There are so many different ways in which mankind can be benefitted, and so many great men who have conferred great blessings on their fellows, that in a short essay little more can be done than to give a catalogue of some of the classes of the benefactors of humanity.
To begin with the religious and moral side of man’s nature, it is impossible to calculate the benefits that the founders of great and pure religions have conferred upon the race men such as Buddha in India, Confucius in China, Jesus in Palestine, and Muhammad in Arabia.
And besides such great figures, there have been hosts of men of saintly life and noble teaching in all ages, who have, by example, earnest words and noble books, raised the level of human morality and pointed men to God and spiritual truth.
Then there are the earnest social reformers and the philanthropists, who have devoted their lives to abolishing public abuses, bad laws and evil customs, and to alleviating the lot of the poor and the miserable.
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Think of the work of Wilberforce and Clarkson in England and of Lloyd Garrison and Abraham Lincoln in America, whose labours led to the abolition of slavery; or John Howard and Elizabeth Fry, who exposed the horrors of the old prisons, and led the way to prison reform; or the Earl of Shaftsbury.
Who devoted his time and wealth and the influence of his social position to the good of the working classes, by extending the Factory Acts, and by reforming the treatment of the insane; or Cobden and Bright who got the Corn Laws repealed and so gave cheap bread to the people.
There have been many bad kings, but we must count the good kings and rulers is benefactors of humanity; for the establishment and maintenance of a sound organisation of society is indeed a great benefit to men.
In ancient times the name of Ashoka, the Buddhist king of India, stands out in history as that of one of the wisest and most human of rulers.
In England, Alfred the Great was a father to this people, and by his wise laws and his unselfish devotion to public good, did much to elevate a half barbarous race; and Edward I. was a wise and just ruler. 6ne cannot omit mention, too, of Solon, the law-giver of Greece, and Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor of Rome.
Some of the greatest blessings to suffering humanity have been conferred by great doctors and scientists, such as Simpson, who at the risk of his life experimented in anesthetics and discovered chloroform, by means of which the most serious operation can be performed without pain; Jenner, who abolished small-pox from England by his discovery of vaccination; and Lister, who revolutionised surgery by the antiseptic treatment.
And what material benefits countless inventors have brought to men! James Watt, by the invention of the first practicable steam-engine, and George Stephenson, with his locomotive, practically revolutionised social and industrial conditions in the 19th century.
Faraday’s experiments with electricity led to the telegraph and telephone systems; and Marconi’s discoveries resulted in wireless telegraphy and “broad-casting”. But space altogether fails even to mention the thousands of benefits which scientific invention has given to men.
Lastly, mention must be made of the great poets and writers of noble books, who by their exalted imagination and lofty thoughts, have developed the higher nature of mankind.