H. Rider (Henry Rider) Haggard.

Regeneration: being an account of the social work of the Salvation army in Great Britain online

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filled. The faces and general aspect of these men
were eloquent of want and sorrow. Some of them
appeared to be intent upon the religious service
that was going on, attendance at this service being
the condition on which the free breakfast is given
to all who need food and have passed the previous
night in the street. Others were gazing about
them vacantly, and others, sufferers from the
effects of drink, debauchery, or fatigue, seemed
to be half comatose or asleep.

This congregation, the strangest that I have
ever seen, comprised men of all classes. Some
might once have belonged to the learned pro-
fessions, while others had fallen so low that they
looked scarcely human. Every grade of rag-clad
misery was represented here, and every stage of
life from the lad of sixteen up to the aged man
whose allotted span was almost at an end. Rank
upon rank of them, there they sat in their infinite
variety, linked only by the common bond of utter
wretchedness, the most melancholy sight, I think,
that ever my eyes beheld. All of them, however,
were fairly clean, for this matter had been seen to
by the Officers who attend upon them. The


Salvation Army does not only wash the feet of
its guests, but the whole body. Also, it dries
and purifies their tattered garments.

When I entered the hall, an Officer on the
platform was engaged in offering up an extempore

' We pray that the Holy Spirit may be poured
out upon these men. We pray, O God, that
Thou wilt help them to take fresh courage, to
find fresh hope, and that they may rise once
again to fight the battle of life. We pray that
Thou mayst bring to Thy feet, this morning, such
as shall be saved eternally.'

Then another Officer, styled the Chaplain,
addressed the audience. He told them that there
was a way out of their troubles, and that hundreds
who had sat in that hall as they did, now blessed
the day which brought them there. He said :
' You came here this morning, you scarcely knew
how or why. You did not know the hand of
God was leading you, and that He will bless
you if you will listen to His Voice. You think
you cannot escape from this wretched life; you
think of the past with all its failures. But do
not trouble about the years that are gone. Seek
the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and
all other things shall be added unto you. Then
there will be no more wandering about without
a friend, for I say to you that God lives, and this


morning you will hear from others, who once
were in a similar condition to yourself, what He
has done for them.'

Next a man with a fine tenor voice, who, it
seems, is nicknamed ' the Yorkshire Canary,'
sang the hymn beginning, ' God moves in a
mysterious way.' After this in plain, forcible
language he told his own story. He said that
he was well brought up by a good father and
mother, and lost everything through his own sin.
His voice was in a sense his ruin, since he used
to sing in public-houses and saloons and there
learnt to drink. At length he found himself upon
the streets in London, and tramped thence to
Yorkshire to throw himself upon the mercy of
his parents. When he was quite close to his
home, however, his courage failed him, and he
tramped back to London, where he was picked
up by the Salvation Army.

This man, a most respectable-looking person,
is now a clerk in a well-known business house.
In his own words, ' I knelt down and gave
my heart to God, and am to-day in a good

Next a Salvation Army soldier spoke. Four
years before he had attended the Sunday morning
meeting in this hall and ' found the friendship
of God. He has helped me to regain the man-
hood I had lost and to do my duty. For two


years now I have helped to support an invalid
sister instead of being a burden to every one I
knew, as once I was.'

After the singing of the hymn, ' Rock of
Ages,' another man addressed the meeting.
He had been a drunkard, a homeless wanderer,
who slept night after night on the Embank-
ment till fortune brought him to this service
and to the Penitent-Form. Since that time,
two and a half years before, no drink had
passed his lips, and once again, as he declared,
he had become ' a self-respecting, respectable

Then a dwarf whom I had seen at work in the
Spa Road Elevator, and who once was taken
about the country to be exhibited as a side show
at fairs and there fell a victim to drink, gave his

Another verse, ' Could my tears for ever
flow,' and after it, in rapid succession, spoke a
man who had been a schoolmaster and fallen
through drink and gambling; a man who, or
whose brother, I am not sure which, had been a
Wesleyan preacher, and who is now employed
in a Life Assurance Company; a man who had
been a prisoner; a man who had been a con-
firmed drunkard, and others.

