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PUBLIC AND PRIVATE CHARITIES.1
BY THE AUTHOR OF "OLD BAILEY EXPERIENCE."
"WHAT!" methinks I hear some tyro in the ways of man say, the hospitals and dispensaries of no benefit to the public?" To such I reply, they are ornaments and a credit to the country, and, that they are institutions which heap incalculable benefits upon all mankind; but it is a palpable mistake to call them charities erected solely for the use of the poor. Public receptacles for disease and cases of surgery confer benefits equally upon all classes.
Through these institutions, the misfortunes and the accidents which befall the poor are, by an ingenious policy, rendered available to the security of the whole body of the people; each of whom being, physiologically considered, made of the same constituents as the beggar, has in his person, his own common natural wants and weaknesses made manifest, and to a great extent provided against. The poor, in these institutions, are used as the experimental natural philosopher uses his instruments in investigating nature: in their persons the sciences of surgery, nosology, pathology, and dietetics, are advanced.
But for these public schools, (for such they are, and in that sense converted to a profit,) in cases of disease brought on by plethory and voluptuousness, where would the rich find assistance and advice in prolonging a life which is rendered desirable, because they possess the means of purchasing its enjoyments? The anatomist, through the agency of hospitals to a certain degree, discovers the order, situation, substance, relations, and confederate intercourses of parts, contained and continent in man; the different cells and different bowels, how roofed and how partitioned; ascertains all the wheels and clock-works of the heart; the mysterious causes of effects; what pullies contract and what dilate, what secret engines tune the pulse, and when, by a well-ordered chiming, it shows what time health keeps in the body; can demonstrate all the meanders and by-paths of sporting nature, whose obstructions have lodged where maladies breed, and by such practice remove morbid humours. All this has been accomplished by the rich man contributing his money, and the poor man his body.
On the continent, hospitals are of very ancient date; in many of the churches apartments were kept for the sick, and the dwellings of the christian bishops, in primitive ages of the church, had much of the appearance of hospitals. The one founded by St. Basil at Cæsarea, 1 Concluded from vol. x. p. 338.
Sept. 1834.-VOL. XI.—NO. XLI.
in the fourth century, is mentioned as one of the first; his example was followed by St. Chrysostom, who founded many similar establishments at Constantinople, when, at length, that dreadful malady, the leprosy, which was brought by the Crusaders from Asia, rendered their erection a matter of necessity rather than of charity. The houses, which were termed in France, Leproseries and Maladredies, were built in great numbers, so that at the close of the reign of Louis VIII. there appear to have existed no fewer than two thousand of them in that kingdom; and according to the authority of Matthew Paris, at the close of the thirteenth century, no less than nineteen thousand in the different countries of Europe. In Paris, they did not view them in the light of charities, for in the year 1777 the Monts de Piété were founded for the support of the general hospital; this was a bank to lend money, the interest and profits from which went to support the hospital. But in Paris, the whole number of these institutions are under the controul of government, being viewed (as they really are) as national institutions for the general good of all classes. Regarding all kinds of charitable institutions (to use the phraseology of the day) in England, there is a principle of opposition to them which militates against their usefulness in no small degree. A writer, in condemning the system on which the English hospitals are conducted, says, "In most of the every-day concerns of business and life, opposition does good. It is a spur and incentive to improvement and discovery, prevents civilization from retrograding, and is the source of all approaches to perfection. But in establishments of charity, it cannot possibly be of any service; and the erection of a rival hospital or dispensary, suggests no idea but that of mismanagement and disagreement upon matters on which all should be as one. It is frequently merely a means of throwing away revenues that might be better employed." But it is not only with hospitals this rivalship is shown; I have known the most rancorous feeling subsist between two institutions that were supposed to be both working upon the same ground. Parties fall out, form juntas, set up counter-institutions, and in every possible way carry on a contentious war with each other. There are probably two causes which operate to bring about these effects; we are nationally a pugnacious people, and in the gratification of our militant spirit oftentimes suffer every other consideration to be absorbed in strife. We are also a race of beings that are too fond of money; not a few institutions are got up under the specious pretext of charitable intentions, when private gain is the sole object in view. It has been observed, in all ages, that interest governs mankind; and the truth of this observation appears in the vast number who are daily seen sacrificing reason, religion, with every valuable blessing, to gain a supposed advantage. Society was originally designed for universal benefit; but that which appears an actual benefit often proves itself to be a virtual injury; we are too ready to judge of benefits from appearances; but the most likely method of obtaining a proper knowledge, is to judge of them by their effects, as a physician does of a disease. Error is of such a teeming constitution, that the hydra's heads multiply by amputation; an aphorism illustrated in modern legislation.
