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VISITING THE POOR.
It has been said by one of the first of legislators and of men, "that if one thousandth part of the vice and wretchedness which belongs to the poor were to be brought before the world, it would go mad with horror." And it is indeed true, that while the face of things presents a smooth tide on which the sun glitters joyously, a deep, dark, under current exists, full of poison and corruption, which, if brought to the surface, would appal the observer. To drive through Regent-street in the week, or in Rotten-row on the Sabbath, and mark the splendid range of shops like palaces, or the chain of brilliant equipages rolling along the Park, one would scarcely believe that the same country contained its millions experiencing all the acute misery which the direst poverty and vice can inflict upon suffering humanity. But it is so; for the tender spirit of Christianity and sweet effort of love is not yet fully abroad in the land: her voice is but rarely heard in the counsels of the mighty; and her irrevocable love which teaches that, "whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," is not yet acknowledged by the mass of mankind. It is more than to be feared, that what is called the world, that is, that mass of beings which make up what is denominated "the Ton," who figure in fashionable life, and who enjoy the means of doing "great good in the earth," are so absorbed by the vanities that invest their exalted station, so busied about many things of no importance, so devoted to their own selves, and lastly, so entirely ignorant of the misery of that class from which they derive their superfluities, that they scarcely think of any thing but the presentation of this young lady, or the coming out of the other-the last new fashion, or the last new novel. Their "excessive sensibilities" are often set loose by the imaginary woe pourtrayed by the hand of the "literary or the theatrical artiste;" but as to seeking out real woe, to administer to a mind diseased, to rase out the written troubles of the brain, to allay the scorching fever's thirst, and to give a cup of cold water in the name of Him whose drink, in the agony of death was, "vinegar mingled with gall,"-this is as foreign and outré, and would appear as perfectly ridiculous to them as being one day behind "fashion's monthly calendar," or going at a proper time to church. And can we wonder at this? Religion is looked upon as a bore, the work of benevolence is " humbug (for this word is tolerated now by the ton as a legitimate expression), and all those high feelings of commiseration, of devotion, and of holy enthusiasm towards the distressed, are voted as superlatively dull and stupid, and only fit for those who have no other way of killing time; at the same time the utmost contempt and ridicule is thrown upon those who devote themselves to benevolent objects: they are either set down as the holy Apostle Paul was, as mad, or else they are held up to ridicule and scorn. * And is it possible that the highly-educated, the refined,
* A respectable and valned friend of ours, who to an enthusiastic devotion to the improvement of the poor, added all and more than his means would afford, and who had been most extraordinarily successful in accomplishing his objects, had taken some pains to interest the fashionable inhabitants of the "Great House," in the village adjoining his own, in an object of great importance; after many fruitless attempts to VOL. I-May, 1835.
and the accomplished, can be so destitute of the great principles of religion? Alas, this is the vice of affluence. It is these bars that render it hard for the rich man to go to heaven. The seed may perhaps have been sown, but the vanities and glories of the world have grown up and choaked it, because the ground was not properly prepared for its reception. Education to them has been more of an education for this world's glories, than for those of the next. The mind has been strained upon trifles; the affections have been busied upon unreal things; and the feelings have wasted their "sweetness on the desert air:” and thus the voice of humanity appealeth in vain, the cry of the poor is unheard, and the tear of sorrow finds no sympathetic drop of holy affection responding as it falls.
But although the majority of those to whom Divine Providence has been bountiful are thus dead to Christian sympathy, it is gratifying to the philanthropist to know, that amid the world of fashion, though not of that world, there are not a few who make the cause of the poor their study, and whose greatest earthly delight is in administering to their necessities. Impelled by a sense of love and gratitude to their heavenly Father for his mercies, they endeavour to follow Christ their Redeemer, and would "go about doing good," visiting the sick and the distressed, with the balm of Christian consolation and the meed of Christian charity; and of these it may be said, as was said of the disciples of Christ, that they are the salt of the earth: for it is to such, after all, that we are indebted for preserving it from that general corruption that would prevail, were it not for their influence and exertions, and the kindred efforts of others.
