Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]

comprehend that to which it strongly and habitually applies itself: the third frees it from the narrow interests of the passing moment, and enables it to form just, and enlarged views of truth, and duty. These means, to produce their full effect, must be so adapted to the nature, and identified with the interest of the individual, as to command his attention, and engage his affections.

WHATEVER may exalt individual character is of the highest importance, both in a political, and a religious point of view;-a political; because the character of nations, societies, and families, depends upon that of individuals, as buildings upon their materials;-a reli- Religion combines all these in the highest. gious; because God has given us a capacity degree. Its interest begins with Time itself, for unlimited intellectual and moral improve- and extends through Eternity: its objects are ment, which, if we neglect, we are false to our infinite: it offers the example, not only of the duty, and interest. The great object of our best and greatest men who have ever lived, present existence is to become wiser, and bet- | but also of God himself in our nature, when ter; and, using the term "wisdom" in its He condescended for our redemption to mahighest and true sense, the two are insepara-nifest himself on earth: it appeals to every ble. Whatever debases the understanding man's bosom by the highest obligations of tends to corrupt the heart: whatever exalts duty, gratitude, and love; and by the strongit, gives additional strength to virtue: for vice est motives which hope and fear can supply. is essentially mean, and it must be an added Thus it counteracts the influence, and frees us safeguard, when the mind despises what the from the corruption of our fallen nature, which conscience condemns. has made us prone to surrender ourselves to the dominion of sense, and to pursue hurtful and debasing objects.

The means whereby we may improve ourselves, in addition to the due performance of our daily duties, are found in the habitual contemplation of greatness, as it exists in superior character-in great objects-and in extended periods of time. By the first, the mind is raised above the influence of low motives, and animated with a just desire to excel by the second, it becomes elevated and expanded, through its natural tendency to

Since, therefore, our character and interests, both for this, and the next world, are connected with our improvement as reasonable and accountable beings, we ought to take care that all our public institutions shall be such, as to counteract every downward tendency: and that all things connected with government, and with general, and religious



instruction, shall accord with the elevating their caprice. influence of religion.

The first, and most obvious consideration, is the view to be taken of the dignity and authority of those, who are set on high as governors, both in civil, and spiritual things. As they have a direct relation to every man, in his public, and in many of his private duties, and are placed to be observed of all, the estimate taken of their office must greatly influence individual character, because it is practically identified with habitual thoughts and feelings.

The Church, and Dissent, take entirely opposite views of government, and obedience: it is, in fact, their first great difference, out of which all others proceed; the Church regarding government as of divine appointment, and obedience as an obligation of conscience; Dissent contending that government derives its authority from the people, and that obedience rests upon public expediency.

This is not the place to reason on the truth of these opinions; but only to consider the effect they are calculated to produce on their respective followers. Thus reasoning, that must be allowed to be the more sublime idea, which not only invests the sovereign with every thing that is most glorious and exalted of earthly majesty and power, but sees also in him God's appointed representative on earth, by whom He chiefly executes his purposes

towards the nation. We therefore honour and obey him as our ruler, and love him as our protector and father and if we are so happy as to be blest with a king, like our good George III., who not only thus represents the divine authority in his office, but displays also God's moral image in his piety, we have the most exalted idea of greatness that the world can afford. The thoughts, and feelings, which the contemplation of such majesty is calculated to awaken in his faithful and affectionate subjects, are the most elevating, and pure, that we can possibly form of any thing on earth.

A dignity created by, and

dependent upon themselves, cannot excite very elevated ideas; a principle which admits all the elements of party and faction, cannot be favorable to pure feelings.

But ours, it will be said, is a principle of slavery; theirs, of liberty! Let facts decide who is the slave and the oppressor, for the Who is a two characters are always in one. despot when in power, but the liberal? Who trample on the poor, but the champions of of the Rights of Man?" I have known many these noisy sticklers for liberty in my time," said Goldsmith," but never one who was not in his heart and in his family a tyrant." Or, to appeal to present examples, who are now the slaves? they, who with feigned alacrity, and bitter reluctance, drag the triumphal car of the demagogue who reviled them; or the gentlemen of England, who scorn them with scorn unutterable for their subserviency? Who are the tyrants? they, who changed our great national charity, the Poor Laws, into an engine of grinding oppression; or the magistrates, who are deprived of their former power, because their known disposition to protect the poor marked them as unfit instruments to carry into effect its unfeeling enactments ?*

