The Collected Letters, Volume 13


TC TO THOMAS CHALMERS ; 11 October 1841; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18411011-TC-TCH-01; CL 13: 274-276


5, CHEYNE ROW, CHELSEA, LONDON October 11th, 1841.

MY DEAR SIR— The book you have honoured me by sending, and the letter along with it, arrived here two days ago. Allow me to return many kind thanks for this attention. I am glad and proud to be remembered by one who is always memorable to me, and memorable to all the world, whether they have seen or have not seen him.

A wholesome, grateful air of hope, brotherly kindness, cheerful sagacity, salutes me from this book as I eagerly glance over it: to read it with care, as I purpose shortly to do, will be no task for me, but a pleasure. One is sure beforehand of finding much, very much, that one must at once and zealously assent to; and slower assent, doubt, examination,—nay, ultimate dissent itself, (turning only on the application and details), can but render a beautiful deeper basis of agreement more visible. It seems to me a great truth this fundamental principle of yours, which I trace as the origin of all these hopes, endeavours, and convictions in regard to Pauperism, that human things cannot stand on selfishness, mechanical utilities, economics, and law-courts; that if there be not a religious element in the relations of men, such relations are miserable and doomed to ruin. A poor-law can be no lasting remedy; the poor and the rich, when once the naked parts of their condition come into collision, cannot long live together upon a poor-law! Solely as a sad transitionary palliative against still fiercer miseries and insupportabilities can it pretend to recommend itself, till something better be vouchsafed us, with true healing under its wings!1

Alas! the poor of this country seem to me, in these years, to be fast becoming the miserablest of all sorts of men. Black slaves in South Carolina, I do believe, deserve pity enough; but the Black is at least not stranded, cast ashore, from the stream of human interests, and left to perish there: he is connected with human interests, belongs to those above him, if only as a slave. Blacks, too, I suppose, are cased in a beneficent wrappage of stupidity and insensibility: one pallid Paisley weaver, with the sight of his famishing children round him, with the memory of his decent independent father before him, has probably more wretchedness in his single heart than a hundred Blacks.2 Did you observe the late trial at Stockport, in Cheshire, of a human father and human mother, for poisoning three of their children to gain successively some £3,8s. from a Burial Society for each of them!3 A barrister of my acquaintance, who goes that circuit, informs me positively that the official people durst not go farther into this business; that this case was by no means a solitary one there; that, on the whole, they thought it good to close up the matter swiftly again from the light of day, and investigate it no deeper. ‘The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children!’4 Such a state of matters cannot subsist under the firmament of Heaven: such a state of matters will remedy itself, as God lives—remedy itself, if not by mild means, then by fierce and fiercest!

That you, with your generous hopeful heart, believe there may still exist in our actual Churches enough of divine fire to awaken the supine rich and the degraded poor, and act victoriously against such a mass of pressing and ever-accumulating evils—alas! what worse could be said of this by the bitterest opponent of it, than that it is a noble hoping against hope, a noble strenuous determination to gather from the dry deciduous tree what the green alone could yield? Surely, for those that have still such a faith, I will vote that they should have all possible room to try it in. With a Chalmers in every British parish, much might be possible! But, alas! what assurance is there that in any one British parish there will ever be another?

But enough of this. Go as it may, your labours in this matter are not lost—no jot of them is lost. Nay, in one shape or another, as I believe, the thing that you advocate must verily realize itself in this earth—across what famines, poor-laws, convulsions, and embroiled strugglings is not known to man. My prayer is, that a voice so humane, so true and wise, may long be heard in this debate, and attentively laid to heart on all sides.

With many kind wishes for you and yours, with lasting esteem and regard,

I remain, / My dear Sir, / Yours most sincerely,