GINX’S BABY: His Birth and other Misfortunes. A Satire
By Edward Jenkins (1871)
Full text of the novella here: Ginx’s Baby, by Edward Jenkins (gutenberg.org)
Selected extracts to skim below
[Short bio] Sarah Wise teaches 19th-century literature and social history courses at the Bishopsgate Institute and the City Lit, and is an adjunct at the University of California’s London-based London Study Program. She is the author of three books and has most recently contributed to the London Journal on the topography of late-19th century London poverty in fiction; and has an essay on Charles Booth’s influence on ‘slum fiction’ forthcoming in D Maltz (ed) Arthur Morrison and the East End (Routledge, due out 2021).
EXTRACTS from the novel, in sequence
[From CHAPTER ONE] In eighteen months, notwithstanding resolves, menaces, and prophecies, GINX’S BABY was born. The mother hid the impending event long, from the father. When he came to know it, he fixed his determination by much thought and a little extra drinking. He argued thus: “He wouldn’t go on the parish. He couldn’t keep another youngster to save his life. He had never taken charity and never would. There was nothink to do with it but drown it!” Female friends of Mrs. Ginx bruited his intentions about the neighbourhood, so that her “time” was watched for with interest. At last it came. One afternoon Ginx, lounging home, saw signs of excitement around his door in Rosemary Street, Westminster. A knot of women and children awaited his coming. Passing through them he soon learned what had happened. Poor Mrs. Ginx! Without staying to think or argue, he took up the little stranger and bore it from the room——
“O, O, O, Ginx! Ginx!!”
She would have risen, but a strong power called weakness pulled her back.
The man meanwhile had reached the street.
“Here he comes! There’s the baby! He’s going to do it, sure enough!” shrieked the women. The children stood agape. He stopped to consider. It is very well to talk about drowning your baby, but to do it you need two things, water and opportunity. Vauxhall Bridge was the nearest way to the former, and towards it Ginx turned.
“Take the child from him!”
The crowd grew larger, and impeded the man’s progress. Some of his fellow-workmen stood by regarding the fun.
“Leave us aloan, naabors,” shouted Ginx; “this is my own baby, and I’ll do wot I likes with it. I kent keep it; an’ if I’ve got anythin’ I kent keep, it’s best to get rid of it, ain’t it? This child’s goin’ over Wauxhall Bridge.”
But the women clung to his arms and coattails.
“Hallo! What’s all this about?” said a sharp, strong man, well-dressed, and in good condition, coming up to the crowd; “another foundling! Confound the place, the very stones produce babies. Where was it found?”
CHORUS (recognizing a deputy-relieving officer). It warn’t found at all; it’s Ginx’s baby.
OFFICER. Ginx’s baby? Who’s Ginx?
GINX. I am.
CHORUS. He’s goin’ to drown it.
OFFICER. Going to drown it? Nonsense.
GINX. I am.
OFFICER. But, bless my heart, that’s murder!
GINX. No ’tain’t. I’ve twelve already at home. Starvashon’s sure to kill this ‘un. Best save it the trouble.
CHORUS. Take it away, Mr. Smug, he’ll kill it if you don’t.
OFFICER. Stuff and nonsense! Quite contrary to law! Why, man, you’re bound to support your child. You can’t throw it off in that way;—nor on the parish neither. Give me your name. I must get a magistrate’s order. The act of parliament is as clear as daylight. I had a man up under it last week. “Whosoever shall unlawfully abandon or expose any child, being under the age of two years whereby the life of such child shall be endangered or the health of such child shall have been or shall be likely to be permanently injured (drowning comes under that I think) shall be GUILTY OF a MISDEMEANOR and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be KEPT IN PENAL SERVITUDE for the term of three years or to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years with or without hard labor.”
Mr. Smug, the officer, rolled out this section in a sonorous monotone, without stops, like a clerk of the court. It was his pride to know by heart all the acts relating to his department, and to bring them down upon any obstinate head that he wished to crush. Ginx’s head, however, was impervious to an act of parliament.
GINX. D—— the act of parliament! What’s the use of saying I shan’t abandon the child, when I can’t keep it alive?
OFFICER. But you’re bound by law to keep it alive.
GINX. Bound to keep it alive? How am I to do it? There’s the rest on ’em there (nodding towards his house) little better nor alive now. If that’s an act of Parleyment, why don’t the act of Parleyment provide for ’em? You know what wages is, and I can’t get more than is going.
CHORUS. Yes. Why don’t Parleyment provide for ’em? You take the child, Mr. Smug.
