The Peel Web

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.


English Charity

Quarterly Review Vol. LIII, February-April 1835 (John Murray, London, 1835), pp. 473-539

[473]ARTICLE VIII

An address to the Churchwardens, Guardians, Overseers of the Poor, and Rate-Payers of the Wingham Division of St. Augustine, in the County of Kent, on a Resolution adopted at a Meeting held at Wingham, on Thursday the 22nd of January. Canterbury. 1835.

On the day the Poor-Law Amendment Act passed into a law, it occurred to us, that were we to go personally to any spot where it might be determined to bring the new code at once into operation, we should be enabled calmly to review the old condemned law [474] in its full operation, as well as the first strife, struggle, or conflict between it and its infant antagonist. The practical working of the act might possibly prove so different from the theoretical intentions of its framers, that on a point of vital importance to all classes of our society, but especially to the poor, we resolved to judge for ourselves, and gravely to form our opinion on a strict, impartial analysis of facts.

With this serious object in view, we accordingly accompanied the Assistant Poor-Law Commissioner who first sallied forth on his official errantry into one of the most troublesome districts in the country. For four months we never left him for a moment—in fact, we were his shadow. We inspected every poor-house in East Kent—attended all his public meetings of magistrates, parish-officers, and rate-payers—observed how and why he divided the whole of East Kent into unions—remarked by what assistance he succeeded in effecting this object, as well as obtaining the consent in writing of the guardians for the dissolution of all the old existing unions. We pored over his calculations, sifted his data, studied his reports: we listened to the sturdy arguments occasionally raised against him—and with equal impartiality we listened to his replies. By conversing with the magistrates, yeomen, parish-officers, peasantry, and paupers, we made ourselves acquainted with public opinion as well as private interests, and it will now be our endeavour to lay before the public, in the unpretending form of a few unconnected notes, a short review of these proceedings.

River workhouseRiver Workhouse, Dover Road, Kent

To give our readers a full and correct notion of the poor-houses in East Kent would be almost as difficult as to sketch him a picture of the variegated surface of this globe. We will endeavour to commence the task by describing, first, the buildings, and then their inmates. The River workhouse, which is on the great Dover road, about three miles from the town, is a splendid mansion, which Mr. Robins would designate as 'delightfully situate,' and fit for the residence of a 'county-member' or 'NOBLEMAN OF RANK.' Modestly retired from the road, it yet proudly overlooks a meandering stream, and the dignity of its elevation, the elegant chasteness of its architecture, the massive structure of its walls, its broad double staircase, its spacious halls, its lofty bed-rooms, and its large windows, form altogether 'a delightful retreat,' splendidly contrasted with the mean little rate-paying hovels at its feet, which, like a group of wheelbarrows round the Lord Mayor's coach, are lost in the splendour of the gilded spectacle. And though, to be sure, it is not yet paid for—though many of its aged paupers, unable to reach its summit, naturally enough prefer to live ‘cheap [475] and nasty' in a clinker-built shed which adjoins it—yet not a bit the less on that account does it stand a monument of our inexplicable wealth, a top-heavy symbol of our prosperity, a picture of English policy; it is, in short, for the pauper, what Greenwich Hospital is for the sailor.

Many of the Kentish poor-houses, which about forty years ago were simultaneously begotten by Gilbert's act, bear a strong family resemblance to the proud hero we have just described. Some are lofty, some low, but all are massive and costly; indeed, it would seem that, provided the plan was sufficiently expensive, no questions were asked. A considerable number of poor-houses, again, are composed of old farm-houses, more or less out of repair. Some are supported by props—many are really unsafe—several living alone in a field seem deserted by all but their own paupers—some stand tottering in a boggy lane, two miles from any dwelling—and in many cases they are so dilapidated, so bent by the prevailing wind, that it seems a problem whether the worn-out aged inmate will survive his wretched hovel, or it him! Without attempting to argue which of all these buildings is the most sensibly adapted to its object, we will only humbly observe, that all cannot be right. We might even say, that, as they are all different, if one should happen to be right, it would follow that all the rest must be wrong. However, bidding adieu to brick walls and mud ones, broad staircases and ladders, slated roofs and thatch, we will now proceed to enter these various dwellings.

In some of the largest of these habitations an attempt has evidently been made to classify and arrange the inmates, and, generally speaking, every apartment is exceedingly clean. In one large room are found sitting in silence a group of motionless worn-out men ‘with age grown double’, but neither ‘picking dry sticks’ nor ‘mumbling to themselves’. With nothing to do—with nothing to cheer them—with nothing in this world to hope for—with nothing to fear—gnarled into all sorts of attitudes, they look more like pieces of ship-timber than men. In another room area seen huddled together in similar attitudes a number of old exhausted women, clean, tidy, but speechless and deserted. Many, we learned, had seen brighter days, and in several instances we were informed that their relations (we will not insult them by calling them friends) were 'well off in the world' but whenever we asked whether they were often visited, we invariably received the same reply, 'Oh, no! people seldom takes any notice of 'em after they once gets here.'

In large airy bed-rooms (separate of course) were found men and women all bed-ridden. As we passed between two ranges of trestles almost touching each other, nothing was to be seen but a [476] set of wrinkled faces which seemed more dead than alive. Many had been lying there for years —many had been inmates of the poor-house for fourteen, fifteen and eighteen years—few seemed to have any disorder—they were wanting nothing, asking nothing; waiting for nothing but their death. As we passed one poor man, he said he knew he was dying and, raising his head from his pillow, he begged hard that 'little George' might be sent for but the master, accustomed to such scenes, would have considered the request inadmissible, had not the Assistant Commissioner ventured rather strongly to enforce it.

The only instance, in all the poorhouses we visited, of any stranger attending upon its inmates, was in a large room containing about thirty bed-ridden old females. On a trestle there was lying a woman who was not well—she was ill—very ill;—in fact, she was dying. Her face was much flushed, she kept pulling at her bedclothes, and, excepting in one direction, turn which way she would she seemed restless. The only attitude that appeared for a moment to suit her was when she cast her eyes upon a fine healthy peasant lad dressed in a smock-frock, saturated with brown clay, who sat by her bed-side. It was her son. Syllable by syllable and with his finger helping him as he proceeded, he was attempting to read to her the Bible. The job was almost more than he could perform—his eyes however, never left his book for a moment, but her's occasionally turned upon his face, and then upon the sacred volume in his hand, the sight of both united seeming always to afford her a momentary ease amounting almost to pleasure.

In the Coxheath United-Workhouse we found the following group seated round a small fire :-

David Kettle
aged
99
William Pinson
"
90
John Hollands
"
90
Edward Baldwin
"
76
John Latherby
"
75

They were all leaning towards the lad Latherby, who, in a monotonous tone of voice, was very slowly reading the following prayer to them, out of a tract published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge:-

O Lord Almighty, who givest to thy creatures health and strength, and when thou seest fit visitest them with sickness and infirmity, be pleased to hear the prayers of those who are now afflicted by thy hand. Look down from heaven, behold, visit, and in thine own good time relieve them, and dispose them to place all their trust, and confidence in thee, not in the help of man!

On our taking the pamphlet from his hands to copy the words into our notebook, the five men never altered their attitudes, but [477] during the whole operation sat like the frozen corpses which in Napoleon's retreat from Moscow were found still in the attitude of warming their hands in the white dead embers of their departed fire!

From these sad pictures of decrepitude we were generally conducted into the apartment belonging to the able-bodied women, who were ordered to rise from their chairs in honour of the entrance of strangers. In their robust outlines certainly no wrinkles were to be seen—whatever was their complaint, they equally laboured under it all—nature's simplest hieroglyphic sufficiently denoted their state,

'And coming events cast their shadows before.'

Adjoining this room, there was always a den of convalescents—a little land flowing with milk and honey, which is easier imagined than described. On descending the staircase, the next scene was a room full of sturdy labourers out of work. In hob-nailed half-boots and dirty smock-frocks, they were generally sitting round a stove, with faces scorched and half-roasted: as we passed them they never rose from their seats, and had generally an over-fed, a mutinous, and an insubordinate appearance. A room full of girls from five to sixteen, and another of boys of about the same age, completed the arrangement. In some cases, they were said to be 'completely separated'—that is to say, they could not possibly meet without going up stairs; which 'was forbidden' otherwise they were, strange to say, separated only 'till dusk;' and in many instances their rooms were divided but they met together, whenever it so pleased them, in the yards. Such is the general state of the large poor-houses of East Kent.

In the smaller ones the minute classification we have mentioned has been found impossible: all that is effected is to put the males of all ages into one room, and all the females into another. In these cases, the old are teased by the children, who are growled at when they talk, and scolded when they play, until they become cowed into silence. The able-bodied men are the noisy orators of the room, the children listen to their oaths, and, what is often much worse, to the substance of their conversation, while a poor idiot or two, hideously twisted, stands grinning at the scene, or, in spite of remonstrances incessantly chattering to himself. In the women's hall, which is generally separated only by a passage from the men's, females of all characters and of all shapes live with infants, children, and young girls of all ages. We could carry the description of these two rooms much farther, but it would be painful to do so.

We forgot to mention that we often found a large attic in the roof, used as a dormitory for 'able-bodied labourers and their wives.' [478] Each bed was separated from its neighbour by an old blanket, In this society of 'low life above stairs,'—in this chance medley of ' les frères et les soeurs de la charité,'—it must be supposed that the ladies first modestly retired to their nests; yet we could not help fancying that if husband A should happen unintentionally to make a mistake, the position of his shoes might perchance throw B, C, D, and the rest of the connubial alphabet, all wrong. Whether such a higgledy-piggledy arrangement be creditable or not to a civilized country it is not our present intention to inquire—suffice it to say, that it only forms part and parcel of a system.

In the small tottering hovels we have mentioned, we generally found seven or eight old people at the point of death, an able-bodied labourer or two, with a boy or a young girl, who, in answer to our inquiries was generally, before its innocent face, said to be 'only a love-child.' Sometimes we discovered but two or three inmates in these diminutive poor-huts :— there was always, however, a being termed 'The Governor;' and in one case we found only two paupers, one being 'His Excellency,' and the other his guest—

'And so his man Friday kept his house neat and tidy,
For you know 'twas his duty to do so,
Like brother and brother, who live one with another,
So lived Friday and Robinson Crusoe:’

In these poor-houses, so falsely called work-houses, we found that the cost of keeping the paupers varied as widely as the character of the dwellings. As there at present exist in England about 500,000 in-door poor, the reader can calculate for himself that a single farthing per day, profusely expended upon each, amounts to rather more than 190,0001. a-year: this being the case, one would conceive that something like a fixed sum would have been determined upon; but from the reports of 280 parishes which are now lying before us, it appears that the cost of maintaining a pauper in Kent varies from 2s. 2d. a-week to 4s. 6d.; and strange to add, these sums are, in general, granted equally for all inmates,—men, women, children, and even infants a month old; sucking babies being, by pauper-law, as costly and as consumptive as full-grown ploughmen. By this arrangement it is evident that it is made the interest of the governor, who is generally the contractor, that there should exist as many babies in his dominion as can conveniently be produced.

However, although there is this wide difference in the cost of the various poor-houses, yet throughout these receptacles the diet differs but little. Almost everywhere the Kentish pauper has what are called three meat-days a-week, in many cases four meat-days, and in some cases five; his bread is many degrees [479] better than that given to our soldiers; he has vegetables at discretion; and especially in the large workhouses, it is declared with great pride that 'there is no stinting' but that 'we gives 'em as much victuals as ever they can eat.' It should, however, be observed that we detected a clause in this Act which it is only fair should be explained. It is very true, that the ploughman in the workhouse receives as much as ever he can eat—'Provided always,’ says the unwritten code, 'that he clears his plate before he asks for more.' In order, therefore, to obtain a third edition of meat, he must previously manage to swallow greens and potatoes enough to choke a pig; and as he is confined to the sty with no other work to perform, our reader will not perhaps be surprised at our previous statement that the able-bodied pauper in the poor-house has the tight appearance of being over-fed.

But casting the ledger aside, admitting that poor-houses of all shapes are equally good,—that it is beneath the dignity of a wealthy nation to care whether the nation pays 2s. 2d. or 4s. 6d. for a pauper's fare, or whether such a being bursts himself or not,—supposing even that the poor-rates of this country were to be paid by our satellite the man in the moon,—let us for a moment consider what is the effect of this system of stall-fed charity, and what truth there is in those lines which pathetically declare

'How wide the limits stand
Between a splendid and a happy land.'

We have stated that in viewing with considerable attention some hundred workhouses, we found aged people of all descriptions,—those who had basked in prosperity as well as those who had known of this world nothing but its adversity, — alike deserted; and while they stood or rather lay before our eyes, we could not help feeling at each spot how mistaken had been the kindness which, by the smell of hot joints, had attracted so many poor, helpless parents to enter the gates of their parish poor-house, over which might too justly be inscribed —'Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch' entrate.' ['Abandon hope, all ye who enter here'—Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)]. As we gazed upon the poor dying pauper, lying deserted on his trestle, always (with the solitary exception we have mentioned) had we thought —

'Had he no friend, no daughter dear,
His trembling voice to soothe and cheer ?
Had he no son?'

We wished we could have added

'Aye, Once he had,
But he was dead!'

The coarse fact, however, was, that the fellow, far from being dead, was in a beer-shop, pointed out to him by a board which very imperfectly explains to us whether it is the beer or the [480] peasant which is required by Act of Parliament 'TO BE DRUNK ON THE PREMISES.'

The infant must be weaned from its mother, the apron-string that tethers the boy to her side must be cut, but that filial band by which nature binds a man to his aged parent should only by severed by her death,—like the white-wand of Garter King at Arms, it should never be broken until it is dropped into the grave, upon the hollow sounding coffin lid of its monarch. It seems, however, consistent with that stall-fed system of English charity, which, as shall soon be shown, possesses fifty-four governors for encouraging women to desert their infant offspring, that there should also exist in the country a premium on the opposite vice, namely, for every ploughman who will consent to desert his aged mother. Were it not for this application of our poor-rates, these can be no doubt that the English peasant, and above all, the Kentish peasant, would feel an honest pride in labouring for the support of his parents, and that, instead of expending his sturdy powers in himself digesting meat, cabbage, and potatoes in a poor-house, he would most willingly wear himself down in the noble duty of providing for his mother's comfort, by re-paying to her in decrepitude the sustenance which in his infancy he had borrowed of her; for, can government beershops offer him enjoyment superior to this which nature has implanted in his heart? But to give her five meat-days a-week to maintain her in the style in which the parish trough feeds its guest is totally beyond his humble powers, and thus he is actually encouraged leave her to her fate. 'When once the filial tie is broken—when once, emigrating from her chimney-corner, she has entered that painted sepulchre the parish poor-house, her son's duties appear to him to be at an end. She has a better dwelling, better cloths, better food, better fires, than he could possibly provide for her; and little does he or she think of that horrid chasm, those countless hours which, with no ostensible cause of complaint, must intervene, between her first parish meat-day and her death.

Those who weigh moral happiness against food,—who measure intellectual enjoyment by the imperial gallon,—who consider that misfortune means a half-empty stomach, and that perfect contentment is feeling 'chock full,'—will deny the force of the foregoing arguments; but we hope there are still many who will keenly feel that to end one's career by fourteen or eighteen years' neglected banishment in a poor-house—to close a morning's activity by a long dreary evening of woe,— for the mind to be buried alive so long before the body be interred,—to be degraded in a parish in which it was once one's pride to be distinguished,— to be abandoned by those whose helpless infancy one had laboured to [481] support, is not only to be an English pauper but to be ‘poor indeed!’

The misfortune to the parent and son is mutual,—both sink; the beer-shop and the poor-house are alike destructive, they play into each other's hands; the one entices the lad to desert his mother; the other fatally induces the mother to leave her son: absolved from the duty of providing for his parent, he tries, encouraged by parliament; to distil happiness from strong beer; she, equally encouraged by the parish, expects to extract filial consolation from hot meat; both are deceived,—he becomes brutal; mutinous, demoralized, she, lingers without happiness, and dies deserted. We have painfully witnessed and deeply reflected on the scenes we have described, and we have no hesitation in declaring that in our humble opinion the late pauper system of in-door relief (totally regardless of its enormous expense) has, in the case of our aged poor, created infinitely more misery than it has alleviated.

Firmly believing that there exists on the surface of this earth no soil more congenial to the growth of every domestic virtue than the breast of the English peasant, it is but too true, that if thorns be found growing there instead of fruit,—if the crop be poisonous instead of being nutritive;—our political labourers, not the land, must be cursed. The ancient Greeks revered even the bones of their ancestors; we have taught our peasantry to bequeath their parents, blood, body, and bones to the workhouse.

With respect to the manner in which children have been systematically demoralized in many of our small poor-houses, the error, we conceive, speaks so clearly for itself, that we need not offer to be its advocate. A mixture, in about equal parts, (never mind a scruple or two,) of boys and girls, idle men, and abandoned women, can only by a miracle be unproductive of evil to society; we will, therefore, content ourselves with repeating a practical opinion which was thus expressed to us by a governor of twenty years' experience :-

When children,' said Mr. Cadell, 'have been brought up in a work'us, they have never no disposition to shun a work'us.'

It appears, therefore, that in all cases where children might have been made to provide for themselves, or might have been thrown on their relations for support, the parish has culpably attracted them to their ruin.

Having now treated of those two extremes—the aged pauper and the children of the poor-house—we will offer a few remarks on the mode by which the Kentish poor-houses cunningly manage to get possession also of their able-bodied inmates.

