He still inspired people; and in the crude and irregular way of a boy he tried to live his convictions.
In his early teens, he began to teach in the Sunday School, and made a cricket club a branch of his Sunday class, and a recreation ground a part of his religion. Even a joint-stock garden, a club and reading-room, where lads might learn to look after their affairs, were all branches of his young idea of Christianity. He became the centre of a Mutual Improvement Society, and in all sorts of miniature boyish ways sought to realise the social religion which, in his now famous manhood, he has so often sought to teach to the world.
His Sunday time table was:- 9.15 to 10.15, Sunday School class; 10.30 to 12.0, morning service; 1.15 to 3.15, Sunday School class; 3.15 to 3.45, minister's Bible class; 5.0 to 6.0, a cottage meeting ; 6.0 to 7.30, evening service; 7.30 to 8.0, meeting for prayer on the day's work.
What terrors can a Bow Street Police Court have to a man, who, as a boy, found real pleasure in years of Sundays like this! He looks with eyes that see things invisible to stipendiaries, and hired barristers, and reporters for penny papers.
His first place was at a merchant's desk in Newcastle, where, pen in hand, he wrote the invoices for timber, wine and spirits, Russian leather, ship insurances and brokerage, and the correspondence of a Russian Consul. At the noon hour, he took the half of a three-penny loaf and a cold chop he daily brought in his mother's parcel, read Scott, Spurgeon, and the Bible, and grew to hate greed of gold. Were not men brothers?
And he read the daily papers. And there were things said in them which seemed to him the seeds of all the blunders, sorrows, and crimes of mankind, and he took his ledger pen to expose and set right. And the editor of the paper he sent his writings to came to fetch him, and though he looked hard at him when he saw how young he was, and even how unclerklike (for the one thing he has never even yet thought of is his personal appearance), when he returned the last time, the youth went with him and took his place in the office of the Northern Echo, and joined the staff of our English journalists; and the destiny of his life began.
Here he at once lifted up his young authoritative voice against the Contagious Diseases Acts, and long-sickened hopes of noble women began to flutter around him. He boldly charged the legislators with forging fetters and chains which bound girls in a worse than negro slavery for lustful men.
Writing of that woman who has always seemed to him so good, whose brow shone, to his youth, like the jewelled crown of a queen, he said (April 3, 1876):
Mrs. Butler's is not a thunder-trump, but her still, small voice has roused the slumbering conscience of Christian Europe to a recognition of its duty to morality and to woman. As yet, however, we but see the beginnings. What will the end be? We know not yet, for the end is far off ; but this we know, that now, as ever, it is true— "O small beginnings, years great and strong, Based on a faithful heart and weariless brain, Ye build the future fair, ye conquer wrong. Ye earn the crown, and wear it not in vain!'"
As yet, however, we see but the beginnings.
How, in the light of events, do these words sound like a prophecy! He holds the same opinion to-day. The leading newsagent's boycotting his paper, the public officials prosecuting him for what they well knew was not wickedly done— what is this but the beginning of a strife, a great and horrible strife, in which somebody mast get the worst of it. And he has undertaken to lead it. He has done it like a man, counting the cost. For so many long years have fornicators been largely left to certain paths for their vile will, that the man who dares to forbid them, and passes-laws to punish them, must count with them all ; and their name is Legion.
And there is strife, and hubbub, and litigation! "As yet, however, we see but the beginnings! "The child heart which, as it went its way through the fields, grieved at the sight of a "pulled "bird's nest, grow to feel a young man's woe over dishonoured woman. Faithful in little he was faithful in much. "I want to write a novel on prostitution," he wrote, in 1877. " I see more clearly than ever before that the moral sense of the nation is the measure of its power, and all that lowers its morality saps its empire. I most be a preacher of righteousness if I would do my country any service." In July of the same year he wrote:—
The movement for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act has come to serve the useful purpose of a test of the sincerity of current Liberalism. A little reflection will convince any unprejudiced person that few questions go down so deeply to the roots of Liberalism -as does this. The system introduced by these Acts is virtually one of slavery, and this slavery is justified on principles, and enforced by methods, utterly inconstant either with Liberalism or Christianity. Mazzini was accustomed to observe that, although the upper classes thought the subject one of trifling importance, he regarded it as inseparably linked with the gravest problems that weigh upon society at the present day.
It was as a Liberal he fell upon the fornicator; a Liberal who valued the humblest daughter of the poor as highly as others valued the daughter of the rich. The man who dishonours her, he holds, is not a Liberal. Soldiers, it is said, are a national necessity; the true Liberal will, therefore, send his sons to the battle; and all classes lie among the dead. If harlots are a national necessity, the true Liberal will also send them from walking amongst the marbles and fountains of his mansion, if he be a prince, or his one-roomed cottage if he be only a labourer. In every matter of sacrifice to true national necessity, "No Respect[er] of Persons" is the Liberal creed. To the wealthy it is a fool's creed, and to the flunkey of every grade a creed impure; but it is the creed of righteousness and of God, and proves the necessity-theory of harlots a lie, and a blasphemy, and a sin against the Holy Ghost; at all events, to this impeachment young William Stead had already yielded up his soul.
In August, 1880, he expressed himself in the following remarkable sentence written while he was yet sitting in the Darlington office of the Northern Echo:—
I have had a curious impulse in the direction of London by the revival (from reading last Saturday's Shield, and the memorial to the Foreign Office about the export of English girls for State regulated prostitution in Brussels) of a [sense] of the burden which was imposed upon me to write an 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' on the slavery of Europe. The burden is greater than I can bear. But if it is ultimately to be laid upon my back, God will strengthen me for it. If I have to write it, I shall have to plunge in the depths of social hell; and that is impossible outside a great city. It needs an incentive to go away.
A new flush of hope spread over the moralists of the northern part of our island with the new editor of its now leading paper.
"I do not take the credit of making him," said the eminent proprietor of that journal;" I found him made. My only credit is that I found him."
In his new sphere he was a Liberal to which the country supplied no parallel. He hated all meaner reasons and smaller causes than the simple obvious and national good of his fellow-man. Famous at once for a brilliant and nervous style, he became, beyond all comparison, the most remarkable journalist for the extent and accuracy of his knowledge.
