Sunday 24 August 2014

Helping the poor in 1848

From Dr. John W. Corson, Loiterings in Europe, 1848:

The Problem: Poverty is tempting the lips of the poor to lie, and their hands to steal.

The Paris Solution: Uplift them. There is a society in Paris, each member of which adopts some young criminal from the House of Correction, leads him back to virtue, and becomes his guardian angel for life. Let us go and do likewise. Let us make some erring child the inheritor of all that we have of goodness.

The German Solution: Open a savings account. A Prussian pastor, having with him a number of students in theology, prevailed upon them to assist him in managing a kind of penny savings’ society (Spargesellschaft) for the poor of his parish…and on the day for depositing, the good minister frequently assembled them, and addressed them on subjects designed to improve [their minds].

The Belgian Solution: Shudder! In Belgium, however, the silk spinners are incorrigible. They are an improvident race, however, and in times of distress, when work is scarce, they often suffer fearfully…The pale, corpse-like faces, the haggard expression that, at a glance, tells of want, vice, and herding in loathsome abodes, will often excite a deep shudder.

Another Paris solution: Pot luck.  In the Faubourg St. Martin there is a huge pot boiling, filled with choice bits of flesh, of different sizes, gathered from various sources, where by staking two sous, you may get your dinner in a sort of soup lottery. A large iron fork lies across the mouth of the huge cauldron, and each payment gives you one strike.  You may fish up meat for a dinner, or, like all risky adventurers in this world, you may come off with nothing.  It is said, once upon a time, some hungry mortal, with a vigorous thrust, brought up on the end of the fork the front of a soldier’s cap. The police came and searched, but the owner was not to be found.

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