Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

music in it, with all its sharpness. But the breath of the parochial law tarnishes the colouring of this family-picture of cheerful native virtue. It flings another atmosphere upon it. By exonerating him from the sole charge of his offspring, it abrogates the father's proper character. It makes him begin to think them an incumbrance, from which he ought to be discharged. It means, indeed, to do no more than take off from him the load of their support; but it does take off the pressure of much sacred obligation. It makes him and them less intimately pledged to each other; less dear to each other. It sows thistles among the flowers. And is he the happier for this substituted relief proffered to him, almost imposed upon him, by a fixed practice? Suppose he has yielded to the temptations of its convenience, so far as to accept it without repugnance, he retains neither the same solid claims upon the gratitude of his children for an undivided care of them ; nor can they look up to his example with reverence, nor feel the same force of filial piety, expanding into a great motive of future reciprocating duty. In the country especially, the family ties have been nearly burst asunder by the artificial adoption which the law has made of the children. It has made parents, children, and brothers hardly know themselves to be such. The interposition for their necessities has disbanded their affections.'-pp.67–69.

But the poor laws have done more and worse than this: they have positively created parents, children, and brothers, who never expected or intended to feel the otherwise universal ties of family affection and consanguinity. For marriage is become in many instances the well calculated method of extorting relief from the parish ; aud the birth of a second or third child is hailed as giving a new claim no longer to be resisted, whatever be the insolence, or laziness, or profligacy of the applicant. Such marriages, indeed, as well as those enforced by parish-officers in cases of bastardy, might well be spared; and for some years a decrease of marriage would be the effect of any kind of judicious discouragement. Nor do we perceive any inconvenience in this, not having adopted the modern philosophy, which asserts the supremacy of lust, or the inefficacy of moral obligation to resist its impulse--a philosophy which degrades intellectual man to the level of the beasts which perish; but which is as false as it is degrading.

Age and infirmity require as much commiseration as childhood; and the aged and impotent poor are not so numerous but that an increase may be made to their allowance; the parish expenses will be so much diminished by the strict justice to be adopted toward the idle and dissolute, that this may properly be afforded. The wornout labourer who has done his duty in his station ought not to be left without any of those comforts to which that station is accustomed; he should be maintained in a degree of comfort only short of that which is enjoyed by those who solace themselves in their declining years from the stores accumulated by their own industry and economy. This comparative limitation must never on any occasion TS

be

be forgotten ; but until the poor laws shall have ceased their baleful influence for some length of time, until the price of labour shall have been higher for a period of years, and the opportunity of a Saving Bank within the reach of every one, the difference ought in justice to be little more than honorary: strictness might be introduced by degrees, as it became more and more proper to mark those who shall have neglected to avail themselves of the means of independence which will then have been afforded to all. It is not desirable that the deserving poor should be collected in workhouses ; the allowance ought to be such as might induce some neighbours of their own class to take care of them, where there were no relations upon whom it would naturally devolve. There is no reason here, as in the case of children, for interfering in any degree with the natural charities, which are the very cement of society: for those who have grown old in singleness, or who have out-lived all their nearest relatives, a poor-house, appropriated (as before described) to that purpose only, might be made a respectable and more than decent retreat. They ought never to be confounded with the dissolute and the guilty, made to associate with those wbom in their own liberty they would have shunned, condemned to be chamber and table-fellows with the harlot and the drunkard, and exposed to the noise and nuisance of unfathered children, who are growing up in habits as wretched and immoral as those of their parents before them. This is indeed to confound infirmity with guilt, and this must be the picture of a promiscuous work house.* The good conduct of the poor would naturally, in process

of time, cause a renewal of the ancient fashion of charitable bequests and foundations for the aged and meritorious; and as the whole body of the industrious poor increased in respectability, the good influence so created would be extensive in proportion. It is difficult to understand the uncharitable policy which, long after all danger of immoderate bequests had ceased, has strengthened the prohibitions of the statutes against mortmain; and certain it is, that were full license now conceded, many years must pass away before the quantity of such property liberated by Mr. Pitt's redemption of the land

• Workhouses,' says Mr. Vivian in his evidence before the Committee, 'act two ways, one a little good and one a very great evil; the little good is that they act as gaols to terrify the people from coming to the parish ; the evil is that when they are there, however loath they were to get there, they soon become used to it, and never get out again. You conceive it corrupts the morals of the people ?--Certainly. Should not you thiok work houses, which should be considered as hospitals for the aged, and schools for the young, beneficial to the individuals and economical to the parish ?--Certainly not; as schools for the young, nothing can be more shocking, except the gaol ; and as for the old, they are more comfortable in hard times in private houses with their relations and friends.' Paupers who apply for relief to the magistrates, and are asked why they did not stay in the work house, have sometimes replied, "It is so full of vermin, and there are such indecencies ---and I have been used to live better, and cannot bear it.' Report on the State of Mendicity.

tas

tax would be replaced. Whether the landed property now in mortmain be deemed exactly the proper quantity, or whether any quantity is by some politicians deemed too much, we know not; but the permission which is desirable for future good purposes need not be too broad, because the public funds and the contingent depreciation of money do not present objections so practically formidable as the too frequent alienation of charity lands by the misconduct of trustees. But land enough for the site of buildings and for gardens, or to a certain proportion of the whole annual value of a bequest, ought not to be precluded from the purposes of charity. The visible effects and comforts of well regulated alms-houses (life-hold tenements for the veteran labourer) would not fail to produce imitation and emulation among large proprietors, who, when they established such rewards for rustic virtue, would have for their own recompense a satisfaction beyond all price. Properly situated, the old would become the instructors of the rising generation and examples of rewarded merit, with the comfort of being in this manner useful to society to the last moments of their existence. Such institutions would in their very nature carry with them a certain degree of religious respectability. The euthanasy of the ancients is only a name with us: it was enjoyed as the natural termination of life in that patriarchal, or

golden age, When as the world was in its pupillage ;' now, in the physical meaning of the word, it scarcely falls to the lot of one person in a generation. The entail of the blessing has been cut off by our climate, still more perhaps by our constitutions, which in all of us are tainted, more or less, with some hereditary predisposition to disease, modified by unwholesome habits, and sapped not only by natural but by artificial anxieties, wherewith, as one of our early poets says,

