Page images
PDF
EPUB

to old age, and a perpetual opportunity to men to improve their condition from generation to generation.”

CASE OF DISTRESS.

success.

I am in a state of great perplexity at this moment. It is half past four in the morning, and by twelve o'clock I want six pages in order to complete this number. All yesterday I was racking my brain upon various topics, but with no sort of

I might as well have rummaged for gold in an empty chest. I could not find an idea on any subject. At eleven I went to bed in the hope of rising in a more fertile humour. I was up at three, but found no change. I suppose the weather has something to do with producing this collapse of the imagination ; that is, the weather combined with a want of my customary quantity of exercise and a sufficient attention to diet. It is a losing game to persist, when the humour is directly contrary; and, probably, if I had taken a vigorous ride yesterday, my inaptitude would have vanished, and I should have saved time. These difficulties might easily be avoided, and I am quite determined I will avoid them for the future, by increased and regular attention to my state of man; though it is almost worth while to feel their weight, on account of the delightful sensation of lightness which follows their removal. I must eschew formal dinners as much as possible, and live according to the dictates of reason ; indeed, I think I have done penance almost long enough. I mean, amongst other things, to attend particularly to sleep, upon the quantity and quality of which, I find, vigour and elasticity of body and mind very much depend. There is a great art in sleeping ; though it is much neglected, because every body can sleep after a fashion without any art at all. I will make it the subject of a special article, as soon as I have made my observations practically. Time creeps on, and I find myself at a complete stand still ; so, with many apologies for my helpless state, and promises to prevent a recurrence, I have recourse once more to my pamphlet on pauperism, and make a sufficient quantity of extracts to fill up my remaining space. The last extract, on the cost of labour, I thought had been inserted before, and I searched for it for the purpose of referring to it in the article in my last number on impressment. It will serve to make a part, of what I have said there, better understood by those who take the trouble to compare the two.

PAUPERISM.

Pauperism, in the legal sense of the word, is a state of dependence upon parochial provision. That provision, so far as it is necessary to supply the demand for labour, is a tax upon wages; beyond that amount it is a tax upon property, and operates as a bounty to improvidence. Where labourers, with an ordinary degree of prudence, cannot maintain themselves and their families without parish relief, such relief is part of their own wages, kept back to be doled out to them as emergency requires. The feigning, or unnecessarily bringing on such emergency, demands an increase of the provision, which increase falls on the property assessed to the rates. Of the large sum annually raised for the purposes of pauperism, that part only is a tax upon property, which is absorbed by the bounty to improvidence and by the expenses of the system—the remainder is merely a tax upon wages, and has this double injustice in it. It is not refunded by the rate-payer in the proportions in which it is retained by him, nor distributed to the labourers in the proportions in which it is deducted from their wages. It is retained in the proportion of employment of labour, it is refunded in that of property assessed. It is deducted from the best labourers in a larger proportion than from the worst-it is distributed to the worst in a larger proportion than to the best. He who employs many hands on a small rateable property retains much of what he ought to pay in wages, and pays back little in poors' rates. But with him who employs few hands on a large rateable property it is exactly the reverse ; he retains little from wages, and pays much in rates. The injustice with regard to the labourers may be shown thus: in any place where wages are not sufficient to keep up the supply of labour, it is necessary either to raise them till they are so, or to make up the difference from the parish. Suppose the wages to be 108. a week, and that it would require 12s. to keep up the supply of labour. If wages are raised, the best labourers will receive the most benefit ; but if the difference is made up by the parish, the best labourers will pay, and the worst will receive the greatest part of the tax. Those who work their whole time will pay 2s. a week, or 51. 4s. per annum, of which they may possibly receive little or nothing in return; and according to this scale, a healthy, industrious labourer may lose in the course of his life above 2001. To put the case in another way: if the price of the aggregate of labour in a parish be 1,000l. per annum, whereof 8001. are paid in wages, and 2001., which is one-fifth, or twenty per cent. on the whole, are paid as rates, the labourer, who ought to have received 10s. a week, will only receive 8s. It may be said, these instances only prove that the effect of the Poor Laws is to establish a benefit society in every parish. But in benefit societies the tax is voluntary and equal, or fairly proportioned, and is managed by the contributors themselves; and with all their precautions there is this acknowledged objection, that the worse members generally receive the most advantage. But where wages are taxed by the parish, the tax is neither voluntary nor equal, but most unfairly proportioned; nor have the contributors any control over the distribution, but are made to apply for their own as if they were depending upon others. The attempt to keep down the price of labour, by reserving a fund for those who have the greatest calls, appears practicable at first sight; but, in reality, has invariably the effect of increasing those calls beyond the capability of the fund to answer, and therefore the price of labour is raised instead of being reduced. To tax unmarried labourers for the benefit of the married soon increases marriages, so as to make the tax insufficient; and the more it is raised, the greater is the insufficiency, and consequently greater the demand upon some other fund.

The mind must ever be at work, and if legitimate exercise is rendered unnecessary, it will, as a rule, take an opposite direction, “to vice industrious, but to nobler deeds timorous and slothful,”—which is as accurate a description of pauperism as can possibly be given. To the welfare of beings capable of thought it is indispensable that the present should be regulated with a view to the future. Undoubtedly it is the general opinion, that the labouring classes, as a body, are not capable of taking care of themselves. If they are not, they cannot be capable of comprehending the dictates of religion ; for who can possibly be able to provide for a future life, who is not able to understand the duties of this ? But to what class was Christianity first and principally addressed ? For whom are its precepts peculiarly adapted ? The Poor Laws indeed say to the labourer, you need not be provident. You need take no thought either for yourselves or your children. But what does Christianity say ? St. Paul, speaking not of the rich but of the poor, declares, “ If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” Immediately after, he states to whom the voluntary contributions of the charitable ought to be distributed. “Let not a widow be taken into the number under three score years old, well reputed of for good works; if she have brought up children,

*

if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work." Then follow these words,—“ But the younger widows, refuse ; they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busy bodies, speaking things which they ought not.” Whoever is conversant with pauperism will recognise in this last passage a very faithful description of it.

So far as morals alone are concerned, the cost of labour to the state will be low in proportion as those who perform it possess health, strength, industry, skill, honesty, and prudence; those qualifications being imparted at the cheapest price, whatever that price may be. Therefore the nominal cost differs greatly from the real, and labour may sometimes perchance be cheaper at 20s. a week than at 78.* The direct wages of labour are only a part of the real cost, the difference being divided in various proportions between the employer and the public. All the expenses arising out of the diseases of the labouring classes and from their education, beyond what they pay themselves, all that is given them in charity, all the expenses of guarding against, prosecuting, and punishing their crimes, all losses from their ignorance and dishonesty, and the Poors’ Rates, so far as they are appropriated to the expenses of pauperism, are to be added to their wages to make up the cost of labour to the community. Enormous as the amount of these sums must annually be, and the greater part of which might be saved, I believe it is not equal to the amount to be expected from the improvement of property that would soon take place if the habits of the labouring classes were raised as they might be.

There is a certain price for every thing, and any attempt

* Arthur Young has somewhere said, that he should prefer an Essex labourer at half-a-crown a day to a Tipperary man at fourpence.

« PreviousContinue »