« AnteriorContinuar »
for her. The progress of my researches is what I now wish to disclose to my readers.
It happened, a short time after, that I was staying in a house where, without that sort of profusion that intimates abundant wealth, there was an air of ease and liberality that bespake poverty at equal distance. As many servants were kept as could do the required service well; but not so many as very usually prevent its being done at all. As much ornament was about the house, as gave a tone of elegance and comfort to the apartments; but not so much that every thing must be bundled up in sacks of brown Holland, till somebody is expected worthy to look upon it. The dress of the family was genteel, perhaps a little recherché; but not so as to convey the idea that the great essential of their happiness, the cardinal virtue of their character, was to have their clothes becoming and well-made. In short, the whole air of the mansion seemed to say, we have not enough to squander, but we have enough to enjoy.
It befell on an occasion, that we-that is, myself and the ladies of the family-sate pleasantly engaged in our morning occupations, about as important as such occupations usually are—that is, one was making a frill, and another was unpicking a frill that somebody else had made-one was making match-boxes for the chimney, and another was making matches to put into the matchboxes, and so on. A person was announced who came to solicit a contribution to some charitable efforts making in the neighbourhood for the relief of indigence, or suffering of some kind, I do not exactly remember what. The lady of the house listened with much civility to the application; fully approved both of the object and the proposed means, wished all manner of success, and greatly lamented that her very limited income did not allow of her doing so much good as she desired. They had contributed already to so many things, the objects of private charity that presented themselves were so numerous, it was quite impossible to assist in any new efforts.
The applicant, who, as an intimate friend of the family, used the liberty of persuasion, again pointed out the necessity of the case, and the Christian duty of dispensing what we hold of providential bounty. The lady replied extremely well-spoke fairly of the beauty and the duty of charity-admitted that she did not give so much as she should feel to be right, and as she should be inclined to, but that she actually had no more to spareher income was no more than sufficient for the proprieties of her condition-she never expended any thing unnecessarily she wished she had a few hundreds a year more, and she would give a guinea to this undertaking most willingly-there was nothing for which she so much desired wealth. Then turning to her daughters, she said, "I do not know how the girls' allowance standsthey are always anxious to give, and I am sure this is a case in which they would feel deeply interested-but they, like myself, cannot do all they wish."
"I really am sorry," said the elder daughter, "but I have given away every farthing I can possibly spare-if I had a shilling left that I could do without, I should think it quite my duty to give it on such an occasion."
"I have no money," said one of the younger girls, but I am thinking whether I can assist the charity in any other way-whether I can take any part in the trouble of providing-of visiting the
"I am sure, Julia, you cannot," interrupted her sister, "you know you have more to do already than you can get through. Our time is taken up with so many things-it is impossible you can undertake any thing more."
"Well, I believe it is," answered Julia; "but this is so plainly a case of urgent necessity-a duty so obvious, that we certainly ought to aid it some way."
"We ought, if we could, my dear," said her Mama; but no one is required to do more than they can. As it has not pleased Providence to give us any superfluity of wealth, much is not required of us. It cannot be our duty to give more than we can spare with propriety, and
in justice to ourselves and our families-I am really sorry, because I think it a proper case."
The contribution was declined, and the visitor departed. I had held my tongue, because I always hold my tongue; but I had been thinking all the time. I had thought it was a pity people so charitably disposed had so limited an income-I thought how painful it must be to them to feel that there was no way in which they could make their circumstances yield to the claims of their suffering fellowcreatures, without trespassing on the expenditure imperiously demanded of them by the proprieties of life. And as my secret reflections are apt to excurse very widely from the point where they begin, and no one spoke to interrupt me, I went on to think what is the real extent of charity that Christian principle may demand of any one. It is immediately perceptible that it cannot be to do away with the distinctions Providence has made, and throw from us the advantages and indulgences Providence has given, and disenable ourselves to support the expenditure required of our station, itself a means of dispersing wealth and averting poverty from the industrious-a limit, therefore, there must be to every one's liberality. But can that limit be within the point where a case of real want presents itself, and the possessor of wealth can command, without injustice or injury to any one, something to bestow? I was just entering in thought upon this wide field of rumination, when the servant announced the arrival of a vender of certain rare articles of dress and curious wares from abroad-things as pleasant to the eye of taste, as to that of vanity, The vender was willingly admitted. Every thing was examined, many things were wished for, a few things were purchased. Mama bought some ornaments for the table-the eldest girl bought some ivory winders for her thread, much prettier than the wooden ones she had in use before-Julia bought a gilded buckle to fasten her waistband. These things were all very pretty—not very
extravagant in price-harmless indulgences of taste-the produce of some one's industry-the superfluity the Creator has provided means for, and therefore cannot disapprove. But they were all unnecessary. The one lady had added nothing to her influence or respectability by the ornaments for her table-the second lady had added nothing to her comfort or happiness by exchanging wooden winders for ivory ones-the third lady had added nothing to her gentility or beauty by a new buckle for her waistband. Therefore I said within myself, their words and their actions do not consist. They said there was nothing for which they so much valued wealth as to distribute it to the necessitous. That was not truethey preferred to spend it on themselves. They said they had not any money to spare, though they felt strongly the claim that was made on them. That was not true-they could spare money the first moment they felt inclined. Had these people said they had given in charity as large a portion of their income as they thought it their duty to deprive themselves of, and wished to give no more, it had been well, and whether right or wrong, they had spoken honestly; but inasmuch as they said they wished to give and regretted that they could not, their words and their deeds were not consistent.
"Good morning, dear," said Mrs. White to her cousin Mrs. Grey, as I chanced to hear one morning on the parade at Brighton; "I have a favour to ask of you our girls are going to have a quadrille party next week-I wish you would let your young people come." You know I do not like my girls to enter into those
Not when it takes them into publick and leads to habitual dissipation-but in private parties, and when you know what company they mix with, and when you are sure they will neither hear nor see any thing calculated to pervert their principles or corrupt their minds, it is impossible you can imagine any harm in a party,
merely because they dance. We shall not have above thirty people."
"No, certainly not because they dance. To dance, literally, is only to move in a certain measured step, and jump a certain number of inches from the ground, and go about the room in a prescribed figure, instead of the irregular figure and unmeasured pace they would observe were they running about the hills. I am not so absurd as to suppose there can be any harm in this motion more than in any other motion. Therefore that my girls do not come, is not merely because you have dancing, but I do not like that sort of party for them at any rate. It is a scene of display-an exhibition of the person and excitation of the mind, that they are better and happier without, and I should be sorry that they acquired a taste for it."
'I cannot think why you should fear their having a taste for an innocent amusement that all young people enjoy-you are not bringing them up for the cloister, I suppose."
"By no means: I bring them up to be agreeable and useful in society, and therefore would not wish to unfit them for it but you cannot pretend to say there is any real enjoyment of society, any mental improvement to be expected, or any benevolent feeling to be cultivated, in these parties."
Perhaps not I cannot say there is-but at least there is no harm."
"That is not so certain-I apprehend a great deal of harm may be done. A great many wrong feelings are excited-if they are much noticed, and have the best partners, their vanity and self-esteem are excited-if they see others succeeding better, their jealousy is excitedjealousy, and vanity, and self-esteem are sins, and in all sin there is harm. Then there is so much thought and care about what they are to wear, and how they shall look, and what will be thought of them by strangers— a set of people, in whose approbation or affections they