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THOUGHTS ON THE ABBEY.
I seem to hear the steady beat
As generations vast
That covers all the past.
I'm with the dead; and at my feet
One arch gives ample room
A narrow, silent tomb !
Here, too, are slumbering side by side,
Two stern and haughty foes :
Is hush'd in long repose.
The hero's shiver'd sword;
And no returning word.
Old Abbey! on my thoughtful heart,
Thy silent walls have left;
Faithfully yours, &c.,
London, June 12, 1840. DEAR This morning Mr. —, one of the distinguished philanthropists of Great Britain, called at my lodgings to go with me to Freemason's Hall, where the World's Convention was to assemble. He greeted me very cordially, and seemed disposed to render me those kind civilities which a stranger in a foreign land best knows how to appreciate.
In passing through Ave Maria, a small street that runs from Ludgate Hill into Paternoster Row, the great book emporium, we met two children, about eight years old, who prostrated themselves on their knees before us, and implored us to buy a penny book they held in their hand, for they had eaten nothing, they said, for two days.
The sidewalk was very narrow, and Mr. pulled me by the arm, saying, “Let us cross over. “We will wait a moment, if you please," I replied ; “I want to ask these children a few questions." “Oh, sir," he answered, “ if we stop to talk with every beggar we meet between this and Great Queen-street, we shall find business enough for the day;" at the same time he pulled my arm a little harder than before, and manifested considerable impatience. I remarked, “ If you are particularly anxious to go on, I must beg you to excuse me, for I cannot leave these children without knowing some
THE MENDICANT CIIILDREN.
thing more about them." Oh, sir," he replied,
certainly we will stop if you wish.” I did wish to stop.
The little children were still kneeling on the pavement. A coarse hempen sack, with holes for the neck and arms, constituted their entire dress, and this was falling from them by pieces. The countenances of both were lean and pallid, but there was great beauty, or, rather, would have been, in the features of the girl, if they had not been sharpened and deformed by famine.“ Get up, little children,” I said;
we don't want you to kneel to us.” As they rose they left the fresh blood upon the stones where they had knelt. It was the first time a human being had ever bent the knee to me, and I pray it may be the last. I felt then what" degradation" means; and the sight of that fresh blood struck a chill to my heart. “ What makes your knees bleed ?" I asked. “Please, sir," said the boy, " 'cause we gits down so much afore gentlemen to sell this book; and we is dreadful hungry.”
“How long have you gone without eating, children?” “We han't had nothing, please, sir, for two days, only a boy give us a roll yesterday.” Their pale and famished countenances declared he spoke the truth. “Is that your sister, my little fellow ?” “Please, sir, I don't know; I expect she aint.”
“Where is your home, children ?” Both of them asked, “ What did you say, sir?” “Where do your parents live ?” “Don't know, sir, please.” Where were you born? Can't you tell
me ?” “ No, sir.” “Where do you stay ?” “ Please, sir, we stays here all day, and nights we stays where they put us." “ They? Who do you mean?” “The policemen, sir.” “Where did you get the book ?" Both of them began to cry. I repeated the question. 6 Oh!” exclaimed the philanthropist, “I can save you the trouble of asking that question. They stole it, of course. I never knew a beggar in my life that did not steal when he had an opportunity.”
My soul was stirred with indignation. I never heard words which grated on my heart more like a file over the naked flesh. I was too much excited to answer him, and I went on talking with the children.
“Tell me, my dear boy, where you got the book; you need not be afraid, for I won't hurt you, if you did steal it: tell me." “Oh! sir," said the little girl, as her feeble form shook with fear, “ we begged till we was so hungry we thought we couldn't live any longer, and we got nothing, and we see the book in a stall, and we didn't want to steal it, but we didn't want to starve, and Jimmy said he didn't dare steal, and so I did. But, please, we was so hungry, or we wouldn't done it."
“ You see I am right, sir," said Mr. with some appearance of exultation. “Yes, sir,” I replied, " I see you are; and would you blame your own child for stealing a penny book to keep him from starving ?” I said nothing more, although it was almost impossible for me to control my feelings. “ Why, it is painful,” said he, "one must confess;
THE MENDICANT CHILDREN.
but then this is probably all acting ; they are most likely making begging a profession. There is so much of this in London, that I really refrain from giving anything to street beggars from principle. I am taxed for poor rates, and pay a good deal every year to the different charities, and, besides, the public authorities make provision for all such people.” (This is not true.) “I think it countenances the whole system of street-begging to give them one penny; and we should no doubt be doing a service to society by reporting such cases in the proper quarter.” “I agree with you, sir," I answered; "and I think the proper quarter to report this case is a place where these poor sufferers may get some bread." And seeing a bake-shop near, I told the children to follow me, asking the indulgence of my philanthropic companion for a few moments. 66 Don't let us be detained very long," said he, “ for I fear we shall be quite late now; I will wait for you at the shop on the corner.”
It was a relief to my feelingstobe left alone with the poor little outcasts. “Please, sir," said the little girl, as she cast anxious glances behind her upon the receding form of the philanthropist, “won't that gentleman take us up ?” “No, child, come with me.” We reached the shop, and I gave them as much bread as they could hold in their hands, and left a small sum of money with the man, that they might have more, as they needed, until I should call again. They took the bread and thanked me; at the same