To induce a fine athletic fellow to barter independence for [482] dependence, to exchange voluntarily liberty for confinement, and honest work for idleness, was not only the last, but the hardest job which stall-fed Charity had to perform; and her exertions to gain this darling object have been proportionally great. To have persuaded the Kentish ploughman to become a pauper, by appealing to his brains, would, she knew, have been hopeless, but his stomach was a house of easier access:- 'La barriga,' she exultingly exclaimed,'lleva los lies! tripas llevan pies!' She accordingly in Kent, in order to bait the workhouse trap, arranged, printed, and published a bribe, which we consider as one of the most astonishing documents in the pig-sty history of our poor-laws.

Before we submit a few extracts from this ludicrous proclamation, we should mention, that having entered within the last few months a vast number of cottages, having quietly conversed with the inhabitants, and seen and sat down with them at their meals, we are enabled to assure our readers, that we have met with many instances of labourers' families (we do not allude to those who steal corn for their pigs) subsisting a whole week without meat—nay, of there often being scarcely food enough of any sort for the children. In one instance, wishing to have a model of a work-house executed, we called upon an artist of considerable merit. He was preparing some works for a public exhibition; and it was evident from his look as well as from the sunken features of his family, that they not only were, but had long been, badly fed. The man of genius, however, was soaring high above his stomach; in fact, his outline, so like our own, showed scarcely any stomach at all. We found it impossible, in fact, to divert this speculator's conversation from his favourite subject. But while he mounted for a moment into his attic, in search of a new specimen of his art, we quietly observed to his wife, who sat surrounded by four children, that we feared they were badly off. The woman with tears in her eyes, pointed to a basket of potatoes in the corner of the room, and assured us, that excepting a sheep's-head among them all, they had tasted since Sunday week nothing but potatoes and bread!

We admit this sad picture to be an extreme case, yet, in every country it is unavoidably necessary that the independent (and honest) labourer, who, besides himself, has a large family to support, must, to a certain degree be poorly fed—but on that account, he need not sink in his own estimation, he ought not to be allowed to sink in the estimation of the world. If, however, the pauper be unjustly elevated many degrees above this man, the latter becomes in fact relatively degraded—and he will not feel this the less, although it may be declared by all the political economists in Europe that he has been left untouched and absolutely at rest.

[483] Now, supposing a large body of labourers, barely able to provide for themselves, should, in going to their work, stop for a moment to read such a proclamation as we lately tore from the walls of one of the Kentish workhouses, we only ask what effect would it produce? With agitations of considerable surprise, our readers shall now learn what a variety of substantives and adjectives are requisite in order to advertise for a pauper’s fare :-

Condition of Contracts.

  1. The contractors to furnish warm, wholesome, sweet, clean comfortable beds, bedding, blankets, and sheets, and good sufficient shoes, hats, bonnets, caps, and wearing apparel-of all kinds, as well linen as woollen; two things of each sort for every poor person admitted into the workhouse, suitable to their age and sex.
  2. The contractors to provide as many servants as shall be necessary for cooking and serving up the victuals; for washing, cleaning, and keeping in order the workhouses, and premises, and the poor therein, and attending on them when necessary.
  3. The contractors to provide and supply good, sweet wholesome fat meat, and other articles of diet in sufficient quantities for the consumption of the poor. The meat to consist of good fat beef, leg of mutton pieces, and chucks of good ox beef, and good wether mutton.
  4. The beer to be good sound small beer.
  5. The flour to be the best household flour.
  6. The bread to be the best second wheaten bread.
  7. The cheese to be good Gloucester cheese.
  8. The butter to be good and clean.
  9. All the other articles to be good in their respective kinds.
  10. No pork is to be given to the paupers (!) and no salt meat, only such as shall have been salted to preserve it from spoiling; and which shall be dressed within four days from the time of salting.

But lest the pauper, from becoming tired of this homely fare, should threaten to quit the poor-house, the contractor is occasionally to furnish a nice little variety for him as follows:-

‘For every poor person, the following instead of the usual dinner allowance, shall be provided, viz:—

  1. On Christmas-day, fourteen ounces before cooked of good baked beef with vegetables—one pint of strong beer, and one pound of plum-pudding.
  2. On two days in the summer, six ounces of bacon with green peas.
  3. On two other days, six ounces of bacon with beans.
  4. On four other days, good mackerel.
  5. On four other days, good fresh herrings.
  6. On six other days, good salt fish instead of meat.
  7. The pea-soup to be made according to the following receipt; and the assistant overseer to see that the stipulated ingredients are all put in.

[484] Here follow the weights of the ingredients of this national soupe maigre, which is to be made merely of 'beef, peas, potatoes leaks, onions, and Scotch barley.'

  1. The contractors to provide firing for warming, and candles for lighting the rooms of the workhouse, and good coal fires in the general room, from the 1st of October until the 1st of May; and during the time when fires are not stipulated, to keep good coal-fires in fourteen rooms, at the usual hour, in the morning and evening, for the paupers to boil the water in their tea-kettles.’

There are about fourteen or fifteen other clauses in this curious contract, which relate to minor luxuries scarcely worth attention, such as,—'22. The contractors to have the paupers’ hair cut once in SIX weeks;’ and, ‘22—The contractors to PROVIDE WIGS for such as wear them or require them’!!!

A desire to pull down the aristocracy of a country proceeds only from jealousy ignorant of human nature, for he who has ever lived among republics (particularly among those of the new world) has probably been sufficiently convinced that a spit-on-the-carpet equality is very far from desirable; still its advocates may honestly fancy that it might be a blessing ;—but to disorganise society by reversing our system—by elevating the pauper above the labourer, is a pot-bellied philanthropy which one cannot sufficiently despise. Of all seductions it is the nastiest, for it is the swinish government of the belly. We read of luxury and effeminacy having created national imbecility and premature decay, but there is no other instance on record of a wealthy country, in rude health, bursting its social band by such false principles of arrant gluttony.

How can we possibly conceive that the lower orders of this country will stand against the storm, how can we expect that they will be foolish enough, mad enough, to gain their bread by the sweat of their brow, so long as we publicly notify to them, that there is roast-beef and plum-pudding, bacon and beans, green-peas and mackerel, strong-beer, fresh-herrings, and warm wigs, for those who will cowardly fly from their work? What authority can a parochial officer, the assistant-overseer, have in their eyes, when they find that he is ordered to mix their soup, and to take special care that the Scotch barley, the leeks, the beef, and the onions, are duly congregated?

It happened that when we visited the poor-house of Canterbury, which is conducted under a proclamation very similar to that we have just quoted, we witnessed a scene worth relating. The city is composed of fourteen united parishes, each of which
furnishes two citizen-guardians. The government of the poor belongs also to the mayor and corporation, who are, generally speaking, liberal, [485] well-educated men, but as the citizen-guardians out-vote them, they have long agreed to absent themselves from the workhouse Court. The fitting pride of this court is to stuff the pauper at the expense of the lean rate-payer; and on the day of our visiting their workhouse we found that little puddle in a storm. The contractor had happened to furnish batch of bread, nutritive, wholesome, and to any hungry man most excellent, but a shade darker than was deemed fit for a pauper. We will not say how very many degrees whiter it was than the bread we have eaten with the Russian and Prussian armies—we will merely observe, it was considerably whiter than the ‘brown tommy’ of our own soldiers, or than that species of luxury known in our fashionable world by the enticing appellation of brown bread. The Canterbury-guardians however, had declared it to be unfit for the paupers, and the governor had consequently been obliged to furnish them with white bread from one of the bakers of the town. The Assistant Commissioner not only greedily ate of this bread, but respectfully forwarded a loaf of it to the poor-law board, who probably requested Mr. Chadwick to digest it and report thereon. The contractor, however, having the whole batch on his hands, and from pride not choosing publicly to dispose of it, ordered it to be given to his pigs. On proceeding to the styes we found these sensible animals literally gorged with it. All but one were lying on their sides in their straw, grunting in dreams of plethoric ecstasy—a large hungry pie-bald hog had just received his share, and as, looking at the Poor-Law Commissioner, he stood crunching and munching this nice bread, there was something so irresistibly comic in his eye, something so sarcastic and satirical, something in its twinkle, that seemed to say—De gustibus non est disputandum! -“Citizen-guardians for ever, and down with the poor-law amendment act!'—that the contractor himself was seen to smile, -

‘And the devil he smiled, for it put him in mind
Of England’s commercial prosperity!’

The general effect produced by this system may be sufficiently explained by a very few instances. Mr. Curling, the governor of Margate workhouse, declared in our hearing

‘I am an eye-witness that, by over-feeding the pauper, we have made the labouring classes discontented.’

He added,

'During the fashionable season at Margate, the donkey-drivers, the fly-drivers, and hundreds who are employed by the London ladies, generally receive 24s. a week, but it is all spent in beer—there is no prudence, nothing saved; for the cant phrase among them is, We have always the Mansion-house to go to.'

We may observe that the cost of 204 in-door paupers at [486] Margate has amounted to about £2000 a year. An overseer near Canterbury told us that a young man had for nearly a year been receiving 1s. 6d. a week from the parish, every Friday—that he always spent this money in hiring a gun to shoot with on Sunday—and that, whenever he received his money, he returned laughing with it in his hand to his fellow-workmen, saying, with much less elegance than truth, 'What a set of d—d fools they are!' Mr. John Davies, the overseer of St. Peter’s, at Sandwich, said —'They only to thrust themselves into the work’us, to get a bellyfull of good victuals and do nothing, but I won’t let ‘em!’

It will sound incredible, that the overseers themselves, as well as the governors of the workhouses, are perfectly sensible of the vice of this shocking system but that such is the case the following extracts from certificates addressed to the Assistant Commissioner by several of the most respectable of the governors, &c., on the 9th of February last, will clearly show:—

'Having been a governor of the poor-house of this parish, and also clerk to the guardians, for fourteen years, I have had the opportunity of witnessing that the paupers in this house live a great deal better than many who are tradespeople, and who help to support them; and I am certain of the fact, that many of the independent labourers do not get meat once a week. The boatmen of this place, at present, are in a very distressed situation, and I think it is very often the case that they have no meat in the course of the week.
(Signed) AB

'I have been a guardian of, this parish for seven years, and I am quite sure the paupers in the workhouse live better than one-third of the rate-payers of this parish; and I have very frequently said to parishioners, the people of our house live much too well, and that they are better off than half the inhabitants; but the reply was, ‘That is no business of yours.'
(Signed) C. D.

‘Having filled the situation of governor these fourteen years past, as also superintendent of the unemployed poor, I am sure, from the experience that I have had of witnessing much the distress of the industrious rate-payer, that he cannot in any degree live equal, nor have those comforts, the poor in our workhouse have; which I have frequently stated to our board of officers, but the reply has been, “If the parishioners are satisfied, what need your trouble yourself about it.”
(Signed) E. F.’

‘I think that not one half of the rate-payers of our parish live as well as the poor in the house; and none of our our poor live so well as the in-poor. I have often expressed this opinion in committee.
(Signed) G. U.

'I really believe that many of the poor rate-payers do not live better, or have meat so often in their family, as the people in the poor-house, as I have been frequently given to understand, by the different [487] collectors of the poor’s rates; and am sure, that, out of the five hundred boatmen, none of them live so well as the people in our workhouse, and very few of the boatmen get meat at all.
(Signed) KL

But if these letters do not, the Kentish fires throw quite light enough on the effects of this system. In no region it has been our fortune to visit have we ever seen a peasantry so completely disorganised. In no enemy's country that we have seen have we ever encountered the churlish demeanour which these men, as one meets them in their lanes, now assume. Perfectly uneducated—neither mechanics, manufacturers, nor artisans—in point of intellect little better than the horses they drive, they govern in a manner which is not very creditable to their superiors. Their system of robbing corn for their horses has, they believe, been almost sanctioned by custom into law; and as, with something like justice, they conceive they are entitled to be higher fed than the scale established for the pauper, nothing they can honestly gain can possibly be sufficient to make them contented. And yet the countenances of these country clods are strangely contrasted with their conduct. We would trust them with our life—in no country in the world are there to be seen infants, boys, and lads of more prepossessing appearance—honesty, simplicity, and courage adorn them; proving that they are the descendants of those who were once complimented by the remark that they were ‘Non Angli sed Angeli’ [not Angles but Angels]. Their women, like their hops, have ten thousand clinging, clasping, blooming, undulating beauties; and there seems to be no reason why, of their lovely native county, it should not still be said, ‘Ex his, qui Cautium incolunt longe sunt beatissimi.’ But it is not of their materials we complain; it is only of our own workmanship—our poor-laws have ruined them!

The curate of a Kentish village told us, that while he was that morning earnestly exhorting a poor family to abandon their depraved habits, the labourer rose from his chimney-corner, and told him, that 'If he did not quit the cottage that moment, he would kick him out.'

An association is at this moment forming among them to resist the Poor-Law Amendment Act, and, in fact, all other acts and deeds, as will appear by the following extract from a communication recently sent to London, by the rector, churchwardens, and overseers of Wittersham. After stating that ‘the unions are in the habit of holding their meetings very frequently at various places in this neighbourhood,’ they proceed to detail the following evidence, which a labourer had just given to his master:—

'He says, two men stand, one on each side of the door, with drawn [488] swords in their hands: they that intend to be members are sworn in, blindfolded, to fight if they are wanted; and that two of the greatest men in London are at the head, and they send others into the country; and they say that they have enough men to crush all the rest now if they like to do it. The man says, that he expects, before a month's time, that nearly all the parish will have joined it, and what do not like to join, they intend to compel: no parish-relief to be received by a member. The man says, that they intend that the king should have less, the parsons less, and the poor people more, to live on; and when I said that it was out of their power to make that alteration, he said he expected it would cause war. I asked the man if he thought they would take in any farmers as members of the union, he said, they would not admit farmers into the room, for they were against farmers.'

It is impossible to read the rustic programme of this hob-nailed Parliament without a sense of ridicule and disgust: but ought there not to be also a deeper feeling of our own responsibility in having, by our sins of omission and commission, so largely contributed to the degradation of these uneducated and misguided men?

The Assistant Commissioner, having witnessed more of these scenes than we have time or inclination to detail, felt it his duty respectfully to address to the Poor-Law Commissioners a letter, from which we shall now make some extracts.

'During the inspection which I have made of one hundred and ninety-one parishes, I have very earnestly endeavoured to inform myself of the relative scale of diet between the pauper and the independent labourer; and, the result of my own observations having been in every instance corroborated without any hesitation by the magistrates and parochial officers whose opinions I have asked, I feel that I have now sufficient authority to state to you, that as far as regards diet, in this county, the following is a fact which cannot be denied:-

Poor is the diet of the pauper in the poor-house;
Poorer is the diet of the small rate-payer;
Poorest is the diet of the independent labourer.

In many instances, I have found that the hard-working independent labourer (and even the small rate-payer) has great difficulty in getting sufficient food for the seventh day in the week, while at the workhouse (take that of Swanscombe and Stone, for instance) the pauper who sits almost the whole day in indolence, scorching himself before a stove, receives

Four hot meat meals per week,
Half-a-pound of butter per week,
One pound of bread per day;
Vegetables of various sorts, as much as he can eat,
One pint of beer per day,
Pudding on Sundays.


[489]'So far, therefore as diet is concerned, the independent labourer, as well as the small rate-payer exist with the pauper above them, instead of below them; and although a sense of honest pride induces them still to cling to their independent station, yet the double error of such a vicious system is

1st, That it encourages the labourer to become a pauper; and,
2dly, That it discourages the pauper from becoming an independent labourer.

‘I feel confident, that the parish-officers, as well as the magistrates, in all directions, would, if called upon, fully corroborate the foregoing statement, many of them having declared to me, that though their parish pays an annual subscription to a union, or receiving poorhouse, yet they are afraid to send any labourers out of work there; the reason being, that the able-bodied paupers are fed so well in the workhouse, that if once labourers are, sent there, they won't leave it.

‘It will I am sure, be evident to you, that were we to be totally regardless of the enormous expense of this system, yet, so long as it is permitted to exist, so long must the scale remain disorganized so long will the number of paupers increase—the number of independent labourers diminish—until the fabric of our society, like a cone resting on it apex instead of its base, shall fall to the ground. But the remedy is, fortunately as simple as the disorder is complicated; for, without interfering with the independent labourer or the small rate-payer, if we will but resolutely place the pauper below him, instead of allowing him to exist above him, he can thus only rise by gaining his own independence; while the independent labourer will no longer have an inducement to rise by becoming a pauper

‘Having had occasion last week, to speak separately to the overseers of sixteen parishes, I took the opportunity of putting to them the following question; to which every individual, without hearing what others had said, replied, without hesitation, as follows :-

‘Q.- Supposing the pauper were henceforward to receive porridge for breakfast, bread and cheese or potatoes for dinner, and porridge for supper, do you consider he would, on such a diet, be as well off as independent labourers with large families?

‘A. -Yes; - he would be better off.'

'My own observation enables me most deliberately to concur in the above evidence, and seeing the mischievous effects as well as the injustice of such a system, I feel it my duty respectfully to recommend that public notice should as early as possible be given in this county, that from and after (say the first of May next), the diet of the pauper in the workhouse should no longer be better than that of the independent labourer, and, accordingly, that from the period stated it should consist of bread, porridge, cheese, and vegetables, with an allowance of meat only for people of above fifty-five years of age, or for such paupers as the medical attendant may recommend it.

‘If what are commonly called the "poor" were really the poorest [490] members of society I feel confident that this county would strongly oppose the slightest reduction in their diet; but I have found the magistrates, farmers, and especially the yeomen of Kent, so sensible of the vice of the present system, that I am confident they entertain the manly feeling that it is false benevolence to disorganise society by forcibly obliging the small ratepayer to feed the pauper better than himself; and that it is injustice, and not charity, to raise men living in idleness and dependence above the labourer who is maintaining independence by the sweat of his brow.

