« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
mily and relations; and below them the servants. At dinner two or three large wooden bowls of kail (or Scotch broth) were first served up, of which all partook largely, with the help of coarse horn spoons, or cutties. When this first course was over, a number of wooden trenchers were placed on the board, and a moderate piece of boiled meat was set before the goodman; who, taking out a clasped knife and fork, (which he always carried in his pocket,) proceeded to carve it into very small pieces, and apportion it discreetly out to his eager guests. Very few knives and forks were used, -the children always, and frequently the servants, helping themselves with their fingers, as is still the practice in some foreign countries. The kail was then replaced on the table, and, with abundance of barley bannocks, supplied all deficiencies, and concluded the repast.
Even in this frugal fashion, however, the family were not regaled with butcher meat every day,-but only twice, or, at the most, thrice a week. On the other maigre days, its place was supplied by cheese, butter, milk, salt herrings, oatmeal dumpling, &c. You may imagine, therefore, with what high relish the savoury morsel of the well salted mart was always welcomed. Our breakfast and supper uniformly consisted of oatmeal porridge. Potatoes had been but recently introduced into the country, and had scarcely come upon the farmer's table as a dainty.
During harvest we fared somewhat more sumptuously. "Kail and flesh" was then the daily fare of the whole community. Although the labour was more arduous, therefore, this period was a sort of carnival compared with the rigid frugality of the rest of the year. The close of Autumn was celebrated by a kirn, or harvest home, when all the shearers, servants, and cottars, were regaled with a warm supper, in which the "great chieftain of the pudding race" always formed a prominent dish, and was washed down with a moderate libation of homebrewed beer and whisky. Music and dancing sometimes concluded the entertainment,--but not in my father's house, who, being a staunch adherent to the most rigid form of Presbyterianism, had unrelentingly pro
scribed all" promiscuous dancing" in his family, as one of the worst of those worldly fashions" which are not convenient." For similar reasons, Halloween was forbidden to be held in our house. Yet, besides the kirn, a few old holidays were still partially observed by us; and, among these, Hansel Monday was never forgot ten. Early on that morning, all the hinds and cottars, as well as the farm servants, assembled at the Ha' to partake of a hearty breakfast of fat brose, which was duly prepared for them; after which (every sort of work being laid aside, except foddering the cattle,) all were left at liberty to visit their friends, or dispose of the day as they thought proper.
Except among relatives, or near friends, nothing of what is now understood by visiting, was then practised. Formal dinners and tea parties were equally unknown. The use of tea, indeed, among people of our rank, was very limited. My father contemned it as an effeminate drug; and, though he could not prevent it from gradually gaining ground with the fe male part of our family, he forbade his sons to partake of it, and never deigned to taste it himself except when the minister came to visit us, either privately, or in the course of his ecclesiastical visitations. On these occasions my mother's homely tea equipage was triumphantly set out in the best apartment, where, in lieu of a carpet, one of the coarser bed-coverlets was spread on the floor, below the feet of our worthy pastor, and tea and buttered scones were liberally handed round to old and young.
You may probably be apt to suppose that the life of a farmer must have been very dull and stupid in these times; and, looking exclusively at the austere strictness of our religious observances, the general proscription of worldly amusements,-the defective education (seldom extending beyond common English reading, with a little exercise in writing and arithmetic,)-the want of books and opportunities for study,-and, above all, the want of refinement, which necessarily ensued from associating with the menial servants,-you may naturally picture to yourself a state of society altogether clownish, monotonous, and melancholy. Yet this would
lead to a very false estimate both of their enjoyments, and their general character.
Nothing could be more erroneous, indeed, than to imagine the life of a farmer of those times unenlivened by mirth and enjoyment. We had, in fact, much more leisure, and inclination also, to be merry, than is permitted to us now. Spring and autumn were the only seasons that required arduous labour, in the old system of farming; and, then, these seasons came round to us with an air of more festivity, had more of a heart-stirring aspect about them,-and their toils were encountered (if I may so express it) with more of a military ardour, than in these days of regular rotations, machinery, and summer fallow. At other times of the year, we took matters easy enough. The winning of peats and hay, ewe-milking, sheep-shearing, and the management of the horned cattle, occupied the lightsome days of summer. In winter, our leisure was still greater, and our enjoyments more diversified. Field sports were eagerly followed by both masters and servants, in the intervals of labour, or after the short winter yoking was over; and the obnoxious game laws were not generally enforced to restrain the peasantry from this hardy amusement. Many sports too, now confined to children, were then occasionally practised by full grown men, with all the ardour and hilarity of boyhood. Many a time have I seen my grave worthy father toss down the foot-ball, or the kitticat, to us and the servant lads, and sometimes take a hearty bout at these games himself. In winter, too, we beguiled the long evenings with story-telling, balladsinging, tales of boggles and witches, (in which all devoutly believed ;) and to these the wandering beggar and the pedlar, always welcome guests, added other varieties of entertainment.
