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time tears of gratitude filled their eyes, from which they had just wiped away the tears of sorrow. We passed out into the street, and they sat down in a small open space, which let the light into a basement window, and ate their bread together, with that keen, ravenous appetite which famine only can give.
I hurried on to my companion. I told him that I hoped he would excuse me, for in my own country such a scene as that was never witnessed, and I could not contemplate it with that fortitude which he seemed to display. “Well,” said he," any one, I think, would be affected in the same way, until he learned what a vast system of imposition is practised upon the benevolent by the London beggars. The evils of mendicity and vagrancy had become so alarming a few years ago, that the House of Commons instituted a committee of inquiry on the subject, and their report developed such a mass of evidence, that no shadow of doubt can be left in the mind of any man who will read it, that gross and monstrous frauds are practised by mendicants in London, and on a scale which almost exceeds the belief even of those who have investigated the subject.
“ This report stated that large sums of money were found about the persons of beggars who had been brought before the magistrates. A blind man, with a dog, collected thirty shillings a day; and multitudes of others, in the ordinary course of their pursuit, made from five to ten shillings daily. Two
SYSTEM OF STREET BEGGING.
houses in St. Giles's were ascertained to be frequented by more than two hundred beggars. There they met and held their clubs, had fine entertainments, read the London journals, and discussed the news. No one dared intrude into their assemblies, unless he was a beggar by profession, or introduced by one of the fraternity. Their average daily collections amounted to from three to five shillings for each person.
“Why, sir, a negro, who had taken advantage of the sympathy excited in favour of the African race, some time ago retired to the West Indies with £1500, which he had amassed by street begging Only a year or two since, a female beggar died in London, and left in her will a large sum of money to one of the clerks in the Bank of England; and the reasons she assigned for making him the object of her benevolence were, that she had not a friend on earth; she could not take her money with her into the future world; and when he had given her anything, it was always silver.
Beggars have been heard to say that they go through forty streets a day, and that it is a poor street which does not yield twopence, and a bad day that does not give them eight shillings or more. They make use of children extensively, in practising upon the feelings of the humane. These children are sent out in the morning, with an order not to return without a certain sum. The veteran beggars who employ these juvenile agents, often obtain them
directly from their parents, to whom they pay a stipulated price for their services; and instances have been known of their actually buying children for these purposes. Some of these children are horribly deformed; in consequence of which, their appeals are so successful that they command from their employers several shillings a day for their services.
“ The committee reported an instance of an old woman who kept a night-school for the purpose of instructing children in the street language and the way to beg. The committee stated, also, that Mr. Martin's calculation, which was made nearly forty years ago, that there were 15,000 beggars in London, was very much below the estimate which the evidence before them had compelled them to make. It is well known that the profession of begging has been brought to perfection. Every invention which experience and cunning can devise, is brought into requisition to carry out this infamous system. Strangers, and particularly Americans, I believe, are generally much affected by the apparent suffering they meet with in the various forms mendicity assumes in London. But a knowledge of the facts I have mentioned places them on their guard against imposition, and saves them from bestowing their generous sympathies upon ill-deserving objects."
In replying to his statements, I remarked : “My dear sir, you do not mean to say,
that among the crowds of beggars who throng the 10,000 streets, courts, and lanes of the metropolis, there are
not thousands of cases of real distress? thousands who are worthy of charity, if misfortune and poverty, orphanage and degradation, can give man any claim upon the sympathy of his brother ?""
“ Well, sir,” said he, "I think, nevertheless, we should be pretty careful how we are duped by such vagrants."
“ It gave me great pain, sir," I replied, " to hear what you said before of those little children. They did not take you to be a philanthropist. The little girl trembled at your presence, and asked me if you would not have her taken up and punished for begging. Have I come to a country whose starving orphans dread the sight of its philanthropists? I must confess, sir, that I should give you very little credit for all your anti-slavery philanthropy, were I a slave-owner, and knew how you passed those hungry children, wandering in the great wilderness of London, with no one but a stranger to pity them, and no eye to watch over them but the eye of 'Him who feeds the young ravens when they cry.'
“Let me tell you how I feel, frankly and honestly. I did not say much in reply to your remarks while we were with the children, for I did not dare trust myself to answer you then; but I am calm now. How would it strike those whom you call the oppressors of the world,' to whom you, as one of this great Convention, will make your appeal, if they knew all the circumstances connected with our inter
view with those children? Would your opinions have the least weight or consideration with them? Suppose, if you please, that these children are of the number of those poor creatures forced into the streets of London to beg for masters more cruel than the slaveholder, inasmuch as they impose upon their slaves more degrading tasks; and suppose the slaveholder aware of the fact; would he be likely to listen to your appeal? Would he give you any credit for getting up such a mighty sympathy for men in a foreign country, while you overlook the poor, naked, hungry orphan starving at your door?
“I really hope you will give me credit for too much common sense to suppose that I can doubt there are in this great city thousands who beg rather than steal, and at last, if need be, steal rather than die; thousands compelled to depend upon the tender mercies of strangers who have not yet learned how to turn away the poor starving wretch with a frown, because, perchance, he may be begging for a living; and for the reason that he cannot keep body and soul together in any other way. I greatly fear, sir, that in shunning to be duped by beggars, you are practising a deception upon yourself (which that day of trial we all expect to meet in the future will lay bare), in supposing that so large a proportion of these beggars are abusing the benevolence of the humane.
" That there are many of the class you have described I do not doubt; or that their number is very