Always it was the same earnest, simple tale of
drink and degradation, passed now for ever; of


the Penitent-Form; of the building up of a new
self, and of position regained.

More singing and an eloquent prayer which
seemed to move the audience very much, some
of them to tears; an address from a woman
Salvation Army Officer, who pleaded with the
people in the name of their mothers, and a brief
but excellent sermon from Commissioner Sturgess,
based upon the parable of the Marriage of the
King's Son as recorded in the 22nd chapter of
St. Matthew, and of the guests who were collected
from the highways and byways to attend the feast
whence the rich and worldly had excused them-

Then the great and final invocation to Heaven
to move the hearts of these men, and the invita-
tion to them to present themselves at the Penitent-
Form. Lastly a mighty, thundering hymn, 'Jesu,
Lover of my soul,' and the ending of the long

It was a wonderful thing to see the spiritually-
faced man on the platform pleading with his
sordid audience, and to watch them stirring
beneath his words. To see, also, a uniformed
woman flitting to and fro among that audience,
whispering, exhorting, invoking a temptress to
Salvation, then to note the response and its
manner that were stranger still. Some poor
wretch would seem to awaken, only to relapse


into a state of sullen, almost defiant torpor. A
little while and the leaven begins to work in him.
He flushes, mutters something, half rises from
his seat, sits down again, rises once more and
with a peculiar, unwilling gait staggers to the
Penitent-Form, and in an abandonment of grief
and repentance throws himself upon his knees
and there begins to sob. A watching Officer
comes to him, kneels at his side and, I suppose,
confesses him. The tremendous hymn bursts out
like a paean of triumph

Just as I am, without one plea,

it begins, the rest I forget or did not catch.

Now the ice is broken. Another comes and
another, and another, till there is no more room
at the Penitent-Bench. They swarm on to the
platform which is cleared for them, and there
kneel down, and I observed the naked feet of
some of them showing through the worn-out

So it goes on. At length the great audience
rises and begins to depart, filing one by one
through a certain doorway. As they pass,
Officers who have appeared from somewhere
wait for them with outstretched arms. The most
of them brush past shaking their heads and
muttering. Here and there one pauses, is lost
or rather won. The Salvation Army has him



in its net and he joins the crowd upon the plat-
form. Still the hymn swells and falls till all
have departed save those who remain for good
about 10 per cent of that sad company.

It is done and the watcher feels that he has
witnessed the very uttermost of tragedies, human
and spiritual.

Mere common ' revivalism ' ! the critic will say,
and it may be so. Still such revivalism, if that
is the term for it, must be judged by its fruits.
I am informed that of those who kneel here
experience shows that but a small percentage
relapse. The most of them become what in the
Salvation Army cant if one chooses so to name
it is known as ' saved.'

This means that from drunkards and wastrels
stained with every sort of human fault, or even
crime, they are turned into God-fearing and
respectable men who henceforward, instead of
being a pest to society and a terror to all those
who have the misfortune to be connected with
them, become props of society and a comfort and
a support to their relatives and friends.

Thus is the mesh of mercy spread, and such
is its harvest.

The age of miracles is past, we are told; but I
confess that while watching this strange sight I
wondered more than once that if this were so,


what that age of miracles had been like. Of one
thing I was sure, that it must have been to such
as these that He who is acknowledged even by
sceptics to have been the very Master of man-
kind, would have chosen to preach, had this been
the age of His appearance, He who came to call
sinners to repentance. Probably, too, it was to
such as these that He did preach, for folk of this
character are common to the generations. Doubt-
less, Judea had its knaves and drunkards, as we
know it had its victims of sickness and misfor-
tune. The devils that were cast out in Jerusalem
did not die; they reappear in London and else-
where to-day, and, it would seem, can still be
cast out.

