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lf any unemployed person refused to serve at the above wages he might be imprisoned till he found sureties to serve according to the statute. The latter part of this statute regulates the hours of work and meals, by providing that the hours of labour, from March to September, shall be from five o'clock in the morning till seven in the evening; that one hour shall be allowed to breakfast, an hour and half for dinner, and half an hour for noon-meate : the hours of labour in winter are from “ springing of day" to dark, and only one hour is allowed for dinner, the extra half-hour at the meal being only allowed for sleeping, from the middle of May to the middle of August.
Although provisions advanced considerably in the succeeding twenty years, it does not appear that wages underwent any material alteration; in 1514 the prices of the different kinds of labour mentioned above were exactly the same.
It is impossible to judge correctly of the comfort and relative situation of the working classes at different periods, they depend so much on circumstances with which we are very imperfectly acquainted. The proportion between the rate of wages and the price of provisions is undoubtedly the best criterion; but if we are not also informed of the diet and domestic economy of labourers, we can know very little of their real situation. Labourers in the north of England, similarly situated as to the price of provisions and wages, will have the means of comfortable subsistence, while labourers in the south would perish from wretchedness and privation. From the statement above it appears, that in 1496 the diet was considered equivalent to one-third of the income of an artificer, and one-half the income of a labourer, which indicates a greater degree of independence among the working classes than prevails at present; for the board, both of labourers and artificers, would now be reckoned at a much higher proportion of their wages. The hours for meals and relaxation were niore liberal, too, than at this day.
The labouring poor, however, were still a long way behind their successors, in their diet, dress, and habitations; and even so late as the reign of Queen Mary, the dwelling of an English peasant was little superior in comfort and cleanliness to what we observe in the clay-built hovels of the Irish. The dwellings of the common people, according to Erasmus, had not yet attained the convenience of a chimney to let out the smoke, and the flooring of their huts was nothing but the bare ground: their beds consisted of straw, among which was an ancient accumulation of filth and refuse, with a hard block of wood for a pillow. And such in general was the situation of the labouring classes throughout Europe. Fortescue, who wrote in the reign of Henry VI., speaking of the French peasantry, says, “Thay drink water, thay eate apples, with bread right brown, made of rye; thay eate no flesche, but, if it be selden; a littell larde, or of the entrails or heds of beasts, sclayne for the nobles or merchaunts of the lond."
Origin of the Poor-Influence of Personal Freedom on Indi. gence-Vagabondage and Mendicity— Licensing of Beggars
- Treatment of the Poor in the Netherlands—The elapse of four Centuries not changed the objects of Legislation.
In the last chapter we arrived at the close of the reign of Henry VII.; previously to which period had originated that numerous class emphatically denominated the poor, consisting of those personally free, but without the means of supporting themselves by their industry or capital, unaided by the gratuitous assistance of their fellow-men. Individuals in this unhappy condition are clearly in a state of slavery; those who cannot live independently of the support of others, cannot, in the affairs of life, act the part of freemen: and, in truth, the great mass of English poor is nothing more than the continuation, under a mitigated form, of the race of villains who have exchanged baronial for parochial servitude. How they originated, and became a separate and recognised class of the community, I shall briefly explain.
While the feudal system prevailed, a regular chain of subordination subsisted from the highest to the lowest in the community; all thought of personal independence was precluded, and each individual, during sickness or infirmity, looked to his next superior for maintenance and protection. From the same motives the lord took care of his cattle, he took care of the tillers of his ground. When this system declined, and men ceased to be the life-apprentices of their employers, then their only dependence in impotence or old
pru. dence and forethought, or the voluntary charity of others.
We thus see how different the functions of individuals are in a state of bondage and of liberty. In the former, men may be mere brutes—without knowledge, prudence, or economy; in the latter, these qualities are indispensable. The extension of education and the domestic virtues, therefore, ought always to keep pace with the extension of personal freedom.
age was either
Next to the increase of freedom among the people, as a cause of pauperism, may be reckoned the growth of commerce and manufactures. Rousseau properly inquires (La Nouvelle Héloïse), “ Why is it that in a thriving city the poor are so miserable, while such extreme distress is hardly ever experienced in those countries where there are no instances of immense wealth ?" One answer is, that in cities people are more poor because they are more independent than in the country. It is one of the natural consequences of freedom, that those who are left to shift for themselves, must sometimes, either from misconduct or misfortune, be reduced to want. This, however, furnishes no solid argument against the advantages of liberty. A prisoner, under the custody of his keeper, may perhaps be confident of receiving his bread and his water daily; yet there are few who would not, even with the contingent necessity of starving, prefer a precarious chance of subsistence from their own industry to the certainty of regular meals in a gaol. It has been frequently urged, in extenuation of the slave-trade, that the condition of negroes in the West Indies is in general more comfortable than that of many day-labourers in this country. Admitting this position to be true, it proves no more than that those, who in the mass often rise high in the scale of affluence, will sometimes furnish instances of extreme destitution. But in the case of slavery, degradation and misery are the rule; in the case of freedom, they are the exception : in one there are doubtless many pains,