« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
was sung in suffering; it was sung with feeling; it touched hearts it was not meant to touch, and the result was an English fever; a national epidemic came on; every one attacked by it saw a distressed needlewoman, a shirtmaker, stitching and weeping: And what came of all this practically ? · An interesting case of pledged work comes before a magistrate. Up starts the generosity of England, and postage stamps and post office orders pour in till notices begin to appear in our papers that no more subscriptions for one case are required; or that subscriptions sent for another will be returned, as the person has proved to be an impostor.
What do these constant notices prove, but that there is in England a great, a ready, but an unregulated charity? They prove that the English-blessings on them for it-are ready and willing to relieve distress, but that they do not know how to do it. What charity wants in England is simply-Organization. There is money, there is piety, there is heart, to help its work, but there is no organization in doing it. We can scarcely desecrate that word Charity, by applying it to our manner of working out our Poor Law system ; yet in common speech it is said that compulsory charity has hardened English hearts,-it has ossified some of them. The moneygaining shopkeeper pays his heavy rates and taxes, and takes the collector's receipt as a receipt in full for all the claims the poor can have on him. He is indignant, perhaps justly, when a poor creature asks a penny over that amount; he desires him to go and claim at the workhouse a portion of what he has already paid for the relief of the poor, and when he ehances to see in his newspaper an account of the poor creature's reception by the official there, he is again indigoant, wonders at the mismanagement, and perhaps complains of the ruling government, provided he is opposed to it in politics. These workhouses are very fine looking,-indeed an ignorant traveller, as has been already said, may mistake union workhouses and modern county jails for country palaces or noble chateaus. What are the qualifications of their functionaries I do not know. It has sometimes seemed to me as if the chief requisites were such corpulent persons, and surly manners, as might tend still more to convince the poor abject creatures beneath their rule, of the grievous mistake they made in being poor. And then turning from this system, where else are we to look for the organization of public charity in England ? The workhouses, I admit, may still be necessary and expedient as receptacles for the vicious and degraded poor, the vagabond or irreclaimable idler ; but it appears to me that there ought to be, in such a Christian land as England, houses of charity, really such, connected with the government, and conducted in a manner worthy of their name.
If such houses were organized as they ought to be, and placed under the charge of women who bore the same blessed titleSisters of Charity,—who, in connection also with the ladies and gentlemen of charity, so abundant in our land, should know personally the merits or demerits of all applicants for relief in their localities, I cannot help thinking that the anomaly which England, as a highly professing Christian and religious country, presents to the eyes of foreign visitors might be removed; for we have not, as other nations have, the apology of poverty to plead for the degraded and afflicting state of our poor.
Some time since in travelling in Germany, I met with a Protestant of that country who had just returned from our Great Exhibition. In the course of conversation some remark was made about religion, when he rather abruptly said, " The religion of England is all hypocrisy.'
I ventured to oppose the assertion; but he quietly and confidently repeated it, adding only a reason for it, “The religion of England is all hypocrisy; the state of the poor proves it.” What was one to say ? I dislike argu. ments, especially difficult ones, and I believe I said nothing. Even if he had not been in England, our daily journals alone would have given him an advan. tage over most of my attempts at contradiction. In them the cases of distress come singularly enough before the magistrates,-crying distress, which involves the charity that lies too often unused in English hearts. A piteous case is relieved, and a similar one follows, and another, and another, until all the rest but the first are found to be either “ undeserving characters,” or impostors. Now it strikes me, that if Sisters of Charity were agents of the English Government, as they certainly are of the French, that so many distressed women might not in the first instance apply to his worship; night not in the second instance attempt to impose upon his worship. The whole matter, however, must then be organised as it is not now.
These cases prove that reclamation is wanted in England. Money is good, but money will not reclaim; the temporary relief afforded to the distressed woman leaves her and her children just where they were.
Set persons to reclaim, and let them have the means of reclamation, not as isolated individuals, working at their own will and discretion, but as an organised body, working indeed from its own internal principle of action, but subject to laws by which that action is maintained and regulated. Do you say there are not women capable of such a work, especially of such London work ? Do not fear; you will find them. Go even to the lanes and hedges of cld England, and invite them to come in. Far away from high life you will find right good English stuff wherewith to form capital working Sisters of Charity; women just suited for such work, and only wanting to be formed to it, broken in for it.
I knew a young woman many years ago in a large mercantile town of England. What an energetic, devoted, admirable Sister of Charity she would have made! She was a charwoman by profession; but she was decidedly out of her element in that line of life ; she would repeat half a sermon while cleaning a room; stop a passenger up the stair she was washing to tell some case of distress, and run away froin her tub to the assistance of a suffering neighbour. She was at one time quite popular in a certain congregation of that town; but her popularity did not last. And what became of her ? Just what becomes of most warm-hearted enthusiasts; who, in disappointment, believe they have seen an end of all perfection. Religious ladies in district visiting had spoken of her, and to her, as if she were a prodigy of piety and goodness; she had been religiously flattered; but when they came to employ her as a charwoman, they began to remind her that she was hired to work and not to preach; to tell her of the primitive adage that charity must begin at home, and that she having to earn her own bread, and being paid for earning it, her duty was to leave her poor neighbours to take care of themselves. She was, in short, considered too religious for a charwoman; she met with repulsion rather than encouragement; she was found tiresome rather than edifying. In fact, she was decidedly so. But the woman who was thus censured, or suffered to sink back in disappointment or heartlessness, was one whose name might, under cherishing and judicious circumstances, have reached as far, and been blessed by as many, as the names of those three poor workwomen of Brittany, who have been perpetuated in their Church in the Little Sisters of the poor.