In the great Eastern struggle of 1876, the little "yellow half-penny paper," as it was called by those who prided themselves on the whiteness and price of their sheets, found its way into the offices of Cabinet ministers, and lent its aid to the most anxious debates of Parliament, and roused England against the Turk in Bulgaria.
Of his articles on this topic, Mr. Gladstone wrote in September : " I have read them with much admiration of the high public spirit as well as the ability with which they are written."
At the dissolution under Lord Beaconsfield, in virtue of his faith in God and his country-men, he upbraided the London papers as soulless, untrue, and misleading in their ideas of a Beaconsfield victory, and confidently predicted, and contributed to, the grand electoral victory which at the polling was won.
Writing to Mr. Stead, referring to his Paper at this crisis, Mr. Gladstone says:—" I wish that our whole press was distinguished equally with it for justice, heartiness, and ability."
"He made a good thing out of it," said the men who, having themselves an eye to the main chance, imagine everybody else to have the same. Yet he did make a good thing out of it; he became one of the most powerful journalists in the land, and had proportionate chances of good.
But it was because he had kept a manly cleanliness of heart so rare amongst newspaper men, that be took the view he did. It was because the idea of outrage on Bulgarian woman, the form of his own mother, with long hair like hers, and feelings, and fountains of tears, was so unspeakably horrible to him, that England raised him to his extraordinary position, and turned from the proud professionalists of the metropolis, and heeded a man, a true man, on "a half-penny provincial journal."
"Tell that good man, Stead, to get on with his work," said Thomas Carlyle. That name of Carlyle's was the explanation of it all.
It was the old prophetic "hatred of iniquity" which made him the unerring guide of his country in that terrible time. Yet he was only twenty-nine years of age, wearing a not very tidy scarf at his throat, and not knowing exactly which way his hair was brushed.
Whilst negotiations for his coming to the Pall Mall Gazette were pending, writing to Mr. John Morley, who wished to understand a phrase he had used as to "the prophetic office" of the journalist, he said:-
My idea of 'prophetic journalism' is that any man who has to guide the opinions of other own men ought ever to have before his eyes the fact that right is right, and wrong is wrong; and that any man or nation who acts wilfully, as if it were not binding upon him to do right, has nothing before him but a terrible looking forward to of judgment to come, certainly in this life, possibly in that which is to come.
In 1880 he was invited to join Mr. John Morley in the conduct of the Pall Mall Gazette. He had no love of London; but his hesitancy was overcome principally by the advice of Canon Liddon and Dean Church. He accepted the invitation, but resolved never to enter the misleading club-atmosphere which makes London papers so tranquilly heartless and hopeless; he would pass his life with his associates at his office, and with wife and children at his home.
Perhaps never did Church dignitaries tender advice which resulted in such blessings to the girlhood of our poor: for it has been Mr. Stead's strong hand that has dragged to light the secret ways by which they have been led to ruin in which there was no sort of hope; and without the commanding influence of the position he was thus induced to accept, their ruin must have gone on, and an ignorant public would not have forbidden.
As for other services the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette has rendered, or may render, to our nation's peace and honour, there is none like this. He may crowd the seas with iron-clads, and equip for the field never such an army of men, yet it will be by the safeguards he has created for the simplicity and virtue of our land that his name shall be Known when the armoured ships are sunk and the drilled men are dust.
On the whole it is natural that, as we have seen, he has few friends in newspaper rings. When he came to London the gossips of theatres, and clubs, and "Society," who would have made his acquaintance, could not : they could not get even a glimpse of him, he was so retiring. He went from his home to the office, wrote, and then slipped off away home again. He was too much of what the scribbler in The World bravely calls a bishop who takes Mr. Stead's puritanical view of morals even for religious people, a "Pecksniff in excelsis "; he went to take his children out into the lanes, or to look into history with them.
His one desire has been to get at the people. He has no faith in the professional statesmen or party politicians, or newspaper writers, or clubs. He believes in the tribunal to which the mountain-born man of Palestine appealed, who said, " Ye ought to judge in yourselves": the common people's heart. It is fullest of natural simplicities, and, therefore, instinctively truer to truth and God. Of this grander tribunal he wrote so far back as September,1876:—
The present is the interpreter of the past. In spite of all that has been written upon 'these late decadent generations'—the extinction of faith the growth of scepticism, the dying out of all enthusiasm— the human heart remains much the same as it was when 'steel-clad Europe shook itself simultaneously at the word of the Hermit.' The age of chivalry is not gone; as Burke pettishly asserted it was, because Englishmen did not rush to establish one beautiful woman upon the ruined homes of twenty millions of Frenchmen. The age of chivalry is ever with us. Man's heart still struggles, still aspires, in spite of all the sophisters, economists, and calculators, whom the great orator anathematised. The soul of man may sleep for a season; but at any moment, starting from its lethargy, it may display a vigorous vitality, a heroic resolve, a chivalrous determination equal to that of the most famous ages of antiquity. "'All that has been majestical, In life or death, since time began, is native in the simple heart of all — The angel heart of man.'"
It was to this deep, latent soul of the people he ultimately addressed his "Maiden Tribute": the most religious tribunal of the land.
In 1870 he said:—
During the performance of one of the grand masterpieces of our grandest musicians, when discords themselves, mingling, seem Harmonies, and the tangled confusion of a hundred instruments, united in one overpowering burst of melody, responsive to the stroke of the conductor, it is often very difficult to discern, amid the wild luxuriancy of the sound, the various parts taken by each instrument To the performers it is otherwise. Each occupied with his own instrument can scarcely form any idea of the multitudinous majesty of the blending whole. In the orchestra of the Universe, in which every mortal being is a performer, we often fail to recognise the tendency, or appreciate the beauty, of the music upon which we are engaged. The performance of that orchestra is the history of the world, evolved with wondrous harmony from millions of distinct and contending souls by the Ruler of all Amid the tumult of chords, and the overpowering majesty of some bars where the battle tread of nations mingles with the roaring artillery, with the bursting shell, and with the wailing pathos of the widow's cry we are often at a loss to discriminate rightly the relative important of the events of our time, or to perceive with what tendency they unite with the ever-varying music of the centuries. Yet, in the midst of the thick crowding notes of battle and of revolution, of peace and of purity, we think we can dimly, 'as through a glass darkly,' discern the most powerful tendency of our age. Democracy— the symbol of the death of a worn-out world, and the rising of a new social era, the faith of the coming century—is, we believe, destined to be universally triumphant All events tend that way. The landmarks of our history are but the records of its progress; like the tide, the wave may for a moment recede, but outward motion is irresistible.
