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Fantom. I despise a narrow field. Oh for the reign of universal benevolence! I want to make all mankind good and happy.
Trueman. Dear me! sure that must be a wholesale sort of a job: had not you better try your hand at a town or a parish first ?
Fantom. Sir, I have a plan in my head for relieving the miseries of the whole world. Everything is bad as it now stands. I would alter all the laws, and do away all the religions, and put an end to all the wars in the world. I would everywhere redress the injustice of fortune, or what the vulgar call providence. I would put an end to all punishments; I would not leave a single prisoner on the face of the globe. This is what I call doing things on a grand scale. “A scale with a vengeance !" said Trueman. As to releasing the prisoners, however, I do not so much like that, as it would be liberating a few rogues at the expense of all honest men; but as to the rest of your plan, if all Christian countries would be so good as turn Christians, it might be helped on a good deal. There would be still misery enough left, indeed ; because God intended this world should be earth and not heaven. But, Sir, among all your abolitions, you must abolish human corruption, before you can make the world quite as perfect as you pretend. You philosophers seem to me to be ignorant of the very first seed and principle of misery; sin, sir-sin : your system of reform is radically defective ; for it does not comprehend that sinful nature from which all misery proceeds. You accuse government of defects which belong to man, to individual man, and of course to man collectively. Among all your reforms, you must reform the human heart ; you are only hacking at the branches, without striking at the root. Banishing impiety out of the world, would be like striking off all the pounds from an overcharged bill; and all the troubles which would be left, would be reduced to mere shillings, pence, and farthings, as one may say.”
Fantom. Your project would rivet the chains which mine is designed to break. Trueman. Sir, I have no projects. Projects are in general the off
. spring of recklessness, vanity, and idleness. I am too busy for projects, too contented for theories, and, I hope, have too much honesty and humility for a philosopher. The utmost extent of my ambition at present is,
redress the wrongs of a parish apprentice, who has been cruelly used by his master : indeed, I have another little scheme, which is to prosecute a fellow in our street who has suffered a poor wretch in a work house, of which he had the care, to perish through neglect ; and you must assist me.
Fantom. The parish must do that. You must not apply to me for the redress of such petty grievances. I own that the wrongs of the Poles and South Americans, so fill my mind, as to leave me no time to attend to the petty sorrows of workhouses and parish apprentices. It is provinces, empires, continents, that the benevolence of the philosopher embraces; every one can do a little paltry good to his next neighbour.
Trueman. Every one can, but I do not see that every one does. If they would, indeed, your business would be ready done to your hands, and your grand ocean of benevolence would be filled with the drops which private charity would throw into it. I am glad, however, you are such a friend to the prisoners, because I am just now getting a little subscrip
tion from our club, to set free your poor old friend Tom Saunders, a very honest brother tradesman, who got first into debt, and then into gaol, through no fault of his own, but merely through the pressure of the times. We have each of us allowed a trifle every week towards maintaining Tom's young family since he has been in prison ; but we think we shall đo much more service to Saunders, and indeed in the end lighten our own expense, by paying down at once a little sum to restore to him the comforts of life, and put him in a way of maintaining his family again. We have made up the money all except five guineas ; I am already promised four, and you have nothing to do but give me the fifth. And so for a single guinea, without any of the trouble, the meetings, and the looking into his affairs, which we have had ; which let me tell you, is the best, and to a man of business the dearest part of charity, you will at once have the pleasure (and it is no small one) of helping to save a worthy family from starving, of redeeming an old friend from gaol, and of putting a little of your beasted benevolence into action. Realize! Master Fantom : there is noth' g like realizing. “Why, hark ye, Mr. Trueman,” said Fantom, stammering, and looking very black,“ do not think I value à guinen. No, sir, I despise
à money ; it is trash, it is dirt, and beneath the regard of a wise man. It is one of the unfeeling inventions of artificial society. Sir, I could talk to you for half a day on the abuse of riches, and on my own contempt of money."
Trueman. O pray do not give yourself the trouble ; it will be an easier way by half of vindicating yourself from one, and of proving the other, just to put your hand in your pocket and give me a guinea, without saying a word about it; and then, to you who value time so much, and money so little, it will cut the matter short. But come now, (for I see you will give nothing,) I should be mighty glad to know what is the sort of good you do yourselves, since you always object to what is done by others.
Sir," said Mr. Fantom," the object of a true philosopher is to diffuse light and knowledge. I wish to see the whole world enlightened.”
