25 NOVEMBER 1843, Page 13


AT times in the streets of some Italian city—say Florence, you may see the passengers step aside to make way for a strange group of men in black gowns, each with a peaked hood over the head and face, pierced with two holes for the eyes to see through, and a Quaker-looking hat slung behind. They bear perchance a bier with a corpse upon it ; and as they pass hastily along, there is something in their uncouth garb, their measured march-like tread, and the half-indifferent yet respectful movement of the spectators, which imparts a feeling of awe at the sight. Who are they ? They are the Brothers of the Misericordia, bearing to the grave the body of a fellow-creature whose friends are too poor to pay for the fune- ral-rites. Or possibly they carry to the hospital El wounded man. They need no ticket—no letter of recommendation ; the simple want for them is their summons. But what are they—what man- ner of men in their proper persons ? All sorts, except the poor. They are a charitable institution ; and that mean and ghastly do- mino and mask all in one very likely conceals a noble, walking side by side with a tradesman. So the peasant whom you accost with inquiries will tell you, in a matter-of-course tone. Ask him what these Brothers do, and he launches forth into a respectful and affec- tionate eulogy of their goodness.

Here, in our own capital, is a different group. A body of men in most excellent coats—some fat and some lean—some gray, some black—some cropped, some "a la Jeune France," or sleek "Young England" fashion—waistcoats of divers patterns, but all with whitest shirt-collars—assemble round a large mahogany table, covered with baize very smooth and tightly glued on to it : they are a "Board" of a charitable institution. Their amounts of sub- scription give them various ranks ; and they enjoy various privi- leges, the chief of which are—the homage of secretary and porters; the right to rule over the " objects" of the charity; a dinner once a year, with a panegyrical report on their beneficence by the secretary, and a parade of the "objects" themselves,—some- times called "deserving objects "—all comfortable, and grateful "for that occasion only." The Board issue from their office and walk down the street, until dispersed at turnings and in carriages. "Who are they ? " asks a passenger. "Don't know, Sir—think they are a Jury or a Railway Company, or something of that kind." Ask one of the "objects." He will tell you that " they are the — Institution." " What is that ?"—" Oh! it is for poor people and such like, if they know any one that can get a ticket." The man speaks without feeling ; "for the poor are very ungrateful."

Now, ten to one, each man of the "Board" gives ten times, ay fifty times as much as a Brother of the Misericordia : but what does he do ? Pays—and dines : all the rest is done ready to his hand by the secretary and others. He is a good Samaritan by proxy ; he goes among publicans and sinners by his agent ; and devotes himself to the good of his race by paid substitute. The poor scramble callously for the boon ; the secretary that dispenses it receives no gratitude—it is his " business " to do it ; and what tender gratitude can be felt to a " Board " as impersonal and distant as the Board of Longitude?

The double blessing of charity is mortified. To him that re- ceives, it is not charity, but mere paltry casual assets. To him that gives, it is only conformity with what is " usual," what is "expected." Worse, those that bestow never learn what is really wanted, where, nor how. The charity of England is immense— but is it adequate ? Not one punctually-attending particle of a Board can tell you. He has an idea that there is a vast deal of misery ; but the Board directs its attention to specific objects, for that is the only practical way to do good; "and, really, if we were to make ourselves uncomfortable about all the wretchedness we can't help, we should have enough to do." But do you ever go among the poor—stay among them—use your own discretion ? " Why, no ; I really am not so well-informed as our secretary, and should make mistakes ; besides, it is very unwholesome to go into close places : indeed, I almost doubt whether all this charity and so forth is not wrong—whether it does not encourage idleness, and interfere with the operation of the Poor-law." And you say the poor are ungrateful ? " Oh yes ; particularly so." Ungrateful for what ? you do not go and show any feeling to them, and how can they feel towards you ? You pay them, and demand that they should feel ; which is no logical sequence. The result naturally follows the cause—you pay, and they are paid; that is all. But further, they acquire the habit of grasping: they go seeking for tickets for soup or blankets, just as boys go nutting ; not thinking whence the good things come, but merely going where they know them to be had. It is all "luck."

Charitable societies start up in the fertile soil of British gene- rosity like mushrooms—there is no end to the new ones. A specimen of a magnificent kind is budding in London just now— a society to provide house-shelter for all that need. Will this society differ from others ? will all the members, like real brothers in charity, visit the scenes of suffering, and learn what to alleviate ? or will they go no further than the committee-room, if so far ? Will they take their turn in personal attendance on the poor ? If not, they will fill a room, or rooms, with several squalid persons, whose misery and disorder are more or less effectually kept under ; more or fewer persons will be relieved per pound subscribed ; more or less tact and vigour will be exhibited in keeping vermin out of their premises: but as to making any impression on the mass of misery, cheering or conciliating the wretched, the society will be as useless as any "Board" in the country. Its character and ad-

ministration, however, are not yet determined; and for what we know, an innovation may be intended in the routine of munificence.