Religion And Health Part 4

It is surprising how weak women, in the spirit of religious sacrifice, accomplish what seems almost the impossible and actually live healthier lives after they have given up everything and there is nothing more for them to dread. We have all heard of the story of Father Damien who so bravely went to Molokai in order to care for the lepers, but how many know that religious women have offered themselves for similar purposes, and not only at Molokai but at Tracadie in Canada and in {72} Louisiana have given themselves up for life to the care of lepers? I know from records that some of these women, after having made the supreme sacrifice, were actually better in health living among the lepers than they had been when apparently living under much more favorable circumstances in their city homes. Some of them have lived to be very old, and none of them have contracted the disease. The story of such a striking personal sacrifice as that of Father Damien among the lepers at Molokai, crowned by years of suffering and death, attracts sensational attention, but it must not be forgotten that he is only one of many who have given up all in similar spirit. There were many like him, though utterly unknown to the world, who in China, in distant India, in Central Africa, or among the Indians in our own country, have sacrificed everything that the world deems most satisfying just to give themselves to the care of their savage brothers. I shall never forget dropping off years ago one day in the West at the then little station of Missoula in Montana to meet an old teacher of mine who had been famous for his knowledge of Greek and of the Aristotelian philosophy and who was then engaged in taking care of Indians, where none of these special intellectual acquirements were of any service, but where his hearty good cheer made him the best of missionaries. He had made his sacrifice; he said there were plenty of others who could do the teaching of Greek and philosophy, and he felt the call to do something for others who needed his personal services. He was in better health than he had been in years and in better spirits, and there was a look about him which indicated that some of the hundred-fold promised to those who give to the Lord was already coming back to him.


Many a man and woman in this country and in England has been lifted out of the depths, even out of the very "slough of despond" where dreads abound and a healthy mind in a healthy body is almost impossible of attainment, by reading about the work of Doctor Wilfred Grenfell, who has so nobly given himself and his professional services to the care of the poor fishermen on the Labrador coast. Their sufferings are often so severe as to be almost unbearable, especially during the winter time, and yet they cling to their little homes on the rugged coast, ready to bear through successive winters the vicissitudes of a climate and the bitter struggle for existence which seem almost beyond the endurance of human nature and where they need so much the sympathy and kindliness which have been extended to them by Doctor Grenfell. Any one who has come in contact with him personally learns that this spirit of sacrifice so finely exemplified and exercised to high achievement has made him a charmingly sympathetic man whom everybody who comes to know is sure to like, and who exhibits the best traits of the race in some of their highest forms of expression. Withal he is a very practical, common-sense individual grafted on the lofty idealist. His sacrifices have done him good, and the example of them has stimulated and helped an immense number of other people besides the special objects of his devotion on the Labrador coast.

What marvelous examples men can give in this way, examples which fairly quicken life in other and weaker brethren and set them at their tasks whole-heartedly to accomplish whatever they can when otherwise they would have been discouraged and downcast and apt to find excuses in poor health or weakness, is well illustrated {74} by Doctor Grenfell's life and also by that of many others in our own day. I count it as one of the privileges of life to have been a close friend for some precious years of the man of whom one of those who came in contact with him has told the story which I shall quote. His example was all the more striking because it had for background that flagrant exhibition of the selfishness of men which a rush to new gold fields always presents. He was engaged in quite a different quest that for him seemed much more important, and he went on with his work in the midst of the excitement as calmly as if men all around him were not exhausting all their natural powers to the limit for a fancied prize which they were sure would make them happy.

"All of us can remember the mad rush for gold to the Klondyke, out on the northern edge of the world. Nature has pushed her ice barriers far to the south of it and fringed them for leagues with impenetrable forest and towering mountain and treacherous river, as though to guard her treasure. Men, lured by the golden gleams, essayed to break through. In tens of thousands they plunged into the unknown wilderness, pushing in frenzied haste through forest and canon and river.

"By thousands they fell and died, and but a remnant crept out on the deadly Yukon plain, every step on which was a fight for life.

