Goldwin Smith.

Social problems. An address delivered to the Conference of combined city charities of Toronto, May 20th, 1889 online

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Social Problems










May 20th, 7889


President of the Conference.







May 2O/h, 1889


President of the Conference.





OUR formal report, ladies and gentlemen, of the Conference
of Associated City Charities, is necessarily succinct and
dry, dealing with nothing about which there can be any dif-
ference of opinion. I hope, as your President, I shall not be
doing what is unacceptable at the close of our session if, in a
less formal way, I recall to your minds some of the questions
arising out of our work or connected with it, which have
engaged your attention in the course of our meetings.


In the department of charity, as in all other departments of
municipal life and administration, questions are raised by the
marvellous growth of Toronto. What sufficed for a population
of twenty, or even of fifty, thousand will not suffice for a popu-
lation of one hundred and eighty thousand, with a prospect of
further increase. These cities of the New World have traversed
in half a century the distance in the race of progress which it
has taken the cities of the Old World ten centuries to traverse ;
young in years they are old in magnitude, and the liabilities
and cares of maturity have already fully come upon them.
When I first settled in Toronto, a little more than twenty years
ago, cows wandered in the streets of my quarter, where land is
now selling at a high price per foot. The need of a more
regular and skilled administration is felt in the department of


health and in that of engineering : the time can hardly be far
distant when it will be felt in regard to the relief of destitution,
of which a certain portion unhappily has its seat even amidst
the pleasant and stately homes of the fairest, proudest and
most prosperous city. We must all sympathize with the
unwillingness to introduce a poor law, though it is a great
mistake to 1 suppose that public charity regularly and justly
administered demoralizes or degrades more than private charity,
which, through ignorance and want of time for the examina-
tion of cases, must often be dispensed with a lavish and
capricious hand. We must all prize voluntary effort, which is
twice blessed, blessing the giver of the relief as well as the
receiver. On voluntary effort, in the main, we may still rely.
That Toronto receives a full measure of it from workers of
both sexes, who give not only money, but what is more precious
and meritorious, their time and energy to the cause, must be
well known to any one who occupies this chair. Notably to a
body of ladies whose charitable feet are always on the path
which leads to the house of suffering, and who carry witb them
the balm of comfort and good counsel as well as bread, the city
owes a large meed of gratitude. To voluntary effort, and
especially to that of the churches, we must look for the relief
of the indigence which shrinks from sight and would never ask
for public relief, yet is often accompanied by the keenest
suffering. But though you may rely mainly on these agencies,
you cannot, in such a city as this, rely entirely upon them.
Responsibility in the last resort must rest somewhere, and it
can scarcely be thrown even on the most devoted volunteers.
Volunteers cannot give all their time, be always ready at a
moment's notice, or be always in the city. Cases of emergency
may occur, particularly in the depth of winter, and if no one
is responsible for their relief the community may one day be
awakened to the necessity of a change by something that would
shock its humanity. The treatment of tramps and vagrants is

in some measure a matter of police, and police authority is
necessary to maintain the proper rules and discipline in a
casual ward. Cases of wayfarers in need of passes to help
them to their destination often occur, and the Mayor of such a
city of Toronto has not leisure to attend to them ; indeed the
Mayor already finds it necessary to have special assistance in
this part of his work, and it may be said that the principle of
a regular relief officer has been adopted. There are also cases
with which volunteers or private associations, from want of
authority, are unable to deal. What is to be done, for example,
where chronic destitution is the consequence of mental disease
or infirmity, and where a private individual or charity can
have no right to interfere ? Besides, a centre of guidance,
information and observation is needed, and this nothing but a
public office can supply.

One use of a centre of information would be the prevention
of imposture, against which, in the absence of the means
which such a record office affords of ascertaining the identity
and verifying the stories of applicants, it is very hard, at least
for those whose hearts are not fenced with the steel of experi-
ence, to guard. Several times have I been saved from imposi-
tion through information obtained from the Secretary of this
Conference, Mr. Pell, who in this and other respects has i-eally
discharged in no small measure the functions of a relieving
officer for many years past, but who has now reached the
evening of a life dedicated to charitable work and to the study
of the questions connected with it. It would perhaps be out of
place to go into any personal details, and their publication
might possibly bar a return to the right path. Otherwise I
could narrate two or three remarkable cases of successful
imposture which have come under my own notice. In each
case an amount of ingenuity, tact, presence of mind and per-
suasiveness must have been exhibited which would have gone
far towards making the man's fortune in an honest walk of

life. Someone should give us a history of impostors, from
Perkin Warbeck downwards. It is wonderful, and the in-
stances to which I have referred as falling under my own notice
were among the proofs of it. how in these democratic communi-
ties of ours we are caught by the name of a lord.


