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DEGERANDO ON CHARITY; OTHER FRENCH WORKS ON LABOUR, THE
POOR, AND CHARITY, SPECIALLY NOTICED.
We trust the catalogue of French works, furnished above, may go far to give the desired impression of the fulness, the frankness, and the thoroughness with which the topics which they discuss have been met and treated. If the interested reader has not received as strong an impression as it is fitted to give, we almost despair, in the limits which are left us, of carrying his interest to the desired point by the rapid survey we may now take of some of these admirable volumes. These works may be classified by their subjects ; as works on charity, beneficence, humanity; on the poor, indigence, pauperism, misery; on labour,—its proper organization and its just rewards; on the history of the working classes in all ages and stages of society; on Christian political economy; and on special subjects, such as the history of prostitution, and full accounts of all existing hospitals, asylums, and benevolent institutions. To these may be added, able histories of the various reforms and reformers of ancient and modern times. These subjects branch and spread over so wide a field, that the classification, like the catalogue, fails to give an idea of the width of the harvest opened to the reader. But these volumes may be also arranged according to the character, position, and opinions of the writers. We have, then, political economists, philanthropists, catholics, protestants, statesmen, philosophers. It is, perhaps, most curious and most instrictive to regard this matter under the point of view of the parties from whom the respective opinions emanated. We can, however, follow up neither classification in what we further submit, and only merely indicate a few of the more remarkable books, making a few quotations and notices. For many years the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences has distinguished itself in the career of discussions touching social interests, physical and moral well-being. This society offered a prize of 5000 francs for the best memoir on the subject of_“Misery, in what it consists; what are its manifestations in different countries; and what are its causes.” This is only one of very many prizes offered for memoirs on kindred topics by this society during the last twenty-five years. Very many valuable works have appeared in that period, in response to the questions thus propounded.
But this society, having its seat at Paris, was not the only association which gave earnest heed to these subjects; several others, in dif
ferent parts of France, had brought forward the condition of the suffering classes. As early as 1777, the Academy of Chalons-sur-Marne received a hundred memoirs in reply to questions upon mendicancy. A summary of these papers was published, and furnishes a vast mine of materials and thought for inquirers. There is, indeed, abundant evidence that the literary and scientific associations of France have not been forgetful of those whom poverty had denied, not only the advantages enjoyed by them, but even the smallest comforts beyond a bare existence.
The most meritorious work, perhaps, which has appeared in France on this subject, is that by the Baron Degerando, entitled, “ DE LA BIENFAISANCE PUBLIQUE,” published at Paris in 1838, in four volumes, 8vo. The author had previously published the Visiteur du Pauvre, in which he had turned the attention of his readers to the condition and claims of the poor, and furnished directions and motives for a constant and zealous attention to their wants.*
This work of Degerando may be fairly considered as having presented the most complete view of public charity which had appeared at the date of its publication, and, though a flood of light has since been shed on its various topics, yet no single production has surpassed it in variety, fulness, method, and the very spirit of kindness. In dedicating it to his friends, he prays that “He who is the source of all good, all consolation, and all light, may shed his blessing upon the imperfect attempt, and that his effort may contribute somewhat to the solace of humanity and the progress of good morals.” The introduction contains an ample survey of the English, German, and French literature upon the subject of his labours. This exhibits great learning, industry, and discrimination, and furnishes proof how fully he was prepared for his task. In regard to the German writers, we are informed that the number who have taken up this subject is so considerable as to have led to the publication of special catalogues and bibliographical compilations. He indicates a considerable number of the principal works, and furnishes an appreciation of their contents. We cannot better give the spirit of the whole work than from the first portion of the rather prolonged introduction.
“ The noble studies of which the interests of humanity are the object, and
* This excellent little volume has been translated and published in Boston, with a valuable introduction, written at the instance of the lady who made the translation, by the Rev. Joseph Tuckerman, 1832.
which affect elevated minds with such profound sympathies, are associated by very intimate relations. Tending to a common end and based upon the same elements, they afford mutual light and demand mutual support.”
“ Among their number, that which relates to the ills of suffering humanity,– to the means of preventing and solacing them,-bears, more than any, close relations to all the others. It is the centre of the system. .... We cannot investigate the painful phenomena of poverty without penetrating the constituent elements of society itself, and without entertaining grave considerations upon the distinction of classes, and the organization of property and labour. The causes and effects of poverty touch, in many points, upon the subjects of criminal and civil legislation. In seeking preservatives and remedies, we enter, frequently, upon the most important problems of political economy. All that regards public health comes under contribution in the consideration of public succour. The torch of morals casts upon the origin and development of indigence light which we are far from having appreciated in its whole extent..... Philosophy, also, contributes to the study of beneficence; and these contributions are more important than is generally perceived. Religion, finally, which rules ever at the summit of human affairs, as including at once the higher mysteries and the highest laws, appears, full of warning and wisdom, but abounding in consolation, upon the scene where so many sufferings are displayed and so many victims sigh; it reveals knowledge, succours, and hopes of inestimable value; it works wonders which manifest its power and claim the admiration and the gratitude of the whole human family.”
“The study of the ills of humanity mingles intimately with all the interests of social order. Statesmen who bave heretofore disdained this inquiry, discover now, not without apprehension, that in this study are questions upon which depend the repose of nations and the destiny of peoples. Governments learn that, in the tears of the poor, there are for them instruction and duties. Of all conditions of people, the wretched are, without doubt, those who have the most right to our cares and anxieties; but we know their interests are connected with the other classes of society by a union which may be violated but cannot be obliterated.”
