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A MORE EXCELLENT WAY OF CHARITY.

819

From Macmillan's Magazine.

A MORE EXCELLENT WAY OF CHARITY.[1]

BY MISS OCTAVIA HILL.

You have asked me to speak to you to-night, though I am a stranger to your parish, and know nothing of its special needs or special advantages. Why, then, am I here? I suppose I may safely assume that it is mainly because I represent those who have deep care for the poor, and also strong conviction that organization and mature thought are necessary to any action which shall be really beneficial to them. I fancy your parish, like many another — like most others that have not passed through the stage and answered the problem — is just now questioning itself as to whether investigation, organization, deliberate and experienced decision, which it feels to be essential if wise relief is to be secured, are, or are not, compatible with gentle and kindly relief; whether charity can be fully of the heart, if it is also of the head. If so, how you are to get the full strength of head and heart. If this is impossible, what in the world you are to do, for you cannot give up either. You ask practically, I fancy, when you invite me here, what I think on these points.

I answer, then, emphatically and decidedly, that my experience confirms me entirely in the belief that charity loses nothing of its lovingness by being entirely wise. Now it cannot be wise without full knowledge of the circumstances of those to be dealt with — hence the necessity of investigation; it cannot come to satisfactory conclusions on those facts unless it employs the help of experienced men — hence the need of a committee for decision; it will not be gracious and gentle, nor fully enter into individual needs, unless it secures the assistance of a good body of visitors, I do not wish to draw your attention to any special form of organization, but I believe you will find, the more you think of it, that some form is needed, and that whatever it be, it will have to secure those three as essentials — good investigation, decision by a wise committee, and the help of a staff of visitors.

I shall say nothing further on the first head, investigation, except that I consider it is done best by a good paid officer. A great deal of the preliminary work is quickly and well done by an experienced person, which it would be difficult for a volunteer to do; neither is it a sort of work which it is worth while for a volunteer to undertake. I refer to verifying statements as to residence, earnings, employment, visiting references and employers. The finishing touches of investigation, the little personal facts, the desires and hopes, and to a certain extent the capacities of the applicant, no doubt a volunteer visitor would learn more thoroughly, but that can always be done separately from the preliminary and more formal inquiry.

And now to turn to the consideration of the visitors — those who must be the living links binding your committee with the poor, the interpreters of their decision, the bearers of their alms, the perpetual guardians to prevent renewed falling into want. I have spoken in so many other places of the extreme value of such a body working in concert with a wise committee, and of the mistakes they are likely to make where undirected, that I am unwilling to dwell on either point in much detail here. I will only briefly reiterate that I think no committee can do its work with real individual care unless it contains those who will watch over each family with continuous interest, interpret its decisions intelligently and kindly, and learn all personal detail which may assist the committee in judging rightly. Unhappily, visitors have very seldom any special training for their work, nor is the need of it pointed out to them. I earnestly wish we could get this recognized; not that any should be deterred from working from want of training, but that in every district some plans for advising and helping the inexperienced visitors and binding all visitors more together, should be adopted. I have, in the July number of Good Words, given a sketch of a practical scheme for securing this end. But even without the help there spoken of, visitors might try to look a little further into the result of their action. They think of the immediate effect, and very little of the future one. Now in all things we must beware of hasty action. It is not well, in the desire to alleviate an immediate want, to produce worse want in the future. I do not know the poor of your district: there may be many more of them, and they may be poorer, than I suppose; but in really populous poor parishes I have found, and surely you should find here, that an immense deal more might be done by the people for themselves than has been done hitherto. The difficulties of finding work for them must be less than ours were aim at that first. Try to get

  1. Read at a meeting held in a suburban district in July 1876.