In my opening chapter a slight reference was made to the Habitual
Inebriates Act of 1898.

I now wish to deal more fully with this subject, for it has occupied
much time in police-courts, and has held a large place in the public
mind and interest.

The uselessness of short terms of imprisonment for persons frequently
charged with drunkenness had been fully proved; they had not been found
deterrent or reformative, the only practical result being that the lives
of those constantly committed were considerably lengthened.

Sometimes I have felt that it would be good if the women to whom I now
refer could have gone quietly out of existence, for I believe that the
All-Merciful would extend greater mercy to them than they show to

But life has a firm grip upon women; and when it is devoted to animalism
and idleness, when the cares and worries of home, children, and
employment do not concern them, then indeed those lives are often
lengthened out beyond the lives of their more virtuous and industrious

For these women prisons had proved useful sanatoria, and frequent
sentences times of recuperation.

Small wonder, then, that new methods should at length be tried. The
Habitual Inebriates Act came into being in 1898.

The Act adopted the definition of a much earlier Act as to what
constituted the habitual inebriate, which was as follows:

“Those who, by the excessive use of intoxicating drink, are unable to
control their affairs or are dangerous to themselves or others.”

I quite believe that if the framers of this Act had realized the
character of those who would come within its provisions, a far different
definition would have been found. But the Act also conditioned that only
those who were charged four times during the year with drunkenness
should be dealt with, the great mistake being that no attempt was made
previously to inquire into the character and condition of those that
happened to be charged four times in the year. I suppose it was a
natural inference that anyone so frequently charged must be of necessity
a confirmed and regular inebriate. But the reverse proved true, for the
worst inebriates, dipsomaniacs, and sots, escaped the meshes of the net
so carefully spread.

They at any rate did not fall into the hands of the police so
frequently; indeed, many of them did not at all. But the Act netted a
very different kind of fish–a kind that ought to have been netted many
years previously, and dealt with in a far more effectual manner than was
now proposed.

The Act gave power to local authorities and philanthropic societies to
establish inebriates’ reformatories, which, after satisfying the
requirements of the Home Office, were to be duly licensed to receive
habitual inebriates qualified under the new law. These institutions were
to be supported by an Imperial capitation grant for every inebriate
committed, the local authorities being empowered to draw upon the rates
for the balance.

Magistrates were given power to commit to these establishments for one,
two, or three years, when the persons charged before them pleaded guilty
to being habitual inebriates, and desired the question settled without
reference to a higher court; but magistrates could not deal with them
until they had been charged four times within the year.

If consent was refused, magistrates were empowered to send them for
trial before the Judge and jury. Early in 1898 I took considerable pains
to ascertain the exact character and condition of the persons who came
within the provision of the Act. I found, as I expected to find, that
they were idle and dissolute persons, nearly all of them women, and such
women as only the streets of our large towns could furnish.

So much misapprehension and uncertainty prevailed as to the kind and sex
of the persons who would be affected by the new law that the London
County Council, after acquiring a valuable property in Surrey for the
purposes of the Act, prepared for the reception of males. For this there
was no excuse. A glance at the annual criminal statistics would have
shown to what sex the oft-convicted inebriates belonged, and an inquiry
among the police would have revealed their true character and condition.
A considerable time elapsed before these reformatories were ready, local
authorities being very reluctant to use their powers, but at length the
task of trying to cure London’s grossest women of inebriety began. It
was a hopeless task from the first. After eight years’ experience its
futility has been fully demonstrated.

In the _Contemporary Review_ of May, 1899, I ventured to give a
description of the men and women who would be dealt with. The women, I
said, would consist of 80 per cent. of gross unfortunates, dominated by
vice or mental disease, homeless and shameless women; 10 per cent. old
women who live alternately in workhouses and prisons, with occasional
spells of liberty and licence; and 10 per cent. of otherwise decent
women, the majority of whom would be mentally weak.

