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saying: “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of “ And instantly all Vasili's riches and the least of these, ye did it unto Me!” And grandeur melted as snow melts in the sunwith that I became as you see me now.' shine, and no one pitied him but his kind
Then Vasili tore his hair, and cried bit- sister, who tended him lovingly till he died. terly : • That was He, then! and he might So you see, brothers, that the old proverb is have given me some great gift, if I had but true : known him!' « But a solemn voice answered from on
“Of great men's threats have thou no fear,
But rather dread the poor man's tear.'” high : Only they can know Him who are lowly and humble as He was !'”
THE CONSTITUTION OF BENEVOLENT SOCIETIES.
That was a fair vision, though scarcely a churches and homes with new cheer and prophetic one, which unfolded itself before courage, and new inspirations of faith and the hopeful minds of the men who sixty years hope. ago and later projected and organized the It was an incidental advantage of this Christian and philanthropic societies of the method of organization, that a sense of the time. Each society was to consist of the high responsibility of membership in these organized contributors, throughout the « bodies, and of the importance of investing length and breadth of the land, towards its with it men and women of discretion and particular department of public beneficence. dignity, should act as a stimulant to What more right and just than that the provoke the annual dollar that constipeople who contribute the means of the so- tuted the member for a year, or
the ciety should direct the disposal of thein ? weightier donations of fifty or a hundred dolAnd what persons more likely to look faith- lars to make the life director or, fully after the administration of the society less illustrious,” the life member. And not than those who have proved their interest only a sense of grave duty to the church and by their gifts? Will not the heart be where the world, but some of the venial infirmities the treasure is ? The glorious spectacle of human nature were gently solicited by grew upon their minds' vision. Each an- this same expedient, as the diplomas will nual month of May, as at the blowing of attest which one may read even to this day the silver trumpets in the time of the new on the walls of many a country parsonage, moon, the devotees of Christian charity and cherished by the grandchildren of many should come thronging together from the a saintly deacon ; impressive works of art, North and from the South, from the East displaying a missionary in a white cravat and from the West, to hear from their trus- and lofty coat-collar, standing under a palmtees an account of their stewardship, to tree, and preaching, or distributing some of scrutinize the methods employed, to learn of the society's cheap and beautiful publicathe successes achieved, to decide upon plans tions, to a congregation consisting of three for the coming year, and to choose, after ex- Chinamen, a casual Turk or two, a Calmuck amination of the past, who should be in- Tartar, six Hindoos, and ten little Indian trusted with the responsibilities of adminis- boys ; under which symbolic vignette runs tration for the future. These convocations the legend certifying that the Rev. Mr. of earnest men and women, intent upon the Jones, or Deacon Smith, has, by the contrithings of the kingdom of God, should be oc- bution of thirty dollars by his church, casions of high religious festival from which been constituted a life member, etc., etc. the multitudes should return to their several The costly frame, and the conspicuous and
permanent position accorded to these docu- churches, were the show-meeting, at which ments, shows the sense of dignity that used it would be “ Resolved, That we hail," etc.; to be attached to them; and the fact that dur- resolutions on which no difference of opinion ing its last financial year the American would be elicited, but on which all the highBible Society received some seven hundred stepping rhetorical parade-horses might be gifts of thirty dollars each, to constitute as trotted out upon the platform and put inany new life members, would seem to in- through their best paces. The meeting in dicate that this notion still lingers, to a con- which the policy, the plans, the inanagesiderable extent, in many of the rural dis- ment of the society were decided was “only tricts.