"Some of the first of these hardy adventurers were making their way across the frozen Alaskan waste when they saw ahead something moving that stood out black against the blinding white of the snow.

Stumbling through snowdrifts, waist-deep in ice hollows, jumping treacherous crevasses, they pushed on, and the dark spot gradually took shape. It was a loaded dog-sledge, and {75} in front, hauling laboriously, were a man and a dog. He was alone, and they stared in wonder at him, as if to ask what manner of man was this, so contentedly traveling in this land of dreadful silence,--a land that seemed to be the tomb of all living things that ventured into it. He gave them cheery greeting as they passed by, stopping not, for here the race was to the swift and strong, and wished them good fortune.

Their guide knew him, and they learned with astonishment that it was not love of gold that had made him risk his life on that frozen tundra. That gray-haired man with the kindly face, buffeted by the icy wind that cut like a whiplash, and bent low under the sledge rope, was the best-known man in the Klondyke. His sledge was loaded with medicine and food for poor sick miners, 'his boys', as he called them, whom he kindly cared for in a hospital that with his own hands he had helped to build in the town in the valley of gold.

They saw him next day, as he came down the street, still harnessed to the sledge; they saw the crowds that rushed from the canvas buildings on either side and pressed forward to shake his hand, and laughingly take the sledge from him, and swing along the street, filling it from side to side, to where at the far end stood his hospital; they saw him enter, and when they heard the shout of joy that burst forth from the inmates, at the sight of the only man that stood between them and death, tears sprang to their eyes, and they too pressed forward to exchange a word with and press the hand of a hero. Too soon there came a day when the axe and the sledge rope fell from the once strong hands, and he lay, dead, among the boys whom he loved. They buried him In the frozen earth between his hospital and his church."

The making of sacrifices for religious motives, that is, {76} from a religious sense of duty, is often followed by some of the most satisfying rewards of life. Physicians frequently have this brought home to them when they encounter people who, because of unwillingness to make what seemed to be sacrifices in their earlier years, have to go through some rather serious conditions later on in life. The woman who, having had opportunities to marry, has refused them because she fears the cares of family life and dreads the dangers of maternity, will very often suffer ever so much more during the years of involution and obsolescence in the second half of life as the result of the loneliness that will come to her and the lack of any heart interest in life which will leave her without the resources and satisfaction which come to the woman whose children are around her and whose grandchildren bless her. The man who has remained a bachelor will very often, unless, perhaps, some of his brothers and sisters have married and taken the trouble and had the joy of raising children, be even more pitiable in his solitary old age. This may not seem to mean much for health and happiness, and there may appear more sentimentality than reality in it, but the statistics of suicide and insanity among the unmarried, which are ever so much higher than among the married, demonstrate how much of hopeless discouragement and mental discomfort comes to those who have given no hostages to fortune and no pledges for the future, by the sacrifice of some of the passing pleasures and selfish satisfactions of youth.

Nearly the same thing is true of the married folk who have only a child or two in the family. The children are almost inevitably spoiled. A careful study of the single child in the family has shown very clearly how nervous and selfish the solitary child is likely to be and how {77} much unhappiness the mother prepares for her child by refusing to give it the normal companionship of brothers and sisters.

The real kindergarten of life should be the family of five [Footnote 4] or six children raised together and learning to bear with each other and yield to each other and take care of each other as the highest kind of training in unselfishness. Even when there are two children in the family, especially if these are of opposite sexes, the boy and girl are likely to grow up with entirely wrong notions as regards their importance in life. The whole household is centered around them, and they learn how to impose on father and mother. Nearly always the parents prepare unhappiness for themselves as well as their children, though there is usually the excuse that they will be better able to provide for fewer children, afford them a better education, and bring them up so as to secure for them more opportunities in life.

[Footnote 4: Dr. Karl Pearson, of London, the well-known authority on eugenics, has investigated rather carefully the health of children in large and small families, and has demonstrated that children are healthiest when there are five to eight children in the family. On the average, first and second children are not as healthy as those who come later in the family, and those who are in the best condition physically and mentally for life come after the fourth.

