Imatges de pàgina
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of the legislature with more judicious aim at the gradual diminution and possible extinction of the poor rates.

Not that a golden age is to be expected, in which poverty and disease shall disappear : even when the mother evil, the poor rates, shall be removed, more, much more remains to be done, before we effect even that improvement in the general weal which assuredly is within our reach. But let this mother evil be with drawn, and it may fairly be expected that the particular and general charity put in action by the respectability of the poor will outrun the demands upon it; that the interested patronage of employers, the disinterested benevolence of the wealthy, the increase of hospitals and alms-houses, the rise of wages, and above all the general establishment of Saving Banks, will leave nothing to be done by means of compulsory contributions. It may reasonably be expected that a generous spirit of emulation will arise among the industrious poor in every parish, not to ask for aid, and among their employers to prevent the necessity of their so doing, whereby to be early in the list of those parishes in which the poor rates shall become obsolete, never to revive again. We hazard no prediction as to the progress or attainment of so happy a consummation; agreeing indeed with Mr. Davison, that a compulsory diminution of the amount of the poor's rate to be regulated by law is scarcely advisable: though it may be highly expedient that the comparative annual amount in every parish within the babitual juris. diction of every meeting of justices should always be before them, thereby to excite their vigilance and interference in the management of those parishes that shall be behind others in the reformation hereafter to be effected by means of those legislative evactments, which in some shape or other must certainly take place.

The proposed return to the expressed principle of the old law would be as beneficial to the meritorious poor, as it would prove medicinal to the lazzaroni—that class of paupers who come to the parish for relief, because they do not chuse to work, or because of the direct consequence of their own misconduct;—they who sing

Hang sorrow and cast away care,

The parish is bound to find us.' At present this numerous description of persons entertain a full persuasion that they have what they call a right to be maintained. The lax manner in which the poor laws have been administered has suffered this opinion to grow up and strike deep root. But be it remembered that both the spirit and the letter of the law provide relief for those only who are helpless as well as poor; and the remedy for the huge existing evil is nothing more than a strict and just adherence to this principle. For age and for childhood more should be done than has yet been provided; all that the spendthrift,

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the drunkard and the vagabond can expect is that they should be preserved from perishing by want. To put them in a better condition than that of the poorest labourer who earus his own subsistence is an act of direct injustice and a discouragement to meritorious poverty. When the poor-house supplies for such guests no better fare than they deserve, the table will soon cease to be crowded.

The principle which we have here sought to enforce will be found applicable beyond the important purpose of extinguishing the poor laws: we shall endeavour, on a proper occasion, to prove that it may hereafter become an effectual remedy of the abuses of the debtor and creditor laws. Another application of it, perhaps not less salutary, remains to be explained, and is the more appropriate to the general purpose of this essay, as remedial prospectively, and in some degree at present, of the burthen of county-rates. For it is an error to imagine that the poors' rate, although by its magnitude it hides all other parochial burthens, is itself the sole burthen. The county-rates have increased much faster in the last forty years; so that the money expended for other purposes than the maintenance of the poor is at present not less than two millions per annum, and of this the sum paid to the county-rates may be taken at a million a year. A great aggravation of this burthen has arisen from the erection of county jails and bridewells, to the amount perhaps of five millions sterling ;-even more when the relative value of money is considered, than in the same space of time was ever expended in cathedrals by our forefathers. . And this will be deemed a low estimate by those who have opportunity to know the expenditure of the several counties, or who have seen the fortresslike edifices, massive and ornamental, appropriated to this ill-omened purpose. For in building a jail, not only the expensive accommodations provided in work-houses are held to be necessary, but enormous strength and solidity of fabric becomes so, in proportion as moral means of securing the prisoner are neglected, and the ruder ones are held to be improper. A jail which shall be at the same time sufficiently commodious and secure can scarcely, we understand, be constructed at 3001. a head for the number of its intended tenants; and the establishment of jailors and turnkeys annually increases from the same cause. May we be permitted to ask, whether it is impossible to find other security better and cheaper than walls and guards? Is it impossible to divide prisoners into two classes, those who are willing, and those who are unwilling to put themselves upon trial? Suppose prison-breaking were made a substantive crime punishable by transportation for life, provided the prisoner had consented to that condition, the inmates of our jails would become far less troublesome. Those who were conscious

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of innocence or of respectability, or who designed to quit their evil habits when they should be liberated by course of law, would not fail to subscribe to the proposed conditions; and might thereupon be permitted to receive the visits of their friends, unrestrained by the odious, but now necessary preliminary of personal search, and to enjoy other indulgencies at the discretion of the visiting magistrates. Concerning the other class of prisoners, there could be little danger of mistake, and as little occasion for tender treatment; fetters and manacles might be used without scruple for securing men of violence so audacious as not to conceal their intention of endeavouring to escape from the justice of their injured country,

As to those who have been convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment as a punishment for their crimes, the course is yet more easy, it being in the power of the magistrates to regulate the duration according to the rigour; but it should be made a real punishment, however short the term, so that low diet and close continement might lead to reflection and repentance, and the unintelligible mixture of punishment and personal accommodation might henceforth be abrogated. The details must of course remain at the discretion of the visiting magistrates, who assisted by a law enabling them to class the criminals with due discrimination, would be able to form regulations at once advantageous to the prisoners and to the country: certainly they would not misapply generous diet and magnificent buildings for the encouragement of felons, who instead of dreading the prison as a place of punishment for their offences, now learn to look upon it as a place of residence where there are good accommodations and plenty of amusement. One excellent consequence at least would result from the short but severe confinement of offenders, that they would not be so likely to escape punishment in cases of conspiracy or riot, when the very number of delinquents, which has made the crime dangerous to society, prevents their punishment: the result of which is that the impunity of nine-tenths operates far more as an encouragement than the punishment of a few ringleaders does as a warning example; and thus men are emboldened to a repetition of the crime, knowing that the space and other indulgeneies allowed to prisoners render it too expensive, if not impossible, to carry the sentence of justice into effect where the criminals are numerous.

