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by [?]

What is the little child to do? Go to bed? Why, it has no bed! If it were earning a little money, its parents might be able to provide a flock or straw bed with some sort of covering; but the poverty of these people is so gnawing and dire that very few lodgings contain anything which could possibly be pawned for twopence. Usually the child seeks the streets; and in the dim and filthy haze he or she sports at large with other ragged companions. Then the women–the match-box makers, trouser-makers, and such like–begin to troop in–and they gravitate towards the gin-shop. The darkness deepens; the bleared lamps blare in the dirty mist; the hoarse roar from the public-house comes forth accompanied by choking wafts of reek; the abominable tramps move towards the lodging-house and pollute the polluted air further with the foulness of their language; the drink mounts into unstable heads; and presently–especially on Saturday nights–there are hoarse growls as from rough-throated beasts, shrill shrieks, and a running chorus of indescribable grossness. Drunken men are quarrelling in the street, drunken women yell and stagger, and the hideous discord fills the night on all sides. No item of corruption is spared the children; and the vile hurly-burly ceases only at midnight. The children will always try to sneak through the swinging doors of the gin inferno when the cold becomes too severe; and they will remain crouched like rats until some capricious guest sends them out with an oath and a kick. There is not one imaginable horror that does not become familiar to these children of despair–and they sometimes have a very good chance of seeing murder. When the last hour comes, and the father and mother return to their dusky den, the child crouches anywhere on the floor; undressing is not practised; and, if any sentimental person will first of all go into a common Board school in a non-theatrical quarter on a wet afternoon, and if he will then drive on and pass through a few hundreds of the theatrical children, his “olfactories” will teach him a lesson which may make him think a good deal.

Now let me put a question or two in the name of common sense. We must balance good and evil; and, granting that the theatre has a tendency to make children light-minded, is it worse than the horror of the slums and the stench and darkness of the single room where a family herd together? The youngster who is engaged at the theatre can set off home at the very latest as soon as the harlequinade is over. Very well; suppose it is late. Would he or she be early if the night were spent in the alley? Not at all! Then the child from the theatre is bathed, fed, taught, clothed nicely, and it gives its parents a little money which procures food. Some say the extra money goes for extra gin–and that may happen in some cases; but, at any rate, the child’s earnings usually purchase a share of food as well as of drink; for the worst blackguard in the world dares not send a starveling to meet the stage-manager. In sum, then, making every possible allowance for the good intentions of those who wish to rescue children from the theatre, I am inclined to fear that they have been hasty. I am not without some knowledge of the various details of the subject; and I have tried to give my judgment as fairly as I could–for I also pity and love the children.