The early children in the family are more liable to epilepsy and certain serious nervous diseases, and are often of unstable nervous equilibrium, while the later children are more gifted and are likely to live longer.]

The sacrifices of social pleasures and of passing ease and comfort in order to bear and raise four or more children in the family are, as a rule of nature, amply rewarded in the health and strength of both the children and the mother. In my book on "Health through Will Power", in the chapter on Feminine Ills and the Will, I have pointed out that in spite of the tradition which assumes that a woman's health is hurt if she has more than {78} two or three children, the women of the older time, when families were larger, were healthier on the average than they are now, in spite of all the progress that medicine and surgery have since made in relieving serious ills. Above all, it was typically the mother of numerous children who lived long and in good health to be a blessing to those around her, and not the old maids or the childless wives, for longevity is not a special trait of these latter classes of women. The modern dread of deterioration of vitality as the result of frequent child-bearing is quite without foundation in the realities of human experience. Some rather carefully made statistics demonstrate that the old tradition in the matter is not merely an impression but a veritable truth as to human nature's reaction to a great natural call. While the mothers of large families born in the slums, with all the handicaps of poverty as well as hard work against them, die on the average much younger than the generality of women in the population, careful study of the admirable vital statistics of New South Wales shows that the mothers who lived longest were those who under reasonably good conditions bore from five to seven children.

Here in America, a study of more favored families shows that the healthiest children come from the large families, and it is in the small families particularly that the delicate, neurotic and generally weakly children are found. Alexander Graham Bell, in his investigation of the Hyde family here in America, discovered that the greatest longevity occurred in the families of ten or more children. So far from mothers being exhausted by the number of children that were born, and thus endowing their children with less vitality than if they had fewer children, it was to the numerous offspring that the highest vitality {79} and physical fitness were given. One special consequence of these is longevity.

The spirit of sacrifice brings its own reward. The realization from a religious standpoint that it is better to give than to receive is one of the greatest blessings that a man can have. Nothing is so disturbing to health and happiness--and real happiness always reacts on health--as selfishness, the contradiction of the spirit of sacrifice. All the great writers on the spiritual life have emphasized the fact that nervousness is at bottom selfishness. Conceit is the root of a great deal of unhappiness and consequent disturbance of the health of mind and body.




Charity is usually looked upon as a cure for social, not personal ills. Its activities, while recognized as supremely effective in fostering the health of people who have to live on inadequate means, are not ordinarily considered as reacting to benefit the health of the individual who practices the virtue. Any such outlook is, however, very partial. Religion has always taught that the benefiting of others invariably served to bring down blessings on those who took up the precious duty of helpfulness, blessings which are not reserved merely for the hereafter, but are felt also in this world, which affect not only the spirit but the mind of man. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" are the words of the Sermon on the Mount, and it must not be forgotten that that dear old-fashioned word, mercy, which is so often limited to forgiveness in our day, meant in the old time acts of benevolence--"works of mercy", as they were called--and in Luke it is stated that the "neighbor unto him that fell among thieves" was "he that showed mercy on him."

The personal satisfaction which comes from the performance of these works of mercy represents one of the most active factors that we have for good health and especially for the creation of that background of contentment with life on which good health is commonly {81} developed.

The merciful garner some of their reward here in the shape of a less troubled life, so far at least as their own worries might be sources of trouble, and a fuller, heartier existence in the consciousness of helpfulness for others. The words encouragement, discouragement, in Saxon English heartening and disheartening, putting heart into or taking heart out of people, have a literal physical as well as metaphysical significance that all physicians have come to appreciate rather thoroughly.

Charity is a cure not only for the ills of the social body, but it is also an extremely valuable remedy for the personal ills of those who devote themselves to doing their duty towards others. Vincent de Paul, that great organizer of charity, or as we would call his work in our time, social service--for during and after the great wars in France in the early seventeenth century he organized relief for literally thousands of people in the war zone and afterwards continued his great social work, which was quite as much needed then as our post-war work is now, in the large cities and towns of France--once used an expression in this regard that deserves to be repeated here because it emphasizes this reactionary effect of charity which means so much for health. Vincent said that "Unless the charity we do does as much good for the doer as it does for the one for whom it is done, there is something wrong with the charity." Here is a phase of charity that has been forgotten only too often in the modern time. It emphasizes the fact that the most important remedy for that very serious affection _taedium vitae_, that sense of the unsatisfactoriness of life which comes to everybody at some time or other, is the doing of things for other people with a whole-hearted feeling of helpfulness.


