Зображення сторінки

her house, part of the potatoes she has gathered for her family. No one feels for the poor person who has a helpless family like one who has a helpless family himself.'l I do not go to the country gentlemen's houses ; they do not like to see people like me coming about their houses at all. I would not be let inside the gate. If there were a house of industry in the parish I would be happy to go into it. Would I not be happy to take my six children into such a house, where they would get enough to eat—they that have often to fight for a potato ?'

Another female mendicant, examined at the same time, sixtythree years old, says,

I had no blanket of any sort, till a few days ago I got, as alms, this piece of old carpet that I wear round me by day, and if I can bring it in dry at night, throw it over myself and grandchildren. But it often happens that in the cold wet weather, when we want covering most, it has been wet during the day, and we cannot use it. The children have no clothes but as you see them now.'

The Assistant Commissioners remark

• It was a cold wet day in the latter end of November; she and her grandchildren had been brought in off the street as they were passing, begging from door to door. The children's bodies were partially covered by a single woollen covering frittered to rags. Their heads and feet, arms and legs, were perfectly naked. They stood shrinking from the cold, and endeavouring to shelter themselves under the ragged ends of the piece of worn carpeting that hung from the old woman, who was little better protected from the cold than themselves. In passing through the town we observed a great number of beggars' children in the same condition.'-p. 497.

Besides the occasional beggars who still retain the desire of earning an independent livelihood if possible, and would eagerly accept the offer of emigration or the workhouse, there is an order of professed beggars, into which, however, the former class are found passing as the habit of living by alms grows upon them. People of this stamp are called “boccoughs,' or fair-beggars, from their frequenting all the fairs and markets of the country. These are often idle impostors, who have a peculiar dress for their trade, of course as ragged as possible; they keep up and exhibit disgusting sores and deformities for the purpose of exciting compassion. Some borrow children for the same object, whom they dress, or rather updress, for effect. Others lead about a maniac or idiot, or deformed child; and this last is a source of great profit to them from the strong feeling of pity entertained among the lower classes of Ireland, as elsewhere, for such unfortunates. Such beggars often gather a great deal more of potatoes, &c., than they can consume. The surplus they exchange for tobacco, or whisky. The professed vagrant is usually far better off than the labourer.-p. 517. One of the fair-beggars lately, who pretended to be blind, counted


the money he got on one fair-day in this town. It came to 10s.; besides this he got bread and other matters; and this he called a bad day.' *All the prayer-hawkers (beggars who go about reciting Jong prayers in every house into which they force their way) drink.'

You may often see the prayer-rhymers drunk.'-p. 486. Prosessed beggars often die with gold about their persons. Many such cases occur in the evidence. One is stated to have given his daughter a marriage-portion of eighty guineas, which, in Ireland, where a lamb, a call, a bedstead, or a blanket, nay, even the promise of a pig before the sow is in farrow,' given with a daughter, is quite enough to induce a youth of eighteen or twenty to marry her (p. 386), may be reckoned a pretty considerable' fortune.

lofectious diseases are of course spread by wandering beg gars, to whom the poor householder, cottier, or labourer never refuses a night's lodging. The collier often admits the beggar readily in the hope of sharing the contents of his bag. Typhus fever, scrofula, and the itch are thus propagated and preserved through the country. Cleanliness is out of all question; and immorality and bad habits must be equally communicated.

No punishment can be inflicted in the present state of things on the vagrant or professed beggar. Not that there are not lawsand those very severe ones-against mendicancy; but that it is quite impossible to enforce then, as contrary to the universal feeling of the country, which, so long as there is no other resource open to the destitute, will of necessity countenance this, however offensive, burdensome, and pernicious. Indeed, if beggars were to be inprisoned, the prisons must be large indeed, since at present one balf of the population is engaged in begging from the other half.

