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   Chapter 4 CHARITY

Religion And Health By James J. Walsh Characters: 50677

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Charity is usually looked upon as a cure for social, not personal ills. Its activities, while recognized as supremely effective in fostering the health of people who have to live on inadequate means, are not ordinarily considered as reacting to benefit the health of the individual who practices the virtue. Any such outlook is, however, very partial. Religion has always taught that the benefiting of others invariably served to bring down blessings on those who took up the precious duty of helpfulness, blessings which are not reserved merely for the hereafter, but are felt also in this world, which affect not only the spirit but the mind of man. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" are the words of the Sermon on the Mount, and it must not be forgotten that that dear old-fashioned word, mercy, which is so often limited to forgiveness in our day, meant in the old time acts of benevolence-"works of mercy", as they were called-and in Luke it is stated that the "neighbor unto him that fell among thieves" was "he that showed mercy on him."

The personal satisfaction which comes from the performance of these works of mercy represents one of the most active factors that we have for good health and especially for the creation of that background of contentment with life on which good health is commonly {81} developed. The merciful garner some of their reward here in the shape of a less troubled life, so far at least as their own worries might be sources of trouble, and a fuller, heartier existence in the consciousness of helpfulness for others. The words encouragement, discouragement, in Saxon English heartening and disheartening, putting heart into or taking heart out of people, have a literal physical as well as metaphysical significance that all physicians have come to appreciate rather thoroughly.

Charity is a cure not only for the ills of the social body, but it is also an extremely valuable remedy for the personal ills of those who devote themselves to doing their duty towards others. Vincent de Paul, that great organizer of charity, or as we would call his work in our time, social service-for during and after the great wars in France in the early seventeenth century he organized relief for literally thousands of people in the war zone and afterwards continued his great social work, which was quite as much needed then as our post-war work is now, in the large cities and towns of France-once used an expression in this regard that deserves to be repeated here because it emphasizes this reactionary effect of charity which means so much for health. Vincent said that "Unless the charity we do does as much good for the doer as it does for the one for whom it is done, there is something wrong with the charity." Here is a phase of charity that has been forgotten only too often in the modern time. It emphasizes the fact that the most important remedy for that very serious affection taedium vitae, that sense of the unsatisfactoriness of life which comes to everybody at some time or other, is the doing of things for other people with a whole-hearted feeling of helpfulness.


It has been suggested that the doing of good for others, with all the good effects which flow from it for the active participants, may very well be accomplished without any appeal to religion, and that sympathy alone suffices as a foundation. Sir W. Thistleton-Dyer, in reviewing Huxley's position in this matter in a critique of Clodd's "Life of Huxley", suggests that the mystery would still remain as to how the sympathy is to be infused. He adds: "My experience of human nature inclines me to think that it requires a more powerful appeal to the imagination than is afforded by a mere academic council of perfection of this sort." As a matter of fact Altruism, as it has been called, is a very different thing from charity in its effect upon the doer. The deep feeling of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God with which true charity is associated makes a profoundly impressive suggestion, with a favorable emotional tendency which serves to give almost as a rule and quite naturally a sense of well-being. The practice of charity from religious motives becomes, then, a very different thing from any mere feeling of sympathy with others founded, as it is so likely to be, on the selfish feeling of how painful it would be for us to be in like case, or tinged at least with the consciousness of condescension toward those below us which vitiates most of the good motives of doing for others on any human grounds.

For those who feel that the new Altruism may fully replace the old charity, and that people can derive just as much good from the stirring of their sympathies from merely humanitarian motives as they can from religious love of their neighbor, President Schurman of Cornell said some things that are very interesting:

"It is a blessed characteristic of our own age that {83} religion has come to express itself so nobly in practical well-doing. But beneficence is not piety. To make the love of man the essence of religion is to misread the latter and to divest the former of its supreme spiritual dynamic. If the religious man is a benediction to earth, it is because his soul is bathed in the dews of heaven."

The relief of the serious physical sufferings of those around us, together with the glimpse so often afforded while engaged in that work of the patience with which real ills are borne by others, is the best possible dispeller of the dreads which are the source of so many psycho-neuroses and the neurotic symptoms which complicate other diseases of modern times. These represent a much larger proportion of the ills of mankind than we were inclined to think. The Great War proved a revelation in this regard, for one third of all the dismissions from the English army, apart from the wounded, were made because of neurotic affections. Manifestly they must occupy an important place also in civil life. Those who practice charity, that is, those who not merely supply material aid to be distributed through agents or almoners, but give their personal service for those in need, have the chance to be impressed with the thought of how much worse things might be with themselves than they actually are, and how thankful they should be for their own conditions. The best practical definition of contentment still continues to be the conviction that things might be worse than they actually are. Indeed, it is this very satisfaction that comes from doing good that tempts people, humanly speaking, to do more and more of it, and the personal service habit, once formed, is as hard to break as almost any other habit that a man can contract.


