Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/325

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
311
PRIVATE RELIEF OF THE POOR.

The most familiar of these is the careless squandering of pence to beggars, and the consequent fostering of idleness and vice. Sometimes because their sympathies are so quick that they can not tolerate the sight of real or apparent misery; sometimes because they quiet their consciences and think they compound for misdeeds by occasional largesse; sometimes because they are moved by that other-worldliness which hopes to obtain large gifts hereafter by small gifts here; sometimes because, though conscious of mischief likely to be done, they have not the patience needed to make inquiries, and are tempted to end the matter with a sixpence or something less; men help the bad to become worse. Doubtless the evil is great, and weighs much against the individual exercise of beneficence—practically if not theoretically.

The same causes initiate and maintain the begging-letter impostures. Occasional exposures of these in daily papers might serve as warnings; but always there is a new crop of credulous people who believe what they are told by cunning dissemblers, and yield rather than take the trouble of verification; thinking, many of them, that they are virtuous in thus doing the thing which seems kind, instead of being, as they are, vicious in taking no care to prevent evil. That the doings of such keep alive numbers of scamps and swindlers, every one knows; and doubtless a considerable set-off to the advantages of individual beneficence hence arises.

Then, again, there meets us the objection that if there is no compulsory raising of funds to relieve distress, and everything is left to the promptings of sympathy, people who have little or no sympathy, forming a large part of the community, will contribute nothing; and will leave undue burdens to be borne by the more sympathetic. Either the requirements will be inadequately met or the kind-hearted will have to make excessive sacrifices. Much force though there is in this objection, it is not so forcible as at first appears. In this case, as in many cases, wrong inferences are drawn respecting the effects of a new cause, because it is supposed that while one thing is changed all other things remain the same. It is forgotten that in the absence of a coercive law there often exists a coercive public opinion. There is no legal penalty on a lie, if not uttered after taking an oath; and yet the social disgrace which follows a convicted liar has a strong effect in maintaining a general truthfulness. There is no prescribed punishment for breaking social observances; and yet these are by many conformed to more carefully than are moral precepts or legal enactments. Most people dread far more the social frown which follows the doing of something conventionally wrong, than they do the qualms of conscience which follow the doing of something intrin-