OFFICER (regardless of grammar). ME take the child! The parish has enough to do to take care of foundlings and children whose parents can’t or don’t work. You don’t suppose we will look after the children of those who can?
GINX. Jest so. You’ll bring up bastards and beggars’ pups, but you won’t help an honest man to keep his head above water. This child’s head is goin’ under water anyhow!—and he prepared to bolt, amid fresh screams from the Chorus.
Two gentlemen, who had been observing the excitement, here came forward.
FIRST GENTLEMAN. This is our problem again, Mr. Philosopher.
Mr. PHILOSOPHER (to Ginx). You don’t know what to do with your infant, my friend, and you think the State ought to provide for it? I understand you to say this is your thirteenth child. How came you to have so many?
This question, though put with profound and even melancholy gravity, disconcerted Ginx, Officer, and Chorus, who united in a hearty outburst of laughter.
GINX. Haw, Haw, Haw! How came I to have so many? Why my old woman’s a good un and——
In fact, after searching his mind for some clever way of putting a comical rejoinder, Ginx laughed boisterously. There are two aspects of a question.
PHILOSOPHER. I am serious, my friend. Did it never occur to you that you had no right to bring children into the world unless you could feed and clothe and educate them?
CHORUS. Laws a’ mercy!
GINX. I’d like to know how I could help it, naabor. I’m a married man.
PHILOSOPHER. Well, I will go further and say you ought not to have married without a fair prospect of being able to provide for any contingent increase of family.
CHORUS. Laws a’ mercy!
PHILOSOPHER (waxing warm). What right had you to marry a poor woman, and then both of you, with as little forethought as two—a—dogs, or other brutes—to produce between you such a multitudinous progeny—
GINX. Civil words, naabor; don’t call my family hard names.
PHILOSOPHER. Then let me say, such a monstrous number of children as thirteen? You knew, as you said just now, that wages were wages and did not vary much. And yet you have gone on subdividing your resources by the increase of what must become a degenerate offspring.
The philosopher had gone too far. There were some angry murmurs among the women and Ginx’s face grew dark.
STONEMASON. Your doctrines won’t go down here, Mr. Philosopher. I’ve ‘eard of them before. I’d just like to ask you what a man’s to do and what a woman’s to do if they don’t marry: and if they do, how can you honestly hinder them from having any children?
The stonemason had rudely struck out the cardinal issues of the question.
PHILOSOPHER. Well, to take the last point first, there are physical and ethical questions involved in it, which it is hard to discuss before such an audience as this.
STONEMASON. But you must discuss ’em, if you wish us to change our ways, and stop breeding.
CHORUS. Best get out o’ this. We don’t want any o’ yer filhosophy. Go and get childer’ of yer own, &c., &c.
The Philosopher and his friend departed, carrying with them unsolved the problem they had brought.
CHAPTER VIII.—The Baby’s First Translation.
The stonemason had been the hero of the moment; now attention centred on our own hero. Ginx hurried off again, but as the crowd opened before him, he was met, and his mad career stayed, by a slight figure, feminine, draped in black to the feet, wearing a curiously framed white-winged hood above her pale face, and a large cross suspended from her girdle. He could not run her down.
NUN. Stop, MAN! Are you mad? Give me the child.
He placed the little bundle in her arms. She uncovered the queer, ruby face, and kissed it. Ginx had not looked at the face before, but after seeing it, and the act of this woman, he could not have touched a hair of his child’s head. His purpose died from that moment, though his perplexity was still alive.
NUN. Let me have it. I will take it to the Sisters’ Home, and it shall live there. Your wife may come and nurse it. We will take charge of it.
GINX. And you won’t send it back again? You’ll take it for good and all?
NUN. O, yes.
GINX. Good. Give us yer hand.
A little white hand came out from under her burthen, and was at once half-crushed in Ginx’s elephantine grasp.
GINX. Done. Thank’ee, missus. Come, mates, I’ll stand a drink.
A few minutes after, the woman of the cross, who had been up to comfort the poor mother, fluttered with her white wings down Rosemary Street, carrying in her arms Ginx’s Baby.
PART II. WHAT CHARITY AND THE CHURCHES DID WITH HIM
The early days of his residence at the Home of the Sisters of Misery, in Winkle Street, was the Eden of Ginx’s Baby’s existence. Themselves innocent of a mother’s experiences, the sisters were free to give play to their affections in a novel direction, and to assume a sort of spiritual maternity that was lucky for the changeling. He was nestled in kind serge-covered arms: kisses rained upon him from chaste lips.
