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poor, according to his ability, the bishop, or his ordinary, shall bind him by recognizance to appear at the quarter-sessions : and at the said sessions, the justices shall gently persuade and move him ;” and if he will not be persuaded, they are authorized to tax him a weekly sum, and commit him to prison till it is paid. It is thus apparent the compulsory system was forced on the legislature, after experience of the failure of milder expedients.
Act of the 43d of Elizabeth—Provisions of the English Poor
laws derived from Scotland-Curious Expedients for Relief of the Poor-Act against the Erection of Cottages-Alarm about the Increase of the Metropolis-Excess of Population -Pestilence--Comparison of the Elizabethean Age with the present.
We are now approaching an important era in the history of the poor, namely, the introduction of that system of compulsory maintenance which, without material alteration, has continued for upwards of two centuries. The long reign of Elizabeth is filled with statutes for supplying the deficiencies or correcting the errors of former poor-laws. In the year 1597 several acts were passed relative to vagrancy and mendicity, and the provisions of former acts in some degree moulded into a uniform system. In one act four overseers are directed to be chosen in each parish for setting poor children and others
in want of employment to work, and for raising, weekly or otherwise, a stock of materials for that purpose. Justices are empowered to levy the rate by distress ; and for the relief of the impotent poor the churchwardens and overseers are authorized, with the permission of the lords of manors, to build convenient houses on the waste, at the general charge of the parish, and to place inmates of more families than one in each cottage.
Parents of old, blind, lame, and other poor persons, are bound to relieve their children as should be directed at the general quarter-sessions, on penalty of twenty shillings for every month they failed so to do. And begging, unless for victuals, in the parish, is entirely prohibited. Several acts were also passed for the relief of soldiers and mariners, and every parish charged a certain sum weekly for their maintenance.
Increasing inconveniences, at length, produced the memorable 43d of Elizabeth, which concentrates in one act the accumulated experience of previous years, and still forms the groundwork of our poor-laws. By comparing this statute with the provisions of that referred to in the last paragraph, it appears
that its most material provisions were not, as many erroneously suppose, originally framed in 1601: on the contrary, the principal clauses of the 39th of Elizabeth, respecting the appointment of overseers, levying the rate, setting the able to work, providing relief for the impotent, and binding out children apprentices, were copied almost verbatim. From the tenour of the last clause in this great legislative measure, it was evidently intended only to be experimental. It was, however, continued by subsequent statutes; and, by the 16th Car. I. c. 4, made perpetual.
Although Scotland is, for the most part, exempted from the poor-rate, it is remarkable that a compulsory provision for the poor was established by law in that kingdom twenty-two years before the passing of the 43d of Elizabeth. In James the Sixth's parliament, held at Edinburgh in 1579, an act was passed in which every branch of the English system, the punishment of vagabonds-of runaway servants —the mode of passing soldiers and seamen to their parishes—the regulation of hospitals for aged and
npotent persons—the settlements of the poortheir maintenance by the parish—the appointment of overseers and collectors—the manner of treating those who refuse to work—and on putting out poor children apprentices—are more fully detailed than in any English statute. The assessment for the poor is very general : “the hail inhabitants within the parochin" are to be “taxed and stented according to the estimation of their substance, without exception of persones, to sik oublie (weekly) charge and contribution, as sall be thocht expedient and sufficient to susteine the saidis pure peopil.'
* Eden's Hist. Poor, Scottish Acts, 1682, 1, 1417. It is the opinion of Sir F. Eden that many of the provisions of English parliaments in the reign of Elizabeth, respecting the poor, were framed in conformity with the policy of their northern neighbours.
It is impossible, at this distance of time, to form any accurate idea of the comparative number of the receivers and payers of parochial contributions immediately after the establishment of the poor-rate. Sir F. Eden was of opinion that, at the period he wrote (1797), the pauper class constituted a larger proportion of the community than at the close of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. But the fact is, though the act of 1601 empowered parishes to levy a poor-rate, it was not for many years
after carried into execution in various parts of the kingdom. The author of a pamphlet published in 1698, entitled “Bread for the Poor," says that,“ though parishes were enabled (by the 43d of Elizabeth) to make rates, and the owners of estates obliged to the payment, yet, in many places, no such rates were made in twenty or thirty years after.”
It is probable that the dearth of corn and other articles of subsistence which took place towards the close of Elizabeth's reign greatly accelerated the passing of the act for raising a compulsory poorrate. In 1587 wheat rose to 31. 4s. the quarter; in 1594 it was 21. 16s., and in 1595, 21. 13s. 4d. the quarter. For several years there had been a succession of bad weather and scanty crops. In the year 1601, however, the season was more favourable; which, by rendering the condition of the poor more comfortable, concurred to recommend, even beyond its deserts, the new measure of the legislature.
Among the various funds appropriated to the re
lief of the poor, previous to the act of 1601, may be mentioned pecuniary forfeitures which, for many statutable offences, especially those relative to profaneness and immorality, are now applied in aid of the poor-rate. As early as 1558, churchwardens were empowered to levy twelvepence upon every parishioner who omitted going to church on Sunday. In 1570 a moiety of the forfeitures for detaining goods belonging to a bankrupt's estate was directed to be distributed
of the town in which the bankrupt was resident; and, in the same parliament, half the penalty for not wearing a woollen cap on a Sunday was appropriated to the same purpose. One-third of the fines for saying mass, and other offences against the established worship, were given to the poor ; also penalties for swearing, tippling, and disorderly conduct on the Lord's day. It is not improbable these various mulcts for offences against religion and morality were intended as part compensation to the poor for the loss they had sustained by the dissolution of the monasteries and new disposition of ecclesiastical property.
An impression appears to have been entertained, in the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries, that population was increasing faster than the funds for its employment, and that it was necessary to discourage its further augmentation by legislative measures. In the 31st year of Elizabeth's reign a curious act passed, entitled An Act against the Erecting and Maintaining of Cottages, which, after