• We furnish feathers for the wings of death.' We have however in our choice a better and nobler euthanasy, known to the patriarchs who fell asleep in the Lord,' but of which the Greeks were ignorant; and the preparation for this makes, old age not merely endurable, with all its infirmities and privations, with what it takes away, and, as is so feelingly said by Wordsworth,

with what it leaves behind;' but even gives it a delight hardly to be obtained in youth and robust life, when the passions and pursuits of the world have their full hold upon the heart. The calm of a religious old age is to the enjoyments of mid-life, what the sunset and twilight of a summer evening are to the heat of the noon-day. Of all charities the most efficient and the most fertile in good fruits is that which provides for the spiritual necessities of a rational and immortal being; of all possessions that of an assured faith the T4

most

most inestimable. And let it not be supposed that there is an inaptitude for religious feelings in the great mass of mankind; man is characteristically and emphatically a religious creature. Instruction and sympathy are what he needs : but devotion is the appetite of his soul, the instinct of his immortal part. Like other instincts and appetites, it is liable to be perverted and abused; but even when misdirected, its universal existence is proved by the universality of superstition among the uninstructed and ill-instructed part of mankind. Old age bent down with infirmities, and still rooted and clinging to the earth into which it must so soon be huddled up, is indeed a humiliating and mournful spectacle: far otherwise is it when we behold the spiritual part triumphant over mortality, ready to break its shell, and take wing for heaven!

When the French ambassador at the court of James I. inquired what books had been published by Archbishop Whitgift, and was told incidentally that he had founded an hospital and a school, he made answer-profectò hospitale, ad sublevandam paupertatem, et schola, ad instruendam juventutem, sunt optimi libri quos archiepiscopus conscribere potuit-Surely an hospital to sustain the poor, and a school to train up youth, are the worthiest books that an archbishop could set forth – The increase of such foundations may be expected as one natural consequence of increased respectability on the part of the poor, and of that reciprocal good feeling between the poor and the rich which the present system tends directly to destroy.

In the simple remedy for the complicated evils of that system which we have ventured to propose, and which resolves itself into low diet for those who deserve no better, we should have less confidence were there no example of any great benefit achieved by means which seem obvious after they are in general use, but which yet have long remained unknown or unapplied. Such an example however we have, recent, of the most conspicuous kind, and relating to the very same difficulty which we are endeavouring to remove. Need it be said that the Saving Banks are here alluded to :-institutions which will create frugal habits as well as encourage them. Opportunity may be expected to make economists, not perhaps as often as it makes a spendthrift, but more readily than it makes a thief, although it be proverbially noted for teaching larceny.

• The grand object,” says Mr. Colquhoun in his evidence before the Committee upon Mendicity, ‘is to prop up poverty, and to prevent persons falling into indigence. Indigence is a state wherein a person is unable to maintain himself by his labour;—poverty is that state where a man's manual labour supports him, but no more.

But I conceive the Provident Banks would give the community at large, what would be most invaluable in society, provident habits;—that the pride of having money in the bank, and the advantage arising from having their interest,

would

would induce many persons to put in small sums which they would otherwise spend. This has been found to be the practical effect, and a very slight knowledge of human nature will shew that when a man gets on a little in the world, he is desirous of getting on a little farther.'

So certain indeed is the growth of provident habits, that it has been said if a journeyman lays by the first five shillings, his fortune is made. Mr. William Hales, one of those persons who have bestowed most attention upon the state of the labouring classes, and exerted themselves most for their benefit, declares that he never knew an instance of any one coming to the parish who had ever

saved money

'Those individuals,' he says, 'who.save money are better workmen; if they do not do the work better, they behave better, and are more respectable; and I would rather have a hundred men who save money, in my trade, than two hundred who would spend every shilling they got. In proportion as individuals save a little money, their morals are much better,-they husband that little,—there is a superior tone given to their morals, and they behave better from knowing they have a little stake in society.

* Archimedes,' says Sir Henry Wotton,' was wont to say, “that he would remove the world out of its place, if he had elsewhere to set his foot.” And truly I believe so far, that otherwise he could not do it. I am sure so much is evident in the architecture of fortunes, in the raising of which the best art or endeavour is able to do nothing, if it have not where to lay the first stone.”—This it is which is given by the Saving Banks.

The encouragement given to Saving Banks by the act of the last session shews the high opinion in which they are held by the legislature, and we hope was not excessive nor injudicious, though the attempt to connect these banks with the poor rates might well excite serious apprehensions, important as it is to preserve with the greatest care an entire separation of the sound and the unsound, and to foster the rising efforts at respectability and independence on the part of the industrious poor, in contradistinction and opposition to the poor-relief system. This error, we rejoiced to see, , was strenuously resisted, and with success; and thence it may be hoped that intentional kindness towards the poor will hereafter be received with more caution than heretofore; and that the state of a parish pauper shall not be deemed honourable, as might be inferred from the act of 1808 abolishing parish badges, whiclı, though they were out of use, ought always to have distinguished those who would not, or could not maintain themselves. The legislation which from time to time has taken place regarding workhouses and friendly societies, is at least of very questionable utility; and the public may be congratulated upon the feeling now aroused, and the knowledge lately developed, which will direct the future attention

of

« AnteriorContinua »