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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Benignity and Beneficence

Benignity and Beneficence.

Sir,—Some time ago, whilst I was walking along a leading thoroughfare in this city, I noticed a bare-footed, thinly-clad, half-starved little girl staggering on under the load of a large and apparently heavy bag. The poor child could make only very short stages, a journey of ten yards being enough to exhaust her. She could not have been more than six years of age.

Now if my readers will pardon a bit of egotism which it would be inconvenient to suppress on the present occasion, I would have them understand that there are few mortals more thoroughly benevolent than myself. In my boyish days I never robbed a bird's-nest, and never baited a hook without feeling sorry for the worm. When I hear or read of a tale of woe, involuntary tears start to my eyes, and if sympathy could remove distress, there would be little left in the world; for I think that I have within me an index-haustitle well thereof. The wrongs of the poor and down-trodden, the selfishress of the luxurious rich, and the grinding despotism of the tyrant make any blood boil when I reflect on them; and often when I lie awake I constrict in my mind social systems which shall provide for the weak and helples: a road from Purgatory to Paradise, and in which there shall be an aristocacy of the wise and good, not of the rich and powerful.

It nay readily be imagined, then, that the scene I have described above was sufficient to touch me to the quick. I stood for some time pensively watching the little creature. "Can this," I said within myself, "be called a Christin land, where law and public opinion seem equally indifferent to such an exhibition of parental barbarism?" I felt a righteous anger rise within me when I beheld the busy citizens pass to and fro, each wrapped in his own concerns, and as unmoved at the spectacle of suffering humanity as at the sight of" a fly in the meshes of a web; my indignation being perhaps slightly soothed by the reflection that Sydney contained one person—to wit, myself—whose heart was not destitute of every spark of human sympathy.

Presently, however, my musings were interrupted. I saw a gentleman approach the girl, ask her a question, and, without more ado, throw the bag across his shoulder and march off with the child by his side. For a moment I was arivetted to the spot with surprise. Such eccentric behaviour on the part of a person who was at least my equal in rank, I could not have conceived. Prompted by curiosity, I followed the odd pair after they had proceeted some distance. Selecting the most unfrequented ways, they at last reaches a miserable house in a by-street at the door of which our good Samarian deposited his load and then went his way, with a mind, if physiognomy speak the truth, no more burdened by the consciousness of having page 319 done a good action than agitated by schemes for the social regeneration of mankind. I have never seen him since.

How true it is that a single good action, however trifling in itself, may be fruitful in unforeseen blessings. The child's benefactor was unconsciously a benefactor to me also, but in a higher sense; for he, by his silent reproof, did much to relieve me of a far more crushing load than that which she had to bear; a load of self-complacency, of morbid sentiment, of dreamy do-nothing benevolence, which is almost as fatal to self-denying energy of character as selfishness itself. He has taught me in a single simple lesson that there is plenty of benignity in the world, but that there is room for much more beneficence; that thought not embodied in action is vain; that an ounce of well-doing is worth a ton of well-meaning; that faith without works is dead.