* I had completed, with a view to publication, a small Treatise on the "Administration and Improvement of the Poor Laws;" when the Poor Law Commission was first appointed. I sent the MS. to the Commissioners, thinking it would be more useful in their hands, than if published as I at first intended: and it is printed in the Appendix to their Report. The leading principles there laid down for improving the law, were, the general enforcement

of the workhouse system; and the establishment of a central authority, in connexion with the Government. I claim no credit for having indicated the principles upon which the new Poor Law is founded; for every man practically acquainted with the subject, must have come to the same conclusion: and I entirely protest against the details of the present system; for nothing can be more unlike the workhouses I had described, than its union gaols: or the

"Central Board."

From this pinnacle of glory and greatness, central authority I had recommended, than the down to the delegate of the sovereign people, is a descent indeed. It is idolatry, as contrasted with the true religion; an image of clay, set up by a besotted multitude, to be worshipped in their folly, and dashed down in

The great evil of the old system was, that no man, whether magistrate or relieving officer, whatever his experience, could determine with certainty from his own inquiries and observation, whether the alleged

As the nations who cast off the knowledge | brutal vices, so they, who revolt at that auand fear of God, sunk, notwithstanding their thority which God has appointed to represent eminence in science, till they worshipped the his own, prove the debasing influence of their vilest animals, and made deities of the most principles by the character of their political

distress was real or fictitious; and supposing it real, whether the applicant himself could not relieve it by due exertion. The knowledge that the idle and worthless continually succeeded in imposing upon the parish, created habitual suspicion in the minds of parish officers, from which the deserving poor suffered, by the undue harshness with which they were examined, and the inadequate relief they received. The bad effects were, extravagance, because numbers of the undeserving were successful claimants;—and cruelty, for the really necessitous were not relieved as they ought to be; to which should be added, the demoralizing influence of a system which encouraged idleness and fraud.

The only means by which to secure the parish against imposition, to avoid the necessity for harshness of language or manner to any applicant, and to afford due relief to the deserving poor, was to introduce a self-regulating system; founded upon the principle of giving adequate assistance to the really destitute, but in a form under which none but the really destitute would accept it.

The great essential to such a system is a workhouse, under proper regulations and authority; affording suitable comfort to the aged and helpless, due care and education for the young, and work for all who are able: in which every safe indulgence should be allowed; that is, all that is compatible with such discipline as may effectually repel the idle and the disorderly.

Parishes with a small population do not require a workhouse so large as to warrant the expense of a master or mistress. Such, therefore, must be united with one or more neighbouring parishes: but these unions should not be larger than is required to secure proper discipline. The quiet upon which the comfort of the aged so much depends, is scarcely to be obtained in a very large establishment: it is a serious evil to remove the poor to such a distance from their friends, as to deprive them of all those little attentions and presents they would receive if near them: and the strict unyielding discipline necessary to preserve order in a multitude, is incompatible with the discriminating indulgence which good character and good conduct are entitled to. These are all the earthly comforts which remain to the aged inmate of a workhouse, and it is cruel and wicked to inflict needless suffering upon the aged and poor.

In all our reasoning and legislating on the Poor Laws, it is to be borne in mind that they are a charity. Whatever approaches to cruelty is

therefore inconsistent with their first principle. We are to enforce that strict discipline which repels the worthless, that we may be able the more freely to shew kindness to the deserving.

A properly regulated workhouse repels the idler, because he must there work; the disorderly, because he must submit to restraints: the vicious, because he is cut off from his indulgences: even the most deserving will avoid it as long as they can; because it implies a descent in the social scale, and a surrender of independence and free agency, of which none are more tenacious than the creditable poor. The full attainment of all these objects is quite compatible with kindness, comfort, and indulgence.

Thus, with respect to married couples, who in a properly regulated house will, with rare exceptions, be confined to the aged, it is true that a separate chamber could not be afforded to each; but nothing would be more easy than to separate, and enclose, the beds in a large room, like the cabins in a packet vessel; by which there would be no loss of space, decent seclusion would be afforded, and the feelings of the poor respected. But it seems that so strict is the order to separate all married couples, that a wife could not obtain permission to nurse her sick husband without express leave from the central board!! I would rather be the victim of such monstrous cruelty, than the poor law commissioner to inflict it. The creation of such a commission seems to accord with the process by which, in Lord Byron's "Deformed Transformed," the devil makes a man— "His heart be this marble I tear from the rock."

