« EdellinenJatka »
this country. Although a few shining examples may yet be seen in the higher, the constant scenes of dissipation that take place among the greater number, are destructive of, and perfectly incom patible with, domestic enjoyment; and the alarming increase of crim. con. cases which come legally before the public, and the broad whispers of many more that are said to have taken place, are convincing proofs, that intrigue is making a lamentably rapid progress in that rank. On the other hand, among the lower classes licentiousness reigns in full sway, and under all its dreadful and most disgusting forms. Thus situated, the respectable middling class of society finds itself daily more and more circumscribed, finds daily encroachments made on both its extremities, and, if it do not get some effectual assistance and support, it will soon be completely swallowed up, and the whole society become one general mass of corruption. Nothing will accelerate this so much as the rapid advances of seduction among the youth of both sexes; of these the future heads and supporters of domestic society are to be formed; and, if the fountain be polluted, how can the stream be expected to be pure.
This, then, is what ought to be the object of the Society's labours; this the monster whom they must engage, if they wish to do their country a real and essential service. The undertaking is an arduous one, but may be accomplished in a certain degree. I am not so sanguine an Utopian as to suppose it possible to subdue and extirpate him altogether, but I think that, after paring his claws and pulling his teeth, they may succeed in confining him to the darkness of his den, there to prey only on such victims as put themselves within his power.
I shall now proceed to state what appear to me to be a few of the methods requisite to be followed, in order to effect this most desirable object.
In the first place.-Application should be made to parliament to have a statute passed making seduction penal. I am so far from being an advocate for an indiscriminate increase of the penal statutes, that I think we have already a great deal too many, and, perhaps, some of the late additions might have been spared; but this is most requisite, and most essential, and I conceive the penal statutes to be incomplete without it. Certain I am, that without such support, your labours will be nugatory, and of no avail. You might as well attempt to empty the bed of the Thames, by employing men to carry away the water in hand-buckets, without stopping the stream.
Let this law make every man or boy, who seduces a female under twenty-one years of age, liable to prosecution and to punishment, by fine or imprisonment, or both, according to circum
stantes,-and to be doubled on married men guilty of these practices; also to punish procuresses. I am no lawyer, so cannot pretend to give the terms in which such a statute should be worded; but I have little doubt, that that philanthropic lawyer, that patriotic statesman, that upright man, who has already devoted so much of his time to the amelioration of the penal statutes of his country, will, on such an occasion, with pleasure give his assistance.
In the second place.-Open a respectable asylum for the reception of young females who have been seduced, but who have not entered on a life of prostitution. Many a hapless female who has been led astray, and afterwards abandoned by her seducer, would I most gladly return repentant; and often do they supplicate and humble themselves to the utmost to their parents and relations, but these, swayed by the opinions and prejudices of society, are almost invariably inexorable. This may be best for the general good of society, but it is dreadfully hard upon the sufferers. Let your labours make it up to them. Let houses be appointed for their reception. Let them be divided into classes, according to the stations they had held in society. Let each class be placed under the direction and management of a respectable matron, appointed for that purpose. Let each female be, at first admission, kept apart for some time, until she prove, by her conduct, that she is fit for the company of the others. Let a slight impropriety be punished by solitary confinement,-a great one, by expulsion, or rather translation to the receptacle you have already established. While in these houses, let each be employed in such labours as she appears to be best calculated for,-the emoluments to go towards her maintenance. In addition to this, each to be questioned, at admission, as to the circumstances attending her seduction; and if they be such as to warrant a prosecution, the directors to be authorised to carry it on in her name; and, if they are successful in obtaining a fine, the amount to be placed to her credit in the books of the Society. After a girl has lived a certain time in one of these houses, and conducted herself with propriety and decorum, an attempt may be made to reconcile her to her friends, and thus to restore her to that rank in society which she formerly held, and which she may live to adorn.
In such a case, if there is any money at the credit of the young woman on the books of the Society, it should be paid over to her or her friends.
When you have thus struck at the cause and given it a check, you may proceed with some prospect of success to endeavour to clear away the effects.
For this purpose, although I would recommend the continuance of your present asylum, as an excellent refuge for such as may
wish to withdraw from a life of depravity, yet I by no means think that it will be sufficient. In order to clear the streets effectually, force and restraint must be resorted to; it will, therefore, be necessary to have a clause introduced into the act of parliament, not only authorising, but calling upon, the magistrates to take the necessary steps. After due proclamation, by hand-bills, &c. allowing a certain time for such as are disposed to retire from the streets, or to take refuge in the asylum, the watchmen and patroles, or officers appointed for the purpose, should be enjoined to take up all loose and disorderly women they find in the streets, guilty of improper behaviour or improper language, and lodge them in a place appointed for the purpose, from whence to be carried before a magistrate, and, if they cannot find security for their future good behaviour, to be committed to the House of Correction, to Bridewell, or to the Penitentiary, there to be detained for life, not turned loose at the end of a few weeks, as the present practice is.