In spite of scoffing priests and leering sceptics, he held that Christianity itself will be revived by the democracy. Not from the religionist so-called, but from the manifold activities of the common people has he from the first expected to hail the coming Communion of man.
And it is coming.
Working at his journalistic work; dividing his time between that and life with his children at home; keeping an unstained faith in purity and the instincts of the English people; ever looking closely to the duty of the day-at length it came to be the duty to the nation's saddest outcasts.
It was in the Spring of 1885 that facts were brought to his knowledge, of which hitherto he had known nothing: a real trade had sprung up in English maidens. He heard earnest men like Benjamin Scott, the City Chamberlain; and women like Ellice Hopkins and Josephine Butler, say so. Home Secretaries and Heads of Police had known of it for years, and had known with a horrible indifference; for the gaieties of gentlemen at home and abroad were provided by the frightful damages to girl-life, of which they were told. These peoples' pure faces looked miserable as the saints the middle age painters painted, praying for their relations in hell: it seemed to him that it was they who were lost, not the girls. They looked at him as souls who had long been searching in the journalistic crowd for a pen to plead whose long-sick hopes were ready to perish. "Poor things"' he said, "they will go and die if I turn them away."' And God had taught him to count the right as duty; and duty was stronger than he. How could he destroy the trembling joy with which they had seen him listen to them? When they had told their stories, all considerations of worldly wisdom and expediency came too late. The "crazy " boy who would play marbles with a beggar, and go his walk with a cripple, could not ask himself whether his readers cared enough for the " fallen girl " (or the "knocked-down girl," as he says she ought more justly to be called), to make it worth his editorial while. Such considerations were at once put away.
Before they had finished, the only question was, "How could he help?" That settled, it must be done.
It was the will of God. Men's affairs had long enough had their turn: now the full time had come for the turn of dishonoured girlhood and wronged woman. He had not sought the duty; but it was there, and he could not be disobedient.
Near to his office are offices of criminal information-Whitehall and Scotland Yard. He must have undoubted facts. Would they help him? He begged them.
"No," was their reply.
In a city with officials like this, it was still more clearly time somebody took up the cause of the girls. The inner-voice spoke more loudly. It was horrible that men whose office it was to put down crimes would do nothing to put down this crime. "Let it alone," they practically said; and they had said the same in many ways, and had said it for years. A wild look struck into his kindly eyes. To his willing ear, new facts came every day, which harrowed his very soul and drove him to his "must be". But how? He could do nothing till he could terrify the gentlemen of the House of Commons ; but they were safe enough from terror unless he could carry with him their rulers, the voters. Though few of its members were the guardians of women, they were at least the guardians of their own seats.
A Bill, thrice dead, lay upon the table of the House, which in a miserable, counterfeit, half-hearted way dealt with the atrocious facts of the case. Session after session had it lain there; and nobody cared who could raise it from the dead. He could—and he would.
Speaking with Mr. Howard Vincent, who happily was only an ex-head of the Criminal Investigation Department excited and bewildered by the statements of what had actually come under that gentleman's own knowledge when in office, Mr. Stead exclaimed, "But, Vincent, do you think that these things are going on now?" "Yes, now—every night." "Vincent," he said," it is enough to raise hell." " It does not even raise the neighbours," was the grave reply.
"Then I'll make it raise England" exclaimed Mr. Stead. And he set himself to do it.
No time was to be lost. The last weeks of Parliament had come; in a dozen more, it would have passed away A plan struck him. He had tried several before he was driven to this: but at this, he hesitated ; it frightened him. He would go where he had never been in his life before, into the night streets and brothels of London; he would go himself to the hells where manhood was destroyed; and woman, damned; he would see and hear; and then make his fellow countrymen see it all, and hear it all, and feel it. He would do that.
He forgot that he was a journalist; that his readers might not stand the shock; that his reputation might not survive; that if once suspected in his difficult, almost impossible, deception, the wretched traders he sought to expose would maim him, imprison him, kill him; he forgot that he was a husband, a father, a brother; that Government authorities had refused to help him; that he would lay himself open to their disdain, hatred, and prosecution if they could catch him tripping, even for a moment — he forgot that many able men on the press whose impure lives were matter of common report, would call him shameless, mad, filthy; he forgot everything in the one daring resolve to kindle England with a pitiful rage, burning as his own against plunderers of girlhood's virtue: and, come what would to himself, by the omnipotent will of an indignant people, force Parliament to amend the Bill and pass it. The craft, strength, and safety of the voluptuary should be known: that was all, and that would be enough.
One person could not do it all. Agents had to be employed who would do as he told them, and on whose word reliance could be placed.
At the sound of his daring resolve men dissuaded him, knowing that he might stand (where he has actually stood) in police courts, and criminal courts, on countless possible charges; that he might be found dead, poisoned, killed in a brothel.
In order that he might have the benefit of their knowledge of why he went, he confided his object to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and Lord Dalhousie. To dissuasion, he returned but one answer: he could not heed. To all considerations of personal safety, a strong sense of duty rendered him deaf and blind.
Can a deliverer promise not to run because there are dangers in his way? Can a patriot refuse to enter a battlefield because bullets fly thick as hail-stones, and may be, it will be reddened with his blood, when on his one sword some great issue depends? In Mr. Stead worked the loves and woes which moved Isaiah's graphic pen, and lost John the Baptist his head.
Some dismissed him with their benedictions.
He got valuable introductions from good names to the fashionable brothels; he personated a wealthy voluptuary; he won his way into the lady keeper's private rooms, and through the good names he had and the free spending of money, he heard confidential secrets. He made acquaintance of procuresses; priced and bought their virgins; he entered the shuttered and cloth-curtained room, where shrieks were drowned of maddened girls; saw the chambers of children, the chloroform which the tender mercies of the wicked administered to "very little things," and the women that healed them; he heard their inhuman laugh at his suggestions of pity, their confidence as to being "within the law."
