‘To the Charitable and Humane’: Appeals for Assistance in the Eighteenth-Century London Press
When ‘Humanitas’, writing to the Morning Post on 29 July 1777, stated that ‘Nothing so much dignifies human nature as Charity, especially when bestowed on objects to whose misery or wants the benefactors are stranger’, he was only rephrasing a frequently asserted platitude. Eighteenth-century English men and women believed themselves especially charitable, and often described their epoch as the age of benevolence. And in many ways their complacency was warranted; from the late 1740s onwards, a variety of public institutions were founded that attempted to ameliorate poverty and relieve need. However, such institutional benevolence was not the only, nor even the predominant, form of charitable practice throughout the century. Despite long-standing criticisms of individual almsgiving by those who saw it as feeding poverty rather than aiding the poor, many still felt that such charity was both a Christian and civil duty, and persisted in practising it. Throughout the century clergymen continued to sermonize about religious imperatives towards acts of charity; throughout the century philanthropists wrote voluminously about the need to maintain and improve the nation through rightly structured philanthropic donation. While public institutional charities could address the problems of certain categories of the poor — of orphans or some of the ill for example — many of the more common, but perhaps less specialized forms of need could not, or were not, addressed by such establishments.
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- 5.James Campbell, Oracle, 14 July 1795; PM, Times, 15 January 1785; Daily Advertiser, 25 January 1787; ibid., 15 November 1787.Google Scholar
- 11.See D. T. Andrew, ‘Noblesse Oblige. Female charity in an age of sentiment’, in John Brewer and Susan Staves (eds.), Early Modern Conceptions of Property (London and New York, 1995), pp. 275–301.Google Scholar