The Supplement to the Appendix from which we have been quoting contains the answers from the magistrates, or parish priests, of several hundred different parishes to nine queries that were transmitted to them by the commissioners. The answers are not so distinct or full as to enable us to give a satisfactory analysis of them; and indeed the substance of most of them has been reported in the foregoing pages. There is one query, the last, the answers to which are strongly indicative of the dreadful extremity to which large numbers of the poor of Ireland are occasionally reduced. The question is, 'Are any persons known to have died of actual destitution in your parish within the last three years?' After what has been shown of the extrenie sympathy of the poor for each other, it will be obvious that, so long as there is a potato left in any parish, it is difficult to suppose any human being will be allowed to starve outright for want of it. Consequently, the answer generally given is · None.' But in several instances cases of actual starvation are mentioned, as having occurred within the knowledge


of the party answering, particularly in the year 1831. Several, for example, in the parish of Ballynakill (Galway). Some in those of Auchuagower, Balla, Drum, Kilcommon, and Westport, in county Mayo; twelve in Killmeen, county Cork; twelve in Strokes Town, Roscommon, last October, while the cholera prevailed in it; several in Leighlin Bridge, county Carlow; one in Ballyshehan, Tipperary. Ten are mentioned by Mr. Massy, J. P., as having died in the parishes of Mahoonagh and Feehoonagh, for want of medical aid and the necessaries of life' (p. 238), with many others. It is, however, obvious that the query has been universally understood as referring to sudden death by sheer starvation, which, for the reason already given, can rarely occur. Had the question been supposed to include deaths of a lingering nature, the result of continued want of the first necessaries of life, food, clothing, and shelter, it would have been answered, we fear, in almost every parish, in the affirmative. As it is, a very large number of the answers contain some short statement to this effect:

“I believe the deaths of many, very many, may be traced to destitution. Many have died of gradual starvation.' 'Great numbers have died from diseases generated by the want of sufficient clothing, shelter, and food.' • Premature deaths from want are of every-day occurrence. The lives of many have been shortened by destitution and privation. Many, who died, would have recovered, had they possessed the common necessaries of life. It is a progressive famine.' They die by inches.' •Many die for want of nourishment and attendance in sickness.' " Cold, nakedness, and bad diet, often cause a premature and languid death.' • Several I know to have died from gradual inanition, arising from scantiness of food, clothing, and bedding. I have known and attended the death-beds of many who have died of actual destitution, but still, on account of the alms of their neighbours, I could not say they died of hunger.'--Supplement to Appendix, passim.

From these representations of the magistrates and clergy of Ireland, as well as from the uniform statements of the medical practitioners examined by the commissioners, the appalling fact is now therefore ascertained beyond dispute, that a very large proportion of the poorer classes of that country die of destitution-of diseases brought on, or prematurely bastened to a fatal termination, by want of the common necessaries of life-of even the coarsest kind of food, clothing, or shelter. We make no comment on this fact, or on the other harrowing statements we have thought it our duty, though with disgust and horror, to extract as specimens of the mass of similar descriptions which composes the greater part of the evidence collected by the commissioners. We may remark, however, that the picture of the state of Ireland is not yet complete.

We We hope shortly to have the evidence, not yet printed, on the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland ; in which will be found, if we mistake not, the main cause of the misery of the Irish people, viz. the exaction of exorbitant rents as the condition of cultivating the land, the sole means of livelihood in that country, by those on whom the law has conferred its unconditional ownership, and who collect their rents from a famishing tenantry by help of an English army and an armed police. Nothing but the presence of this overwhelming force, and the extraordinary patience of that long-suffering people, could have admitted of their endurance up to this tiine of a state of misery unparalleled in any other age or country. Even that patience, however, must have limits, and perhaps they are not far off. Mr. Potter says, (p. 303,) I have heard many men declare, that unless something were done for them, it would come to this, that every man should seize whatever he could lay hands on.