"But do gentlemen like girls unwilling?" "Some like them a little unwilling, it is pleasant, you see, to persuade; and some like quite a stir. There's no fun in a fox that wants to be caught." "Can you get me an unwilling girl?" "Give me time, and I can get you anything." "But how about the law?" "Oh, we know the law. Then who'll believe them? Men have a kind of liking for seeing a fine girl go down."
The keepers of brothels knew flesh and blood very well; but they did not know him: he was the son of a Puritan, a child of the Father in Heaven: the room was moving round, the furniture swam. Again and again did he break down and stumble out into the dark street, giddy, with a bursting brain. It seemed as though it would kill him; and yet he returned again. He had but one thought—it must be done.
Under the quiet stars, in the awful stillness of the London night, he walked streets and parks, and got close to the hearts of the pitiable women and girls who there made their bread. To his gentle, child-like ways, their brazen bearing vanished; their eyes grew soft with genuine tears, their daring spirit grew humble: they were girls and women again; and they told him their tale of home and ruin: and he cried. They had been slain by a coward; a coward had killed the feeble; it was done when they were girls. It was all a dream, a nightmare; he became a madman.
"But you hate me!" said one. "You mock me! " she shrieked, and flinging him from her with her arm, she rushed away into the darkness.
They were all weak enough and sinful enough, as the world counts sin; but overwhelmed by the pity of it all, he can never bear to hear unfeeling denunciations of these famished, silent strollers of the night, who light their candles in their attic-room as the stars fade.
"Oh, if ever a child of mine should be like that," he murmured, as he bent his head upon his arm on the table of the office to which he had returned as the summer's sun was gently rising over the still sleeping city. His investigations closed.
Then came the day of his revelation. And England gave a great cry, a shriek of anguish; and wept, and prayed God, and commanded the Commons. And in four short weeks every English child, under sixteen years of age, was safe behind the protecting care of the Crown, and as for their wrongdoers they had to settle with the gaol.
The revelation—"The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon"—was necessarily horrible. In it he opened doors; threw back shutters; drew curtains; and let pitying Christian eyes see the sights over which voluptuous Londoners were nightly gloating. He showed gins and snares in which simple country girls were nightly caught, to leap and shriek like a hare with the feel of the wire on its foot; he showed the girl-poacher mad with joy in his damnable sport; he made us see hot stinging girlish tears, and hear girlish voices full of wild pitiful despair; he made us revolt at his cruelty as he dragged our fancy to the woods, English woods, where lay a little bleeding child, almost a baby, crying because "a man had hurt her," trying to walk home, and she could not—until we blushed, and wept, and cursed him. We called him "scoundrel," and felt it; and bid him let us go, and he would not. He took us across the sea to the Continent, and made us gaze on an eager, cultivated girl who had to earn her living, lured by the offer of a place in a Christian family as governess, the very place she had been seeking, and who, to get to it, had gratefully spent almost her last penny, finding for a Christian family a brothel whose shut door was henceforth, by the law of the land, her prison; who was awoke from her first weary sleep to find a gloating devil resolved to have his way with her. His vivid pen, and burning brain and abandoned pity, did all that.
And England shrieked, "Indecent!" As if subjects like these could ever be made decent. Unerring excellence of taste, which makes subjects like these "decent," belongs to the novelists whom languid voluptuaries of clubs and drawing-rooms adore. Mr. Stead did not want to make such things decent: it would secure their sale on book- stalls—but what of that? To make them decent would be a horrible lie to the facts as they had been burned into his own brain. Revolting reading, reading to harrow and madden its readers—that was his aim. "But it is illegal," said Mr Cavendish Bentinck, as the mouth-piece of hosts whose God is The Law. "He has outraged the law!" Maybe; but only as every fireman must outrage law forbidding indecent exposure, when he sees a burning roof and knows that naked beings are beneath it, and his great life-ladder is there to reach them, down which he tumbles them and huddles them one over another in reckless indifference of law, not knowing what he does, if only he may save them.
Cool critics and legal authorities who pace law-courts, and study statutes, do not understand such men: how could they understand the anguished author of the "Maiden Tribute"?
"I cannot sleep; he has spoiled my rest." Why should we sleep? Why should not our rest be spoilt because of the slain of the daughters of our people? It ought to be so.
"All lies; excogitated from his own brain," said others who were able to bear very sweeping personal testimony to the excellent conduct of London brothels. True enough, may be, the colouring of horror, and shame, and rage, which he had given his facts was projected into them by "his own brain."True enough, his burning disdain, without bounds, without qualification, without mercy, of the fornicator who at a weak moment of nervous, silly girlhood dared to spoil a woman's life, all for a momentary pleasure, must have seemed to them "all lies." How could it be otherwise to bravoes, bullies, and murderers? They, at least, may be forgiven for not understanding a nature all aflame with scorn of their familiar works.
But behind the lurid personal colouring of his glaring scorn was fact-substance; and to this, brothel-keepers, and newspaper editors gave loud denials. So, in the interest of the public, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Mr. Samuel Morley, M.P., Mr. Reid, Q.C., M.P., agreed to examine Mr. Stead's evidence. Mr. Stead hailed their interposition, for his facts were vivid experiences. And after five days of investigation, they certified the substantial truth of all his statements, and published their decision to the world.
Let my own contact with him while he was collecting the material of his revelations stand for a sample of the thoroughness and honesty of his work.
"My dear Mr.Waugh" he replied to my somewhat sweeping denunciations of things as they were in respect of little children, as he sat thrown back in his chair in his room at his office, "it is no use you talking to me in that general, righteous sort of way of yours; I must have facts. I'm going to use them; and I must see and know of my own knowledge. Can you show me such children as you speak of[?] As to your idea of abolishing the oath for children's evidence, nothing is impossible if you have got facts at the back of you!" And his eyes shone with an eager lustre, as he started to his feet and said, "Your societies never show me things. Can you show such children? "
"Then jump into a cab, and let us be off," he said, thrusting his arm in mine, clapping on his hat as he passed a peg, and striding out to the street; adding as a sort of apology as he went, "You see, Mr. Waugh, there's no time to be lost. It is well known that the Criminal Law Amendment Bill is not going to pass; and I'm going to make it.
