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while, in draggling robes, drenched to the skin, chilled to the heart, Lear's thoughts perforce are turned to "houseless poverty,” to the indigent and vagrant creatures once, and so lately, his subjects, equally exposed to the downpour of the wrathful skies, of whom he had seldom, if ever, thought till now. Poor naked wretches, he apostrophises them, wheresoever they are, that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,-how shall their houseless heads, and unfed sides, their looped and windowed raggedness, defend them from seasons such as these? And then, in an outburst of repentant self-reproach, he that had been King of Britain breaks forth into the avowal,
“0, I have ta’en
And show the heavens more just." Between the history of Lear and that of Gloster, in the same play, there is a curious and significant parallel maintained throughout. And it is observable that when Gloster too, another duped and outcast father, is wandering in his turn on the same heath, and is accosted by “poor mad Tom,”—the sightless, miserable father thus addresses the “naked fellow" whose identity he so little suspects :
“ Here, take this purse, thou whom the heaven's plagues
Have humbled to all strokes : that I am wretched,
And each man have enough."
The words of Amos, the herdman of Tekoa, include a denunciation of woe to them that lie upon beds of ivory, and
eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall, and drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with costly ointments, and chant to the sound of the viol,—but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. As'the minor prophet with his woe to them that are thus at ease in Zion, so a major prophet declares this to have been the iniquity of a doomed race-pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness, with disregard of all means to strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. Lazarus the beggar was, as some scholars interpret the passage, "content to be fed ” on the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; in which case he would not appear to have been refused the crumbs : indeed, had this been the case, it would scarcely, they contend, have been omitted in the rebuke of Abraham. “The rich man's sins were ravenousness and negligence rather than inhumanity.” * He took too little care of this—that beggary lay in helpless prostration before his doorway, the while he clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.
La Bruyère observes that “la santé et les richesses ôtent aux hommes l'expérience du mal, leur inspirent la dureté pour leurs semblables ;” and adds, that “les gens déjà chargés de leur propre misère sont ceux qui entrent davantage, par leur compassion, dans celle d'autrui.” If these by comparison become wondrous kind, it is their fellow-feeling that makes them so. Haud ignari mali, miseris succurrere discunt. In another chapter of his “ Characters,” La Bruyère sketches the portrait of one he styles Champagne, who " au sortir d'un long dîner qui lui enfle l'estomac, et dans les douces fumées d'un vin d'Avenay ou de Sillery, signe un ordre qu'on lui présente, qui ôterait le pain à toute une province, si l'on n'y remédiait : il est excusable. Quel moyen de comprendre, dans la première heure de la digestion, qu'on puisse quelque part mourir de faim ?” Il est excusable, on the principle of Horace Walpole's similar plea, or apology, for unheeding royalty. He writes to
* See on the scope of the words én Ovuwv xoprao oîvai (St. Luke xvi. 21), Analecta Theologica (Rev. W. Trollope's) in loc.
Miss Hannah More that he used to hate that king and t’other prince—but that on reflection he found the censure ought to fall on human nature in general. “They are made of the same stuff as we, and dare we say what we should be in their situation? Poor creatures ! think how they are educated, or rather corrupted, early, how flattered! To be educated properly, they should be led through hovels [as Lear was on the heath—somewhat late in life), and hospitals, and prisons. Instead of being reprimanded (and perhaps immediately afterwards sugar-plum'd) for not learning their Latin or French grammar, they now and then should be kept fasting; and, if they cut their finger, should have no plaster till it festered. No part of a royal brat's memory, which is good enough, should be burthened but with the remembrance of human suffering.” “Il y a une espèce de honte d'être heureux à la vue de certaines misères," writes La Bruyère again. Adam Smith, however, made a dead set against what he calls those "whining and melancholy moralists," who he complains, are perpetually reproaching us with our happiness, while so many of our brethren are in misery, who regard as impious the natural joy of prosperity, which does not think of the many wretches that are at every instant labouring under all sorts of calamities, in the languor of poverty, in the agony of disease, etc. “Commiseration for those miseries which we never saw, which we never heard of, but which we may be assured are at all times infesting such numbers of our fellow-creatures, ought, they think, to damp the pleasures of the fortunate, and to render a certain melancholy dejection habitual to all men." Adam Smith opposes this “extreme sympathy” as altogether absurd and unreasonable ; as unattainable too, so that a certain affected and sentimental sadness is the nearest approach that can be made to it; and he further declares that this disposition of mind, though it could be attained, would be perfectly useless, and could serve no other purpose than to render miserable the person who possessed it. This, of course, is assuming the wretchedness in question to be beyond the sympathiser's relief.
Dr. Smith may be supposed to have had in view Thomson's celebrated passage :
“Ah ! little think the gay licentious proud,
And all the sad variety of pain.” Many variations on that theme of sad variety the poet sings : moving accidents by flood and fire,-pining want, and dungeon glooms,—the many who drink the cup of baleful grief, or eat the bitter bread of misery—sore pierced by wintry winds, how many shrink into the sordid hut of cheerless poverty (the hovel on the heath again), etc., etc., etc.
“Thought fond man
Refining still, the social passions work.” This may, perhaps, said Baron Alderson, in winding up a charge to a grand jury, whom he exhorted at that winter season to show sympathy and kindness to the distressed,—this, perhaps, may be one of the objects for which God sends suffering, that it may tend to re-unite those whom prosperity has severed. So Burns
“Oye who, sunk in beds of down,
Whom friends and fortune quite disown.
Stretch'd on his straw he lays himself to sleep,
Chill, o'er his slumbers, piles the drifty heap.
Affliction's sons are brothers in distress :
Again and again the question recurs, to quote from an able casuist on casual charity, why one man should be literally dying of want, whilst another is able to send him a cheque for £100 without thinking about it, or knowing that the money is gone? If Dives, it is asked, feels bound to give Lazarus so much, where does he draw the line? If the demand upon the superfluities of the rich is to be measured by the wants of the poor, why stop at £100 rather than £1000 or £10,000 or £100,000 ? “This is the question which lies at the root of half the melancholy sarcasms and still more melancholy wit of the present day. The writings of such men as Hood are little more than embodiments of it in a variety of forms, ludicrous or pathetic. It forms the burden of a whole class of literature, not the less influential because it is somewhat vague in its
octrines, and rests rather on sentiments than on dogmas.” Now this writer believes it to be always the best to look such questions in the face, and to attempt at least to give the true answer to them. And the answer, at least in part, in this instance, he takes to be that the antithesis is only sentimental, and not logical. The poverty of the very poor is not, he contends, either a cause or an effect of the riches of the very rich, nor would it be relieved by their permanent impoverishment. “That it is not a cause of their riches, is obvious from the fact that if by any change pauperism and misery were suddenly abolished, the rich would be all the richer.” But not to follow out a line of argument that would take us too far afield, we may advert to a corresponding essay, in the same Review, if not by the same contributor,-in which' a picture is drawn of a rich man at church, who hears some stray verses in the second lesson, or some eloquent menace from the pulpit, which makes him very uncomfortable about the contrast between his own easy life and the massive wretchedness of Spitalfields or Poplar. The uneasiness is supposed to rankle in him for some time, spoiling his digestion, and making him very cross to his wife and daughters. Not that he "for a