The rule of relief undoubtedly should be that all permanent poor should be taken into the house: but to this there are exceptions. A new-made widow may properly be encouraged and assisted for a time, while she has a prospect of supporting herself by her own exertions. The mother of four or five children, whose various earnings united may support the whole, should receive such aid as would enable her, with their earnings, to secure for them a comfortable and united home. Other proper exceptions might be cited; and of all these, the magistrates acting for the district would be the best judges. The magistrates also, should be visitors to the workhouses, as to the county lunatic asylums; and the parish clergyman should direct the religious instruction of the inmates. When all paupers were relieved with money, the magistrates, indeed, would err continually by ordering relief to the unworthy; for the most experienced parish officers, without the test of a workhouse, would be continually deceived;

idols. Thus, with idolatry baser than that of Egypt, the slanderers of George III. bow down before a factious mendicant; and whig-radical Peers bring their homage and their offerings

this power, therefore, could not safely be committed to them. But the object now is, to carry a system into effect, with order, and humanity; and to determine what cases of undoubted want, should, from peculiar circumstances, be exempted from it. For this, the magistrates are not only the best, but the only proper persons. It is an insult to the understanding of the public, to affirm that an independent gentleman of education and character, living on the spot, and well acquainted with all the circumstances connected with the place and the people, is incompetent to judge, of what an assistant commissioner may decide off-hand at a flying visit, or the commissioners at Somerset-place determine upon hear


to one, whose avowed object is to trample their coronets in the dust.

The principles of government upon which a constitutional monarchy rests, are identical

accompanied them, partly to see how such a family would be provided for. The eldest child was old enough to work, and the second might liberate the mother, by taking charge of the two youngest. The man, therefore, was offered the parish work, until he could get better; he was told that he might send his third and fourth children into the house, and a trifle was given him for his present wants. In a day or two he found employment; he never sent his children, and never became chargeable again. Had they been all taken into the house at once, (and being strangers, with no other resource, they must have come in,) they would probably have remained there permanently, at an expense to the parish of 50l. a year.

but not her children, was actually sent to gaol because she refused to come into the workhouse with them. If anything could equal the wickedness and tyranny of such a step, it would be its impolicy. While the mother continued to support herself out of the house, there was a means of introducing her children, the girls to service, the boys to work, as independent poor, instead of parish apprentices; for as they grew old enough to do something for themselves, and to be useful to her, she would naturally take them out.

But the object of the Poor Laws is not merely to A recent petition to parliament states a fact, support those who must be permanently, and entirely which if it were not so authenticated, would be increpensioners upon the public, and who, with few ex-dible-that a widow, who could support herself, ceptions, should be taken into the house, but also, to give temporary help to those who are suffering from temporary difficulties, thus enabling them to preserve their independence. When labourers, from no fault of their own, are out of work, and which must continually happen, from seasons, or stagnation of particular employments, it is monstrous to say that they shall starve, or go to prison: for the new workhouses are in fact prisons. They ought to be supplied with task work, by which they may earn from half to two-thirds of a week's wages, thus giving them time to look for better employment; which the low rate at which they are paid for what they do, and the scanty amount of the utmost earnings allowed by the parish, would make them anxious to obtain.

Why should labourers, with a large and helpless family beyond their power to support, be compelled to become paupers altogether; instead of being relieved of a part of their burden, by taking one or more into the house? Even economy dictates the latter plan, for nothing but extreme necessity will induce the poor thus to part with a child. Out of sixty children in a house which I visited daily for some years, I do not think there were at any time ten who were thus admitted, though scarcely a week passed in which relief was not offered in this form. Nearly all in the house were orphans, or illegiti


I remember a case where a man, his wife, and six children, who had long been almost entirely chargeable to the parish of Merthyr Tydvil, were found to have their settlement at Swansea, and were removed accordingly. One of the overseers of Merthyr