I confess another thing, also; namely, that I
found all this drama curiously exciting. Most
of us who have passed middle age and led a full
and varied life Mill be familiar with the great
human emotions. Yet I discovered here a new
emotion, one quite foreign to a somewhat ex-
tended experience, one that I cannot even at-
tempt to define. The contagion of revivalism !
again it will be said. This may be so, or it may
not. But at least, so far as this branch of the
Salvation Army work is concerned, those engaged
in it may fairly claim that the tree should be
judged by its fruits. Without doubt, in the main
these fruits are good and wholesome.


I have only to add to my description of this
remarkable service, that the number netted,
namely, about 10 per cent of those present, was,
I am told, just normal, neither more nor less
than the average. Some of these doubtless will
relapse ; but if only one of them remains really
reformed, surely the Salvation Army has vindi-
cated its arguments and all is proved to be well
worth while. But to that one very many ciphers
must be added as the clear and proved result of
the forty years or so of its activity. Whatever
may be doubtful, this is true beyond all con-
troversy, for it numbers its converts by the

The congregation which I saw on this particular
occasion seemed to me to consist for the most
part of elderly men ; in fact, some of them were
very old, and the average age of those who
attended the Penitent-Form I estimated at about
thirty-five years. This, however, varies. I am
informed that at times they are mostly young
persons. It must be remembered and the state-
ment throws a lurid light upon the conditions
prevailing in London, as in other of our great
cities that the population which week by week
attends these Sunday morning services is of an
ever-shifting character. Doubtless, there are some
habitues and others who reappear from time to


time. But the most of the audience is new. Every
Saturday night the highways and the hedges, or
rather the streets and the railway arches yield a
new crop of homeless and quite destitute wan-
derers. These are gathered into the Blackfriars
Shelter, and go their bitter road again after the
rest, the breakfast, and the service. But as we
have seen here a substantial proportion, about
10 per cent, remain behind. These are all
interviewed separately and fed, and on the fol-
lowing morning as many of them as vacancies
can be found for in the Paper Works Elevator
or elsewhere are sent thither.

I saw plenty of these men, and with them
others who had been rescued previously ; so many,
indeed, that it is impossible to set out their
separate cases. Looking through my notes made
at the time, I find among them a schoolmaster,
an Australian who fought in South Africa, a
publican who had lost ,2,000 in speculation and
been twelve months on the streets, a sailor and
two soldiers who between them had seen much
service abroad, and a University man who had
tried to commit suicide from London Bridge.

Also there was a person who was recently
described in the newspapers as the ' dirtiest man
in London.' He was found sitting on the steps
of a large building in Queen Victoria Street,
partly paralysed from exposure. So filthy and


verminous was he, that it was necessary to scrape
his body, which mere washing would not touch.
When he was picked up, a crowd of several
hundred people followed him down the street,
attracted by his dreadful appearance. His
pockets were full of filth, amongst which
were found 55. in coppers. He had then been
a month in the Shelter, where he peels or
peeled potatoes, etc., and looked quite bright
and clean.

Most of these people had been brought down
by the accursed drink, which is the bane of our
nation, and some few by sheer misfortune.

Neither at the service, nor afterwards, did I see
a single Jew, for the fallen of that race seem to
be looked after by their fellow religionists. More-
over, the Jews do not drink to excess. Foreigners,
also, are comparatively scarce at Blackfriars and
in the other Shelters.

The Ex-Criminals

ON the afternoon of the Sunday on which I
visited the Blackfriars Shelter, I attended
another service, conducted by Commissioner
Sturgess, at Quaker Street.

Here the room was filled by about 150 men,
all of whom had been rescued, and were then
working in the various Shelters or elsewhere. I
may say that I have seldom seen a congrega-
tion of more respectable appearance, and never
one that joined with greater earnestness in a
religious service.

I will take this opportunity to observe that
the Salvation Army enforces no religious test
upon those to whom it extends its assistance.
If a man is a member of the Church of England
or a Roman Catholic, for instance, and wishes
to remain so, all that it tries to do is to make
him a good member of his Church. Its only
sine qua non is that the individual should show
himself ready to work zealously at any task
which it may be able to find for him.

