Page images



known or expected ; hard to know how much might be granted for the present, and how much should be kept in reserve for the remainder of the year's service. The real intricacy in such a distribution of account would show itself in disproportions and inequalities of allowance impossible to be avoided ; and the appli

l cants would have one pretext more for discontent.

The limitation itself in many places would be only in words and figures. It would be set, presume, by an average of certain preceding years. But the average taken upon the preceding years might be a sum exceeding in its real value the highest amount of the assessments of any of the averaged years under the great change which has taken place in the value of money itself

. A given rate, or assessment nominally the same, or lower, might in this way be a greater real money value than it was some time before. In many of the most distressed districts, where the parochial rates have nearly equalled the rents, a nominal average would therefore be no effectual benefit : and yet it is in those districts that the alleviation of the burden is the most wanted.

It is manifest, also, that a peremptory restriction of the whole amount of money applicable to the parochial service, though abundantly justified in many districts by their particular condition being so impoverished as to make the measure, for them, almost a measure of necessity, if nothing can be substituted for it ; and where the same extreme necessity does not exist, still justified by the prudence of preventing in some way the interminable increase of the parochial burdens; still, that such a restriction is an ill-adjusted measure in itself, and would in many instances operate very inequitably. It would fall unfairly in some parishes, where the relative state of the poor and the parish might render an increase of the relief as just and reasonable as it is possible for anything to be under the Poor-Laws at all. It would deny to many possible fair -:laimants the whole, or a part, of that degree of relief commonly granted elsewhere to persons in their condition, on this or that account of claim. Leaving the reason of the present demands wholly unimpeached, and unexplained ; directing no distinct warning or remonstrance to the parties, in the line of their affairs, by putting a check to their expectations upon positive matters impli. cated in their conduct; which would be speaking to them in a definite sense, and a sense applicable to all : this plan of limitation would nurture the whole mass of the claim in its origin, and deny the allowance of it to thousands, on account of reasons properly affecting a distant quarter of which they know nothing. The want of a clear method, and of a good principle at the bottom of it, in this direct compulsory restriction, renders it, I think, wholly unacceptable, unless it be the only possible plan that can be devised for accomplishing the same end. If a parish had to keep its account with a single dependant, the plan would be much more useful in that case. For the ascertained fact of the total amount his expectations might set his mind at rest and put him on a decided course of providing for himself

. But in the limitation proposed to be made, the ascertained fact is of a general amount only, not of each man's share in it. Consequently, each man has his indefinite expectations left to him, and every separate specific ground of expectation remaining as before.”

Mr. Davison talks of the propriety of refusing to find labour for able labourers after the lapse of ten years, as if it was some ordinary bill he was proposing, unaccompanied by the slightest risk. It is very easy to make such laws and to propose them, but it would be of immense difficulty to carry them into execution. Done it must be, everybody knows that; but the real merit will consist in discovering the gradual and gentle means by which the difficulties of getting parish labour


may be increased and the life of a parish pauper be rendered a life of salutary and deterring hardship. A law that rendered such request for labour perfectly lawful for ten years longer, and then suddenly abolished it, would merely bespeak a certain, general, and violent insurrection for the year 1830. The legislator, thank God, is in his nature a more cunning and gradual animal.

Before we drop Mr. Davison, who writes like a very sensible man, we wish to say a few words about his style. If he would think less about it he would write much better. It is always as plethoric and full-dressed as if he were writing a treatise de finibus bonorum et malorum. He is sometimes obscure, and is occasionally apt to dress up common-sized thoughts in big clothes, and to dwell a little too long in proving what every man of sense knows and admits. We hope we shall not offend Mr. Davison by these remarks, and we have really no intention of doing so. His views upon the Poor-Laws are, generally speaking, very correct and philosophical ; he writes like a gentleman, a scholar, and a man capable of eloquence; and we hope he will be a bishop. If his mitred productions are as enlightened and liberal as this, we are sure he will confer as much honour on the Bench as he receives from it. There is a good deal, however, in Mr. Davison's book about the “ virtuous marriages of the poor.” To have really the charge of a family as a husband and a father, we are told, to have the privilege of laying out his life in their service, is the poor

man's boast : “his home is the school of his sentiments," &c., &c. This is viewing human life through a Claude Lorraine glass, and decorating it with colours which do not belong to it. A ploughman marries a ploughwoman because she is plump, generally uses her ill, thinks his children an incumbrance, very often flogs them, and, for sentiment, has nothing more nearly approaching to it than the ideas of broiled bacon and mashed potatoes. This is the state of the lower orders of mankind-deplorable, but true—and yet rendered much worse by the Poor-Laws.

