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ART. I.-On the Means of ameliorating the Condition, and improving the Morals of the Poor.
HE efforts of christian and benevolent characters have been directed within the last few years with increasing energy, in a great variety of ways, to diminish the mass of human misery, and to promote the increase of religion and virtue. It is delightful to see each party strenuously labouring in its own favourite plan; while an all-wise and directing Providence so combines and harmonises their various labours, as to make them tend to one grand result, his own glory, and the happiness of his creatures.
Sorrow, and pain, and affliction are incident to this state of being, and the lot even of those who are most anxiously desirous to know and to perform the Divine Will concerning them. Trials are permitted by infinite Wisdom, to show the transitory nature of all sublunary objects, to wean us from the things of time and sense, and lead us to seek for those higher enjoyments which a due sense of religion affords, and in which permanent happiness alone consists.
The afflictions which may be deemed inevitable, as the loss of beloved relatives, pain of body, accidents which no prudence or foresight could guard against or avert, dwindle to nothing in extent or intensity when compared with the amount of that solid misery, that corroding anguish, which is the offspring of crime. "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?" When mankind neglect and despise that Divine principle in their own minds which makes them uneasy when they first do wrong, and fills them with joy and satisfaction when they do right, they are then prone to gratify their passions and appetites at all events, and are no longer scrupulous as to the means of doing so, but trespass without hesitation upon the rights of their neighbour, and loosen the bands which hold society together. Hence that deluge of misery which inundates the world; for these individuals are not only unhappy in themselves, but the cause of unhappiness to all within the sphere of their influence.
The efforts of the wise and the good, and of all those whose minds are susceptible. to the love of God and of man, in every country,
should therefore be directed towards diminishing the cause of that misery which is most prevalent and most deplorable of all,—that arising from dereliction of duty, and springing out of the natural depravity of the human heart. This is the great work of the philanthropist in every nation under heaven. The attention of all should be directed to those measures which tend to PREVENT OR DIMINISH CRIME: and if the virtuous part of the community knew their powers when acting upon a well organised plan; if they could but be made aware of the effect of combining their efforts, and directing them towards this most important object, they would see the possibility of their becoming the honoured instruments of changing the moral character of a people in the course of a very few years.
It is certainly a duty to attend to the wants and to the sufferings of the poor; but how large a portion of these wants and sufferings arise from the neglect of society in training the lower classes to virtuous and economical habits. It is a duty to visit even the criminal in prison, and endeavour to reclaim him; but until we advert to the cause of his coming into prison, to the circumstances in which he has been permitted to exist, to the strong temptations to which he has fallen a prey, and wisely endeavour to alter the one and remove the other as far as practicable, prisons will be increasingly crowded. The demoralizing effects of the want of a virtuous education proceed in a much higher ratio than the efforts of those who are engaged in the amendment of prisons. If therefore there is one thing more than another which demands the attention of those at the helm of government, as well as of every friend to his species, it is measures which will go to the root of the evil,-PREVENTIVE MEASURES; and the most powerful of these will be found in a plan to fix the attention of the middle and upper classes upon the state of the lower; and to provide for the education of all their children in habits of subordination, self-restraint, economy, and reverence for religion.
The influence of the circumstances in which an individual is placed on the formation of his character, has not been sufficiently attended to; and though we are far from believing that the cha racter of every individual is formed for him, and that he has nothing to do but submit to the action of the mould in which he is placed; yet it is abundantly evident, that if an infant were brought up from its birth in the most depraved part of the population of our metropolis, it would be very likely to receive an education in crime, and become a mischievous member of society; and that if the same infant had been sheltered from temptations and incite. ment to do wrong, by being born in a virtuous community, it would most probably have taken the road to virtue. The effect of éducation