Imatges de pàgina
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mind which unfit them for the nurture and education of an industrious progeny, tend to place them in the character of parents.

How far the hunan mind and disposition may be expected to shew a family likeness, such as we usually see in personal features, is an old dispute: certain it is that we all recognize this opinion in ourselves, in wondering when we witness any striking instance to the contrary; but it is unnecessary to insist upon this, as the undoubted influence of daily example cannot but predispose the imitative mind of children to the industry or idleness which is daily before them. From this cause the community suffers severely, not only in the increase of poor-rates, but from the moral evil thus propagated even in a greater degree. But how much more severely does this perversion operate against those who are not idle and not improvident, who feel that marriage is a state of responsibility, and resist the impulses of their nature rather than be degraded from the honourable independence of mind which disdains to subsist upon any other exertion than its own! To such persons marriage is difficult and often impossible of attainment, and becomes so from the operation of these debasing laws, which cannot encourage idleness without discouraging industry: for, if parish rates are to be paid, wages must be equalized; that is, must be kept unnaturally low as regarding the active and the industrious, because persons of opposite character and their families are to be supported, however miserably, from the funds destined for the reward of labour. And this perhaps is the point of view in which the injustice of the poor laws becomes most evident; that they are not so much a tax on the rich to feed the poor, as a tax on the industrious labourer to feed the family of the idler, instead of adding to society children educated after his own example.

We say no more of the poor-rates as they affect the resources of the rich and the conduct of the poor: let us now touch upon the remedies which have been attempted, or which are at this time proposed.

By far the most numerous class of Poor-Law reformers have proposed in some shape or other what are now called workhouses; but which, in the beginning of the system, when work was really in contemplation, went under the less odious appellation of Houses of Maintenance, or Houses of Protection : they are now understood well enough by the poor as well as the rich to threaten no fatiguing employment, so that the name of workhouse is no longer avoided. Sir Josiah Child, about the year 1669, projected the formation of London and its suburbs into a province for this purpose, and published among his other discourses a well-considered plan to this effect, superior perhaps to any which has since appeared, as con

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tuining enough of severity and of authority over the dissolute pauper to have contined the poors-rate within its ancient limit. Nothing however was done at that time in furtherance of the scheme; and when the pressure of the war on the landed interest, in the reigns of King William and Queen Anne, had called the attention of Locke, Mandeville, and Defoe, (the most sagacious inen of the age,) to the nianagement of the poor, much more in the negative than in the affirmative seems to have been established; certainly nothing material was attempted by legislation until the 9 Geo. I. (A.D. 1723.) when parish officers were empowered to purchase or bire houses, and make contracts for the lodging, employing and keeping of poor persons.'

Thus encouraged, the poor house system came into great repute, and the expenditure of inany parishes seems at that time to have been lessened by the indirect effect of this expedient. In the middle of the last century the Vagrant Act passed, and the poor laws appear to have attracted very general attention; but the many schemes then afloat present little more than various modifications of the workhouse system. Some recommended whole counties to be incorporated for this purpose, others were satisfied with hundreds or districts of ten or fifteen parishes; and this last recommendation was largely carried into effect in Suffolk, one half of which county exhibits this form of management. From this time, Mr. Gilbert made himself conspicuous by his indefatigable attention to the poor laws. He, however, effected nothing, except that, after twenty years consumed in various efforts, he prevailed on parliament to pass an act which afforded an increased facility to the incorporation of parishes, in furtherance of the workhouse system. That system was thus introduced into a fourth part of the kingdom, and now therefore calls for such remarks as dear-bought experience and retrospect may supply.

It is not surprizing that all projectors should have recommended the workhouse system with so much unanimity, not only because an ardent mind cannot fail to be desirous of establishing a visible sign of its own activity, but because the love of power, and the circumstantial details of its exercise in the management of a crowd of paupers, is a direct motive for proposing this kind of reform. The patronage created by such schemes is also alluring; a builder is first to be employed, and a long train of governors, treasurers, masters and mistresses and tradesmen of all descriptions are to perpetuate the visionary empire of the great first mover of these inultiplied authorities and appointments. But, after all, what is sought to be enforced by any workhouse scheme but the renewal of slave-labour, of the Ergastula* of antiquity? And what change has ever taken Columella, lib, i.

place place for the benefit of mankind so striking as the emancipation of the greater portion of the human species without injury, nay, with the greatest benefit to the rest? Not only the slave-labour of an assemblage of paupers of all ages and conditions can never answer as a profitable speculation, but we know that the slave-labour of convicts in the hulks, men selected as fit for labour, cannot be brought to repay the expense of their maintenance. In fact, slavery is as inapplicable to the present state of Europe as it is odious in itself, and it has been gradually superseded by hired work, because that was found more profitable to the employer. And here again another beneficial distinction has arisen from modern activity; what was once universally labour by the day, is now done by task-work, as far as the nature of every employment admits; even in agriculture, to which task-work, generally speaking, seems inapplicable, every favourable occasion is taken for introducing it, and with no small benefit in those counties where the payment of labour being partly defrayed from the poor rates, active or meritorious labour had become absurd, and the day-labourer was gradually lessening his exertions. Indeed, had not the principles of task-work intervened with convincing proofs to the contrary, the powers of the human body might seem to have become effete in these latter times, daylabourers in husbandry having lessened their exertions and shortened their hours of labour very considerably within the memory of man. Of the three kinds of labour, we may say that slave-labour is performed with discontent, day-labour with indifference, and task-work with alacrity and pleasure; luckily for mankind, the debtor and creditor account of the employer shews a corresponding result.

