Edmondo De Acimis
To give one’s life for one’s country as the Lombard boy did, is a great virtue; but you must not neglect the lesser virtues, my son. This morning as you walked in front of me, when we were returning from school, you passed near a poor woman who was holding between her knees a thin, pale child, and who asked alms of you. You looked at her and gave her nothing, and yet you had some coppers in your pocket. Listen, my son. Do not accustom yourself to pass indifferently before misery which stretches out its hand to you and far less before a mother who asks a copper for her child. Reflect that the child may be hungry; think of the agony of that poor woman. Picture to yourself the sob of despair of your mother, if she were some day forced to say, “Enrico, I cannot give you any bread even to-day!” When I give a soldo to a beggar, and he says to me, “God preserve your health, and the health of all belonging to you!” you cannot understand the sweetness which these words produce in my heart, the gratitude that I feel for that poor man. It seems to me certain that such a good wish must keep one in good health for a long time, and I return home content, and think, “Oh, that poor man has returned to me very much more than I gave him!” Well, let me sometimes feel that good wish called forth, merited by you; draw a soldo from your little purse now and then, and let it fall into the hand of a blind man without means of subsistence, of a mother without bread, of a child without a mother. The poor love the alms of boys, because it does not humiliate them, and because boys, who stand in need of everything, resemble themselves: you see that there are always poor people around the schoolhouses. The alms of a man is an act of charity; but that of a child is at one and the same time an act of charity and a caress—do you understand? It is as though a soldo and a flower fell from your hand together. Reflect that you lack nothing, and that they lack everything, that while you aspire to be happy, they are content simply with not dying. Reflect, that it is a horror, in the midst of so many palaces, along the streets thronged with carriages, and children clad in velvet, that there should be women and children who have nothing to eat. To have nothing to eat! Oh God! Boys like you, as good as you, as intelligent as you, who, in the midst of a great city, have nothing to eat, like wild beasts lost in a desert! Oh, never again, Enrico, pass a mother who is begging, without placing a soldo in her hand!