The men I described as idle, dissolute, and dishonest fellows, or worse.
Eight years’ experience of the working of the Act has verified my
analysis. The report of the Government Inspector for 1906 amply proves
it. Dr. Branthwaite (the Government Inspector), a properly qualified
medical officer, has taken infinite pains to ascertain the mental
condition of those committed to certified reformatories, and who became
his special charge. I quote from his report for 1906:

“During the eight years the Act has been in operation 2,277 men and
women had been committed to reformatories. Of these, 375 were men and
1,902 were women.” He thus classifies them as to mental condition: 16·1
per cent. as insane, defective, imbecile, or epileptic; 46·5 per cent.
as eccentric, dull, or senile; 37·4 per cent. as of average mental
capacity. This means that out of the total admissions for the eight
years, 62·6 per cent. were practically insane, and therefore hopeless
from a reformatory point of view. The remaining 37·4 per cent. were, he
says, of average mental capacity. But the Inspector can only speak of
them as he finds them; he cannot speak of their mental capacity when
outside his reformatories. I can; therefore I wish to say here something
about them. There exists a large class of men and women who, when placed
under absolute control in prisons or reformatories, submit themselves
quietly to the authority that controls and the conditions that environ
them. They obey orders, they display no anger, they offer no violence;
they are not moody or spiteful, but they fulfil their duties with some
degree of cheerfulness and alacrity. Those who have charge of them
naturally look upon them as the most hopeful of their prisoners. A
greater mistake could not be made. It may be vice, it may be drink, it
may be dishonesty, that is the master passion of their lives; it may be,
for aught I know–and in reality I believe that it is–some inscrutable
mental disease that causes their passions or weaknesses; but whatever
the passion, and however caused or controlled, when these people are
under absolute authority in places where the vice, passion, or weakness
cannot possibly be indulged, then that passion, vice, or weakness is
absolutely non-existent for the time, and its victims appear as normal

But a far different state of mind and body exists when they are released
from authority, for with liberty the old instinct or passion comes into
fierce existence, and instantly demands gratification. While the
released person has on the one hand gained considerably in health of
mind and body, the sleeping passion too has gained in strength during
the time it has hibernated. These persons, I am happy to believe, are
not of normal mind, for they are helpless before the stress of
temptation. In fact, decent as they may seem while in custody, the
gratification of their particular vice is the only thing of importance
in life to them. These unfortunate people, when at liberty, are in
reality under authority of a different kind, and their obedience to the
dark, mysterious authority that controls them is as implicit as if they
were detained in prison or reformatory, for they do not question or
gainsay its imperious demands. Small wonder, then, that nearly all the
women who have been committed to inebriate reformatories revert to their
old habits of life. To speak of their relapse is wrong, for in reality
there is no relapse about it; they have only been held by force from
their old life, which they resume when that preventive force is

But it has been a costly experience so far, at any rate, as London is
concerned. The Government led off with a capitation grant of 10s. 6d.
weekly. For the first few years it cost about £1 10s. per week, in
addition to the outlay on land, buildings, and appointments, to keep
each of these demented women. Though this cost has now been
considerably reduced, it is even now about £1 weekly. No one, I feel
sure, would begrudge this outlay if there was the remotest chance of
these extraordinary women living decently when released from the

Sadly, but emphatically, I say no such chance exists. Let it be clearly
understood that I am not making this terrible statement about inebriates
generally, but only with regard to those women who fall into the hands
of the police four times in one year, thus qualifying for committal
according to the Act. The very hopelessness of these women excites my
deepest pity, and because I pity them I point out plainly their
condition, in the sincere hope that more satisfactory methods of dealing
with them may be provided. The Inspector claims that it is better for
these women to be detained in inebriate reformatories than to undergo a
continual round of short terms of imprisonment, varied by spells of
liberty spent in gross orgies upon the street. He says, too, that it is
the cheaper course. There is some truth in his contention. Of the exact
proportion of the monetary cost of the two methods I am not concerned,
but undoubtedly, for the good of the community and the purity of our
streets, lengthened detention in inebriate reformatories is infinitely
better than short detention in prisons. I am not objecting to their
lengthened detention, but to the method and objects of detention. If
their detention is to be for the good of the public, let it be
understood that the common weal demands it. But as they are a class
altogether apart from ordinary women, even from ordinary drunken women,
they ought to be detained in institutions adapted for women of their
condition only, and the absurdity of trying to cure vice-possessed women
of the drink habit ought to cease.

