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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

VIII. Religion

49. Thomas Chalmers and Large Cities, 1821

Texte intégral

1In this text, published in 1821, Chalmers tries to demonstrates that the problems of urban life can be solved by adopting a system similar to the one that works in country parishes (also see introduction to text 48).

2T. Chalmers, The Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns, vol. 1, Glasgow: Collins, 1821, p. 25-27.

We hold the possibility, and cannot doubt the advantage of assimilating a town to a country parish. We think that the same moral regimen, which, under the parochial and ecclesiastical system of Scotland, has been set up, and with so much effect, in her country parishes, may, by a few simple and attainable processes, be introduced into the most crowded of her cities, and with as signal and conspicuous an effect on the whole habit and character of their population—that the simple relationship which obtains between a minister and his people in their former situation, may be kept up with all the purity and entireness of its influences in the latter situation; and be equally available to the formation of a well-conditioned peasantry; in a word, that there is no such dissimilarity between town and country, as to prevent the great national superiority of Scotland, in respect of her well-principled and well-educated people, being just as observable in Glasgow or Edinburgh, for example, as it is in the most retired of her districts, and these under the most diligent process of moral and religious cultivation. So that, while the profligacy which obtains in every crowded and concentrated mass of human beings, is looked upon by many a philanthropist as one of those helpless and irreclaimable distempers of the body politic, for which there is no remedy—do we maintain, that there are certain practicable arrangements which, under the blessing of God, will stay this growing calamity, and would, by the perseverance of a few years, land us in a purer and better generation.

One most essential step towards so desirable an assimilation in a large city parish, is a numerous and well-appointed agency. The assimilation does not lie here in the external framework; for, in a small country parish, the minister alone, or with a very few coadjutors of a small session, may bring the personal influence of his kind and Christian attentions to bear upon all the families. Among the ten thousand of a city parish, this is impossible; and, therefore, what he cannot do but partially and superficially in his own person, must, if done substantially, be done in the person of others. And he, by dividing his parish into small manageable districts—and assigning one or more of his friends, in some capacity or other, to each of them—and vesting them with such a right either of superintendence or inquiry, as will always be found to be gratefully met by the population—and so, raising, as it were, a ready intermedium of communication between himself and the inhabitants of his parish, may at length attain an assimilation in point of result to a country parish, though not in the means by which he arrived at it. He can in his own person maintain at least a pretty close and habitual intercourse with the more remarkable cases; and as for the moral charm of the cordial and Christian acquaintanceship, he can spread it abroad by deputation over the part of the city which has been assigned to him. In this way, an influence, long unfelt in towns, may be speedily restored to them; and they, we affirm, know nothing of this department of our nature, who are blind to the truth of the position—that out of the simple elements of attention, and advice, and civility, and good-will, conveyed through the tenements of the poor, by men a little more elevated in rank than themselves, a far more purifying and even more gracious operation can be made to descend upon them, than ever will be achieved by any other of the ministrations of charity.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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