Of the destitution and suffering with which the charities
have had to deal in past years not a little has arisen from
unsuitable immigration. The subject of emigration seems to
have entered on a new phase in regard to this whole continent.
The people of the United States, whose boast it has hitherto
been that they opened a home to all who needed one, have
become alarmed at the influx, both on economical and political
grounds, and have begun to think of closing the door. So far
as Canada is concerned, most of us, I believe, would say that
there is nothing to fear so long as emigration is left to itself.
A man is not likely of his own accord to leave his native
country and pay his passage across the Atlantic without good
reason for believing that he will find employment on the other
side. It is when emigration is subsidized by Government or
solicited by steamship agents that the danger of mistakes and
suffering begins. No assistance, I understand, is now being
given to immigration, either by the Dominion Government or by
the Government of this Province, though the Provincial
Government helps the immigrants on their arrival to find work.
The result is, I learn at headquarters, a marked improvement
in the description of immigrants, hardly any of whom of late
have been cast upon charity on their arrival. The demands
upon the St. George's Society and other national societies of
late have also been somewhat lighter. An alarm is still some-
times raised about the action of boards of poor law guardians
in England, who are suspected of harbouring designs of dump-
ing their pauperism on Canada ; but no facts of that sort have

recently come before us, and by this time the people in the Old
Country must be pretty well disabused of their not unnatural
belief that population of whatever kind cannot fail to be
welcome to a colony. The Conference addressed some time ago
a word of caution through the department at Ottawa to the
steamship companies. The managers of those companies
seemed to think that our fears were unfounded and injurious ;
but if they were, emigrants whose necessities we were called
upon to relieve must have told us unaccountable falsehoods.
Some distinction must be made in relation to this as to other
questions between the different sections of our now widely
extended and diversified Dominion. The case of the North -
West, which needs, above all things population, is not the same
as that of Eastern Canada, where nearly all the good land has
been taken up and the supply of mechanics is already large.
For farm labourers, however, the demand in Ontario is still
active, and emigrants of that class, if they are healthy, tem-
perate and saving, seem pretty sure to do well. The question
whether there is a demand for mechanics is one to which it is
not easy to get a satisfactory answer. Those who are in pos-
session of the labour market naturally desire to deter an influx
of new comers, which might have a tendency to reduce wages :
they desire, as perhaps they would say, protection for labour as
well as for the manufacturer ; and their interest can hardly
fail to colour their perception of the facts. So far as I can
learn, mechanics outside the building trade have still not much
difficulty in finding work. The most important industry at
Toronto of late has been the building trade. Should the growth
of our city find a limit the employment of a good many
mechanics would cease. That the growth of our city may find
a limit seems possible when we consider that its apparent
source is not so much the development of commerce on the spot
as the passion for city life which seems to have taken posses-
sion of all the population of this continent and in some measure


of that of Europe also, and which has brought here a rush of
emigrants from the smaller towns, while some of the smaller
towns are threatened with depopulation and decay.

For good domestics who have had some training, and mean
to be really helpful and obliging, there is still plenty of room,
if we may trust the testimony of ladies who are keeping house
and whose wails arise on all sides. The main root of the
trouble probably is the democratic idea, which at present is in
a crude and unsettled state. There is a fancy that service is
degrading to the free citizeness, as though any employment
under others, whether in a Government office, a factory, a bank
or any other establishment were not service as well as employ-
ment in a household. Is not even a merchant practically in
the service of his customers, and does he not sometimes find
that service pretty hard ? So it is, however, that employment
in a factory, with, harder work and far less comfort anything,
in short, which bears the name of independence is preferred
by the democratic girl to employment in a household. She
feels that the day's work done she is entirely her own mistress.
Perhaps the source of the trouble is not altogether on one side.
On the side of the employer there may be sometimes want of
judgment and not uncommonly want of experience. We talk
of the old English household. The old English household,
owing to the unsettled and restless habits of society in these
days, is fast becoming a thing of the past. But in it the
relation between master and servant was not merely commer-
cial, and it was carefully cultivated on the side of the employer.
The servants were made to feel themselves members of the
family, and were assured that faithful service would be repaid
with gratitude, that they would not be neglected in their old
age or forgotten in the will. We can hardly expect that par-
ticular state of things to return. English girls have been
imported into Canada, but it seems with indifferent success.
They soon catch the prevailing ideas. Indeed, they are apt to

bring with them the notion that they are coming to a paradise
of high pay and little work, and to conduct themselves accord-
ingly. However, for good, or even tolerable, domestics my lady
friends tell me that there is plenty of room. The class of emi-
grants for which there is certainly no room is what may be
called the genteel class, those who seek clerkships, situations in
Government, offices, teacherships, or any employment of the less
manual and more intellectual sort. For these the market is
almost as glutted here as it is in England. English emigrants
of this kind cannot possibly come to a worse place than Canada.
They will find not only that the market is full, but that they
are regarded with a certain degree of prejudice as interlopers.
It might be thought that such cases did not come within the
purview of the City Charities, but unfortunately they do. If a
man, however educated and of whatever social grade, comes
without resources to a country where there is no use for him,
there is nothing to save him from destitution.

