The Chimes, by Charles Dickens, was the follow up to A Christmas Carol. It was story that didn't hold back its punches concerning the critique of attitudes, particularly from the upper class and wealthy, towards the poor and needy. The results of his observations brought a backlash of harsh comment, particularly about how much (or little, as the critiques suggested) the poor deserved. This was something Dickens considered as confirmation concerning his challenge for unmeasured compassion.
In the opening pages of this story there is a scene where a small group of 'gentleman', who had just passed a waiting porter and his daughter, deciding to deliver a public speech concerning the state of social affairs. They first focused upon the porter.
... it's the easiest thing on earth to deal with this sort of people, if you only understand em'..... You see, my friend, there's a great deal of nonsense talked about Want - 'hard up', you know: that's the phrase isn't it? Ha! ha! ha! - and I intend to Put it Down. There's a certain amount of cant in vogue about Starvation, and I mean to Put it Down. That's all! Lord bless you. You may Put Down anything among this sort of people, if you only know the way to set about it....
They then set upon the porter's daughter.
... you are going to be married, you say... very unbecoming and indelicate in one of your sex! But never mind that. After you are married, you'll quarrel with your husband, and come to be a distressed wife. You may think not: but you will, because I tell you so. Now I give you fair warning, that I have made up my mind to Put distressed wives Down. So don't be brought before me. You'll have children - boys. Those boys will grow up bad of course, and run wild in the streets, without shoes and stockings. Mind, my young friend! I'll convict 'em summarily, every one, for I am determined to Put boys without shoes and stockings Down. Perhaps your husband will die young (most likely) and leave you with a baby. Then you'll be turned out of doors, and wander up and down the streets. Now don't wander near me, my dear, for I am resolved to Put all wandering mothers Down. All young mothers, of all sorts and kinds, it's my determination to Put Down. Don't think to plead illness as an excuse with me; or babies as an excuse with me; for all sick persons and young children (I hope you know the church-service, but I'm afraid not) I am determined to Put Down.... Ha! ha! now we understand each other.
As usual, there are many interesting references Dickens alludes to, but there is one that sticks out for me today.
Dickens draws the readers attention to the church-service for 'all sicks persons and young children'. It relates to a phrase found within the Litany ( Book of Common Prayer ) - something he refers to in his book American Notes, as 'that beautiful passage'. The Litany is many things to many people, but this petition of personal need is also coupled with a petition of awareness to those around us.
Ones own attitude towards the poor and needy is a common theme within the writings of Dickens. Many times he marries the fullness of our individual lives with the compassion for those around us. One needs the other, full stop. The Chimes may have been written in 1844, but it still holds relevance today.
It reveals many things about the heart.