"And when the country knows what you've told me, it won't stand it. We'll get your amendments in."
At my Society's Shelter I led up to him, as he sat by the office table, two of the Queen's practically unprotected subjects. One was a girl of seven years, whom a Justice had sent to us to be instructed in the nature of an oath. She had gone back to him ; and the patient authority, feeling-doubtful, adjourned the case, to make sure, and sent her back to us again. After the long delays, of the committal, and to the trial, the Grand Jury threw out the bill; the little memory had failed as to some of the details. Such ways seemed to me a mocking of God, and justice, and England. The second was a pretty little girl of four years and nine months, who had a waking nightmare whenever she came near a strange man, and who spoke a little sentence that you needed only to hear to break your heart. As she sat timidly upon his knee, and at length played with his watch, and put out her little hand for the monies he gave her, I saw the light of a tenderer woo than I had ever seen in a man's eyes before; but which I have so often seen in the hundred days of summer and autumn which have followed that day.
I told him that of the twelve villains reported to us, only the wronger of that little child had been punished, because in her case the villain was undefended. The others the law had protected by requiring the child to understand the nature of an oath, and had even sent the wrong-doer away, "Not guilty."
If this was in our knowledge, what would be the unknown facts in the whole country?
As we went out of the Shelter his eyes filled with tears: he lost strength, his knees failed him, and I felt him lean upon my arm as with the weariness of a broken-hearted, bowed-down old age. Then it was—in that moment of quiet woe—that I felt the homage for him which has deepened through all the strange weeks which have passed since.
"And the Papers will say nothing about these cases," I added: "the details are too revolting."
Then the woe changed, and the silence broke, and erecting himself with the thrill of an awful indignation, he burst out, "Mr. Waugh, I will turn my Paper into a tub; I will turn stump orator, I will. I will damn and damn. I'll cease to be a Christian ; I'll be a prophet, and damn, and damn!"
With all the impetuosity of a pure child there was blended the majesty of a rare man. It was extraordinary. I was awed.
"You must not cease to be a Christian to damn," I responded out of genuine admiration ; "prophets did not damn; it was Jesus who first spoke that word. To damn nobly we must be His disciples, and be hot with the feel of His God in us." And then I was almost sorry that I had spoken to so sublime a woe, and he said,
"I'll be a disciple of anybody who will teach me to damn this wickedness."
I seemed to feel a wind, as of a prophet sweeping by me in a chariot of fire, so utterly and sublimely in earnest was he, and so intense was his woe. He was not thinking of the legal wrongs of my babies alone; all the facts of his past horrid vigils were mingling, with these.
But as for the oath for children, I saw that he had doomed that. He did not say so. Only I knew that if it was not abolished, the most powerful English journalist's heart would be a broken heart, and there would be the failure of a gigantic effort to mourn. I saw at once what were his designs and resolves for the weeping mothers, with whom my work brought me in contact
And let me say that, if, in the now famous "Maiden Tribute," the rest of the facts he had gained were used by the writer as sparsely as were the facts that I had given him, the statement of Mr. Samuel Morley, made in the House of Commons, that not one half had been told, is much under the mark: not one tithe has been told.
And the "Maiden Tribute" was written; and the protection of its noble work is now about every home in all the land.
Men were at large once, who, through it, are in prison now.
And as for the Papers which reviled him, they are faithful; they do not rejoice.
At the appearance of the Pall Mall Gazette, with "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon," London was amazed, staggered, and stupefied. Fornication it had stood, had long stood—but it could not stand this!
The principal newsagents, who are practically the Censors of the British Press, cancelled the order for every bookstall they held.
When by afternoon of that memorable day this fact at last broke on the unemployed costermongers of the city, they flocked to Northumberland Street in crowds so large, and so terribly eager for the suppressed paper, that the street was crammed and blocked to suffocation; and in no part of the city was there such peril to human life.
No policemen appeared.
Men who had bought the paper at the Office could not get away to sell it; men who wanted to get to the Office could not get near to buy it. The very premises seemed in danger; the plant, the staff, and the Editor. Police were asked for; but the same authorities who had refused to help Mr. Stead to get his facts, refused now to help him to save his Office.
The authorities did not like what he had done; so he must take the consequences. But it soon became clear that there was little need for police. It had somehow got abroad that "the swells" would not have the Paper because it was going to protect girls; and the idea lent dignity and self-restraint to the dreadful crowd.
"Button your coat, sir," said a policeman, who saw my watch-chain hanging exposed as I was entering the crowd from the Strand end of the street "No," I said "there is more virtue in this street than in most of the streets of London. When at length I reached the Editor's door, as I stood upon the steps up to it while its guardians within asked through the letter box flap who it was there, amongst the crowd that jostled me somebody said, "That's the cove as has done it." He was quite wrong; but the next moment I felt a touch on the shoulder, and looking round saw a man in a blue jersey, with a close cropped head, and no hat. "If you are the cove as 'as done it," he said, "I wouldn't rob you for the world; here's your wipe, gov'nor," and he handed me my pocket handkerchief and cigarette case.
Not long after that, in a village in Surrey, recognised by a party of fast young men stopping at the inn there, I risked a horse-whipping only through the suspicion of my having been a speaker at the Hyde Park Demonstration against criminal vice. Nothing but a misgiving as to my identity as I quietly passed them with their new-bought horse-whip in hand, saved me from it.
These two incidents mark off broadly the feelings of the two Londons: that of the swells who dishonour girls and the humbler fathers of the girls dishonoured.
Foremost in the verdicts Mr. Stead had to hear was the verdict of Clubs and Papers, which, as things turnout represent, on morals at least, neither the opinion of Churches nor the feelings of the masses, but the opinion, of the men who declaim and denounce, and buy a horse-whip. The stir amongst them was of anger and blank astonishment, as of men who have suddenly seen an attempt to block up a delightful path they have gone along all their lives, and who are not going to stand being told that henceforth, "Trespassers will be prosecuted."
"He can't be in earnest," they said, and took heart; " He's done it for a sensation," and they turned and laughed, and comforted one another.
"Sensation! for money!" Of course, all the good a journalist could hope to do in the world was to make countless pennies for his pocket.
