by William H. McGuffey
From McGuffey's Newly Revised Eclectic Reader (1844).
Through his Eclectic Readers, American educator and preacher William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) had a profound effect on education in the United States, particularly in the areas of teacher training and curriculum materials. In the selection below, excerpted from McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Reader (published in 1844), Mr. Fantom and Mr. Goodman have a rather heated conversation about how and where philanthropic effort ought to be applied. Both men seem to be moved primarily by the desire to offer relief. But Mr. Fantom thinks globally, whereas Mr. Goodman thinks locally: one wants to address the miseries of the “whole world,” the other those of his own “town or neighborhood first.” The names that McGuffey assigns to his interlocutors suggest his own preference for local giving over more diffuse and ambitious efforts. Is Goodman persuasive? Are the Fantoms of the world of philanthropy necessarily doomed to chase after illusions? Is the philanthropic way of one “true” and the other “false,” as McGaffey’s title implies?
Introduction by Amy Kass
Mr. Fantom: I despise a narrow field. O, for the reign of universal benevolence! I want to make all mankind good and happy.
Mr. Goodman: Dear me! Sure that must be a wholesale sort of job: had you not better try your hand at a town or neighborhood first?
Mr. Fantom: Sir, I have a plan in my head for relieving the miseries of the whole world. Every thing is bad as it is now stands. I would alter all the laws, and put an end to all the wars in the world. I would put an end to all punichments; I would not leave a single prisoner on the face of the globe. This is what I call doing things on a grand scale.
William H. McGuffey
Mr. Goodman: A scale with a vengeance! As to releasing the prisoners, however. I do not much like that, as it would be liberating a few rogues at the expense of all honest men; but as to the rest of your plan, if all countries would be so good as to turn Christians, it might be helped on a good deal. There would be still misery enough left indeed; because God intended this world should be earth and not heaven. But, sir, among all your changes, you must destroy human corruption, before you can make the world quite as perfect as you pretend.
Mr. Fantom: Your project would rivet the chains which mine is designed to break.
Mr. Goodman: Sir, I have no projects. Projects are, in general, the offspring of restlessness, vanity, and idleness. I am too busy for projects, too contented for theories, and I hope, have too much honesty and humility for a philosopher. The utmost extent of my ambition at present is to redress the wrongs of a poor apprentice, who has been cruelly used by his master indeed. I have another little scheme, which is to persecute a fellow who has suffered a poor wretch in the poor house of which he has the care, to perish through neglect, and you must assist me.
Mr. Fantom: Let the town do that. You must not apply to me for the redress of such petty grievances. It is provinces, empires, continents that the benevolence of the philosopher embraces; every one can do a little paltry good to his next neighbor.
Mr. Goodman: Every one can, but I do not see that every one does. If they would indeed, your business would be ready done to your hands, and your grand ocean of benevolence would be filled with drops, which private charity would throw into it. I am glad, however, that you are such a friend to the prisoners, because I am just now getting a little subscription, to se free your poor old friend Tom Saunders, a very honest brother mechanic, who first got into debt, and then into jail, through no fault of his own, but merely through the pressure of the times. A number of us have given a trifle every week towards maintaining his young family since he has been in prison; but we think we shall so much more service to Saunders, and indeed in the ed, lighten our own expense, by paying down, at once, a little sum, to release him, and put hum in the way of maintaining his family again. We have made up all the money except for five dollars. I am already promised four, and you have nothing to do but to give me the fifth. And so, for a single dollar, without any of the trouble we have had in arranging the matter, you will, at once, have the pleasure of helping to save a worthy family from starving, of redeeming an old friend from jail, and of putting a little of your boasted benevolence into action. Realize! Mr. Fantom: There is nothing like realizing.
Mr. Fantom: Why, hark ye, Mr. Goodman, do not think I value a dollar; no sire, I despise money; it is trash, it is dirt, and beneath the regard of a wise man. It is one of the unfeeling inventions of artificial society. Sir, I could talk to you half a day on the abuse of riches, and my own contempt of money.
Mr. Goodman: O pray do not give yourself that trouble. It will be a much easier way of proving your sincerity, just to put your hand in your pocket, and give me a dollar without saying a word about it: and then to you, who value time so much, and money so little, it will cut the matter short. But come now, (for I see you will give nothing), I should be mighty glad to know what is the sort of good you do yourselves, since you always object to what is done by others.
Mr. Fantom: Sir, the object of a true philosopher is, to diffuse light and knowledge; I wish to see the whole world enlightened.
Mr. Goodman: Well, Mr. Fantom, you are a wonderful man, to keep up such a stock of benevolence, at so small an expense; to love mankind so dearly, and yet avoid all opportunities of doing them good; to have such a noble zeal for the millions, and to feel so little compassion for the units; to long to fee empires and enlighten kingdoms, and deny instruction to your own village and comfort your own family. Surely, none but a philosopher could indulge so much philanthropy and so much frugality at the same time. But come, do assist me in a partition I am making in our poorhouse, between the old, whom I want to have better fed, and the young whom I want to have more worked.
Mr. Fantom: Sir, my mind is so engrossed with the partition of Poland, that I cannot bring it down to an object of such significance. I despise the man, whose benevolence is swallowed up in the narrow concerns of his own family, or village, or country.
Mr. Goodman: Well, now I have a notion, that it is as well to do one’s own duty, as the duty of another man; and that to do good at home, is as well as to do good abroad. For my part, I had a lief help Tom Saunders to freedom, as a Pole or a South American, though I should be very glad to help them too. But one must begin to love somewhere; and I think it is as natural to love one’s own family, and to do good in one’s own neighborhood, as to any body else. And if every man in every family, village and country did the same, why then all the schemes would be met, and the end of one village or town where I was doing good, would be the beginning of another village where somebody else was doing good; so my schemes would jut into my neighbor’s; his projects would unite with those of some other local reformer; and all would fit with a sort of dovetail exactness.
Mr. Fantom: Sir, a man of large views will be on the watch for great occasions to prove his benevolence.
Mr. Goodman: Yes, sir; but if they are so distant that he cannot reach them, or so vast that he cannot grasp them, he may let a thousand little, snug, kind, good actions slip through his fingers in the meanwhile: and so, the great thing that he cannot do, and the little ones that he will not do, life passes, and nothing will be done.
Why do you think the author of this reading “True and False Philanthropy” titled it as he did? Do you think this title is appropriate? Why or why not?
There is a modern day adage that states, “When all is said and done, often more is said than done.” How might one apply this adage to the two approaches to philanthropy being discussed by Mr. Fantom and Mr. Goodman in this reading?
Might one consider it easier and more rewarding to give at home than to give abroad? How important is it to see an immediate ‘impact’ as a result of philanthropic giving? If it is important, how might those who seek ‘universal benevolence’ –making all mankind good and happy - be able to convince those who are more ‘locally-minded” to contribute to their global causes?
Do you find yourself gravitating toward the attitudes/beliefs concerning philanthropy of either one of these characters? If so, which character best represents your present attitudes/beliefs? In what way might the character who least represents your present attitudes/beliefs about philanthropy still be correct in his thinking?
Why do you think it was so difficult for Mr. Fantom to contribute one dollar to the cause taken up by Mr. Goodman for the release of Tom Saunders? To what level do you think Mr. Fantom’s attitudes/beliefs impact philanthropic giving today?