The system of roundsmen is much complained of, as well as that by which the labour of paupers is paid, partly by the rate, partly by the master, and a long string of Sussex Justices send up a petition on the subject. But the evil we are suffering under is an excess of population. There are ten men applying for work when five only are wanted; of course, such a redundance of labouring persons must depress the rate of their labour far beyond what is sufficient for the support of their families. And how is that deficiency to be made up but from the parish rates, unless it is meant suddenly and immediately to abolish the whole system of the Poor-Laws? To state that the rate of labour is lower than a man can live by is merely to state that we have had and have Poor-Laws, of which this practice is at length the inevitable consequence, and nothing could be more absurd than to attempt to prevent by Acts of Parliament the natural depreciation of an article which exists in much greater abundance than it is wanted. Nor can anything be more unjust than the complaint that roundsmen are paid by their employers at an inferior rate, and that the difference is made up by the parish funds. A roundsman is commonly an inferior description of labourer who cannot get regularly hired; he comes upon his parish for labour commonly at those seasons when there is the least to do ; he is not a servant of the farmer's choice, and probably does not suit him ; he goes off to any other labour at a moment's warning when he finds it more profitable; and the farmer is forced to keep nearly the same number of labourers as if there were no roundsmen at all. Is it just, then, that a labourer combining every species of imperfection, should receive the same wages as a chosen, regular, stationary person who is always ready at hand, and whom the farmer has selected for his dexterity and character ?

Those persons who do not, and cannot employ labourers, have no kind of right to complain of the third or fourth part of the wages being paid by the rates ; for if the farmers did not agree among themselves to take such occasional labourers, the whole of their support must be paid by the rates, instead of one third. The order is that the pauper shall be paid such a sum as will support himself and family, and if this agreement to take roundsmen was not entered into by the farmers, they must be paid by the rates, the whole of the amount of the order, for doing nothing. If a circulating labourer, therefore, with three children, to whom the Justices would order 12s. per week, receives 8s. from his employer, and 4s. from the rates, the parish is not burdened by this system to the amount of 4s., but relieved to the amount of 8s. A parish manufacture, conducted by overseers, is infinitely more burthensome to the rates than any system of roundsmen. There are undoubtedly a few instances to the contrary. Zeal and talents will cure the original defects of any system ; but to suppose that average men can do what extraordinary men have done, is the cause of many silly projects and extravagant blunders. Mr. Owen may give his whole heart and soul to the improvement of one of his parochial parallelograms; but who is to succeed to Mr. Owen's enthusiasm? Before we have quite done with the subject of roundsmen, we cannot help noticing a strange assertion of Mr. Nicol, that the low rate of wages paid by the master is an injustice to the pauper—that he is cheated, forsooth, out of 8s. or ros. per week by this arrangement. Nothing, however, can possibly be more absurd than such an allegation. The whole country is open to him. Can he gain more anywhere else? If not, this is the market price of his labour ; and what right has he to complain? or how can he say he is defrauded? A combination among farmers to lower the price of labour would be impossible if labour did

not exist in much greater quantities than was wanted. All such things, whether labour or worsted stockings, or broad cloth, are, of course, always regulated by the proportion between the supply and demand. Mr. Nicol cites an instance of a parish in Suffolk, where the labourer receives sixpence from the farmers, and the rest is made up by the rates; and for this he reprobates the conduct of the farmers. But why are they not to take labour as cheap as they can get it? Why are they not to avail themselves of the market price of this as of any other commodity ? The rates are a separate consideration : let them supply what is