So they said; but they did not half believe it.
"What a fool he has been! Smith's have knocked it off; and all the Clubs too. I should say he's ruined."
"Ruined! why we've knocked it off"; but we've all got it. By Jove, for six for the Club, that means six hundred for us."
So the Clubs were perplexed, and had serious misgivings. He seemed to be a powerful man, and he seemed to think fornication and adultery were inconsistent with a gentleman—that was, not according to Crabs.
And for a few days, by the noise the Clubs and the Papers made, great seemed Harlot Diana of the Ephesians.
Some Papers were silent; some cried shame on him, with seeming sincerity. Others, it was said, were paying off an old score. "That little yellow half-penny thing" of the North had not been forgotten, nor the place it once took in the debates of the House, and the mocking and scorn it had cast upon some of them all for their godless, heartless club-house unbelief in the humanity of the English people at the great election contest of 1876.
Some said it was the man's inborn love of filth; they knew somebody who had known him from a boy! Had they done that, they would have known how he had been born and trained in a Puritan home to dare and endure all their maledictions—it was in his blood; and how he had deliberately risked position, life, everything, for what they mistakenly called infamous, filthy sensation.
It would have amazed them to have seen him sitting reading their leaders, in his chair, in Northumberland Street, Strand, while the roar of what, at a time, seemed an unfriendly mob, broke up from below, and to have heard his kindly conclusion of the whole matter as he laid their Papers down, and looked up with his own old, pleasant, undisturbed smile, and said to his friend, "They are all wrong; they'll get right some day; now where shall we go for something to eat?"
"He ought to have given his facts to the authorities," said some calmer and kindlier press critics, "and not to the very girls of our streets."
To the Whitehall authorities! Give them to the authorities who he knew had known similar facts for years, had leisurely read them at their desk, and then sauntered off to their Clubs for a smoke—to them! He could not conceive what they were made of. To the Commons Parliament, every member of which had had in his possession since 1882 a report of the Lords' Committee on the law relating to the protection of English girls, which contained facts, if possible, even still more indecent and revolting than the facts he had been able to collect, and yet had let the years go; and after three had passed, last May, when the needed remedy was before it, had a "count out." Give his facts to that assembly!
Mr. Stead listened to such careless advice stupefied.
"Any way, not to the girls in our streets! "Not to the girls in our streets! For whose feet was it the snares were set? Not spread the net in the sight of the bird!
All over England, while these verdicts of the leader-writers and clubmen of London were being pronounced, other and very different verdicts were preparing.
One large class of the community was being led by a revered voice, now for ever hushed.
At the Mansion House in July, at the first anniversary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the late Lord Shaftesbury, who was to move the adoption of my Report, said to me in the Lord Mayor's parlour just before entering the Hall:
"Mr. Waugh, do you know Mr. Stead?" It was on the Friday when the terrible black week was at its blackest, when the din of London was full of denunciations of Mr. Stead, and rumours of richly deserved fines and imprisonments were everywhere.
"Yes, I do."
"What do you think of him?"
"I love him with some of the love with which I love my Redeemer," was my passionate reply.
"I am glad," he said. "Now you must excuse my not speaking to-day on your report. I must speak on this dreadful subject. I thank God that I have lived to see it come to the front:" and after a pause he added,
"I may never speak in public again."
Nor did he. The last speech of his beautiful career was made in support of Mr. Stead. And Mr. Stead called upon him and thanked him, and afterwards published his weighty words as a kind of preface to his reprint of " The Maiden Tribute." And, strangely enough, the last signature he appended to a public document was to a memorial to the Home Secretary praying him to support certain changes in the law which Mr. Stead was demanding.
"I cannot sign any more papers," said the weary man when the memorial was brought to him, for his frame was gently sinking to its well-won rest.
But when he heard its object, he seemed to feel stronger, and sat up, and his transparent band eagerly grasped his pen, and he wrote "Shaftesbury." Then the gentleman who took the memorial to him said, to save him, " I can write ' President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.'"
"No," he replied, " I will write it all." Nobody could say that that truest of the nobles of the earth rejoiced in filthy sensations, or that he had not reasons enough to justify his siding with the then most abused of men. He at least had as large a following, and as mighty a following as have the nameless oracles of Fleet Street.
Side by side with Lord Shaftesbury's black week's speech, went out the high-toned, noble daring of the Methodist Times, and a new conviction began to prevail, and worked in the land like leaven.
Then, after days which seemed to them years, the purest, most heroic of the women of England, in a long and splendid memorial, spoke to him, thanked him, blessed him, and put the chaplet of such honour as their homage could give upon his abused head.
As the days had grown darker with censure, rays of light shot into them; and now, in woman's thankfulness, broke the whole silver line of the morning. It was "the will of God," he said to himself with renewed conviction.
One of the first rays was shed by that English woman of Galilee, Mrs. Josephine Butler, whose word alone is worth that of a thousand daily Papers and Clubs. Her hopes had first been set on Mr. Stead when, in April, 1876, at twenty-eight years of age, he wrote in his northern Paper a pitiful, indignant, denunciation of the State regulation of immorality, zealously justifying the high title, " The New Abolitionists," which the people had assumed who were seeking to open the prison doors to the unhappy law-bound slave of soldier lust. The bold nervous article began with a quotation from Victor Hugo:—
The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilisation; but it does not yet penetrate it. It is asserted that slavery has disappeared from European civilisation. This is an error. It exists still: but it weighs now only on woman; and it is called prostitution.
At such "twaddle" as this multitudes of well-dressed men, literary men, and statesmen scoff.
Mrs. Butler wrote to him then as follows:—
"Dear sir,— I could wish for the sake of the cause of justice and virtue that your Paper were the most important one in the kingdom."
Then, after alluding to the brothels. in Paris and the Continent, she said:—
"Here is slavery and tragedy enough; but how would a book here be read which contained the ghastly truth? But it will have to be made known in some way. For surely God will arise one day; and the tormented creatures whom He created, and cares for, will be avenged."