Trueman. Amen! if you mean with the light of the gospel. But if you mean that one religion is as good as another, and that no religion is best of all; and that we shall become wiser and better by setting aside the very means which Providence bestowed to make us wise and good ; in short, if you want to make the whole world philosophers, why, they had better stay as they are. But as to the true light, I wish it to reach the very lowest, and I therefore bless God for charity-schools, as instruments of diffusing it among the poor.
Fantom, who had no reason to expect that his friend was going to call upon him for a subscription on this account, ventured to praise them; saying, “I am no enemy to these institutions. I would indeed change the object of instruction, but I would have the whole world instructed."
Here Mrs. Fantom, who, with her daughter, had quietly sat by their work, ventured to put in a word, a liberty she seldom took with her husband; who, in his zeal to make the whole world free and happy, was too prudent to include his wife among the objects on whom he wished to confer freedom and happiness. “Then, my dear," said she, “I wonder you do not let your own servants be taught a little. The maids can scarcely
tell a letter, or say the Lord's Prayer; and you know you will not allow them time to learn. William too has never been at church since we came out of town. He was at first very orderly and obedient, but now he is seldom sober of an evening; and in the morning when he should be rubbing the tables in the parlour, he is generally lolling upon them, and reading your little manual of the new philosophy.”—“Mrs. Fantom," said her husband angrily, “ you know that my labours for the public good leave me little time to think of my own family. I must have a great field, I like to do good to hundreds at once.”
“I am very glad of that, para," said Miss Polly ; " for then I hope you will not refuse to subscribe to all those pretty children at the Sundayschool, as you did yesterday, when the gentlemen came a begging, because that is the very thing you were wishing for ; there are two or three hundred to be done good to at once."
Trueman. Well, Mr. Fantom, you are a wonderful man to keep up such a stock of benevolence at so small an expense. To love mankind so dearly, and yet avoid all opportunities of doing them good ; to have such a noble zeal for the millions, and to feel so little compassion for the units; to long to free empires and enlighten kingdoms, and yet deny instruction to your own village, and comfort to your own family. Surely none but a philosopher could indulge so much philanthropy and so much frugality at the same time. But come, do assist me in a partition I am making in our poorhouse, between the old, whom I want to have better fed, and the young, whom I want to have more worked.
Fantom. Sir, my mind is so engrossed with the partition of Poland, that I cannot bring it down to an object of such insignificance. I despise the man whose benevolence is swallowed up in the narrow concerns of his own family, or parish, or country.
Trueman. Well, now I have a notion that it is as well to do one's own duty, as the duty of another man; and that to do good at home, is as well as to do good abroad. For my part, I had as lieve help Tom Saunders to freedom as a Pole or a South American, though I should be very glad to help them too. But one must begin to love somewhere, and to do good somewhere; and I think it is as natural to love one's own family, and to do good in one's own neighbourhood, as to any body else. And if every man in every family, parish, and country, did the same, why then all the schemes would meet, and the end of one parish, where I was doing good, would be the beginning of another parish where somebody else was doing good : so my schemes would jut into my neighbour's; his projects would unite with those of some other local reformer, and all would fit with a sort of dove-tail exactness. And what is better, all would join in furnishing a living comment on that practical precept, “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself."
Fantom. Sir, a man of large views will be on the watch for great occasions to prove his benevolence.
Trueman. Yes, sir, but if they are so distant that he cannot reach them, or so vast that he cannot grasp them, he may let a thousand little, snug, kind, good actions slip through his fingers in the meanwhile: and so, between the great things that he cannot do, and the little ones that he will not do, life passes, and nothing will be done.
Just at this moment Miss Polly Fantom (whose mother had gone out some time before) started up, let fall her work, and cried out, “O papa, do but look what a monstrous great fire there is yonder on the common ! If it were the fifth of November, I should think it were a bonfire. Look how it blazes !”—“ I see plain enough what it is," said Mr. Fantom, sitting down again without the least emotion. “It is Jenkins's cottage on fire." -“ What, poor John Jenkins, who works in our garden, papa ?” said the poor girl in great terror. “ Do not be frightened, child,” answered Fantom, we are safe enough ; the wind blows the other way. Why did you disturb us for such a trifle, as it was so distant ? Come, Mr. Trueman, sit down.”—“Sit down !” said Mr. Trueman : “I am not a stock, sir, nor a stone, but a man ; made of the same common nature with Jenkins whose house is burning. Come along-let us fly to help him," continued he, running to the door in such haste that he forgot to take his hat though it hung just before—“Come, Mr. Fantom-come, my little dear-I wish your mamma was here—I am sorry she went out just now-we may all do some good ; every body may be of use at a fire. Even you, Miss Polly, may save some of those poor people's things in your apron, while your papa and I hand the buckets." All this he said as he ran along with the young lady in his hand ; not doubting but Fantom and his whole family were following close behind him.-But the present distress was neither grand enough nor far enough from home to satisfy the wide-stretched benevolence of the philosopher, who sat down within sight of the flames to work at a new pamphlet, which now swallowed up his whole soul, on universal benevolence.
