Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

Sowing and Reaping


There is a time for everything; a time to sow, and a time to reap; a time to gather, and a time to distribute. Having gathered, I determined to put into act what I had long nurtured in thought, and use certain means at my disposal for the general good. The chief question was: How could this be best done to produce the best result? Should I, in imitation of others, send exploring expeditions to the North or the South Pole? That appeared too speculative, and the derivable gains too uncertain. Should I call into existence new propagandist organisations to promote legislation on liberal lines? That might evoke counteraction on the part of wealthy Conservatism, now enthroned in privileged possession, and only to be met and modified by organic action. Should I provide improved dwellings for the people in London, or in the form of garden cities? Either scheme was fascinating, but abandoned, as many others, in different ways, were providing such accommodation. Should I bequeath funds for public use to be administered by others? They might not use them as economically as I should. Or should I swim in a sea of luxury like "the helots of Park Lane," as Sir William Harcourt described them? That might assist to demoralise others, and probably leave me morally bankrupt.
In all such questionings one idea was uppermost. As I had accumulated mainly by the labour of others, I thought, and think, it was only reasonable and just that others should share in the garnered result; and to act accordingly was a duty and a privilege-a duty as a citizen and a privilege as a man. I also thought, and think, that the great working class-the foundation and bulwark of national existence and the chief producers of national necessities-are entitled to primary consideration in such matters 8 I consequently decided to do what I could for their welfare, and thought the best thing to do was to help them to help each other; and that this could be most productively done by promoting institutional activity. We have hospitals for the sick and wounded, homes for convalescents, orphanages for the fatherless, shelters for the aged, clubs for workers, and public libraries for the many. But all districts have not been supplied, or all pressing wants met. After the best survey I could make of the general situation, I endeavoured to respond to circumstances as they presented themselves, and provide, according to my means, the agency, building, or institution most wanted, and where it was certain or likely to be maintained. Thomas Carlyle says: "Do the duty which is nearest thee, which thou knowest to be a duty. Thy second duty will already become clearer." Yes, a philanthropic spirit is good; a dutiful spirit is better. Duty is a beneficent mistress. Her teachings and claims are prior to and mightier than the teachings and claims of philanthropy. While a prevailing purpose of philanthropy is to mitigate human ills, a prevailing purpose of duty is to prevent them. There would be little necessity for the exercise of mercy or benevolence if right and justice ruled and regulated human affairs.
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Passmore Edwards autobiography, A few Footprints
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April 18, 2005
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© Dean Evans 2003