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To the calm observer of the multifarious pursuits and opinions of life , innumerable cases will perpetually present themselves , which pass currently in general estimation as being innocent or even praise-worthy in their operations , but which will not bear the scrutiny of sober investigation , of correct principles , or of common sense . Folly is always eager to screen
itself behind the bulwark of precedent , and thus improvement is retarded or fettered in its progress by the clamours and influence of the dread of innovation . Under these delusions , of which the wisest are not always sufficiently aware , prejudices are established and perpetuated in endless variety and duration ; while truth and reason are elbowed out of notice , or silenced by ignorance and effrontery . Amongst these insidious delusions , perhaps , there is not one more dazzling in its application , more inconsistent in its
pretences , more eulogized by the world , more perverted in its intentions , and more faulty in its results than that of testamentary bequests to public charities . We have been accustomed from our earliest infancy to consider these works of supererogation as meritorious in the highest degree , as conferring everlasting honour on the donors , as the perfection of human excellence , and as a sure passport to the realms of endless bliss . But
how stands the account generally , in the sober estimation of moral worth or of religious purity ? And will not a critical examination acquit the inquirer of all breach of candour in saying , that it will most usually be found that those persons have been most bountiful at their decease who had been the most niggardly and uncharitable during their lives ? And even where this has not been the case , where is the merit of giving what can no longer be withheld , and what , in fact , is not the property of its previous
owner ? It may be called his own while making his will , but the moment his life ceases his claim to it is annihilated , and he is ostentatiously or unjustly taking it from the pockets of those who may from reason or consanguinity have perhaps a much stronger right than any public charity can be entitled to . If it should be said , that being his own , and perhaps acquired by his own assiduity , he has an unquestionable right to dispose of it as he pleases—even this requires some explanation on rational authority .
All property may , and perhaps must , be considered as belonging to the community , and it guarantees the secure possession of a part to each individual on the tacit admission that he holds it on trust for the general good , and subject to such conditions as the laws of his country or its customary usages have either confirmed or virtually understood and agreed . He has no right , therefore , to disinherit his kindred in favour of strangers . Perhaps his wife and children have performed their full share in the
acquisition of the property , and in such case neither law nor equity could justify his arbitrarily bequeathing it from them . In short , there is a sense of justice which seems paramount to all law , which dictates the terms of equity , and which , though not easily defined , is understood and felt by universal consent . So that whatever deductions he may make from the expectations of his
relatives , must in some degree be considere d by them , if not unjustifiable or arbitrary , yet as capricious or unkind ; or if these terms are hardly admissible , as subject to the fair scrutiny of disappointed hopes , or to the harsh judgment of a censorious world . Another important objection to such bequests , is the impossibility of tracing the utility of the gift , or its appro-
ON TESTAMENTARY BfiQUESTS TO PUBLIC CHARITIES .
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Monthly Repository (1806-1838) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), Oct. 2, 1828, page 676, in the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (2008; 2018) ncse.ac.uk/periodicals/mruc/issues/vm2-ncseproduct2565/page/20/