Her letter concluded with a sentence which fell like a thunderbolt on the sensitive young writer's heart:—
In the grandest house of the kind in Paris, I saw the portraits of all the great men who had frequented them— diplomatists, generals, and English Lords. Oh, it was terrible to see them! The brothel-keeper put a cross underneath the portrait at each visit, to mark the number of visits made to the house by these great men ! If the corruption of our aristocracy was fully known, I think it would hasten republicanism amongst us.—Believe me, dear Sir, yours truly, Liverpool, April 5, 1876. J. E. butler.
As soon as anybody came to know Mr. Stead, and found what sort of soul it was that wrought itself out in his strange work, press cries of "indecency," and "sensation," were doomed; for they understood the man, and why he had dared it.
A few Methodist ministers who came to know him convened their brethren to hear him.
"I wish," said he to these, "I could persuade every one of you to put the Pall Mall Gazette out of your head. If it be possible, forget the source from which these shameful facts have come to your knowledge; and deal only with the facts themselves, as facts. If you cannot do this, if you must disapprove what has been done, or the way in which it has been done, or the phraseology in which the revelations have been presented; if you think decency has been outraged, and needless risk of corrupting public moral has been run—I am willing that you should at once pass a resolution condemning me and the Gazette in the strongest possible terms; provided that you immediately proceed to pass a second resolution to do that which the awful urgency of revealed and incontrovertible facts demands. Let me be the vilest rascal that ever walked God's earth; only do something."
The madness of the man, they found to be that girls who had to leave their father's homes, and come to our city to earn their living in families and in shops, often full of dreams, and with all natural affections and beauty of face, were pestered, grievously afflicted by human devils, nightly, monthly, yearly; by devil after devil, seventy times seven, all resolved that tenderness, and sensitiveness, and prettiness, ought not, should not, be virtuous, at least within their reach. This was not human nature; human nature would break the heads of these fellows; but the law forbade, protected, and treated their solicitations, and practically their seductions, as if they were the exercise of true manhood and citizen rights.
The ultimate confidence of his appeal against it all, from the very outset, is revealed in his address to this body of ministers—
Can you, as Christian ministers, refuse to lead the way and guide the movement ? Am I not the son of a dissenting minister ? Was I not reared in a pure Christian home ? Do I not know all the difficulty you feel in touching a question so abhorrent to all your most cherished tastes and traditions! Why have I dealt with it? Because I had unbounded confidence in the Christian Churches of our country. If the ' Maiden Tribute' had been published in France, it would have done nothing but harm. Only in England could it have been published with safety. It was the deep consciousness of the hidden power of our English Christianity which inspired me to do this thing. You made it possible for me to break the silence. This revolt against impurity and crime is yours.
Men who heard him talk were all converted to the idea that he might be mad, as the world counts madness, but "sensationalist," "journalist," "filthy-minded," these could no longer explain anything. Equally unsatisfactory was "mere philanthropic turn of mind " as explanatory. Men who had passed years amid Christian folks, had seen nothing like this; and once seeing it, never again could they forget: it was fire from heaven. They could say nothing, and do nothing, except speak up for him, and say "This thing is of God." As for myself, I had seen his eyes in the thick of his work, and I thought of prophets, and was his. He was a mystery to me; but I felt God, and it was religion to stand by him.
Many were the services he had rendered English girlhood since the time he had felled that lad at Howdon, before he rendered this last and greatest service as a London journalist: though his contemporaries may be forgiven for not knowing of any of them; because any other topics than politics, horse-racing, theatres, divorce, literature, and such mundane affairs, with now and then "a good thing for licking up women," as one of them once described a touching little story of a child he was going to write about, never by any chance comes into their heads. But women, who were not journalists, full of holy aspiration for the girlhood of their country, straining eager, weeping eyes over the whole land long years ago, had caught upon that young— already haggard—brow in the Darlington office, a glimmer of the brightness of the golden crown it wears in its full glory to them to-day.
Practical men of the world may call them fools, and mere "decency "people think them impure; but they gave the author of the "Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" that homage which he deserves from every mother of daughters in the land.
Next came the verdict of the masses; not of the brothel keepers which the police, when they found out who they were, cleared away from the door of the Bow Street Police Court, which, while they stood howling at Mr. Stead, and Mr. Booth, the London papers willingly called the masses; but the tribunal of the real masses the honest, horny-handed artisans and labourers of England, to whom from the first he had longed to appeal.
Well nigh had the full time come for the despised and oft-rejected Bill to appear on the table of the House of Commons once more, before the echo of thunder of the "Tribute" had fairly reached them. Then everywhere meetings were called; men and women ran about with petitions to sign; M.P.'s, deluged with letters, frightened and eager, began to look through the Bill; the Home Secretary and his official predecessor began to take counsel together, and when the turn of the thrice despised and dead blue papered pages for Criminal Law Amendment had actually come round, and they lay once more before the Speaker, summer as it was, representatives crowded the seats. Wives wanted them to go to their country homes, but they could not. Some of them whined and wailed, and cursed the Pall Mall Gazette; but they stopped. It was a beautiful sight. Still more beautiful was it to see how, when stringent and indeed dreadful measures were under consideration, here and there members to whom, on a subject like this, the friends of girls had had to go, disdained suppliants, rose hopelessly from their seats and languidly pleaded with their colleagues, who seemed altogether too earnest and excited, "Pity the poor old fornicator." But the wide open eye of the nation was upon them, and they crept into the right lobby.
"I have been eighteen years in the House," said a rejoicing M.P., "but I have never seen a sight like this!"
Till two or three in the morning, night after night, it seemed like a great party strife that was on. Yet it was only the cause of girls!
"After this I shall never speak ill of the House of Commons," said another lover of his people, for once thoroughly happy and ready to forgive anything.
The unjust judge was beaten by national importunity.
We cannot but smile as we hear " the unjust judge " now plead—"But we had made up our minds to pass the Bill before the stir."So says the ex-Home Secretary—from whom the friends of girls in all the land have never had one good word, and who has never had one good word from them.
I was told of some correspondence on the matter by the present Home Secretary ; but that certainly did not take place "before the stir," unless, indeed, by " the stir" is meant its last effect, the stir in the House made by letters and petitions.
But granting that all was settled before any of the stir— before, indeed, they knew that a stir was going to be, it is a matter of national thankfulness that they were frustrated, for the Bill was a base fraud—a bad metalled, counterfeit coin, which Mr. Stead's magic wand, and that alone, touched into the true gold of the Act we have.