It has been suggested that the doing of good for others, with all the good effects which flow from it for the active participants, may very well be accomplished without any appeal to religion, and that sympathy alone suffices as a foundation. Sir W. Thistleton-Dyer, in reviewing Huxley's position in this matter in a critique of Clodd's "Life of Huxley", suggests that the mystery would still remain as to how the sympathy is to be infused. He adds: "My experience of human nature inclines me to think that it requires a more powerful appeal to the imagination than is afforded by a mere academic council of perfection of this sort." As a matter of fact Altruism, as it has been called, is a very different thing from charity in its effect upon the doer. The deep feeling of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God with which true charity is associated makes a profoundly impressive suggestion, with a favorable emotional tendency which serves to give almost as a rule and quite naturally a sense of well-being. The practice of charity from religious motives becomes, then, a very different thing from any mere feeling of sympathy with others founded, as it is so likely to be, on the selfish feeling of how painful it would be for us to be in like case, or tinged at least with the consciousness of condescension toward those below us which vitiates most of the good motives of doing for others on any human grounds.

For those who feel that the new Altruism may fully replace the old charity, and that people can derive just as much good from the stirring of their sympathies from merely humanitarian motives as they can from religious love of their neighbor, President Schurman of Cornell said some things that are very interesting:

"It is a blessed characteristic of our own age that {83} religion has come to express itself so nobly in practical well-doing. But beneficence is not piety. To make the love of man the essence of religion is to misread the latter and to divest the former of its supreme spiritual dynamic. If the religious man is a benediction to earth, it is because his soul is bathed in the dews of heaven."

The relief of the serious physical sufferings of those around us, together with the glimpse so often afforded while engaged in that work of the patience with which real ills are borne by others, is the best possible dispeller of the dreads which are the source of so many psycho-neuroses and the neurotic symptoms which complicate other diseases of modern times. These represent a much larger proportion of the ills of mankind than we were inclined to think. The Great War proved a revelation in this regard, for one third of all the dismissions from the English army, apart from the wounded, were made because of neurotic affections. Manifestly they must occupy an important place also in civil life. Those who practice charity, that is, those who not merely supply material aid to be distributed through agents or almoners, but give their personal service for those in need, have the chance to be impressed with the thought of how much worse things might be with themselves than they actually are, and how thankful they should be for their own conditions. The best practical definition of contentment still continues to be the conviction that things might be worse than they actually are. Indeed, it is this very satisfaction that comes from doing good that tempts people, humanly speaking, to do more and more of it, and the personal service habit, once formed, is as hard to break as almost any other habit that a man can contract.


The word charity has come to have in many minds a very unfortunate innuendo. It is associated with the thought of doling out alms, of pauperizing people and of making them dependent on others instead of arousing their power to help themselves. There are a good many people who seem to think that never until our time did the question of organizing charity, or social service as it is called, come into men's minds in such a way as to prevent these unfortunate abuses of charity which do so much more harm than good. The history of social service does not begin in our time, however, but goes back over all the centuries in the history of Christianity. Religion has always furnished the incentive to do good, but the Church and common sense have helped people to regulate their charity in such a way as to make it really useful to men. During the Middle Ages there were many legal regulations against "sturdy vagrants" who imposed on people and took the charity out of the mouths of those who deserved it and who abused the opportunities for treatment in hospitals or for lodging in places provided for the poor. Human nature has not changed much, and the tramp and the wanderer have always been with us, as well as the man who is willing to "give up", and let others take care of him.