The result of the exposure now officially taking place, after careful and deliberate investigation, cannot but be the speedy enactment of a legal provision for all classes of the destitute poor of Ireland. We say of all classes, because the impossibility of leaving any one class in their present condition, after it has been publicly made known, is obvious—because the able-bodied labourer out of work, to whose relief the greatest objection is usually made, appears from the evidence to be generally the most pitiable object of any--because it would be ridiculous to attempt to draw any distinction between the claims of a man sick from disease, and of one sick from hunger through the impossibility of procuring work, or between the perishing families of the one and of the other -because the horrible evils of general mendicancy, which disgrace, disturb, and ruin Ireland, can be put a stop to by no measure which shall fall short of securing every well-conducted inhabitant of Ireland from absolute destitution—the able-bodied by employment, the infirm by judiciously administered relief.

Such of the landlords of Ireland as oppose the introduction of poor-laws-(and happy we are to know that many, very many, are in favour of it-are led to do so, if we believe their ablest advocates, not from any regard to their own interests—not from any fears of the poor-tax falling (as unquestionably it ought to be made to fall) upon them, the rich-Oh, no! they think not, disinterested souls ! of themselves—but from their excessive regard for the condition and morals of the poor, which they are convinced will be dreadfully deteriorated and contaminated by any system of legal relief.* We have shown what the moral and physical con

* See the Speeches of Mr. Spring Rice, Lord Limerick, and, Mr. O'Connell passim,

dition of the Irish poor is at present in the absence of a poor-law. We ask the Right Honourable Chancellor of the Exchequer, can any thing make it worse? Show us, we say, in any of the civilized states of the world, all of which (as we have proved from official documents) provide by legal enactments against the destitution of their poor, a picture of physical wretchedness half as frightful as that of Ireland, and we will listen with composure to the paradoxical argument which is intended to prove that a law to save the poor from dying of want is an injury to the poor themselves—that to secure food, clothing and shelter to the starving, the naked, and the houseless, is to aggravate their misery! Show us, in any country cursed with a poor-law, a state of moral feeling at all comparable in its mischief to that existing in Ireland—where the best sympathies of human nature are perverted to the keeping up a mass of disgusting and wasteful mendicancy, covering the whole country with filth, disease, and wretchedness, as with a leprosy, and to the encouragement of outrages of the most savage character- where even the commission of murder is a recognized title to popular sympathy, gratitude, and protection*—then, Mr. Rice, and not till then, shall we begin to doubt that a legal secu• rity against destitution is an essential element of social organization that ought to accompany the establishment of the right to property of any description—but, above all, of land—the common

* We have quoted from the Report proofs of the peculiar sympathy shown by the peasantry to the orphans of those who have suffered for · agrarian’ offences. But we have reason to know that evidence of a still stronger character will appear in the forthcoming Report. It is notorious that, while the crowd of farmers and labourers at a fair or market in Ireland will aid readily in the apprehension of a thief, they will close in and hinder the civil authorities from pursuing a murderer. One instance is mentioned of its having come to the ears of the police in one of the western counties that a stranger, lately arrived, had given out privately that he had murdered an agent in a neighbouring county. The man was arrested, and an inquiry instituted, the result of which was that no such crime had been committed, the character of a runaway assassin having been falsely assumed by the man for the purpose, in which he had been successful, of securing employment, countenance, and support in the neighbourhood where he had come to settle! The passive participation of crowds in agrarian murders is a fact with which the courts of justice and police annals are perfectly familiar; as well as the almost total impossibility of obtaining evidence of such a deed though witnessed by hundreds, and the universal concurrence of the neighbourhood in screening the assassin. This general sympathy of a people in crimes the most revolting to human nature can only proceed from the extremity of their sufferings; by which they are compelled in the instinct of self-preservation to protect their own lives at all sacrifices. The truth is, that the peasantry of Ireland are united in a secret Jeague against the law which oppresses them, and have substituted for it a law of their own, which has its tribunals, its convictions, its sentences, and its executioners! This law (we have the distinct confession of that able and honest magistrate, the late Lord-Lieutenant for the fact) is stronger and more powerful than the law of the land, and will continue so until the latter is put in harmony with the first principles of natural justice, by providing the peasantry of Ireland with some other resource than crime for maintaining themselves in existence.

« НазадПродовжити »