The word charity has come to have in many minds a very unfortunate innuendo. It is associated with the thought of doling out alms, of pauperizing people and of making them dependent on others instead of arousing their power to help themselves. There are a good many people who seem to think that never until our time did the question of organizing charity, or social service as it is called, come into men's minds in such a way as to prevent these unfortunate abuses of charity which do so much more harm than good. The history of social service does not begin in our time, however, but goes back over all the centuries in the history of Christianity. Religion has always furnished the incentive to do good, but the Church and common sense have helped people to regulate their charity in such a way as to make it really useful to men. During the Middle Ages there were many legal regulations against "sturdy vagrants" who imposed on people and took the charity out of the mouths of those who deserved it and who abused the opportunities for treatment in hospitals or for lodging in places provided for the poor. Human nature has not changed much, and the tramp and the wanderer have always been with us, as well as the man who is willing to "give up", and let others take care of him.

Charity, as its Latin etymology suggests, means the dearness of others to us. It is our personal interest in them that constitutes its essence and not at all the mere giving of something or even the doing of something in order to be relieved from the necessity of thinking about them. Dear old Sir Thomas Browne, in his "Religio Medici", put the whole question of charity very succinctly when he said, "this I think charity, to love God for Himself and our neighbor for God." Milton summed {85} up the complete quintessence of religion in the single word charity quite as Doctor Browne did, though with less aphoristic effectiveness. "Our whole practical dutie in religion is contained in charitie, or the love of God and our neighbor." Charity in this sense is a development of Christianity, and the personal service idea is almost unknown in ancient times. Lecky, in his history of European morals, says that "the active, habitual and detailed charity of private persons, which is so conspicuous a feature in all Christian societies, was scarcely known in antiquity, and there are not more than two or three moralists who have noticed it."

It is the love or affection that goes with whatever is done that is the real essence of charity. It is this quality especially which makes the charity of benefit to the doer. This helps him and above all her to eliminate that super-conscious preoccupation with self which has become the bane of existence in modern times. It is at the root of more serious physical and mental symptoms than any other single factor that we have in pathology. Anything that will take people out of themselves, that will interest them in others and keep them from thinking about themselves, will do an immense amount of good in helping to maintain their good health, but above all will keep people from exaggerating feelings of all kinds, some of them scarcely more than normal, a great many of them merely physiological, into symptoms which seem to indicate serious disease and sometimes to portend extremely serious consequences. Charity that really touches the heart is a panacea for more ills than any remedy we have. It will make even those who are sufferers from genuine disease often of severe or almost fatal character ever so much more comfortable, and it has {86} furnished some invalids with such occupation of mind and heart as has enabled them to do a great deal of good in the world. A great many of us know of one bedridden lady, utterly unable to sit up, who has succeeded in organizing throughout the country branches of an extremely valuable organization which helps the poor to provide proper clothing for their infants and has saved many lives and made many homes happier.

There are a great many people who are afraid lest they should do harm by their charity and who apparently fail to realize that it is their own selfishness which takes refuge in the excuse that doing things for others may possibly pauperize the objects of their beneficence. As John Ruskin reminded us in "Sesame and Lilies", it is extremely important not to let ourselves be deceived by any of the very common talk of "indiscriminate charity." He adds, in one of those passages of his that only he could write and that are so full of the meat of thought for those who care to think about such subjects:

"The order to us is not to feed the deserving hungry, nor the industrious hungry, nor the amiable and well-intentioned hungry, but simply to feed the hungry. It is quite true, infallibly true, that if any man will not work, neither should he eat-think of that, and every time you sit down to your dinner, ladies and gentlemen, say solemnly, before you ask a blessing, 'How much work have I done to-day for my dinner?' But the proper way to enforce that order on those below you, as well as on yourselves, is not to leave vagabonds and honest people to starve together, but very distinctly to discern and seize your vagabond; and shut your vagabond up out of honest people's way, and very sternly then see that, until he has worked, he does not eat."