‘In most of the towns in this county (people there not being aware of what is passing in the country) I have observed that public charity has ignorantly bestowed its affections on ‘the poor' instead of on ‘the poorer’ and on ‘the poorest’ members of society; and, accordingly, in such towns I hear great sympathy everywhere expressed for the pauper—very little for the independent labourer—and none at all for the small rate payer, although, as I have already stated, the two latter classes are actually subsisting on less food that the idle inhabitant of the poor-house. By this class of townspeople considerable clamour would consequently be raised; but with so just and honest an object in view, such opposition I conceive need not be feared, particularly as it would cease so soon as the beneficial effects of the adjustment should have proved the reasons, for which it had been ordered.

‘With respect to the formation of large unions, you are aware that I am still prosecuting that object—at the same time it must be evident that no possible arrangement of bricks and mortar can possibly cure the evil of the late administration of the poor-laws, so long as you shall allow the dietary of the pauper to be superior to that of the small rate-payer and labourer.'

The simple act of lowering the diet of the poor-house to at least the level of the independent labourer's fare, would, we believe, without any other assistance, be sufficient, placidly, to correct almost every disorder to which our late poor law system has subjected us; for as soon as the poor house shall cease be attractive, the whole of the physical as well as moral machinery for repelling applicants, must at once become useless lumber; and if a healthy reluctance can only be created among the indolent (never mind whether it proceeds from the dictates of their heads or stomachs) to enter the parish gates, it must unavoidably follow (action and reaction being equal and contrary) that a manly desire to support themselves will instantly burst into being. Again, if the robust, well-disposed peasant does not like the poor-house fare for himself, neither will he like it for his aged mother; and he will, consequently, prefer the pleasure of labouring for her support to the drunken enjoyment of government beer-shops.

As soon as the workhouse life shall become per se wholesomely [491] repulsive, the rude, amorous ploughman will pause a little before he contracts a marriage which must ere long make him its inmate; whereas, if (as in the old system) his parish were to offer him not only the 'blooming ' girl of his heart, but heavy lumps of savoury food, the warm bribe like the bride, must be irresistible. As soon as we shall have fortitude enough to make workhouse diet 'low' instead of 'high, not only will the labouring classes find a hundred excuses and ingenious expedients for not coming into ‘the mansion’, but even among its inmates there will be invented similar excuses and similar expedients for quitting it; no one will come, no one will remain, if he can possibly help it. Society will thus be restored to a healthy state; in short, we appeal to every man of common sense—we go still higher—we ask, is there a philosopher or a mathematician in existence who can deny the pure truth of the two following axioms:- 1st—That in the creation of every sensible poor-law system, the workhouse must possess a centrifugal, and not a centripetal influence; 2nd—That in every country under the sun, if x denote the situation of the independent labourer, x minus 1, and not x plus 1, must be the condition of the pauper, and that the only legitimate mode of bettering him is by raising the value of x? Simple as these truths are, yet have we violated them both. We have made all our workhouses centripetal instead of centrifugal—we have raised the condition of the pauper, not only to x+1 but in many cases to x+21; and we seriously ask, has not the punishment of our offence been an annual fine, in the form of poor-rates, of more than seven millions?

‘But,' exclaimed a metropolitan orator the other day, his hand, constantly striking his stomach, (probably mistaking it for his heart,) ‘shall it be said, gentlemen, that we feed our paupers on coarse food? God forbid! Is the cruel triumvirate of Somerset House to determine the minimum on which our trembling nature can subsist? God forbid!

We would as the defenders (and, legion-like, they are many) of these pug-nosed principles, whether it ever occurred to them, instead, of speechifying, to relieve the poor—by which expression we mean the industrious and the hardworking, poor—for in such a charity they, as well as all of us, might most beneficently combine? Will they enter into a subscription for raising the condition of the independent labourer? Oh no! on the contrary, they drive their bargains with him, if it be merely for digging a sooty garden eighteen feet by seven, as hard as they are able. ‘What has a peasant's family to do,' they exclaim, 'with the price of fowls, eggs, butter, pork, or anything else that he bring to market from his cottage or his sty. But if, they have to deal with the pauper instead of the labourer—if the parish purse and not [492] the orator’s, be doomed to pay—if parish contracts are to be increased in proportion to the demands on parish charity—then it is manfully argued, in the vestry,—"Gentlemen, as Britons, let us be liberal; as Englishmen, let us be profuse! Shall it be otherwise? God forbid !" Of all the loathsome vices that disgrace our nature, none appear more odious and repulsive than when they dare to assume the mask of a virtue; and contrasted with such gouty charity, and such self-interested philanthropy as this—how simply beautiful do those words of truth and religious benevolence sound to us, which sternly declare, ‘For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat;'—again,' The industrious eateth to the satisfaction of his appetite, but the belly of the sluggard shall want;’’—and again, 'The sluggard will not plough because it is cold, therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.'

****

In one of the visits we made to a very large poor-house in East Kent, we particularly remarked among the motley group that surrounded us a tall, slender boy of about fourteen, whose eccentric history has just flitted across our memory. We shall place it here as an episode.

Some fifteen years ago, there entered the family of a wealthy individual, a young, industrious, Hebe-looking, Kentish girl, who embarked in life in the menial capacity of a housemaid. Her tables shone, her stairs grew cleaner and cleaner—not a spider could exist in her dominions—nothing complained of her but her mops and soap. Some praised her for one excellence, some for another; but all agreed that so charming a complexion had never been seen— it was a mixture, infusion, or suffusion of red roses and white ones—the colours of which seemed always on the move—the slightest fear made her look pale— the smallest joy turned her all red—and as she was either frightened or delighted at everything she saw, her changes were as beautiful and evanescent as those in the dying dolphin. With all these blooming flowers at her command, it seemed natural enough that a steady gardening-man in the neighbourhood should ex officio fall in love with her; and after a long, tedious, protracted courtship the happy day of their marriage arrived. Her dumpy fellow-servant, the cook, clumsily danced, at the wedding; while the great black footman, his arms flying round his head, was seen capering beside her like a mad Scaramouch. Poor degraded wretch! in spite of his colour, he belonged to an affectionate race, and was not the less a man because his eyes were yellow, his nose flat; his mouth broad, his skin coarse as coarse as an elephant's, and because his arms and legs seemed made of whalebone.

[493] In a certain number of months—we regret to say, that the tail of the figure happened to point upwards instead of downwards— (it was perhaps better it should do so than have no tail at all)—the wife was suddenly but safely delivered of a child, which the fond gardener hastened to caress the instant he heard its faint cry. It was of course presented to him; but when the blanket was unfolded—'Angels and ministers of grace defend us!' HIS BABY WAS A BLACK ONE! The phenomenon was inexplicable—a hundred timed had the gardener grafted white roses on red ones, and yellow ones on pink ones; but never before had he heard of any his trade succeeded in making the lovely flower black!

For five years the child lived with its parents; and prospered. The honest gardener loved it—he laboured for its support—on returning from his work he longed to hear its cheerful voice… and yet … there was a bilious look about its eyes—it had an elastic trick of throwing about its arms—there was something so cold and clammy in its skin—at times it felt so like a toad, that the father himself began to croak!

Time would probably have mellowed these hoarse notes, but his fellow-labourers incessantly tormented him, until the man at last, in a state almost of phrenzy, appeared before the vestry to declare that unless the parish would accept the child, he would fly to America, leaving it and its mother behind him, for that live with it any longer he could not! The parish guardians, for some time, attempted by reasoning to repel the expense, but no sooner did they make use of the blooming mother’s own simple argument—namely that just a week before here confinement she had unfortunately been frightened, dreadfully frightened by a black man—than the gardener started forwards, dashed the cap from the head of the boy, and loudly exclaimed, ‘Look here, gentlemen! do you mean to say that fear can turn hair into wool?’ The appeal was unanswerable. The parish officers at once received the child, and for nine years they have very kindly supported it, under the name of Niggerfull John.

In several of the poor-houses of East Kent, the separation of man and wife has, without any disturbance, long been carried into effect; but wherever the rule had not been established, the commissioner was sturdily assailed by people of education, as well as of no education, who with considerable ability opposed the unpopular arguments by which he resolutely insisted on its necessity. The following is a specimen of the doctrines on both sides; in fact, it is a long-winded argument on the subject, between a young, ruddy, healthy labourer, and an emaciated representative of the Poor-Law Amendment Act:—

[494] Labourer.—Sir, I am out of work. I appear before you to beg relief.
Assistant Commissioner.—In the course of the last six months, how much money, which might have been saved, have you spent in gin or beer-shops?
Lab.—I decline to answer that question. I have now neither money nor work; I therefore, sir, respectfully demand relief.
As. Com.—What relief do you require?
Lab.—Food, clothes, lodging, and firing.
As. Com.—They shall be immediately granted to you. Are you satisfied?
Lab.—No, sir; for I have also a wife, who is as destitute as myself.
As. Com.—At what age did you marry?
Lab.—I married at eighteen.
As. Com.—What age was your wife when you married her?
Lab.—She was just seventeen.
As. Com.—At the time you married her, had you the means of providing for her in case you should for a short period be (as you now are) thrown out of work, or forced for a time to work for wages only sufficient to support yourself?
Lab.—I decline answering that question: we are now both destitute. Besides relief for myself, I demand it also for her.
As. Com.—What relief do you require for her?
Lab.—Food, clothes, lodging, and firing.
As. Com. —They shall be immediately granted to you both. Are you satisfied?
Lab.—No, sir; for I have five young children, who are as destitute as ourselves.
As. Com.—Previous to your marriage, did you ever calculate whether or not you had the means of providing for such a young family?
Lab.—I decline to answer that question; it has nothing to do with my present case. We are all destitute; we are therefore, I conceive, entitled to relief.
As. Com.—Are you aware that the relief you require can only be afforded you by a rate which must be levied on the industrious classes of society? Are you aware, that if your petition be granted, the independent labourer of your own parish must be obliged to give up a portion of his hard earnings—in fact, that he must work a certain period every day—to support you? Do you think this just towards him?
Lab.—I decline answering any of these questions; but respectfully demand food, clothes, lodging, and firing for myself, my wife, and my five young children.
As. Com.—They shall immediately be granted to you all. Are you satisfied?
Lab.—No, sir. I require, moreover that I should be permitted to continue to sleep with my wife.
As. Com. —On what grounds do you make this additional request?
[495] Lab.—Because it is written, 'Those whom God hath joined, let no man put asunder.'
As. Com.—Have you any other reason?
Lab.—No, sir; I consider that in a Christian country, that argument is unanswerable.
As. Com.—It is my painful duty most deliberately to refuse your request.
Lab.—Why, sir?
As. Com.—I might, I conceive—quite as fairly as you have done decline to answer that question; but I prefer explaining to you, my friend, calmly and rationally, the grounds of a decision which, I repeat to you, is a painful one. The sentence of Holy Scripture which you have very correctly quoted, only alludes to divorce; it does not bear the interpretation you have given to it—namely, that a man under all circumstances is to sleep with his wife every night of his life; for, were that to be the case, it would be wicked, "in a Christian country," to imprison or transport a criminal without also imprisoning or transporting his wife.
Lab.—I am not a criminal; misfortune is not guilt.
As. Com.—Your observation is perfectly just, but, as an argument, it is false; for you did not demand permission to sleep with your wife because you had been sober, because you had been careful, because you had been provident, but, properly, enough, declining on these points to prove your own character, you claimed the right as one generally belonging to all men by scripture law; and you must surely see that you deserted your own argument, when you flew away from scripture to your private character. On which of these two foundations are you disposed to continue to support your argument? There is surely no violation of scripture in offering food, clothes, lodging and firing to yourself, to your wife and to your children! Permit me also to add, that in trying to prove to you that your quotation did not bear the general interpretation you have given to it, it was not my intention to class you among criminals. I only mentioned their case to show you that your own argument (namely, that because you and your wife had been married you could not, by any human law, be put asunder) was false.
Lab.—Well, then, sir. I demand it on the score of humanity. It is possible I may have been thoughtless, but it is certain I am now unfortunate.
As. Com. —And in terms of humanity and reason I will reply to you. If you will observe and reflect for a moment on the artificial state of our society, you will see not only that a large proportion of men, from the highest down to the lowest, are occasionally separated from their wives; but that, if what you demand almost as a right, were even as a rule to be inflicted on society, it would be impossible for the business of this country to be carried on. Members of both houses of parliament, noblemen as well as gentlemen, who have estates and business in various counties—all people employed by [496] government, in missions at home and abroad, with their secretaries and attendants—carriers of despatches, commercial men, commercial travellers, bag-men, and even assistant commissioners of the Poor Laws, are all obliged occasionally to quit their families for a longer or a shorter time. Respectable servants who have married, are generally speaking, rarely enabled to spend their nights at home. On foreign service, officers as well as soldiers are not only completely separated from their families, but they often embark cheerfully for climates and for dangers which render it very probable they will never return. In his Majesty's navy, not even the officers are allowed to sail with their wives. The best sea-faring men are, I am sorry to say, after long voyages, forcibly torn from their wives; and it is a fact which, if you are reasonable, you cannot deny, that there is no class of people in England, who, generally speaking, more enjoy the uninterrupted blessings of living in their own climate with their families than the very labouring class to which you belong. Supposing, therefore, that any new law, incomprehensible to the peasantry, were to have the effect of obliging a small proportion of them to be separated for a short period from their wives, do you conceive that they could reasonably complain of it, seeing that it is an imposition which is fairly levied on all other classes?
Lab.—But there sounds something like a reason for the separation from their families or all those you have mentioned; but I am not a soldier; I am not a member of Parliament—I only wish I was—and I ask, what necessity is there, sir, for separating me from Elizabeth?
As. Com.—I will tell you. If you were able to provide for Elizabeth; if (to say nothing of beer-shops) you were able to provide for the children you already possess, no person would have any disposition, indeed there exists nowhere any power to separate you; and believe me, that the Poor Law Amendment Act is framed to cheer, reward, and elevate the independent labourer; but you must remember, it has been already settled between us, that you, Elizabeth, and your five children are to be supported by the sweat of other men's brows; and you must therefore keep in mind, that while you are thus supported, there must be some firm engine at work to make you all anxious to relieve the hard-working, independent labourer form the heavy tax you are imposing upon him; and if you admit that a portion of the labouring classes might fairly, like other people, be occasionally for a short period separated from their wives, do you not think it reasonable that those should be especially selected who come forward, of their own accord, to declare that they are unable to provide for their said wives, and that they must consequently be supported by others? Can you be dependent and independent at the same time? For the welfare of society, is there to be no difference between the domestic happiness of the one state, and that of the other?
Lab.—Well, then, sir, am I to understand that I and my wife are to be separated from each other merely to punish us because we [497] are poor? Have you ever, sir, known what it is to want food yourself?
As. Com.—Perhaps I have; but that can have nothing to do with your case; for I repeat to you that you, your wife, and your five children, are to have not only food, but fire, clothes and lodging, at the expense of others, but while the Poor Laws of England are thus generous to you, they must also be just to those who are forcibly obliged to support you; and therefore, while we relieve you, it is our duty, at the same time, to satisfy them that there exists a coercion of some sort to induce you to relieve them from poor-rates, which you must know amount to twelve, eighteen, twenty and in some cases even to twenty-five shillings in the pound. But my friend, the stern justice of acting towards you on this principle is not the only thing that we and you too ought to bear in mind. Instead of building huge Union Workhouses, we are going, in East Kent economically to avail ourselves of those which already exist. The rooms of our old house are generally large, and to give one of these immense apartments to every pauper and his wife would, you must admit, be perfectly impossible. Supposing we were therefore to allow you to choose for yourself, you could only continue with your wife by an arrangement which has been very common in the old workhouses; that is to say, by dividing your bed by a blanket from the beds of ten or twelve other lusty labourers, who are as uxorious, which means that they are as fond of their wives as you are. Now if you value, as I am sure you do very highly, Elizabeth's modesty, I ask you, my friend, whether you ought ever to consent to such a disgusting arrangement? Whatever may be her poverty, do you think it advisable that she should be introduced to a scene, such as among savages would scarcely be tolerated? Do you think it proper for your little children to be contaminated by such an existence? and lastly, leaving your own feelings out of the question, do you think that any poor-law amendment act could honestly consent to sanction an arrangement which you must know has long tended to demoralize the poor? Even supposing that an immense new poor-house was to be built, composed of innumerable little cells, suited to the various sizes of different families, do you think it would be possible to congregate; two or three hundred men, women, boys, girls, and infants; without creating wickedness of every sort? Supposing that, in consequence of having taken a few nights' refuge in such a den, an honest peasant should lose for ever the affections of his wife—or, for the remainder for his life, have occasion to look with shame upon his daughter—do you not think he would pay very dearly for the poisonous relief which his country, under the mask of charity, had insidiously administered to him? Is it not much better for the poor themselves, and much wiser in the government under which they live, that the inmates of every poor-house should be judiciously and sensibly classified, so as to ensure that misfortune be not productive of guilt? Ought they not to be restored to independence at least as virtuous as when, for a [498] moment, they became dependent? But to return to your own case. You are young, healthy, and you seem to be an honest man. Your desire to continue with your wife certainly is no discredit to your character, but you have been guilty of imprudence. In a moment of sunshine you embarked in marriage—the storm has now come upon you—you seek for a harbour, not with an intention of anchoring there all your life, but only until the blue sky shall again appear. Take the harbour, therefore, as it is; enter it without abusing its regulations; and be thankful for the security it offers to you and your cargo. Remember that without it you would have foundered; and should its calm monotony induce you to determine never again to be caught flying before the storm; and should it instill into the minds of your little children, that by caution, sobriety, thoughtfulness and by ever keeping a good look out ahead, they also may avoid these harbour-dues, depend upon it you will never regret the sound moral it has taught you.
Lab.—Sir ! I am not satisfied yet. If you do not allow me to sleep with Elizabeth, I will appeal to the public.
As. Com—You will do quite right. It will support you, and as loudly revile me; but, my friend, I clearly see my duty; and, until I am ordered to abandon it, that duty shall be performed. I deliberately refuse your request.

