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In the case of the little children there are none, or few, at any rate, of the drawbacks. Not one in fifty goes on the stage; the mites are engaged only at certain seasons; and their harvest-time enables poor people to obtain many little comforts and necessaries. Further, there is one curious thing which may not be known to the highly particular sect–no manager, actor, or actress would use a profane or coarse word among the children; such an offender would be scouted by the roughest member of any company and condemned by the very stage-carpenters. I own that I have sometimes wished that a child here and there could be warm asleep on a chilly night, especially when the young creature was perilously suspended from a wire; but that is very nearly the furthest extent of my pity. So long as the youngsters are not required to perform dangerous or unnatural feats, they need no pity. Instead of being inured to brutalities, they are actually taken away from brutality–for no man or woman would sully their minds. We have heard it said that the stage-children who return to school after their spell of pantomime corrupt the others. This is a gross and stupid falsehood which is calculated to injure a cause that has many good points. I earnestly sympathise with the well-meaning people who desire to succour the little ones; but I beseech them not to be led away by misstatements which are concocted for sensational purposes. So far from corrupting other children, the young actors invariably act as a good influence in a school. The experienced observer can almost make certain of picking out the boys and girls who have had a stage-training. They like to be smart and cleanly, their deportment and general manners are improved, and they are almost invariably superior in intelligence to the ordinary school-trained child. Imagine Mme. Katti Lanner having a corrupt influence! Imagine those delightful beings who play “Alice in Wonderland” corrupting anybody or anything! I have always been struck by the pretty manners of the trained children–and the advance in refinement is especially noticeable among those who have been speaking or singing parts. The most pleasing set of youths that I ever met were the members of a comic-opera troupe. Some of them, without an approach to freedom of manner, would converse with good sense on many topics, and their drill had been so extended as to include a knowledge of polite salutes. Not one of the boys or girls would have been ill at ease in a drawing-room; and I found their educational standard quite up to that of any Board school known to me. These nice little folk were certainly in no wise pallid or distraught; and, when they danced on the stage, the performance was a beautiful and delightful romp which suggested no idea of pain. To see the “prima donna” of the company trundling her hoop on a bright morning was as pretty a sight as one would care to see. The little lady was neither forward nor unhealthy, nor anything else that is objectionable–and it was plain that she enjoyed her life. Is it in the least likely that any sane manager would ill-treat a little child that was required to be pleasing? One or two acrobats have been known to be stern with their apprentices; but the rudest circus-man would not venture to exhibit a pupil who looked unhappy. The rascally “Arabs” who entrapped so many boys in years gone by were fiends who met with very appropriate retribution; but such villains are not common.

I am always haunted by the argument about late hours–and give it every weight. As aforesaid, I used sometimes to wish that some wee creature could only be wrapped in a night-gown and sent to rest. But, for the benefit of those who cannot well imagine what the horrors of a city slum are like, let me describe the nightly scene in a typical city alley. It is cold in the pantomime season; but the folk in that alley have not much fire. Joe, the costermonger, Bill, the market-labourer, Tom, the fish-porter, and the rest come home in a straggling way; and, if they can buy a pennyworth of coal, they boil the little kettle. Then one of the children runs to the chandler’s and gets a halfpennyworth of tea, a scrap of bread, and perhaps a penny slice of sausage. The men stint themselves in food and firing; but they always have a little to spare for gin and beer and tobacco. There is no light in the evil-smelling room; but there is a place at the corner of the alley where the gas is burning as cheerily as the foul wreaths of smoke will permit. The men go out and squat on barrels in the hideous bar; then they call for some liquor which may be warranted to take speedy effect; then they smoke, and try to forget.