But the legal advantages attaching to the life of a gross and disorderly
woman are considerable–far greater than the advantages that are
attached to a life of virtue and honest toil. “Only be bad enough, gross
enough, violent enough, and you shall have your reward. Only get into
conflict with the guardians of law and order four times in one year, and
three years’ comfort in an inebriate reformatory shall be your reward.
There your work shall be limited, your leisure shall be certain, your
food shall be plentiful and varied, and your recreation, indoors and out
of doors, shall not be forgotten. There you shall live lives of comfort
and comparative ease.” So the State seems to say to the women of the
class who at present fill our inebriate reformatories. And some are not
slow to accept the invitation. I remember one massive young Irishwoman,
who had a strong aversion to anything like honest work, saying to me one
morning when she was again in custody: “Mr. Holmes, I am about sick of
this: I’ll go to a home for a year. Ask the magistrate to send me; it
will do me good.”

I declined to be the intermediary, so she appealed to the magistrate to
send her away under the Act.

There being some doubt as to the requisite number of convictions, the
magistrate added to the list by giving her fourteen days. At the
expiration of her sentence–indeed, on the very day of her discharge
from prison–she got into collision with the police, and next day was
again before the magistrate. She again asked the magistrate to send her
to a reformatory. But she had another grievance this time: she told the
magistrate that Mr. Holmes had insulted her. On being asked for
particulars, she said that I had refused to help her to get into an
inebriate reformatory, and further (and this was the insult), that I had
said that she was big enough, strong enough, and young enough to work
for her living. I pleaded guilty to the insult, and pointed out to the
magistrate the physical dimensions of the prisoner. He smiled, and said
there was some truth in my statement; but as the prisoner was young,
there was hope of her reformation, so he committed her for two years. I
ventured respectfully to tell him that he had but allowed her one of the
legal advantages of an idle and disorderly woman.

Drink had no more to do with her condition than it has with mine, though
to some extent it was useful to her; but vice and idleness were the
dominant factors in her life, not drink.

The Habitual Inebriates Act of 1898 was followed by the Licensing Act of
1902, some clauses of which dealt with habitual inebriates, and provided
for the compilation of a Black List.

Every person, male or female, charged with drunkenness, or some crime
connected with drunkenness, four times in one year, was to be placed on
an official list, whether sent or not sent to an inebriate reformatory.
Their photographs were to be taken and circulated to the police and to
the publicans. Publicans were prohibited under a severe penalty from
serving the “listed” with intoxicating drink within a period of three
years. If the “listed” persons procured, or attempted to procure, any
drink during that time they, too, were liable to a penalty not exceeding
£1 or fourteen days. There was considerable fear and a strange anxiety
among many of the repeatedly convicted as to what would happen to them
when this Act began its operations.

But this wholesome dread soon disappeared. When its operations became
known, the lists were duly made and circulated; the photographs were
accurately, if not beautifully, taken; the police were supplied with the
lists and the publicans with the photographs. But very soon the “listed”
proceeded to procure drink and get drunk as usual, for a wonder had come
to light. When charged under the new Act, instead of getting their usual
month they received but a fortnight, for the Act did not allow a more
severe punishment. True, they had committed more heinous offences, for
they had defied the law, which said they must not procure drink, and
their offences had been _dual_, for they had been drunk, too, and
disorderly and disgusting as of yore. Nevertheless, their double offence
entitled them to but half their former reward. Magistrates soon saw the
humour of it, and soon got tired of it, and sometimes, when a charge was
preferred against a “lister” under the Act, they ordered the police to
charge the prisoners under the old Act, that more punishment might be
given. But if these clauses were not successful from a legal point of
view, they were from another.

