Page images
[ocr errors]

These old stone structures, standing in half-darkness for a hundred years, never having proper ventilation, never proper airing, are infected with bugs and vermin. In my own case and this is typical of the old prison the old cell-block in Blackwell's Island was bug-ridden. In my day there were thousands of bugs in my cell. I struggled valiantly, constantly, and industriously. But it was a hopeless fight. I had some books, and the bugs made nests in them. They crept over me when I slept - they made life miserable. I am not blaming the warden for this. I am describing a fact that we might as well face. But the sense of sanitation is not very keen among prison officials taken as a whole. There are a few exceptions, mostly in the new prisons.

The meaning of cell-life under these conditions cannot be conceived. I recall the day when I was first put in a cell. I stepped into a little yellow space -the walls seemed drawn together, and I halted at the door. A little yellow half-burned bulb was stuck up in the corner; there was a narrow iron cot against the wall. I heard the door behind me slam, and I felt myself cramped for space, for air, for movement. I turned quickly after the retreating officer, and called him back.

'What do you want?'

'Will - will I have to stay in this place all night?'

and took out a little book that I had with me.

When I came into the prison that morning, I had some books, but they were taken away. I protested that I had to have something to read - I simply had to have something. The keeper objected that it was against the rules. He looked at my books carefully, and then picked out a little paper-covered volume, which he gave me with the remark, 'You can have this. We permit men to bring in anything that is religious.' It was William Morris's News from Nowhere. The little glimmering light on the yellow page, and in a few minutes I was off in dreamland — I followed Morris's idyllic picture and perfect beings into a world where there were no prisons and no unemployed.

This happy setting was interrupted by the sobs of a boy next to my cell — he too was a newcomer. He sobbed hysterically, 'My God, what shall I do? What shall I do?' I climbed down from my cot, knocked on the wall of his cell, and tried to talk to him. But he paid no attention to me. He just sobbed and cried like a child torn from its mother, as if his heart would break.

Finding no response, I clambered back to my place, and was soon off in dreamland again. I did not wake until the lights were turned out at nine o'clock. I looked out of my cell and saw, through the far-off window in the outer wall, a star glimmering; then,

He laughed. "You will get used to it without undressing, straightening my soon enough.'

blankets, I fell asleep and, in my sleep, dreamed of the free fields of early childhood.

I turned back to my cell. The walls slowly retreated and made more room for me, so that I crept in and away from I mentioned the dirty blankets on the door. The yellow glimmering light the cot. I used that word deliberately. hurt my eyes. It was fully half an hour It is not uncommon for the blankets before I adjusted myself to the fact which a man gets in prison to be that I was there for the night. On my dirty. They are rarely cleaned or fumilittle narrow iron cot, I found two dirty gated. One man goes out and another blankets. I rolled them up, shoved goes in receiving the blankets the them against the wall beneath the light, other used, without any attempt to

clean or wash them; and of course there are no sheets. I have seen blankets so dirty that the dust actually fell out of them when you moved them. This is not true of all prisons, but is of many.

It is not uncommon to find a prison where the men have not their own individual underwear. The underwear is sent to the laundry, and a man gets what luck will bring him: some is too long, some too short; some has been used by healthy men, some by men who were sick with contagious diseases. In some prisons the small cells have two men to a cell. There are two cots, one above the other; and these men live in this narrow cramped place and at times the health of the men so crowded is not examined. They use the same bucket and drink out of the same cup. Practically none of the prisons pay the men for their work. A few places make it possible for a few men to earn what might be considered a fair wage, but the mass of the prisoners earn little, in many cases nothing. Just at random: New York pays its prisoners one cent and a half a day; California and Massachusetts pay them nothing. And yet, it is asked why the men are not interested and ambitious!

Practically none of the prisons make a serious attempt to educate their prisoners. The eight grades for illiterates are in use in places but as a rule they amount to little, both the system and the method being antiquated and the spirit poor. In only one or two places is there a real attempt to use for educational purposes the extraordinary advantages of time and control which prisons imply. San Quentin is conspicuous by the fact that it is making a real attempt in that direction. What I have said about education is true of health. Health is neglected. Here and there the fact that crime and

health, both physical and mental, have a relation to each other, is gradually being recognized, but not as much or as fully as one would expect.

