« PředchozíPokračovat »
and morality, aided by an effort to restore the mutual good feeling which formerly existed between them and their employers, you may be instrumental to the permanent establishment, throughout this mighty empire, of religion without hypocrisy ; morality without affectation ; and economy without improvident parsimony! This would, I am convinced, afford to you and me, the most satisfactory recompense for our anxiety, and exertion; and if, through your means, aided by a philanthropic public, I should be enabled to add to the funds of the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, by presenting the proceeds of my pen, (during a severe indisposition), to that benevolent Institution, I should feel additionally gratified.
I have the honour to be,
A COMPENDIUM, &c.
A great difference of opinion prevails as to the working and consequent utility of the “ Poor Law Amendment Act.” As this may in some measure depend upon the mode of carrying this prominent Act of Parliament into execution, and those to whom this is entrusted divide the responsibility of its success or failure, with those who so satisfactorily exerted themselves in the senate; it may not be amiss for individuals from among the guardians of the several unions throughout England and Wales to state the proceedings of the boards to which they severally belong ;-this would at least give publicity to the different systems now adopted for carrying the law into execution, in which I know that certain variations at present exist, and from making these peculiarities generally known, much good l'imagine may accrue, by the adoption of that particular system of management which appears more adapted to the end in view, more in accordance with straightforward justice, more in the spirit of English charity, and generally more desirable than others.
Every impartial man who has at all considered the subject, must be aware that the 43rd of Elizabeth, the basis of the abrogated law, had become, from the rust of time, and a complication of other events, most shamefully abused; not only by the paupers themselves, but by the local authorities, such as Overseers and their assistants, tradesmen likewise, who were too frequently contractors, or what was worse, served out the different articles required by the pauper from their own stock, instead of paying him money to go to market on the best terms; and this too, either from the authority of the parish officers, or from the appointment of Overseer being vested in himself. The former, it must be acknowledged, was not always immaculate, the poor poverty stricken farmer was not wholly free from mercenary feeling! It not unusually happened that many persons in parishes in this county (Kent) imagined, or fancied they imagined their inhabitants were inadequate to employ, and pay the whole of the laboring population on their respective farms; the consequence was, that in many parishes the surplus was placed on the public roads; continued there for a time, till the rate-payers were annoyed by this mode of procedure, and perceived that a mere modicum of work was performed, though a poors' rate was quickly swallowed up. “ Necessity is the mother of invention ;' this, though impotently, usually produced its own antidote; as the alternative which generally followed this system was the removal of a portion of the men from off the roads, and proffering their services to the farmers on reduced terms, by paying from the poor's rate a large proportion of their wages. It was not very unusual to find from 20 to 30, and in some instances 50 per cent. was thus paid by the Overseer. In this mal-administration of the law, the more mercenary farmer enjoyed advantages (if there are those who on reflection really could enjoy such reckless griping) over the man of better feeling ; he hesitated not to discharge his workmen, those he had been wont to employ at the market price of wages, for the pitiful and sordid hope of making a few pounds by the circumstance alluded to, and by taking into his employ those whose wages were to be derived in part from the parish rate ;-thus the liberal and honest man (for I can but consider the avarice of the former to be a species of dishonesty) paid his laborers a fair market price for their employ, and a portion of his niggard neighbour's also. This, in my opinion, an opinion which has nothing but practical experience to recommend it, was the most deteriorating, vile, and corrupting system which could have arisen; and the consequences of it were fatally destructive to morality, industry, and subordination! Whilst the men were congregated on the public roads, they not only felt deteriorated from receiving their weekly stipend from the frigid hand of a parish officer, but were excited thereby to plot mischief in the day to be executed at night; generally having one to watch their employer, the Overseer, Surveyor, or other influential personages, whilst others concocted schemes of plunder and obscenity; hence followed that moroseness of manner and roughness of deportment which was formerly unknown to the Kentish peasant; that insubordination and restless hankering after mischief which founded a new character amongst us.
“ A hungry nian is an angry man." Thus resort was had to the poor, pitiful, and pusillanimous conduct manifested to their employers, by waging war against the threshing machines, ---and I here beg to admit that I was one of the many who came under the ban of the misguided labourers, notwithstanding I was, at the very period, keeping for my workmen no less than eleven cows, on very moderate terms! This headstrong and riotous procedure was at length stayed; chiefly by the determination of the employers to oppose force to force, aided by the official authorities; and after very considerable devastation and mischief, no doubt increased and prolonged by the generally received opinion that no law then extant exacıly met the case. This deficiency bas, I believe, since been remedied, by an augmentation and amendment in the penal code. It was strongly suspected that a few of the smaller farmers and others who knew better, advocated the cause of the rioters, and even joined in their nocturnal depredations! A short calm only intervened between this banditti system and the still more cruel, abandoned, and fiend-like practice and crime of Arson ! a practice which perhaps it is not too much to suspect was engendered amongst the congregated numbers on the public roads; these all tend to show the baneful effects of that system now happily obsolete, which I trust has been destroyed by its own deformity. How had the law of Elizabeth become metamorphosed from its original intention and usefulness?' Were the senators of that day enabled to revise their own act, they would exclaim, that such a desecration of its purposes had rendered it so dissonant with the original, as to cause the discrepancy to appear more than marvellous ; they would exclaim, “We legislated to preserve the old, lame, blind, and helpless from abject poverty and wretchedness, but you have superseded our intentions by encouraging idleness, whoredom, and general dissipation; by credulously attending to stories composed of fraud and chicanery; and without due investigation, have aided and abetied the practice of imposition!"
About the month of March (I think it was on the 2d or 3d), Sir F. B. Head, as Assistant Commissioner, called a meeting by public advertisement, of the magistrates, proprietors, and rate-payers, at Elham, which was pretty numerously attended ;
-several of the divisional magistrates were present, as well as other proprietors and rate-payers, with many parish officers. My brother and I attended the meeting ; it was professedly called for the purpose of ascertaining the sentiments of the people upon the important subject of yielding up the Elham Union, incorporated under Gilbert's Act, for the purpose of embracing the “ Poor Law Amendment Act ;” and here occurred another striking instance of the so frequently observed instability of human nature. Previously to the commencement of the business of the meeting, several of the guardians of this Union came to me and my brother for advice how to proceed, informing us that they and their colleagues at the board were decidedly of opinion that it would be