The Act came into force on January 1, 1902. At the beginning of May in
the same year–that is, in four months from commencing operations–339
names, mostly women, were on that List. I sometimes have the privilege
of looking at the List, which has now grown to a portentous length. It
is an education to look at those hundreds of portraits. I look at them
with fear and wonderment, for they are a revelation–an awe-inspiring
picture-gallery! I would like every student of humanity and every lover
of his kind to have a copy of that List, to study those photographs, and
ponder the letterpress description that accompanies each photograph. It
would almost appear that we are getting back to primeval man, the faces
are so strange and weird. Different as the faces are, one look is
stamped upon them all–the look of bewilderment. They one and all seem
to think that there is something wrong, and they wonder what it is. No
one can glance for a single moment at those terrible photographs without
seeing that there is something more than drink at the root of things. No
one can meet them, as I have met them, face to face, can look into their
eyes, and know, as I know, how pitifully sad, yet how horrible, are
their lives, without affirming, as I affirm, that the State proclaims
its ignorance when it classifies them as inebriates, and its impotence
when it asks others to cure them of the love of drink. These are the
women that fill our inebriate reformatories, and of whom the Home Office
Inspector reports that 62·6 per cent. are not sane. Certainly they are
not sane, and it is high time that the truth was realized and the fact
faced. Is it scientific to call their disease inebriety, when in sober
truth it is something far worse–something that comes down through the
ages, and in all climes and at all times has seized hold upon certain
women–a something that never releases its hold till the portals of
death are open for its victims? Oh, I could almost laugh at the irony of
it all! Cure them of animal passion elemental in its intensity? Cure
them of diseased minds and disordered brains, by keeping them for two or
three years without drink? It cannot be done. But something can be done;
only it is so simple a thing that I feel sure it will not be done. Yet
if we had any thought for the purity of our streets, any concern for
public morality and public decency, any consideration for the public
weal, we should take these women aside, and keep them aside–not for
one, two, or three years, but for the remainder of their natural lives,
justified by the knowledge that they are not responsible creatures, and
that pity itself demands their submission to kindly control and to
strong-handed restraint.

But the Licensing Act of 1902 dealt with another class of women
inebriates, and dealt with them in a drastic but unsatisfactory way. The
law got hold of really drunken women this time, but it did not give them
half the consideration extended to gross and demented unfortunates. It
empowered magistrates to grant separation orders between married couples
when either husband or wife became habitually drunken. In this Act the
same definition of habitual inebriety that governed the 1898 Act was
adopted, and husbands very promptly began to demand separation orders
on account of their wives’ drunkenness. My experiences of the result of
this Act are sorrowful to a degree; but I expected those results, for I
knew that the clauses that empowered separation orders must be either
inoperative or disastrous. Alas! they did not remain inoperative, for
the number of discarded wives began quickly to multiply.

When the Bill was before Parliament I spent some weeks in a vain
endeavour to prevent some of the worst consequences that I knew would
follow, and have followed. I contributed several articles to leading
reviews; I wrote to _The Times_ and scores of other influential papers;
I wrote to leaders of temperance societies; I circularized the Members
of both Houses, pointing out the enormity and the absurdity of putting
drunken wives homeless on the streets; I pleaded, I begged, with heart,
voice, and pen, for just one chance to be given the miserable women. My
efforts were vain. No one supported me. I was a voice crying in the
wilderness. It might be thought that I was asking for some great thing
or some silly thing. I asked for neither. Let my readers judge. We had
established inebriate reformatories at the public cost. We were filling
them with the grossest unfortunates, of whom there was no hope of
redemption; these women we were maintaining for two or three years in
comfort. Will it be believed? I asked that drunken, but not immoral,
women should be given equal chances of reformation. I asked that when a
wife’s drunkenness was proved, that she should, whether she consented or
not, be committed for one year to an inebriate reformatory, and that
the husband’s contribution for her support should be paid to the
institution that controlled her. But the House of Commons would have
none of it; the House of Lords would not entertain it; the Christian
Churches would not support it; the guardians of public morality ignored
it. Drunken wives, though physically weak and ill, though mothers of
young children, though decent in other ways, were not to be allowed one
chance of reformation, were not to be considered for one moment worthy
of treatment equal to that given to demented and gross women of the
streets. “Pitch them out!” said our lords and gentlemen of both Houses.
“Get rid of them!” said the Christian Churches. Husbands have not been
slow in taking this advice, for they have been pitching wives out and
have been getting rid of wives ever since. But the public do not get rid
of them so easily. It has to bear the burden that cast-off wives bring,
and that burden grows with every separation granted; so wives hitherto
moral are fast qualifying for the legal advantages given to unspeakable
women, and by-and-by, when the cast-out women behave themselves
sufficiently badly, and the police take them into custody four times in
a year–then, and not till then, when it is too late, both Houses of
Parliament, the Christian Churches, and the guardians of public morality
offer them the reforming influences of an institution for the cure of