This rather sketchy description of American penal conditions is unfair to the exceptions- but the exceptions are few and far between. There is not a prison in the country, in so far as I have seen them, that does not fall into this general picture in one or more of its phases. Of the worst prisons, all that I have said is true. Of the better ones, some of the things I have said are true. For the casual visitor, who is taken around by a guard or by the warden, who is told all the good things and not permitted to see the bad ones, whom lack of experience and knowledge makes gullible, this may seem a startling story. If it is startling, it is not more so than the facts are.

[ocr errors]


There are other things about the prison - developments of parole, education, self-government, farm-labor— which are more hopeful than the picture painted here. These, however, must be left over for another time. I have separated the hopeful things in the prison situation from the outstanding shortcomings, deliberately. To combine them is to give the optimist and we are all ready to hang our optimism to the most fleeting excuse opportunity to rationalize and escape the burden of present evil. The present prison system is bad. I have hardly described all its evils. Some cannot be written about without greater finesse and literary subtlety than I possess. Others were hidden from me. There are indications of a possible way out, of better things, of more hopeful use of human intelligence; but to date, all of these are negligible and limited, even if a significant contribution to penal methods.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

THIS year we are celebrating the third centennial of the landing of the Pilgrims, and our people are making an effort gratefully to recall the tremendous event. To do so requires considerable effort; for to any but themselves Puritans have generally been a distasteful folk. Especially was the last century for them a time of bitter and almost continuous attack, caricature, and denunciation. Now, however, when the gaunt figures no longer walk our streets, feeling has grown kinder and aversions less clamorous. Not unwelcome now will be a dispassionate estimate of what the Puritan actually was.

To understand him, we must study him in his breeding-place, the Puritan home; for that was the most fundamental of Puritan institutions. Its effects were prodigious. It formed New England. Out of it came much of the mind and character of the entire country. Many of the older among us have felt its invigorating influence. Yet it is now in decay, where it has not altogether disappeared. Its usages are largely unknown, its strength and weaknesses have seldom been coolly studied. Often has it served as picturesque material for our novelists; but only to be held up to scorn as an oppressor of youth and a fosterer of gloom and hypocrisy.

I was brought up in it, am profoundly grateful for its discipline, and feel that I owe to it more than half of all that has made my life beautiful and rewarding. To-day I would come forward as its


eulogist. And while not blind to its defects, aware indeed that its sudden passing has been inevitable, I would insist that American civilization will have a hard task to find a source from which to draw an inspiration so bounteous and so constructive.

To fix the worth of the Puritan home I shall endeavor first to give a clear account of the facts usually found in such homes, and then proceed to trace the setting and influence of those facts.

What was the daily current of life in a Puritan home? All recognize that its distinctive feature was its elaborate religious training. But how did that training secure its hold on the young? To be of any worth, this depictive side of my subject should be minute and well authenticated. I will base it on a description of my own childhood, and thus will show in some detail what were the assumptions, the practices, and the ideals of a typical Puritan home.


My father was a Boston merchant, who had come from the country and by diligence had climbed to a competence. In our home all was plain and solid. There was no luxury. Expenditure was carefully studied, and waste incessantly fought. But we had all that was needed. for comfort and dignity, and on all that, we possessed and did religion set its mark. To exhibit that ever-present influ ence, I trace the course of a single day.

On rising I read a chapter of the Bible and had a prayer by myself. Then to breakfast, where each of the family repeated a verse of scripture, my father afterward asking a blessing on the meal. No meal was taken without this benediction. When breakfast was ended, the servants were summoned to family prayers, which ended with the Lord's Prayer, repeated together.

Then we children were off to school, which was opened with Bible-reading and prayer. Of school there were two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon; so that our principal play-time was between four-thirty and six o'clock, with study around the family table after supper. Later in the evening, when the servants' work was done, they joined us once more at family prayers; after which we children kissed each member of the family and departed to bed, always however, before undressing, reading a chapter of the Bible by ourselves and offering an accompanying prayer. Each day, therefore, I had six seasons of Biblereading and prayer- two in the family, two by myself, and two at school; and this in addition to the threefold blessing of the food. No part of the day was without consecration. The secular and the sacred were completely intertwined.