Works of charity under religious impulses have always constituted an excellent resource for people inclined to be overoccupied with themselves and who need the stimulus of contact with those in suffering to make them realize that their own troubles are largely the result of too much preoccupation with trifling discomforts of various kinds or even with symptoms of various affections which must be borne and which will cause much less suffering and general disturbance of health if there is the distraction of sincere and deep interest in others. Anything that will act as a brake on the working of the Law of Avalanche which is discussed in the chapter on Pain and which serves to increase all suffering through subjective influences will do human beings a great deal of good. As a rule nothing is so effective in this direction as preoccupation with the much severer ills of other people.

The seven corporal works of mercy, as they were called, that is, the seven modes of succoring those in need which St. Paul suggested every Christian should practice, are particularly valuable for the neurotic individuals whom, like the poor and needy, we have always with us, but who have multiplied so much more in this generation because a great many people have not enough to occupy their time properly, but above all have not enough exercise of their heart impulses and their affections to satisfy this imperative need of humanity. Women particularly must be afforded, as a rule, the opportunity to mother somebody who requires their care. If they have no children of their own, and with the loosening of the bonds of religion more and more of them have not, then they will seldom be happy unless the chance is provided for them to devote the emotional side of their {88} natures to other human beings who need them and whose needs constitute the best possible opportunity for the exercise of the spiritual side of this precious function.

The seven corporal works of mercy are:

(1) To feed the hungry;

(2) To give drink to the thirsty;

(3) To clothe the naked;

(4) To harbor the harborless;

(5) To visit and ransom the captive;

(6) To visit the sick; and

(7) To bury the dead.

These represented a list of very definite duties which children were taught to repeat from memory when they were young; and they were told very simply that if they did not take the opportunity to perform them they were really not doing their Christian duty. To visit the sick, for instance, meant not only to spend an hour or two with a sick relative, but to seek out those who were sick and poor and had no one to care for them and make some provision for them. Some of the old hospital visiting customs in this regard are extremely interesting, inasmuch as they reveal the resource that this must have been to people who are usually thought of as being occupied solely with social duties in the much narrower sense of the term. Martin Luther tells in one of his letters that during his visit to Italy about four hundred years ago, one of the things that proved a great source of edification to him was the fact that the ladies of the nobility in the Italian cities made it a custom to visit the hospitals regularly and to spend hours at a time there and do things for the patients with their own hands. Some of them wore veils while they were performing this beautiful service in order that they might not be recognized, lest what they did should come to be talked about, and they did not want to practice their charity for the sake of publicity. The people of the old time were often as intent on avoiding publicity as our generation, as a rule, {89} seems to be intent on securing it. Almost needless to say ostentatious philanthropy is not charity and has none of the reactionary good effects for the doer to be found in real charity.

It must not be forgotten that whenever hospitals are visited regularly thus by the better-to-do classes there is very little likelihood of serious abuses creeping into them. The care of even the very poor patients is kept at a high standard because these visitors see the beginnings of abuses and either bring about their correction at once, or else devote themselves to some modification of hospital routine that will prevent the recurrence of such unfortunate conditions. Religion thus proved a stimulus to the better care of the ailing poor that was a distinct benefit to the health of the community. It was when hospitals ceased to be the object of such attention on the part of the better-to-do people that they ran down into the awful condition which prevailed so generally in them even less than a century ago.

Burdett in his "History of Hospitals" has not hesitated to say that hospitals placed in the midst of cities and visited regularly by the well-to-do represent a great social instrument for the betterment of all sorts of social conditions. The wealthy are kept from being selfish, the poor from being envious, the classes of the community are not so separated that they fail to understand each other, and both of them are greatly benefited by the experiences which bring them together.

Burdett has gone even further and insisted that the support of hospitals, by the State, because it removes opportunities for charity, is an unfortunate development in modern times. Those who are well able to help the poor and the ailing get the feeling that due provision is {90} made for them out of the taxes, and that, therefore, no further obligation rests upon them and the needs and requirements of the poor are no concern of theirs. As a consequence, he says, "an increasing number of people are being brought up on a wrong principle and are thus led to forget the privilege and to ignore the duty of giving toward the support of those who are unable to help themselves."

Besides pointing out how much is lost of social value and social stimulus when private charitable institutions are replaced by State institutions, Burdett emphasizes not only how much of social good is accomplished by voluntary charity, but also how much of personal relief is afforded to some of the trials of life that often prove the source of unfortunate pathological conditions. He said: "Apart from the evils we have briefly referred to, there is a loss to the whole community in the lessened moral sense which State institutions create. The voluntary charities afford an opening for the encouragement and expression of the best of all human feelings,-sympathy between man and man. They give to the rich an opening for the display of consideration toward the poor which is fruitful in results. They create a feeling of widespread sympathy with those who suffer and impress on the population the duty of almsgiving to an extent which no other charity can do. They constitute a neutral platform whereon all classes and sects can meet with unanimity and good feeling. They provide a field of labor wherein some of the most devoted and best members of society can cultivate the higher feelings of humanity and learn to bear their own sufferings and afflictions with resignation and patience."

