giv me tracts what I couldn't read,

Category: Daily Life | Type: Discussion | Title: Great Expectations (in Context) | Author: Charles Dickens | Ch: Chapter XLII

The tracts were religious and moral, their purpose being to inculcate beliefs and values that presumably would help the poor improve or at least accept docilely their lot. 

Dickens often assails the self-righteous philanthropy that distributes moral and religious homilies about how to live while ignoring the dreadful conditions determining the lives of the poor, for whom religion is either a luxury or an opiate and morality a choice between starvation and thieving turnips. That Magwitch had had no schooling and therefore could not be expected even to read what he was given reveals the indifference or obliviousness of the so-called philanthropist and, moreover, the cruelty of a society that takes so little care of the children of the poor, in direct contradiction of Jesus's own attention to the poor and to children. One of Dickens's great passions as a social reformer was to expose the abominable treatment of the children of the poor and lower middle class and the appalling schools teaching some of the rest.  

He would have agreed with Jacob Burckhardt, the great Swiss historian (1818-1897), best known as the author of The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), that one could gauge the nature and value of a society by its treatment of its children.  

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