One of the first men to apply for a separation order under the Act was a
thriving commission agent–_i.e._, a bookmaker–who had married a
barmaid. His jewellery was massive, and there was all over him the
appearance of being extremely well-to-do. He brought with him a
solicitor to advocate his cause, and witnesses, too, were forthcoming.
His young wife, when asked for her statement, did not attempt to deny
that she was sometimes the worse for drink, but contented herself by
saying that her husband drank a great deal more than she did, but it
took less effect. She also said if she did drink, her husband was the
cause of it, for he was unfaithful to her. She readily agreed to her
husband’s offer of £1 weekly, so the order was promptly granted, and she
went her way alone. The husband, I noticed, was not so lonely, being
accompanied by a well-dressed female.

The second act of this unseemly farce was played before the same court
after a three months’ interval. The commission agent, again fortified by
his solicitor’s presence, applied for an abrogation of the order made
upon him for his wife’s maintenance. Her lapse into immorality was duly
proved, her defence–which, of course, was no defence at all–being that
her husband was worse than herself, for he had been living with the
woman now in court for some months. The magistrate had no option–for
private opinion must not prevent the due fulfilment of the law–so the
order was quashed. Henceforth the husband was free of all obligations,
pecuniary or otherwise, excepting that he might not legally marry till
his wife’s death. Whatever her faults were, I must confess that I felt
very sorry for her. Young, friendless, and homeless, she was already on
that polished, inclined plane down which many are precipitated to the
lowest depths, from which nothing short of a miracle could save her. A
few minutes later I was speaking to her outside the court, and asking
about her future, when the opulent commission agent and his expensively
dressed but non-legalized wife passed us. Triumph was written on his
coarse face, and, turning to his cast-off wife, he snapped his fingers
in her face, and said: “I knew I should soon get rid of you!” using, of
course, vulgar embellishment. To such contemptible blackguards, men
without an atom of decency, this Act has provided a ready means for
getting rid of wives when their company proves distasteful. But oh the
chivalry of it, especially when the fellow who participated in the
wife’s wrong-doing comes cheerfully to give evidence against her! When I
think on these things, I believe that I have some faith still in
physical chastisement.

But I turn gladly–nay, eagerly–to another side of the question; for
all men are not made on the same lines as the opulent bookie, for which
we have need to be thankful. Among some of the men who, driven almost
distraught by the misery they had endured–and only those who have to
endure it can tell how great that misery is–have applied for separation
orders on account of their wives’ habitual drunkenness, I have met some
that shone resplendent amid the moral darkness so often connected with
police-court cases.

A sorrowful-faced old man, nearly seventy years of age, applied to the
magistrate for advice. His wife for some years had been giving way
constantly to drink. His home was ruined; he was in debt. He produced a
bundle of pawn-tickets, etc. “Have you any sons and daughters? Cannot
they influence her?” “They are married, and are all abroad. They cannot
help me; but they send me money when I require any. They want me to go
to them, but I cannot leave her.” “Do you earn any money?” “Oh yes!
quite sufficient to keep us. I have had a good place for forty years.”
“Well,” said the magistrate, “I cannot advise you, but you can have a
summons against her for habitual drunkenness. Will you have one?” “Yes,
sir,” said the bewildered old man. The summons was served upon the wife,
and in due time they appeared before the court.

A pathetic couple they were; neither of them appeared to exactly
understand why they were there. He knew that he had to prove his wife’s
drunkenness, and he did it simply enough. It was the old, old story of
drink, neglect, waste, and dirt–no food provided, no house made tidy,
no beds made, no washing of clothes. That was the negative side. The
pawnings and debts, and cuts and wounds she had received from falling,
formed the positive.

The old woman denied nothing, but said it was all true. When asked for
her defence, she could only reiterate: “He’s been very good to me; he’s
been very good to me.” When asked about his means, the old man said he
thought that he could allow his wife 10s. a week. The magistrate thought
that 7s. was as much as he could afford, and made the order accordingly.
The couple waited in court till the separate orders were delivered to
them, and then tremblingly rose to go, he to his lonely home and she to
—-. I accompanied them into the streets, and said to the old woman:
“Where are you going to live?” She replied: “I am going home.” “But you
are separated. The magistrate has given your husband an order which says
that you must no longer live with him.” “Not live with my husband! Where
am I to live, then?” I do not think that either of them understood till
that moment what a separation order meant, for the old man said: “You
can’t live anywhere else.” Then, turning to me, he said half defiantly:
“I suppose I can take her back home if I like?” “Certainly,” I said;
“but you cannot come to the magistrate for another order.” “I will never
ask for another. I don’t want this”; and he tore it in twain.