I have made it a practice for years, now, when women {91} who were without children and without any special outlet for their affections suffered from neurotic symptoms, to prescribe that they get in touch with the ailing poor in some way. Especially for those trying patients who complain of inability to sleep well, a feeling of depression when they awake, a lack of appetite, but also a lack of incentive to do anything and a tendency to stay much in the house and by themselves, a condition which not infrequently develops in childless women shortly before and after what is called "the change of life", no prescription is so valuable as hospital visiting, or where that is impossible for some reason, at least to make it a rule to visit sick friends regularly. I have seen women suffering severely from neurotic symptoms that made life miserable for them become not only quite reconciled to existence, sleep better and eat better, but actually find some of their first real satisfaction in life as the result of discovering that they could visit the orthopedic ward of a hospital regularly, tell stories to the crippled children and bring them little toys, help to make Easter and the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day and Christmas and New Year's happier for them. I have known women who thought after some serious domestic affliction that they could never be happy again, to find, if not happiness, at least satisfaction in life after they had visited a cancer home regularly for some time and had seen with what cheerfulness patients could face the inevitably fatal affection which they knew was gradually sapping life and carrying them day by day into the shadow of death. No therapeusis that I know is so valuable for the stony grief without tears that some women exhibit after a great loss as the ward for crippled children or some regular visiting of incurable patients.


To visit and ransom the captives, that is, to visit prisoners and help them in any way possible, is a work of mercy that comparatively few people in our day seem to think they are under any obligations to do merely because they are Christians. They took this duty very seriously in the older time, however, and the result was excellent for the prisoners as well as for those who visited them. When condemned to serve a sentence and then left to wear out prison existence for years as best he can, seeing only his fellow prisoners and his keepers, a prisoner is very likely to grow bitter. In not a few of the prisoners, health of body and even of mind gives way under these hard conditions. If the prisoners were visited at definite intervals by some one willing to listen a little patiently to their story, for there is always another side to every story-even though the other side may not be very true-and who would occasionally bring them little things like tobacco as a solace or reading matter to occupy idle hours, and who would promise to interest himself in securing any favors that were possible and to see that they were given advantage of every benefit allowed them by the law, they would have less of the feeling that they were outcasts of society. It is because the corporal works of mercy as representing serious Christian duties somehow have come to be neglected that we have had this rather disturbing social problem of the bitter-minded prisoner so likely to get into prison again thrust upon us. But it is also because of the lack of such a fine human interest as is afforded by contact with prisoners who show some hope of reform that many an overoccupied business man suffers from such profound weariness of life that rest cures and special vacations have to be prescribed for him.


I once had a bachelor friend whom I had known for many years come to me as a patient, and though he had been a model of common sense, whom I had been accustomed to think of as utterly without nerves, I was surprised to find how many neurotic symptoms were gradually developing in him. He had lost his sister who had made a home life and a heart interest for him, and he had no near relatives; he had nothing but his business to occupy him; he had no hobby and no interest in that direction that seemed likely to develop, and I wondered what I should advise him to occupy himself with to keep him from getting further on his own nerves. He had an extremely important and correspondingly difficult position involving the carrying of a heavy burden of responsibility for a great many rather complex details of a huge business. A chance remark of his own in pity for a young fellow whom his corporation had found cheating and had felt itself compelled to prosecute-for example's sake-led me to suggest the visiting of prisoners. For years that man spent several hours on two or three Sundays of every month visiting the prisoners of a large city. He gathered around him a group of men who found a good deal of satisfaction in that work. He himself began to sleep better and wiped off the slate of life a series of dreads and obsessions that he was beginning to foster. Men often talk of "the blue devils" getting hold of them, but it is often just a case of the devil finding work not for idle hands but for idle hearts. Especially at Christmas and Easter he used to have as good a time, in the best sense of that expression, with his "little brothers" of the prison as any father and mother ever had with a house full of children. He once told me some of his experiences in a way that revealed his tactfulness in the {94} handling of these sensitive fellow mortals that was one of the most interesting revelations of the Christian gentleman I think I have ever had given me.

