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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33


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Forethought is the characteristic of civilised man, as distinguished from the brute and the barbarian in general; and is, in fact, the foundation of all true civilisation. Yet some degree of forethought is found among savages, and much special thrift among certain of the lower animals, such as the squirrel and the beaver, the ant and the bee. These care for the morrow, by a natural and inherited instinct; and provide food in summer for the wants of the bitter winter that is to come. But man, to be civilised and powerful, must have incessant and far-reaching forethought, and make provision against a thousand accidents or liabilities, alike in health and sickness, in peace or war, on land or sea. In truth, the main business of life is that of an Insurance Society or of a Benefit Institution; from the marriage of a man and woman, to the foundation of a State. Life is an endeavour to ensure the development of our nature against the operation of all forces that would hinder or destroy it, and by employing such forces as we can command to resist those which tend to our injury. The beginning of this line of life is self-denial—the primary virtue of man. We must sacrifice the pleasure of the moment present, for the benefit of the years to come. We must toil more to-day than the needs of the day require, in order that the surplus produce may meet an emergency, or a new want, to-morrow. The husband must lay up 'store' for the needs of the wife and child—the strong man of to-day must work while the sun shines in order to produce, that which he will need when weakness and age comes upon him, as come they will. As the Proverbs say, "Make hay while the sun shines," and so "Provide for a rainy day." He who idles in his prime, must starve, or beg, or steal, in his later years. He who spends his own 'thrift' or produce now, will spend his neighbour's in his old age. Hence, while the thrifty man is a benefactor of society, the spendthrift will become a beggar and a bane.

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So much for the principle of forethought, or of thoughtlessness, as regards extremes. There are, however, degrees of accidents and conditions, for which the individual cannot fully provide, let him be never so prudent. Fortune is fickle; the laws and forces in nature and art are so complicated that their working cannot always be foreseen; and human nature is so weak, physically and mentally, that we shall suffer unexpectedly from its perturbations. This leads men, in civilised life, to combine for mutual protection, against fire, storm, collision, death, sickness, and loss of property in any way. Friendly or Benefit societies are only insurance societies for working men, with small payments equal to their means.

Our Saxon forefathers had societies of this kind, and the Middle Ages were full of 'Guilds' answering the same end. But it is only in modern times, when careful registrations of births and deaths became common, and when statistics of Sickness were gathered into form, that these societies could be constructed on scientific principles. It is now well understood that sickness and death depend on conditions, or causes. People are not always alike sick, or die at one age. They die or are sick, therefore, according to a law of circumstance. The results of this law can be ascertained for each epoch, or country, or class; and so referred to the causal conditions—the 'circumstances' of that epoch, country, or class. For example, a country that is ill drained, subject to cold and damp winds, will have a greater sickness and higher death rate than one that is sandy, well drained, and of a genial climate. A town population, as a rule, will have more sickness and shorter lives, than an agricultural district, other things being the same. The class of ministers and gentry, living easy and regular lives, under good sanitary arrangements, will have less sickness by one-half than hard working, hard drinking labourers, who live in small, ill-ventilated, and often undrained hovels. But even their death rate again is not so high by nearly one-half as that of Publicans, who are killed by their own dreadful business: so that charity to them, as well as patriotism, demands the abolition of their fatal traffic.

When the Science of this question is understood, those who are virtuous, temperate, and industrious, will be able To Select the Circle for Insurance within which health is highest, and disease lowest. At present, in various forms and ways, they are not only absurdly, but mischievously, paying to meet the risks, and mitigate the sufferings, of the idle, the foolish, and the vicious. They interpose a power between violation of law and penalty, and thus offer a premium to vice, just as truly as the State does in the bad and impolitic Insurance Society called "Poor Laws." Not one teetotaler in ten thousand ever finds his way to the Poor House—even by accident. But almost all other representatives of society page 5 get there. Thus honest men eventually keep the dishonest, industrious men the idle, the sober the intemperate, or, in one word, the public keep the beggared customers of the publican! "Benefit Societies" assembling at drink-shops really meet for the "good of the house," which means the ruin of the men, and often the bankruptcy of the club. Under any circumstances, however, many of the Friendly Societies of the country are virtual frauds upon the innocent and the ignorant. Young men are made to pay as much as old men, though it is plain (1) that they will have less sickness; (2) they will have to pay longer; and (3) they may be sober and healthy while the bulk of the old members may be lame and lushy. One sees this every day. Now to call such a society a Mutual Benefit Society is to deceive—and if it is to continue, let it be named a "Charitable Society," chiefly for the benefit of one class, the careless and the selfish.

But the importance of such societies, founded on correct principles, cannot be overrated, either as regards the Temperance Reformation, or the general interests of the community. However noble the bond of brotherhood may be, however pure the inspiration of Temperance-man or Good Templar; fidelity to the pledge and habit of abstinence will be greatly confirmed by having a pecuniary pledge in addition. Sympathy, Duty, and Interest will form a chain not easily broken; and it is a curious fact in human nature, that interest will successfully resist sudden temptation where higher principles fail. And the general advantages of such societies are apparent. The labouring man, with a family, finds it hard, even with the utmost frugality, to provide for "the rainy day"; but here the Friendly Society comes to his aid, and out of his small contributions has accumulated a fund to meet the exigency, without privation or suffering to his wife and children. He receives no degrading charity, for he is his own Almoner, and can retain his independence and self-respect. A person acting on such principles, just as one practising abstinence, must necessarily be more amiable and considerate than one who overlooks them; must be, by virtue of his self-reliance and self-denial, a better servant, a better father, and a better citizen. Knowing his own rights, he performs his corresponding duties, and, instead of contributing to that mass of pauperism which at once burdens the industry and blights the character of our people, he lessens the rates of the parish while he increases the wealth of the nation.

Forty-four years ago a new social condition was introduced into the lives of a Class of the People which has thrown quite a novel light upon the facts of health, sickness, and mortality. Then, almost all the men drank intoxicating liquors, and fathers gave them to their wives and children. They were supposed to be a daily need, like our page 6 "daily broad."* It was not known, save to a select and thoughtful few, that alcohol is a poison to the blood and body of man, and produces weakness, disturbance, and disease, as surely by circulating in the domain of life, as foetid gases and microscopic fungi produce infection in our cities. Even now our prating and priggish Sanitary Reformers cannot see that the drainage and water supply which is most important to us, is that within us rather than that without us! But stern facts have revealed the truth, that The One Circumstance of Drinking, or not Drinking, as much Affects Health and Life as all other Sanitary Circumstances put Together. We have in our country 3,000,000 of teetotalers, and though they are mainly of the humbler orders of society, with the least sanitary advantages of ease, fresh air, and large houses, They have Less than Half the Average Sickness and Mortality of the Best of the Community.

* Even still, it seems, we need not refer to fossil specimens of the class, for Six W. Cunninghame. M.P., said at Ayr the other day, that "there are many who think that

Grog cures the gont, the cholic, and the phthisic,

And is to all men the very best of physic."

"I believe," adds he, "that spirituous refreshment is beneficial, and has been placed in our hands by Providence for use "!!!