Front Page Titles (by Subject) 394.: QUESTIONABLE CHARITY SUNDAY TIMES, 19 MAY, 1850, P. 2 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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394.: QUESTIONABLE CHARITY SUNDAY TIMES, 19 MAY, 1850, P. 2 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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This letter to the editor was introduced by an editorial comment: “A correspondent, in the following letter, finds fault with our strictures, under the above heading, upon an institution lately opened in Marylebone, by certain charitable ladies, for the instruction of young friendless and poor children, in needle work and other pursuits calculated to enable them to procure an honest livelihood.” The paragraph Mill quotes was headed “Questionable Charity,” Sunday Times, 5 May, p. 2. The letter was the twelfth newspaper contribution jointly authored by Harriet Taylor and Mill (for background, see No. 303), and their first to appear in the Sunday Times. Headed as title, it is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A letter signed D in the Sunday Times of 19th May 1850, commenting on a paragraph in that paper headed ‘Questionable Charity.’ A joint production.”
(MacMinn, p. 74.)
Agreeing cordially with many of the sentiments expressed in your journal of Sunday, May 5, and with much of the tone and spirit of your paper generally, I regret to see one paragraph in which, as it appears to me, you not only give blame where praise is deserved, but countenance erroneous opinions on such important subjects as the direction of charity and the employment of labour. The following is the passage:
In Marylebone, a society of ladies has formed a female school for the purpose, as they state, of instructing the poor in such branches of useful knowledge as are calculated to enable them, in after life, to gain a honest livelihood. So far, excellent. The object is laudible, but is greatly defeated by the very founders of this charitable institution, who, in order to save the money which they should otherwise pay for the making of their apparel, bring that apparel to the school, and get it made free of cost by the children. Thus in the name, and under the guise of charity, they unintentionally inflict a gross injustice, rob honest industry of its fair reward, and drive to the workhouse or to prostitution the industrious and deserving female, who is willing to toil from the rising to the setting sun, and even half the night during the whole week, for a pittance scarcely sufficient to keep body and soul together.
I know nothing of the facts, and assume them to be as here stated. What I object to is the doctrine that, whenever, in return for charitable assistance, the recipients are required to do anything useful, to perform any productive labour which any other persons might be paid to do, an injustice is done to those other persons, and a wrong to the world at large.
Your objection, if good at all, is good against every possible employment of labour. You cannot employ anybody without enabling it to be said that you prevent yourself from employing somebody else. If it is wrong to employ children, because of taking employment from needlewomen, by the same reasoning to employ one needlewoman, is taking employment from another. If it is wrong to employ children in needlework, instead of employing needlewomen, it must be wrong to teach the children needlework, for the express purpose of enabling them “in after life to gain an honest livelihood” by practising needlework, and so competing with the needlewomen.
You will, perhaps, say that, at all events, the assistance so conferred is no longer charity, but an ordinary commercial transaction. I contend, on the contrary, that charity is much more charity, because much more useful when conferred in this way. The best kind of relief or assistance is that for which, as far as the case admits, a return is required to be made in useful labour. Especially is this the case when the very object in view is to train up children to gain their living by labour. If they are to be taught needlework they must be made to do needlework, and would it be an improvement in their education that it should be useless needlework, as paupers have been employed to dig holes and fill them up again, for fear of displacing other labour?
But there is another aspect of the matter which is of still wider application. You seem to think that if you pay labourers to do nothing at all, or nothing useful, you do not take away employment from any one, but that you do so if you require a return in productive industry. The truth, I apprehend, is the very opposite. It is by what you give to one person that you diminish your means of employing others; not by the work you make him do in return; on the contrary, making him work in return is the only mode by which, while you give to him, you can still have undiminished means of employing others. If what you have given to a labourer comes back in the value of that which he produces, or, what amounts to the same thing, in the saving of an equal sum of money, which you must otherwise have expended at a shop, you have conferred the benefit on him, and yet have as much money in your possession to make purchases, or employ labourers with, as if you had not given him anything. I do not mean to say that this money will find its way to the same shops, or the same labourers, but it will be spent at other shops, or on other labourers; if there is a disadvantage to some people, there is an advantage to others, and no detriment to the labouring class on the whole.
Objections are sometimes made, on similar erroneous grounds, to the introduction of useful labour into prisons—although useful labour is the only production of good prison discipline, and of the reformation of criminals—for want of considering, that since the prisoners must at any rate be supported, whatever they cause to be withdrawn from the support of honest labour is equally withdrawn, whether the prisoners work or not; while, by making them work, the value, or part of it, is got back, and may be used in giving employment to other labourers.
This subject, sir, will amply repay a more attentive consideration than, as it seems to me, the writer of the paragraph in your last Sunday’s paper has yet given to it, and if what I have written should induce him to meditate further on things so closely connected with many of the important questions which come under the notice of journalists, I shall feel that I have been of some use.
[1 ]The letter is followed by a lengthy editorial comment expressing admiration for the “character, style, and tone” of Mill’s letter, but dissenting totally from the views of “pauper and free labour” expressed in it.