In the country villages, the advocates for rewarding improvidence were not all quite as eloquent as the honest labourer whose claim was thus dismissed. 'Poor folk,' said one great lumbering yeoman, 'have as much right to bread as the rich, and that they never can have till, every man has land enough to keep a cow! How is a poor man, let me ax, to keep a wife and eight children on his wages?' 'But,' it was replied, 'why does he marry and get eight children, without any likely means of supporting them?' 'Why do folk marry? you maught as well ax why they do catch the small-pox, or aught of that! Nay, Zur! That's a matter o' God's own ordering, and man can't mend it. His very first command was " Increase and multiply," and there's nao gooing agin it!'

*****

By far the most difficult task the Assistant Commissioner had to perform was to reply to those who inveighed against the cruelty of (we must unavoidably call it by its name) the Bastardy Clause of the Poor Law Amendment Act. Indeed, he scarcely met with one advocate in its favour. The Kentish ladies were all silently against it, but their lords, particularly after dinner, were loud in deprecating its harshness, and insisting on the necessity of its abrogation., Some especially pitied the poor women, some the poor children; but all abused the law, and many its Assistant-Commissioner. [499] For the sake of both, we will, therefore, allow him to say a few words on the subject; and as the clause is decidedly, to say he least of it, one of apparent severity, we shall, we hope, be excused if we permit him to preface his arguments by wandering, for a moment, beyond the boundaries of East Kent.

London Foundling Hospital

London Foundling Hospital

He says in his note-book now before us—' The merest sketch of the History of the London Foundling Hospital, established by Royal Charter in the year 1739, shows very remarkably that charitable error, like the acorn, is easily planted, but before it has attained a century's growth, how difficult it is to grub it up! What was established as a foundling-hospital, now no longer dares to call itself an hospital for foundlings. Still it exists; still its "fifty-four governors," its "six vice-presidents," its "treasurer," and its "secretary;" like Dervishes in their dance, pompously bow to each other. Still the "organist" plays his tunes. Still the "chaplain," "reader" and "preachers" go through their services. Still the "clerk" mutters his amen. Still the "vergers" wear their gowns. Still the "building committee," the "sub-committee," the "house committee," gravely perform their inexplicable functions. Still (vide the printed report of the hospital) "Miss Bellchambers, Miss Lloyd, Mr. Goulden, Mr. Pyne, Mr. Atkins," &c. form "the choir." Still they chaunt, with glee and harmony, appropriate melodies, all set to the tune of "42 l. per annum". Still the "house apothecary" mixes his drugs. Still the "storekeeper" arranges his checks. In this small creation, "the medical officers, steward, matron, porter, watchman, master of the boys, gardener, messenger, tailor, two cooks, laundress, housemaids, nurses of the wards; mistresses of the girls; and gown maker," are still seen mathematically moving in their respective orbits.

'Between an institution and the house, be that barn or palace, which contains it, there exists this important difference, namely, that the former can live long after it has nothing whatever to rest on; whereas, so soon as you destroy the foundation of the latter, down it honestly falls prostrate on the ground. If that splendid building, curiously called "the Foundling Hospital," because it now refuses to receive foundlings, and does not contain them; had had its basis only half as much exploded as the fallacy of the institution has already been exposed, the fifty-four governors, in their respective committees, would have been seen mournfully wandering together about our streets, like Christmas gardeners following a frozen cabbage; but the vitality of error is like that of the snake, and though you cut it into pieces, still it lives!

'Now that experience has sternly taught us the practical results of a public receptacle for fatherless and motherless children, [500] it is curious to look back at the following solemn decision of the House of Commons, dated 6th April 1736:-

"Resolved, —That the enabling the hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children to receive all the children, that shall be offered, is the only method to render that charitable institution of lasting and general utility ... That to render the said hospital of lasting and general utility the assistance of parliament is necessary. ... That to render the said hospital of general utility and effect, it should be enabled to appoint proper places in all counties, riding, or divisions of this kingdom for the reception of all exposed and deserted young children".

'On the House of Commons voting to the Hospital, as its first donation, the sum of ten thousand pounds, the gates of the charity were instantly thrown open, and on the 2nd of June, being the first day of general reception, one hundred and seventeen babies were handed in; and from this time to the 31st of December of the following year, a fruitful harvest of five thousand five hundred and ten little babies were safely gathered into our metropolitan barn, which among its ornaments still boasts of a grand picture painted by Willis, and inscribed with the 16th verse of the 18th chapter of Luke, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not." The corporation, chuckling with delight, and encouraged by a parliament which, with paternal pride, exultingly crowed at its own performances, extended it views the following year to distant counties; county hospitals were instantly established over the kingdom, while large rolls of county governors, county committees, &c., &c., were created for the management of these subordinate establishments.

Like fiddle-strings in damp weather, apron bands now began to snap in all directions, white tape and stay-laces rose in value, pap and caudle bore a premium, babies' cauls were "all the fashion". In less than three years the House of Commons saw its error, and manfully endeavoured to correct it, but the system could not at once be arrested; the little babies who, summoned by parliament, had most innocently arrived, could not be put to death; those on the march could not now be stopped; as quietly as possible, however, parliament drew in the horns of its charity, by gradually withholding its support, but not until old England had purchased sucking babies and experience at the enormous national cost of 450,000l !

The Foundling Hospital, deserted by the legislature, suddenly changed its course, and falling from the frying pan into the fire, it adopted its present plan, which is even more hood-winked than the first. Retaining its high-sounding name, it resolved that foundlings (the expressed objects of the charity) should no longer be accepted; [501] and it gravely decreed, that as babies really ought to have mothers, so from henceforward from none but their mothers should babies be received. All honest woman are now denied admittance, on the ground that "the design of the foundation was to hide the shame of the mothers;" but those who happen to have children without husbands are rigidly examined by the committee, and if they can succeed in showing that they are really guilty, a day is appointed on which they are doomed painfully to produce and abandon their offspring,—to be re-christened, to be re-named, and, so long as they remain in the institution, never by their mothers to be seen again.

We do not object to cutting through the isthmus of Panama, of even that of Suez, but to sever the connexion between a mother and her child is a work of ingenuity, we humbly conceive, culpable exactly in proportion to its success. As no animal but man could invent such an arrangement, so no creature in existence but a wretched, fallen, lost woman could bear to assist, even under momentary anguish, in carrying it into effect. What would the tigress do, if, even by a charter, one were to attempt to deprive her of her cub? Under what mask of charity could one approach the wolf, to ask her for her young? What does the scream of the most timid bird mean when the urchin is robbing her of her nest? why, as he hurries homewards, does she hover round his thoughtless head; and why does she press daily against the iron cage that imprisons her chirping brood? But it seems that not only men, but grave associations of men, can devote themselves to degrade a poor woman's heart.

As impressed with these feelings, we lately stood in the splendid square of this mistaken institution, we were politely informed by its secretary that we had before our eyes on of the topmost feathers in the cap of the British nation; that its immediate object was to seek out young women who had been seduced, and by accepting their offspring, to give them what, with an air of triumph, he called a SECOND CHANCE!!! Now, if the subject were not almost too serious, it might excite a smile to reflect for a moment on the very comical mistakes into which we invariably fall whenever we presume to condemn and alter with wise arrangement of Nature. It would no doubt have been in her power to have bestowed upon all women this "second chance"; she could, moreover, have granted to a lady's character as many lives as the cat is said to possess—but, for her own reason, she decreed it otherwise; her law is beneficently irrevocable,—no charter can evade it, no act of parliament has the power to revoke it.

But let us consider how this "second chance" system practically works. The young woman, after depositing her offspring and her [502] secret, modestly retires to some distant county; that her maternal feelings must pursue her no one can deny, but her beauty also she carries with her, and in due time she begins to observe that her sighs and her countenance are alike admired. In short, to end a tedious story, she at last finds herself at the altar, blushing obedience to some sober gentleman sentenced by charter to become initiated in this new-fangled doctrine of the "second chance." That such a trick in all countries has occasionally befallen very honest men is rather to be lamented by us than denied; but that in the great metropolis of England there should exist an incorporated association of fifty-four governors, an organist, a chaplain, three preachers, a building committee, a sub-committee six choristers, an apothecary a matron, a tailor, two cooks, and a gown-maker, for the avowed purpose of inflicting upon us by wholesale, and by charter, these "second chances," indisputably proves that at least in London our notions of charity are as mystified as our climate.’

But to return to our subject and to East Kent. By far the most angry arguments urged there against the Poor Law Amendment Act were, as we have stated, against its bastardy clauses; and as these arguments have all appealed to the sympathy of our nature, they have naturally enough been apparently triumphant. The Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners, however, remain unshaken. ‘It is so much easier’ (the note-maker continues) 'to excite the passions than convince the judgment,—it is so much more popular to preach what is agreeable than what is right—to reward even error than to punish it,—that it is not at all surprising that the chivalric weapons which have flown from ten thousand scabbards to defend the weaker, the lovelier; and the better sex, should have ended the contest by possession of the field. But the army is not always beaten that retires, and troops before now have proclaimed themselves to be "covered with glory,'' little thinking that by the simple elements of nature they were sentenced very shortly to become wanderers, fugitives, and vagabonds! It has not only been argued but preached, not only senators but divines have boisterously contended, that in cases of bastardy to relieve the man from punishment, and to leave his unhappy victim to shame, infamy, and distress, is a law discreditable to 'our national character,—impious, cruel, ungenerous, unmanly, and unjust. In some remarks published by a charitable association, it is beautifully stated by the Rev, T. Hewlett,

“Could we pourtray a mother's sufferings, what forms of agony should we not exhibit! At the time when the languor of the body and the growing anxiety of the mind powerfully claim, and in general receive additional tenderness, she is obliged to endure the severest affliction that fear could imagine or unkindness produce. If she look [503] forward into futurity, poverty and hunger pursue her, or at least her melancholy lot is daily to eat the bread of affliction and to drink the tears of remorse."

'We confess that we feel very deeply the force of these observations; at the same time it must be evident that we should have dreaded (we hope we may say so fairly) to have stated one side of the question, unless we felt convinced that there was something to be said on the other. That the virtues of the weaker sex are the purest blessings which this world affords us,—that they were so intruded to be by nature,—and that, like all her works, they have not been created in vain, it is not even necessary to admit. From our cradle to our grave,—in our infancy, our boyhood,—our zenith and our decline,—rejoicing at our prosperity, ever smiling in our adversity, there is, we all know, a satellite attending our orbit which, like our shadow, never leaves us, and which too often becomes itself a shadow when we are gone; but as the satellite shines with borrowed lustre, so does the character of a woman much depend upon the conduct of him whose fate she follows;—and if this be true, how deeply important it is for a nation to take especial care lest, by too much human legislation, it may (as ours has too often done) interfere with the wise arrangements of nature, whose motto with all her kindness has ever been, Nemo me impunè lacesset!

‘Universally adored as woman is, yet it is an anomalous fact which no one can deny, that in every climate under the sun man appears as her open, avowed enemy—and strange as it may sound, the more he admires the treasure she possesses, the more anxious he is to deprive her of it –

" The lovely toy, so keenly sought,
Has lost its charms by being caught;
And every touch that wooed its stay
Has brush'd its brightest hues away!"

Now, if this arrangement were totally incomprehensible to us, yet surely it would not be altogether discreditable, were we to feel assured that the mysterious dispensation was benevolent and just.

‘We have already observed, that with all her kindness, the punishments by which nature preserves her laws are irrevocably severe. Bestowing on us, with one hand, the enjoyment of health, with what severity does she, with the other, punish every intemperance which would destroy it—what human castigation, we beg leave to ask of some of our opponents, is equal to a fit of their gout ? Compare healthy peasant's cheeks with the livid countenance of a gin-drinker, and who can say that a magistrate's fine for drunkenness is as severe as hers? What admonition of a preacher is equal to the reproof of a guilty conscience? Even the sentence [504] of death is what the meanest among us has fortitude enough in silence to endure, but the first murderer's punishment was "greater than he could bear!" and after all, what was this punishment but simply a voice crying to him in the wilderness of his paradise—"Cain! Cain! where is thy brother?" If abstinence be necessary for the recovery of our health, can any physician enforce it like the fever which robs us of our appetite? Can the surgeon explain to the man who has broken a limb the necessity of rest, in order that the bone may knit, as sternly as the excruciating pain which punishes him if he moves it? What would be our sufferings if one man were to have to gout for another man's intemperance? Or if the effects of gin-drinking were to be borne equally by all mankind? Leaving justice out of the case, would it be a wise arrangement to divide responsibility, and partially t the expense of the community to absolve an individual for neglecting the particular duty he has to perform? Now, if in these cases it be admitted, that Nature, through her lips be motionless, maintains our real welfare by a judicious system of rewards and punishments, surely it would follow, that it is probably she would consistently pursue a similar course in protecting female virtue, on which the happiness of all individuals, as well as of all nations, mainly depends. Would it be prudent to intrust it to any but her own keeping? If she alone receives the reward which adorns its preservation, is it not a sensible arrangement that she should likewise be the sole sufferer for its loss? Could any better arrangement be invented? In common affairs of life, do we not invariably act on the same principle? Have we not one officer to command our army in the field, on purpose to ensure a responsibility which would not practically exist, were it to be subdivided? But it is loudly argued—"Nature is wrong: a woman ought not to be the sole guardian of her own honour; let us, therefore, make it, by English law, the joint-stock property of the sexes—let the man be punished for its loss as much as herself, and under this clever and superior arrangement, which will make it the interest of both parties to preserve the treasure, it will remain inviolate; depend upon it, no bankruptcy will take place!"

'Well—this theory has long been reduced to practice, and what, we ask, has been the result? Have the lower orders, to who it has been exclusively applied, become more or less moral than their superiors in station? Has the fear of punishment had its promised effect? Has it intimidated the enemy? Has it strengthened or ruined the fortress? Has it preserved the citadel? Is there now, as there used to be, but one seducer, or are there two? Has it become the interest of the woman, instead of opposing, to go over to the enemy? For consenting to do so has [505] not the law almost invariably rewarded her with a husband? Has it not forcibly provided for her? Has not the oath it has extorted from her been frequently productive of perjury? Before the altar do the ceremonies of marriage, churching, and christening, respectfully follow each other at awful intervals, or are they not now all jumbled together in a bag? Are the peasantry of England a more moral people in this respect than the Irish, among whom no poor-laws exist? Has it not been indisputably proved, that our domestic servants are, as to this matter, by far the most moral among our lower classes; and has it not been produced by our own unrelenting rule of turning them out of our houses; in short, like Nature, abandoning those who misbehave? Has not that severity had a most beneficial effect? Can there be any harm in our acting nationally as we conscientiously act in our own homes?'

'If', argues the Assistant Commissioner, 'it should be impossible for the defenders of the old law, and the revilers of the Poor-Law Amendment Act, satisfactorily to answer these questions, surely it must follow, that our theory, having been unsuccessful, is false; and standing before the world as we do, convicted of being incapable, on so delicate a subject, to legislate for ourselves, surely we ought, in penitence and submission, to fall back upon that simple law of nature, which has most sensibly decreed, that a woman after all is the best guardian of her own honour, and that the high rewards and severe punishments which naturally attend its preservation and its loss are the beneficent means of securing our happiness, and of maintaining the moral character of our country. That we have erred from a mistaken theory of charity and benevolence—that we have demoralized society, kindly desirous to improve it—that in scrubbing our morality we have meant to destroy its polish—that by our old bastardy laws we nobly intended to protect pretty women, just as we once thought how kind it would be to nurse infants for them in our national baby-house, the Foundling Hospital—and just as we thought how benevolent it would be to raise the pauper above the independent labourer—it is highly consoling to reflect; —but the day of such follies has past. This country has no longer the apology of youth and inexperience—it is deeply stricken in years—age has brought with it experience, and by experience most dearly purchased, it enacted, in the Poor-Law Amendment Bill the clause to which so much obloquy has attached, but which, we humbly conceive, rests on a foundation that cannot now be undermined by the weak tools of mistaken sympathy; or reversed by explosions of popular clamour.'

_______________________________________

[506] Having been assured by various classes of people as well convinced by documents, which have already been submitted to our readers, that the Deal boatmen were in a state almost of famine, the Assistant Commissioner felt it his duty to look with considerable attention into their case. 'How they manage to live,' said the overseer of the parish,'God only knows !' ' I can solemnly assure you they are starving,' exclaimed one of the magistrates. ' 'It's them floating lights that government has put on the Good'in sands which has ruined 'em,' observed a short, fat, puffy shop-keeper, a radical advocate for what he called the freedom of mankind. Finding, that all. people in different terms corroborated the same evidence, we strolled down to the beach and endeavoured to get into conversation with the boatmen themselves, but from them we could not extract one word of complaint. Yet their countenances told plainly enough what their tongues disdained to utter—in short, it was evident that they were subsisting on low diet.

Dressed in blue jackets and trowsers, they were sitting before their houses of call, loitering in groups on the beach, or leaning against the boats, while their tarred canvass clothing, apparently stiff enough to have walked alone, was hanging against the low clinker-built hovels which sheltered their best sails, oars, &c. from the weather. Excepting a wind-bound fleet, riding at anchor; with heads, like cavalry horses, all pointing the same way, there was not a vessel in sight, and their prospects altogether, certainly, did appear about as barren as the shingle under their feet. 'I am afraid you are badly off now-a-days, my men?' said the Assistant Commissioner to four able-looking seamen who were chewing (instead of tobacco, which they would have liked much better) the cud of reflection. He received no answer—not even a nod or a shake of the head—'Quanto sono insensibili questi Inglesi ,''—we muttered to ourselves.

Finding there was no wisdom in the multitude, we returned to the inn, and having previously learnt that George Phillpotts was one of the most respectable, most experienced, as well as most daring of the Deal boatmen, we sent a messenger for him; and in about twenty minutes the door of our apartment opened, and in walked a short, clean-built, mild-looking old man, who, in a low tone of voice, very modestly observed that he had been informed we wished to speak with him.

