There has been a meeting of a woman’s association for Ameliorating the Condition of somebody here at home. Any one can belong to it by paying a dollar, and for twenty dollars one can become a life Ameliorator,—a sort of life assurance. The Mistress, at the meeting, I believe, “seconded the motion” several times, and is one of the Vice-Presidents; and this family honor makes me feel almost as if I were a president of something myself. These little distinctions are among the sweetest things in life, and to see one’s name officially printed stimulates his charity, and is almost as satisfactory as being the chairman of a committee or the mover of a resolution. It is, I think, fortunate, and not at all discreditable, that our little vanity, which is reckoned among our weaknesses, is thus made to contribute to the activity of our nobler powers. Whatever we may say, we all of us like distinction; and probably there is no more subtle flattery than that conveyed in the whisper, “That’s he,” “That’s she.”
There used to be a society for ameliorating the condition of the Jews; but they were found to be so much more adept than other people in ameliorating their own condition that I suppose it was given up. Mandeville says that to his knowledge there are a great many people who get up ameliorating enterprises merely to be conspicuously busy in society, or to earn a little something in a good cause. They seem to think that the world owes them a living because they are philanthropists. In this Mandeville does not speak with his usual charity. It is evident that there are Jews, and some Gentiles, whose condition needs ameliorating, and if very little is really accomplished in the effort for them, it always remains true that the charitable reap a benefit to themselves. It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
Our next-door neighbor. Why is it that almost all philanthropists and reformers are disagreeable?
I ought to explain who our next-door neighbor is. He is the person who comes in without knocking, drops in in the most natural way, as his wife does also, and not seldom in time to take the after-dinner cup of tea before the fire. Formal society begins as soon as you lock your doors, and only admit visitors through the media of bells and servants. It is lucky for us that our next-door neighbor is honest.
The Parson. Why do you class reformers and philanthropists together? Those usually called reformers are not philanthropists at all. They are agitators. Finding the world disagreeable to themselves, they wish to make it as unpleasant to others as possible.
Mandeville. That’s a noble view of your fellow-men.
Our next door. Well, granting the distinction, why are both apt to be unpleasant people to live with?
The Parson. As if the unpleasant people who won’t mind their own business were confined to the classes you mention! Some of the best people I know are philanthropists,—I mean the genuine ones, and not the uneasy busybodies seeking notoriety as a means of living.