His daughter, indeed, who happily was not yet a philosopher, with Mr. Trueman, followed by the maids, reached the scene of distress. William Wilson, the footman, refused to assist, glad of such an opportunity of being revenged on Jenkins, whom he called a surly fellow, for presuming to complain because William always purloined the best fruit for himself before he set it on his master's table. Jenkins also, whose duty it was to be out of doors, had refused to leave his own work in the garden, to do Will's work in the house while he got drunk, or read the Rights of Man.
The little dwelling of Jenkins burnt very furiously. Mr. Trueman's exertions were of the greatest service. He directed the willing, and gave an example to the slothful. By living in London, he had been more used to the calamity of fire than the country people, and knew better what was to be done. In the midst of the bustle he saw one woman only who never attempted to be of the least use. She ran backwards and forward, wringing her hands, and crying out in a tone of piercing agony, “Oh, my child ! my little Tommy! Will no one save my Tommy?" Any woman might have uttered the same words, but the look which explained them could only come from a mother. Trueman did not stay to ask if she were the owner of the house, and mother of the child. It was his way to do all the good which could be done first, and then to ask questions. All he said was, “Tell me which is the room ?” The poor woman, now speechless through terror, could only point up to a little window in the thatch, and then sunk on the ground.
Mr. Trueman made his way through a thick smoke, and ran up the
narrow staircase which the fire had not yet reached. He got safely to the loft, snatched up the little creature, who was sweetly sleeping in its poor hammock, and brought him down naked in his arms : and as he gave him to the half-distracted mother, he felt that her joy and gratitude would have been no bad pay for the danger he had run, even if no higher motive had set him to work. Poor Jenkins, half stupified by his misfortune, had never thought of his child ; and his wife, who expected every hour to make him father to a second, had not been able to do any thing towards saving little Tommy.
Mr. Trueman now put the child into Miss Fantom's apron, saying, “Did I not tell you, my dear, that everybody could be of use at a fire ?" He then desired her to carry the child home, and ordered the poor woman to follow her, saying, he would return himself as soon as he had seen all safe in the cottage.
When the fire was quite out, and Mr. Trueman could be of no further use, he went back to Mr. Fantom's.—The instant he opened the parlour door he eagerly cried out, “Where is the poor woman, Mr. Fantom ?"“ Not in my house, I assure you,” answered the philosopher. “Give me leave to tell you, it was a very romantic thing to send her and her child to me; you should have provided for them at once, like a prudent man."_“I thought I had done so," replied Trueman, " by sending them to the nearest and the best house in the parish, as the poor woman seemed to stand in need of immediate assistance.”—“So immediate," said Fantom, “ that I would not let her come into my house, for fear what might happen. So I packed her off, with her child in her arms, to the workhouse ; with orders to the overseers not to let her want for anything."
“ And what right have you, Mr. Fantom,” cried Trueman in a high tone, “to expect that the overseers will be more humane than yourself ? But is it possible you can have sent that helpless creature, not only to walk, but to carry a naked child, at such a time of night, to a place so distant, so ill provided, and in such a condition? I hope at least you have furnished them with clothes ; for all their own little store were burnt.”—“ Not I, indeed,” said Fantom. " What is the use of parishofficers, but to look after these petty things ?"
It was Mr. Trueman's way, when he began to feel very angry, not to allow himself to speak ; because, he used to say, “ if I give vent to my feelings, I am sure, by some hasty word, to cut myself out work for repentance.” So, without making any answer, or even changing his clothes, which were very wet and dirty, from having worked so hard at the fire, he walked out again, having first inquired the road the woman had taken. At the door he met Mrs. Fantom returning from her visit. He told her his tale; which she had no sooner heard, than she kindly resolved to accompany him in search of Jenkins's wife. She had a wide common to walk over before she could rench either the workhouse or the nearest cottage. She had crawled along with her baby as far as she was able ; but having met with no refreshment at Mr. Fantom's, and her strength quite failing her, she had sunk down on the middle of the common. Happily, Mr. Trueman and Mrs. Fantom came up at this very time. The former had had the precaution to bring a cordial, and the latter had gone back and stuffed her pockets with old baby linen, Mr. Trueman