“Come on.” And he offered his arm to his old and bewildered partner, and
away they went–he to endure patiently and still to hope; she, touched
by his faithful love, to struggle and, perchance, to conquer. He was a
brave old man–a Sir Galahad with bent back and frosty locks. I watched
them as they slowly disappeared along the street. Old as they were, they
were passing through love to light. For I saw them many times after
that day; I made it my business to see them, and to give them such
encouragement as I could: they sorely needed it. So I learned the story
of their lives.

She had been a good wife and mother till late in life. Then her children
had all dispersed, and great loneliness came upon her. She had not even
the prattle of a grandchild to cheer her. Her husband was away so much
from home, for he worked many hours.

Old age steals away the power of self-control, and loneliness is hard to
bear, and drink promised to cheer her. The old man’s faithfulness was
her only anchorage, but it held. The battle went sometimes against her,
but from the day they stood before the magistrate the old woman began to
gain strength, and with strength came hope and happier days.

I have selected these two instances because they fully illustrate the
dangers and the weakness of this system. But these two by no means stand
alone, and I am not exaggerating when I say that hundreds of men have
consulted me about their wives’ drunkenness, all of them expecting some
help or relief from the Act. When I have explained to them exactly how
it affected them and what a separation order meant, by far the greater
number went away sorrowing, and most of them have added: “I thought she
would be put in a home for a time, where I could pay a little for her. I
cannot put her homeless into the streets; I should not be able to sleep
if I knew she was out.” Of course not; what decent husband could? And
this feeling has, I am glad to say, been characteristic of husbands who
have suffered intensely and long, and who through it all have been good
and patient husbands. I do not wish it to be understood that I think
evil of every husband who enforces a separation order on account of his
wife’s habitual drunkenness–far from it; for I know only too well that
with some it has been a bitter and last resource, nothing else being
apparently possible. But I do say this, and for this reason I have told
the above stories: that this law places it in the power of a worthless
husband, who cares not what becomes of his wife, to get rid of her and
his responsibilities at practically the same time, but does nothing for
the unfortunate husband who hopes for his wife’s reformation, and who
has still some respect for her; also that it consigns wretched women to
a position that is certain to bring about their complete demoralization,
for it submits them to temptations they cannot withstand.

The fashion that has arisen of late years of judges or magistrates
engineering weddings among the wretched and often penniless people who
sometimes come before them savours of indecency. Such proceedings ought
to have no place in our courts of penal administration. The effects of
thriftless and ill-assorted marriages are so palpable in police-courts
that one wonders to what malign source of inspiration the suggestion
that some criminal youth or some vicious young woman can be reincarnated
by marriage is to be attributed.

Some of the most effective and eloquent homilies I have ever listened to
have been delivered from the bench upon youthful and thriftless
marriages, and upon the folly of obtaining household goods by the
hire-purchase system.

In spite, however, of the well-known results of such marriages–for
squalor and misery inevitably attend them–educated gentlemen of
position and experience appear to take pleasure in arranging them, and
Police-Court Missionaries find occupation and joy in seeing the
arrangements duly carried out.

The altogether unwholesome effect of arranging these marriages is
considerably enhanced by the press, which duly chronicles in heavy type
and sensational headings a “Police-Court Romance.”

Romance! I would like to find the romance. I have seen much of the
results of such marriages, but I never discovered any romance; they were
anything but romantic. While I have seen the results, and have had to
alleviate some of the miseries following such marriages, I am thankful
to say that I never did anything quite so foolish as to take part in
arranging or giving any assistance in carrying out the arrangements for
a single marriage of this description.

Many years ago I was asked by a worthy magistrate to see that the
arrangements for a marriage of this kind were duly carried out; I told
him that I must respectfully decline.

