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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 17


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We meet in this Assembly, a voluntary Parliament of men and women, to study together and to exchange knowledge and thought on works of every-day life and usefulness. Our object, to make the present existence better and happier; to inquire, in this particular section of our Congress:—What are the conditions which lead to the pain and penalty of disease; what the means for the removal of those conditions when they are discovered? What are the most ready and convincing methods of making known to the uninformed the facts: that many of the conditions are under our control; that neither mental serenity nor mental development can exist with an unhealthy animal organisation; that poverty is the shadow of disease, and wealth the shadow of health?

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These objects relate to ourselves, to our own reliefs from suffering, to cur own happiness, to our own riches. We have, I trust and believe, yet another object, one that relates not to ourselves, but to those who have yet to be; those to whom we may become known, but whom we can never know, who are the ourselves, unseen to ourselves, continuing our mission.

We are privileged more than any who have as yet lived on this planet in being able to foresee, and in some measure estimate, the results of our wealth of labour as it may be possibly extended over and through the unborn. A few scholars of the past, like him who, writing to the close of his mortal day, sang himself to his immortal rest with the 'Gloria in excelsis,' a few scholars might foresee, even as that Bæda did, that their living actual work was but the beginning of their triumphant course through the ages,—the momentum. But the masses of the nations, crude and selfish, have had no such prescience, no such intent. 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die!' That has been the pass, if not the password, with them and theirs.

We, scholars of modern thought, have the broader, and therefore more solemn and obligatory knowledge, that however many to-morrows may come, and whatever fate they may bring, we never page 9 die; that, strictly speaking, no one yet who has lived has ever died; that for good or for evil our every change from potentiality into motion is carried on beyond our own apparent transitoriness; that we are the waves of the ocean of life, communicating motion to the expanse before us, and leaving the history we have made on the shore behind.

Thus we are led to feel this greater object: that to whatever extent we, by our exertions, confer benefits on those who live, we extend the advantage to those who have to live; that one good thought leading to practical useful action from one man or woman, may go to the virtue of thousands of generations; that one breath of health wafted by our breath may, in the aggregate of life saved by it, represent in its ultimate effect all the life that now is or has been.

At the close of a Parliamentary session, an uneventful leader of a section of Parliament banters his more eventful rival, and enlivening his criticism by a sneer at our Congress, challenges the contempt of his rival, as if to draw it forth in the same critical direction. Alas! it is too true that great congresses, like great men, and even like Parliaments, do live sometimes for many years and talk much, and seem to miss much and advance little; page 10 so that in what relates to the mere present it were wrong, possibly, to challenge the sally of the statesman who, from his own helpless height, looked down on our weakness. But inasmuch as no man knoweth the end of the spoken word, as that which is spoken to-day, earnestly and simply, may not reappear for years, and may then appear with force and quality of hidden virtue, there is reason for our uniting together beyond the proof of necessity which is given in the fact of our existence. Perchance some day our natural learning, gathered in our varied walks of life, and submitted in open council, may survive even Parliamentary strife; perchance our resolutions, though no sign-manual immediately grace them, are the informal bills which ministers, and oppositions shall one day discuss, Parliaments pass, royal hands sign, and the fixed administrators of the will of the nation duly administer.

These thoughts on the future, rather than on the passing influence of our congressional work, have led me to the simple design of the address which, as President of this Section, I venture to submit to you to-day. It is my object to put forward a theoretical outline of a community so circumstanced and so maintained by the exercise of its own freewill, guided by scientific knowledge, that in it the perfection of sanitary results will be page 11 approached, if not actually realised, in the co-existence of the lowest possible general mortality with the highest possible individual longevity. I shall try to show a working community in which death,—if I may apply so common and expressive a phrase on so solemn a subject,—is kept as nearly as possible in its proper or natural place in the scheme of life.