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* And whereas many inconveniences do daily arise in cities, towns corporate, and parishes, where the inhabitants are very numerous, by reason of the un* limited power of the churchwardens and overseers
of the poor, who do frequently, upon frivolous pretences (but chiefly for their own private ends), give relief to what persons and number they think fit, and such persons being entered into the collection bill, do become after that a great charge to the parish, notwithstanding the occasion or pretence of their collection oftentimes ceases, by which means the rates, for the poor are daily in. creased, contrary to the true intent of a statute made in the 43d year of the reign of her majesty queen Elizabeth, intituled, An Act for the relief of the poor ; for remedying of which, the statute enacts, that, for the future, a book shall be provided and kept in every parish (at the charge of the same parish) wherein the names of all persons receiving
collection, &c. shall be registered, with the day 6 and year of their first receiving it. This book to
be yearly, or oftener, viewed by the parishioners, * and the names of the persons who receive collec. otion shall be called over, and the reason of the receiving it examined, and a new list made; and no other person is allowed to receive collection byt by order of a justice of peace, &c. except in case of pestilential diseases or small-pox.
The 8th and oth of the same king, reciting the fear of the legislature, That the money raised only for the relief of sucb as are as well impotent as poor, should be misapplied and consumed by the idle, sturdy, and disorderly beggars, 'Enacts, that every person, his wife,
children, &c. who shall receive relief from the parish, shall wear a badge marked with the letter • P, &c. in default of which, a justice of peace may order the relief of such persons to be abridged,
* The same statute in another part charges the overseer'a &c. with applying the poor's money to their own use.
suspended, or withdrawn, or may commit them for
twenty-one days to the house of correction, there 'to be kept to hard labour. And every church
warden or overseer, who relieves any one without
a badge, being convicted before one justice, « forfeits 2os.'
Whether the justices made an ill use of the power given them by the statute of the 3d and 4th of king William, I will not determine; but the parliament thought proper afterwards to abridge it ; for by the gth of George I.* the justices are forbidden, 'To make any order for the relief of a poor person, till oath is first made of a reasonable cause; and that application hath been made to the parishioners at the vestry, or to two officers, and that relief hath • been refused. Nor can the justice then give his order, till he hath summoned the overseers to shew cause why relief should not be given.'
By the same statute, 'Those persons to whom 'the justices order relief, are to be registered in the parish books, as long only as the cause of the relief continues. Nor shall any parish officer be allowed any money given to the unregistered poor, unless on the most urgent occasion. The penalty for charging such money to the parish account is 5l. « The conviction is to be before two justices.'
Lastly, That the parish may in all possible cases be relieved from the burden of the poor, whereas the statute of Elizabeth obliges the father, mother, &c. and children, if able, to relieve their poor children and parents ; so, by the 5th of George I. *, it is provided, “That where any wife or child shall • be left by the husband or parents a charge to any
parish, the churchwardens or overseers may, by the order of tivo justices, seize so much of the • goods and chattels, and receive so much of the
annual rents and profits of the lands and tene*ments of such husband or parent, as the justices * "Chap. XXX, sect. 2.
† Chap. viii.
shall order towards the discharge of the parish; ' and the sessions may empower the churchwardens • and overseers, to dispose thereof, for the provid
ing for the wife, and bringing up the children,
Such is the law that relates immediately to the maintenance of the impotent poor; a law so very ample in its provision, so strongly fortified with enforcing powers, and so cautiously limited with all proper restraints, that, at first sight, it appears sufficiently adequate to every purpose for which it was intended, but experience hath convinced us of the contrary
And here I am well aware of the delicate dilemına, to which I may seem reduced ; since how shall I presume to suppose any defects in a law, which the legislature seems to have laboured with such incessant diligence ? but I am not absolutely driven to this disagreeable necessity, as the fault may so fairly be imputed to the non-execution of the law; and, indeed, to the ill-execution of the statute of Elizabeth, my lord chief justice Hale chiefly imputes the imperfect provision for the poor in his time.
Sir Josiah Child, it is true, speaks more boldly, and charges the defects on the laws themselves : One general position, however, which he lays down, That there never was a good law made, that was not well executed, is surely very questionable. So therefore must be his opinion, if founded on that maxim; and this opinion, perhaps, he would have changed, had he lived to see the latter constitutions on this head.
But whatever defects there may be in the laws, or in the execution of them, I much doubt whether either of these great men hath found the means of curing them. And this I am the more forward to say, as the legislature, by a total neglect of both their
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schemes, seems to give sufficient countenance to my assertion. · In a matter then of so much difficulty, as well as so great importance, how shall I venture to deliver my own opinion ? Such, indeed, is the difficulty and importance of this question, that sir Josiah Child thinks, If a whole session of parliament were employed on this single concern, it would be time spent as much to the glory of God, and good of this nation, as in any thing tbat noble and wortby patriots of their country can be engaged in.
However, under the protection of the candid, and with deference to the learned reader, I will enter on this subject, in which, I think, I may with modesty say, I have had some experience ; and in which I can with truth declare, I have employed no little time. If any gentleman, who hath had more experience, hath more duly considered the matter, or whose superior abilities enable him to form a better judgment, shall think proper to improve my endeavours, he hath my ready consent. Provided the end be effected, I shall be contented with the honour of my share (however inconsiderable) in the means. Nay, should my labours be attended only with neglect and contempt, I think I have learned (for I am a pretty good historian) to bear such misfortunes without much repining.
By THE POOK, tħen, I understand such persons as have no estate of their own' to support them, without industry; nor any profession or trade, by which, with industry, they may be capable of gaining a comfortable subsistence.
This class of the people may be considered under these three divisions :
First, Such poor as are unable to work. 2dly, Such as are able and willing to work. 3dly, Such as are able to work, but not willing.
As to the first of these, they are but few. An utter incapacity to work must arise from some defeet, occasioned either by nature or accident. Natural incapacities are greatly the most (perhaps the only) considerable ones; for as to accidental maims, how very rarely do they happen, and, I must add, how very nobly are they provided for, when they do happen! Again, as to natural incapacities, they are but few, unless those two general circumstances, one of which must, and the other may befal all men; I mean, the extremes of youth and age ; for, besides these, the number of persons who really labour under an utter incapacity of work, will, on a just inspection, be found so trifling, that two of the London hospitals might contain them all. The reader will be pleased to observe, I say of those who really labour, &c. for he is much deceived, who computes the number of objects in the nation, from the great number which he daily sees in the streets of London. Among whom I myself have discovered some notorious cheats, and my good friend, Mr. Welch, the worthy high constable of Holborn division, inany more. Nothing, as I have been well informed, is more common among these wretches, than for the lame, when provoked, to use their crutches as weapons instead of supporters; and for the blind, if they should hear the beadle at their heels, to outrun the dogs which guided them before. As to diseases, to which human nature is universally liable, they sometimes (though very rarely, for health is the happy portion of poverty) befal the poor; and at all such times they are certainly objects of charity, and entitled, by the law of God, to relief from the sich. Upon the whole, this first class of the
is so truly inconsiderable in number, and to provide for them in the most ample and liberal manner would be so very easy to the publick; to support and cherish them, and to relieve their wants, is a duty so positively commanded by our Saviour, and is withal so agreeable and delightful in itself, afford