Child emigration, such as is carried on by Miss Rye and Dr.
Barnardo, is a subject about which there is some difference of
opinion, though there can be none as to the benevolence of those
who devote themselves to the work, or as to the advantage to
the Mother Country of being provided with homes for children
who would otherwise grow up neglected or be trained to evil.
The opinion of those most competent to decide seems to be that,
of the boys at any rate, the vast majority do well. It is not to
be expected that in all cases the child should, even when placed
under the kindest 'influences in after-life, entirely work off the
moral taint contracted in a bad home.


We have to thank the management of the House of Indus-
try, and at the same time the City Council, which has liberally
and wisely furnished the means, for an immense improvement
in the arrangements of the Casual Ward. Cleanliness, decency


and sufficient comfort now reign where they did not reign
before. The decent though destitute wayfarer in need of a
night's shelter is no longer disgusted and degraded by the treat-
ment which he receives. While we discourage indolent mendi-
cancy and imposture, let us never forget that there is in the
world plenty of genuine misfortune and of destitution to which
unmixed pity is due. The management also does its best to
apply the Labour Test. But I find myself not unsupported in
the belief that this department would be better separated from
the almshouse and placed under the police. The extent of the
city, too, is now such that it may soon be necessary to have two
casual wards instead of one.


Between destitution and crime the connection is close ; each
is in some measure productive of the other. The special object
of one of the charities of our city is to receive the discharged
prisoner at the prison gate and save him from the want which
would drive him back into crime. The city gaol is being
enlarged to meet the requirements of a population which by
growth or annexation has been trebled, or nearly so, within
twenty years, though happily there has not been a proportionate
increase of crime. It is to be hoped that in the enlarged build-
ing full facilities for separation and classification will be
afforded, and that contaminating intei-course will cease. The
excellent Governor of our City Gaol has been doing all that was
in his power to separate the classes of prisoners and prevent
contamination, but the means have been wanting to him. It
is said, and apparently with reason, that for minor offences the
term of imprisonment cannot be too short. Long terms must
break up the prisoner's industry, deprive wives and children of
support, perhaps throw them on charity ; and even in the
absence of bad companionship can hardly be morally improving.
In the opinion of those who are well qualified to judge, a few


days of solitary confinement on bread and water would be a
penalty in minor cases sufficiently severe and deterrent. In the
case of graver offences and long terms of imprisonment, we find
the best authorities agreeing in the conviction that if a prison
is to be reformatory, or anything but a nursery of crime, labour
is indispensable. Might it not be well that the labour, though
compulsory, should be in some way recompensed ? The convict
is a man who has left the path of honest labour for that of
crime, and the object must be to win him back to the path of
honest labour. To make labour hateful to him, as the tread-
mill or anything of that kind does, is apparently to defeat the
object. If he is idle, evil is sure to breed in his vacant mind.
Long periods of solitary confinement are cruel and crushing.
Prison missions are no doubt excellent things, if it were only
that they show sympathy with the prisoner and assure him that
though an offender, and necessarily condemned to pay the
penalty of his offence, he is not cut off from humanity. But it
is by action that character is formed ; and mere impressions,
upon which the man cannot act, however strong at the moment,
can hardly be relied upon for the improvement of his character
when he is restored to practical life. Efforts are being made at
the City gaol to give the prisoners work, but there is difficulty
in providing it. Outside work close to a city makes heavy
demands on the prison staff for guards. There is also the fear
of awakening popular jealousy of prison competition. This is
most excited by indoor trades, the products of which come into
the market, such as shoemaking, which I saw being carried on,
and I understood with good results, in penitentiaries in the
United States. I am told, however, that it would be excited
even by setting the prisoners of the City gaol to work at the
Don, and that the seat of a member for East Toronto who did
not oppose such a measure would be in jeopardy. We must
heartily sympathize with the feelings of the honest working-
man who thinks that the trade by which he makes his bread and