a business meeting,” which the members of For a few years, in fact, for nearly a quar- the society by the payment of thirty dollars ter of a century, while yet the machinery were not interested to attend, nor the men of these societies was new, it had the ap- that “ran” the society, and that knew the pearance of running according to the design value of peace and quietness, interested to of the projectors. Anniversary week” in have them attend. So the existence of an New York and Boston was outwardly all efficient membership in these societies ceasthat the most ardent hopes, at the begin- ed to be a reality, and became only an ap ning, could have imagined. In full proces- pearance. sions, by costly and fatiguing journeys, the It soon ceased to be so much as an ap pilgrims thronged together to the solemn pearance. Some people date the decay of feasts. The doors of merchant princes, and the New York anniversaries from the reof many a humble mansion, opened with moval of the old Broadway Tabernacle. generous hospitality to men and women com- m- Doubtless there was a connection between ing on so noble an errand. Great churches , the two events. Tenterden steeple did really were thronged day after day to listen have something to do with the cause of Goodto the narratives of missionaries returned win Sands. But it is superfluous to look from distant lands and regions, and to stir- outside of the anniversaries themselves for ring appeals and acute discussions from the a reason of their decline. They died for foremost men in church and in state, at want of life. It took twenty-five years to home. For a week or two the religious find out that they were a sham, and after newspapers would be full of nothing but the that people stopped going to them. Really meetings, and in five hundred country chur- earnest men would not travel to New York ches the pastor would tell the people about or Boston to “speak a piece,” like a stuthe wonders and the sin and misery of the dent's commencement oration, belonging in great city, and the great facts that he learn- that category of rhetoric which Whately ed, and the words of Dr. A. and Judge B., describes as being eloquent simply for the that he heard, when visiting the anniver- sake of eloquence; and as for the men who saries as a life member of something or are not really earnest, and who are to be had other.
for that sort of work, the public soon tire of But as a matter of fact, the organic ma- them. chinery of these societies never did work at Anyhow, the anniversaries are dead. All all. Even when it seemed to be working parties have made up their minds to that. its liveliest, it was like the wheels and ratch- The coroner’s verdict on the cause of death ets that were exposed to view in Maelzel's is of comparatively small consequence. The automaton chess-player, which had nothing constitution devised for these societies sixty to do with the working of it, while the game years ago has broken down. All the arwas played by the little man inside who rangements of the managers of them are drew up his legs out of sight when the made on this understanding. They accept machine was opened for an investigation. the situation without a struggle, and with The meetings that were attended by the the more than Christian resignation of that members from near and far, and reported in cheerful philosopher, who being warned by the newspapers, and commented on in the the physician that his constitution was com
pletely ruined by his excesses, replied with “held its annual meeting at the Bible beautiful equanimity, and with such a smile House."* as Mr. Joseph Jefferson might be glad to Take the case of the more obscure socie. imitate: “All (hic) right, old fellow; then ties, and it is worse yet. There, for inwe'll just go it on the (hic) by-laws.” This stance, is the Seamen's Friend Society ; useis substantially the course that has been pur- ful institution, doubtless, and let us hope sued in these corporations, to run them on that if the managers of it should be brought the by-laws; and perhaps it is the best to account before the body to whom they course that the case admits.
are constitutionally responsible, no shadow As an illustration of the state of affairs in of abuse would be discovered. But they the societies, take the case of the oldest and never are so brought to account-never can strongest of them, the most unimpeachable, be—and (worst of all) they know it. The as I believe, in the integrity and competency society to whom they are responsible conof its management, and in some other re- sists of some thousands of members, some spects one of the worthiest—the American in the ends of the earth, and some far off Bible Society. The members of the society, upon the sea; and as for the rest, the nearer in whom is vested the direction of its policy they live to the society's offices in Wall and the annual election of the executive by street, the less likely they are to trouble whom this policy shall be carried out, num
themselves about its affairs. The preparaber about forty-five thousand, more or less ; tions for the annual meeting of this imposan august assemblage, if they could be got ing body consist in dusting out the back together, albeit somewhat unwieldy for de- office, and clearing some bundles of last liberative purposes. Of course, scattered as year's Annual Report off the sofa. Several they are over the land, it is not to be sup chairs and an office stool are cheerfully lent posed that more perhaps than ten thousand by the firm of Evangelical lawyers in the of them live within reach of the place of top-story, and the Reformed Dutch stockmeeting. And (such is men's habitual neg- broker in the basement; and now blow up lect of these responsibilities) perhaps two the trumpet in the time appointed. Of thousand is as many as it could be hoped to course, they like to have a few friends from draw together for the really grave duties of outside on this occasion, but the “Annual the annual meeting. It would be a difficult Meeting of the Society” is substantially a task, which the managers give up in despair, meeting of the officers of the society to to provide any hall or forum sufficient even listen to their own report of their own dofor so small a percentage of the members as ings and to vote their cordial approval of it, this, or to make arrangements for a poll at and choose themselves over again for another which ballots might be cast for officers. year. Now this is a conjectural sketch, as What is actually done may be inferred from concerns this society, against which I know the language of the last Annual Report: nothing in particular; but if this society is “ The American Bible Society held its Sixty- exceptional on this point, it is a blessing to First Annual Meeting at the Bible House, in it to give it thus a chance of saying so. If New York, May 10, 1877, at half-past three there is a call for personal experience, I can P. M."
