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Helping The Poor
by [?]

“I’M on a begging expedition,” said Mr. Jonas, as he came bustling into the counting-room of a fellow merchant named Prescott. “And, as you are a benevolent man, I hope to get at least five dollars here in aid of a family in extremely indigent circumstances. My wife heard of them yesterday; and the little that was learned, has strongly excited our sympathies. So I am out on a mission for supplies. I want to raise enough to buy them a ton of coal, a barrel of flour, a bag of potatoes, and a small lot of groceries.”

“Do you know anything of the family for which you propose this charity?” inquired Mr. Prescott, with a slight coldness of manner.

“I only know that they are in want and that it is the first duty of humanity to relieve them,” said Mr. Jonas, quite warmly.

“I will not question your inference,” said Mr. Prescott. “To relieve the wants of our suffering fellow creatures is an unquestionable duty. But there is another important consideration connected with poverty and its demands upon us.”

“What is that pray?” inquired Mr. Jonas, who felt considerably fretted by so unexpected a damper to his benevolent enthusiasm.

“How it shall be done,” answered Mr. Prescott, calmly.

“If a man is hungry, give him bread; if he is naked, clothe him,” said Mr. Jonas. “There is no room for doubt or question here. This family I learn, are suffering for all the necessaries of life, and I can clearly see the duty to supply their wants.”

“Of how many does the family consist?” asked Mr. Prescott.

“There is a man and his wife and three or four children.”

“Is the man sober and industrious?”

“I don’t know anything about him. I’ve had no time to make inquiries. I only know that hunger and cold are in his dwelling, or, at least were in his dwelling yesterday.”

“Then you have already furnished relief?”

“Temporary relief. I shouldn’t have slept last night, after what I heard, without just sending them a bushel of coal, and a basket of provisions.”

“For which I honor your kindness of heart, Mr. Jonas. So far you acted right. But, I am by no means so well assured of the wisdom and humanity of your present action in the case. The true way to help the poor, is to put it into their power to help themselves. The mere bestowal of alms is, in most cases an injury; either encouraging idleness and vice, or weakening self-respect and virtuous self-dependence. There is innate strength in every one; let us seek to develop this strength in the prostrate, rather than hold them up by a temporary application of our own powers, to fall again, inevitably, when the sustaining hand is removed. This, depend upon it, is not true benevolence. Every one has ability to serve the common good, and society renders back sustenance for bodily life as the reward of this service.”

“But, suppose a man cannot get work,” said Mr. Jonas. “How is he to serve society, for the sake of a reward?”

“True charity will provide employment for him rather than bestow alms.”

“But, if there is no employment to be had Mr. Prescott?”

“You make a very extreme case. For all who are willing to work, in this country, there is employment.”

“I’m by no means ready to admit this assertion.”

“Well, we’ll not deal in general propositions; because anything can be assumed or denied. Let us come direct to the case in point, and thus determine our duty towards the family whose needs we are considering. Which will be best for them? To help them in the way you propose, or to encourage them to help themselves?”

“All I know about them at present,” replied Mr. Jonas, who was beginning to feel considerably worried, “is, that they are suffering for the common necessaries of life. It is all very well to tell a man to help himself, but, if his arm be paralyzed, or he have no key to open the provision shop, he will soon starve under that system of benevolence. Feed and clothe a man first, and then set him to work to help himself. He will have life in his heart and strength in his hands.”