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'free maintenance.' Parents who can should see that their children are well clothed, well shod, and well fed ; and the great bulk of them will, of course, continue to do this. (Nobody not practically acquainted with the daily lives of the working classes can have any real appreciation of the sacrifices which parents make for their children.) Those who can, and will not, should, in my opinion, be severely punished. But the community must step in and prevent the child suffering. It is a most short-sighted policy to allow our young to grow up ill-nourished, and therefore ill-developed. It is grotesque to lavish money on education for those who are unfit mentally and physically to receive the education offered to them.
To come to a practical suggestion. Let us schedule the poorer part of a great town containing, say, half a dozen elementary schools. A school kitchen should be provided, under the direction of a public official, for the schools in the area. 'Dinner coupons' should be procurable at a convenient public office, to be paid for or received gratuitously by the parents, according to the necessities of the case. There would, of course, be absolutely no difference between the style of the coupon, whether purchased by the parent or received free. Before setting out for school every morning the children would be provided with their coupons by their parents, and would go down to the dining-hall at midday. The cost of this system should, in my opinion, be borne by voluntary contributions, supplemented by public aid. This is the system which is in force in many Continental cities, and which works with the most excellent results. By-and-by I should hope that practically all the parents would avail themselves of these midday meals for their children. It would mean a great economy of time and money to them, and the meal provided would, in all probability, be a good deal more nutritious and satisfying to the children than that at present prepared in the home. But this idea of a communal meal is, of course, foreign to the English tradition, and would be a matter of gradual development.
If such a scheme as I have herein roughly outlined were put into general adoption, the charge upon the public purse would not, I believe, be very considerable. (The Municipality of Paris provides 8,000,000 meals a year for 70,0001., of which 45,0001. comes from the rates, 20,0001. from sale of dinner coupons to parents, and the rest from voluntary subscriptions.) Many of the parents of the well-to-do artisan class would find it a matter of convenience and economy to avail themselves of the communal system of feeding their children ; and, so far as they are concerned, the thing would be self-supporting. For the rest, the continuance of benevolent support would lighten the burden upon the public purse.
I do not propose to weary the reader with any reflections upon the pitiable condition of many of the children who attend our schools at the present time. Neither do I put into contrast with this deplor
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able condition the immense improvement in the general physique of the children which must follow from the introduction of the system here suggested. But I go further than this question of the underfed condition of the children. I insist that it is equally essential to our future prosperity as a nation to see that no child lacks warm clothing and comfortable housing. I hold that the community, as a whole, and not the benevolently disposed person only, has a direct duty in this matter. I say, too, that the medical examination from time to time of the children, especially with regard to the condition of their eyes, and, indeed, their general physical state, is a matter of communal obligation. In contrast to our laisser faire attitude towards the children, I may direct attention to the final article in Volume II. of the Special Reports on Educational Subjects issued by the Board of Education, Whitehall. That article gives a description of what the people of Brussels consider to be their duty to the children. From this remarkable statement it will be seen that every school child is medically examined once every ten days. Its eyes, teeth, ears, and general physical condition are overhauled. If it looks weak and puny they give it doses of cod-liver oil or some suitable tonic. At midday it gets a square meal, thanks to private benevolence assisted by communal funds, and the greatest care is taken to see that no child goes ill-shod, ill-clad, or ill-fed.
As a Christian and civilised community, I urge that we cannot allow an appreciable section of our youth to slouch through lives of suffering and destitution into rickety misshapen and very frequently evil-minded adults. I cannot blame the social derelicts if they ultimately become a ruinously heavy charge upon the public purse as inmates of the public workhouses and gaols. Rather do I blame the community whose happy-go-lucky lack of concern to-day is building up for to-morrow a tremendous burden of financial cost and social degradation-a burden which I am firmly convinced need not in great part exist at all. All this sounds like rank Socialisma consideration which doesn't trouble me very much. But as a matter of fact it is, in reality, first-class Imperialism.
T. J. MACNAMARA,
Of the many foolish institutions which prevail in modern social life few are productive of more genuine discomfort than the custom of making unnecessary presents, i.e. giving, not to supply other people's wants, but merely because the donor is animated by friendly feelingsor at all events wishes to look as if he were. The custom is one of great antiquity, for we read in Tacitus that our early German ancestors delighted in gifts; though it is with a slight feeling of shame that we read his next sentence, “but they neither reckon up what they give nor consider themselves under an obligation for what they take,' for the average Englishman of to-day is certainly not unmindful of his own generosity, and is as punctilious in repaying a gift as he is in returning a blow. Surely it is time a protest was made against this giving for the sake of giving—which is about as reasonable a practice as talking for the sake of talking—for under the cloak of kindness there has crept into the world one of the most irritating of social pests; arbitrary in its choice, for it does not let you give to whom you will ; mercantile in its essence, for each man is bound both in his own eyes and those of the donor to make a fitting return, and maddening in the drain it makes on the intellect of the purchaser, who is not merely harassed by his ignorance of the other person's tastes, but is genuinely anxious to get the best show for his money.