Charity, as its Latin etymology suggests, means the dearness of others to us. It is our personal interest in them that constitutes its essence and not at all the mere giving of something or even the doing of something in order to be relieved from the necessity of thinking about them. Dear old Sir Thomas Browne, in his "Religio Medici", put the whole question of charity very succinctly when he said, "this I think charity, to love God for Himself and our neighbor for God."

Milton summed {85} up the complete quintessence of religion in the single word charity quite as Doctor Browne did, though with less aphoristic effectiveness. "Our whole practical dutie in religion is contained in charitie, or the love of God and our neighbor." Charity in this sense is a development of Christianity, and the personal service idea is almost unknown in ancient times. Lecky, in his history of European morals, says that "the active, habitual and detailed charity of private persons, which is so conspicuous a feature in all Christian societies, was scarcely known in antiquity, and there are not more than two or three moralists who have noticed it."

It is the love or affection that goes with whatever is done that is the real essence of charity. It is this quality especially which makes the charity of benefit to the doer. This helps him and above all her to eliminate that super-conscious preoccupation with self which has become the bane of existence in modern times. It is at the root of more serious physical and mental symptoms than any other single factor that we have in pathology. Anything that will take people out of themselves, that will interest them in others and keep them from thinking about themselves, will do an immense amount of good in helping to maintain their good health, but above all will keep people from exaggerating feelings of all kinds, some of them scarcely more than normal, a great many of them merely physiological, into symptoms which seem to indicate serious disease and sometimes to portend extremely serious consequences. Charity that really touches the heart is a panacea for more ills than any remedy we have. It will make even those who are sufferers from genuine disease often of severe or almost fatal character ever so much more comfortable, and it has {86} furnished some invalids with such occupation of mind and heart as has enabled them to do a great deal of good in the world. A great many of us know of one bedridden lady, utterly unable to sit up, who has succeeded in organizing throughout the country branches of an extremely valuable organization which helps the poor to provide proper clothing for their infants and has saved many lives and made many homes happier.

There are a great many people who are afraid lest they should do harm by their charity and who apparently fail to realize that it is their own selfishness which takes refuge in the excuse that doing things for others may possibly pauperize the objects of their beneficence. As John Ruskin reminded us in "Sesame and Lilies", it is extremely important not to let ourselves be deceived by any of the very common talk of "indiscriminate charity." He adds, in one of those passages of his that only he could write and that are so full of the meat of thought for those who care to think about such subjects:

"The order to us is not to feed the deserving hungry, nor the industrious hungry, nor the amiable and well-intentioned hungry, but simply to feed the hungry. It is quite true, infallibly true, that if any man will not work, neither should he eat--think of that, and every time you sit down to your dinner, ladies and gentlemen, say solemnly, before you ask a blessing, 'How much work have I done to-day for my dinner?' But the proper way to enforce that order on those below you, as well as on yourselves, is not to leave vagabonds and honest people to starve together, but very distinctly to discern and seize your vagabond; and shut your vagabond up out of honest people's way, and very sternly then see that, until he has worked, he does not eat."


Works of charity under religious impulses have always constituted an excellent resource for people inclined to be overoccupied with themselves and who need the stimulus of contact with those in suffering to make them realize that their own troubles are largely the result of too much preoccupation with trifling discomforts of various kinds or even with symptoms of various affections which must be borne and which will cause much less suffering and general disturbance of health if there is the distraction of sincere and deep interest in others. Anything that will act as a brake on the working of the Law of Avalanche which is discussed in the chapter on Pain and which serves to increase all suffering through subjective influences will do human beings a great deal of good. As a rule nothing is so effective in this direction as preoccupation with the much severer ills of other people.

The seven corporal works of mercy, as they were called, that is, the seven modes of succoring those in need which St. Paul suggested every Christian should practice, are particularly valuable for the neurotic individuals whom, like the poor and needy, we have always with us, but who have multiplied so much more in this generation because a great many people have not enough to occupy their time properly, but above all have not enough exercise of their heart impulses and their affections to satisfy this imperative need of humanity. Women particularly must be afforded, as a rule, the opportunity to mother somebody who requires their care. If they have no children of their own, and with the loosening of the bonds of religion more and more of them have not, then they will seldom be happy unless the chance is provided for them to devote the emotional side of their {88} natures to other human beings who need them and whose needs constitute the best possible opportunity for the exercise of the spiritual side of this precious function.