At first we conceived that there must have been some mistake, for the man's face did not look as if it had ever seen danger, and there was a benevolence in it, as well as a want of animation in his small blue eyes, that appeared totally out of character with his calling, His thin white hair certainly showed that he had lived [507] long long enough to gain experience of some sort, but until he answered that his name was Phillpotts, we certainly did think that he was not our man.

`Well, George, what shall it be?' we said to him, pointing to a large empty tumbler on the table, He replied that be was much obliged, but that he never drank at all, unless it was a glass of grog or so about eleven o'clock in the morning; and strange as it may sound, nothing that we could say could induce him to break through this odd arrangement. As the man sat perfectly at his ease, looking as if nothing could either elate or depress him, we had little difficulty in explaining to him what was our real object in wishing to know exactly how he and his comrades were faring. On our taking up a pencil to write down his answers, for a moment he paused, but the feeling, whatever it was, only dashed across his mind like the spray of a sea, and he afterwards cared no more for the piece of black-lead, than if it had been writing his epitaph.

In answer to our queries, he stated that he was sixty-one years of age, and had been on the water ever since he was ten years old. He had himself saved, in his lifetime, off the Goodwin Sands, rather more than a hundred men and women; and on this subject, no sooner did he enter into details, than it was evident that his mind was rich in pride and self-satisfaction. Nothing could be more creditable to human nature, nothing less arrogant, than the manly animation with which he exultingly described the various sets of fellow-creatures, of all nations, he had saved from drowning. Yet on the contra side of his ledger he kept as faithfully recorded the concluding history of those, whose vessels, it having been out of his power to approach, had foundered on the quicksands only a few fathoms from his eyes. In one instance, he said, that as the ship went down, they suddenly congregated on the forecastle like a swarm of bees; their shrieks, as they altogether sunk into eternity, seemed still to be sounding in his ears.

Once, after witnessing a scene of this sort, during a very heavy gale of wind, which had lasted three days, he stretched out to the southward, thinking that other vessels might be on the sands. As he was passing, at a great distance, a brig, which had foundered two days before, with all hands on board, its masts being, however still above water, he suddenly observed, and exclaimed, that there was something ' like lumps' on the foremast which seemed to move. He instantly bore down upon the wreck, and there found four sailors alive, lashed to the mast. With the greatest difficulty he and his crew saved them all. Their thirst (and he had nothing in the boat to give them) was, he said, quite dreadful. There had been with them a fifth man, but 'his heart had broken;' and his comrades seeing this, had managed to unlash him, and he fell into the breakers.

[508] In saving others, Phillpotts had more than once lost one or two of his own crew; and in one case he explained, with a tear actually standing in the corner of each eye, that he had lately put a couple of his men on board a vessel in distress, which in less than ten minutes was on the sands. His men, as well as the whole crew, were drowned before his eyes, all disappearing close to him. By inconsiderately pushing forwards to save his comrades, his boat got between two banks of sands, the wind blowing so strong upon them that it was utterly impossible to get back. For some time the three men who were with him insisted on trying to get out. 'But,' said Phillpotts, who was at the helm, 'I told ;'em, my lads, we're only prolonging our misery, the sooner it's over the better!' The sea was breaking higher than a ship's mast over both banks, but they had nothing left but to steer right at their enemy.

On approaching the bank, an immense wave to windward broke, and by the force of the tempest was carried completely above their heads; the sea itself seemed to pass over them, or rather, like Pharaoh, they were between two. 'How we ever got over the bank,' said Phillpotts, who, for the first time in his narrative, seemed lost, confused, and incapable of expressing himself, 'I can tell no man!' After a considerable pause, he added, 'It was just God Almighty that saved us, and I shall always think so.'

On the surface of this globe, there is nowhere to be found so inhospitable a desert as the 'wide blue sea.' At any distance from land there is nothing in it for man to eat; nothing in it that he can drink. His tiny foot no sooner rests upon it, than he sinks into his grave; it grows neither flowers nor fruits; it offers monotony to the mind, restless motion to the body; and when, besides all this, one reflects that it is to the most fickle of the elements, the wind, that vessels of all sizes are to supplicate fort assistance in sailing in every direction to their various destinations, it would almost seem that the ocean was divested of charms, and armed with storms, to prevent our being persuaded to enter its dominions. But though the situation of a vessel in a heavy gale of wind appears indescribably terrific, yet, practically speaking, its security is so great, that it is truly said ships seldom or ever founder in deep water, except from accident or inattention. How ships manage to get across that still region, that ideal line, which separates the opposite trade winds of each hemisphere; who a small box of men manage unlabelled to be buffeted for months up one side of a wave and down that of another; how they ever get out of the abysses into which they sink; and how, after such pitching and tossing, they reach the safety the very harbour in their native country from which they originally departed, can and ought only to be accounted for by acknowledging [509] how truly it has been written, 'that the spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters'.

It is not, therefore, from the ocean itself that man has so much to fear; it can roar during the tempest, but its bark is worse than its bite; however, although the earth and water each afford to man a life of considerable security, yet there exists between these two elements an everlasting war, a dog and cat battle, a husband and wife contention, into which no passing vessel can enter with impunity; for of all the terrors of this world, there is surely no one greater than that of being on a lee-shore in a gale of wind, and in shallow water. On this account, it is natural enough that the fear of land is as strong in the sailor's heart as is his attachment to it: and when, homeward bound, he day after day approaches his own latitude, his love and his fear of his native shores increase as the distance between them diminishes. Two fates, the most opposite in their extremes, are shortly to await him. The sailor-boy fancifully pictures to himself that in a few short hours he will be once again nestling in his mother's arms. The able-seaman better knows that it may be decreed for him, as it has been decreed for thousands, that in gaining his point he shall lose its object—that England, with all its verdure, may fade before his eyes, and

'While he sinks, without an arm to save,
His country bloom, a garden and a grave!"

We suppose it is known to most of our readers that there exists, on the shores of Deal, a breed of amphibious human beings, whose peculiar profession it is to rush to the assistance of every vessel in distress. In moments of calm and sunshine, they stand listlessly on the shore, stagnant and dormant, like the ocean before them; but when every shopkeeper closes his door, when the old woman, with her umbrella turned inside out, feels that she must either lose it or go with it to heaven; when the reins of the mail-coachman are nearly blown from his hand, and his leaders have scarcely blood or breeding enough to face the storm, when the snow is drifting across the fields, seeking for a hedge-row against which it may sparkle and rest in peace; when whole families of the wealthy stop in their discourse to listen to the wind rumbling in their chimneys; when the sailor's wife, at her tea, hugs her infant to her arms; and, looking at it father, silently thanks heaven that he is on shore;—THEN has the moment arrived for the Deal boatmen to contend, one against another, to see whose boat shall first be launched into the tremendous surf. At the declivity of the beach is very steep, and as the creased rollers over which the keep descends are all placed ready for the attempt, they only wait a moment for what they call "a lull", and then cutting the rope, the bark, as gallantly as themselves, rushes [510] to to its native element. The difficulty of getting into deep water would amount sometimes almost to an impossibility, but that word has been blotted from their vocabulary; and although some boats fail, others, with seven or eight men on board, are soon seen, stretching across to that very point in creation which one would think the seafaring man would most fearfully avoid—the Goodwin Sands. To be even in the neighbourhood of such a spot in the stoutest vessel, and with the ablest crew that ever sailed, is a fate which Nelson himself would have striven to avoid; but that these poor nameless heroes should not only be willing but eager to go there voluntarily in a hurricane in an open boat, shows very clearly, that, with all his follies and all his foibles, man really is, or rather can be, the lord of the creation, and that within his slight frame there beats a heart capable of doing what every other animal in creation would shudder to perform. The lion is savage, and the tiger is ferocious, but where would their long tails be, if they were to find themselves afloat with English boatmen?

It must be evident to our readers, that the Deal boatmen often incur these dangers without any remuneration, and in vain, and that half-a-dozen boats have continually to return, their services after all not being required. So long as a vessel can keep to sea, they are specks on the ocean, insignificant and unnoticed; but when a ship is drifting on the sands, or has struck, then there exists no object in creation so important as themselves. As soon as a vessel strikes the sand, the waves in succession break upon as they strike and pass her. Under such circumstances, the only means of getting her afloat, is for the shore-boat to come under her bows and carry off her anchor; which being dropped at some distance to windward, enables her to haul herself into deep water. To describe the danger which a small open boat experiences even in approaching a vessel to make this attempt is beyond the power of any painter; in fact, he has never witnessed it, and even were he to be granted the opportunity, it is quite certain that, though he should paint, to use a sailor's phrase, "till all was blue," the artist would himself look ten times bluer than his picture.

Of all the most unwieldy guests that could seek for lodging in a small boat, a large ship's anchor is perhaps the worst; to receive or swallow it is almost death-to get rid of it or disgorge it is, if possible, still worse. Even in a calm, take it by which end you will, it is an awkward customer to deal with; and though philosophers have said "leve fit quod bene fertur onus," yet if it weighs sixteen or eighteen hundred weight, in a gale of wind, carry it which way you will, it is heavy. When a vessel, from bumping on the sands, has become unable to float, its last and only resource is to save some of the crew, who, lashed to a rope which, has [511] been thrown aboard, are one by one dragged by the boatmen through the surf, till the boat; being able to hold no more, they cut the only thread on which the hopes of the remainder had depended, and departing with their cargo, the rest are left to their fate.

But our readers will probably exclaim, 'What can all this have to do with the three Poor Law Commissioners for England and Wales?' We reply, ‘Is George Phillpotts, then, so soon forgotten? we have only verbally digressed from him—he sits still at our side.'

‘Times have now altered with us!' with a look of calm melancholy, he observed; 'vessels now don't get 71 a ton, where a few years ago they got 37l. We asked him what a crew received for going off to a vessel. 'The boat that first gets to her,' he said, ' receives 25s. for going back and bringing off a pilot; if it blows a gale of wind it's three guineas; the other boats get nothing.’

' Well, Phillpotts,' we observed, we now want you to tell us honestly how it is you all manage to live?' He replied (we are copying verbatim from our Note-book), ‘Many don't live at all! They only, as I call it, breathe! We often don't taste meat for a week together! Many that knock about for a couple of days, and when they come home they have nothing—that's the murder: single men can just live; for myself, I have not earned a shilling (it was then the 2nd of February) this year.' After sitting in silence some time, he added, 'But I shan't he able to hold on much longer.' By this he meant that he should be forced to end his days in Deal workhouse, which already contains nineteen old weather-beaten boatmen,* whom that same morning we had found, like other paupers confined to the house, sitting silently round a stove.

* The total number of Deal boatmen, or, as they are nicknamed ‘Hovellers,’ amounts to about five hundred; of these, none but the aged will consent to enter the workhouse; about seventy of their families are now receiving from the parish a weekly allowance, but the overseer stated that, in many instances, individuals accepting relief had sent to say that they could now do without it. It used for about two years, and until two years ago, to be the custom for any wives or children of the boatmen, who required relief, to be admitted into the workhouse twice every day, at meat times: this arrangement, however, was found to encourage dependence, and it was therefore changed for the present weekly allowance of bread and potatoes.

It is to be hoped that, while the Poor Law Commissioners perform the painful duty of fairly keeping the improvident sturdy pauper below the situation of the independent labourer, they will in no instance neglect to bring before the attention of the public, as an exception to the rule, every case of merit which has hitherto lain neglected in the mass; and, strongly impressed with this feeling, we earnestly submit to our readers in general, and to [512] the government in particular, that something better than the confinement of a workhouse should be the fate of the few veterans who have exhausted their strength in so brave, so useful, and so honourable an occupation as we have been now describing. So long as they are young, and can keep to sea, it matters comparatively but little on what they subsist; for as their power lies in their hearts, it may truly be said that the engine requires little fuel; and to the credit of human nature, most true it is, that the worse a young man fares, the less value does he place on the bauble of existence; but when a Deal boatman grows old, when the tempest gets too strong for him, the waves too many for him, and when he is driven from his element to the shore, for the sake of those he has saved, his old age, like his youth, should be filled with honour; and, by a wealthy and generous country, ought he not to be raised above the idle, the profligate and the improvident pauper—particularly now that floating lights have, fortunately for all but him, blighted the harvest by which he once might have provided for his own retirement?

Greenwich hospital

Greenwich hospital

Whether or not such a man as George Phillpotts would shed lustre of discredit on Greenwich Hospital; whether or not he would be welcomed or spurned beneath such a roof, by those who still talk of the tempest, and who well know what is due to those who perhaps may have saved many among them from a watery grave, may be a subject deemed fit for discussion; but that these men should at least enjoy their liberty, that they should be enabled in their old age to pace the beach, and help at all events to launch their children into the surf, is what, we fervently trust, no English legislator will deny.

To proceed.—Where we found so much to condemn or lament, we found also a little here and there to admire.

The system of administering relief to the poor in the parish and town of Ashford is so creditable to East Kent, it has produced such beneficial effects, and it offers such valuable instruction to the Poor Law commissioners, as well as to the country in general, that it may be useful to lay before our readers a short account of it. On attending one evening the weekly meeting of the select vestry, we found assembled round a large deal table, the following individuals:-

Mr. Richard Greenhill, tanner, in the chair; Wm. Walter, inn-keeper; Wm. Parnell, brewer; B. Thorpe, draper; Walter Murton, farmer; Thos. Thurston, surveyor; Steph. Tonbridge, baker; John Hulton, miller; Richd. Lewis, farmer, churchwarden; John Bayley, upholsterer, ditto; Wm, Scott, grocer; Wm, Halber and Son, grocers; George Morgan, farmer; John Worger, grocer; R. Sharpe, shoemaker, overseer; Wm. Morley, grocer, ditto.

[512] Over the fire-place there hung, in a frame, a large sheet of drawing-paper, on which were inscribed the names of these individuals. In fifty-two columns there had been weekly inserted, in their own respective hand-writings, the initials of every member who had for that week been present at the meeting; and that it had been reckoned highly creditable to be present, was evident from a glance at the constant attendance many had bestowed upon this self imposed duty of watching over their own parish affairs. A more respectable jury, a more honest and creditable-looking set of men we scarcely ever saw assembled together. a small bell hung from the ceiling, within reach of the chairman's hand, and as soon as he pulled it, the first weekly claimant (a woman) was forthcoming, and the following dialogue (which we copy from our Note-book) ensued:—

Chairman.—What is your application? A.—To be excused from paying poor-rate.
Chairman.—What are your earnings? A.—Sometimes I get a day's washing in the week, and sometimes two.
Chairman.—What is the average of your earning per month? A. - Can't say.
A Vestryman.—Is any person lodging with you? A.—Yes.
Q.—What do they pay you? A.—1s. 6d. per week.
Chairman.—You may leave the room. [She did so]. Well, gentlemen, you have heard the case, what is she to have?
A Vestryman.—She says she only gets work one day a week; all I can say is, whenever she is wanted, she can never be had.
Second Vestryman.—I propose it be granted.
Third Vestryman.—I second it.
Chairman.—Is there any amendment?
[There being no reply, the bell was rung, and the woman appeared, when the Chairman informed her that he demand was granted. As soon as she left the room, the second applicant entered—a tall, stout, hale man of about fifty.]

Chairman:—What do you ask? A.—Whatever, gentlemen, you choose to give me but I must have support for my child.
A Vestryman:—Is it your child? A.—It is my wife's.
Second Vestryman.—What are you worth? A.- Gentlemen, I hope you won;t ask a question of that sort; it is a delicate thing for a man to state exactly what he's worth. It is quite impossible for me to tell; all I know is, I can't support that child.
Third Vestryman.—That man is worth 300l. or 400l.; are you not? A.—Gentlemen, I hope you will not ask me a question of that sort.
Chairman:—We entertain no feelings of delicacy here; you come to us to ask relief, it is our duty not to give it unless you are in absolute [514] want. Is it true that you are, worth 4001. ?

A.—Not 400l., it may be 300l,: but, gentlemen, I can't well draw upon that.
Chairman.- You may leave the room.—[Exit Pauper,]—Well; gentlemen, you have heard the case; what do you propose? Vestryman.—I propose that the case be dismissed.
Second Vestryman.- I second it.
Chairman.—Is there any amendment?
Third Vestryman.—That man is connected with the press. He will give us all the trouble he can!
[The chairman rang his bell, and the man again appeared.]
Chairman.—The Court has heard your application, and has resolved that it be dismissed.
Pauper.—Then, gentlemen, I must see further into it.
Chairman. - You are perfectly at liberty to take what measures you think proper, You may leave the room. [Re-Exit Pauper.]
(The Third Claimant new entered.)
Chairman.—What do you, ask ?A.—3s.
What have you earned since last Wednesday? A. —But 1s. 9d.
What has your wife earned ? A. About 1s. 9d.
What does she do ? A.—She carries a basket.
What do you do ? A.—I do the same: last week I walked with it eighteen miles in one day, and did not get one farthing. Chairman. -You may leave the room.—[ Exit Pauper. ] Well, gentlemen, what do you propose?
Vestryman.—I propose that it be dismissed.
Second Vestryman.—I second it.
Third Vestryman.—The man, it appears, and his wife have only gained 3s, ; I propose that he should have 2-2-2. (Meaning bread, flour, and potatoes.)
Fourth Vestryman.—I second it.
Chairman.—Those in favour of the first proposition hold up their hands! —(There were three.) Those in favour of the second proposition hold up their hands—(There were nine.)
[The bell was rung, and the Claimant again appeared.
Chairman.—The Court has heard your case, and has granted to you 2-2-2.
Pauper.—Thank you, gentlemen.
(Fourth Applicant; a woman.)
Chairman.—What do you ask ? A—A doctor for my daughter.
Chairman.—You husband must apply; you know that is the rule. You must leave the room. [The woman retired]
Vestryman.—It is not her husband's child; and so he is ashamed to come himself—he never will.
Chairman.—That man is perfectly capable, I know, of supporting it; he works for me, and has been in the receipt of a guinea or twenty: four shillings per week.
[515] (Fifth Claimant.)
Chairman.—What do you ask ?
[The man seemed much affected : he said he was sorry to appear before the gentlemen—that his leg was almost well, and that he hoped soon to be able to work.]
Chairman.- Well, gentlemen, you have heard the case; what is your opinion?
Vestryman.—I know that he is an honest man: I propose that he shall have, per week, half a gallon of flour and one gallon of potatoes, till the 18th of March next.
Vestryman.—I second it.
Chairman.—Is there any amendment ?
[The bell was rung, the man entered, and he very gratefully accepted the relief.]