Doubtless in theory it is a beautiful thing to give, and when one is quite young it is a joy to receive, but the system of anniversary gifts in vogue nowadays is the very antithesis of the quality of Mercy,' it blesses neither him that gives nor him that takes ; certainly not the donor, for whom, if he does the thing handsomely, a due observance of birthdays, weddings, and other occasions to which the idle fancy of man has attached the custom of giving, makes up a formidable item in his yearly expenditure, as well as an untold amount of suffering in the selection of an appropriate offering ; neither can the receiver be congratulated on finding himself in possession of one more useless article, which is generally quite different from what he would himself have chosen, and yet leaves him the debtor of the donor till it is repaid.
For, to be honest, we must admit that we have got down to a system
of barter; the man who makes no presents receives none; if his soul craves after them, he has but to cast his bread on his neighbour's waters and it is sure to come back to him before many days. The cost of his offering, too, will be duly taken into account, as may be learnt from the remarks of any wife to any husband over the breakfast table—'Why, dear old Harry is going to be married ! We must send him something really good, John; remember those charming teaspoons he sent us. Whereas had 'dear old Harry' sent them an earthenware teapot they would perhaps have loved him none the less, but certainly would not have felt an equal necessity to give him ' something really good.'
From an ethical point of view the real objection to making presents is that every gift constitutes an infringement of the liberty of the subject. If the world really believed that it was more blessed to give than to receive, the man who took presents without making any would be looked on as a public benefactor; the fact that he is regarded as a curmudgeon proves that the world looks on a gift as an obligation. And yet, despite the ever-increasing difficulty of maintaining one's freedom amid the responsibilities of daily life, we wantonly add to our brother's burden by binding gifts upon his back. Ere the hapless in ant can repudiate its responsibilities in articulate speech, godparents and friends of the family take advantage of its helplessness to thrust upon it christening mugs, spoons and forks, and nest-eggs for the savings bank. Thus started on his downward career the child grows up to look on presents as his natural right, and to feel a strong sense of injustice if the expected tip is not forthcoming. It is not till later on that a truer morality begins to assert itself, and he feels uncomfortable at the idea of receiving a present, so that often, while his lips are framed to grateful words, his inner spirit is murmuring, ‘Might have been sold for two hundred pence and given to the poor'; not that this reflection will at all prevent his trying to rid himself of his obligations by transferring them in the shape of fresh presents, to the rising generation. However, his friends, perceiving his attitude, grow more considerate, and forbear to remind him by birthday gifts of his dwindling span, though they take an ample vengeance, when he has passed beyond all power of protest, by piling his bier with wreaths and crosses. · I once knew a man who had rendered a service to a lady not remark, able for the sweetness of her disposition ; full of gratitude, and know-, ing his tastes to be peculiar, she begged him to tell her what present she might make him as an acknowledgment of his kindness. With early Roman simplicity he told her that he had already more books than he could read, more clocks than he cared to wind, that knickknacks and ornaments were an abomination to him, and for returnif any were needed-he asked for only such kindly thoughts as she could spare from time to time.
'How very annoying !’quoth she. Being a businesslike woman
she preferred ready-money payments, and would infinitely rather have spent ten pounds in cancelling her debt than feel bound, as she did, for she was an honourable woman, to try and think well of her creditor for the future. However, as he would none of her gifts, she diligently ruled both her thoughts and her tongue, so far as he was concerned, for a whole six months—a period unprecedented—at the end of which time the man, to her great relief, gave her some ground for offence, so that she felt herself entitled to resume her normal attitude towards him. But the man, being one of those who believe that thoughts are the only real things in the world, felt that for six months, at all events, both he and she had been better for his refusal to take her present.
For this is the pity of it, that gifts which should be the accompaniment of kindness are too often made the substitute for it. What is the readiest way in which a 'self-respecting' husband can atone for some act of injustice or neglect done to his wife ? Lacking courage to own himself in the wrong, fearful of losing his dignity by any act of self-abasement, any acknowledgment of her even temporary superiority, my lord struts into a shop and buys her a ring or a trinket on his way home, feeling with a complaisant smile that, whatever his own shortcomings, he has retrieved the situation. And so the pretty patch is laid over the wound, both sides have maintained their dignity and there has been no scene—and yet, does the better kind of woman quite forget that the wound is there all the same ?
Of course, in giving, as in all else under Heaven, it is not the custom, but the abuse of the custom, that is pernicious. Few things are more delightful than to give to a friend what he has long wanted, but been too busy or too poor to get for himself, especially if the gift be something which our own hands have made, for this, as Emerson says, is to give a part of ourselves. And herein lies not the least blessing of poverty. The rich man gives by putting his hand in his pocket; in a glow of after-lunch benevolence he strolls down Bond Street and looks in a shop window for something pretty; the gift will cost him nothing but the trouble of selecting it, for he has all he wants and a balance to be got rid of somehow-and so he gives. But the poor man can only give by depriving himself of something ; every sovereign spent in one way means retrenchment in another—a fact so obvious that most decent people feel uncomfortable when they get presents from those poorer than themselves—and so, often enough, the only gift the poor man can offer is his service or the work of his hands; and blessed is he if he have skill enough to make anything which will please.
For presents, alas ! whether bought or made, do not always give pleasure. People are very variously gifted in the matter of taste, as a comparison of the interiors of any six consecutive houses will prove, and the gift which the donor in his secret soul deems charming may appear to the recipient an atrocity to be thrust into the farthest corner