The seven corporal works of mercy are: (1) To feed the hungry; (2) To give drink to the thirsty; (3) To clothe the naked; (4) To harbor the harborless; (5) To visit and ransom the captive; (6) To visit the sick; and (7) To bury the dead.

These represented a list of very definite duties which children were taught to repeat from memory when they were young; and they were told very simply that if they did not take the opportunity to perform them they were really not doing their Christian duty. To visit the sick, for instance, meant not only to spend an hour or two with a sick relative, but to seek out those who were sick and poor and had no one to care for them and make some provision for them. Some of the old hospital visiting customs in this regard are extremely interesting, inasmuch as they reveal the resource that this must have been to people who are usually thought of as being occupied solely with social duties in the much narrower sense of the term. Martin Luther tells in one of his letters that during his visit to Italy about four hundred years ago, one of the things that proved a great source of edification to him was the fact that the ladies of the nobility in the Italian cities made it a custom to visit the hospitals regularly and to spend hours at a time there and do things for the patients with their own hands. Some of them wore veils while they were performing this beautiful service in order that they might not be recognized, lest what they did should come to be talked about, and they did not want to practice their charity for the sake of publicity. The people of the old time were often as intent on avoiding publicity as our generation, as a rule, {89} seems to be intent on securing it. Almost needless to say ostentatious philanthropy is not charity and has none of the reactionary good effects for the doer to be found in real charity.

It must not be forgotten that whenever hospitals are visited regularly thus by the better-to-do classes there is very little likelihood of serious abuses creeping into them. The care of even the very poor patients is kept at a high standard because these visitors see the beginnings of abuses and either bring about their correction at once, or else devote themselves to some modification of hospital routine that will prevent the recurrence of such unfortunate conditions.

Religion thus proved a stimulus to the better care of the ailing poor that was a distinct benefit to the health of the community. It was when hospitals ceased to be the object of such attention on the part of the better-to-do people that they ran down into the awful condition which prevailed so generally in them even less than a century ago.

Burdett in his "History of Hospitals" has not hesitated to say that hospitals placed in the midst of cities and visited regularly by the well-to-do represent a great social instrument for the betterment of all sorts of social conditions. The wealthy are kept from being selfish, the poor from being envious, the classes of the community are not so separated that they fail to understand each other, and both of them are greatly benefited by the experiences which bring them together.

Burdett has gone even further and insisted that the support of hospitals, by the State, because it removes opportunities for charity, is an unfortunate development in modern times. Those who are well able to help the poor and the ailing get the feeling that due provision is {90} made for them out of the taxes, and that, therefore, no further obligation rests upon them and the needs and requirements of the poor are no concern of theirs. As a consequence, he says, "an increasing number of people are being brought up on a wrong principle and are thus led to forget the privilege and to ignore the duty of giving toward the support of those who are unable to help themselves."

Besides pointing out how much is lost of social value and social stimulus when private charitable institutions are replaced by State institutions, Burdett emphasizes not only how much of social good is accomplished by voluntary charity, but also how much of personal relief is afforded to some of the trials of life that often prove the source of unfortunate pathological conditions. He said: "Apart from the evils we have briefly referred to, there is a loss to the whole community in the lessened moral sense which State institutions create.

The voluntary charities afford an opening for the encouragement and expression of the best of all human feelings,--sympathy between man and man. They give to the rich an opening for the display of consideration toward the poor which is fruitful in results. They create a feeling of widespread sympathy with those who suffer and impress on the population the duty of almsgiving to an extent which no other charity can do. They constitute a neutral platform whereon all classes and sects can meet with unanimity and good feeling. They provide a field of labor wherein some of the most devoted and best members of society can cultivate the higher feelings of humanity and learn to bear their own sufferings and afflictions with resignation and patience."

