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A DAY OF PURIFICATION
LET us signalise the advent of the twentieth century of the Christian era by inaugurating an annual dedication of one day to a general and determined effort for a social and material improvement of high consequence to the physical and moral welfare of our people.
Let one day in this, the first year of the new century, and, if posterity see fit, in all its subsequent years, be set apart and devoted wholly to a special campaign against, to a specially vigorous onslaught upon, dirt-to the sweeping away, the washing away, the carrying away, the destruction of dirt-dirt in the widest interpretation of the term: the dirt of persons and dress, and rooms, and passages, and stairs, and buildings of all sorts and kinds, the dirt of yards, and streets, and roads, of every place, in fact, in town or country, inhabited by or used by man or animal.
Let it be a day of dedication to this most useful service, this most desirable object.
Once in the year let there be an united effort to make our houses and their surroundings, to the best of our abilities, as clean as we can make them, and the air which pervades them somewhat purer and fresher; let us have one special day when, throughout the length and breadth of the land, a great and simultaneous effort shall be made by all classes and individuals towards purification and cleanliness.
The suggestion may strike strange at first, but there is nothing startling or unusual in setting apart a special day for a particular purpose.
We have our religious festivals, days in memory of the great facts or events of our religious creed.
We have Bank holidays, four in the year, when people cease from work and abandon themselves to pleasure.
On certain great national occasions, days are, by special order or proclamation, set apart for humiliation, or for thanksgiving, as the case may be.
It is not a strange suggestion, therefore, that one day in each year should be devoted to a particular object.
Nor is the object so strange as at first sight might appear. Civilised mankind wages, and has in very self-preservation to wage, an unceasing war against dirt.
It would not be specially strange, then, that one day should be set apart for a special effort in that war, to a vigorous attack all along the line, and with all the forces and resources we can command, upon that which soils and spoils our existence, upon that which works such havoc with the comfort, and happiness, and health, and with the lives of great numbers of our people.
It was said by the Royal Commissioners on the Housing of the Working Classes in their Report of 1885-that important Commission in which His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales took so laborious a part and so keen an interest- Dirt is an evil almost as conducive to social misery as drink and other self-indulgence.'
What a vista of horrors and abominations, of foulness and unwholesomeness this succinct and powerful description at once presents to the mind's eye-what a graphic, suggestive picture, 'An evil almost as conducive to social misery as drink'!
And the absolutely unanimous opinion and verdict of medical scientists-based upon laborious investigations and great discoveries -are, that most of the dangers to the public health arise from dirt; that dirt, when not actually the originating cause, is the hotbed, the forcing house, of disease, the contributing cause to the destruction on a large scale of human life.
The virulence of many of the great visitations of disease which swept across Europe and our own islands has been in great measure due to the filthy condition in which they found the great masses of the population. In later, indeed in quite recent, times serious local outbreaks of disease have also been clearly demonstrated as due to the same cause-to foul and dirty water, to defective or uncleansed drains, or unemptied and leaky cesspools, to the filthy surroundings of dwellings, to the dirty condition of the rooms, or passages, or stairs in those dwellings, and of the people who inhabited them.
And yet, the idea that dirt is a dangerous evil has been slow in permeating the public mind. So many people do not like the trouble of cleanliness, either as regards their houses, clothes, or persons; so many are hard pressed for the time to give to cleaning, or do not wish to or cannot afford the necessary expense of cleanliness. Old people, in particular, whose age is supposed to add wisdom to their dicta, threw all their weight against changes and sanitary improvements. We never minded such things in our day,' they would say, and here we are. We didn't die of bad drainage. We got on quite well without your modern fads.'
But gradually the fact that dirt was not only an evil, but also a very active and aggressive enemy, was brought home to people in the most unpleasant but unavoidably convincing way. And with the
demonstration of that fact it became recognised that measures must be adopted to grapple with it.
So vast, however, was the work to be done that only the Government or Legislature was capable of the task. Individual effort was manifestly quite unequal to it.
And so Parliament took the subject up, and for years past has been adding statute to statute for promoting and safeguarding the public health-or, in other words, to combating the fiend of dirt-beginning with the grosser and more extended forms and effects of the evil, and becoming more insistent and minute in its ordinances as time went on. Until what is a great code of sanitary legislation has been enacted, embodying the most comprehensive provisions for coping with the ever-present evil; and a great Government Department has been instituted for supervising and helping the local authorities in the general administration and enforcement of the law.
And armed with the powers conferred upon them by this legislation, local governing bodies of all sorts and kinds have for years past been taking vigorous measures. Municipal Corporations and Town Councils, great and small, have undertaken huge and costly works for the carrying away of the sewage of their cities and towns, and for providing the people with a proper supply of water, and have made provision for the cleaning and cleansing of their streets, and the deportation of the refuse of the households.
And both country and town have been covered with a great staff of sanitary authorities and officials to give effect to, and to enforce, the laws which had been enacted.
This great code of legislation has been of inestimable advantage to the country.