Thus much in general. But in the workhouse system many other obstacles and hindrances peculiar to itself occur, which render the profit ridiculous and the loss enormous to all the parishes which have adopted it. How, then, it will be asked, do we find, after the experience of many years, that nearly one hundred thousand human beings are still shut up without apparent motive, each earning on an average the miserable pittance of sixpence a week, and costing above a shilling a day for maintenance? Whatever might have been the original motive for establishing workhouses, that of profit from the labour of the inmates, and of economy in their maintenance has long since ceased. “The way,' says Sir Frederick Eden,

See Poor Returns of 1803 : in the third column it appears that the expenditure in work houses was 1,016,4451; in the tenth column, that the number of persons then in work houses was 83,468, and in the ninth column that they earned in that year 71,079l. At sixpence per week per head, they would have earned 108,508l. which may be near the truth; as wliere the poor are farmed by the master of the work house, the value of the work done is unknown. The average cost of maintenance in workhouses was 121. 3s. 60. in 1803; add the increased price of food and house rent, and one sbilling per bead per day will appear a moderate estimate at the present time.

in which these workhouses on their first establishment effected a reduction in parochial expenditure, was by deterring the poor from making application for relief; many of the poor were thus spurred on to labour for a livelihood, who would not work as long as they were permitted to receive a weekly allowance from the parish.' Mr. Gilbert's act of 1782, (which was intended by its author as a temporary expedient,) afforded this unforeseen motive, as well as new facilities for the erection of workhouses, by empowering parishes to unite for that purpose; very few such unions took place, till recourse was had to it as a refuge from the authority of magistrates, who at that time, by an excessive and unthinking liberality in their orders for relief, threatened the tenantry of whole districts with ruin. Few things can be more unjust, nothing can be more dangerous, than to empower any man, or set of men, to exercise the popular and pleasant function of bountiful alms-giving at the expense of others. All the kind and social qualities of human nature were set in array against the cruelty of overseers, and for a certain period of time the persons who received parish relief fared much better than the generality of those from whom it was extorted. In consequence of this, money was borrowed by the latter to enable them, by building workhouses under Mr. Gilbert's act, to escape from the intolerable tyranny under which they laboured. This resource, however, is now cut off, and hundreds of parishes are burthened with a heavy debt, whose workhouses stand empty,--having indeed become useless from a cause which we would rather explain in the words of the Poor Law Committee than in our own. The workhouse system, though enacted with other views, yet for a long time acted very powerfully in deterring persons from throwing themselves on their parishes for relief; there were many who would struggle through their difficulties rather than undergo the discipline of a workhouse; this effect however is no longer produced in the game degree, as, by two modern statutes, the justices have power under certain conditions, to order relief to be given out of the workhouses.'

We shall not venture to go further into this topic than to make an observation which applies particularly to the subject of workhouses, and generally to that kind and degree of sensibility which is incompatible with the more essential feelings of justice. When those who live in superfluity, or even in decent competence, enter a workhouse or a cottage, they cannot avoid being struck with any thing which appears less comfortable or less neat than their own manner of living ; for being accustomed to see no other, this is the only evidence by which they can judge. Hence it is, that a workhouse which has been erected for that purpose, is usually the best house in the parish, and this not in country parishes only; the suburbs of the metropolis furnish numerous instances of this folly, though not so notorious as those which induced a foreigner to remark on the different appearance of our palaces and of our public hospitals. The building and furniture of a workhouse must be unusually mean, where the lodging of each pauper contined in it does not cost tive or six pounds per annum, in interest of money expended in building, and in furniture and in the repair of both. The food and raiment of a workhouse pauper, in 1803, averaged at 15l. per annum, so that above 201. is expended for the sake of contining a person, who, for a fourth part of that sum in weekly allowances, would gladly quit the place and obtain his liberty. Thus the useless, wretchedness of ove party is bought at the expense of the other; and the industry of a number of valuable men lost to the community in the odious occupation of guarding and managing these receptacles of vice and idleness.

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Our limits do not perinit us to enter into further details as to the prudential or moral * effects of workhouses, but as the sum expended in this manner amounts to a fourth part of the total expenditure on the poor, the subject deserves to be brought under the special consideration of the public.

We shall now proceed to sketch rapidly the several points which are insisted on in the Report of the Poor Law Committee, not only as it goes to the examination of the expedients, which, at the present time, are proposed for the reformation of these laws, but as it includes a most distinct enunciation of solid prineiples, without which the question cannot be rightly discussed; and if in our observations we should venture to doubt the espediency of certain suggestions which have obtained their approbation, or to propose any new principle of our own, we are confident that by such an enlightened committee we shall not be looked upon as impertinent intruders into their province, but as endeavouring to contribute to the general stock of information, and even of speculation, on a subject as difficult as it is necessary to be thoroughly understood.

The committee commence their Report by noticing the ancient statutes respecting the poor; nothing however beyond the repression of beggary, and the pauper police, necessary and common, no doubt, to all European states, appears anterior to the reign of Elizabeth. In her fifth year, (1563) a compulsory assessment for the relief of the poor commenced, and this well-intended law was regulated and enforced by successive enactments of the 14th, 18th, and 39th years of this queen’s reign, till, in her 43d year, (1601) the system was consummated by that statute which continues to this day the fundamental and operative law on the subject. * This new and important principle of compulsory provision for the This subject is treated in a masterly manner by Mr. Davison, pp. 48–56.

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