I have made it a practice for years, now, when women {91} who were without children and without any special outlet for their affections suffered from neurotic symptoms, to prescribe that they get in touch with the ailing poor in some way. Especially for those trying patients who complain of inability to sleep well, a feeling of depression when they awake, a lack of appetite, but also a lack of incentive to do anything and a tendency to stay much in the house and by themselves, a condition which not infrequently develops in childless women shortly before and after what is called "the change of life", no prescription is so valuable as hospital visiting, or where that is impossible for some reason, at least to make it a rule to visit sick friends regularly. I have seen women suffering severely from neurotic symptoms that made life miserable for them become not only quite reconciled to existence, sleep better and eat better, but actually find some of their first real satisfaction in life as the result of discovering that they could visit the orthopedic ward of a hospital regularly, tell stories to the crippled children and bring them little toys, help to make Easter and the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day and Christmas and New Year's happier for them. I have known women who thought after some serious domestic affliction that they could never be happy again, to find, if not happiness, at least satisfaction in life after they had visited a cancer home regularly for some time and had seen with what cheerfulness patients could face the inevitably fatal affection which they knew was gradually sapping life and carrying them day by day into the shadow of death. No therapeusis that I know is so valuable for the stony grief without tears that some women exhibit after a great loss as the ward for crippled children or some regular visiting of incurable patients.


To visit and ransom the captives, that is, to visit prisoners and help them in any way possible, is a work of mercy that comparatively few people in our day seem to think they are under any obligations to do merely because they are Christians. They took this duty very seriously in the older time, however, and the result was excellent for the prisoners as well as for those who visited them. When condemned to serve a sentence and then left to wear out prison existence for years as best he can, seeing only his fellow prisoners and his keepers, a prisoner is very likely to grow bitter. In not a few of the prisoners, health of body and even of mind gives way under these hard conditions.

If the prisoners were visited at definite intervals by some one willing to listen a little patiently to their story, for there is always another side to every story--even though the other side may not be very true--and who would occasionally bring them little things like tobacco as a solace or reading matter to occupy idle hours, and who would promise to interest himself in securing any favors that were possible and to see that they were given advantage of every benefit allowed them by the law, they would have less of the feeling that they were outcasts of society. It is because the corporal works of mercy as representing serious Christian duties somehow have come to be neglected that we have had this rather disturbing social problem of the bitter-minded prisoner so likely to get into prison again thrust upon us. But it is also because of the lack of such a fine human interest as is afforded by contact with prisoners who show some hope of reform that many an overoccupied business man suffers from such profound weariness of life that rest cures and special vacations have to be prescribed for him.


I once had a bachelor friend whom I had known for many years come to me as a patient, and though he had been a model of common sense, whom I had been accustomed to think of as utterly without nerves, I was surprised to find how many neurotic symptoms were gradually developing in him. He had lost his sister who had made a home life and a heart interest for him, and he had no near relatives; he had nothing but his business to occupy him; he had no hobby and no interest in that direction that seemed likely to develop, and I wondered what I should advise him to occupy himself with to keep him from getting further on his own nerves. He had an extremely important and correspondingly difficult position involving the carrying of a heavy burden of responsibility for a great many rather complex details of a huge business. A chance remark of his own in pity for a young fellow whom his corporation had found cheating and had felt itself compelled to prosecute--for example's sake--led me to suggest the visiting of prisoners. For years that man spent several hours on two or three Sundays of every month visiting the prisoners of a large city. He gathered around him a group of men who found a good deal of satisfaction in that work. He himself began to sleep better and wiped off the slate of life a series of dreads and obsessions that he was beginning to foster. Men often talk of "the blue devils" getting hold of them, but it is often just a case of the devil finding work not for idle hands but for idle hearts. Especially at Christmas and Easter he used to have as good a time, in the best sense of that expression, with his "little brothers" of the prison as any father and mother ever had with a house full of children. He once told me some of his experiences in a way that revealed his tactfulness in the {94} handling of these sensitive fellow mortals that was one of the most interesting revelations of the Christian gentleman I think I have ever had given me.

Chapter end

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