Imatges de pàgina
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consideration, and would decrease to a very insignificant number when the plan was once steadily adopted, and its effects became equally known to the magistrates and to the poor who apply for aid. Indeed it would be found that this severity (for so it would undoubtedly be called both by the poor, and by those whose morbid sensibility has extinguished the sense of justice') would scarcely ever be practised after it became a known and inexorable rule: but it would remain as a wholesome check upon all unreasonable demands, and at one stroke rectify all the disorders, moral and physical, that have been produced by the most mischievous of all human institutions which have been suffered to remain in practice during such a length of time as bas elapsed since the 43d of Elizabeth—for such the poor laws have been, well as they were intended.

In the first place, a very large proportion of the poor, who are now clamorous for aid from the parish, would cease to ask for it on the prescribed condition; they would rather choose to reform their own habits, and thus, by proof of amendment, obtain countenance from their employers, and thereby assistance, in a more agreeable form, if it were really necessary; but this very improvement of character would in most cases prevent such necessity. And those who were consigned to meagre fare would be, at the same time, dieted and tempted to reformation; they would be precluded in their new residence from those mischievous habits of pilfering which usually occupy the time of the profligate poor, and they would feel a double motive to escape from the listlessness of no employment, if the value of all the work which they might be encouraged to perform were carried to their account, payable to them on their dismissal from the work house; into which, after such entertainment, there would be little apprehension of their re-entry. For on their dismissal they would become fit subjects for the exercise of true benevolence; a much smaller quantity of industry than might entitle to the better kind of parochial assistance, nay, the very promise of amendment would procure means of immediate subsistence from those who hoped well of the repentant sinner, and a laudable intercourse of patronage and gratitude would invigorate natural good feelings, both in the giver and receiver of a benefit thus well timed.

This good effect would be immediate ; but of ten-fold efficacy would be the rise of wages, which could not fail to take place as the present practice of indiscriminate relief fell into disuse ; for although more work would be done as industrious babits became more and more common, more work would also be created. The agricultural labourers would feel of what importance the good-will of their employer was become, for recommending them to the parish

in case of need, or assisting them himself; and as he perceived their improved industry and increased zeal in his service, mutual attachment would be engendered by mutual interest. One consequence would be, that the employer would consider what improvements he could devise in which his willing labourers might be profitably, or at least not unprofitably, employed. Nor are we to suppose that he would come to this investigation of his own concerns with the same feelings as when it is required of bim to find work for men half paid from the parish-rates: this labour is badly executed, because it is heartless; it operates merely as a punishment to themselves, and perhaps is oftener expected so to operate than to the benefit of their employer. No man of a kindly disposition, and few men who understood their own interest, but would endeavour to attach to themselves the best labourers by good payment, and occasional assistance when obviously needed, and thus the relation of both parties to each other would be what it ought, and the character of both would be gradually exalted.

The difficult problem of checking vagrancy and mendicity would be solved when receptacles were every where open in which such strollers might be lodged, without too much expense to the parish where they were apprehended; and however inveterate their habits, they would soon be convinced that the enjoyments of a vagabond life were dearly purchased by the frequent intervention of a month of low diet, though at the expense of the parish-rate. Yet it should be observed that the laws against mendicity have been too severe ever since that of Henry VIII. imposed a fine of ten pence for every penny so bestowed; so rigorous indeed they are, that locomotion would almost be prohibited to honest poverty, if half the severity of the laws were enforced upon all who could be brought under the vague charge of vagrancy. To us it seems that the wayfaring man, often in search of employment, and usually pretending to be so, is a proper object of charity till he is detected in false pretences; and that it would be effecting a great improvement could any mode of discrimination, by certificate

magistrates, clergymen, or parish officers be devised, whereby the labourer and artizan might be indulged with such freedom of migration as to keep up the balance of the demand between the employer and the employed in the most equable manner. When we consider that the wife and family of a man must follow when he has gained a fair prospect of steady work in a new place, the permission, nay, the encouragement to travel, becomes obviously expedient, and herein the modification of the vagrant laws.

But the most immediate benefit arising from our proposed method of correcting the idle and dissolute would be, that it would deliver us from the odious spectacle of meanness and insolence in VOL. XVIII, NO. XXXV.

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unnatural

unnatural combination : the tone of demand for parish relief would always be sufficient reason for refusing it, and indeed would be symptomatic of a state of mind for which low diet would be the proper regimen. Not only those who have witnessed the insolence and threats of paupers in their demands, but those who have read the evidence given before the Poor Law Committees of the last session, will require no lengthened description of the exasperation and ill-blood which, from this single cause, exists in every parish, instead of the bond of mutual good-will, which ought to be stronger in proportion as human beings are in nearer contact and necessary to the welfare of each other in the reciprocal duties and offices of the employer and the employed. Magistrates, who are of necessity the referees in all such parochial disputes, would find the most disagreeable part of their duty disappear as if by enchantment, and even the Quarter Sessions would be exonerated of law-suits, in proportion as the settlement of a pauper in any parish might seem to entail so little expense and inconvenience as not to be worth a contest. Of how many evils should we be rid by this single measure of simple and salutary justice!

