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A Walk in a Workhouse
ON a certain Sunday, I formed one of the congregation assembled in the chapel of a
large metropolitan Workhouse. With the exception of the clergyman and clerk, and a
very few officials, there were none but paupers present. The children sat in the galleries;
the women in the body of the chapel, and in one of the side aisles; the men in the
remaining aisle. The service was decorously performed, though the sermon might have
been much better adapted to the comprehension and to the circumstances of the
hearers. The usual supplications were offered, with more than the usual significancy in
such a place, for the fatherless children and widows, for all sick persons and young
children, for all that were desolate and oppressed, for the comforting and helping of the
weak-hearted, for the raising-up of them that had fallen; for all that were in danger,
necessity, and tribulation. The prayers of the congregation were desired 'for several
persons in the various wards dangerously ill;' and others who were recovering returned
their thanks to Heaven.
Among this congregation, were some evil-looking young women, and beetle-browed
young men; but not many - perhaps that kind of characters kept away. Generally, the
faces (those of the children excepted) were depressed and subdued, and wanted
colour. Aged people were there, in every variety. Mumbling, blear-eyed, spectacled,
stupid, deaf, lame; vacantly winking in the gleams of sun that now and then crept in
through the open doors, from the paved yard; shading their listening ears, or blinking
eyes, with their withered hands; poring over their books, leering at nothing, going to
sleep, crouching and drooping in corners. There were weird old women, all skeleton
within, all bonnet and cloak without, continually wiping their eyes with dirty dusters of
pocket- handkerchiefs; and there were ugly old crones, both male and female, with a
ghastly kind of contentment upon them which was not at all comforting to see. Upon the
whole, it was the dragon, Pauperism, in a very weak and impotent condition; toothless,
fangless, drawing his breath heavily enough, and hardly worth chaining up.
When the service was over, I walked with the humane and conscientious gentleman
whose duty it was to take that walk, that Sunday morning, through the little world of
poverty enclosed within the workhouse walls. It was inhabited by a population of some
fifteen hundred or two thousand paupers, ranging from the infant newly born or not yet
come into the pauper world, to the old man dying on his bed.
In a room opening from a squalid yard, where a number of listless women were
lounging to and fro, trying to get warm in the ineffectual sunshine of the tardy May
morning - in the 'Itch Ward,' not to compromise the truth - a woman such as HOGARTH
has often drawn, was hurriedly getting on her gown before a dusty fire. She was the