He reminded me, with a humorous twinkle in the eye, “that marriages were
made in heaven.” The reply was obvious: “Sometimes in hell, your
Worship.” And the sequel proved my reply to be true. Magistrates seldom
see the after-results, but those results are far-reaching. From this one
case alone grievous burdens have already been cast upon the public, and
future generations will be called upon to bear an aggravated burden. For
in a short time the couple were homeless, with three young children, and
were found sleeping, or trying to sleep, in a van one winter’s night.

It requires no prophetical vision to see the consequences of these
marriages, but a few instances may stimulate imagination.

Three years ago a decent-looking young woman of twenty was charged in
one of our courts with abandoning her illegitimate child. She was young,
pretty, and told a sad tale about her wrongs.

The press account of the matter appeared with such embellishment as
befitted a “romance,” for a young man had risen in court and offered to
marry the girl, and make her into an “honest woman.” Now, this
chivalrous young man had not seen the girl previously–they were
complete strangers; nevertheless, the magistrate adjourned the case, and
offered a sovereign towards the wedding expenses. The hero in this
business–the chivalrous young man!–was penniless and out of work; in
fact, if he himself spoke truly, he had done no work for a year; but,
seeing publicity had been gained and interest excited, he wrote a letter
to the press, asking the public to supplement the magistrate’s
contribution, and supply him with funds to furnish a home for himself
and future wife His letter was not published, but it was sent in to me
by the editor, for I had written to the press on the subject.

I have said that he was out of work, and certainly he was likely to
remain out of work, for he was one of the audience to be seen regularly
at the police-court, many of whom never seem to seek for work. I have no
hesitation in saying that the man who comes forward in a police-court
and offers to marry a young woman to whom he is a complete stranger, and
who is, moreover, charged with serious crime, is either a fool or a
rogue–probably both.

Why magistrates should smile on these impromptu proposals, and order
remands that the consummation may take place, I cannot possibly
understand. If I were a magistrate and a fellow came forward with a like
proposal, I would order him out of court; in fact, I should experience
some pleasure in kicking him out. But in this case the magistrate gave a
fatherly benediction and twenty shillings. The missionary, too, was by
no means out of it, for he afterwards took some credit for this sorry

The true story of the girl came out afterwards. It was not one to excite
pity, for it was a shameful one to a degree. But morbid, and I think I
may say maudlin, sympathy is one of the prevailing evils of the day, and
is not founded in real pity or love, or controlled by common-sense or by
the least discretion, as the following will show:

The case of a young woman in whom I was interested was placed before the
public as a “romance,” and consequently well advertised. She was by no
means a desirable person; as a matter of fact, there was nothing to be
said in her favour. The untrue statement she made before the magistrate
was, however, duly circulated. In a few days I received a large number
of letters, many of them from men with proposals of marriage. I did the
best thing possible by burning the latter, with one exception, for this
interested me, as it contained a membership ticket of a religious

The writer told me that he was a God-fearing man, a Church member for
many years, a carpenter in business on his own account, a widower with
several children; that he had prayed over the matter, and it was laid
upon his conscience that he must marry the young woman and save her. He
also enclosed a postal order for 10s., and asked me to pay her rail-fare
and send him a telegram. I returned his membership ticket, his letter,
and his postal order, and some words of my own–brief and pointed:


“You may be a well-meaning man, but you are an ass. What right have
you to submit your children to the care of an abandoned woman?
Marry some decent woman you are acquainted with, and save them and

“Yours truly,


Quite recently a Police-Court Missionary told us through the press that
he had arranged seventy such weddings, that he raised £200 to give the
various couples a start in life, many of whom were so poor that he
loaned them a wedding-ring for the ceremony, as he always kept one by
him for emergencies. Yet he assured us, in spite of the poverty of the
persons concerned, and notwithstanding the disgraceful circumstances
that had brought them within his province, all these marriages had
turned out happily. I sincerely wish that I could believe in the
happiness of couples of this description, married under such
circumstances, but I cannot, for my experience of them has been so very
different. Indeed, I was not surprised to read an account in the press
of the trial of a young man for the murder of his wife, when the wife’s
mother stated that the marriage had been arranged by a Police-Court

When I reflect upon this subject, I must confess myself astonished that
our Bishops and clergy, who insist so strongly on the sacredness of
marriage and of its indissolubility, are silent upon the matter, and
have no advice to give to their representatives upon it.