Many other cases were introduced, which it might be tedious to detail. Every one of the applicants seemed to be known, to some, and most of them to all of the vestrymen. The most scrutinizing inquiries were made; and, in several cases, attempts
at imposition were detected, exposed, and the claim refused. In short, every applicant had the advantage of appearing before a well-educated jury of practical men, who, as far as we were capable of judging, seemed determined to administer justice with mercy.

As soon as the weekly claimants were finished, the bell was rung, and the inmates of the house were ordered to appear, Eight old men, with one able-bodied man, accordingly entered; and as soon as they were ranged in a row, the master of the workhouse was ordered to leave the room. Each man was asked if he had any complaint to make; they all replied in the negative: The bell was then rung for the master, who was asked if he had any complaint to prefer: he had none, and the party were dismissed.

The boys were then sent for, and in a similar manner ranged in a row. They were fed in the workhouse, but made to work every
day for any who would employ them, Their earnings were, inquired into, and the statement they made corresponded with the
master's account. They were a fine-looking set of country lads, with not a depraved face among them —they had open countenances, large mouths, and big butter or bacon teeth. There were two chubby little creatures, with cheeks like roses; and when it came to their turn to answer whether they had any complaint to make, they laughed at the sentence, as if it had been Greek. the master had no complaint against them, except against the eldest, a lad of about seventeen, who, he said,' Got out o' nights.' The [516] boy received from the chairman a lecture, and the boys were dismissed.

Next appeared a row of old, lame, withered women, each hobbling one after the other, like Mother Goose: as they stood leaning against the wall, no attitude seeming exactly to suit them, a row of healthy little girls, with shining faces, whose heads scarcely reached their apron strings, were ranged before them: each case was very shortly inquired into, and there being no complaints on either side, the party were dismissed. The vestryman who had made the minutes of the evening's proceedings then read them out to the court, and the business being thus closed, the meeting was dissolved.

The moral effect of this sensible, humane, and business-like system it is almost impossible for anyone, however deeply he may have considered the subject, to calculate. Hundreds, who would think it a joke to dun, and even to browbeat, a solitary overseer, would be afraid of appearing before such a large assemblage. Many, who would not hesitate to be beggars in private, would shrink from the disgrace of being mendicants in public. Imposters dreaded detection—the insolent were awed—the bully was intimidated. On the other hand, the widow, the orphan, the person really in want, had in their favour a tribunal in which the best ingredients in the English character were undoubtedly to be found. we may add, that the court has at its disposal a sum of about 30l. a year, which is distributed privately, and very judiciously, as encouragement to the indigent to retain their independence and to prevent their incurring the discredit of appearing before the court.

To calculate the effect of such a system upon the morals of the lower orders, we repeat, is impossible; for if the gradual demoralization of an individual be imperceptible—if hourly, daily, and yearly, man or woman may slowly sink —until at last their good feelings are destroyed—so, on the other hand, from a state of almost any degradation, may they as imperceptibly be stimulated, encouraged, and even forced to rise in their own estimation.

A rude guess, however, of the providence or improvidence, of the morality or immorality, of a parish may not improperly be formed from an attentive inspection of its poor-rates; and if this be admitted, the following statement will sufficiently explain what effects have been produced since the paternal attention of the select vestry of Ashford has been so sensibly directed to the best interests of the parish. It is to be observed, that the select vestry commenced their duties in the year 1818.

[517] A Statement of the Monies expended in the Parish of Ashford, yearly from 1818-19 to 1834-35; with an Account of the Weekly Relief in each Year
Date   £. s. d.     £. s. d.
1818-19 Total Amount Expended 3450 15  1       Total Weekly Relief 1212 17  6
1819-20
ditto
3347 12  9½  
ditto
1245  4  3
1820-21
ditto
3189 10  0  
ditto
1238 18  6
1821-22
ditto
3057  0  2½  
ditto
1193 14  0
1822-23
ditto
2146  9  5  
ditto
 862 17   6
1823-24
ditto
1854  2  3½  
ditto
 832 17   5
1824-25
ditto
2436  6  6  
ditto
 427 14   3
1825-26
ditto
2285  4  6  
ditto
 490  1  0
1826-27
ditto
1658 15  5  
ditto
 458 18   4
1827-28
ditto
1492 10 11           
ditto
 446  3  5
1828-29
ditto
1965 17  3  
ditto
 463

 3

 7
1829-30
ditto
2056  6  1  
ditto
 402  9  9
1830-31
ditto
1828  8  7  
ditto
 452  6  3
1831-32
ditto
1505 10 10  
ditto
 437 17   4
1832-33
ditto
1575  2  4½  
ditto
 441 19   4
1833-34
ditto
1565 13  4  
ditto
 435 19   4
1834-35
ditto
1160 12  4  
ditto
 358 19   1
Richard Thorpe
Overseers
William Morley

 

The above account speaks so plainly for itself, that it is almost needless to add, that if every parish, or if unions of parishes, had bestowed, or would even now determine to bestow, the same attention on their poor as the parish of Ashford, the Poor-Law Amendment Act might instantly be repealed, and its commissioners, their secretary, and their assistants scattered like chaff before the wind*; but we regret to say, that the parish of Ashford is but an oasis in the desert; and to those who know the country, we need but name the adjoining parish of Wye, in proof of the melancholy truth of our assertion.

*The select vestry of Minster in Sheppy (formed only two years ago), assisted by its most able chairman, G.B. Chambers, Esq., succeeded the very first year in reducing the poor-rates from 8222l. to 6237l.; and there will be this year a still further reduction of about 1000l.

As a contrast to the select vestry of Ashford, we will merely mention, that a few days after we witnessed the creditable scene we have described, the commissioner called upon the overseer of a parish not fifty miles from the place, to inquire why he had not filled up the return which had been required of him, and while all the other overseers had completed. The poor man, (a total stranger to the Commissioner), who was dressed in a dirty smock-frock, actually shed teas as he delivered his explanation, which was verbatim as follows:

'Sir! the captain wants to go to church in his carriage through the little gate that the corpses go through—there's a great gate again the little one —the alderman won't let it be unlocked, and there's no [518] friendship atween them. We never has no vestry in no form; two or three of us come grumbling about what we don't understand, and then 'tis postponed for a week, and we never settles nothing—we can't do nothing in no form, because the gemmen won't attend. I'm no scholar myself, the schoolmaster's adoing it for me—and I beg your pardon, sir.'

One other contrast out of many we could give to the Ashford vestry, we will offer to our readers. We feel much pain in doing so, as the enquiry to which it relates has ended tragically.

From several parishes of —in the county of —a petition was forwarded in November last, to the Poor-Law Commissioners for the formation of a union. On the most experienced of the Assistant Commissioners repairing to the spot, he was received with acclamation by all classes of society; but without any reason being known or assigned, a strange prejudice seemed everywhere to exist among these amorous parishes against any matrimonial connection with the parish A. The Mayor of the most influential parish in the proposed union, assured the commissioner that he would do anything to facilitate the project, provided his dominions were not to be united with the said parish A. Go where he would, the commission met with the same request, the blooming parishes all saying, ' We will do anything you want, but PRAY don't unite as with parish A.!' No one, however, had any reason to assign, except that so often used by a man against his neighbour—namely, that he was a being much more demoralised than himself.

The commissioner listened to these objections with respectful suspicion, but on directing his attention to the common enemy, he found that, during the last five years, four members of poor parish A. had been hung—that nine had been transported for fourteen years—and that the number of convictions in proportion to their population had trebled that of any of the contiguous parishes. With a population of eight hundred and fifty, the poor-rates amounted £1300 a year, being about £1 11s. 6d. per head on the number of inhabitants!

On inquiring who might be the overseer, the commissioner learnt that this UNPAID individual had virtually reigned ten or eleven years; that he lived at his farm-house, and was himself a large landholder. On calling upon and demanding an inspection of the parish books, the overseer appeared confused, and said he would send for them, but Mahomet insisted on going to the mountain, and accordingly the commissioner and the overseer proceeded together to a large shop (in the village), on the counter of which lay the volume. The shop was kept by the overseer's brother, who was also his servant, and on passing the threshold, it was evident to the commissioner that he had reached a bazaar of considerable importance. Three hundred loaves were sitting on the shelves —and more than two sheep were hanging in joints—bacon, groceries, and draperies of all sorts filled up the interstices—and with these articles arrayed in evidence before his visitor, the officer confessed that, besides being overseer of the parish, he was a farmer, a miller, a baker, a butcher, a grocer, the draper, and a general dealer in all sorts of provisions and clothing. With this scene before his eyes, it was impossible for the commissioner to help silently comparing in his own mind, the thriving business of the overseer, with the profuse expenditure and hectic symptoms of the parish funds; and, indeed, the parochial books, as they lay on the counter, seemed to hint that between the parish account and the shop account, there existed a consanguinity —in fact, that they were cousins barely once removed. A few days afterwards, the commissioner unexpectedly appeared at the vestry, held as usual at the public-house, and as soon as the pipes and ale were finished, the business of the day commenced. As the paupers successively appeared, their cases were heard, and in every instance, they were desired to attend 'at the shop' the following morning, when the decision of the vestry would be communicated to them—this had been the constant practice.

On arriving 'at the shop', the pauper was freely permitted, if he chose, to receive the whole of the relief ordered by the parish for his support IN MONEY; but, odd as it may sound, he generally found out that somehow or other he happened to be in debt at this very shop—and, by all of his class, moreover, it had long been remarked, that they were dealt with my the vestry according to their docility at the shop. The sum of £1200 a year transferred from rate-payer to rate-receiver had thus annually passed over the overseer's own counter; and if, as was generally said, his goods had been sold at forty per cent. above the usual price, it was not surprising he had made no complaint against the inconvenience of such an arrangement.

The overseer himself confessed, that the paupers were sometimes in his debt for half-a-year's wages, but as on his counter there was also lying the book of 'casual relief', the parish was the shopman's security, and so what the vestry did not decree to his creditors, he himself had the honour to award!

The overseer, besides thus picking up the crumbs which fell from the rich table of the parish, was also the proprietor of fourteen cottages, the rent of which was paid by the parish, that is to say, by himself to himself!

It may appear strange, and 'passing strange it is;, that this man should have managed to maintain his influence in the vestry, but [520] the paupers becoming dependent upon him, in proportion to their insubordination and degradation, these aggressions were successfully urged by him as a plea for gaining the confidence of those whose concurrence he required. In short, he had the entire control over the collection as well as distribution of the rate; and when the little shopkeepers became indignant at seeing their fair-dealing profits thus absorbed by their overseer, they were bribed into silence by being left out of the rate altogether; nay, even the a vicar of the parish honestly declared to the commission, that, though, but too well aware of the existing oppression, he also had been left out of the rate, on the distinct understanding that he was not to interfere in any of these concerns. In fact, so completely was the overseer triumphant, that he had even dispensed with the usual form of making a rate, but when he wanted more cash he laconically stuck on the church-door the following official notification—'A rate wanted.' In obedience to this mandate, 'a rate was granted;' and the said rate was collected by his brother, and servant, who was also the paid servant of the parish!

As samples of this man's conduct to his inferiors, the two following cases may be selected:—A member of parliament, who is also a magistrate, informed the commission that a parishioner of parish A., who lately applied to him for relief, stated that he had been working for a considerable number of weeks (not on the parish account) for the said overseer, nominally earning 10 shillings a week; that during so long a period, 'never having seen the colour of his master's money,' he at last ventured on a Saturday night to ask for two shillings instead of wares of the shop— that his request was granted, but that he was discharged—and thenceforth all parochial relief denied him.

A man with his family, consisting of a wife and four children, solicited permission to live in a hovel belonging to the parish, with an understanding that he paid no rent, but should support himself by his own exertions. He performed his contract— until at last a small sum was requested and allowed him for the maintenance of his ninth child, an idiot. For a man kept his dwelling in tenantable repair, and for eighteen years and spent his earnings in 'the shop.' At length, having ascertained that half-a-Crown would go elsewhere as far as four shillings there, he deserted 'the shop;' however, no sooner did the small stream of his earnings cease to flow over that counter, than a sheriff's officer demanded from him the sum of £4 for forty weeks' rent in arrear— the debtor was insolvent, and his very bed was sold to satisfy his creditor. On hearing this tale, the commissioner again inspected the overseer's books, and there he found, in his own handwriting, a single charge of £46.10s., for rent paid by himself for himself!

[521] The above case, duly attested, being forwarded to the Poor-Law Commissioners for England and Wales, they deemed it their duty to order that this overseer should instantly be dismissed. No sooner did he fall from his exalted station, than the base feelings which his own demoralising system had created, unkindly turned upon him; among the lower orders there was left no sentiment of generosity to pardon his errors—no disposition to overlook his frailty—no creditable reluctance against trampling on a fallen foe— the poor wretch fell a victim to vices of his own creation—his life became a burden to him, and with very great regret, we add, he has just ended his career by suicide!

In many cases, on calling on the overseers, the Assistant-Commissioner found that the parish account was kept by their wives!  In one instance, on insisting that to see the 'laird his-sel',' the old lady answered that he was forty miles off at sea, fishing; and it turned out that this was the man's regular trade.

In another instance, calling on a fine healthy yeoman who had neglected to make out his return, the Commissioner found he was out; but a man with a flail in his hand, protruding his red-hot face from a barn door, explained that the gemman might easily see the parish accounts, as the person who kept them was within.  The gemman accordingly dismounted, entered a most excellent house, and in less than five minutes and found himself in a carpeted parlour, seated at a large oak table, with the parish accountant on a bench at his side. She was the yeoman's sister, a fine ruddy, healthy, blooming, bouncing girl of eighteen.  As her plump red finger went down the items, it was constantly deserting its official duty to lay aside a profusion of black cork-screw ringlets which occasionally gambled before her visitor's eyes.  She had evidently taken great pains to separate, as cleverly as she could, the motley claimants on the parish purse, just as her brother had divided his lamps from his pigs, and his sheep from his cows.  She had one long list of 'labourers with families;' ' widows' were demurely placed in one corner of her ledger; 'cesses' stood in another; 'vagrants or trampers' crossed one page; those receiving 'constant relief' sat still in another; at last, the accountant came to two very long lists— one was composed of what she called ' low women'—the other, veiled by her curls, she modestly muttered were 'hilly jittimites.'

An assistant commissioner observing, in a parish book, constantly repeated the charge of 'for sparrows 2s. 6d..,' ventured to enquire what was allowed for destroying them?  'Why, 4d. a dozen!' the overseer instantly replied; but how it happened that the parish gun always killed exactly half a crown's worth, never more or never less, the man in office could only [522] explain by observing, as.he scratched his head, "Yes! and we're eaten up by 'em still !" One parochial item was

' To John Bell, for cutting his throaght, l2s.'

The following is, verbatim et literatim, the copy of an overseer's answer to a printed circular of grave inquiries, forwarded to all the parishes by the Poor-Law Board:—

'It will never do we any good to alter the law in our parish, as our parish is very small, and there is no probabilits of alter our kearse at all. There is no persons fitter to manage the parish better than ourselves. T. T,; oversear.'

'Why have you so long continued this charge of a shilling for tolling the church-bell at the death of every pauper?' said the Assistant Commissioner to a parish overseer. ' Why, sir,' replied the officer, in a whisper, ' the clerk is a dreadful man, and always threatens to fight me, whenever I wants to stop that ere charge!'

About five weeks ago a parish clerk gave notice, during divine service, of a rate, and then added, 'And I am further desired, by the poor of this parish, to give notice, that they mean to hold a meeting this evening, at seven 'o'clock, under the rook-trees, to consider on the best means of doing for themselves.' The meeting was accordingly held in the dark, and its obscure attendants resolved unanimously 'to do no more work.'

In one parish it appeared that there existed a person in the community almost fit to rival Mr, Mathews or Mr. Yates:

Q. Who is the overseer?   A: Mr. Parker.
Q. Who is assistant overseer?   A. Mr. Parker.
Q. Who is the warden?   A. Mr. Parker.
Q. Who collects the rate?   A. Mr. Parker.
Q. Who is master of the workhouse?   A. Mr. Parker.
Q. Who determines on the rates?   A. Mr. Parker.

Besides these trifling duties, Mr. Parker performed also in the public characters of a butcher, a farmer, a quarrier, a carman, and a constable. 'Well, Mr. Parker!' said the Assistant Commissioner, 'you seem to have got all the parish affairs on your hands; I only hope you take care of these poor children, and give them a good education?' 'No, sir;' replied Mr. Parker,'God forbid! all the six and thirty years I have been overseer, I never gave children no larning.' 'Why not?' 'Why, sir, it be a thing quite injurious; we have no long-legged children on our parish turned out of school; when I finds a promising child I sets him to work.' Accordingly, it turned out that there was not one of the poor children in Mr. Parker's parish that could write or read.

