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Ir has been frequently asserted, that London is the most charitable place in the universe. That larger sums of money are subscribed and collected for public charities in London than in any other city, is, I believe, without doubt; but that these sums are always well and properly applied will not, I am afraid, be so readily admitted, or so easily proved.
In stating this, however, I have not the most distant intention of imputing any blame to the very respectable individuals who, in these cases, step so generously forward to give their services gratuitously in the arrangement and direction of these charities, nor of charging them with any intentional abuse of the funds committed to their charge; on the contrary, I have every reason to believe that these trusts are, in general, conducted with the utmost honour and probity.
It is to the grand stile in which these charities are arranged and managed, and to the great expense incurred in outward show, that I refer; and I think that every one, who gives a glance at the elegant and expensive buildings erected for these purposes in almost every quarter of this extended metropolis, or who takes a slight inspection of the great establishments within these buildings, will join me in suspecting that where so much has been expended on these, a great deal cannot be left to be applied to the real purposes of the charity.
Even in those associations for charity where no buildings have been erected, so much is expended in public meetings, salaries of officers and servants, expenses of committees, printing and advertisements, etc. that comparatively little is left to be applied to the purposes for which the Society was instituted, and the consequence is, that the real good done is not at all in proportion to the sums raised.
Besides, I suspect that, in many cases, the objects of these charities and the ends proposed to be attained are not of that utility to justify the sums expended upon them, and in some the latter are actually impossible to be accomplished at all.
In fact, a number of these charities are only known to, or heard of by the public at the annual meetings, when a flaming report is made, a dinner had, and a fresh subscription for their support entered into; and then they sink into oblivion until the next occa➡
In this respect they have frequently reminded me of comets, those erratic wanderers in the heavens. A comet is visible to the inhabitants of this earth, only on its approach to the sun and for a short time after it has passed that luminary, when it shines with great splendour, and then, rapidly flying off into boundless space, completely disappears until its next periodical visit. In like manner these societies are heard of for a short time previous to the annual meeting; at the dinner they dazzle the public with the effulgence of their brightness; they continue to do so for a short time after, becoming dimmer and dimmer, until they sink into utter darkness and oblivion, and only appear again when the revolving year brings round the stated period.
Among these meteors, these shining inhabitants of the sky of charity, your Society made last season a most conspicuous figure. The professed object was popular, and the times were extremely favourable for its introduction. After twenty years war the country found itself at peace with all the world, and so at leisure to turn its attention to objects of internal police; the newspapers were at a loss for subjects to fill their columns; and the city of London had got a chief magistrate of a particularly active turn, and fully disposed to do all the good in his power. The consequence was, that the moment a meeting of the Guardian Society was advertised, the subject was taken up with the greatest keenness; the daily and weekly papers were filled with paragraphs and letters. the Lord Mayor set the police-officers in motion, crowds of the unhappy objects who infest the streets were taken into custody, and committed to Bridewell for a period; the meeting was most numerously attended, a report was read, which was afterwards printed, and a number of flaming speeches were made, which were copied almost at full length into all the newspapers. So that a
stranger, coming at that period to town, would have concluded that in a short time, London would be the purest city in the universe. What was the result of all this, however! Why, that, in a short time, within a little month, the papers dropped the subject, and the business was forgotten; nay, in spite of the continued exertions of the Lord Mayor, the streets soon became as much infested as before; and no more was heard of the Guardian Society until lately, after a long lapse another public meeting having been fixed, advertisements have begun to announce it, and I presume the same exhibition will again take place, and end in the same manner.
The ostensible object, for the accomplishment of which your Society has been established, is of such importance to the prosperity, happiness, and well-being of general society, that you would be entitled to the assistance and support of every good citizen and well-wisher to his country, were the plan you have laid down, and the method you have followed, at all adequate to the end proposed. It is, therefore, only from a deep conviction that you have taken a most narrow view of the subject, have adopted a most erroneous mode of acting, and are actually squandering your funds and time upon an impossibility, that I now take the liberty of addressing. you, in order to endeavour to shew where you have erred, and to point out a most glorious field, where your exertions might be of the most essential benefit to society, and would confer immortal glory and renown upon yourselves.
