Hospitality

Hospitality is everywhere regarded as a virtue; but it is perhaps more common in the country than in the town. It is a common saying that in a big city like London, a man does not know even his next-door neighbor, and there is no place where one can feel as utterly lonely as among the millions of that huge city. The inhabitants of a large town would be astonished if a passing traveler, a complete stranger, came to their houses and demanded food and lodging from them. They would probably shut their doors in his face. But it is the commonest thing for villagers to welcome a passing stranger and give him freely food and shelter and entertainment, expecting nothing to return. This is not only because villagers are simpler and more unsophisticated than town-dwellers but because their lives are so lonely and monotonous that a visit from a stranger is a welcome event; and also because in the sparsely populated country-side there are, as a rule, no public inns or rest-houses where travelers can stay. So in the country, hospitality is looked on more as a duty than a virtue, the performance of which is a matter of pride.

The people of the East, especially in Arabia and parts of India, are noted for their hospitality. And among the people of the North-West Indian Frontier, the laws of hospitality are strictly observed; and even the most lawless raider will never rob or hunt a man who has eaten his salt, even though he is an enemy.

A great deal of hospitality is merely a matter of fashion, and is selfish in its spirit. People ask acquaintances to dinner, not because they want to do them a service but because it is “the thing to do” and because they hope to be asked back again in return. This is not the kind of hospitality which is a virtue; for that is unselfish and inspired by kindly feelings. So the Founder of Christianity taught his disciples to show hospitality only to the poor, who needed food, and who could not reward them for their kindness. While he sat at meal in the house of a rich Pharisee who had invited him to dine with him one day, he said to his host: “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors, lest haply they also bid thee again and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; because that have not wherewith to recompense thee.”

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