Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

Save the Children


There is another and similar class of work equally entitled to sympathy. I refer to ameliorative institutions for the special benefit of children. The economic and moral waste produced by the neglect, disease, and death of children is incalculable. Better that millions of them were never born than that they should suffer and be subject to the many ills to which they are now liable, and under which they perish early, or become burdens to themselves and society. Of two things one: we should, as a nation, either prevent or at least materially diminish the vast waste of child life in our midst, or say less about our national virtues. We risk much in search of additional dominion abroad, and neglect more promising potential assets in boy or girl life at home. The conditions conducive to such results should be strongly assailed always and everywhere, and particularly in a country which extols its enlightenment, its freedom, its prodigious provisions for national defence, and its imperial destiny. It harmonises with the trend of things that, having promoted organic action for the benefit of men and women, I should act on similar lines for the benefit of children and it has fallen to my lot to provide one of the Homes for Little Boys at Swanley; a holiday home at Clacton-on-Sea for the Sunday School Union; a home for crippled children at Bournemouth for the Ragged School Union and Shaftesbury Society; a boys' club and institute for the Mansfield Settlement at Camden Town; a home for epileptic boys, and a similar home for epileptic girls, at Chalfont, Buckinghamshire; a children's wing for the Women's Hospital, Redruth; a holiday home for the Sunday School Union at Bournemouth, and the Teachers' Orphanage at Sydenham.
Some two thousand years ago Epictetus said it was better to raise the character of Roman citizens than to add new stories to their buildings. And I venture to say that the best, if not the cheapest, way to improve the quality of citizens, in our age and nation, is to consecrate and concentrate attention on moulding and guiding the young. I remember hearing the late Dr. Farr, an eminent statistician, at a meeting of the British Association, speak on the relative strength of nations. Childrens hospital at Redruth
He measured the strength of a nation by the number of men it contained and the proportional number of sovereigns behind each man. He argued as if national capacity and capability of endurance could be weighed by the ton and politicians, when discussing estimates, in and out of Parliament, frequently follow a similar line of argument. They are mistaken. National life and character depend mainly on the mental and moral equipment of a nation's men and women. One man, by superior knowledge and experience, may do what two or ten other men could not accomplish. The many are generally influenced and guided by the few. The race is given to the strong. Small nations have produced the greatest and most lasting results. The course of history proclaims the fact that quality has mastered and moulded quantity in human affairs. Where would the British nation be if it depended more on the number than on the ability of its people? And how can that ability be fully developed and utilised unless each British boy and girl has a fair opportunity for intellectual and moral growth? And who can tell how much our nation has lost by not making better provision for such growth; or who can estimate the rich results which will flow from an ample provision in future? Thoreau says "Man's capacity has never been measured, nor are we to judge of what he can do, by any precedent, so little has been done." There is always a rising generation appealing to a risen generation for appropriate and adequate instruction and amusement, and if it gets them it will, in time, show its gratitude in a richer and fuller national life.
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003