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It will be conceded, we presume, that the attempt to inculcate religious truth upon adult minds that have been hitherto ignorant of it, is, to a great extent, fruitless. The obstacles to its action on those who stand most in need of it are numerous. Among them are, 1.the absence of habits of reflection and meditation. 2. The customs which govern the places of resort for pubiic worship and religious teaching. 3. The pressure of immediate and conscious wants. 4 False or vague views of the offices and requirements of religion. In confirmation of this opinion, we may cite a passage from a series of papers on the condition of large classes of the population of London, which have excited more than ordinary interest.
"It is estimated that the number of costermongers or street sellers attending the London 'green' aud fish markets, is about 30,000 men, women, and children. It is supposed that not three in one hundred of them were ever in the interior of a church or any place of worship, or knew what is meant by Christianity. Of all things, they hate tracts. They hate them, because the people leaving them never give them any thing, and, as they can't read the tract, (not one in forty,) they're vexed to be bothered with it. And really, what is the use of giving people reading before you've taught them to read? They respect the city missionaries, because they read to them, and because they visit the sick, and sometimes give oranges and such like to them and the children. We have known a city missionary buy a shilling's worth of oranges of a coster, and give them away to the sick and the children, and that made him respected among them. If the costers had to profess themselves of some religion to-morrow, they would all become Roman Catholics, every one of them. The priest, the sisters of charity, &c., always come to the sick, &c. They reckon that religion's best that gives the most in charity."
And is it impossible to teach them that the charity is best which brings with it the hopes and consolations of religion, secures to them permanent sources of prosperity, happiness and peace, frees the soul from the shackles of superstition and sensualism, and opens up before it the way of eternal life? Perhaps the experiment may fail with adults, but it will succeed to a great extent with the children; and this presents the array of Infant schools, Sunday schools, and Industrial and Ragged schools in an interesting aspect. They confer the boon of education, and thus supply the means of self-support. The Christian teachers go into a family as helpers, as suppliers of wants, as counsellors, as friends in adversity, as sympathizers with woes whidh press most severely upon soul and body.
It is among the children that we find the fewest obstacles to the full play of good influences-and surely the motives to exert them are strong enough? If there is an object of real pity in the wide world it is a little child making its way unguarded and uncounselled up into the busy haunts of men, with skin as fair and delicate as a palacechild, yet all begrimmed with dirt-affections susceptible of the gentlest influences, yet all rudely stifled—a temper pliable, yet goaded into obstinacy and violence-a mind capable of exalted attainments assimilating it to its Creator, yet left to rust and perish in brutish ignorance. We have seen such children: they sometimes find place in our Infant and Sunday schools, and when well cared for, they are among the most precious tokens of the redeeming virtue of such institutions.
Dr. Bell thus describes the progress of one such, "But alas," he says, "it is a history of a frightful class in the population of the towns, and half the inmates of the ragged schools of the old world."
"The little creature has an expression that does not belong to infancy. It looks sad and careworn. If it survive, it early creeps out into the street, there to begin a life that will probably end where it began. It learns to speak-but what is the language? It sees and hears-but what does it see and hear? The reader knows. Such is its infantine education-an education that is unmixed, untinged even by the words of a good vocabulary. It does not know the meaning of lie, because it has never been taught the meaning of truth; nay, it has been taught to lie, and truth has been sedulously concealed from its mind. Anon, it is instructed in the art of pilfering, and in the hellish rhetoric of the wynds. When he is four or five years of age, he attracts the attention of the policeman, who 'marks him as his own;' and he appears before the magistrate-an experienced thief at the mature age of six years. How much this urchin knows! He knows all the obscene words, and all the oaths, simple and compound, which are the pith and marrow of the language in the wynds. He knows all the highways and byways-the outs and the ins-the nooks and the crannies of the city. He knows the value of things. He knows the most approved method of appropriating what belongs to another. He is acquainted with the 'wee pawn' broker; and he knows the dram-seller, for whose sake he is an outcast. We say that this boy as little deserves to be condemned for traversing the law, as the red-deer deserves to be slain for crossing the march upon the snow-clad hill, descending into the valley, and satisfying his appetite on the turnips of an upland farmer."
Having thus found access to a group of neglected children, our first object is to subject them to the simplest and most effective process to
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give a right direction to their hearts and minds. one opinion as to what this process is. Instruction in the sacred Scriptures must be the predominant element of it. If they do not know how to read, they must be taught; and if they do, they must be persuaded to make a wise use of the attainment. If their secular time is absorbed in necessary labor, the more we must make of Sunday. The whole array of moral means which the church and the friends of public virtue and good order can bring to bear on them must be drawn into service.
It is not an easy matter to persuade the father and mother, (and still less easy to persuade one against the will of the other,) to attend a place of religious instruction; but the children are glad of the opportunity. A thousand motives influence them to which their parents are strangers. The excitement of preparation, the change of scene, the association with numbers, the ceremony of being enrolled and classed, &c., all have their place and weight. No deficiency or inferiority of apparel or personal consideration, no regard to the speech of the world, no taunts or jeers are sufficient to restrain them from embracing the opportunity. And it may be safe to say that in the absence of positive prohibition, or needless embarrassment interposed by parents, ninety-nine in a hundred of all the children in the land, of proper age to attend Sunday school would desire to avail themselves of an offer to do so. So that if we assume that commodious places of assembling Sunday schools were provided in all suitable localities, and properly furnished with teachers and appurtenances, there would be no difficulty in gathering together for Sunday school instruction ninety-nine hundredths of the children and youth now living in the United States between the ages of six and sixteen years.