It is, however, to be lamented, that the number in the higher ranks of life who devote their time and means to this greatest and most laudable of all objects, is still comparatively small, while in the middle ranks that number is not much greater. It appears not to be generally understood, that the claims of the poor are such as should awaken the deepest sympathy and the highest energies of human bosoms. People busied in trade are in general as much engrossed by their worldly pursuits after wealth, as the wealthy are after enjoyment. The poor grow up around them in filthy miserable hovels, stagger by their doors in a state of drunkenness, every hour their voices are heard in high contention, and the lowest and most profane discourse is, from its very commonness, disregarded: perhaps a case of severe illness overtakes a family, or, from some sudden bereavement, it is plunged into extraordinary distress: this often, for a moment, calls into brief exercise a little pecuniary charity, the case is temporarily relieved; but as for permanent benefit, or of raising a family from its degraded state, of taking precautions against other families sinking into the same state, we seldom hear. If a family is found dwelling in the most wretched hovel, surrounded by stagnant filth, as is often the case, without ventilation, or with scarcely a family convenience, and with every circumstance around it calculated to produce
do this, he received a card of invitation to a ball. Being a member of the Society of friends, he no further resented this insult than by sending a few books on the unchristiau tendency of plays, balls, card parties, &c. to his fair inviters,
disease and to destroy every feeling of delicacy, which should be the palladium of a family circle-seldom indeed are the visitor's exertions directed to remove the surrounding causes of contamination and vice; relief is afforded, instruction is given, and pity is bestowed, but the sufferer is left encompassed by all the sickening circumstances that tend to perpetuate misery and to engender disease. In most towns, the extreme poor are found to inhabit such situations, close confined yards and alleys, back lanes in which the kennels are continually flowing with stercoraceous matter, or where ditches accumulate their filth "to dry in the rotting sun." The visitor shudders in his peregrinations; he bestows his alms, and flies out of the contaminating atmosphere as quickly as possible; and thus the poor family passes on from day to day, dependent partly on the hand of charity, which it calls to its door by a thousand expedients, and partly by the aid of the parish; it flies from one benevolent society to another for relief, and to every benevolent person, on whom a tale of suffering may be expected to have an effect; and thus is perpetuated the vice, the poverty, and the misery, which at the present day seem likely, unless timely means be taken to prevent them, of spreading through the land like a foul contagion, affecting every thing that comes within the sphere of their contact.
The attention that is paid to the religious state of the poor by visitors is as defective and partial as that which is paid to their physical state. The state of the poor, that is, of that lower depraved kind, which is the most numerous, at the same time the most claiming our regard, is such as to strike the visitor with the most poignant distress. If you enter the dwelling of those whose privation and misery seem to claim your attention, you generally, though not always without exception, find the most complete ignorance of moral responsibility and of Christian duty; and to speak of the mysteries of religion-of faith and its workings, is to speak of things utterly unknown. And why is this? Thousands upon thousands of the poor never enter a place of worship. And how does the pious visitor proceed? With the best intentions, with the purest motives, armed with prayer, and fortified by faith, he feels the task to be one most hazardous, and awfully responsible. He finds him ignorant of God as a Father, of Christ as a Redeemer, of the Holy Ghost as a Sanctifier. He finds it would be necessary, to make a lasting impression, to teach the principles of the Christian religion; but he is reduced to the necessity of fixing on his mind the simplest fundamental truth, a thing rather assented to by the lips and momentarily conceived by the mind, than thoroughly comprehended by the understanding. Perhaps, from the peculiar constitution of his own religious creed, he infixes a mere dogma, he speaks to him indefinitely (and is unintelligible) of grace, of trusting in Christ, of regeneration, and a renewal of his mind; but the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness unto him. He leaves him religious tracts-to him dull and unprofitable in most cases; the most profound ignorance in which he is sunk, and the absolute incapacity of his mind to grapple with an abstract idea, rendering the attempt to convert him by this means from a state of sin, as futile as it was in the former instance, to rescue him from a state of
misery through the medium of charitable institutions or private bounty. To what then must the attention of the pious visitor be turned, when he would imitate his Divine Master by administering to human necessity? not to partial relief certainly, for that tends to create the disease it can never cure, nor should he be content to give away a religious tract, and call again in a fortnight; he must have a more extended, a more complete, and a higher aim; it must be his purpose to reform the individual and his family-thoroughly to reform him; and this he must attempt in a regular, a uniform, and systematic manner he must study the physical and moral disease of his patient; he must probe his heart to the bottom; he must fathom and unravel him; he must try him and prove him, and reduce his theory of treatment to an actual series of experiments; and he must be guided by the results of these experiments as implicitly as the chemist when he attempts to achieve some great object by the agency of that mighty science.