The rest of that afternoon I spent in inter-


viewing ex-criminals who were then in the charge
of the Salvation Army. To give details of their
cases in this book is impossible. Here I will
only say, therefore, that some of these had been
most desperate characters, who had served as
much as thirty or forty years in various prisons,
or even been condemned to death for murder.
Indeed, the nineteen men whom I interviewed
had, between them, done 371 years of what is
known as ' time. 1

I cannot honestly report that I liked the looks
of all these gentry, or believed everything that
they told me. For instance, when such people
swear that they have been wrongly convicted, an
old lawyer and magistrate like myself, who knows
what pains are taken by every English Court to
safeguard the innocent, is apt to be sceptical.
Still, it should be added that many of these jail-
birds are now to all appearance quite reformed,
while some of them are doing well in more or less
responsible positions, under the supervision of
the Army.

The Salvation Army Officers have authority
from the Home Office to visit the various prisons,
where the inmates are informed that those who
are desirous of seeing them must give in their
names. Then on a certain day, the Officer, who,
under Commissioner Sturgess, is responsible
for the Prison work of the Army in England,


appears at the Wandsworth or the Pentonville
Prison, or wherever it may be. There he finds,
perhaps, as many as 150 men waiting to see
him, the total number of ex-prisoners who pass
through the hands of the Army in England
averaging at present about 1,000 per annum. He
interviews these men in their cells privately, the
prison officials remaining outside, and stops as
long with each of them as he deems to be needful,
for the Governors of the prisons give him every
opportunity of attaining the object of his work.
This Officer informed me that his conversa-
tion with the prisoners is not restricted in any
way. It may be about their future or of spiritual
matters, or it may have to do with their family

The details of each case are carefully recorded
in a book which I saw r , and when a convict is
discharged and given over to the care of the
Army, a photograph and an official statement of
his record is furnished with him. This statement
the Army finds a great help, as in dealing with
such people it is necessary to know their past in
order to be able to guard against their w ? eak

The Government authorities have now begun
to seek the aid of the Army in certain special
cases. If they feel that it is unnecessary to retain
a man any longer, they will sometimes hand him


over, should the Salvation Army Officers be
willing to take him in and be responsible for him.
General Booth and his subordinates think that
if this system were enlarged and followed up, it
would result in the mitigation or the abbrevia-
tion of many sentences, without exposing the
public to danger.

In discussing this matter with them, I ven-
tured to point out that it would be a bad thing
if the Army became in any way identified with
the prison Authorities, and began, at any rate
in the mind of the criminal classes, to wear the
initials G.R. instead of those of the Army upon
their collars. This was not disputed by Com-
missioner Sturgess, with whom I debated the

What the Army desires, however, is that the
Government should subsidize this work in order
to enable it to support the ex-convicts until it
can find opportunity to place them in positions
where they can earn their own bread. The trouble
with such folk is that, naturally enough, few
desire to employ them, and until they are em-
ployed, which in the case of aged persons or
of those with a very bad record may be never,
they must be fed, clothed, and housed.

After going into the whole subject at con-
siderable length and in much detail, the con-
clusion which I came to was that this work of the


visitation of prisoners by Salvation Army Officers,
and the care of them when released either on or
before the completion of their sentences, is one
that might be usefully extended, should the
Home Office Authorities see fit so to do. There
is no doubt, although it cannot guarantee success
in every case, that the Salvation Army is pecu-
liarly successful in its dealings with hardened

Why this is so is not easy to explain. I think,
however, that there are two main reasons for its
success. The first is that the Army takes great
care never to break a promise which it may make
through any of its Officers. Thus, if a man in
jail is told that his relatives will be hunted up
and communicated with, or that an application
will be made to the Authorities to have him com-
mitted to the care of the Army, or that work
will be found for him on his release, and the like,
that undertaking, whatever it may be, is noted in
the book which I have mentioned, and although
years may pass before it can be fulfilled, is
in due course carried out to the letter. Now,
convicts are shy birds, who put little faith in
promises. But when they find that these are
always kept they gain confidence in the makers
of them, and often learn to trust them entirely.