The number of those persons whom the law was designed to relieve, and who have both a moral and legal claim to public charity in the kindest acceptation of the word, will be greatly diminished hereafter when the Saving Banks (which are, indeed, a true sinking fund for the extinction of pauperism) shall be generally established. Some miserables however there always must be, on account of those misfortunes against which no buman prudence can provide, and those calamities which are the inheritance of human nature: and at present, disgraceful as the fact is, the lowest class of the labouring people have nothing better to look forwards to than parish relief when, in their own melancholy language, their work is done. This is neither as it should be, nor as it will be, when care is taken to train up the people in good principles and industrious habits, and when the means of husbanding the produce of their industry shall be universally afforded them. At this time we are feeling the effect of long deterioration on their part-itself the consequence of negligence in those whose duty it was long since to have provided that sound instruction, and those means which we, in our generation, are only now beginning to provide. The burthen, while it continues, must be borne, and it will be borne cheerfully when the due line of distinction is drawn. No person will repine at paying his assessment to the poor rates, when he sees that it is strictly applied to alleviate the inevitable evils of sickness, and to supply the industrious in old age with the few bodily comforts which age is capable of enjoying. This is what the law intends, wisely and religiously; this is what a charitable nation (and if ever

there

there was a charitable nation, it is this) desires to see most fully accomplished. But the abuse of this wholesome law niay well make the landholder repine at the frightful and ruinous increase of assessment which it occasions. He may well repine when the lusty spendthrift, who is both able to work and to find work, chooses, instead, insolently to claim a corrody upon the lands of the parish; when the unblushing harlot* comes, year after year, to demand maintenance for another bastard; and when it becomes a system for hinds and journeymen to marry before they have any means, or any reasonable prospect of means, for supporting a family, without any principle of independence, or any of that honest feeling by which the poorest Englishman used to be distinguished.

In a subject of this immense importance, it is especially desirable to have it well considered what the law may reasonably be expected to accomplish, and what things are beyond its jurisdiction. It is proposed by Mr. Davison, in his eloquent and able pamphlet, with regard to children the offspring of a marriage contracted subsequently to an amendment of the law, that from the date of that amended law no person should be entitled to any legal relief on their account.

* The simplest and the most equitable amendment,' he says, ' would be that which referred the entire charge of the offspring of such marriages to the care of the parents. The marriage so contracted would be wholly independent of any artificial inducement; the parents themselves would understand and appreciate their proper character; and in that character would pledge themselves to provide for their offspring upon the principles of a natural duty. The alleviation of the parochial burthens, and the redress of much abuse of the parochial law, under the effect of this one regulation, would be immediate, silent, and progressive. It would be a sinking fund created upon the existing evil. Another race, born and reared under happier auspices, would be springing up. The good habits and example of the parents, which they would not be able to sacrifice with impunity, would reckon both for themselves and for the propagation of a healthier feeling among others. Such parents and families would take the lead in helping to restore the deteriorated spirit, as well as condition, of their whole class in the community.'-p.119.

The committee also have suggested for the consideration of parliament, whether, when the demand for labour may have revived, it may not safely be provided, that from and after a certain time no relief shall be extended to any child whose father being living is under years of age--a principle which, by altering the age from time to time, might, if it should be thought desirable, be carried still farther into operation. It may also be

It is within our own knowledge that there were at one time, in a village work house, ihree wonien of this description, with seven children each, constant inmates.

provided, they add, with a similar view, that from and after a specified time no relief shall be provided for any child whose father, being living, has not above children under

years of age.

If ever there was a question which it was necessary for the legislature to touch with peculiar caution in all its branches, it is this tremendous question of the poor laws. The enactment which is here proposed could not be enforced; because, in the case of children, that principle of rigour, which should be proclaimed and acted upon toward the dissolute poor, is utterly inapplicable. A man who marries without other resource than the value of his own labour, and has a large family of young children, is absolutely unable to provide for them the food and raiment necessary for the support of human life.

It matters not what the parents may have been, or how they may have acted, however culpably improvident their marriage, however criminal their conduct, the children, when born into the world, are objects of human charity, of political and Christian care. The practicable part of this suggestion is included in the broad principle which affords low diet to those who cannot prove that their conduct has been such as entitles them to better; and those who engage rashly in marriage after the poor laws shall have been reformed, may properly be warned that they will be deemed to have committed imprudence with their eyes open, and will have less chance of favour. In the passage which we have already quoted, Mr. Davison has admirably described the renovated class of labourers which we may expect to see when the pride and principle of independence shall be re-established among them. He has, with equal philosophy and beauty, shewn in what manner a reliance upon the poor laws injures the labourer in his moral being, and deprives him of the best and highest enjoyments of human nature.

• One of the happiest appointments of life, is in the exercise of the domestic duties, upon the principle of a natural or a chosen affection. Out of this fountain of kindiy feeling, wbich flows from the rock of nature, comes much of man's happiness, and much of his virtue, without which indeed the happiness could not be. Among the poor especially, whose feelings and principles are more nurtured by the circumstances of life in which they are cast, than they ever can be by the artificial discipline of any cultivation, their home is the school of their sentiments, and their best enjoyment entwines itself round the care of their moral family obligations. To have really the charge of his family, as a husband and a father; to have the privilege of laying out his life upon their service, and of seeing them rest exclusively on his protection, is the poor man's boast, in the estimate of the mere relative conditions of life. He himself is all the better for having so grave a charge upon his hands. The wants of his family are his call to work; and no call sounds more piercingly, nor more gratefully, to an uncorrupted ear. There is

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