To harbor the harborless as a work of mercy, when stated in this form, seemed to me as a child, when I learned it in the catechism, some wonderful exhibition of charity for shipwrecked mariners. I could not help but think that it must be harborless sailors who needed to be harbored. Stories of even two or three generations ago here in America show how seriously this Christian duty of the old-fashion

ed words was taken. There are still many country places, in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee particularly, where a family will take in a stranger for the night if he happens to be in their neighborhood. They will give him his supper and breakfast too-or they would a few years ago-and likely would be insulted if he offered to pay for them. They have performed a simple duty of hospitality which comes down to them by tradition from the older time. A man who is still alive told me that when he was young, and two or three of his brothers slept in the bed with him, occasionally they would find, when they woke in the morning, that father had taken in a stranger during the night, and since there was no other place for him than the children's big bed on the floor, the children had been crowded over and room had been made for him with them. This happened not in the south, but in Pennsylvania. I know that my old grandmother long ago, living in a one-roomed house with an attic, used to take in the "greenhorns" from Ireland in this manner and give the men shelter and food until they could get a job; and give the girls who came a lodging and a chance to learn something about plain American cooking and the care {95} of a house until they would be ready to take a place in service.

Almost needless to say, this exercise of hospitality proved a very interesting diversion for people whose lives were rather monotonous. I feel sure that it must have meant much for the relief of that dissatisfaction with life because it lacks variety which is so often the first symptom of a neurosis. The stranger brought the news from a distance; the "greenhorns" brought news from Ireland, and many things were talked over while they ate their meals or sat around the fire in the evening, and it proved real entertainment. This was not the motive for which the charity was offered, for that was, as a rule, as Christian as it could be, but it represented that reward which is so often-it cannot but be divinely-attached to a good deed and which brings so much satisfaction with it.

Our entertainment of guests, as a rule, is very different. Above all it entails no personal effort. Even when people are invited to dinner nowadays, hostesses seem to consider it necessary to ask somebody to entertain them, for if they should be permitted to entertain themselves or be asked to make an effort to make their own conversation entertaining, they would probably be almost bored to death. Is it any wonder that our fulfilment of so-called social duties often proves nerve-racking and a season of it must be followed by a rest cure while old-fashioned hospitality did good to the doer and the recipient? Ours is the selfish striving of social aspirations; theirs was an exercise of real charity, an external expression of the dearness of fellow mortals.

Above all, the presence in a household of an occasional guest who is not a relative is good for family life. It {96} relieves the monotony, often relaxes domestic tension, gives a new zest to living and cements personal friendships.

To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty and to clothe the naked were, in the Christian ritual of corporal works of mercy, not obligations to be accomplished by writing one's name on a piece of bank paper and passing it over to a social service society of some kind, nor by handing a few bills to some almoner who distributes condescendingly your dole to the poor. Some one has very well said that the only action calling for any reward in such activities is the effort required to write one's signature or reach into the pocket for the money. The rest of the transaction is only a matter of debit and credit on a bank balance and makes practically no difference in most cases to the individual who gives it. The most compelling motive for charity in our time is that you might as well give up to fifteen per cent of your income, for if you do not the government will take it anyhow. So have the satisfaction of getting ahead of Uncle Sam.

Charity in the older time was thought to be actual, personal work for others. It is this personal service which carries its reward with it, often by provision of needed physical exercise, always by happy occupation of mind, affording the opportunity for the satisfaction of heart impulses with the many other personal reactions which enter into true charity.

Religious teaching furnishes an abundance of examples of even kings and queens and the higher nobility and of wealthy merchants and their wives who devoted themselves to personal service in the performance of these works of mercy. St. Louis of France, St. Ferdinand of Castille, St. Catherine of Siena, though she was only a dyer's daughter in this group of notabilities, {97} St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Margaret of Scotland and the good Queen Maud her daughter, Dick Whittington (of the cat), Lord Mayor of London and many others,-all these were held up as symbols of what people ought to do in the matter of personal service.

There is often the feeling at the present time that when people give to charity it is not infrequently because they have heard some recent harrowing reports of the condition of the poor or have been brought in contact with some particularly pitiable case, and that the memory of these is likely to recur to them and intrude on their social satisfactions unless they can do something to make them feel that they have at least tried to fulfill their duty in the way of affording relief. A merchant on the way home from business who meets a beggar on the streets knows that as a rule, if he gives money, it will do harm rather than good, but he knows too that when he is comfortably seated after dinner before the fire, with his coffee and his cigar before him, if the thought of the beggar that he refused comes to him, it will make him uncomfortable. To give with the idea of avoiding such discomforts is, of course, not charity, but refined selfishness, and it is no wonder that it lacks the surpassing sense of satisfaction which helps so much in making life more full of the feeling of usefulness. This is not the charity that does as much good for the doer as for the receiver of it.