The first object of the visitor must be to gain the confidence of those he would serve; and here is scope for the highest degree of delicacy, caution, and perseverance, which can be required for any work. Without the obtaining of this confidence, the visitor will always be subject to a thousand little artifices of deception, with false pictures of their misery, and false accounts of the true state of their affairs; some things they will conceal, others they will bring forward ostentatiously. Nothing can positively be done till you can depend upon those you would serve, for truth. To obtain this confidence, the visitor must be perfectly sincere himself; he must not go with one view, and talk of another; he must not disguise his sentiments, nor attempt to bribe his patient into anything; he must be perfectly open and free, must show no distrust, must be candid, and, above all things, humble in the sight of him that he would serve; he must at once, in the true spirit of Christian love, smite down the wall of separation that prevents intimate communication, and feel and act as a brother, and be certain to establish an endearing friendship, esteem, and love between himself and his object. When this love is once established, and the true and genuine piety of the visitor is responded to by the affection and devotion of the visited, then, and only then, will the chance of success occur. Then, when suspicion is destroyed on both sides, when coldness and caution give way to warmth of affection and freedom of intercourse, when reserve is exchanged for communicativeness, and the whole heart, in its fulness, can be poured out in truth before him -then may the visitor, and not till then, adopt measures for the reform and permanent benefit of the object of his solicitude.
But in this it will be necessary to preserve that Christian dignity of deportment which always commands veneration; the visitor ought not to expect the servile humility with which the world is generally so pleased: no, not even on the score of gratitude for benefits conferred; but he ought to exact a veneration not for himself, but for the virtues that he exhibits; and for them only as being the light of Christ passing through himself. Christian love and Christian holiness thrown and expanded over the heart, like sunshine, have ever a vivifying in
fluence; and the sweetest flowers that ever blossom in mortal clay are brought forth by its warmth and by its brightness.
It is in this spirit, and in this spirit only, that the word of exhortation can be given; but in giving exhortation we must be careful how we give it. Perhaps, after all our cares and troubles, this will be found the most unwelcome gift; even advice must at first be hazarded in a deferential manner, and we must try to win by the bienséance of our manner, as much as by the weight of our arguments. We must act first, and then reason; it is not to preach from the top of the well to the man who is drowning at the bottom, that will serve him or convince him you care much about him; you must first let down the bucket, and when the unfortunate is out of danger, you may with propriety expatiate upon his heedlessness or errors.
And here, with regard to exhortation and advice, it cannot be too strongly remarked, that without example be added to precept, the visitor cannot expect that his advice will be listened to, much less followed. Advice always bears in some degree the character of reproof, and he who would give it is ever narrowly watched : let the visitor beware how, in giving counsel, he does not need similar counsel himself. Let him remember that the vices of the poor are no more flagrant than the vices of the rich, that these are even more excusable than his own, and that virtue consists not only in charitable bequests, and in visiting the poor, but in being, in all his relations with his fellow man, assimilated to the pattern of Christ. Let him be careful to show no uncharitableness, no sinister motive in his conduct towards his object—and let his conversation be without reproach: let him beware of those peccadillos which occur in our common intercourse with man; and most especially of those acts of narrow-mindedness, of petty avarice, or of circumvention of his fellows, which is too often forgotten in business transactions. If a man shall craftily over-reach his neighbour, if he shall display illiberality and closeness in his common dealings, if he shows narrowness in his notions of things, and bigotry in his opinions, though he were to travel about with a bag of gold over his shoulder, and relieve all he visited, it is most certain that his exhortations would be received with carelessness, and that his advice would be thrown away upon the poor, who, above all others, are the most ready to trace out incongruity of character, and notice defects in those moving in a higher station.
One of the most important of the visitor's duties is to afford religious instruction to the spiritually ignorant, and comfort to those in infirmity of body or distress of mind. And here it requires a most serious consideration; the poor, starving, and sick object, after having received the bounty of a friend, has generally too much gratitude, or too much fear of losing his friend, to wish to displease him. If the visitor attempts to urge upon him an acquaintance with things that concern his soul's health, he runs the chance of being the dupe of the hypocrite; he often finds the ready assent given to the "revelation of the mystery," when the mystery is not revealed; and it is not at all an unfrequent case for the object to acquire a set of phrases expressive of his feelings, the awfulness of his state, and of the mercy to be ob