George acorn – Habits, culture & beliefs (b. Late 19th C)

Young boys outside the work house – The Victorian Workhouse by Jessica Brain

There is a few passing comments of religion during One of the Multitude, although interactions with churches, chapels and religious company were very common of the time it did not always reflect the belief system on individuals. Many charities of the time were funded by the church or other religious groups. There was also the beginning of real integration, though the British Empire had been long standing by the late 19th century, there were also many new people from different backgrounds beginning to move into the East End and George mentions this a few times…

Specifically mentioned in Chapter- Games and Creeds, shortly after the death of his younger brother, an explanation of how the lower-classes and especially his own family saw the likes of God ‘ To certain favoured individuals He was kind, and provided good rood and raiment in return for a regular attendance at church. The people in our street, especially our own family, has been overlooked by God, and it was foolish to expect deliverance from our troubles by any other source than our own abilities. Thus we delt sure that there was a God but that He was no friend of ours, that it was of not use to depend on Him for anything, and that it behoved us to sharpen our wits and fight the world for what we could get’ For a younger boy, of which he would have been when reflecting back onto this, would be a complex way of approaching religion however will have been hugely influenced by his mother and father which he mentions. ‘I shared those beliefs with my father and mother… yes I had a distinct leaning towards religion. Places of worship were so clean, that I often felt the desire to go into a local church.’ His mother and Father were part of a generation which will of yielded much more religious freedom ‘‘when the nineteenth century offered an unprecedented degree of religious freedom, it was men who most often used this freedom to leave the church or drop all religious belief’ (LePorte, 2013) But much like other parts of his journal, this was almost a way of projecting himself into a different class and where he saw himself being beyond what he already was. However, being born into poverty and lower classes was much harder to break out of in Victorian London.

Acorn recites on how he was a regular participant of the ‘Dorland Street Chapel’ which he has been introduced into by one of his friends, this was a place where he could socialise with boys his age and even girls. They would be funded by the church to go on trips and experiences which were very common of the time as a way to ‘properly’ culturally educate children and teens. He also mentions a short time where he considered himself in the ‘clique’ around his area, which shortly comes to an end as he does not enjoy any sort of confrontation, which was the main aim of the ‘Street Arabs’. During the 19th century a number of different reports were made into the lives of the working-class and slum areas, one of which made by Charles Booth in 1840 and inquired into social issues to which he found ‘Booth had concluded that organized religion was the only way that average people could be influenced for the better’ (GIBSON-BRYDON, 2016) this supporting why a lot of the experiences he did have were with specifically the Dorland Street Chapel and why this is mentioned throughout his memoir.

As well as being confronted with his own religious beliefs there are mentions of Jewish neighbours moving in with in their street and around where George and his family are living. These moments are written from the imagery that had been portrayed of Jewish people in the media and art of Victorian Britain as outsiders and strangers to be stared at rather than recognised. For example, described as ‘appearance, habits, customs, desires, inclinations, longings, hopes, were different from those of his neighbors’ (Valman, 1999) from roughly 1847 and onwards there were more reports and journals written to enable a better more, civilized accepted life for Jewish members of the community to integrate.

From a young age, it is described how he loved to read, he enjoyed his own company and being creative with plays and entertaining. Attending plays and musicals when offered the chance is something earlier on in his life story, he clearly enjoys writing much about. Although this wasn’t regularly available to him, it is clear he takes much more enjoyment from the activities which maybe more middle-class gentlemen would enjoy, and appreciating the arts, books and music around him.

Bibliography

GIBSON-BRYDON, T. R. C., 2016. The “Religious Influences” Series: What It Was and What Booth Proposed. In: B. L. : Hillary Kaell, ed. Moral Mapping of Victorian and Edwardian London. London: McGill Queens univeristy, p. 40.

LePorte, C., 2013. Victorian Literature, Religion, and Secularization. Literature compass, 10(3), pp. 277-287.

Valman, N., 1999. Semitism and Criticism: Victorian Anglo-Jewish Literary History. Victorian Literature and Culture, 27(1), pp. 235-248.

https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Victorian-Workhouse/

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