Permeated thus as was every day with divine suggestion, it may be said that on Sunday our very conversation was in the heavens. On that day the labor of the servants was lightened, so that they too might rest and attend church. Many household cares were then thrown upon us children, and it was arranged that there should be little cooking. But while play and labor ceased and solemnity reigned, it was an approved and exalting solemnity; for then occurred two preaching services and a session of Sunday School.

To me the day was one of special

[ocr errors]

happiness, because my father was then at home, and during almost every hour of the day was his children's companion. We gathered about him for cheerful talk after breakfast, and after the noon dinner he usually read to us from The Pilgrim's Progress, or some other benign and attractive book. After supper the whole family assembled in the parlor, and when each one present had repeated a hymn or poem, we had an hour of music-solos on the piano by the girls, and familiar hymns sung without book by the entire company.

Toward the end of the evening my father was apt to put his arm around one of the children and draw him into the library for a half-hour's private talk. Blessed and influential sessions these, serving the purpose of the Roman confessional! As frank as that and as peace-bringing, but freed from its formality, with no other authority recognized than a common allegiance to a Heavenly Father, the independence of us little ones guarded by the abounding wisdom, tenderness, trust, and even playfulness of our adored companion.


Such unceasing presence in the Puritan home of the religious motive might easily have become unwholesome and enfeebling, had it not been attended by several other powerful influences, which diversified it and enriched the nature to which religion gave stability. As these supporting interests are generally overlooked by those who censure the Puritan home, I name a few of them.

To the family tie the Puritans gave great prominence. Marriage was a sacrament, and the family a divine institution, where each member was charged with the well-being of all. In my own family there was little authoritative restriction. With father and mother we children were on terms of tender and

reverential intimacy. They joined us in our games, were sharers in our studies, friendships, and aspirations. To them we expressed freely our half-formed thoughts. If one of them took a journey, one of us was pretty sure to be a companion.


In a family where there were few servants, each of us took part in household duties. There were rooms to be set in order, wood to be split, errands to be run. The older children must wait on the younger. In this way all were drawn together by common Brothers and sisters became close friends. Affection was deep and openly expressed. With no fear of sentimentality, we kissed one another often, always on going to bed, on rising, and usually when leaving the house for even a few hours. We were generous with our small pocket-moneys, and wept when the ending vacation carried away to boarding-school a member of our group. The Puritan home cannot be rightly estimated without noting the tenacity of family affection, which its devout atmosphere directly contributed to induce.


Furthermore, there was the insistence on learning, fostered by the presence of abundant books, by the studies around the centre table in the evening, by the reading aloud that went on wherever three or four could be gathered together. My father was not a college graduate, eagerly as he had desired to be. He sent his brother to Yale and accepted a business life for himself. But he more than made up the regretted loss by diligent reading, and to all his children he gave the utmost education they would accept.

I think this insistence on education was usual in Puritan families. Lavish expense was incurred for it when stringent economy was practised elsewhere.

The foundation of Harvard College in the early and poverty-stricken years of the Puritan colony was characteristic of Puritanism everywhere. It set great store on intellectual vigor and filled its homes with books. Our public libraries have done us one disservice. They have checked the habit of buying books. The libraries of my father and grandfather were considerable, containing most of the important books in history, biography, divinity, and poetry. Physical science was then just starting. Of fiction there was little; until the beginning of the nineteenth century, novelists were few.


There is a widespread impression that Puritanism was hostile to the Fine Arts. I believe it to be untrue, or, at most, true only with reference to the lighter, more ornamental and vivacious of the arts. In the view of the Puritan life was not meant for amusement. Whatever fostered self-indulgence or heedless gayety was certainly frowned on. But in my childhood several of the Fine Arts, notably poetry and music, were cultivated with an ardor and general approval infrequent to-day. From our family library none of the great English poets was absent. My grandfather loved Pope, my father Shakespeare and Byron, my mother Cowper. All three wrote respectable verse, as did several of the children. Most persons did. No one of us ever doubted that to be a poet or a composer of music was the highest attainment of human faculty, unless indeed that preeminence might be challenged by the minister, to whom these artistic seers were thought to be near of kin. We studied our poets, therefore, as those who brought us messages of importance. We committed their verses to memory enormously.

A clerical uncle begged that I might

« PreviousContinue »