Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

the power of goodness. The greatness of its crimes and woes is not a ground for despair, but a call to greater effort. On our earth the Divine Philanthropist has begun a war with evil. His cross is erected to gather together soldiers for the conflict, and victory is written in his blood. The spirit which Jesus Christ breathes, has already proved itself equal to this warfare. How much has it already done to repress ferocity in Christian nations, to purify domestic life, to abolish or mitigate slavery, to provide asylums for disease and want? These are but its first-fruits. In the progress already made by communities under its influences, we are taught that society is not destined to repeat itself perpetually, to stand still for ever. We learn, that great cities need not continue to be sinks of pollution. No man has seized the grand peculiarity of the present age, who does not see in it the means and material of a vast and beneficent social change. The revolution which we are called to advance, has in truth begun. The great distinction of our times, is a diffusion of intelligence, and refinement, and of the spirit of progress, through a vastly wider sphere than formerly. The middle and labouring classes have means of improvement not dreamed of in earlier times; and why stop here? Why not increase these means where now enjoyed ? Why not extend them, where they are not possessed? Why shall any portion of the community be deprived of light of sympathy, of the aids by which they may rise to comfort and virtue?

“At the present moment, it is singularly unreasonable to doubt and despair of the improvement of society. Providence is placing before our eyes, in broad light, the success of efforts for the melioration of human affairs. I might refer to the change proudced among ourselves within a few years, by the exertions of good men for the suppression of intemperance-the very vice which seemed the most inveterate, and which, more than all others, spreads poverty and crime. But this moral revolution in our own country sinks into nothing, when compared with the amazing and almost incredible work now in progress on the other side of the ocean. A few years ago, had we been called to name the country of all others most degraded, beggared, and hopelessly crushed by intemperance, we should have selected Ireland. There, men and women, old and young, were alike swept away by what seemed the irresistible torrent. Childhood was baptized into drunkenness. And now, in the short space of two or three years, this vice of ages has almost been rooted out. In a moral point of view, the Ireland of the past is vanished.”

Our hopes for the middle classes are great. If they need reform , they are capable of it. Their virtues speak trumpet-tongued in their favour. The evils under which they suffer have kept them always awake, and on the watch against peril. They have been compelled to be fertile in expedients to ward off, and guard against, approaching danger. The wolf can be kept from the door, by discretion and invention only. The tradesman dares not sleep by day-hardly by night. Constant vigilance is demanded, if he would preserve his credit ; constant ingenuity must be exercised, if he would extend it. lofluences like these call forth a character which will serve as excellent material for a new system and scheme of social order.

Another reason for hope lies in the fact that new wants have become felt by all classes of society. These must necessarily increase the amount of consumption but new means are therefore required for all classes to support it. The Chartist demands that the labourer should share in the profits of capital :-We may concede that it is desirable his wages should be raised; which, perhaps, is the same thing in effect. The means of increased consumption should be given to the labourer-with leisure for the enjoyment of intellectual and moral recreation. The spirit and scope of Christianity requires this.

“ That sympathy," says Dr. Channing, in the brochure already cited, “ which provides for the outward wants of all, which sends supplies to the poor man's house, is a blessed fruit of Christianity; and it is happy when this prevails in and binds together a city. But we have now learned, that the poor are not to be essentially, permanently aided, by the mere relief of bodily wants. We are learning, that the greatest efforts of a community should be directed, not to relieve indigence, but to dry up its sources, to supply moral wants, to spread purer principles and habits, to remove the temptations to intemperance and sloth, to snatch the child from moral perdition, and to make the man equal to his own support, by awakening in him the spirit and the powers of a man. The glory and happiness of a community consists in vigorous efforts, springing from love, sustained by faith, for the diffusion, through all classes, of intelligence, of self-respect, of selfcontrol, of thirst for knowledge, and for moral and religious growth. Here is the first end, the supreme interest, which a community should propose, and in achieving it, all other interests are accomplisbed.