Then with the rise of the visionary projects just mentioned the gravest doubts began to agitate the fertile and casuistic mind of the Lady Superior. The holier her ideal St. Ginx of the future, the more to be deplored was any heretical taint in the present. Holy mother!…
Ginx’s baby was now fed on consecrated pap. But his mother, Mrs Ginx, was not a woman to be silent under her wrongs. From her husband she hid them, because the subject was forbidden. She poured out her complaint to Mrs. Spittal and other Protestant matrons. Thus it came to pass that one day, in Mr Ginx’s absence, the good woman was surprised by a visit from a “gentleman.” He was small, sharp, rapid, dressed in black. He opened his business at once.
“Mrs. Ginx? Ah! I am the agent of the Protestant Detectoral Association.”
Mrs. Ginx wiped her best chair and set it for him.
“By great good fortune the secretary received only half an hour ago intelligence of the shocking instance of Papal aggression of which you have been the victim. Would Mr. Ginx not join in an effort to recover his child?”
“No, sir; I should think not: he went an’ gave it away.”
“I know; but he is a Protestant?”
“Well; would you like to have your child back?”
“O yes, sir,” cries Mrs. Ginx, brightening.
“Then we’ll have an affidavit and apply for a Habeas Corpus.”
It was impossible not to be satisfied with such words as these, whatever they meant and Mrs. Ginx was cheered, while the little man went on his way…
[THE BABY IS NOW THE SUBJECT OF A FURIOUS SERIES OF ROWS BETWEEN PROTESTANT AND CATHOLIC CHURCH AUTHORITIES AND IS EVENTUALLY DUMPED BACK OUT ON THE STREET]
Ginx’s baby had been discovered by a policeman swaddled in a penny paper, distressingly familiar to metropolitan travellers by rail. At the police station the baby was disposed of according to rule. Due entry was first made in the night-book by the superintendent of all the particulars of his discovery. Some cold milk was then procured and poured down the child’s throat. Afterwards, wrapped in a constable’s cape, he was placed in a cell where, when the door was locked, he could not disturb the guardians of the peace.
The same night, in the next cell, an innocent gentleman, seized with an apoplexy in the street but entered in the charge-sheet as drunk and incapable, died like a dog.
[THE BABY IS RESCUED FROM THE POLICE BY AN EVANGELICAL CHILD RESCUE WORKER. THE EVANGELICALS HAVE A SERIES OF VERY LONG THEOLOGICAL DEBATES ON THE BEST WAY TO BRING HIM UP]
When Ginx’s Baby had grown to a discretionary age, and was at all able to know truth from error—supposing that to be knowable—there were in the country fifty thousand reverend gentlemen of every tincture of religious opinion who might ply him with their various theories, yet few of these would be contented unless they could seize him while his young nature was plastic, and try to imprint on immortal clay the trade-mark of some human invention. The committee held twenty-three meetings. They were then as far from unity of purpose as when they set out.
The secretary asked the committee to provide the money to discharge the baby’s liabilities; but they instantly adjourned, and no effort could afterwards get a quorum together. When the persons who had charge of the Protestant foundling discovered the state of affairs they began to dun the secretary and to neglect the child, now about thirteen months old and preparing to walk. Since no money appeared they sold whatever clothes had been provided for him, and absconded from the place where they had been farming him for Protestantism. The secretary, by chance hearing of this, was discreet enough to make no inquiries. Ginx’s Baby, “as a Protestant question,” vanished from the world. I never heard that any one was asked what had been done with the funds; but I have already furnished the account that ought to have been rendered.
[THE EVANGELICALS ABANDON THE BABY HAVING FAILED TO AGREE A PLAN]
One night, near twelve o’clock, a shrewd tradesman, looking out of his shopdoor before he turned into bed, heard a cry which proceeded from a bundle on the pavement. This he discovered to be an infant wrapt in a potato-sack. He was quick enough to observe that it had been deftly laid over a line chiselled across the pavement to the corner of his house, which line he knew to be the boundary between his own parish of St. Simon Magus and the adjacent parish of St. Bartimeus. He took note, being a businessman, of the exact position of the child’s body in relation to this line, and then conveyed it to the workhouse of the other parish.
The infant borne to the workhouse of St. Bartimeus was Ginx’s Baby. When he had been placed on the floor of the matron’s room, and examined by the master, the Guardians of St. Bartimeus met. Among other business was a report from the master of the workhouse that a child, name unknown, found by a shopman, of Nether Place, in the Parish of St. Simon Magus, opposite his shop, and, as he alleged, on the nearer side of the parish boundary, had been left at the workhouse, and was now in the custody of the matron. The Guardians were not accustomed to restrain themselves, and did not withhold the expression of their indignation upon this announcement…
So the Guardians, keeping carefully within the law, neglected nothing that could sap little Ginx’s vitality, deaden his happiest instincts, derange moral action, cause hope to die within his infant breast almost as soon as it were born. Good God!