"Yet it was to be passed."
Why? Not a man that knows the mock Bill it was but understands why. "Lest some worse thing should happen!"
"Take care of Dowb," said a telegram from the War Office sent to the battle-field in the Crimean war, "Take care of Dowb"- Dowb was clearly some favourite of the officials.
Such a kind of personal interest seems to have pervaded the official mind at Whitehall when "Sir William's Harcourt's Bad Bill," as Mrs. Josephine Butler called it, was drawn. It provided that nothing whatever was to be done with brothels except when the Home Office thought proper. This was very deft —officials, their acquaintances, the members of both Houses of Parliament, and all in general who frequented the carved and gilded brothels, in carriages with shields and quarterings, were at a stroke made quite safe.
"Let us get it passed," its author said (a Bill drawn not to take care of injured girls, but to take care of Dowb)" Let us get it passed."
And deliberately was it drawn so, for its model was the Act of Glasgow and Edinburgh, in which powers of procedure vested in a very different way were rejected.
But this deadly stain upon that traitorous Bill is removed and, thanks to Mr. Stead's stir, power of procedure lies now to the hand of every town and village in the land.
Again, in that "Bad Bill" there was no right of search given to prevent dishonour and injury to children spirited away into brothels; not even right to catch the fornicator in the act: nothing could be done till the horrible purpose was accomplished, the child mutilated, the fornicator gone; then it was only to apprehend the keeper of the house where it had all happened. And even in that case, all friends of State officials were right enough, for only State officials, not the weeping parents, not the outraged public, could interfere.
The Bill was worse than faulty, it was an insincere, worthless sham; an insult to heaven. While the Great believe in brothels, and go to them, can their friends possibly be fair, even if they would?
But thanks to Mr. Stead, this Bill did not pass. It was all altered. A child may now be followed at once, and her moral murderer, there and then, gripped by the collar, and, swell or pleb, led off to judgment.
Let there be no sweeping imputation against public men. There are public men and public men; and public men know it and mourn it.
Well was it known that there were in the fornicators' world unspeakable villains who go by a name to be named as with the bated breath with which we name the thing we most dread—no need, thank God, to write it now. There were houses known by the relative name, and by the name of " Infant Schools." And that heartless Bill left all these untouched. The facts were well known to its authors, but they had seemingly struck no pang into them. Law did not, would not, protect the little victims, for they did not understand the nature of an oath.
Thanks to Mr. Stead that Bill did not pass, and every child of the land is now allowed to tell her little tale against the man who hurt her; and if she seems, to judge and to jury, full of the simplicity of truth, her tale may get her wrong-doer a turn at the treadmill, or ten years' penal servitude. The protection hitherto afforded to villains by the necessity of understanding an oath is gone for ever. And not only for the injured child is there this change. All little boys and girls who, with slate and bag, hand in hand, were walking with her when she was coaxed away, and saw the face, and stood gazing with childish wonder at the departure, may give evidence too.
As to the abolition of the oath for wronged babes, "it is impossible," said Sir Richard Cross; "the House will not consider it; it is a fundamental change in the laws of English evidence." Sir Richard said this, though he was personally in fullest sympathy with the proposal.
But had it been a change in the foundations of heaven and earth that had been necessary, it would not have deterred Mr. Stead. He would rather that heaven and earth collapsed than that one of these little ones should perish: it was the will of God.
In eight days it was done. The House had considered, it had been made to consider it, and the fundamental change was made.
But to name all the changes wrought in the Bill by "the stir" would be to re-write it; and "make every generous Englishman throw up his hat into the air, and shout that in his land had been found a heart so great, and a hand so strong, as the heart and the hand that had wrought them.
But will the nation ever know the service he has rendered?
For the Papers, when he had rendered it, were grossly unjust: and it is by the Papers that we know.
But as for the outragers of English girls, they, at least, will know it, as with yellow jackets and cropped heads, their wickedness turns to the gall of asps within them in a felon's cell: and that is enough.
For he sought to serve his country, not himself.
This unworthy tribute to my heroic friend shall be closed for the moment with the following extract from the Pall Mall Gazette:—
To-day the Rev. Benjamin Waugh was permitted by the courtesy of the Home Office to hold half an hour's conversation with the prisoner on matters of business. Mr. Waugh was shown into the waiting-room, bare, barren, and forbidding, with a long deal table in the middle of the room, with bench-like seats round it. There the visitor waited for a quarter of an hour, when he was taken upstairs to the visiting room, where the prisoner was already seated. The visiting-room, it is sufficient to say, is similar to the first, but with a better light. A warder sat in the room, and Mr. Waugh sat at the other end of the table, for he was not allowed either to shake hands with or otherwise welcome his friend. Mr. Stead wore a yellow Glengarry-shaped cap, of which he observed that it "was like the cap he wore when a boy, but that it was without the ribbons." He wore a loose-fitting short jacket of rough light yellow material, buttoned at the throat—of course without a collar, showing all the tops of the shirt and waistcoat in irregular line. He appeared to have been "cropped," but the visitor was allowed to ask no questions. His beard and moustache, of course, remained. His trousers were loose, baggy, of yellow linen of the duck type, with the Government arrows stamped with ink in four different places. His boots were large and must have been uncomfortable; one was patched upon the toe, and the other had a thick new yellow leather sole upon it. He wore a round cloth label on his left breast marked R 2/8. Mr. Stead looked very cold, and put his hands inside his baggy sleeves as if for warmth. He was in good spirits, and seemed able to say many things, but the interview was business. Mr. Stead was supplied with a mattress last night. By the regulation of the prison he has a Bible in his cell, but from its situation we have reason to believe that he will not have light to read it. Mr. Stead arrived at Coldbath Fields last night, when he received the regulation supper of skilly and brown bread. He was knocked up at six for a breakfast of skilly and brown bread, after which he saw the doctor. His dinner is suet pudding and brown bread at noon, and supper at 5.30 of skilly and brown bread. He sees no one again till breakfast the next morning. It may be said that a prisoner sentenced to hard labour has to pick three pounds of oakum as his daily task: Mr. Stead, not having been so sentenced, will have to pick one pound.