" It is a plain truth, and yet how little understood, that the greatest thing in a city is Man himself. He is its end. We admire its palaces; but the mechanic who builds them is greater than palaces. Human nature in its lowest form, in the most abject child of want, is of more worth than all outward improvements. You talk of the prosperity of your city. I know but one true prosperity. Does the human soul grow and prosper here? Do not point me to your thronged streets. I ask, who throng them? Is it a low-minded, self-seeking, gold-worshipping, man-despising crowd, which I see rushing through them? Do I meet in them, under the female form, the gaily-decked prostitute, or the idle, wasteful, aimless, profitless woman of fashion ? Do I meet the young man, showing off his pretty person as the perfection of nature's works, wasting his golden hours in dissipation and sloth, and bearing in his countenance and gaze the marks of a profiigate? Do I meet a grasping multitude, seeking to thrive by concealments and frauds ? An anxious multitude, driven by fear of want to doubtful means of gain? An unfeeling multitude, caring nothing for others, if they may themselves prosper or enjoy? In the neighbourhood of your comfortable or splendid dwellings, are there abodes of squalid misery, of reckless crime, of bestial intemperance, of halffamished childhood, of profaneness, of dissoluteness, of temptation for thoughtless youth? And are these multiplying with your prosperity, and outstripping and neutralising the influences of truth and virtue? Then your prosperity is a vain show. Its true use is to make a better people. The glory and happiness of a city consist not in the number,

but the character of its population. Of all the fine arts in a city, the grandest is the art of forming noble specimens of humanity. The costliest productions of our manufactures are cheap, compared with a wise and good human being. A city wbich should practically adopt the principle, that a man is worth more than wealth or show, would gain an impulse that would place it at the head of cities. A city in which men should be trained worthy of the name, would become the metropolis of the earth.

“ God has prospered us, and, as we believe, is again to prosper us in our business; and let us show our gratitude by inquiring for what end prosperity is given, and how it may best accomplish the end of the Giver. Let us use it to give a higher character to our city, to send refining, purifying influences through every department of life. Let us especially use it to multiply good influences in those classes which are most exposed to temptation. Let us use it to prevent the propagation of crime from parent to child. Let us use it in behalf of those, in whom our nature is most depressed, and who, if neglected, will probably bring on themselves the arm of penal law. Nothing is so just a cause of self-respect in a city, as the healthy, moral condition of those who are most exposed to crime. This is the best proof that the prosperous classes are wise, intelligent, and worthy of their prosperity. Crime is to the state, what dangerous disease is to the human frame; and to expel it, should be to the community an object of the deepest concern. This topic is so important, that I cannot leave it without urging it on your serious thoughts.

“ Society has hitherto employed its energy chiefly to punish crime. It is infinitely more important to prevent it; and this I say, not for the sake of those alone on whom the criminal preys. I do not think only or chiefly of those who suffer from crime. I plead also, and plead more, for those who perpetrate it. In moments of clear, calm thought, I feel more for the wrong-doer than for him who is wronged. In a case of theft, incomparably the most wretched man is he who steals, not he who is robbed. The innocent are not undone by acts of violence or fraud from which they suffer. They are innocent, though injured. They do not bear the brand of infamous crime; and no language can express the import of this distinction. When I visit the cell of a convict, and see a human being who has sunk beneath his race-who is cast out by his race-whose name cannot be pronounced in his home, or only pronounced to start a tear-who has forfeited the confidence of every friend—who has lost that spring of virtue and effort, the hope of esteem--whose conscience is burdened with irreparable guilt-who has hardened himself against the appeals of religion and love,-here, here I see a Ruin. The man whom he has robbed or murdered, how much happier than he! What I want is, not merely that society should protect itself against crime, but that it shall do all that it can to preserve its exposed members from crime, and so do for the sake of these as truly as for its own. It should not suffer human nature to fall so deeply, so terribly, if the ruin can be avoided. Society ought not to breed Monsters in its bosom. If it will not use its prosperity to save the ignorant and poor from the blackest vice, if it will even quicken vice by its selfishness and luxury, its worship of wealth, its scorn of human nature, then it must suffer, and deserves to suffer, from crime.

[graphic]
[graphic]

“I would that, as a city, we might understand and feel how far we are chargeable with much of the crime and misery around us, of which we complain. Is it not an acknowledged moral truth, that we are answerable for all evil which we are able, but have failed, to prevent? Were Providence to put us in possession of a remedy for a man dying at our feet, and should we withhold it, would not the guilt of his death lie at our door? Are we not accessary to the destruction of the blind man, who, in our sight, approaches a precipice, and whom we do not warn of his danger ? On the same ground, much of the guilt and misery around us, must be imputed to ourselves. Why is it, that so many children in a large city grow up in ignorance and vice ? Because that city abandons them to ruinous influences, from which it might and ought to rescue them. Why is beggary so often transmitted from parent to child? Because the public, and because individuals, do little or nothing to break the fatal inheritance. Whence come many of the darkest crimes ? From despondency, recklessness, and a pressure of suffering, which sympathy would have lightened. Human sympathy, Christian sympathy, were it to penetrate the dwellings of the ignorant, poor, and suffering

were its voice lifted up to encourage, guide, and console, and its arm stretched out to sustain, —what a new world would it call into being! What a new city should we live in! How many victims of stern justice would become the living, joyful witnesses of the regenerating power of a wise Christian love!