In our time settlement work, neighborhood houses and the like have represented this personal service which religion in the older time listed under the various titles of the corporal works of mercy. Many physicians have learned that young women particularly who had not very much to do, indeed perhaps no definite duties and yet {98} had an abundance of vital energy which had to be expended in some way, found very interesting and satisfying occupation of mind in connection with settlement work. Above all they secured an opportunity for the exercise of the heart impulses, so natural to women, and which must almost as necessarily be expended on something as the physical energies which they develop every day must be employed in some sort of labor if they are not to be short-circuited and make them miserable. It is perfectly possible and even easy to pervert heart impulses which might be the source of good for self and others, into sexuality of various kinds, whether that be exhibited in philanderings with the male dancers employed by the hotels to make thés dansants interesting for feminine youth-and also idle middle age-or in love affairs with the family chauffeur. They will find an issue some way almost inevitably. It may be that writing notes to the latest matinee idol or even letting one's feelings be properly harrowed up at performances of sex-problem plays may prove sufficient for a time, but something more will be demanded before long, and there must be something real to satisfy natural cravings.

There is probably no better safeguard against the tendency of the young heart to overflow on unworthy objects than to give it the opportunity to exercise itself on unselfish aims which lead up to the fine satisfactions to be derived from helpfulness for others. Settlement work and cognate personal activities have so organized the opportunity for this that young women do not have to travel in perilous neighborhoods except under such circumstances as reasonably assure their safety from insult or aggression of any kind. The charity that prompts occupation with such activities often leads to {99} a development of character, while at the same time affording such exercise of body and mind as greatly promotes that eminently desirable end,-the possession of a healthy mind in a healthy body. There is much discussion at the present time over sex dangers for young people, but it must not be forgotten that these are mainly due to the sexual incitements which we are fostering in the dance hall and the theater and the cabaret supper room, while the best possible corrective for sexual erethism is to be found in contact with some of the misery of the world. The remedy is at hand, but unfortunately it is not made use of as a rule, and we wonder why evils increase as selfishness becomes more rampant.

John Ruskin summed up the situation with regard to the young women of our time in his address on The Mystery of Life and its Arts ("Sesame and Lilies"), in words that deserve to be in the notebook of every one who hopes to be able to help the young over some of the difficult parts of their path through life in our time.

"You may see continually girls who have never been taught to do a single useful thing thoroughly; who cannot sew, who cannot cook, who cannot cast an account, nor prepare a medicine, whose whole life has been passed either in play or in pride; you will find girls like these, when they are earnest-hearted, cast all their innate passion of religious spirit, which was meant by God to support them through the irksomeness of daily toil, into grievous and vain meditation over the meaning of the great Book, of which no syllable was ever yet to be understood but through a deed; all the instinctive wisdom and mercy of their womanhood made vain, and the glory of their pure consciences warped into fruitless agony concerning questions which the laws of common, serviceable life {100} would have either solved for them in an instant, or kept out of their way. Give such a girl any true work that will make her active in the dawn and weary at night, with the consciousness that her fellow creatures have indeed been the better for her day, and the powerless sorrow of her enthusiasm will transform itself into a majesty of radiant and beneficent peace."

The friendly visiting of the poor is an old-fashioned Christian practice which had lapsed, unfortunately, until it was restored to some extent at least by the great work of Frederick Ozanam of Paris. The conferences of St. Vincent de Paul organized by him in Paris while he was professor of the university there about one hundred years ago had for their principal object the visitation of the poor, not so much for the purpose of giving them alms as of helping them with advice, making them feel that there are people interested in them, and giving them a new sense of human dignity; though also providing them with such necessaries as they might be in immediate want of and, above all, securing them occupations whenever they were needed. I have known many men who have developed a new and vigorous sense of life as a consequence of learning that they could be so useful to others as the Ozanam organization permitted them to be.

For a great many men some such escape from the sordid routine of daily business life is needed. This is particularly true when they have passed a little beyond middle age, which for me is not beyond fifty, as so many people seem to think, but thirty-five, the period indicated by Dante in the first line of his "Divine Comedy" as marking the mid-point of existence. After forty, particularly, most men who take life seriously and do not merely try {101} to make money and kill the intervening time that hangs heavily on their hands in any way that they can, as a rule lose their interest in reading novels and do not care for the trivial plays of our time. They need diversion. They are not likely to get it at the opera unless they are very musically inclined. Card-playing may prove an excellent diversion and one that personally I think ever so much better than the reading of trivial novels, but there are a great many men to whom it has no appeal. If they stay at home they are likely to fall asleep in their chairs over the evening paper or a current magazine, and nothing in the world makes one feel so uncomfortable or so spoils an evening as to go to sleep in that way.