the bread of his wife and children is in danger of being exposed
to unjust competition. But we must ask him to remember, in
the first place, that the prisoners, if they were not in gaol>
would be competing with him in the labour market, so that
there is no increase in the amount of competition ; and in the
second place, that this is a question not merely of prison
economy, but of moral right. A prisoner, by his offence, has
forfeited for the time his civil privileges ; but he has not for-
feited his moral rights; no moral being can. If labour is indis-
pensable to his moral health and reformation, to labour he still
has a right, and to deprive him of it is to become responsible
for his continuance in criminal courses. The opinion best
worth hearing on all these questions would be that of experi-
enced governors of our gaols, and it is a pity that it should not
be heard. Perhaps the whole subject of penal imprisonment
may some day come up for review. Society is apt to run on
without reflecting in a groove in which it was perhaps at first
set running by accident. A prison, I take it, was originally a
place for safe-keeping, and hideous places for safe-keeping
some of them were : in ancient Rome the prisoner was let down
into the cell through a hole in the roof. Imprisonment as a
punishment probabty was an afterthought, and still more so
was imprisonment as the means of reformation. The question-
may be some day raised whether the best reformatory is what
the thieves expressively call "the stone jug." The idea of a
prison camp for labour on public works has been suggested,
and the plan, I am told, has been tried with success in one of
the Southern States. A camp sounds more healthy than stone
walls ; it suggests greater possibilities of discipline ; being at
a greater distance from cities it could be more easily guarded,
and it would hardly excite popular jealousy on the score of
competition. However, as I have already said, we should like
to hear from experienced governors of gaols.

There is such a thing, it is to be feared, as a hopelessly


criminal character. At a place which I sometimes visit in the
United States they had a case apparently of this kind. He was
a man, not only of considerable intellectual power but of literary
tastes, and while he was running a career of the most fearful
crime, murdering among other people his own wife and child,
he was inventing a universal language. The shape of his head
was remarkable, and seemed to indicate something monstrous.
The frontal development was highly intellectual, but the rest
of the head, which was enormously broad between the ears,
seemed to bespeak the intensity of animal and brutal passions.
The man spent a term in a penitentiary of high repute, but
without any good result. He came out only to recommence his
murderous career. He was hanged at last after two attempts
had been made to save him, one on the usual plea of lunacy,
the other on the plea that his execution would extinguish a light
of learning and science. In such a case the only thing appar-
ently to be done is to cage the wild beast and prevent him from
tearing other people. But in ordinary cases it is probably as
much circumstance as natural character that has made the
criminal, so that reformation is possible, at all events in the
early stages of his career. These tramps, about whom we are
so much alarmed, and whose habits verge so closely on those of
the criminal, may, after all, be men out of whom nomadism,
the habit of primitive man, has not been thoroughly worked,
and who, though disinclined to sedentary or settled labour,
might, under discipline, make good soldiers perhaps, not only
in an army of war, but in an army of industiy.

We are sorry to hear that there are still some lunatics in
the City gaol. This is unjust, not only to the lunatics them-
selves but to the other inmates, who, though they have been
condemned to imprisonment, have not been condemned to the
society of the insane. The arrangement, however, is only pro-
visional, pending the enlargement of the accommodations for
lunacy, which appears to be on the increase, though from what


cause is not clearly explained ; probably from a complication of
causes, including the enhanced strain and excitement of modern
life. The practice of using the gaol as a poorhouse for
broken-down labourers, committed to it on a nominal charge of
vagrancy, we are happy to know is at an end. These men are
the disabled veterans of industry, and as much entitled to relief
without degradation as the veterans of war. It is strange, with
all our democracy and enlightenment, how extraordinary a pre-
ference is still given by popular sentiment to service in war.
Policemen and firemen often do things fully as heroic as were
ever done by the soldier. Yet we do not think of crowning
them with laurel.


To vary the ordinary business of our meetings we had the
pleasure of receiving a deputation from the Anti-Poverty
Society of this city, the excellence of whose object cannot be
questioned. It may be with doubtful feelings that a lawyer or
a physician would receive a plan for putting an end at once to
litigation or disease. But this association would receive with
unmixed pleasure a plan that would terminate its functions by
putting an end to poverty. Not that it is with poverty, properly
speaking, that we are concerned ; we are concerned with desti-
tution, which arises from a multiplicity of causes, certainly
beyond the reach of any economical reform, such as individual
misfortune, infirmity, age, accident, idleness, improvidence, and
vice. But we may admit that if there were no longer any
poverty the need for charitable institutions would probably
cease. Political economy has been called " the dismal science."
It is not easy to see why the study of the laws which regulate
the production and distribution of wealth should be more
dismal than the study of any other set of natural laws. No-
thing, it seems to me, can be more beautiful than the arrange-
ments by which workers all over the world are brought into


co-operation with each other and the price of the smallest manu-
factured article, though it be but a single cent, is divided
among all who in diffei'ent parts of the world have contributed
to its production. Nothing can be more beautiful than the


Online LibraryGoldwin SmithSocial problems. An address delivered to the Conference of combined city charities of Toronto, May 20th, 1889 → online text (page 1 of 2)