THE ETHICS OF ALMSGIVING.
THE Rev. George S. Reaney, whose letter we publish else- where, is a little too sensitive. We had no more intention in our paragraph of November 20th of personally attacking him, than of personally defending the Lord Mayor, both being
tans merely representative men on the two sides of a serious, and just now very pressing controversy. Sir R. Hanson, as customary with Lord Mayors on November 9th, gave a banquet to her Majesty's Ministers. As usual, there was great profusion, mach costly display, and probably a good deal of waste—though the whole of the mass of surplus food, much of it untouched, was given away to the poor—and the total cost of the dinner amounted to 22,500. Mr. Reaney, a much-respected Noncon- formist minister, thereupon, in a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette, classed the Lord Mayor with Dives, and intimated that he had much better have spent the money either in one dinner to 200,000 men, or many dinners to 1,000 children. To this he adheres, though he apparently concedes the "right" of the Lord Mayor to spend his own money in his own way— it is his own money, remember, whether it comes from his salary or his private means—and we have no serious quarrel with Mr. Reaney on account of that opinion. He is entitled to his view, which, indeed, in one way is also our own. We do not believe that charitable dinners to adults do much good, holding inde- pendence to be sweeter as well as better than repletion ; and we are not quite certain of the effect on household morals of free children's dinners—upon which subject we have received quite a mass of deprecating evidence since we partly supported the scheme—but no doubt there are better ways of employing such a sum than eating and drinking it away. It might even be possible to keep up the stately ceremonial of the City, which seems to us to have a distinct use of its own, much more cheaply, and we no more defend waste on food than on anything else. What we do defend, and that with a kind of direct brutality which we should avoid were opinion a little less mis- guided on the subject, is the right of the individual, subject always both to the moral law and the law of the land, to expend his means at his own discretion instead of the dis- cretion of the community. That was why we made the innocent allusion to mutton which has so vexed Mr. Romney. We had not the slightest idea, of course, what he ate, or the smallest objection to his eating anything in the world, from bedie-de-mer soup to potatoes, and only mentioned mutton as the meat everybody eats. He is, however, hurt ; and being hurt, might see how strong oar argument was. It is this very attempt to bring public opinion to bear against the rightful liberty of private life of which we complain. Whether Mr. Reaney eats turtle, or mutton, or bread, is no business of his neighbours'. Sir R. Hanson, for anything we know, may do a wrong, though we do not suppose he does, to his own con- science in spending 22,500 on a dinner to a thousand gentle- folk, merely to keep up the City tradition of splendid hospitality; but he does no wrong to the community, and has no more right to be censured by it than Mr. Reaney has when he dines off mutton. If our remark upon Mr. Reaney's dinner was imper- tinent—which he rather implies, and with perfect justice if we had intended a personality—then so is his upon Sir R. Hanson. The Lord Mayor, it is true, is a public character ; but so is anybody who writes a letter to the papers, to the extent of the arguments in that letter.
This is what Mr. Reaney and those who think with him do not see, and this is precisely what we complain of. An opinion seems to have grown up that there is one moral law for the rich and another for the poor ; that it is lawful to spend ten shillings a week on luxury, but not ten pounds ; that the man with a little has a right to his own, but not the man with much. Men are not, it is true, as yet prepared to deprive the rich man of his liberty by law, or even to set a mob on him for presuming to be rich ; but they are prepared to use a compulsion of a very searching and painful kind, the compulsion, namely, of opinion. They want to make of gossip an effective tribunal. They will not burn Dives alive, but they will put him under the burning- glass of publicity ; and though they would be horrified if a Rothschild were racked for his sins of accumulation, they are not horrified if he is denounced by ten million throats. The taste for orchids is an innocent one, if an innocent taste can be; but orchids are costly, and we have seen Mr. Chamberlain's fancy for them exaggerated into a definite charge of "insolent ex- penditure." He has, we contend, exactly the same right to his orchid that John Smith, platelayer, has to his penny rose ; and to scold either purchase is, pro tant,o, an injury to civilisation, which benefits by a development of the love of flowers, or of anything else that is at once pure and beautiful.