If they are particularly occupied with business affairs these may intrude themselves on their evening hours, but they very soon learn the lesson that it is dangerous to take business home with them. They need some serious occupation of mind quite different from what occupies them during the day. Professional men find something of this in the meetings of professional societies, but they too need a heart interest, a sympathy interest for their fellow man quite as well as the women. Many of them find it with their children as these grow up around them, and family life will help very much. But as the children grow older and have their own interests in the evenings, father is more and more likely to be left by himself, and then he needs something that will occupy him in some broad, human way. A good hobby of any kind would be a saving grace, but hobbies, to be effective, should be cultivated from early in life. One cannot be created easily at need after forty.

For such men friendly visiting of the poor, for it is only in the evenings that the man of the house can be {102} seen, since he is always at work during the day, will often prove a most valuable resource. In a number of instances I have suggested to men who were beginning to get on their own nerves that they interest themselves in this way and have been rather well satisfied with the results when they took the advice seriously. In a few cases I have seen really wonderful results when it seemed almost inevitable that men were drifting into dangerous neurotic conditions because they were living lives too narrow in their interests and above all so self-centered that they were dwelling on slight discomforts and exaggerating them into symptoms of disease. Contact with the suffering that one sees among the city poor is a wonderful remedy for neurotic tendencies to make too much of one's own feelings, for the poor almost as a rule face the real ills of life with a simplicity and a courage that inevitably causes any one who is brought close to them to admire them and to feel that his own trials are trifles compared to what these people undergo with very little whimpering.

There is another phase of charity, probably unintentional in its activity and almost unconscious, that is extremely interesting and has a very definite place in a discussion of health and religion. Some men who have made a success in life far beyond their neighbors have preferred to continue dwelling in their old home rather than move into the quarter of the city to which their changed circumstances would have permitted them to go. Such families represent the very best possible kind of settlements in the poorer quarters of the city and help more than anything else to keep a neighborhood from running down in such a way as to make life harder for the poor who dwell there. The old walled cities are often {103} said to have been almost intolerably unhealthy because of the inevitable crowding of the population which they compelled, and undoubtedly they were a fruitful source of disease and ills of many kinds for the population; and yet it is doubtful whether any old-time city was ever so insanitary as the slums of our modern crowded cities were a generation ago or are even in many places at the present time.

There was one feature of the old cities whose obliteration one cannot help but regret. The better-to-do families often lived on the front part of a city lot while the less well-to-do, often indeed the men who worked for the proprietor of the house in front, lived on the back of it. This was true particularly in many foreign cities and continued until a few generations ago.

This arrangement kept the conditions of living, so far as regards the middle class of the poor, from being so markedly indifferent as they are at the present time. Those who lived in the rear knew all the happenings, the births and deaths among their employers, while the family in the front took an interest in the events, the births and deaths and illnesses in the families in the rear. This proved to be valuable for social reasons, and it kept conditions of health among the poor from degenerating in anything like the way that has happened in modern times. The mutual personal interests did a great deal more to make life more satisfactory and more full of good feeling than the relationships of classes to each other do in our time, and this reacted to make a state of mind much more conducive to health than would otherwise have been the case.

Such associations would seem to be almost impossible in modern days, and yet the late Mr. Thomas Mulry, {104} president of the Immigrants Savings Bank, at a time when, I believe, it was the largest savings bank in the world, continued to live down among the poorer folk to whom so much of his life was devoted for years after families of his standing in the financial world had long moved out. Our present governor of New York has declared his intention of continuing his residence among his friends in the old Seventh Ward, and undoubtedly his presence there will mean much not only for the health of those around him, but also for the health of his family because of the simple life which is so likely to be perpetuated in these surroundings.

For such social work as this, religious motives are probably the most efficient impulses. Nothing is quite so direct a denial of the brotherhood of man that religion teaches as the tendency for people to move away from old neighbors into the better quarters of the cities just as soon as they are any way able. Such reasoning may seem idealistic and impractical, but then religion is the typically ideal and impractical thing in life which teaches that self-advantage is not so important as advantage for all those around one, and that man's principal duty in life is to love his neighbor as himself.