give that, from a brief but useful memberThose who are familiar with the room here referred to, the chamber where the
*There may be some to suggest that the universal
abdication of the duties and authority of the memBoard of Managers holds its regular meet
bers of the Bible Society has been favored, if not ings,--and who consider how few individ- produced, by the decision of the Chair at one of the uals can be got into it, in addition to the annual meetings shutting off all discussion and de
liberation. As we remember it (it was many years officers themselves whose administration is ago) the decision did seem like a pretty bigh-handed to be reviewed, and whose term of office re- one, to be justitied only by an argument ab incon. newed or ended, will see the significance venientia, founded on the preposterousness of atof this expression. “The American Bible tempting to carry out an impracticablo constitution.
But the annual meeting was moribund before it got Society” [consisting of 45,000 members] bit by this decision.
ship in the Board of Directors of the need not be an expensive affair, and there “ American and Foreign Christian Union.” would be lots of fun in it. Life memberIt was amusing (and we needed amusement ships, to be sure, cost thirty dollars each; in that body) to see the Secretary popping but annual members can be made in any up to points of order, and trying to keep the number, at three dollars a head, without meeting clear as to its own identity. “We regard to race, creed, or previous condition are not the Board of Directors now; we are of servitude. Two hundred and fifty stout the Annual Meeting of the Society.” It young members of the Father Mathew T. was difficult, you see, to make the honest A. B. Society, properly organized and ingentlemen see what was the use of adopting structed would be quite enough, I judge, to that Annual Report over again, when they occupy all the sitting and standing room in had already adopted it an hour or two be- that chamber in the Bible House, against fore.
any attempt to interfere with their lawful But although in the ordinary course of rights. It need not take them fifteen minthings the society organization is inert, is utes to fill the nine annual vacancies in the not the existence of it important and valu- board of thirty-six managers with nine able to meet emergencies as they arise ? eminent laymen connected with the New It is out of prevailing satisfaction and con- York city government, and then adjourn fidence in the administration of the societies the annual meeting without day. The conthat the inactivity of their members arises; servative provision that only one-fourth of if there should be occasion of dissatisfaction the managers should go out of office annuand distrust, would not the membership ally might seem to afford security against show itself effective again?
too complete a revolution, but for the childHardly. That thing was tried in the case like and trustful provision that “ of the American Tract Society, twenty years ister of the gospel, who is a life member of ago, and may be considered as settled. In the society, shall be entitled to meet and ordinary circumstances, the membership of vote with the board of managers, and be these societies is nowhere. In extraordinary possessed of the same powers as a manager circumstances, it is a mob. In any issue himself.” We are inclined to think, in fact, arising between the members of the society that the most effectual method of proceeding and its managers, the members may as well would be, without bothering with the annual
up first as last. So long as the man- meeting at all, simply to capture the board agers have any show of a party, they can of managers, under this provision. A hun
reinforce themselves by new memberships, dred conscientious and resolute clergymen through the operation of the whole force of from the Cathedral could do it for the secretaries and agents, as to defy opposition. trifle of $3,000; and then, acting promptly The only recourse would be to lie quiet and on another provision in this glorious conthen suddenly capture the society at its stitution, could, by a single vote, “for annual meeting by a coup de main. This essential services to the Society,” appoint would be easy enough, ordinarily ; but it as members for life, each one having “the would not be a congenial way of operating, same powers as a manager himself,” all except as a joke. I have often won- the Roman Catholic clergy in the United dered why our Irish fellow-citizens of the States, together with the Pope, the College Latin obedience, with that cheerful hilarity of Cardinals, and the congregation De of temperament which is one of their most Propaganda Fide. Aside from all religious amiable traits, have never thought how they considerations, the Bible House, considered might enliven the community by taking as a piece of real estate, would be very cheap possession of the American Bible Society, indeed at three thousand dollars. Why it and placing it under the patronage of His is that our Irish Catholic brethren have not Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop, and the long ago taken measures of this kind can presidency of the Very Reverend the Vicar only be explained by the characteristic modGeneral of the diocese of New York. It esty of their race.