The master of a workhouse was asked by the commissioner [523] for how many persons he was serving up dinner; in fact, how many paupers there were in his house? 'The man could not tell, but said he would 'send and ask Mrs. Smith, because she be got a wonderful memory, and will recollect all about it.' This Mrs. Smith was an old blind pauper, who at the moment was up two
pair of stairs. On descending, and on hobbling into the room, she instantly solved the problem, by stating that there were thirty-seven people in the house.

In one instance, an assistant overseer replied, repeated, and persisted, to the commissioner, that his parish had ' no population.' It turned out he did not know the meaning of the abstruse word.

In a large poor-house, the commissioner, wishing to knew exactly how the paupers were fed, desired the governor to produce his ' dietary.' His excellency hesitated so much, that the commissioner suspected he had not got one; the governor persisted that he had, but said he could not possibly bring it into the vestry-room, for it was a fixture! 'Well,' said the commissioner, 'if the dietary cannot come to us, let us go to the dietary!' The governor slowly led the way, until he reached the great hall, when, pointing to a thing about 18 feet by 4, he said, 'Here it is, sir!' It was the paupers' dining-table!

As a national jest-book, the history of our parishes, and the contents of their ledgers, stand, we must confess, unrivalled; but 'when we reflect that the sum total of this expenditure has annually exceeded seven millions, that the poor-rates of any country are the symbol of its improvidence, and the sure signal of its distress, we must,' says an Assistant-Commissioner,'also admit that there exists in the history of our kingdom nothing more sorrowful, nothing more discreditable than our late poor-law system.' Supposing that any person were gravely to inform a serious, sensible, right-minded body of commercial men, say, for instance, the partners in bank that there existed, in a certain part of this globe, an establishment, the annual receipts of which amounted very nearly to the enormous sum of eight millions, to be collected as well as expended in small. sums, as changeable as, and actually influenced by, the weather;—-that this immense establishment had no officers of any sort at its head, no well educated, responsible people to overlook its general management, to govern or control its expenditure; that there were no people appointed to audit these accounts, but that the whole capital, left to the dictates of almost any one's heart, was governed by no man's head; —that in executing the duties of this immense business particularly as regarded both the collection and expenditure of its income, it was exceedingly popular to act wrong, excessively unpopular to act right, yet that such duties were imposed upon [524] unpaid men, who were often extremely unwilling to serve at all;—that these impressed accountants were often grossly illiterate, and in many cases, dressed in hob-nailed shoes and common smock-frocks, were scarcely able to read of write;—that lest by practice they should learn the business, it had been established as a rule that they should be changed every year;—that in all cases they had also their own private business to attend to, and that the great account was consequently often left to their wives, and even to their young playful daughters! Now, if Messrs. Coutts and Co. were requested to be so good as, from the above data, to state what, in their opinion, would be the result of this vast establishment, can there be any doubt but that their verdict would unanimously by —INEVITABLE BANKRUPTCY? and, after death what sentences could the coroner pronounce over such a carcase, but those if 'Insanity,' and 'Felo de se' [suicide].

Having now submitted to our readers a few plain sketches illustrating the old pauper system, we will proceed to inform them in what manner the assistant commissioner proceeded cautiously to carry into effect the Poor Law Amendment Act in East Kent.

We need hardly observe to our readers that the county of Kent is one of the most favoured regions on the surface of the habitable globe. Situated between the steep Surrey hills and the flat land of Essex, its undulating surface enjoys a happy medium, alike avoiding the abrupt inconvenience of the one landscape, and the dull insipidity of the other. Its villages, and the houses of its gentlemen and yeomen, shaded by the surrounding trees, are scarcely perceptible; and from any eminence, looking around in all directions, there is a tranquility in the scene which is very remarkable. It seems to be a country without inhabitants, —it looks like Paradise, when Adam and even Eve were asleep. Its hop-gardens, in the winter season, resemble encampments of soldiers; its orchards ornament the rich land, as its woods do the barren. Little is seen in motion but the revolving sails of white windmills, which, on various eminences, are industriously grinding the produce of the season's harvest. The low, unassuming, flint-built village church possesses, in its outline and architecture, an antiquity and a simplicity peculiarly appropriate to its sacred object, while the white tomb-stones and the dark gnarled yew trees which surround it, seem to be silent emblems, speechless preachers, of death and immortality.

After traversing the county in various directions, and comparing its actual state with the reports of the population, poor-rates, number of people out of employment, &c. of each individual parish, it appeared evident that, as the population of the parishes [525] was eccentrically unequal, it would be quite impossible to bring them under the new system, or under any one system which could be devised. In one instance there were only seven individuals in the whole parish, in another only fifteen; three other parishes united did not amount to a hundred souls; twenty of the parishes were below 100; there were fifty-one below 300; while in the larger parishes the population amounted to 1,200, 1,900, and in some cases to 5,000.

It being impossible, therefore, advantageously to give to each parish any government which could enable it independently to take its part in a general system of amended administration, it appeared advisable—particularly for the small parishes, which could afford no independent government whatever — that the whole county should be grouped into convenient unions of parishes, which, by a subscription from each, to be fairly levied only in proportion to its late actual expenditure, might be governed with a due regard to economy, and with a sensible but humane provision for the poor; in short, it seemed that it would be generally advantageous that the parishes, which, like loose sticks, were lying scattered over the country, should be gathered together in faggots for the benefit of all parties. But there appeared, at first, to be many difficulties in carrying this plan into execution—for besides the eccentric shapes of the parishes, there were other lines equally jagged, which to a certain degree it seemed necessary to attend to. We allude to the divisions of the Lathes, the divisions of the hundreds, the dominion of the Cinque-ports, the corporate boundaries, and last, though not least, the magisterial divisions of the county. The Island of Sheppey, the Isle of Thanet, Oxney Island, and Romney Marsh, had also limits which it appeared equally advisable to attend to. On entering into a scrutiny of all these various divisions and sub-divisions, it turned out, however, that several were of little importance. The boundaries, for instance, of the hundreds were in many cases almost obsolete. Some of the corporate proved to possess a smaller population than many of the county parishes. With the Cinque-ports, from their locality, it would not be necessary to interfere, and the boundaries of the Lathes and of the magisterial divisions proved to be in many cases identical. The boundaries, therefore, which on reflection it seemed more advisable to follow were the magisterial divisions of the county. In grouping the parishes into unions, it seemed not only advantageous, particularly for the poor, that they should continue to remain under the parental government of their own magistrates—of those they had all their lives been accustomed to respect—but that it would be exceedingly inconvenient to the parish officers of a union if they had weekly to transact business [526] with two benches of magistrates, each separated at a considerable distance, and each holding its meeting on a different day from the other.

For these reasons it, appeared proper that the magisterial divisions of the county of Kent should be the guide for the assistant commissioner, and, accordingly, that he should form each into a union or unions, to be submitted by him for approval to the Board in Whitehall. But there arose in Kent an insuperable objection to an arbitrary execution of this arrangement, for although the Poor-Law Amendment Act, by clause 26 enacts,

'That it shall be lawful for the said commissioners, by order, under their hands and seals to declare so many parishes, as they may think fit, to be united for the administration of the laws for the relief of the poor, and such parishes shall thereupon be deemed a union for such purpose;'

yet the commissioners are strictly denied the power of altering, or dissolving existing unions; it being by clause 32 distinctly declared

'That no such dissolution, alteration, or addition, shall take place, or be made, unless a majority of not less than two-thirds of the guardians of such union shall also concur (by consent in, writing) therein.'

Why the legislature gifted the poor-law commissioners with the bump of 'philoprogenitiveness,' and withheld from them the organ of 'destructiveness'—why it granted them the power of forcing alliances between parishes, without granting them the power of divorcing bad, matches—need not be argued, it being quite sufficient to state that such is the law of the land.

As there existed eight large unions in East Kent, formed under the 22nd of George III., it, was evidently impossible that the assistant commissioner could, under the authority of the Poor-Law Amendment Act, carry into effect his proposed unions, without first obtaining the consent in writing of the respective guardians for the dissolution of their existing unions. But the reader may possibly feel disposed to ask what necessity was there for the dissolution of these old unions? Why might not they exist, and the remaining parishes follow by matrimony their example? A map of the localities of the parishes comprehended in the old unions would at a single glance show not only that the old unions were evidently for their own interests, and especially for the interests of the most poor, most inconveniently formed; but that, instead of forming a dense phalanx or congregation of interests, they madly straddled over the country without any apparent rule what ever. For instance, the pauper of Swingfield parish lives only three miles and a half from the great River Union workhouse, and only, seven from the Martin Union workhouse; however, after passing the former workhouse, he had eight miles farther to walk [527] before he could get to his own union at Eastry! the pauper from Walmer, after walking above three miles, actually passed the gate of the Martin Union workhouse, and then had five more weary miles to trudge, in order to get to the workhouse at River, to which he has been irrationally sentenced to belong. One of the old unions belonged to three different benches of magistrates; and a number of parishes were so remote from their poor-houses, that it was banishment to the pauper to send him there.

The assistant commissioner had, consequently the double duty of forming and of unforming unions, and though it at first appeared that the regular mode of proceeding would be to attempt to level the old unions before it should be proposed to build up the new ones, yet on reflection, for the following reason, it was determined on pursuing the contrary course. It was perfectly evident to the commissioner, and indeed to every body, that there existed in the county a considerable prejudice against, or rather an utter ignorance of, the new law; and in order to encounter that prejudice, it seemed better that he should appeal to large bodies of` men, among whom he would at least have the advantage of meeting with many well-educated persons, whose presence would probably smother the expressions of narrow interests, than to risk an application to the petty tribunal of the guardians of the old unions. It appeared better he should commence his labours by recommending the formation of new unions, armed by the power he openly possessed under the new act of carrying them (unless good reasons were shown to the contrary), into effect, than defencelessly to sue, in forma pauperis, for permission to dissolve existing, unions, some of which might, or might not, be cemented by private rather than public interests. It was evident that if he should happen to succeed in his large meetings, his success would carry with it considerable weight in the minds of the guardians, whereas their approbation would avail him nothing, before the county at large; while, on the other hand, their rejection of his proposition would practically amount to its final condemnation.

As his project was to divide the magisterial divisions into unions, by circular letters he separately collected together the magistrates, parochial officers, and principal rate-payers of every division in. East Kent.

As the subject was one of intense interest, these meetings were attended by almost every magistrate in the county, by many of the clergy, and by all the parish-officers; and when it is stated that the magisterial divisions in East Kent are composed of fifty-six, fifty; forty-two, twenty-five, and twenty-six parishes, it may easily be conceived that the assemblage was so large, that it was, [528] in general, necessary to repair to the national school to obtain admittance for everyone. among the parish-officers the feeling towards the Poor-Law Amendment Act was generally hostile; and not only did most of them leave their houses intending individually to oppose the measure, but before the meeting took place they, in many instances, met together, talked the affair over, and having not idea of the plan to be proposed, many of them collectively agreed together that they would hold up their hands against it. The commissioner being perfectly aware of the existence of these feelings, knowing also they were engendered only by ignorance, as soon as the meetings were assembled, requested the magistrates to pardon him if he should commence his duty be endeavouring to explain to the parish-officers (what he was sensible that the magistrates much better understood than himself), namely, the real object of the Poor-Law Amendment Act; and, with their permission, he then read to the overseers a memorandum, which he truly enough stated, had been hastily written, under the idea that in the disturbed parts of Kent, he might come at once into collision with the labouring classes, to whom it might be very desirable he should clearly explain his object.

From the address 'To the Labouring Classes of the County of Kent,' which he then read, we extract what follows:—

'In old times the English law punished a vagrant by cutting off his ear; and, said the ancient law, "if he has no ears" (which means, if the law should have robbed him of both), "then he shall be branded with a hot iron; his city, town, or village being moreover authorised to punish him, according to its discretion, with chaining, beating, or otherwise." The legislature, driven by the progress of civilization from this cruel extreme, most unfortunately fell into an opposite one, wearing the mask of charity. Instead of mutilating individuals, it inflicted its cruelty on the whole fabric of society, by the simple and apparently harmless act of raising the pauper a degree or two above the honest, hard-working, hard-earning, and hard faring peasant. The change, for a moment, seemed a benevolent one, but the prescription was soon began to undermine the sound constitution of the labourer—it induced him to look behind him at the workout instead of before him at his plough.

'The poison, having paralysed the lowest extremity of society, made its appearance in the form of out-door relief, and it thus sickened from their work those who were too proud to wear the livery of the pauper. In the form of labour-rate, the farmers next began to feel that there was a profitable, but unhealthy mode of cultivating their land, by the money levied for the support of the poor. He who nobly scorned to avail himself of this bribe, became every day poorer than his neighbour who accepted it; and tails, out on this peace tempered system. There grew up in every parish, petty laws and customs, which, partly [529] from ignorance and partly from self-interest, actually threatened with punishment those who were still uncontaminated by the disease.

'To the provident labourer, they exclaimed, " You shall have no work, for your dress and decent appearance show that you have been guilty of saving money from your labour; subsist, therefore, upon what you have saved, until you have sunk to the level of those who, by having been careless of the future, have become entitled more than you to our relief! "

' "You have no family, " they said to the prudent labourer, who had refrained from marrying because he had not the means of providing for children— " you have no family, and the farmer therefore must not employ you until we have found occupation for those who have children. Marry without means!—proof to us that you have been improvident! —satisfy us that you have created children you have not power to support!—and the more children you produce, the more you shall receive!"

' To those who felt disposed to set the laws of their country at defiance,— " Why fear the laws?—the English pauper is better fed than the independent labourer—the suspected thief receives in jail, considerably more food than the pauper—the convicted thief receives still more— and the transported felon receives every day very nearly three times as much food as the honest, independent peasant! "

'By a dreadful system was thus corrupting the principles of the English labourer, it was working, if possible, and still harder to effect the demoralisation of the weaker sex. On returning home from his work, vain was it for the peasant to spend his evening in instilling into the mind of his child that old-fashioned doctrine, that if she ceased to be virtuous she would cease to be respected— that if she ceased to be respected she would be abandoned by the world— that her days would pass in shame and indigence, and that she would bring her father's grey-hairs with sorrow to the grave.

' "No such cruelty shall befall you," whispered the poor-laws in her ear: "abandoned, indeed! you shall not be abandoned—concede, and you shall be married; and even if your seducer should refuse to go with you to the altar, he or your parish shall make you such an allowance, that it you will but repeat and repeat the offence, you will at last, by dint of illegitimate children, establish an income which will make you a marketable and marriageable commodity. With these advantages before you, do not wait for a seducer—be one yourself!"

'To the young female who recoiled with horror from this advice, the following arguments were used:— "If you do insist on following your parents' precepts instead of ours—don't wait till you can provide for a family, but marry! —the parish shall support you; and remember that the laws says, the more children you bring into the world, without the means of providing for them, the richer you shall be!—"

'To the most depraved portion of the sex —"Swear! —we insist upon your swearing —who is the father of your child. Never mind how irregular your conduce may have been; fix upon a father, for [530] the words, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against by neighbour,' are not parish law— what's wrong before the altar, we have decreed right in the vestry! Swear, therefore; and still use were ever so falsely, you shall immediately be rewarded! "

'I have now endeavoured to explain to you the two extremes of error under which the English poor-laws have hitherto existed; the ancient error having proceeded from the vice called cruelty, the modern one from false virtues assuming the name of charity. Of these two extremes, there can be little doubt that the latter was the worst. However, it is useless to argue— both are now at an end. The new act now reigns in their stead, and we have therefore, now only to consider what this really is... Those who are enemies to its mechanism, tell you that this new act has a grinding propensity; but so has the mill which gives us our bread. The act truly enough does grind; but before we condemn it, let us clearly understand who and what it is, that will be ground by it.

'The act rests upon that principle which, whether admitted or not by a law, is indelibly imprinted in the head and heart of every honest person in this country, namely, that no individual, whether able-bodied, impotent, or vicious, should be left to suffer from absolute want. To this principle of common social justice, there is attached a liberal feeling almost as universal, namely, that the poor of this wealthy country should not only be barely supported, but totally regardless of expense, they should receive as many comforts and as much alleviation as can buy any man's ingenuity possibly be invented for them, without injuring, corrupting, or demoralising other members of society.

'Upon this liberal principle—upon this Christian-like feeling, but with this salutary caution always in mind—the act of parliament in question has been framed... The Central Board has no power to punish the vicious—no right to revile the improvident—no authority to neglect the impotent. Their wants alone constitute their legal passport to relief, which is to be administered to them with an equal attention to generosity on the one hand, and justice on the other. Every comfort, every accommodation, which the indigent can name they are strictly entitled to, provided it does not raise them above the provident and independent labourer—but if a pauper, improvident and dependent, should insist on being placed higher up on the scale of society than an independent labourer— then, indeed, the bill becomes a grinding one, and it will continue to grind until it has reduced this man to his proper level. The Central Board has no power to prevent a lad without a shilling from marrying a girl without a sixpence; the couple and their offspring, the moment they are in want, are strictly entitled to relief;—but if, not satisfied with this, they moreover demand (according to the late system) that the unmarried, hard-working, prudent labourer is to lose his employment, and to take a berth in the workhouse instead of them, then the bill will grind down their pretensions. The Central Board cannot discard the most abandoned women who solicit support for themselves and their [531] illegitimate offspring; —their prayer for relief will at once be granted; but if such people presume to disorganise society by raising their guilty heads above the honest, virtuous peasant-woman and her children, then the bill will grind them down, but only till they reach their proper station. With the same impartial justice, should people in a much higher class endeavour to maintain an exalted station, and at the same time draw illicit assistance from the poor-rates, thus secretly existing on money which has been collected from rate-payers infinitely poorer than themselves— then will the machinery of the new bill come quickly into action, while exclamations against its grinding nature will be uttered and advocated in vain. To every sober, reflecting mind, it must surely be evident that the substitution of the present act of parliament for the late one will slowly, but most surely, confer inestimable advantages on our society in general, and on the provident, industrious, and independent labourer and in particular. All that he gains will in future be his own—he will no longer be afraid of appearing decent and cleanly in his person — with honest pride he may now display the little earnings of his industry, without fear that they will throw him out of work—and from his example, his children will quickly learn, that in England honesty has become once again the best policy.

