Mock Generosity: A Brief History of Satirising Philanthropy

“So vice is beneficial found,

When it’s by justice loopt and bound,

As necessary to the State,

As hunger is to make ’em eat”.

The charity collector scene from the 2009 film version of A Christmas Carol
Pughe, J. S. (1901) “The Crabbed Millionaire’s Puzzle”, Puck Magazine

BANKER: Well, I’m awfully sorry I don’t understand. Can you just explain exactly what you want?

MR FORD: Well, I want you to give me a pound, and then I go away and give it to the orphans.


MR FORD: Well, that’s it.

BANKER: No, no, no, I don’t follow this at all, I mean, I don’t want to seem stupid but it looks to me as though I’m a pound down on the whole deal.

MR FORD: Well, yes you are.

BANKER: I am! Well, what is my incentive to give you the pound?

MR FORD: Well the incentive is to make the orphans happy.

BANKER: (genuinely puzzled) Happy? You quite sure you’ve got this right?

Monty Python’s Merchant Banker sketch
An edition of the Liverpool Porcupine

“Indeed, it was one of his greatest charms for the climbing middle classes that he “had a provokingly quick eye for the faults of his own party, and a puckish delight in placing these in odious and ridiculous light” which frequently resulted in the public embarrassment of leading men. But the satire and the rough wit were inspired by a passionate conviction that the improvement of the condition of the poor was a public responsibility which it was his purpose to shock the better-off into accepting. This by vigorous and provocative exhortation, by rude indifference to the feelings of individuals, by remorseless attack upon bodies public and private, he succeeded in doing to a remarkable extent, as much by his infinite care in collecting his facts as by his recklessness in delivering the subsequent blow.”

Ehrhardt, S. (1903) “A Word to Grand Stand Specialists”, Puck Magazine.
Extract from Jerome K. Jerome’s “The Angel & The Author”
Mike “Smashie” Smash, as played by Paul Whitehouse
Clip from “The Anonymous Donor” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm
Extract from W. S. Gilbert’s “The Disagreeable Man”
Illustration of Mrs Pardiggle and family, illustration by Fred Barnard in the Household Edition (1873)
Keppler, J. (1914) “Faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is tango”, Puck Magazine,

“It has been discovered that mankind at large can only be regenerated by a Tee-total society, or by a Peace Society, or by always dining on Vegetables. It is to be particularly remarked that either of these certain means of regeneration is utterly defeated, is so much as a hair’s-breadth of the tip of either ear of that particular Pig be left out of the bargain.”

Wales, J. A. (1881), “The gentler sex — charity for the drunken brother, contempt for the unfortunate sister”, Puck Magazine.
Leech, J. (1843) “Substance and Shadow”, Punch; Or, The London Charivari
Cruikshank, G. (1848) “The Universal Philanthropist”
Pughe, J. S. (1900) “A Christmas sermon” Puck Magazine.

“Here is something for you generous millionaires to think about, when you are endowing schools, colleges and libraries. A chance to learn is good, but a chance to live is better. Your present plan gives more to those that already have much.

Suppose you try giving something to those that have less than nothing. Provide necessities for the poor rather than luxuries for the rich. It is better to give these many thousands a chance to live clean, decent, moral lives than to give a few hundred sons of well-to-do parents a college education. While these horrible conditions exist one model tenement will do more real good than a dozen colleges.

You mean well. Try to do as well as you mean.”

Keppler, U. J. (1901) “A Christmas reminder”, Puck Magazine.
Tenniel, J. (1865) “Telescopic Philanthropy”, Punch, or the London Charivari

First, stern PHILANTHROPY :-not she, who dries

The orphan’s tears, and wipes the widow’s eyes;

Not she, who sainted Charity her guide,

Of British bounty pours the annual tide :

But French PHILANTHROPY ; — whose boundless mind

Glows with the general love of all mankind;

PHILANTHROPY, — — beneath whose baneful sway

Each patriot passion sinks, and dies away.

Taught in her school to imbibe thy mawkish strain,

CONDORCET, filtered through the dregs of PAINE,

Each pert adept disowns a Briton’s part,

And plucks the name of ENGLAND from his heart.

Gillray, J. (1798) “New morality;or the promis’d installment of the high-priest of the Theophilanthropes, with the homage of Leviathan and his suite”.
Keppler, U.J. (1905) “The gospel according to “St. John”. Puck Magazine.
Rowlandson, T. (1781) “Charity Covereth a Multitude of Sins”.

“Philanthropy, as far as I can see, is rapidly becoming the recognisable mark of a wicked man. We have ofen sneered at the superstition and cowardice of the mediæval barons who thought that giving lands to the Church would wipe out the memory of their raids or robberies; but modern capitalists seem to have exactly the same notion; with this not unimportant addition, that in the case of the capitalists the memory of the robberies is really wiped out. This, after all, seems to be the chief difference between the monks who took land and gave pardons and the charity organisers who take money and give praise; the difference is that the monks wrote down in their books and chronicles, “Received three hundred acres from a bad baron”; whereas the modern experts and editors record the three hundred acres and call him a good Baron.”

Keppler, J. (1881) “The Two Philanthropists” Puck Magazine.
Ehrhardt, S. (1905) “Puck’s Inventions” Puck Magazine.
Keppler, U. J. (1911) “A phase of our tax system — the greater the service, the heavier the tax”. Puck Magazine.
Ehrhardt, S. (1897) “The popular tendency to rail at wealth is not entirely justified”. Puck Magazine.




Rhodri Davies is a unrepentant philanthro-nerd, who likes to look at giving from as many angles as possible.

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Rhodri Davies is a unrepentant philanthro-nerd, who likes to look at giving from as many angles as possible.

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