How far it is practicable to render imprisonment a means of reformation so as to produce the proper end of penance, we shall ere long examine on another occasion: here our object has been to explain and illustrate the efficacy of a principle, simple indeed, but of wide application. But if it should only be found capable of alleviating instead of abolishing the evils resulting from the poor laws, and of the enormous expense of prisons and of prisoners, no degree of labour for the attainment of such ends would be misapplied; nor could the community ever be called upon for their exertions to a better purpose. But in truth any machine which requires much attention must be constructed upon an injudicious principle, and is scarcely worth the expense of maintaining it in action. It is not for us to determine whether the principle for which we have contended be liable to this objection: the obvious objection to which it is liable will apply to any principle whatever upon which the poor laws may be reformed ;--and reformed they must be, or the alternative is ruin.

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Let us here be permitted to repeat our hope, that upon this subject, if it be possible, all party feelings may be suspended. There is something in our country peculiarly favourable to their growth, as animal poisons acquire a deadlier malignity under the torrid zone. But this is a question upon which all well-meaning men, to whatever class, order, or genus, in politics or religion, they may belong, can have but one interest and one wish. The legislature is called upon to relieve the landed property of the country from a burthen which it is no longer able to bear; and to raise the respectability of the lower classes, which beyond all doubt it is the tendency of the poor laws to destroy. As they are desirous that these objects, so essential to the very existence of the state, and to the welfare of all ranks, should be effected, we hope and trust that all well-meaning persons, (who are and ever must be, under institutions like those with which Great Britain is blest, the great majority of the people,)—we hope and trust that all such persons will consider the question separately from all considerations of party, and co-operate with their best endeavours. in carrying into effect a reform, which will in its consequences eradicate half the vice and misery in the land. For upon this subject, more than upon any other, it is easy to inflame the populace, and it would be absurd to endeavour to conceal from ourselves, that from causes not now to be enumerated, few countries were ever in a more inflammable state than England is at this time.

The insurrection, if so it may be termed, in the Isle of Ely ought to be beld in perpetual remembrance by those who have to legislate in any affairs connected with the situation or feelings of the multitude. No place in England can be more remote from the factiousness and profligacy supposed to be characteristic of a manufacturing district. A more quiet and secluded spot is not to be found in the whole kingdom; the city itself, islanded formerly by water and now by marshes, is but a small market town where the wants of the neighbouring villages are supplied, and is, in fact, a peculiar jurisdiction of the bishop who resides there, and who usually preaches on the Sunday in the cathedral, (one of the most venerable of all those veuerable edifices, the congregations of all the parish churches repairing thither to hear him preach after their own prayers are finished. In this neighbourhood, which seems to be the very place where an insurrection was least to be expected, a set of countrymen, meeting at an alehouse, and drinking to excess wbile they talked over the scarcity, the hardness of the times, and the measures of government as they were represented by the weekly journals, whose poison they sucked in with their liquor, broke out into a riot; it began thus casually, but it found such ready imitation, that a large proportion of the villagers round about Ely enlisted in the cause, and marched against that city to pillage and destroy. The mischief which they had begun was quelled, as is well known, by the exertions of a reverend magistrate, whose prudence and courage would not always find imitators in like cases. When the rioters were tried they were found to be without motive and without meaning. They had been taught that the government of the country, and the administration of justice, were equally weak and contemptible, and they had proceeded to carry into practice the lessons of men who, perhaps, had little further object in vending their weekly doses of sedition than that of gaining a miserable livelihood. To such insurrections every place in England is at least as liable as Ely; and the incendiary spirit must not be forgotten which manifested itself, about the same time, in the neighbouring counties against the barns and corn of those farmers who were unpopular among the poor.

If, therefore, the poor laws are to be reformed under the sanction of the legislature, all payers of poor rates must resolve to combine in mutual safeguard. Reformed these laws must be; they cannot be reformed without exciting a struggle between the destructive and conservative principles in society, the evil and the good, the profligate against the respectable; and too many are the advantages of the former in the contest. Fraud and violence are means which can readily be used, and seldom can be punished-that is, they can only be punished when the offence is brought home against one, perhaps, in a thousand, and not even then unless the jury are men who regard their duty and their oath more than their party opinions, or the fear of the multitude. If the first of these motives prevail, farewell to justice! if the second be suffered to predominate, farewell to peace, and order, and liberty, and all that renders life secure or desirable!

But besides the wicked, who are ready to join in any mischief, and besides the large portion of the population who would be persuaded by evil counsellors that they are aggrieved by any reform of the poor laws, faction and sedition have many natural allies, who would be called into action upon so promising an opportunity of resisting the laws and disturbing the regular course of society.

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