The system of English charity (falsely so called) has reared up in society a class consisting of some millions of debased and degraded beings, devoid of self-respect, and consequently possessing none for any other class. Just in proportion as the poor have been made dependent upon public casual relief, so, in a twofold ratio, have their numbers and demands increased; and this proportion will, so long as the system is persevered in, continue to increase. So long as the causes exist, so long will the effects be visible. There is a story told of a Russian nobleman and his servant, who, when travelling, were pursued by wolves so closely, that they had no alternative left but for one to leave the carriage, that the other might be saved, and it is said, the servant sacrificed himself to save his lord. The aristocracy and the tradesmen of this country are in a similar situation; the latter is the first to be swallowed up, but the wolves will ultimately devour them both. What then is to be done? Act, I say, upon a wise and just policy; exclude none from the possibility of earning their own living cease to legislate against, but for, the poorer classes; let all the fiscal enactments of the country tend to relieve the lower orders, take the burden from their backs and permit them to rise in the scale, that they may see their road clear to earn a good living by their labour, and thereby feel a spirit of independence. The history of the world nowhere presents us with a parallel instance of such a sudden change for the worse in so short a space of time, as in the English labourer; but the causes are plainly before us, viz.: the events of the nation, which occasioned an increase of taxation, brought with them an increase of commerce, and a considerable rise in the price of agricultural produce, benefiting those who were co-existent with the times, and in trade, in a greater proportion than they were burdened by the new taxes, &c. But every additional duty upon the commodities of life, and every rise in the price of provisions, fell with its full weight upon the poor man, plunging him more and more deeply into the abyss of irretrievable wretchedness: converting, in a few short years, the whole labouring physical strength of the poor into parish paupers and wandering beggars.
We are told that, besides the eight millions collected annually in poors' rates, that there are upwards of another eight millions expended in one way or another upon the poor; and yet it cannot be proved that they are benefited; they are but barely prevented from perishing with hunger. Surely, it cannot be considered a charity to keep man in a state of misery and punishment, and thereby root out of his nature every feeling of independence and manhood, leaving him without any of the amenities enjoyed by his fellow-men.
All the schemes devised by the legislature to alter the habits of the poor man must necessarily fail, until they raise him in the scale of human beings; sixteen millions which it is said, in one way or another are annually expended upon the poor, is an amount sufficiently ample to better their condition if judiciously appropriated. It is, however, the mode in which they are relieved, and the manner in which they are treated, which is productive of all the mischief.
Let us suppose a community of persons, consisting of a thousand, containing all the shades of talent and grades found in society in ge
neral, of which one hundred are of the labouring class, who earn by their exertions one guinea per week, but pay no taxes, by order of the chief magistrate, who is at the head of the government. Now suppose some exigencies of the colony to arise, which occasion the ruling authority to lay on, indiscriminately, heavy imposts upon every article used as necessaries of life, regardless of the earnings or incomes of the several classes that make up the whole population : such a taxation as would, in fact, reduce the one hundred labourers' wages from one guinea to seven shillings per week; but the governor, having the thought that it might sometimes so happen that the labourer could not obtain work, and that he would, during a season of idleness, be starved for want of bread to eat, it is made compulsory that the nine hundred shall, in such need, subscribe to keep him alive by supplying that article of life. Now imagine that the new circumstances of the times considerably augment the wealth of a large portion of the inhabitants of the colony; while in the struggle, which a change of affairs occasions, another hundred are reduced to a state of poverty, leaving one-fifth of the population in absolute want, who, for a time, suffer great privations; but, at length, some of the more fortunate members of the community feel ashamed of living in affluence, while others of their fellow-creatures are starving. Another timid party, conceiving that two hundred needy men are dangerous to the wellbeing of the rest, join them in a consultation as to what is best to be done; while the remainder of the persons who are above want, through the force of example, unite their efforts with the others, and agree that a subscription shall be set on foot to assist their distressed brethren. But instead of uniting cordially with each other, and making one common fund for one common object, they divide themselves into numerous parties, each taking different views of that which is most proper to be done. The result of this diversity of opinion is, that one party, consisting of twenty or thirty persons, say that twenty blankets given away among the two hundred, in December, is the best measure; another, that a bushel of coals the day before Christmas will be the greatest charity; a third, that a basin of soup once a week during the winter months, will be the most useful assistance which can be afforded them. The more wealthy, who have the most to lose, subscribe for an additional guard of men, who are ordered continually to walk about and knock down all rioters, while another party establish a dispensary to supply the sufferers with plaisters, and a few join in a subscription coffin society: in fine, the whole eight hundred busy themselves in almost as many different ways in ameliorating the evils which have befallen the two hundred, occasioned by the little consideration bestowed upon them by the governor. It should be mentioned that the females in this society, anxious to repair the waste of life which want and its concomitant disease brings among men, form societies for encouraging the reproduction of human beings. Lying-in hospitals are established, and the stronger to mark the feeling there is against the governor's conduct, his wife becomes the patroness of one, and causes her name to be written in large letters upon the buildings. Midwives are engaged, and baby linen made by young ladies yet under age, who also visit the sick, and carry in their