But, it will be asked, for all that these not exactly remember, but it was about a constitutions are such a crazy looking lot of dispute among some needy Gentile brethren documents, don't they, practically, work well as to the way of applying the income for the enough? As a matter of fact such abuses amelioration of their own condition; and as they seem to invite do not happen, and is inasmuch as the contestants and their friends it worth while to take any measures to rem- mainly composed the Annual Meeting, they edy a merely theoretical imperfection? did not dare to quarrel above a whisper, for
Well, if people like to do business in this fear others would come in and vote them happy-go-lucky way, leaving millions of dol- both down. I may not have got it quite lars and priceless social and religious inter- right, but it was something like this. Offiests lying around loose to be scrambled for cers of the various societies are habitually by any handful of zealots who may think it and from policy cautious in their remarks their duty to take possession thereof in the about other societies; but one used to hear name of the Lord, or to be drawn upon by in the corridors of the Bible House, hints some knot of managers to whom opportunity that an inquiry into the affairs of the Colowithout responsibility presents too strong a nization Society might bring out facts of temptation,--why, I suppose we must accept interest. And as to the American and Forit as one of the evidences of their conversion eign Christian Union it is unnecessary to that they are so much more foolish in their say anything. generation than the children of this world. The sole security for upright management No dozen or two of Baptist preachers has in these societies is the personal character ever yet dropped in at a meeting of the of the men who are in charge for the time Bible Society's managers and passed a vote being. And some of them are happy in beordering all the stereotype plates in foreign ing under the conduct of men whose names languages to be corrected in accordance with
are a better guarantee of wisdom and hontheir views of hermeneutics. And no com- esty, than any system of checks and balanpany of gentlemen of the “ Christian” per- ces that could be devised. And some of suasion have ever yet made a quiet rendez- them are not. If we must needs have an vous at the Annual Meeting of the American honest man in our closet, whom would we Tract Society and effected a revolution in rather name than (for example) any one of the administration of it with a view to the the officers of the American Home Missionexpurgation of its catalogue and the testing ary Society? But it is only expressing a of the question whether in the eye of the rooted sentiment of the human heart to say law they are “ Evangelical Christians” or that we do not want an honest man in our not. Whether there have been abuses and closet at all that we will have no honest peculations in the management of the socie- man in our closet. ties is not so certain; for this seems to have The commonest evils arising from this been the only useful object gained by the usu- total absence of responsibility and control are al method of organization—to save the scan- pot so much vulgar peculation as inertness, dal to the Christian name, and the vexation obstinate tenacity of routine, neglect of of righteous souls, which results from having vigorous prosecution of the society's busisuch matters brought to light. Still, one ness, and absence of intellectual force ; in hears now and then a hint of queer things short, laziness. It is notorious to what exin the less conspicuous societies, which tent the offices connected with these institumight lead to a better understanding of the tions are apt to become the asylums for whole subject, if it was anybody's business incapables.
ever approaches in particular to follow them up. There was from outside to pry the machine out of the a story about the “Society for Ameliorating ruts; and the ruts grow deeper each year, as the Condition of the Jews"_favorite insti- the lumbering, creaking old fabric comes tution for legacies from spinster ladies ad- once more trundling round in them. dicted to too much Daniel and Apocalypse To cite once more the American Bible with their tea. What the story was I do Society; not as a bad example but as, by uni