The next thing I would beg leave to call your attention to, is the theatres. The theatres of London, in their size, in their appearance, the style in which they are finished before the curtain, the scenery and decorations of the stage, the magnificence with which the pieces are got up, and the order, propriety, and decorum, with which the performances are in general conducted, are, I believe, superior to any in Europe, and they would be an ornament and credit to the country, were not the whole completely spoiled and destroyed by a nuisance the most intolerable, the most shocking, and the most revolting. I mean the number of loose women who are allowed to prowl over them, disturbing the performance, insulting the sober-minded and modest part of the audience, and exhibiting the most indecent appearance and gestures with perfect impunity, nay, apparently, with encouragement from the profligates of the other sex. However dissolute, however licentious the morals may be in France and Italy, I understand no such thing is allowed in their theatres; and how it comes to have been tolerated so long in this most religious and most moral country, astonishes me beyond measure. When a foreigner visits London, the theatres are among the first places he generally goes to; and certain I am that the scenes he sees there, combined with what he meets with in the streets, must give him such an unfavourable idea of the country, that nothing he can possibly afterwards hear or see will be able to change his opinion, and he will leave it fully convinced, that it is entitled to any character but that of moral or religious.
I have never heard but two reasons given for the submitting to this evil, and they appear to me the weakest in the world.
The first is, that the theatres, being public and open to all who
can pay for their entrance, in this land of freedom, if these women pay for admission they cannot be stopped.-In answer, I such a doctrine be allowed, this will soon be a land of licentiousness, instead of a land of freedom. But the proprietors of the theatres themselves give a practical refutation of it.-If, at all public places in this country, every person who can pay has a right to be admitted, how comes it that they plant at the doors of their theatres police-officers, for the express purpose of preventing those civil, quiet, well-bred men, commonly called pickpockets, entering; and, if one of them should happen to get in, and attempt to labour in his vocation, a disturbance is immediately raised, and these officers pounce upon him and drag him out of the house. I shall be asked, I presume, what, would you have us allow ourselves to be robbed, or have our pockets picked? Oh, shopkeepers, shopkeepers! You take especial care that your sons and daughters be not robbed, or have their pockets picked of their trinkets, watches, purses, pocket-books, or even pocket-handkerchiefs; but you leave their minds to be robbed of their innocence, their simplicity, their purity of heart, their vision to be blasted by scenes that would disgust an Otaheitean, and their hearing to be contaminated by language that would disgrace a brothel;-shame, shame! The other reason given is, if possible, still worse. I have heard it repeatedly asserted, that these women not only help to fill the theatres themselves, but bring so many followers after them, that, if they were prohibited, the theatres would be half. deserted, and the proprietors would be ruined. Were this really true, I would recommend, in the 'strongest manner, to the government of the country immediately to pay those proprietors. the value of their theatres, and then pull down and raze them to the foundation. But, so far from being true, I conceive it to be a most gross and scandalous libel, worse, far worse than the Frenchman's, inasmuch as the sin of Jerusalem was worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. He has only sinned from ignorance; the people who make this assertion must know its falsity, they must be aware, that, if these women and their dissolute followers were completely excluded, the theatres would be more filled, because many respectable people who, at present, abstain from them altogether, would then not only attend themselves, but would carry their wives and children with them.
But my Quixotism does not carry me so far as to conceive the design of entirely excluding these women from the theatres. I do not see why they may not attend them as well as any other person, provided they behave with decency and propriety while there. It is the procuring the enforcement of this rule that I beg leave to
recommend in the strongest manner. It strikes me, that this regu lation comes under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain, and that he might give the proper orders; but, as he has never exercised his authority in this respect, it may be better and more effectual to have some clauses inserted in the Act of Parliament, to the following effect.-Let the police officers, or others appointed for the purpose, be authorised and directed to take up every female they find wandering through the lobbies, or going from box to box, and, in the most gentle manner possible, conduct them to the outer door and turn them into the streets; if they become refractory and make a noise, or if a gentleman lodge a complaint against any particular ones, give his address and promise to appear next day, then let them be conducted to an appointed place of confinement, to be brought before the magistrates in the morning, and, if convicted of improper behaviour, to be sent to the House of Correction for a limited period. A few examples of this kind would work wonders.-The next regulation I mention with a little diffidence; if it can be adopted, it would certainly be of service; it is, that no female, or party of females, be admitted into the boxes without a male protector. I am aware that some young men would not scruple to lend their arms to conduct these females in, but this ought to be allowed or winked at, provided that, after admission, they continued to keep them company, and took care they behaved properly; and, after these regulations were made public, very few young men would venture to introduce one who was likely to expose herself or them. This, regulation might bear hard upon young gentlemen, in another respect; it might oblige them to pay more attention to their mothers, sisters, and female relations and acquaintance, than many of them are, at present, in the habit of doing; they might, perhaps, vote it a bore to be forced to attend the ladies to the theatre early in the evening, instead of allowing them to go there by themselves, and only making their own appearance towards the end of the performance, to convoy them home. Even for this a salvo might be found, as it might be arranged that when a lady, or party of ladies, named the box they were going to, they should immediately be conducted to it by the box-keepers.
The next thing I would recommend is of more imperative necessity, as without it, all that could otherwise be done would be of little avail;-it is the shutting up these dreadful hotbeds of vice and immorality, the saloons of the theatres. The shocking scenes that nightly occur in those places are perfectly disgraceful, and can only be conceived by those who witness them. What makes it still worse is, that these places, especially in one of the houses, are so near the boxes, that it is not possible to go to and from the boxes without coming in contact with them or their visitors.