Especially am I surprised that our good Bishop of London, who is
conversant with every phase of London life, and who has spoken so
fearlessly upon the extent and evils of immorality, is silent on
police-court marriages and police-court separations; for these marriages
are none the less immoral though they be legalized by the State and
blessed by the Church, and the evils of them will not bear
recapitulation. On divorce our leaders have much to say; on marriage
with deceased wives’ sisters they have advice to give. Are the poor to
have no guidance? Are penniless, ignorant, and often gross young people
to be engineered into promiscuous marriage without a protest? Is the
widespread evil that attaches to wholesale “separation” of no
consequence? Are these and suchlike arrangements good enough for the

But there is another light in which these engineered marriages must be
considered. Not very long since one of our judges had before him a young
man charged with the attempted murder of the girl with whom he had kept
company. His jealousy and brutality had alarmed her, so she had given
him up. But he was not to be got rid of so easily, for he waylaid her
and attempted to murder her by cutting her throat. He was charged, but
the charge was reduced to one of grievous bodily harm. At the trial the
young woman was asked by the judge whether she would consent to marry
the prisoner, adding that if she would consent it would make a
difference in the sentence imposed. The matter was adjourned to the next
session, the prisoner being allowed his liberty that the marriage might
be effected. During the adjournment they were married, and when next
before the magistrate the marriage certificate was produced. She saved
the man from prison, and the judge bestowed his benediction in the
following words: “Take her away” (as if, forsooth, she had been the
prisoner) “and be good to her. You have assaulted her before: don’t do
it again”–thus giving him every opportunity of doing at his leisure
what he had barely failed to do in his haste. I ask, Is not a procedure
of this kind a grave misuse of the power of the courts? Is there any
justice about it? Is it fair to place on a young and inexperienced girl
the onus of deciding whether or not her would-be murderer shall be
punished? Is there any sense of propriety in holding a half-veiled
threat over her, and inducing her, against her better judgment, to marry
a jealous and murderous brute? I can find no satisfactory answers to
these questions, and contend such proceedings ought to be impossible in
our courts of justice.

If our penal administrators think that brutality, jealousy, and
murderous instincts can be cured by matrimonial ties, especially when
these ties are forged and riveted under such circumstances, then their
knowledge of human nature is small indeed.

The jealous brute when single is in all conscience bad enough, but when
married he is infinitely worse; for with him jealousy becomes an
absolute mania, and tragedy is almost inevitable. It must not be
understood that all magistrates and judges bring pressure to bear on
wretched or sinning couples for the purpose of compelling matrimony, for
this is not the case. We have need to be thankful that comparatively few
do so. But there is enough of this business done to warrant my calling
attention to it, and in expressing the hope that “romance” of this kind
may speedily die a death from which there is no resurrection. It may be
that among the long list of sordid cases that come before the courts
there are some in which marriage seems the best way out of the tangle,
financial or otherwise. Sometimes, perhaps, it is the only honourable
course, especially where the mother of a child is desirous of it. But it
must be remembered that in these cases the parties have had plenty of
opportunity for marriage previous to appearing before the court, and
would have like opportunities after going from the court, without
magistrates intervening.

But it becomes a public matter when judges or magistrates use their
positions and the power of the law to compel young people, sometimes
mere boys and girls, to marry.

Better a thousand times that many should bear the ills and sorrows that
they have, and go through life with the shadow of disgrace over them,
rather than take as partners those that have been either forced by
circumstances or terrorized by representatives of the law into the
unhappy position.

It may seem strange that, while some of our judges, magistrates, and
missionaries betray anxiety to hurry on these indecent marriages, and to
coerce penniless young people into them, the State should find ready
means for undoing them. It is no uncommon thing for very young women who
have been married but a few months to apply for separation orders and
maintenance orders. I may add also that it is no uncommon thing for
magistrates to grant them. The extent to which separation prevails may
be gathered from the fact that under the Summary Jurisdiction (Married
Women) Act, 1895, there have been granted up to the end of 1906 (the
latest date for which statistics are available) 72,537 separation
orders; and, assuming the average for the years 1902 to 1906 to be
maintained, up to the end of 1907 there would have to be added a further
1,048 separation orders, making a total since the Act came into force of
79,583 such orders.

Surely these figures ought to compel serious thought.