The authorities created by it have done an incalculable amount of good in diminishing the evils they were appointed to war against, and in securing results which it would not have been in the power of any individuals to secure. The large number of Medical Officers of Health and Sanitary Inspectors scattered throughout the land have insisted on work being done and nuisances being abated which, except for them, would not have been done. In some cities not only have houses been condemned as unfit for human habitation, and pulled down, but large areas of dwellings, insanitary from foulness, have been cleared, and better houses built thereon, houses with better sanitary provision and more light and air.
In effect, many of the greater, the graver forms of what are technically described as 'nuisances,' have been abated, and many crying evils have been grappled with.
Indirectly, also, the discussion of sanitation has exercised considerable influence and pressure upon various public bodies and upon owners of houses, both in towns and country; and there is no town where great improvements have not been made, independent of legal compulsion, no counties in which some improvements have not taken
place, new labourers' dwellings of a larger and better sort having been erected by many landlords.
But the enemy, dirt, has not been conquered. The forces to fight him may have been raised and disciplined; the weapons wherewith best to meet him may have been forged, and his dominion may have been somewhat curtailed.
But just as water will ever go to its own level, so does a large portion of humanity tend back to dirt-whether from laziness, indifference, or helplessness is immaterial.
And there have been lethargy and obstruction, and sometimes even opposition, on the part of some of the authorities charged with the sanitary regeneration of their districts; and there have been slackness and remissness on the part of many of them in putting the provisions of the Acts of Parliament into force. In many districts, too, the number of Sanitary Inspectors has been left quite inadequate to the task allotted them, and horrible things continue to go on unknown to them under their very noses.
The public get glimpses of these things in the reports which appear every now and then in the Press of inquests on the bodies of persons who have died in extreme poverty and isolation, of the appalling state of filth in which the room or rooms inhabited by the deceased have been found-so foul and abominable that even those accustomed to dreadful sights and circumstances bave shrunk back overwhelmed by the condition of things.
In the reports of cases at the Police Courts, too, the most horrible details of the condition in which some people live are also occasionally disclosed.
And, as unfortunately so often happens, when a sudden epidemic breaks out in some locality, what a hurrying and a scurrying to and fro there is among the sanitary authorities and their officers; what consultations with medical authorities, what disinfectings, and washings, and scourings, and scavengings, what rush of imperative orders to all householders!-all proving how defective the sanitary condition of things had been when the outbreak occurred, how much there had been left undone, how much there was to do to make things as clean as they ought to be.
That is one sphere of the sanitary or dirt question, the sphere which is within the control of publicly constituted authorities.
And then there is another great sphere which falls entirely within the province of the individual, a vast terrain which comes not within the cognisance or control of the public bodies and public officers, where dirt of various kinds exists and flourishes in various degrees, possibly not dirt in that acutely dangerous form which justifies the interference and penalties of the law to suppress, but nevertheless dirt, with its disgusting accompaniments, its unlovely consequences, and its unfortunate tendencies.
A large library might be formed of what has been written
describing the dirt, the filth in which large masses of people live, move, and have their being, not merely the population of the great cities or of the towns, where overcrowding leads to the most lamentable results, but of villages also, even of the isolated cottage.
There is, in reality, but a small proportion of houses in the kingdom-unless they be quite new ones-which have not their dark and dirty corners. Attics with dust and dirt undisturbed for years, cumbered with useless rubbish, lumber of all and every sort, old papers, old articles of apparel which have passed beyond even fitness for a jumble sale, or the old clothes auctions in poorer London; all the litter the débris of household life left there indefinitely because no one had the energy to get rid of it or destroy it, all undergoing a process of decay or gradual transmutation into dirt. Rooms with walls and ceilings stained with dirt or damp, stuffy with the uncleanness of past generations, with forgotten memorials of disease and death. And underground cellars reeking with moisture and tenanted by obnoxious creatures.
Even in some of the best kept of old houses there are many corners which would be the better for clearing out and cleaning.
But these are trifles, mere specks on the face of the country, compared with the condition of large numbers of the houses in the great cities and towns, and even in the villages and farmsteadings.
And it is when we go down lower in the scale of human habitations and classes the greater become the evils of dirt, until we come to the overcrowded dwellings of the poor.
It is here we reach a filth which is a standing menace to the welfare of the community, a filth which degrades those who live in it, which begets, and fosters, and nourishes disease; which slays its annual hecatomb of victims; which saps the vital energies of masses of our people; and which makes harder and more miserable the lives of countless numbers of our working population.
Here we are face to face with what is a national disgrace, and what, if not boldly grappled with, may in process of time become a national danger. The stables of our horses, even the kennels of our dogs, often are cleaner and airier than some of the overcrowded dens in which the people live.
In many cases even the newly-built houses are little of an improvement on the old ones; 'jerry-built houses, run up simply as more or less swindling financial speculations, and so built in the flimsiest, cheapest way, and constructed of the worst material- bad bricks, bad drains, bad workmanship, bad everything, rotten from the first.'
Nor is it merely inside the houses and buildings that dirt exists. For outside them, in yard or garden, what heaps of accumulated filth, of rotting rags, of decaying wood, of rusting iron, of broken crockery, what pools of foul and stagnant water!
It is not only in the great cities and towns that such a sad state of affairs exists. In small towns and also in the villages there are