[“Such a scene as we have described ought to be impossible in this rich and luxurious city. Shelter, however rough, food, however coarse, is the natural right of the destitute, and on these miserable November nights there should not be human beings within a stone’s throw of Spring-gardens and Whitehall unable to find even the bare shelter of a roof.
After all is said, it remains the bounden duty of society to prevent any of its members from wanting the bare necessaries of life, and sufficiently large casual wards, or something equivalent, ought to be provided for the desolate waifs and strays of our population. It is difficult to think that the workhouses could not make some sufficient provision of the sort . . . We gain much in London by the condensation of a vast population; we must expect to find corresponding disadvantages, and ought not to grumble if we have to pay something more for the sake of our prosperity and luxury.” – The Times, Nov.14]

Put by the cap and bells a while,
Lay down the bubble for a space,
Banish from off your lips the smile,
And look stern truth straight in the face.
Sitting beside the blazing fire
At home, and at your ease, are you; -
Poor creatures in the mist and mire
Lie on bare earth the long night through!
For shame! This city – dropping gold
For bubble scheme and pleasure vain,
Because it has too much to hold –
Permits, in sight of heaven, this stain.
Throughout it all, by every hearth
Where wealth or competency reigns,
Should stand the spectres of grim dearth,
Cold penury and racking pains.
They, o’er all dear domestic joys,
Should cast a shadow dark and chill,
When in the silence grows the noise
Of beating rains and breezes shrill;
Till in each heart, undulled by gold,
The earnest question will arise,
“Can it be peace while in the cold
And driving sleet my brother lies?”
Who dares to speak of happy homes,
Of Christian lives led day by day,
While to each hand – and vainly – comes
The task to sweep this wrong away?
We – who can costly trophies raise,
Lest famous victories be forgot,
Who churches build for prayer or praise –
Yet let the living temples rot!
Beside my hearth the spectre stands,
With eyes that silently beseech,
It wrings its supplicating hands; -
Oh! heaven, that I might lend it speech,
To send a stir through all the land,
As late surged earth’s convulsive throe,
That men might wake to understand
What they so dearly ought to know.
Up, sluggard, from the ingle-nook –
Begone into the highway, straight;
And on the hideous ulcer look
Of this vast place we boast so great!
Go forth – behold the wretched sight,
The houseless misery forlorn –
The spectacle of wrong, the light
Of heaven shall see to-morrow morn!
Men, women, children, hunger’d, gaunt,
With scarce a rag about their bones;
Poor ghosts, that all the night will haunt
The streets, and pillow on the stones.
Go –see the bitter blot that mars
The blessedness of night, - and there,
Beneath the pure, pale, pitying stars,
Repeat CAIN’S question, if you dare!
- Fun.

Title:Workhouse Porters, Or Brothers' Keepers?


Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:November 28th, 1863

Keywords:charity, morality, poverty


Although taken from a metropolitan magazine (Fun) and describing the conditions of the London poor, this poem would have had resonance in a region blighted by extreme poverty caused by the Cotton Famine. It is especially relevant in that it reiterates the religious necessity of charity for the poor, and implores those with means not to turn away from sufferers. The editorial comment from the Times which heads this piece is interesting in that it makes the point that the great wealth that has been made in London should meant that poverty could easily be relieved. The same point was made in the north west of England after decades of successful cotton production. – SR