The items the Board were really entitled to charge the rate-payers as supplied to our hero were—
Chances of catching skin diseases, fevers, &c.,
Occasional cruelty, and
A small supply of bad food and clothing.
Every pauper was to them an obnoxious charge by any and every means to be reduced to a minimum or nil. Ginx’s Baby was reduced to a minimum.
[MR AND MRS GINX ARE TRACED BY THE POOR LAW GUARDIANS AND THE BABY IS RETURNED TO THEM AND THEY AGAIN ABANDON HIM. HE IS PICKED UP BY A POLITICAL RADICAL CLUB MEMBER]
By the kindness and influence of Sir Charles Sterling, Ginx’s Baby that night, and long after, found shelter in the Radical Club. He gave rise to a discussion in the smoking-room next evening that ought to be chronicled. Several members of the committee supported his benefactor in urging that the child should be adopted by the Club, as a pledge of their resolve to make the questions of which he seemed to be the embodied emblem subjects of legislative action. Others said that those questions being, in their view, social and not political, were not proper ones to give impulse to a party movement, and that the entertainment in the Club of this foundling would be a gross irregularity: they did not want samples of the material respecting which they were theorizing. To some of the latter Sir Charles had been insisting that, whether they kept the child or not, they could not stifle the questions excited by his condition.
“You may delay, but you cannot dissipate them. We are filling up our sessions with party struggles, theoretic discussions, squabbles about foreign politics, debates on political machinery, while year by year the condition of the people is becoming more invidious and full of peril. Social and political reform ought to be linked; the people on whom you confer new political rights cannot enjoy them without health and well-being.”
“But all our legislation is directed to that!” exclaimed Mr. Joshua Hale. “Reform, Free Trade, Free Corn—have these not enhanced the wealth of the people?”
“Partially; yet there are classes unregenerated by their reviving influences. Free trade cannot insure work, nor can free corn provide food for every citizen.”
[THE POLITICAL MEN ARGUE FOR HOURS ABOUT HOW THEY CAN MAKE CAPITAL OUT OF THE CASE OF GINX’S BABY BUT COME UP WITH NO PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS]
PART V. WHAT GINX’S BABY DID WITH HIMSELF.
The Last Chapter
Our hero was nearly fifteen years old when he left the Club to plunge into the world. He was not long in converting his spoils into money, and a very short time in spending it. Then he had to pit his wits against starvation, and some of his throws were desperate. Wherever he went the world seemed terribly full. If he answered an advertisement for an errand-boy, there were a score kicking their heels at the rendezvous before him. Did he try to learn a useful trade, thousands of adepts were not only ready to underbid him, but to knock him on the head for an interloper. Even the thieves, to whom he gravitated, were jealous of his accession, because there were too many competitors already in their department. Through his career of penury, of honest and dishonest callings, of ‘scapes and captures, imprisonments and other punishments, a year’s reading of Metropolitan Police Reports would furnish the exact counterpart.
I don’t know how many years after his flight from Pall Mall, one dim midnight, I, returning from Richmond, lounged over Vauxhall Bridge, listening to the low lapping of the current beneath the arches—looking above to the stars and along the dark polished surface that reflected a thousand lights in its undulations,—feeling the awfulness of the dense, suppressed life that was wrapt within the gloom and calm of the hour. I suddenly saw a shadow, a human shadow, that at the sound of my footstep quickly crossed my dreamy vision—quickly, noiselessly came and went before my eyes until it stood up high and outlined against the strangely-mingled haze. It looked like the ghost of a slight-formed man, hatless and coatless, and for a moment I saw at its upper extremity the dull flash as of a human face in the gloom, before the shadow leaped out far into the night. Splash! When my startled eyes looked down upon the glancing, waving ebony, I thought I could trace a white coruscation of foam spreading out into the darkness, instantly to dissipate and be lost for ever. I did not then know what form it was that swilled down below the glistening current. Had I known that it was Ginx’s Baby I should perhaps have thought “Society, which, in the sacred names of Law and Charity, forbad the father to throw his child over Vauxhall Bridge, at a time when he was alike unconscious of life and death, has at last itself driven him over the parapet into the greedy waters”——
Philosophers, Philanthropists, Politicians, Papists and Protestants, Poor-Law Ministers and Parish Officers—while you have been theorizing and discussing, debating, wrangling, legislating and administering—Good God! gentlemen, between you all, where has Ginx’s Baby gone to?