Your Society is declared to be, "for the preservation of public morals," a most praise-worthy and highly commendable institution.. But how do you propose to preserve the public morals? Why, by "providing temporary asylums for prostitutes removed by the ope"ration of the laws from the public streets, and affording to such "of them as are destitute, employment and relief." This may be very well, so far as it goes; but it is certainly going a very short way towards the preservation of public morals. Besides, it is not a novel plan, and, therefore, I do not think it at all deserving the high and extravagant praises and commendations that have been bestowed upon it. Already have we had the Asylum, the Misericordia, the Magdalen, the Philanthropic, the Penitentiary, the Refuge for the Destitute, and the Lock Asylum,-all these societies set out upon the same grounds, I believe, that the Guardian Society has done, to provide asylums for prostitutes, and to furnish them with employment and relief. Each of them made, at its commencement, almost as brilliant and luminous a figure as the Guardian Society. They still have their annual meetings; but, except at those times, they are seldom or never heard of; and even on these Occasions they now shed a dimmer and a dimmer ray. With such precedents before them, it really appears surprising to me that the wery respectable gentlemen, who have been at so much pains and
trouble to form this Society, did not take a more extended view of the subject, did not endeavour to make it more generally useful by embracing objects of greater utility. I wonder that it never occurred to them, that the better way to preserve public morals would be, by endeavouring to prevent women becoming prostitutes, instead of providing asylums for them after they had run their course.
I am the more astonished at this, because the report commences in that spirit. The second paragraph runs thus: "The extensive and multiform evils which result from the deplorable profligacy that abounds in this metropolis, must be known, felt, and lamented, by every Christian philanthropist! Ought we then to remain satisfied and inactive, while vice and wretchedness are pursuing their courses with rapid and destructive strides? While the quantum of female depravity is every day increasing, and the progress of crime is thereby accelerating in a thousand directions, are we not to interpose some friendly endeavours, on the grounds of true policy and pure Christianity, to stem the destructive torrent, and to rescue as many as we can of our fellow creatures, of both sexes, from the fangs of the destroyer." Certainly, we are bound by every tie to do so; but it really does not appear to me, that the destructive torrent can be stemmed by opening channels for it to run quietly away, or that it would be of any consequence to rescue our fellowcreatures from the destroyer, if we allow him to satiate himself on 'them before we interfere.
In the fourth paragraph of the report it is stated that the Society -have directed their attention to two important objects; the first is, "to discover the best means of diminishing the number of infamous women, who frequent the public streets of the metropolis." This is certainly a very important object, but it can never be attained by merely clearing the streets of their present frequenters, unless some effectual steps be taken to prevent their places being immediately filled by fresh victims.
Were a person to be attacked with the leprosy or scurvy all over the body, but which shewed itself principally on the face and hands, surely it would not be thought sufficient to apply a wash to these parts to take away the blotches upon them, leaving the rest of the body untouched. A quack might do so, but a regular physician would say, and say justly, that that would only be driving the distemper into the constitution. And yet this appears the very thing the Society are endeavouring to do with the body-moral of this metropolis; they are labouring to clear its face of some ugly spots and specks that have appeared upon it, without seeming to be aware that those blemishes are the consequences and symptoms of a mortal distemper, which is preying upon its vitals, and, if not speedily checked will soon cause its dissolution.
I, therefore, conceive that I am perfectly correct in stating that the Society have, in their formation, taken a most confined view of the subject. And it appears equally clear to me that the Society are taking a most erroneous method of endeavouring to accomplish the object they have in view. I believe I might not limit it to one method; I think I could state several, but I mean to confine myself to one, because I conceive it to be most particularly erroneous, and that is, the associating virtuous females in their labours. I cannot conceive how it can possibly have happened, that so many persons of respectability, as your Society appears to be composed of, could allow their zeal to get the better of their judgment, their prudence, their caution, their knowledge of the world, so far as to induce them to consent to, far less to be active in pro-moting, so impolitic, so imprudent, so improper, and so hazardous a step. The reverend gentlemen, who have taken an active share in the Society, appear, in this particular, to have completely forgotten the precept of their divine master, so prominently stated by him, and so frequently repeated by his Apostles: " fly from temptation, avoid temptation;" nay, the very form of prayer taught them, "lead us not into temptation." A prayer which ought to be daily made by every virtuous female in this country, and should more particularly have been used by those ladies, who were requested to become of the committee, for this more than useless, this dangerous occupation.
The principal, and, indeed, only satisfactory reason given for the extreme severity with which females, who have fallen from the path of virtue, are treated in this country, is the necessity of separating them entirely from the virtuous, in order to prevent contamination. This it is, which drives them from their homes, their friends, and their connexions ;-this it is, which makes them avoided, as if they had the plague. If a female of character is seen associating with them, or even speaking to them, she is immediately marked, as one who, if not already gone, is, at least, on the high road to destruction. The line, therefore, is fully drawn, and the separation complete.-What is it the Society have done and are doing? all in their power to break down this line. With, I firmly believe, a purely anxious desire to do good, they are risking doing a great evil. Not content with endeavouring to bring back lost woman across this line themselves, they take virtuous woman to the other side of it for this purpose :-dangerous experiment!
A virtuous woman ought not only to be pure in body, but in mind: she should be kept perfectly ignorant of those things. But what has the Society done? Its own report will best state this, and is perfectly sufficient to justify all that I have asserted; it informs us," that a committee of ladies, as most suitable for that department, had been appointed to superintend the internal affairs of the