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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 120/134 -
establishment in the country, were an opportunity afforded them of coming forward in like manner.
All this is well known to those who are in the least acquainted with the history and workings of those institutions; but very little noise is made about it, according to the rule of the Gospel which recommends us to do good in such a manner that "the left hand may not know what the right hand doeth." Nothing is more Christian than such silent approval, and the eternal reward, which must follow, is so overwhelmingly great that the applause of the world may well be disregarded. But as constant good offices are apt to beget indifference in those who benefit most by them, there are not wanting some good people who seem to labor under the impression that really the Irish deserve scarcely any thanks; that every thing which they do comes so naturally from them, it is only what one could expect as a matter of course, and that, it being nothing more, after all, than their simple duty, it becomes a very ordinary thing.
It may be superfluous to say that if all this was expected from them, and if it be, as it really is, after all only a very ordinary thing on _their_ part, this fact is precisely what makes them a most extraordinary people, as expectations of this nature which may be most natural are of that peculiar kind of "great expectations" magnificent in prospect, but very delusive in fact; and certainly they would not be looked for as a matter of course in any other nation. Let any one reflect on the few details here furnished, let him add others from his own information, and the whole thing will appear, as it truly is, most wonderful, and only to be explained by the great and merciful designs of God, as Dr. White has just indicated-- designs intrusted on this occasion to faithful servants whose generous hearts and pure souls opened up to the mission intrusted to them, to its glorious fulfilment so far, and to a greater unfolding still in time to come.
In order to understand, as ought to be understood, more fully the weight of the burden they so cheerfully undertook to bear, a few reflections on the subject of religious and charitable institutions will not be considered out of place.
The Romans--those master-organizers, who reduced to a perfect system every branch of government, legislation, war, and religion--never abandoned, never intrusted to the initiative of the people, the care of providing the means for any thing which the state ought to supply. The public religious establishments were all endowed, the colleges of the priests enjoyed large revenues, and the expenses of worship were supplied from the same source. To the fisc in general belonged the duty of supporting the armories, the courts of law, and the large establishments provided for the comfort and instruction of the people, the baths, libraries, and regular amusements. The private munificence of emperors, great patricians, and conquerors, undertook to supply occasional shows of an extraordinary character in the theatres, amphitheatre, and the circus.
There was no room left for charity in the whole plan. Indeed, the meaning of that word was unknown to them; for it cannot be properly applied to the regular distribution of money or cereals to the plebs; as this was one of those generosities which are necessary, and was only practised in order to keep the lower orders of citizens in idle content and out of mischief, as you would a wild animal which you dare not chain: you must feed him. The really poor, the saves, the maimed, the helpless, were left to their hard fate, they being apparently unworthy of pity because they excited no fear.
Yet the system was fruitful in its results. As soon as Christianity was seated on the throne, nothing was easier than to transfer the immense sums contributed by regular funds, or which were the product of taxes, from one object to another; and thus the Christian clergy and churches were supported as had been the colleges and temples of the pagan priests, by the revenues derived from large estates attached to the various corporations. Thus did Constantine and his successors become the munificent benefactors of the Church in Rome and through-out the whole empire.
Meanwhile, the 11 collections of money" among the faithful, which were first organized, as we read in the epistles of the apostles, and afterward systematized still better in Rome under the first popes, soon grew into disuse, at least to the extent to which they once prevailed; the new charitable institutions, such as the care of the poor, of widows and orphans, being under- taken by the Church at large, while the expenses of the whole were defrayed by the revenues accruing from the donations of princes, or the bequests of wealthy Christians.
The consequence was that, throughout the whole Christian world, all religious, literary, and charitable institutions enjoyed large revenues, and there was no need of applying to the generosity of the common people for contributions.
After the successful invasion of the barbarians, the same system held good; and history records how richly endowed were the churches built, the monasteries founded, the universities and colleges opened, by the once ferocious Franks, Germans, or Northmen even, tamed and subdued by the precepts and practices of Christianity.
We know how the immense wealth, which had been devoted to such holy purposes by the wise generosity of rulers or rich nobles, became in course of time an eyesore and object of envy to the worldly, and that the chief incentive to the `~ Reformers" for doing their work of 11 reformation" thoroughly was the prospect of the golden harvest to be reaped by the destruction of the Catholic Church.
But the very large amounts required to satisfy the aspirations introduced into the heart of humanity, by the religion of Christ, may give us an adequate idea of what Christian civilization really costs. It is foolish to imagine a sane man really believing that those generous founders of pious institutions, who devote by gift or bequest, such large estates and revenues to the various
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We cannot afford to transfer any more of his experiences among the Irish. From all his accounts, they are the same in London as everywhere else, most firmly attached to Catholicity, and, as a general rule, most exemplary in the performance of their religious obligations.
It is fitting, however, to give the conclusion of a long description of what he saw among them while visiting them in the company of a clergyman: "The religious fervor of the people whom I saw was intense. At one house that I entered, the woman set me marvelling at the strength of her zeal, by showing me how she continued to have in her sitting-room a sanctuary to pray every night and morning, and even during the day when she felt weary and lonesome."
II. Passing from religion to morality, let us look at this writer again: "Only one-tenth, at the outside, of the couples living together and carrying on the costermongering trade (among the English) are married. . . . Of the rights of legitimate or illegitimate children, the English costermongers understand nothing, and account it a mere waste of money to go through the ceremony of wedlock, when a pair can live together, and be quite as well regarded by their fellows without it. The married women associate with the unmarried mothers of families without scruple. There is no honor attached to the married state and no shame to concubinage.
"As regards the fidelity of these women, I was assured that in any thing like good times they were rigidly faithful to their paramours; but that, in the worst pinch of poverty, a departure from this fidelity--if it provided a few meals or a fire--was not considered at all heinous."
Further details may be read in the book quoted from, which would scarcely come well in these pages, though quite appropriate to the most interesting work in which they appear. From the whole, it is only too clear that the class of people referred to is profoundly immoral and corrupt, their very poverty only hindering them from indulging in an excess of libertinism.
On the other hand, when Mr. Mayhew speaks of the street Irish in London, he is most emphatic in his praise of the purity of the women in particular, and the care of the parents in general to preserve the virtue of their daughters, in the midst of the frightful corruption ever under their eyes. The only remark he passes of a disparaging character is the following:
"I may here observe"--referring to the statement that Irish parents will not expose their daughters to the risk of what they consider corrupt influences--"that, when a young Irish woman _does_ break through the pale of chastity, she often becomes, as I was assured, one of the most violent and depraved of, perhaps, the most depraved class."
It is evident, from the mere form in which this phrase is put, that such a thing is of very rare occurrence, and that the violence and depravity spoken of offer all the stronger contrast to the general purity of the whole class, and are merely the result of the open and unreserved character of the race.
But the whole world knows that chastity is the rule, and perhaps the most special virtue of the Irish, a fact which their worst enemies have been compelled to confess. In this same work of Mr. Mayhew's a still more surprising fact than the last--for that is acknowledged by all--is brought into astonishing prominence; a fact opposed to the general opinion of their friends even, and yet supported by incontrovertible evidence. It relates to another contrast between the English and Irish costermongers on the score of temperance.
III. The result arrived at by his inquiries among liquor-dealers in that part of London inhabited by about equal numbers of both nationalities, Mr. Mayhew gives us as twenty to one in favor of the Irish with respect to the consumption of liquor. In most "independent," that is to say, "not impoverished" Irish families, water is the only beverage at dinner, with punch afterward; and estimating the number of teetotallers, among the English at
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