A wide-embracing charity

Daily Reading for July 30 • William Wilberforce, 1833, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, 1885, Prophetic Witnesses

From what we know of Lord Shaftesbury’s character, it is not surprising that he should have thrown himself headlong into the Slavery question, which was attracting great attention in consequence of the revelations made in the volume by Mrs. Stowe, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” This book stirred up a hatred of slavery which is unprecedented. Lord Shaftesbury entered actively into the movement, prepared an address from the women on England to those in America, and the negro slave question was discussed in all its bearings. . . .

These efforts on behalf of the negroes did not meet with very much favour in America. Mrs. Beecher Stowe was then in London, and was fêted by many personages. The address to the women of America by the women of England brought forth a retort from across the Atlantic to “look at home,” while Mrs. Tyler, the wife of the ex-President, declared that the condition of the whites in London slums was far worse than the condition of the Southern slaves. The American newspapers reviled Lord Shaftesbury in strong terms, and an angry “leader” in one of these organs is so funny that we are tempted to quote it—“Who, then, is this Earl of Shaftesbury? An unknown lordling—one of your modern philanthropists, who has suddenly started up to take part in a passing agitation! It is a pity he does not look at home. Where was he when Lord Ashley was so nobly fighting the Factory Bill, and pleading the cause of the English slave? We never even heard the name of this Lord Shaftesbury then.”

But the Slave question did not die out; the seed was sown, though it was not until a bitter struggle and civil war that the emancipation of the negroes in the United States was finally agreed to.

The recommendation put forth by the Americans to Lord Shaftesbury to look at home was quite unnecessary. His efforts on behalf of Refuges for children, young people reared in crime, and professional mendicants, were unceasing, and crowned with success. The action of the parents of these young thieves and beggars almost paralysed his efforts. To reclaim the children would have been a hard task, but to overcome the resistance of the parents besides, to deprive them of their selfish means of livelihood, for they sent the little ones to beg—as they do still—and lived in debauchery on the proceeds, was harder. Not only were parents thus kept in idleness and in a besotted state, but the people with whom they lodged were also paid by the proceeds of the theft and sins of other types. To put an end to such a state of things Lord Shaftesbury, the “unknown lordling,” as the American editor called him, brought in the Bill for the Repression of Juvenile Mendicancy and Crime. . . . In June, 1854, the Youthful Offenders’ Bill was passed, and Reformatories were encouraged. . . .

We have dwelt upon these incidents in Lord Shaftesbury’s career about this time in order to show the universality of his sympathy with suffering humanity, in any form and in any country. He was, as it were, surrounded by foes. . . . Although his efforts were applauded by thousands, though he had saved more lives than the Humane Society, though he had impoverished himself to find means for the distressed and the poor, though he had exhibited and practiced the most wide-embracing charity, he had never received any public recognition or any other of distinction. . . . The life-saver had his medal, the soldier his Victoria Cross; the philanthropist only the testimony of his conscience and the stinted applause of his fellows in life. There was as much bravery and value in fighting for the spiritual and bodily welfare of his poorer brethren, as there was in destroying them, or in rescuing them from death and accident.

From The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury by Henry Frith (London: Cassell & Co., 1887).

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