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The Charities of the Nineteenth Century

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One of the noblest traits of the century is the growth of organized voluntary effort to relieve the suffering and to raise the fallen. The humane spirit in. which such efforts originate has never been absent from the Christian world, but its energies were grievously repressed by the brutalizing influence of incessant war. Towards the close of the eighteenth century it is seen struggling towards a wider dominion than it had hitherto been able to assert. Howard had already devoted his life to the amelioration of prisons, and his revelation of their horrors had fallen upon a people not indisposed to listen or reluctant to correct. A Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor (Founded in 1796 by Wilberforce and some others, with the king as patron. It operated chiefly in the way of collecting and diffusing information on topics of interest to the poor, - as the improvement of dwellings; the improvement of cottage fire-places and chimneys; the establishment of parish mills, of village shops and soup-kitchens; the improvement of county jails; the means of procuring an adequate supply of fuel, &c) was in active operation in London. A little later Sir Samuel Romilly was striving to mitigate the severities of our criminal code. The iniquities of the slave-trade and of slavery itself became more apparent in the growing light, and awakened a constantly increasing abhorrence. But still men's minds were hardened to human suffering by the years of bloodshed through which they lived. A spirit of universal hatred pervaded society. Personal bitterness was intense. Difference of political or religious belief was a recognized warrant for the extremest hate. When the body of Lord Castlereagh, pierced by self-inflicted wounds, was borne to the grave, the mob expressed their indecent gratification by a cheer. At the funeral of Lord Chancellor Clare, the mob bombarded with dead cats the coffin of the unpopular judge. A quarrel, however trivial its origin, was held to lay the disputants under constraint of honour to seek the destruction of each other ("The frightful thing," says Lord Cockburn, writing of Edinburgh at the close of the last century, "was the personal bitterness. The decent appearance of mutual toleration was despised, and extermination seemed a duty.").

But with the return of peace the bland spirit of forbearance and toleration which Christianity and cultivation inspire gained a large increase of energy. A gradual amelioration of temper crept over society, and in course of years it became possible for men to hold different opinions without diminution of mutual regard. As the softening influence grew in strength, men turned with ardour unknown before to the work of helping the helpless and lightening the burden of suffering which lay heavy on so large a portion of the people. An enumeration of the leading charities of any of our great cities enables us to estimate the vast amount of kindly energy which men now put forth to ameliorate the condition of their less fortunate neighbours. The charities of the Scottish capital will suffice for this purpose (London has upwards of five hundred charitable societies, which expend annually about one million sterling, voluntarily contributed by benevolent individuals).

Edinburgh has a vast hospital in which a poor man who has fallen under disease or accidental hurt receives the benefit of careful nursing and the highest medical skill. Lest his recovery should be impeded by the impure air and defective nourishment of his own home, a residence some miles out of town is provided for him during the glad days of convalescence. Those who are never to know the sweetness of returning health are received into institutions provided for sufferers against whom the sad doom of incurable has been spoken. There every possible alleviation of their sorrow is afforded while they wait for the final shelter of the grave. Little children who are sick have an hospital provided for themselves, where the tenderest care is lavished upon them. A separate home is maintained for children who are the victims of disease in spine or hip-joint. There are several institutions in which medical advice is given gratuitously to the poor regarding the manifold ills to which they are heirs. Poor women about to become mothers find the doors of an appropriate institution hospitably open to them in their hour of trial, or they may receive from either of two societies the help of physicians in their own homes. Skilled nursing does much to promote the comfort and the recovery of the sick. The humane and thoughtful people of Edinburgh have provided two establishments where women who desire to become nurses of the sick may accomplish themselves in their merciful vocation.

One association establishes lodging-houses, where the very poor can live in comfort free from the allurements of vicious companionship. Another employs its resources in improving the condition of the poor by every device which Christian thoughtfulness suggests. Another watches over the destitute sick; and to the kindly words of its agents, adds an open-handed dispensation of comforts which are so needful in sickness, and yet so often unattainable. Indigent old men, indigent old women, decayed gentlewomen, enjoy the care of three societies. A philanthropist, whose bounty was under guidance of her orthodoxy, makes a provision for decayed old men and women "being Protestants." The blind and the deaf and dumb are received into homes where suitable occupations are found for them. Children, on whose youth there has fallen the calamity of loss of parents, are maintained and educated and equipped for the work of life. There are houses of refuge where homeless wanderers may turn aside to obtain shelter for the night. The deserving foreigner who finds himself in the Scotch metropolis penniless and friendless is straightway taken in hand and relieved by a society founded for his especial benefit. Nor is philanthropy altogether without its humours. One lover of his kind makes provision that when oatmeal is selling at more than a shilling per peck, poor householders of Edinburgh shall be supplied at tenpence.

The moral interests of the poor are cared for with an enlightened zeal which is beyond praise. Children who are without guardianship are snatched by merciful hands from the perils which surround them, and safely bestowed in institutions where they are taught simple industries and receive a wholesome education. In the early stage of a boy's industrial development one society sends him forth to polish the soiled boots of pedestrians. Boys who love, or think they love, the sea, are sent to a training-ship. For agricultural aspirants a farm-school is provided. The government of these institutions is intrusted to some of the wisest and best of the citizens of Edinburgh, by whom unwearied personal care is given to the interests of their unfortunate clients. Women who have fallen from virtue are sought out and gathered into an institution whose influences are directed towards their restoration. Criminals whose term of punishment has expired are taken charge of by a society, whose agents find for them honest employment and consequent deliverance from the temptation to commit fresh offences. Self-denying persons, impressed by the enormous evils which our drinking usages produce, have banded themselves into societies, and strive with unwearied and heroic effort to lead drunkards back to sobriety.

A vast machinery, worked with noble devotedness, seeks to carry the light of religious truth into the dark places of Edinburgh. One society distributes copies of the Holy Scriptures gratuitously or by sale at low prices. Another circulates religious tracts by the million. A third maintains a large body of city missionaries, whose work it is to bear the gospel into the squalid homes of the poor. A fourth, combining the cure of physical with that of moral disease, employs a staff of medical missionaries. Nearly every Christian congregation has selected a district, where its members visit the lapsed poor, and strive to awaken, in hearts dulled by suffering, some interest in the magnificence of eternity. Hundreds of Christian men and women labour in Sunday schools to give to the children of the poor that religious knowledge which otherwise would not be given at all.

Nearly the whole of these organizations have had their beginning since the close of the great war. This disposition to raise the fallen, to befriend the friendless, is now one of the governing powers of the world. Every year its dominion widens, and even now a strong and growing public opinion is enlisted in its support. Many men still spend lives which are merely selfish. But such lives are already regarded with general disapproval. The man on whom public opinion, anticipating the award of the highest tribunal, bestows its approbation, is the man who labours that he may leave other men better and happier than he found them. With the noblest spirits of our race this disposition to be useful grows into a passion. "With an increasing number it is becoming at least an agreeable and interesting employment (It is said on the monument to John Howard in St. Paul's, that the man who devotes himself to the good of mankind treads "an open but unfrequented path to immortality." The remark, so true of Howard's time, is happily not true of ours). A future of high promise awaits that community whose instructed and virtuous members occupy themselves in carrying to their less happily circumstanced neighbours the good which they themselves enjoy.

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