Tuesday, 4 August 2015

"GENERAL" BOOTH'S SCHEME AND ITS ENGLISH CRITICS.

The scheme propounded by "General" W. Booth, of the Salvation Army, for rescuing the "submerged tenth," as he calls the destitute classes in England, is naturally attracting a great deal of attention, and a number of men have freely expressed their opinions on the project. At first the public seems to have been impressed with the more favourable aspects of "General" Booth's scheme, but voices were soon heard in opposition to it, and these have been latterly growing stronger and more distinct. A brief summary of the views of the more important of " General" Booth's English critics will perhaps be found not uninteresting.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a letter to "General" Booth, impresses his disbelief that the "characteristic modes of the Salvation Army are capable of producing lasting moral effects in a whole class or district." He also takes exception to the economic principle of the scheme, being of opinion that "its centrality and universality and the dominion to be exercised over it"  will " amass difficulties for the future."  He considers it, moreover, a sign of weakness that the " General" ignores the labours of other societies that are working with the same object as his own.

The Dean of Wells, Dr. Plumptre, examines a proposal which is put forward on the last page of "General" Booth's book, In Darkest England, headed " Safe and Useful Investments." The " General," it seems, has decided to establish a bank, of which he is to have the sole control, and which has for its objects—"(1) Fair interest, (2) sound security, (3) the extension of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ." Dean Plumptre confines his attention to the first two objects, and points out that the terms offered to life annuitants do not bear the name of any actuary, make no distinction between males and females, and are apparently much more favorable to annuitants than those given by the post-office Savings Bank. He asks " whether it is a right and seemly thing for the leader of a great religious and philanthropic movement to use his vast influence to induce the thrifty members of our working and middle classes to substitute for the absolute security of the Post-office Savings Bank the security—well, we cannot call it quite absolute —of the Salvation Army," "General" Booth also offers to allow interest on deposits at the rate of 4½ per cent., whereas consols pay only £2 17s. and railway debenture stock an average of £3 3s.

Referring to the "General's" expressed intention of retaining, as head of the Salvation Army, the sole control of the vast fund which he is now raising, and of nominating his successor, Dean Plumptre says :—

"Such an arrangement, as I have said, is altogether a new thing in the history of great philanthropic movements. It has, however, one memorable precedent in the history of England, Cromwell's last Parliament gave him the power to nominate his successor. I leave that fact to teach its own lesson. Here, also, history may repeat itself. Richard may succeed Oliver, and the generals may quarrel over the inheritance, and the cause which seemed on the verge of triumph may be thrown back for half a century.  I, for one, demur to risking the future of a great enterprise—it may be the future of a great colony—on the stability of a dynastic autocracy of the Salvation Army type."

" Mr. Douglas W. Freshfield, who has been for many years chairman of the St. Olave's, Southwark district committee of the Charity Organisation Society, passes some severe strictures on the pretensions of the Salvation Army, or rather its chief, to do more than all other agencies in reclaiming the lower strata of humanity. He says :—

"In the district I know best, where thousands of carefully-investigated 'cases' have passed under my eyes, I cannot call to mind one in which a loafer has been converted into a working man, or a family or an individual has been permanently raised a step in life through the moral or material agency of the Salvation Army."

And he quotes the following from the Pall Mall Gazette as showing the abuses to which "General" Booth's scheme is liable :—

"At Coventry this morning a tramp who was brought before the Bench charged with begging said men of his class hoped that 'General' Booth's scheme would do something for them, and he was, therefore, making his way to London. The police superintendent informed the Bench that the Warwickshire roads were swarmed with vagrants, all going to London with the idea of getting something from 'General' Booth."

Mr. C. S. Loch, the secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, subjects "General Booth's statements to a minute and rigorous scrutiny. He draws attention to their vagueness and to the absence of all statistics of his own, to say nothing of the gross exaggeration of which he has been guilty of computing the numbers of the "submerged " classes in London. He points out that " General " Booth claims confidence on the strength of the success of his city work-shops, although he has given no particulars from which any opinion can be formed on the matter. "We are not told." he says, "how many have passed through them, how long they have stayed, how often they have returned, how many have been really assisted." He shows that unless there is some deterrent principle work given out freely to all will attract claimants almost without limit. " Have then," he asks, " these workshops that quality ? Plainly not. All may enter if there is room for them. They may work to-day and be absent, and, it may be, idle, to-morrow ; they may work for a week and disappear. They may use the work as a convenience to meet their needs, and not as an instrument to promote their own lasting good." There will thus be a gradual lowering of the standing quantity of task work to suit the weakest worker, such as took place in the French Ateliers Nationaux and other similar experiments. There is a probability that the shelters and workshops proposed by "General" Booth will be largely resorted to by the half-employed classes, whose motives to rise into the class of fully employed will thus be weakened, and whose numbers will be multiplied. In other words, it is greatly to be feared that the city colonies and workshops, instead of permanently relieving poverty, will simply add to it.

The most outspoken of all "General" Booth's critics is Professor Huxley, who tells us that, having been entrusted with a considerable sum of money for the furtherance of the Booth scheme if he thought it worthy of support, he examined the project with some care, the result being that he came to the conclusion that he could not conscientiously hand over the money. He is opposed to the entire system on which the Salvation Army rests, that of a multitude of ignorant and fanatical followers, controlled by an absolutely autocratic leader. He points to what became of the Franciscans and the Jesuits, organisations founded by zealous and single-minded men, when they came under the control of worldly-minded and unscrupulous leaders. He says :—

"With these examples of that which may happen to institutions founded by noble men, with high aims, in the hands of successors of a different stamp, armed with despotic authority, before me, common prudence surely requires that before advising the handing over of a large sum of money to the general of a new order of mendicants I should ask what guarantee there is that, 30 years hence, the 'general' who then autocratically controls the action, say of 100,000 officers pledged to blind obedience, distributed through the whole length and breadth of the poorer classes and each with his finger on the trigger of a mine charged with discontent and religious fanaticism—with the absolute control, say of eight or ten millions sterling of capital and as many of income ; with barracks in every town, with estates scattered over the country, and with settlements in the colonies—will exercise his enormous powers not merely honestly, but wisely ?"

"Undoubtedly," he adds, "harlotry and intemperance are sore evils, and starvation is hard to bear or even to know of; but the prostitution of the mind, the soddening of the conscience, the dwarfing of manhood, are worse calamities. It is a greater evil to have the intellect of a nation put down by organised fanaticism, to see its political and industrial affairs at the mercy of a despot, whose chief thought is to make that fanaticism prevail, to watch the degradation of men, who should feel themselves individually responsible for their own and their country's fates, to mere brute instruments ready to the hand of a master for any use to which he may put them."

The foregoing are only samples of the opinions expressed by competent critics who have carefully examined General Booth's scheme, and who have considered it their duty to warn the public against committing themselves too hastily in its favour.—Argus

Border Watch 28 January 1891

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