No doubt the evil is great and manifest, and something must certainly be done; and his zeal is in proportion to the urgency of the case — but I know of few radicals as yet who are radical enough, and have not got this name rather by meddling with the exposed roots of innocent institutions than with their own.
The disease and disorder in society are wont to be referred to the false relations in which men live one to another, but strictly speaking there can be no such thing as a false relation if the condition of the things related is true. False relations grow out of false conditions. The inmate of a poorhouse would be more pauper still on a desolate island, and the convict would find his prison and prison discipline there.
It is not the worst reason why the reform should be a private and individual enterprise, that perchance the evil may be private also. From what southern plains comes up the voice of wailing — under what latitudes reside the heathen to whom we would send light — and who is that intemperate and brutal man whom he would redeem?
Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions; especially if his digestion is poor, though he may have considerable nervous strength left; if he has failed in all his undertakings hitherto; if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world. Do ye hear it, ye Woloffs, ye Patagonians, ye Tartars, ye Nez Percés? The world is going to be reformed, formed once and for all. Presto — Change! Methinks I hear the glad tidings spreading over the green prairies of the west; over the silent South American pampas, parched African deserts, and stretching Siberian versts; through the populous Indian and Chinese villages, along the Indus, the Ganges, and Hydaspes.
There is no reformer on the globe, no such philanthropic, benevolent and charitable man, now engaged in any good work anywhere, sorely afflicted by the sight of misery around him, and animated by the desire to relieve it, who would not instantly and unconsciously sign off from these pure labors, and betake himself to purer, if he had but righted some obscure, and perhaps unrecognized private grievance. Let but the spring come to him, let the morning rise over his couch, and he will forsake his generous companions, without apology or explanation!
The Reformer who comes recommending any institution or system to the adoption of men, must not rely solely on logic and argument, or on eloquence and oratory for his success, but see that he represents one pretty perfect institution in himself, the center and circumference of all others, an erect man.
I ask of all Reformers, of all who are recommending Temperance, Justice, Charity, Peace, the Family, Community or Associative life, not to give us their theory and wisdom only, for these are no proof, but to carry around with them each a small specimen of his own manufactures, and to despair of ever recommending anything of which a small sample at least cannot be exhibited: — that the Temperance man let me know the savor of Temperance, if it be good, the Just man permit to enjoy the blessings of liberty while with him, the Community man allow me to taste the sweets of the Community life in his society.