The plea offered for the New Poor Law is the saving it has effected. Part of this is deceptive, owing to the discontinuance of the former scandalous practice which prevailed in many places, of paying labourers from the poor-rates: but, undoubtedly, a very great saving will be the consequence of introducing the workhouse system generally, probably one-half, at least. But this will be the case where discipline is tempered with the utmost humanity. In Swansea, with a rental of less than 25,000l., for a population of 14,000, the poor-rates were so low, that if the same proportion could be applied to the whole kingdom, they would be less than three millions a year. The poor were liberally relieved and kindly treated, indeed I do not recollect an applicant to have been addressed with harshness; but the order and discipline which repelled the impostor, allowed indulgence for the deserving poor. The "town" of Falmouth is very unfavourably situated. Municipally and parochially distinct from its outskirts, it contains the great majority of the poor, while all the rich live beyond its boundaries. Actually not one gentleman of independent

with those of the Church. In her we find that elevating influence, which arises from moral greatness, combined with official authority, and exalted by the sanction of a divine

property lives in it. Yet a workhouse system, orderly, and reasonably indulgent, has brought down the poor rates to a scale, which, for the whole kingdom, would little exceed three millions. Cruelty, therefore, is not necessary to economy. I will add that economy ought never to be pushed beyond the bounds of humanity. There is One who marks the groaning of the poor, and will judge the oppressor.

The Central Board is altogether anomalous and monstrous. A central power there should be, to receive and arrange the reports of all the parishes; to advise, guide, and support the local authorities, as the Home Secretary does the magistrates: and to recommend any change which the law may from time to time require. But the Central Board is an universal meddler, interfering directly with all details of management in all parishes, superseding all local authority, and exercising an arbitrary, absolute, and irresponsible despotism. A power beyond that of one of the principal Cabinet Ministers, affecting all the community, and despotic in its nature beyond a parallel, is exercised, without an individual in either House of Parliament being officially responsible.

The business of the Central Board properly belongs to the Home Department, and the Home Secretary himself should be expressly responsible for it; having an additional under-secretary, whose attention would be confined to this charge. A superior chief clerk, not going out, as a political character, with a change of Administration, would ensure the constant efficiency of the office.

One subject should not be passed over. The former bastardy laws were most objectionable: but the opposite extreme of wrong is not right. The wanton should bear her shame and its penalty; but is all redress to be denied to the victim of seduction? If a master make a profligate use of his influence, -if a lover take an unprincipled advantage of the affection of a confiding girl; ought the villain to escape, and his victim to be punished? To offer the remedy of an action in the Courts of law, is in most cases a mockery. Why not allow Magistrates at the petty sessions to try such cases, with a jury to assess damages, according to the circumstances of the case, a maximum being fixed for the costs and damages. A sufficient check would still remain upon the one sex; a proper check would be imposed upon the other; and a distinction made between her who is more criminal than unfortunate, and her who is more unfortunate than criminal. Now, both are confounded.

commission. United with society by personal connexions and official ministrations, the clergy yet form a distinct class, who are separated as the authorized ministers of God's

The administration of the New Poor Law is founded upon three utterly false principles :-That the Magistrates are not to be trusted; that the great majority of the poor become paupers through their own fault: and that the feelings of paupers are not to be considered, nor any general indulgence to be shewn to them. I speak not from inference; but from statements made expressly to myself by one of the principal officers of the Central Board.

I shall not insult the Magistrates, by supposing that they need any defence of mine. As to the voluntary pauperism of the poor, it is refuted by the very publication of the Commissioners. They state that labourers and their families do not consume any thing like the quantity of solid food, which is thought necessary for the inmates of workhouses and prisons. It is true; in fact, their wages will not afford it. Let any one attempt to form a diet table for a week for four persons, and he will find that, after he has brought it to the lowest amount, both in quantity and quality, which his humanity will allow, it is beyond the wages of the labourer; that is, after a proper allowance has been made for rent, clothes, and fuel. If, then, the poor must stint themselves in the best of times, what can they do when visited with calamities, deficient work, accident, sickness, death. To borrow from one of the most amiable and talented writers we possess:


""Tis idleness makes want, And idle habits; if the man will go, And spend his gettings at the ale-house fire, Is it a wonder that there's want at home?


"Ay, idleness! The rich man never fails
To find some reason why the poor deserve
Their miseries: is't idleness, I pray,
That brings the fever, and the ague fit?
Is't idleness that makes small wages fail
For growing wants?"

Southey's Minor Poems. With respect to treating paupers with kindness, the examples of Swansea, and Falmouth, prove that the utmost economy is quite compatible with humanity. And if any are so hardened against their brethren as to think that human hearts may be trampled on, and human feelings sacrificed to political expediency, they are beyond the pale of argument. We reason only with men.

« AnteriorContinuar »