The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, June 1913
Many and various were the changes wrought during the past century in the ways and customs of men, and not the least striking of these was the great awakening of the public conscience to a sense of social responsibility, the realistion by the more favoured sections of the community that all was not right with the world, and that they owed a duty to their less fortunate neighbours.
It is to this awakened conscience that England owes her Poor Laws, the reform to the criminal law, the radical improvements in the administration of jails and asylums, and the salutary enactments governing sanita page 8 tion and factories. Such was merely the public response to the call, the response of the nation as a whole; but far from tightening the purse-strings of private benefaction, it served but to loose them further. The amount expended during the past eighty years on all that may be grouped under the head of "charity" is incalculable, and is yet no whit diminished, while the burden of public expenditure grows more and more oppressive year by year.
And what is there to show for this vast outpouring of the wealth and labour of so many devoted men and women ? "The poor we have always with us." It must have been a brave heart that was undaunted by the apparent failure of all efforts to effect any amelioration in the condition of society. We speak in the past tense advisedly, for towards the end of the nineteenth century came indication that the future would unfold a brighter prospect; that spirit of criticism which had characterised the literature of the last decades of the past century was making itself felt in other branches of thought. Men were beginning to see that the best of intentions of themselves avail nothing, that a spirit of altruism alone is an insufficient equipment for him who would heal the wounds of the body politic. Men are beginning to see now, with Oscar Wilde, that "their remedies do not cure the disease : they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor."
The national conscience is now more critical, more scientific, than it was of yore, and less apt to assume that whatever is labeled "charitable" is good. Frequently, of course, "charity" is positively harmful, and just as the humane slave-owner was really the worst, inasmuch as he hindered the realisation of the horrors of slavery, so some of our greatest charitable organisations of the present day retard the millennium by patching up our social system, and so glozing over its defects, that no real remedy is ever sought for. These are the jerry-builders par excellence of society.page 9
The new aspect of affairs has been summed up in the words "Benevolence v. Biology," but a more unjust and misleading summing-up could scarcely be imagined. Which is the nobler altruist, the greater benefactor of the nation and the race, the eugenist in his laboratory, or the philanthropic sweater as he writes out a cheque for the Salvation Army ? The contest is not between charity and science, but between good intentions badly carried out and good-will allied with thought and reason; benevolence and biology are not opposed—they have joined forces. "We have realised, practically and literally, that we are our brothers' keepers; our sense of social responsibility is becoming a sense of racial responsibility. It is that enlarged sense of responsibility which renders possible what is called the regeneration of the race."
(Dr. Havelock Ellis.)
The formation at Victoria College of a Social Service League is therefore a healthy sign of the times. We think the promoters of the movement are well advised in making their society primarily one for graduates, for the graduates, for the graduate not only is (or at least should be) a person of wider reading and broader outlook generally, but he has more time at his disposal for the work involved, and here we are thinking not so much of the time devoted to actual labour in Tory Street or at the Institute, as to the time which all who are in earnest over their word will devote to the study and consideration of sociological problems generally. For it would be a grievous mistake for the members of the League to look upon their personal service in the poorer quarters of our city as an end in itself; it should be merely an experimental field from which they can learn something, however little of the practical application of their theories, and gather some knowledge, slight though it be, of their fellow-men and women. The student, in short, should not forget that his task is not merely to raise others to a higher standard of citizenship, but to advance his own.
One thing we cannot but regret, and that is the fact that the League has imposed upon its members a test of strict orthodoxy in matters of religious opinion; doubtless there is no inconsistency in this course, provided page 10 only it is conceded that orthodox Christianity is essential to the best citizenship. As we, personally, regard the question from the standpoint of Heterodoxy, our readers will understand our inability to grant this premise; even those who disagree with our view of the matter will probably agree that it is a pity that a number of students who would be zealours and enthusiastic workers should be excluded from the enterprise on theological grounds—this more especially as the theological work of the League is quite distinct and easily separable from the other branches of its activity.
This, however, is by the way, for the task of racial regeneration is by no means confined to any one society or any one method of work. The field is wide, and there is always room for more labourers, of whatever caste of creed, and so to all who would devote themselves to the new patriotism, the truer charity, the highest service, we commend the ideal which St. Augustine had before him when he penned these words :—"Thou givest bread to the hungry, but better were it that none hungered, and thou hadst none to give to. Thou clothest the naked : oh, that all men were clothed, and that this need existed not! For if thou hast done a kindness to the wretched, perhaps thou wishest him to be subject to thee. He was in need. Thou didst bestow : thou seemst to thyself grater because thou didst bestow than he upon whom it was bestowed. Wish him to be thine equal."