The alternative presented to us at this stage, is to take them from home or to leave them untaught. There is no provision now made nor does any provision seem practicable by which the proper influ ence can be exerted upon hundreds of thousands of them at their dwellings. They must, therefore, be withdrawn for a little season, at stated times, in order that their hearts and minds and hands may be supplied, if possible, with something that they can take back with
them for the good of the household.* A right principle in the heart, a simple hymn in the memory, or a pleasant little book in the hand, may be as a light to shine in a dark place. Thus we gently and effectually introduce the gospel, unmixed with human philosophy and speculation, into the homes of the people; and is not this substantially the true remedy for social evils, introduced at the right time and place, and operating upon the right class of persons?
We submit that it is only by this minute subdivision of Christian energy and self-denial, which brings a single individual of somewhat elevated moral and intellectual character into personal communion with another single individual of an inferior grade, that the general radical renovation of society can be brought about; and when this personal intimate communion can be made to bear on the mass of
*In a former report, we mentioned an enterprise of much promise, undertaken in New York, and known as the "Boys' Meeting." We make the following extract from the latest account we have seen of its success:
After the lapse of more than two years, the managers (of whom there are four, beside the gentlemen who officiate as speaker and chorister,) feel that it may interest some to know, that the meeting is still continued, and, as they think, with increasing usefulness. While they do not claim for the plan any rare excellence, believing that the Sunday school would be a still better place of instruction for the children and youth now under their care, they cannot but feel that they are engaged in an important work. They are happy therefore, in being able to state, that three similar meetings have been established in other parts of the city,-one of which is under the care of a gentleman who is employed to devote his whole time to that particular field.
In regard to the children who attend this, the original Boys' Meeting, it may be said, that the greater portion of them belong to the very class for whom it was instituted; and, though but a few of them are either ragged or filthy, they have not failed to develope phases of depravity, and exhibit a want of religious instruction, sufficient to sadden the heart, and call for earnest efforts in their behalf. Some of the attendants are Sunday school scholars, who insist on coming, notwithstanding they have been asked to stay away. These aside, it has been clearly demonstrated here, that there is a very large number of children and youth, all over the city, the offspring of respectable parents, whose destitute condition demands the prayers, alms, and labors of the Christian community. It is a mistaken notion that our vicious children are always clothed in rags.
As to results, it may be remarked, that while the managers have not the happiness to record the conversion of any of those under their care, they have been permitted to witness a marked and growing interest on the part of many, while the deportment of all, during the past twenty months, has been such as to secure almost perfect order during the exercises. Some boys have been regular attendants from the very first day the meeting was opened.
It is thought that the labors of the two individuals whose duty it is to visit the neighboring docks and strects for the purpose of collecting hearers at the room, are of essential service. It is their custom to distribute papers, tracts, &c., among young men and others who cannot be induced to attend the meeting, while they are often permitted to say a word in season to some who never enter the sanetuary.
The whole amount of money expended since July, 1848, is a little less than three hundred dollars. The principal items of expenditure have been for rent, furnishing the hall with matting, and for children's newspapers, &c. &c.
children and youth, not otherwise similarly influenced, the advantage is inconceivably great.
If it is conceded-as we think it must be by the must superficial observer-that the well-being of a 'community is greatly dependent on the moral and physical condition of what have been significantly called the "foundation classes," it cannot be a question of subordinate consequence, what shall make their condition in both respects eligible? For ourselves, we do not entertain a doubt that indifference to the institutions and ordinances of religion-an habitual disregard of and dissatisfaction with the dealings of God's providenceand (in a multitude of instances) a settled and shameless unbelief in the dispensations of his grace, if not in his existence,-lie at the bottom of the gravest of the social evils which are so rife in the cities of Europe, and are becoming too familiar among ourselves to excite surprise or alarm. In this view, nothing can be more preposterous than to employ any remedy for them of which Christianity, in its purest and simplest principles, is not a predominant element.
In the more elevated and prosperous classes of the community, infidelity may co-exist with an external regard to the proprieties and refinements of life. A thousand motives may be suggested for a concealment of such discreditable views. But it is far otherwise among those who are embarrassed by no such restraints, and who feel the power of no such motives. They speak out, to each other and to all the world, with an emphasis which should by right belong exclusively to truth, and lay themselves open to every influence that will confirm and strengthen them in their false position.
We cannot present this painful view of the social condition of large classes of people in our chief cities in more appropriate language than has been used in describing a like class in the English metropolis; and it should always be remembered that what we lack in our native popular composition of the ingredients of ignorance, selfishness, and an unblushing contempt for authority, human and divine, is likely to be more than made up to us in the influx of foreign stock.
Very few of the working people of London," says a late writer, give attention even to the outward ordinances of religion. There is scarcely a church or chapel in the metropolis that contains more than a mere sprinkling of them at Sabbath worship; and although