Work In The East-End by Richard King

Story type: Essay

It seems to me that the poor need a friend more urgently than they need a pastor, or, if they must have a pastor–then the pastor must be completely disguised as a friend. I always wonder why it is the popular fallacy that the poor need religion more than the wealthy. My own experience is that you will find more real Christianity in Shoreditch than you will ever find in Mayfair–even though the “revealers” of it may drink and swear and otherwise lead outwardly debased lives. Well, the surroundings, the “atmosphere” in which they have been forced to live, encourage them in their blasphemy. I never marvel that they are often profane; I wonder more greatly that they are not infinitely more so. But it seems to me that you will “uplift” them far more by pulling down their filthy habitations than by preaching the “Word of God” at them at every available opportunity. They are the landlords, the profiteers, the members of Society who do so little to cleanse and purify the human life among the tenements, who require the “Word” more urgently than the enforced dwellers therein. Only the other evening I paid a visit to one of the general committee of the Oxford and Bermondsey Mission in the little flat which he occupies at the top of a huge building called “flats.” These flats consist of only two rooms, a bedroom and a kitchen. There are no “conveniences”–except some of an indescribably filthy nature which are mutually shared by the inhabitants of several flats, to their own necessary loss of self-respect and decency. And in these two-roomed flats families ranging from three to twelve members are forced to live, and for this benefit they must pay six shillings a week. How can youth reach its full perfection amid such surroundings–surroundings which can be multiplied hundreds of times in every part of London and our big cities? And when I know the magnificent “promise” of which this same youth is capable–the war showed it in one side of its greatness–and see the surroundings in which it must grow and expand, physically as well as spiritually, I marvel at its moral achievements and I hate the society which permits this splendid human material only by a stroke of luck ever to have its chance. For what has this youth of the slums got to live for? He can have no home-life amid the pigsties which are called his “home”, his strength is mostly thrust into blind alley occupations which he is forced to take, since his education has fitted him for nothing better, and he must accept them in order to live at all; and for his recreation, he is given the life of the streets and the public-house–nothing else. It is only such groups of unselfish men as are represented by the Oxford and Bermondsey Mission and by the men who run the London Working Boys’ Clubs in the poorest parts of London, together with those other men and women, clergymen and laymen, who are struggling to bring a little happiness and light into the lives of the men and boys of the East-end by providing them with comfort and warmth in the club houses and with healthy recreation for their hours of freedom, who are helping to kill Bolshevism at its roots. For it seems to me that youth is the supreme charge of those who have grown old. The salvation of the world will come through the young; the glory of the old is that age and experience have taught them to perceive this fact. Give the majority of men something noble to live for, and the vast majority will live up to their “star.”

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