'In gradually withdrawing, even from a suspected imposters, outdoor relief (offering them as a test the workhouse instead), individual cases of real as well as of apparent hardship must occur; but deeply as such cases ought to be lamented by us, yet, on the other hand, it should always be kept in mind, that the greatest degree of misery, which in its very worst form can exist under the new Poor Law Amendment Act, amounts, after all to food, raiment, bedding, fuel, and shelter; and the man can have seen but little of this world—he must be sadly ignorant of the state of its immense population— he can himself have suffered very little from adversity, if he presume to declare that such relief is absolute misery. But whatever may be its character, I beg leave, in concluding, most particularly to impress upon you, that as this relief (bad as it may be called) is given as charity, and is by no means inflicted as a punishment, all benevolent people, who really wish to raise the situation of the lower classes, have now only to bestow their charity on the independent labourer, and by doing so they will instantly enable at the Central Board to better, exactly in the same proportion, the situation of the pauper; for the Central Board will always be happy to raise the condition of the pauper as high as it can be raised without disorganising society. The independent labourer is entitled, in common justice, to rank above, and not below, the man who is dependent on his parish for support: every reasonable being must admit that the hanger-on ought not to be raised higher than him on whom he hangs.'

On concluding this address, the Assistant Commissioner explained to his audience that, as the whole country was now under [532] the Poor Law Amendment Act, it was only for parishes to determine whether each would still endure the expense of a separate to poor-house, separate officers &c., or whether, like congregation, it would be most for their interest to avail themselves of the immense advantages of wholesale management. He observed, that the Poor Law Board had neither made the law, nor were responsible for its existence—their only duty was to accommodate it, as far as it allowed them, to all existing interests—to prevent it oppressing, and to alleviate its rigor, as far as they were able; that to attend, de die in diem, to the complaints of all the paupers of 14,000 distinct parishes would be utterly impossible; but that if East Kent, for instance, should approve of being grouped into compact unions of parishes, it would then perfectly be in the power of the Poor Law Commissioners to attend to their collective interests, and to take an especial care that the poor of each union were sensibly and humanely provided for. As far as regarded the interests of the rate-payers, he told them what an immense diminution of expenditure had invariably taken place wherever a body of steady practical men had zealously undertaken the management of their own parochial interests;— that though no one little parish of the seven, twenty, or a hundred individuals could produce this jury, yet the guardians of each union would form such a body;— that that body would have the pleasure as well as the popularity of expending every shilling collected for the poor,— while, on the other hand, all that was unpopular would fall upon the Poor-Law Amendment Act, upon the Poor-Law Commissioners for England and Wales, and upon their assistants;— that under the old system, the overseers and guardians, they well knew, had been looked upon as the composers as well as the executors of the Poor Law—and that they must be perfectly sensible that not only had they themselves been reviled by the labourers, unless the law as well as the relief proceeding from it had been modelled to meet their demands— but that labourers who had been refused relief had been heard to leave their vestries saying almost aloud, 'you all want a few more good fires!'—that intimidation, however ashamed they might be to confess it, in many cases had been successfully exerted, and that designing men were still endeavouring to promulgate to the disaffected the maxim that fire would produce relief, and that relief alone could extinguish fire; but that henceforth, in a union of parishes, under the new law, the guardians would stand before the poor in the same situation as County magistrates, who, having been enabled to refer to, and actually to read aloud the law to every offender, had been able to carry all its severest sentences in to execution, without losing their well-earned popularity—the reason being of that, when the lower [533] orders of people saw that their object was evidently to temper justice with mercy, however, they might have reviled the law, they felt it impossible to withhold respect from those who had mildly administered it;— that if men for pleasure could walk, in order to go to fairs, five miles, (which was about the greatest distance any pauper in any of the new proposed unions could live from its centre)—that if they thought it no hardship to go the same distance to their market-towns—that if they cheerfully went a still greater distance to ask for relief at the magisterial bench—there was neither hardship nor injustice a requiring them to proceed a similar distance to a union workhouse, to be there clothed and supported by the sweat of other men's brows;— that if their diet when they got there was what in this country alone would be termed low, yet, after all, would they be fed there better than the Russian peasant, the Prussian peasant, the French peasant,—than almost every independent labourer in Europe; — In fine, that to feed its paupers better than the independent labourer of Europe was what no country in the world could afford;—that our having weakly attempted to do so, without at the same time increasing the fare and condition of our honest labourers, had brought us to a condition in which the farmer was now scarcely able to cultivate his land—and that, if we should continue to pride ourselves on such a sin, we should soon as a nation be deservedly humbled to the dust.

With respect to the houses of the proposed union, the Commissioner suggested, that for the interest of the lowest orders, it would be highly advantageous that classification to a certain extent should be effected. He detailed to the parish officers the various scenes he had witnessed, and the melancholy results of depravity which in a promiscuous intercourse was even still creating. He appealed to them as fathers, whether they did not think that it was their duty at least to shield the rising generation from the vices and errors of the present day—whether it was not benevolent and not cruel, that the children of those where were unable to support their offspring should receive education as well as food; and that, if improvident paupers called upon an enlightened country to support their progeny, it should be permitted for the public good to insist on mingling moral instruction with the sustenance, which, in the name of charity, they received—whether, in fact, it was more cruel for a pauper's child to be sent to school than for the children of our most wealthy classes?

As to the provision for the aged, the Commissioner submitted to the opinion of the meetings, that, instead of being thrown among children and young men and women, their comforts would be materially increased by their being kept together. He asked [534] whether quietness was not one of the kindest charities which could be bestowed on age—whether a diet as well as a home might not be provided for them properly suited to their infirmities —and last, though not least (if there was no one to deprive them of this benefit), whether many additional comforts and indulgences might not be granted to old people beyond what could or should be afforded for every description of applicants?

He observed, that for the aged, as well as for the children, no expensive government was requisite, inasmuch as a respectable pauper and his wife could always be found capable of superintending the children, while the aged, if they enjoyed but rest and quietness, scarcely required any government at all—that consequently it was not only demoralizing to the children, and distressing to the old people, but destructive of the powers which would be necessary to control the able-bodied labourers, to think of congregating all classes together in one large building—that such a building would disfigure the face of an agricultural county, and would unavoidably assume the revolting appearance of a prison or a jail.

With respect to the government of the able-bodied paupers, the Assistant Commissioner submitted, that for the welfare of society the whole powers of their parochial resources ought in prudence to be concentrated on that difficult object, and not to be unscientifically spread over a vast promiscuous assemblage of all the paupers in the union. He contended that the able-bodied paupers ought to receive sufficient food, clothing, firing, lodging—that arrangements ought to be made for giving them also work—but that, with every disposition to be charitable to them, their situation on the whole ought, in spite of clamour, unavoidably to be made such that they should be unwilling to come and anxious to go that they should feel disposed in the new system to break rather out of the workhouse, than according to the old system to break into it—that to create such a feeling was the only solid basis of social life, and that if we wished to restore the invaluable distinction which once existed between the English labourer and the pauper, we could only effect that object by resolutely creating a difference between them.

In regard to able-bodied paupers haughtily refusing to go five miles to the proposed new union poor-house, or rather to the old existing poor-houses—for he was anxious, if possible, to erect no new buildings—the Commissioner observed, that a vessel in distress ought thankfully to go to the harbour, not expect that the harbour is to come to it; that when an able-bodied man asks for relief, to use an old adage, 'the beggar should not be a chooser;' that, even after along day's march, our soldiers abroad had' occasionally five miles to trudge to get to their billets for one night's rest; [535] and most especially, that in East Kent such an objection should not be urged against the Poor-Law Amendment Act, inasmuch as in the old unions many of the parishes were nine and twelve miles from the union workhouse; and at the old Coxheath union, paupers had been and still were sent by parishes to poor-houses which were situated twenty miles distant!

These addresses were generally followed by very long and anxious discussions.

There was one great practical question, however, which at all the meetings was invariably addressed to the commissioner, namely, Does the new proposed system offer us any means of employing the immense number of labourers, who with every desire to seek employment are now totally out of work? for that is our sole evil;'—and to this all-important question, which appeared uppermost in every one's mind, the commissioner replied, that he conceived the Poor-Law Amendment Act did not pretend to find these men employment—that the new law was a system against a system—that it was the old system, and not the new one, that had created more labourers than work—that any man of common sense might twenty years ago have prophesied that such would be its result—and that it required no gift of prophecy to foretell, that if the old system were to continue, the most dreadful of all revolutions would very shortly ensue—namely, that the upper classes would lose all they possessed, while the lower classes would gain nothing but depravity and demoralization—that if intimidation had not arrived it was at least clearly in view—and that the instant the lower orders succeeded in establishing that, property, and institutions of all sorts would be at an end—that to arrest this system was the avowed and determined object of the Poor-Law Amendment Act—that if a vessel were sinking, it would be a false argument to use against the carpenter, who was ordered to stop the leak, to say, that he should not do so unless he could tell what was to be done with the water which was already in the hold; for that, in the execution of his duty, it mattered to him not one straw whether there was five feet of water aboard or ten. What would be the carpenter's reply, but ' Pump it out, or drink it, if you choose; my duty is to stop the leak!' It would be for the legislature by other Acts to provide for the alleviation of the evil! to which these inquiries so naturally referred: Emigration to the colonies might and should be encouraged—the Allotment System might and should be encouraged; but that even the Poor-Law Amendment Act, though it could not undertake directly to meet the evil, would, if it had fair play given to it, so operate as in
directly to diminish the evil to an enormous extent. He appealed to the parish-officers whether it was not undeniable that every farm in [536] the county could employ many more labourers than it did, if the farmer had it in his power to threaten the labourer with his discharge—the hedges might be put into order—that even a different style of husbandry might be introduced, and that the present necessity of overlooking every labourer would cease to exist if the farmer could only say to him, 'If you will not serve me faithfully, I will discharge you!' But hew asked them whether at present the very best labourer did not often say, 'Master, I have no complaint; but I don't see why I should be working hard for you, when I can live well and work lightly for the parish!'

The Assistant Commissioner read to the meetings a communication which the Poor-Law Board had lately received from Manchester, earnestly begging for labourers, saying,

'When a family in a Sussex village is starving on 7s. per week, or living hardly in a workhouse, a letter from some friend settled in Lancashire, stating that he is getting 25s. and 30s. weekly, will electrify him into the means of arriving at the land of promise. Give the wish, and the means he will find himself.'

But he asked whether it was likely that the labourer would take the trouble of migrating (not to a foreign climate, but even to a neighbouring shire in his own native kingdom)—whether it was likely that he would take the trouble even to cross a hedge—so long as there was nothing to oblige him to do so; in short, so long as his energies were undeveloped by necessity? He asked why it was that the Irish managed to rob the English labourer of his employment? Was it by overworking him? No! but it was by under-living him; and so long as the diet of our poor-houses created indolence and pampered sloth, so long would the English peasant be beaten out of his own field by his inferior.

As soon as the discussion had work itself out, the Assistant Commissioner declared to the meetings, that having now concluded his endeavours to show what advantages society in general, and the poor in particular, would derive by the formation of the new proposed unions, he would now beg leave to take the opinion of the magistrates and parochial officers of the division on the subject. Before doing so he would only observe, that although it was not for him to meddle with, alter, or presume to avert the Amendment Act, which was now the law of the land,—although the Poor-Law Commissioners had power arbitrarily to create the unions he had submitted to their consideration,—yet, that, without going against it, he had so far the means of evading the law, that in case a majority of those present should, after all he had said, deliberately express a wish to remain as they were, he could, and if the Poor-Law Commissioners for England and Wales should permit him, he would, meet their wishes by proceeding at once to some of those districts in England which were eagerly requesting to be reformed. They had therefore now to determine whether he should remain in East Kent, with every desire to forward its interests, or at once proceed elsewhere.

The Assistant-Commissioner then produced and read to the meetings the following paper:—

'A. B., Assistant Poor-Law Commissioner, being desirous to obtain the sentiments of the Magistrates and Parochial Officers of the —— Division of the county of Kent, on the important subject of a Union, or Unions of Parishes, requests the sense of this meeting on the following proposition:—

IT IS PROPOSED, That the Division of ——, in the County of Kent, should (subject to the approbation of the Poor-Law Commissioners of England and Wales) consent to resolve itself into Unions of Parishes, for the purpose of establishing within each of the said Unions classified and well-regulated workhouses, in which the paupers (especially those that are able-bodied) may be set to work.

(Signed) A. B.'

On the sense of the meetings being taken on the above proposition, the following was the result:—

Meetings
Number of Parishes
Population

Number of Magistrates,
Parish Officers, &c. present

For the Proposition
Against it
Upper Division of the Lath of Scray
50
35,540
197
194
3
Archbishop's Palace, Canterbury

25

5,074
  42
  42
0
Wingham Division of St Augustine Lath
56
26,661
196
195
1
Ashford Division
42
22,669
171
170
1
Elham Division
26
14,899
104
104
0

In the history of the Poor-Law Amendment Act, it is with pleasure that we record, that every magistrate who was present at these meetings (as well as every clergyman not a magistrate) not only refrained form opposing the proposition, but gave to the Assistant Poor-Law Commissioner the most generous support.* 'Clearly seeing,' he says, 'that I was both incompetent and unqualified for the arduous duty I had to perform, in every instance they generously crowded around me, encouraged me by their speeches, maintained me by their influence, and nothing can be more true than that without their assistance I could not have succeeded in

*The Chairman of the several meetings, namely Lord Harris, Rev. C. Hallett, T.P. Plumtree, Esq., M.P., E. Knight, Esq., W. Deedes, Esq., and the Earl Amherst, most particularly supported him by their speeches and arguments.

[538] any object.' On entering East Kent, it had been more than once hinted to him by several individuals that the magistrates were against the new law, because, depriving them of the expenditure of the poor-rates, it could leave them nothing but most painful duties to perform. The theory was certainly a plausible one, but those who jealously urged it, little knew that it is by disregarding petty interests and paltry distinctions that he who is really a gentleman invariably disappoints the calculations of the vulgar! The magistrates of England have, we believe, been very unjustly accused of having been the cause of the profuse expenditure of our poor-rates. That they have been the instruments we do not deny; but with no controlling power, with no public accountants, with no assistance, with no support—and with the storm of false humanity, against them—we contend, it was utterly impossible for them to govern a vessel which had neither rudder, compass, nor pilot! That they would willingly have done their duty in this matter, as they have done it in all others, is indisputably proved (at least as far as regards East Kent) by the manner in which they have unanimously supported the Poor Law Amendment Act; and should that act eventually confer on society the blessings which its framers contemplate, we conceive that these Kentish magistrates will, by having set this example, be allowed optime meruisse reipublicae.

The Assistant Commissioner, having obtained from the magistrates and parochial officers their approbation of his project, proceeded to the guardians of the respective Unions, which had all been formed under the 22nd of Geo. III. We will not tire our readers by detailing the very great difficulties he encountered in persuading these people to put hand to paper signing the death-warrant of their own authority,— in several instances he was obliged to have three meetings on the subject; but the support he had met with was eventually irresistible, and the guardians of nine Unions, comprehending ninety-nine parishes, at last signed the paper submitted to them, and their, dissolution was immediately declared.

In the whole of East Kent there was one little Union of three parishes, which alone resisted every argument that the Assistant Commissioner could use. We will not even mention its name, it being quite sufficient to observe that the governor of the work- house ordered by Gilbert's act to be appointed by the guardians, received his salary without even living in the poor-house, and that this said governor was actually one of the guardians. In fact he had appointed himself. With this trifling exception the old Unions in East Kent being, by consent of their guardians, all levelled to the ground—and the whole district willingly submitting itself to the recommendation of the Poor-Law Board—it was divided into sixteen Unions, most of which comprehend, within a circle of about ten miles diameter; a population of nearly ten thousand.

Although a general fear to undertake the novel duty naturally exists, several most respectable guardians for these Unions have
already been appointed, and the Assistant Commissioner is now attending on each to lend his humble assistance in their first steps, which must unavoidably be attended with considerable difficulties. That many little embarrassments will at first occur —that those most competent to discharge the duties of guardians will at first hang back—that some incompetent to the duty will be appointed— that prejudice and ignorance—that the narrow-minded—that men of sickly judgment—that false philanthropists—in short, that all descriptions of ' Second chance men' will do the utmost to impede the progress of the Poor-Law Amendment Act—there can be no doubt whatever; but as our readers probably like ourselves, are sleepy, and for the moment dead tired of the subject, we will only beg them to call to mind the practical result, of the Ashford select vestry; and with that in view, we conclude by observing, that if a dozen or two sensible guardians of a compact union, supported by the strong powers of a Central Board, shall prove incapable to govern their own affairs, it is perfectly evident that no human power can assist them.

With respect to the Poor-Law Commissioners for England and Wales, we know little of them, but what little we do know we will state. Out of about two thousand applications which they have received for the situation of Assistant Commissioner they have selected twelve individuals, to at least ten of whom they were previously total strangers. Their urbanity has already gained for them the zealous co-operation of their servants, and since their own appointment they have unremittingly devoted themselves to the laborious duties of their office.

The creation of a Central Board for the administration of the Poor-Law was strongly and repeatedly urged in this Journal long before the new Act had been framed, or, we believe, though of — we are of opinion now, as we were then, that such a Board, if judiciously constituted, must eventually act on the best possible information—that this information must become better than the any opinion of any individual, of any parish; or of any district—and that it is particularly for the interest of the poor that a corps of assistant commissioners should henceforward be circulating among them, ready to listen to their complaints, and eager to remedy their grievances.


Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 4 March, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
1789-1850
 
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind