Page images
PDF
EPUB

any supernatural aid to discover. The benevolent have long confounded the giving of money with the doing of good. They have imagined that the sufferings of the under classes of society are to be met by the support of public charities, and the distribution of private alms. Time will convince the many, what experience has already convinced the few, that both these are means whose purest good must be alloyed with a vast intermixture of evil. One of these, the relief of common beggars, is (in cities at least) an instrument of almost pure evil. Those who have not explored the haunts of practised mendicity are little aware of the mischief they do when, even by the distribution of halfpence or broken victuals, they lend their countenance to a calling, the name of which should be a synonym for profligacy and hypocrisy. Of this we hope to say more hereafter. The other mode by which the benevolent have attempted to meet the growing evils of society, is that of contributing to charitable institutions, each of which has its own distinct province assigned it, and at one or other of which it is naturally and plausibly supposed that the wretched are sure to find relief from their wretchedness. Alas, that we should have to say, that this too is a delusion! The malady grows under its mistaken cure. Institutions for the relief of every ill that flesh is heir to, have been established and kept up, at enormous and increasing expense, and yet have been attended with no clearer result than that of seeing those ills increasing and multiplying under their nominal, and only nominal, corrections.

The simple fact we believe to be, that these, for the most part, are plans upon a false principle, beginning at the wrong end. If the figure may be forgiven, the evils we refer to appear to us to be amphisbænas, which many have attempted to crush by the head, but have only irritated them by bruising the tail. They have attempted to provide for the cure of certain maladies, which they take it as a moral postulate, must necessarily be contracted; when the true course would have been to examine if there were no measures, by the adoption of which the maladies themselves might be prevented, and the cure rendered unnecessary. That this last is the true course has long been more than suspected. Many philanthropic individuals have become aware of the fact that the physical evils of society are referable to moral causes; and that in the correction or removal of these causes lies the only hope, that the future will be an improvement upon the present. The unexampled zeal of the passing age to provide for the education of the children of the labouring classes, by the establishment of Public Schools of all forms and names, is an evidence of the working of this conviction in the minds of the classes above them. These institutions are obviously not corrective, but preventive. They aim not to diminish the mass of already existing evil, but to forestall and destroy its power over the minds of the coming generation. They act, therefore, upon a principle which at once distinguishes them from, and elevates them above, all other charities, rightly or wrongly so named; all other institutions which have solely in view the correction of certain specific evils, by the exhibition of certain specific modes of relief. They are sound in principle; and if they are not so in practice, the cause of this must be sought in certain extraneous influences, any distincter reference to which may for the present be passed by.

Public Schools, however, have in part shared the fate of Public Charities, not indeed by rivalling them in the production of evil, but in failing to work their full ministry of good. It has been found by long and infinitely varied experience, that the suffering and the degraded have no particular desire that their children should be placed upon a nobler footing than themselves. It has been found, in other words, that the influences of the schools are chiefly restricted to the better part of the labouring population of the country; and that it rarely enters into the plans of the ignorant and the vicious, that their children shall be placed (and least of all, at any cost, or loss, or trouble, where they may enjoy the lights of knowledge, and acquire the habits of order, decency, and virtue.

From a sense of the insufficiency of all existing institutions to grapple with the antagonist mass of wrong and wretchedness from a conviction that something was wanting still to touch the hearts and to enlighten the lives of the lowest classes of the community, arose, as a new Social Experiment, and a new Moral Hope for man, the conception and institution of a peculiar MINISTRY TO THE POOR. No false modesty arising from any connexion of our own with one department of that ministry, shall prevent us from stating our conviction, that philanthropy has scarcely yet imagined a scheme of purer good, and that if its efforts have not been such as to produce a visible change of aspect in the under strata of society, it is more owing to its recency, and to the limited scale to which its operations have been confined, than to any inaptitude in the scheme itself for producing the most profound and extensive changes. Such an agency has long been wanted; but we trust it has not come too late. We anticipate from it results which, though they will find no place in the pages of the historian and no commemoration in the songs of the poet, will gladden the hearts of the philanthropist and the under influences of goodness and happiness unknown to their fathers.

We expect not that this scheme will not have its doubters and objectors. The former we can only refer to the Future, and to the various Reports which have been published on both sides of the Atlantic, by ministers who have been charged with this high and arduous office. We need not mention their names, or recapitulate their labours; yet their names are never mentioned but with respect, and their labours have already issued in “ bringing many to righteousness." We refer those who doubt the utility of such a ministry to the reports and other statements which these gentlemen have put forth, for some years past, in which much will be found to interest the general philanthropist, as well as the particular friends of knowledge and religion. Those who object to such a scheme will usually, we presume, do so upon the ground that the moral influences which are in actual and standing existence are competent to the work, without any peculiar and supernumerary aids. The Clergy, they would urge, of the Established and of the various Dissenting Churches may be safely trusted to do all that can be done towards the communication of social and spiritual light to the people. We fear that this is inconsistent with the fact. That “ light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” The clergy of great cities (and of such communities we would be understood as speaking,) have so many demands upon their time and attention, that they cannot devote themselves so much to the work as is due to its magnitude and essential to their success. Most of them are kind and good, some of them are able and enlightened men; but their ministry is, in a manner, too definitely marked out for them, to allow of their going beyond their bounds in search of vice and misery which do not belong to them. As to the Dissenting Churches, though their congregations be, numerically, less considerable, yet the duties of the ministers are not less onerous or engrossing. The spirit of the age is growingly requiring that the Dissenting Minister should pass more and more of his time in the study. What satisfied another age will not satisfy the present. The children are more fastidious than their fathers. They ask for refinement and variety of expression, for accuracy of method, for depth of theological research, and for energy and elegance of delivery, to possess himself of which the minister must necessarily be so much of the student, that this, and the performance of his pastoral duties to his congregation, occupy too much of his time to leave him any considerable leisurefor frequent and extensive domiciliary visits among the poor. Very possibly, his personal sympathies would strongly draw him towards them ; but the duties, with reference to which he first entered upon his office, naturally claim his first and chief attention, and prohibit him from making any voluntary addition to duties in themselves so important and engrossing.

To admit what has been thus briefly stated, is to admit that there is a call for a Peculiar Ministry, whose duties should be confined to the neglected Poor. None who are acquainted with the Moral Statistics of great cities, will require to be told that there are in them immense under-masses of human beings, of whom it may almost be said, that “ hope never comes to them, that comes to all;" and of whom it is certain, that if left to existing institutions and influences, they must unavoidably live and die, remote from the agencies to which life owes its holiness and death its beauty. Every thing is around them that can lead to forgetfulness of their duty; and if there be no voice to warn, to invite them to remember it, who can wonder that it is forgotten?

Under these circumstances, we cannot but think that the Ministry to the Poor will draw more friends, more supporters, and more agents, in proportion to the knowledge that is gained of the condition of the lower classes of the city-poor. We look upon the extension of such a Ministry as no less certain than its expediency. To us, it is not a matter of doubt, but simply a question of time. The facts which the ministry itself is drawing forth and divulging, are silently but surely contributing to its more general diffusion. A variety of documents, derived from the most distant and dissimilar sources, and drawn up by men who are only assimilated by the community of the work in which they are engaged, are annually making impressions upon still expanding circles of readers, which so often cross and intersect each other, that large portions of the surface of society receive many impulses (of the same kind, though from different centres) before they return to their original state of rest. May that repose be more and more so broken! Every document of the sort, that has yet come under our observation, has satisfied us more fully, not only of the theoretical recommendations of such a Ministry, but of its actual capability of realizing much of that which its originators hoped, and its supporters require. Of course, it cannot be expected that its results should, in all cases, be the same. The fields will differ in quality and situation, no less than the labourers in skill and strength; but should this mode of moral culture ever become general, (and we speak this, not in doubt, but in living and quickening hope,) we trust that the ultimate result will be, the causing of many “ a

[ocr errors]

solitary place to be glad," and of many a social“ desert to blossom as the rose.

Many excellent projects have been rendered abortive by the costliness of their execution. The two Americas are only joined because it would be an expensive work to cut through the isthmus that unites them. No difficulty of this kind will ever prevent a great community, or any considerable portion of it, from setting on foot a Ministry to the Poor, of its own. Were every kindly-disposed individual, who makes it a practice to relieve those who beg at his door, to reserve what he would thus have given, and throw it into a common stock, the amount would soon be such as to enable another Friend to be sent forth among the friendless, who would do more good in the spirit of Christian brotherhood and love, than the whole sum of alms could have done of evil, if it had gone forth on its dark mission from each man's door.

If such a plan for establishing a new Ministry to the Poor be at once dismissed as visionary, it is easy to show and to see that a very trifling subscription, a very simple domestic retrenchment, might at any time enable a body of benevolent individuals (whether connected or not with any particular religious society) to bring the new Ministry to the test of another trial. That it is an experiment worth repeating, can scarcely be called in question. It holds out hopes which are peculiar to itself. It is applicable to circumstances to which nothing else can apply. It has to do with those whom all others have done with. It clashes with nothing in existence but wretchedness and evil. Few, we trust, will be found, who, knowing what it is, will think it a thing to be discouraged. To us it appears one of the cheapest and simplest schemes that man has ever devised for benefiting humanity. We trust that it will be tried upon a scale of sufficient magnitude, and for a time of sufficient length, to make its results of success or failure decisive. Should it succeed, it will be a glory to its promoters. Should it fail, it can never be their shame. In the latter case, there is a sense in which it will be nobly and reconcilingly true, that,

“ Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.” But, full of hope as we are, we will not breathe a suggestion of fear. The issue of this Ministry may, in some cases, be disappointment, but it will only be so to those who have allowed themselves to hope for too much; and to whom its actual results must therefore be unsatisfactory. We trust that few will enter upon it, with such “ vain visions and flattering divinations."

« PreviousContinue »