Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

was erected in a French village, the revenue of which by economy became confiderable. Upon a representation by the curate of the parish that more beds were neceffary, the proprietor undertook the

This ground has been long covered with houses, which yield from L. 4000 to L. 5000 yearly. That fum is laid out upon charity-schools, upon defraying the expence of apprenticeships, and upon a ftock to young perfons when they marry; an couragement that attracts to the town of Bedford great numbers of the lower claffes. So far well: but mark the 'confequence. That encouragement relaxes the induftry of many, and adds greatly to the number of the poor. Hence it is, that in few places of England does the poor's rate amount fo high as in the town of Bedford. An extenfive common in the parish of Charley, Suffex, is the chief cause of an extravagant affeffment for the poor, no lefs than nine fhillings in the pound of rack rent. Give a poor man accefs to a common for feeding two or three cows, you make him idle by a dependence upon what he does not labour for. The town of Largo in Fife has a small hofpital, erected many years ago by a gentleman of the name of Wood; and confined by him to the poor of his own name. That name being rare in the neighbourhood, accefs to the hofpital is easy. One man in particular is entertained there, whofe father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, enjoy'd fucceflively the fame benefit; every one of whom probably would have been useful members of fociety, but for that temptation to idlenefs.

management.

Is

management. He fold the house, with the furniture; and to every proper object of charity, he ordered a moderate proportion of bread and beef. The poor and fick were more comfortably lodged at home, than formerly in the poor-house. And by that management, the parish-poor decreased, instead of increafing as at Lyons. How few English manufacturers labour the whole week, if the work of four or five days afford them maintenance? not this a demonstration, that the malady of idleness is widely spread? In Bristol, the parish-poor twenty years ago did not exceed four thousand: at prefent, they amount to more than ten thousand. But as a malady, when left to itself, commonly effectuates its own cure; fo it will be in this cafe: when, by prevailing idlenefs, every one without fhame claims parish-charity, the burden will become intolerable, and the poor will be left to their fhifts.

The immoral effects of public charity are not confined to those who depend on it, but extend to their children. The conftant anxiety of a labouring man to provide for his issue, endears them, to him.

Being relieved of that anxiety by the tax for the poor, his affection cools gradually, and he turns at laft indifferent about them. Their independence, on the other hand, weans them from their duty to him. And thus, affection between parent and child, which is the corner-ftone of fociety, is in a great measure obliterated among the labouring poor. In a plan published by the Earl of Hilfborough, an article is propofed to oblige parents to maintain their indigent children, and children to maintain their indigent parents. Natural affection must be at a low ebb, where fuch a regulation is neceffary: but it is neceffary, at leaft in London, where it is common to fee men in good business neglecting their aged and diseased parents, for no better reason than that the parish is bound to find them bread: Prob tempora, prob mores!

The immoral effects of public charity fpread ftill wider. It fails not to extinguish the virtue of charity among the rich; who never think of giving charity, when the public undertakes for all. In a fcheme published by Mr Hay, one article is, to raise a stock for the poor by volun

tary

tary contributions, and to make up the deficiency by a parish-tax. Will individuals ever contribute, when it is not to relieve the poor, but to relieve the parish? Every hofpital has a poor-box, which feldom produces any thing. The great comfort of fociety is affiftance in time of need; and its firmest cement is, the beftowing and receiving kindly offices, efpecially in distress. Now to unhinge or sufpend the exercise of charity by rendering it unneceffary, relaxes every social virtue by fupplanting the chief of them. The confequence is difmal: exercise of benevolence to the diftreffed is our firmeft guard against the encroachments of felfishness: if that guard be withdrawn, felfifhnefs will prevail, and become the ruling paffion. In fact, the tax for the poor has contributed greatly to the growth of that groveling paffion, fo confpicuous at prefent in England.

English authors who turn their thoughts

* One exception I am fond to mention. The poor-box of the Edinburgh Infirmary was neglected two or three years, little being expected from it. When opened, L. 74 and a fraction was found in it; contributed probably by the lower fort, who were afhamed to give their mite publicly.

VOL. III.

L

to

to the poor, make heavy complaints of decaying charity, and increafing poverty: never once dreaming, that these are the genuine effects of a legal provifion for the poor; which on the one hand eradicates the virtue of charity, and on the other is a violent temptation to idleness. Wonderfully ill contrived muft the English charity-laws be, when their confequences are to fap the foundation of voluntary charity; to deprive the labouring poor of their chief comfort, that of providing for themselves and children; to relax mutual affection between parent and child; and to reward, instead of punishing, idleness and vice. Confider whether a legal provifion for the poor, be fufficient to atone for fo many evils.

No man had better opportunity than Fielding to be acquainted with the state of the poor: let us liften to him.

"That

"the poor are a very great burden, and

66

[ocr errors]

even a nuifance to the kingdom; that "the laws for relieving their diftreffes and restraining their vices, have not answer"ed; and that they are at present very "ill provided for and much worfe governed, are truths which every one will

[ocr errors]

acknowledge.

« AnteriorContinuar »