How often has it happened that the building of the new house in a new neighborhood proves the last straw which serves to make an end of the good health and heartiness of life which the head of the family had enjoyed up to this time. The new habits that are necessitated, the interference with the active life which had been customary up to this time and above all the more luxurious living, very often with less exercise, which come under the new conditions bring about deterioration of health. The move is made for the sake of the {105} young people, but it takes the old folks out of the precious, simple habits of a life-time which meant much for the preservation of health, so that it is no wonder that many a physician has had a patient whose breakdown in health followed not long after the move to a new and handsome house that carried people away from their old associations and their old neighbors and left them without those heart resources which are so important for the preservation of a healthy mind in a healthy body. It is men, not things, that count in life, though that lesson is hard for many to learn.

For a while, toward the end of the nineteenth century, owing to a misunderstanding of the significance of the struggle for existence, there came to be the feeling that sympathy and helpfulness for others was somehow contrary to modern scientific principles and that it represented at best a sentimentality that could scarcely hope to be effective and was indeed sure to fail in the long run because it was in opposition, though to but a very slight degree, to nature's inevitable elimination of the weak. Further investigations in biology, however, have revealed the fact that while the struggle for existence is an important factor in whatever evolution takes place, mutual aid is another factor of scarcely less importance in general and of supreme significance within the species. While one species preys on another, the members of the same species usually possess certain deep-seated instincts of helpfulness. Only at times when there is famine or when a mother is seeking food for her young do members of the same species seriously interfere with each other's activities, or injure each other, while a great many of them have mutually helpful instincts that are extremely precious for personal as well as generic developments.


The smaller living things, as the insects, dwell together in communities and perform their duties constantly with the community benefit rather than personal satisfaction in view. It might be said perhaps that these small creatures would have to be gifted in some such way to secure their preservation in the struggle for existence and their defense against their enemies. The larger animals, however, have the same helpful instincts. Wild horses run in droves and when attacked by a pack of wolves-the wolves hunting in packs because they can thus secure their prey better-the horses gather in a circle with their heads facing in and the young foals and the mares in the center, and only a battery of heels is presented to the attackers. Even such large animals as elephants travel in herds, with the huge bull elephants on the outskirts of the herd ready to hurl back any of the big cats, the lions or tigers who might spring to get one of those toothsome morsels, a baby elephant, traveling with its mother near the center of the herd. Smaller animals live in villages and groups of various kinds, and those of the same species are often helpful to each other in many ways.

Manifestly the great law of charity in a certain basic way at least pervades all nature. Nature may be "red in tooth and claw", but brother animals very often have by instinct a fellow feeling that is a factor in the preservation of the race. The idea that the discovery of the struggle for existence and the preservation of favorite races in that way has in any fashion neutralized the law of charity is entirely a mistake. Men in their selfishness have occasionally asserted this, and above all those who felt uncomfortable because their own selfish successes were, as they could plainly see, causing a great deal of discomfort and sometimes the ruin of others. It was {107} once suggested that when the nurseryman wants to grow specially beautiful American Beauty roses he is careful to eliminate all except a few buds, so that these may have an opportunity to grow to the greatest possible perfection, and that this same policy pursued in human affairs led to the production of such great institutions as the Standard Oil Company. This was a particularly odorous comparison; it was made some twenty years ago. Almost needless to say every one sees the absurdity of it now, though at that time there were not a few who thought that the biological principle of the struggle for existence justified even the hurting of rivals in order to secure success. The Great War completed the elimination of such ideas. It was undertaken with the thought that any nation or people who could dominate the world was bound to do so, because that was manifest destiny for the benefit of the race. Just as it took our Civil War to end the defense of slavery in the United States, so it has taken the Great War to end such pretensions and bring out the fact that mutual aid, and above all charity undertaken out of real love for others through a divine motive must be the rule for men, while its symbol, mutual aid among the members of the various species, constitutes an important element for the preservation of the various races and the working out of the great laws that underlie all nature.

We in our generation were the inheritors of a philosophy of life which, for a time in what has now come to be called the "silly seventies", people thought could do away entirely with the necessity for a Creator and with the idea of a Providence because it seemed to them as though the suffering in the world around them contravened their notion of an all-wise Power capable of {108} relieving suffering and yet not doing so. The doctrine of the survival of the fittest seemed to many a demonstration that victory was to the strongest or to the swiftest, and that the rest must simply go to the wall or lag behind in the race of life. The doctrine of the superman seemed to be the very latest discovery of science, but now, after having fought a great war to overthrow that doctrine, the world is much readier to go back and take up the thread of the philosophy of the race before the theory of the struggle for existence came to figure so largely in it. We have come to realize that everywhere in nature there is a great law of mutual aid within its species impressed upon all living things, and this is even more applicable to the human species than to those of the lower orders.


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