The second and more potent reason is to be
found in the power of that loving sympathy which


the Army extends even to the vilest, to those from
whom the least puritanical of us would shrink. It
shows such men that they are not utterly lost, as
these believe; that it, at any rate, does not mark
them with a figurative broad arrow and consign
them to a separate division of society; that it is
able to give them back the self-respect without
which mankind is lower than the beast, and to
place them, regenerated, upon a path that, if it
be steep and thorny, still leads to those heights
of peace and honour which they never thought to
tread again.

This is done not by physical care and comfort,
though, of course, these help towards the desired
end, but by its own spiritual means, or so it
would appear. Its Officers pray with the man ;
they awake his conscience, which is never dead in
any of us ; they pour the blessed light of hope
into the dark places of his soul; they cause him
to hate the past, and to desire to lead a new life.
Once this desire is established, the rest is com-
paratively simple, for where the heart leads the
feet will follow; but without it little or nothing
can be done. Such is the explanation I have to
offer. At any rate, I believe it remains a fact
that among the worst criminals the Salvation
Army often succeeds where others have failed.

Another point that should not be overlooked in
this connexion is that it must be a great comfort


to the sinner and an encouragement of the most
practical sort to find, as he sometimes will, that
the hands which are dragging him and his kind
from the mire, had once been as filthy as his
own. When the worker can say to him, ' Look
at me; in bygone days I was as bad as or worse
than you ' ; when he can point to many others
whose vices were formerly notorious, but who
now fill positions of trust in the Army or outside
of it, and are honoured of all men ; then the lost
one, emerging, perhaps, for the fifth or sixth
time from the darkness of his prison, sees by
the light of these concrete examples that the
future has promise for us all. If they have
succeeded why should he fail? That is the
argument which comes home to him.

There remains a matter to be considered. Let
us suppose that as time goes by the Authorities
become more and more convinced of the value
of the Army's prison work, and pass over to
its care criminals in ever-increasing numbers,
as they are doing in some other countries and in
the great Colonies, what will be the effect upon
the Army itself ? Will not this mass of com-
paratively useless material clog the wheels of the
great machine by overlading it with a vast
number of ex-prisoners, some of whom, owing to
their age or other circumstances, are quite in-
capable of earning their livelihood, and therefore


must be carried till their deaths? When I put
the query to those in command, the answer given
was that they did not think so, as they believed
that the Army would be able to turn the great
majority of these men into respectable, wage-
earning members of society.

Thus of those who have been sent to it lately
from the prisons, it has, I understand, been forced
to return only two, because these men would not
behave themselves, and proved to be a source of
danger and contamination to others. As regards
the residuum who are incapacitated by age or
weakness of mind or body, General Booth and
his Officers are of opinion that the Government
should contribute to their support in such places
as the Army may be able to find for them to
dwell in under its care.

I hope that these forecasts, which after all are
made by men of great experience who should
know, may not prove to be over-sanguine. Still
it must be remembered that in England alone there
are, I am told, some 30,000 confirmed criminals
in the jails, not reckoning the 5,000 who are
classed as convicts. If even 20 per cent of these
were passed over to the care of the Army, with
or without State grants in aid of their support,
this must in the nature of things prove a heavy
burden upon its resources. When all is said and
done it is harder to find employment for a jail-


bird, even if reformed, than for any other class
of man, because so damaged a human article has
but little commercial value in the Labour market.

If, however, the Salvation Army is prepared
to face this gigantic task, it may be hoped that
it will be given an opportunity of showing what
it can do on a large scale, as it has already shown
upon one more restricted. Prison reform is in
the air. The present system is admitted more or

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Online LibraryH. Rider (Henry Rider) HaggardRegeneration: being an account of the social work of the Salvation army in Great Britain → online text (page 3 of 14)