“If the general happiness, if the improvement of the great human family, is the object of all the social sciences, that inquiry which concerns the suffering classes must be preliminary to all others. Must it not contribute to all ? Does it not receive from all? Is it not, in many respects, one of the most vast, one of the most necessary? Is it not, alas! also one of the practical sciences ?"
“To be solid and instructive, such a study ought to be extended to its utmost compass. It presents many phases, it is complicated in many ways. It must be regarded as a whole, if the sacred cause of humanity is to be efficiently served. The different branches of aid cannot be well appreciated but by their coincidence in a common system, and by their relation with the evils they propose to cure. In considering these evils, we ask, whilst soothing them, if they could have been prevented; we find ourselves inquiring their origin; we are led over the whole path of human life,-observing the accidents which menace it, the helps which sustain it; we regard misfortune in its sad and numberless
forms, in its connection with riches, in its relations with the whole of society, which acts upon it in many ways, and upon which it in turn reacts.”
He remarks, that those who visit the abodes of destitution and the establishments for relief " cannot fail to be profoundly affected, to be attracted the holy cause of humanity, and to be strongly inclined to devote themselves wholly to it.”
The treatment of the subject of charity by the Christian fathers is noticed, showing how they “successively vindicate the rights of the poor; how warmly they exhort to the duty of alms-giving, and how, especially, they show that the duties of charity devolve upon the ministers of religion.” It seems that the obligations of the clergy in regard to the poor have, in modern times, engaged the attention of the public more in Germany than elsewhere. In 1787, Julius, Bishop of Wurtzburgh, proposed as the subject of a prize essay, “The duties of ecclesiastics and those who have the care of souls, relatively to the wellbeing of those under their charge, and especially the poor.” Twenty-five essays were sent in response, and many of them were published, “breathing the pure spirit of Christianity.”
“The principles which establish the rights of the poor and the obligations of the rich have greatly occupied the attention of theologians, moralists, and juriscongults of Germany. Wagenseilius, in 1700; Muller in 1749; Pfaff in 1771; Count Spaur, in 1802, have made them the subject of elaborate works. Various German and Swiss societies have proposed questions upon these topics; and altogether, in Germany and Switzerland, the subject has been more worthily handled and illustrated by examples than elsewhere."
Degerando notices the Malthusian controversy, and furnishes proof enough, whilst he gives him due credit for ability, that he has no sympathy with the leading doctrines of Malthus. Among the followers of Malthus, he distinguishes Dr. Chalmers, clearly with the intention of explaining why such a man should be found in such company.
** Among the writers who are ranged under the banner of Malthus, are some who have more or less modified his positions and corrected his errors. At the head of these is the respectable Dr. Chalmers. Casting over the whole field of philanthropic studies a coup-d'oeil at once vast and profound, he perceived the divorce which was separating political economy from Christian charity. He undertook the reconciliation of these two classes of doctrines; he has shown the need they have of each other, and the inevitable mischief of the separation; he pointed out the principles which are common to them, and thus at once served the interests of society and humanity. Beholding, under a new aspect, the influence of Christianity upon the institutions of beneficence, he bas shown in his life, not less than in his writings, that ecclesiastical establishments are the
appropriate channels of benevolence. A minister himself of Christian worship, he justly appreciated the present state of society and the moral wants it experiences."
“ Frequently prolix, but giving a special value to every detail by the spirit of observation which he displays, and by the practical utility at which he aims; with what skill does he not set forth all the springs of the organization suitable for carrying out the actions he recommends! With what authority of reason and experience does he not demonstrate the necessity of localizing, specializing, individualizing the different modes of succour! How admirably he reveals the immense advantages wbich flow from the relations of good-will which an active and intelligent charity establishes between the rich and indigent classes, and the means of increasing this touching sympathy."
After signalizing at some length and with great discrimination the course of authorship on these subjects, Degerando closes his introductory essay by some remarks upon what remains undone. He notes the “great divergence of opinion among writers, and the confusion in the minds of many, which in some begets discouragement, and in others distrust. The art of beneficence, at first glance so simple in its principles, so easy in its application, has given rise to problems the most complicated. In proportion as we remount to first principles, these problems become even more difficult. Religious and political differences have mingled in these discussions, and thus increased the difficulty by turning inquirers from the unbiassed pursuit of truth. The very foundations of our present social organizations have been drawn in question; the war of the poor against the rich has at some periods appeared imminent; and thus an agitation of mind has arisen which renders the whole of these studies more important for the interests of humanity. Painful anticipations have crept into the minds of good people-a dark cloud lies in their horizon, which seems to be fraught with tempests. They fear to see the scourge of pauperism sweeping over the land, and a feeling of dread takes possession of the thoughtful.” . Upon comparing the views of the different parties to this great discussion, he ranges himself on the side of the hopeful, believing that the very discussion itself justifies our expecting the triumph of truth.
We believe firmly in this triumph. We thus believe, after having partaken of the grievous doubts which arise from such opposite opinions--after having weighed and compared these contradictions with a conscientious impartiality. Long reflection and continued investigation have produced the deepest convictions, which we shall express with as much sincerity as they were formed. We have faith in the marvellous power of beneficence guided by wisdom. We are persuaded that this holy virtue is not a thing of hazard, or vague or random