“ In these remarks I have expressed sympathy with the criminal; but do not imagine that I have any desire to screen bim from that wise punishment which aims at once to reform offenders and protect society. The mercy which would turn aside the righteous penalties of law, is, however unconsciously, a form of cruelty. As friends of the tempted part of the community, we should make the escape of the criminal next to hopeless. But let not society stop here. Let it use every means in its power of rescuing its members from the degradation and misery of crime and public punishment. Let it especially protect the exposed child. Here is a paramount duty, which no community has yet fulfilled. If the child be left to grow up in utter ignorance of duty, of its Maker, of its relation to society, to grow up in an atmosphere of profaneness and intem perance, and in the practice of falsehood and fraud, let not the community complain of his crime. It has quietly looked on and seen him, year after year, arming himself against its order and peace; and who is most to blame when at last he deals the guilty blow ? A moral care over the tempted and ignorant portion of the state, is a primary duty of society.

“ I know that objection will be made to this representation of duty. It will be said, by not a few, We have not time to take care of others. We do our part in taking care of ourselves and our families. Let every man watch over his own household, and society will be at peace.' I reply, first, this defence is not founded in truth. Very few can honestly say, that they have no time or strength to spend beyond their families. How much time, thought, wealth, strength,

W

is wasted, absolutely wasted, by a large proportion of every people ! Were the will equal to the power, were there a fraternal concern for the falling and fallen members of the community, what an amount of energy would be spent in redeeming society from its terrible evils, without the slightest diminution of exertion at home!

“But, still more, we defeat ourselves, when we neglect the moral state of the city where we live, under pretence of caring for our families. How little may it profit you, my friends, that you labour at home, if in the next street, amidst haunts of vice, the incendiary, the thief, the ruffian, is learning his lesson, or preparing his instruments of destruction? How little may it profit you, that you are striving to educate your children, if around you, the children of others are neglected, are contaminated with evil principles or impure passions ? Where is it that our sons often receive the most powerful impulses? In the street, at school, from associates. Their ruin may be sealed by a young female brought up in the haunts of vice. Their first oaths may be echoes of profaneness which they hear from the sons of the abandoned. What is the great obstruction to our efforts for educating our children? It is the corruption around us. That corruption steals into our homes, and neutralizes the influence of home. We hope to keep our little circle pure amidst general impurity. This is like striving to keep our particular houses healthy, when infection is raging around us. If an accumulation of filth in our neighbourhood, were sending forth foul stench and pestilential vapours on every side, we should not plead as a reason for letting it remain, that we were striving to prevent a like accumulation within our own doors. Disease would not less certainly invade us, because the source of it was not prepared by ourselves. The infection of moral evil is as perilous as that of the plague. We have a personal interest in the prevalence of order and good principles on every side. If any member of the social body suffer, all must suffer with it. This is God's ordination, and his merciful ordination. It is thus that he summons us to watch over our brother for his good. In this city, where the children are taught chiefly in public schools, all parents bave peculiar reasons for seeking that all classes of society be improved.

"Let me add one more reply to the excuse for neglecting others, drawn from the necessity of attending to our own families. True, we must attend to our families ; but what is the great end which we should propose in regard to our children? Is it, to train them up for themselves only? to shut them up in their own pleasures? to give them a knowledge by which they may serve their private interests? Should it not be our first care, to breathe into them the spirit of Christians ? to give them a generous interest in our race? to fit them to live and to die for their fellow-beings? Is not this the true education? And can we, then, educate them better, than by giving them, in our own persons, examples of a true concern for our less prosperous fellow-creatures? Should not our common tones awaken in them sympathy with the poor, and ignorant, and depraved ? Should not the influences of home fit them to go forth as the benefactors of their race? This is a Christian education. This is worth all accomN. S.-VOL. VI.

2 s

« AnteriorContinua »