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MRS. L.Visiting the houses of the poor I have always found a good practice, as it enables one to judge of the real state of each family.
MRS. B. This cannot readily be done by women in the metropolis, or in other great towns; but in country residences the same objections do not exist, and it has so many advantages, that, where it can be effected, it should not be omitted. Besides enabling you to form a proper opinion of the necessities of each case, it gives an opportunity of advising and instructing the poor in cleanliness, industry, and general good management, in all of which they are too often extremely defective. Many instances have occurred, in which this occasional superintendence has produced more beneficial effects, than the gifts that accompanied the visits, by giving the poor, the creditable pride of being clean and industrious, and of bringing up their families in good and regular habits. It is not sufficient to send your servants to make enquiries, and to examine into any case of distress; their report is seldom accurate, owing to their prejudices and feelings colouring too deeply their opinions.
The charitable institutions, which abound in almost every district, afford the means to do extensive good at a trifling expence. The lying-in charities; and the societies for providing the poor with change of linen during illness, are excellent institutions, and extend relief from one end of the kingdom to another, without being too heavy an expence for any one. But I am not quite so great an admirer of those societies which are formed for clothing the poor. I believe much greater benefits would be conferred by teach
ing them, or at least their, children, how to cut out and to make their own clothes. These arts are becoming almost unknown among the lower order; and this, though it may chiefly be caused by the females being engaged in working at manufactories, has been increased by the ease with which they have procured from the charitable, ready supplies of every article of clothing. The object of charity should be to relieve and comfort those who labour under sickness and the infirmities of old age, or it should be directed in promoting the suitable education of the children of the poor. A woman who is compelled to make and repair the clothes of her family will be much more careful of them than one who imagines she can draw upon the treasury of benevolence for all her wants. To increase the knowledge of the poor, in every respect, is of importance; for, although it be not easy to enlighten the individual who has journeyed through half his course of existence, in a state of ignorance, or to change the habits which years have strengthened and confirmed, yet, occasionally an instance may occur, in which instruction proves a blessing of far greater value than alms, producing such effects upon the welfare and habits of a family, as would result from no other cause; and this should stimulate the benevolent in the good work, although they may meet with unconquerable difficulties in ninety-nine instances out of a hundred.
MRS. L. I hope you do not consider that want of zeal in the cause of charity is a feature in the character of the women of the present day?
MRS. B. On the contrary, there is abundance
of zeal displayed in every rank and circle of society. I only regret that so virtuous an impulse is not always properly directed, and comfort and relief bestowed in a proportion equal to the time and money expended. You must remember that charity without judgment is like scattering seed in the ocean, where it sinks or is dissipated on the waves; but, with judgment, it is like seed sown in a friendly and fertile soil, which springs up in due season, and produces a thousand fold in return. In the first case, it is the ruin of individual independence, and of that honest pride which seeks to oppose industry and frugality to the pressure of necessity; while, in the other, it is the blessing of Heaven, and the salvation of sinking virtue in the hour of adversity; and presents the sublimest trait in the human character.
MRS. L. I entirely agree with you, and shall be solicitous to regulate this part of my conduct with discretion; but it is very difficult, when the feelings are liable to be strongly excited, to summon our judgment at the moment we need its aid. We may lay down our system and resolve to act upon it, but the impulse of an instant will often give it a death-blow. I wish now to hear your opinion on the custom of giving presents.
MRS. B. Where presents are given merely because it is customary, I think the custom frequently proves a tax rather on our kind and friendly feelings than a gratification; and, although we yield with apparent pleasure to it, yet, we often find it both inconvenient and burdensome. I met. with an instance of this very lately, when visisting
my friend Mrs. D. Among the younger branches of her family I heard many lively discussions on the absolute necessity of presenting gifts to a young friend who was on the point of marriage; while, at the same time, it was unanimously regretted that these presents would deeply infringe upon their several allowances, and oblige them for some time to become niggardly both to themselves and others. The beauty and elegance of various bagatelles were described, and as each was solicitous to outvie the others in the superiority of her selection, I could perceive that ostentation gave a stronger impulse than friendship and affection to the transaction, and gained a decided victory over prudence and good sense. One member only of this youthful group raised her voice against this waste of money. She readily foresaw how inadequate a gratification would be afforded by it, either to the receiver of the gifts, or the donors. "Only reflect," said she, "in how trifling a degree will Miss C. value our offerings, in comparison with those she will have from her relations and greater intimates. The value of theirs will be, of course, enhanced also by the proportionate claims upon her affection: she may perhaps be pleased with our presents; and after writing us a note of acknowledgment, will give our bijoux a place in her cabinet; but, then, as far as she is concerned, there will be an end of it while we, for twelve months to come, must pause to consider, before we purchase any article of dress, whether we can pay for it, and even then must choose what suits our finances rather than our taste; and as to any act of benevolence and
kindness, from which you as well as myself do not altogether like to abstain, we must give that up entirely; and who can tell how sincerely we may have reason to grieve at this present expenditure?" This remonstrance proved unavailing, and drew from the others only hackneyed replies, such as, "It will be so strange if we omit what is customary!
What will Miss C. think of us? She will never again regard us as friends; and I should not, for such a trifle, choose to lose a friend." The presents, therefore, were actually made, and the event almost fulfilled the prediction of the dissentient voice. She also was a fellow-sufferer, as she could not in this matter act singly in opposition to the majority of her family.
Such instances, I have no doubt, often occur where pecuniary circumstances are limited, and the ideas and habits are not conformable: in such cases, to be munificent and just, are incompatible; and, in our cool moments, we can easily decide to which we ought to yield. Where an ample fortune, however, admits of this species of generosity, who can condemn it? It bespeaks an attention to the pleasures of others which is not always to be found amongst those who have too much the power of gratifying themselves. When such gifts are bestowed with the desire to afford a few luxuries to an individual whose means may be insufficient to obtain them, the custom then wears the aspect of benevolence; and if the presents are given in the spirit of kindness, they cannot but be well received. I think, also, that the little interchanges of presents between the mem-.