But we shall be asked,—With so many suffering from want, is it not a duty to restrict all superfluous expenditure, and give
the money so saved to the necessitous ? No; it is not, as any one can perceive who will take the trouble to consider the result of such a proceeding. There can be no imperative law of Christianity which is not binding upon all, and there is no law in that creed which is clearly ruinous in its effects; and if this were the law, it would demoralise and ultimately ruin any country in which it was accepted. Either the money-makers would cease to work, except for bare subsistence, their labour pro- ducing for themselves no pleasurable result, and the obligation to give ending with the means of giving ; or the body of the community would depend upon the wealth of the few, to the destruction of their industry, and of all the virtues which are irreconcilable with idleness or dependence. It is therefore clearly only a portion of the rich upon whom the obligation can fall ; and, as we read the teaching of Christianity, that portion is defined with an almost imperative clearness. It is those who are willing who should give. Charity, in the sense of liberality arising from pity, is inculcated throughout the New Testament as a grace, not as a duty, believers being expressly taught that they are at liberty to withhold—ride the Ananias incident— and that willingness is of the very essence of the grace of charity. A man is not acceptable to God because he pays poor-rates, though they rise to ten shillings in the pound, or when he gives because if he does not he will be pricked with tongue-pins by his neighbours and the journalists who happen to hear of him. He might as well give under torture, and think that a merit. That the charitable man is better than the miserly one, nobody doubts, as nobody doubts that the man who risks life and forswears happiness in order to preach the Gospel to savages is better than the man who stays comfortably at home ; but the duty of turning missionary is not imperative, even though the claim of the untaught in spiritual truth to be taught by those who know, is far stronger than the
claim of the poor to be made comfortable by the rich. Indeed, we doubt if the latter claim, as it is put forward in our day, exists as a moral claim at all. The brotherhood in Christ gives no right to be idle in the name of Christ, and the claim, if it exists, is limited to those who are from misfortune unable to work to maintain themselves. To assist the miserable was the command, not to relieve the poor of work. Mr. Reaney says it is selfish to give or eat costly things at dinner ; but where will he find that the use at will of honestly acquired wealth is equivalent to that selfish- ness which is sin P Is it selfish to live in a house when another man has not one ? We honour the Christian who recently filled a house with orphan babies, to her own impoverishment ; but we honour her because of her nature, which led her so far beyond duty. It follows—as we think, though the majority of Christians throughout the world deny it—from the very existence of society that every man in it has a right to live, and to live on the com- munity, if there be no other way ; but there his positive right ends. He has no right to superfluities unless he earns them, though those who are pitiful enough to solace him with super- fluities perform an act of grace, always beneficial to themselves, and sometimes beneficial to him. The laws of Christianity, like those other laws of God which we call the laws of Nature, are very often hard ; and the world in this, as in every other respect, must be regulated first of all by justice. There is no justice in sponging.
It seems to us that while the manlier virtues do not die out, the appreciation of them among us has for the moment de- clined. Nothing amazes us more than the indifference with which many good people, in their pity for discomfort, regard the effect of charity on the moral nature of the poor. They seem to think that if bread comes, it makes no difference to the poor, crime being supposed absent, how it comes. The idea that a man should be independent, should labour for himself and his household, should face his lot if it is a hard one, should endure even hunger calmly rather than take from the unwilling giver, seems to have perished from among us. The " poor " are to take from " society " all they can induce or force society to give, and to think of the gift as if it were an earning. Why ? Such a process will make them no nobler, or better, or more fitted to struggle towards the Christian ideal ; and why are they to do it ? Is it, as the miser Elwee is said to have once suggested, to develop the virtue of charity in the other ones, or is it that dependence is of itself a source of virtue ? Experience teaches the exact contrary, and there is nothing whatever in the teaching of Christianity to overrule that experience. A man who can work but who lives by begging, is a man who injures his own character, debases his own manhood, and if he accepts Christianity
at all, has no oonoeption of its true teaching, or of that dignity of soul which that teaching, if fully received, would develop in him ; and whether he begs quietly of the passer-by, or begs with loud complaints of "society," makes no manner of differ- ence. Society is no more bound to be charitable to him against its will than the individual is. He is a beggar, and unless he begs from powerlessness either to work or to bear hunger, he is a lower man in Christian virtue, as well as in the estimation of his fellow-men, than the man who works and endures. A man cannot escape his relation to God by burying himself in a huge corporation called "the poor," and saying that because they are not the rich, the obligations of Christian manliness do not fall on him. They do fall, as he will find when all strength has gone out of his soul, and, like the Roman citizen who took doles from the State, he has ceased to be fit to be a freeman. Mr. Llewelyn Davies, who has worked for thirty years among the poor, has the courage to say, in Monday's Times, that the moral effect of a cessation of relief is positively beneficial ; and no man who has ever watched an educated loafer, the aimless, shiftless, slouch-smiled dependant whom every man has seen, will doubt the accuracy of his observation. There is nothing whatever in poverty to make dependence on society—voluntary dependence, of course—anything but a moral curse.