wanting; but the farmer is right to get his iron, his wood, and his labour, as cheap as he can. It would, we admit, come nearly to the same thing, if £100 were paid in wages rather than £25 in wages, and £75 by rate; but then, if the farmers were to agree to give wages above the market price, and sufficient for the support of the labourers without any rate, such an agreement could never be adhered to. The base and the crafty would make their labourers take less, and fling heavier rates upon those who adhered to the contract ; whereas the agreement, founded upon giving as little as can be given, is pretty sure of being adhered to, and he who breaks it lessens the rate to his neighbour, and does not increase it. The problem to be solved is this: If you have ten or twenty labourers, who say they can get no work, and you cannot dispute this, and the Poor-Laws remain, what better scheme can be devised, than that the farmers of the parish should employ them in their turns ?-and what more absurd than to suppose that farmers so employing them should give one farthing more than the market price for their labour?

It is contended that the statute of Elizabeth, rightly interpreted, only compels the overseer to assist the sick and old, and not to find labour for strong and healthy men. This is true enough, and it would have been eminently useful to have attended to it a century past; but to find employment for all who apply, is now, by long use, become a practical part of the Poor-Laws, and will require the same care and dexterity for its abolition as any other part of that pernicious system. It would not be altogether prudent suddenly to tell a million of stout men, with spades and hoes in their hands, that the 43d of Elizabeth had been misconstrued, and that no more employment would be found for them. It requires twenty or thirty years to state such truths to such numbers.

We think, then, that the diminution of the claims of settlement, and of the authority of Justices, coupled with the other subordinate improvements we have stated, will be the best steps for beginning the abolition of the Poor-Laws. When these have been taken, the description of persons entitled to relief may be narrowed by degrees. But let no man hope to get rid of these laws, even in the gentlest and wisest method, without a great deal of misery, and some risk of tumult. If Mr. Bourne thinks only of avoiding risk, he will do nothing. Some risk must be incurred; but the secret is gradation, and the true reason for abolishing these laws is, not that they make the rich poor, but thai they make the poor poorer.


1. Thoughts on the Criminal Prisons of this Country, occasioned by the Bill

now in the House of Commons for Consolidating and Amending the Laws relating to Prisons; with some Remarks on the Practice of looking to the Task-Alaster of the Prison rather than to the Chaplain for the Reformation of Offenders ; and of purchasing the Work of those whom the Law has condemned to Hard Labour as a Punishment, by allowing them to spend a Portion of their Earnings during their Imprisonment. By GEORGE HOLFORD,

Esq., M.P. Rivington. 1821. 2. Gurney on Prisons. Constable and Co. 1819. 3. Report of the Society for Bettering the Condition of Prisons. Bensley. 1820. THERE are in every county in England large public schools main

tained at the expense of the county, for the encouragement of profligacy and vice, and for providing a proper succession of housebreakers, profligates, and thieves. They are schools, too, conducted without the smallest degree of partiality or favour ; there being no man (however mean his birth or obscure his situation) who may not easily procure admission to them. The moment any young person evinces the slightest propensity for these pursuits he is provided with food, clothing, and lodging, and put to his studies under the most accomplished thieves and cut-throats the county can supply. There is not, to be sure, a formal arrangement of lectures, after the manner of our Universities; but the petty larcenous stripling, being left destitute of every species of employment, and locked up with accomplished villains as idle as himself, listens to their pleasant narrative of successful crimes, and pants for the hour of freedom that he may begin the same bold and interesting career.

This is a perfectly true picture of the prison establishments of many counties in England, and was so, till very lately, of almost all ; and the effects so completely answered the design, that, in the year 1818, there were committed to the jails of the United Kingdom more than one hundred and seven thousand persons !* a number supposed to be greater than that of all the commitments in the other kingdoms of Europe put together.

The bodily treatment of prisoners has been greatly improved since the time of Howard. There is still, however, much to do; and the attention of good and humane people has been lately called to their state of moral discipline.

It is inconceivable to what a spirit of party this has given birth ;all the fat and sleek people—the enjoyers—the mumpsimus, and “well as we are” people, are perfectly outrageous at being compelled to do

[ocr errors]

* Report of Prison Society, xiv.

« PreviousContinue »