Some of these amusements were rather childish, perhaps, and fit only for a rude state of society; yet, with all our modern improvements, (and we have certainly made mighty advances in many important respects,) I am inclined to consider it at least doubtful, if all that has been abandoned of our former manners has been equally well replaced, and whether some part of our present knowledge and refinement has not been purchased by the sacrifice of qualities still more
valuable. But the consideration of this question would lead to discussions too extensive for me at present to attempt. I have still a good deal to say, however, that might tend to illustrate the subject, and, should this homely communication be deemed worthy of a place in your valuable repository, you may probably hear again from AN OLD FARMER. Selkirkshire, June 25, 1818.
ON THE POOR LAWS OF ENGLAND.
IN sending for your Magazine some remarks on the Poor Laws of England, I do not think it necessary to inquire whether the opinions I have ventured to express agree with your own. A Miscellany such as yours, if impartially conducted, ought to admit the different views of your correspondents, particularly on a subject not less difficult than important. I have used the personal pronoun in the plural, merely to avoid the appearance of egotism. Lanarkshire, 6th July, 1818.
The science of political economy, if it yet deserves the name, recommends itself to the young and sanguine by the boldness of its principles, and the glorious prospects it unfolds of human improvement,-to those who are discontented with the existing institutions of society, by affording them topics of censure and complaint,—and to the profound thinker by the grandeur and multiplicity of the objects which it professes to embrace-by its difficulty-and by the extent of its terra incognita, in which future adventurers may long find the reward of their labours. Yet as a branch of study, in its present imperfect state, it exhibits discouraging features to others. Its principles, to the extent to which they are sometimes carried by their most fearless advocates, are apt to shock the feelings, unhinge the judgment, and fill the mind with doubt and alarm. Our earliest impressions must be effaced, even those which we thought sanctified by the precepts of Christianity, and the impulses of the benevolent affections checked and restrained by a cool calculation of remote consequences. We
must learn to look upon man not as an individual, a moral and intellectual agent, but as a part, and a very minute part, of a great and complicated machine,-not with the eye with which our Saviour looked upon little children, the heirs of immortality, or upon the helpless diseased Lazarus deserted by his fellow men, but upon the former as a thing of nought, the objects of natural instinct only, and worthless to all the world beside; and upon the latter, as one for whom there is no place at Nature's feast, and to whom even the crumbs that fall from the table should be denied. The demand for labour, we must understand, regulates or ought to regulate the production of human beings as well as of horses, as if this demand did not depend upon their number, and was always steady in this great manufacturing country; or as if, when the merchant's order is completed, these animate tools might be locked up in a warehouse till wanted again for a new speculation. If we should feel indisposed to practise that selfishness, which seems to be the natural consequence of this doctrine, and stretch out our hand to relieve the destitute, we are guilty of wasting the funds destined to the maintenance of labour, of indirectly creating that poverty which we mean to relieve; and the last and most tremendous penalty of our crime is announced in the shape of an excessive population and universal misery. All this, however, (to say nothing of the soundness of these views in themselves,) proceeds upon the supposition that the course of human affairs will always continue in its present direction, carrying all the slime and filth of the present and preceding ages along with it, till the old channel be gradually filled up by successive deposits; whereas it is certainly not altogether improbable that, having worked out for itself a new channel, and left all the grosser particles behind, the stream may flow, pure, placid, and uniform, during a new succession of ages.
If it be not matter of surprise, that, in this modern science, there is hardly any principle that has not been disputed, and that the greater number of those which we delighted to study in the pages of the French Economists, and the "Wealth of Nations" twenty years ago, are now by
many held to be proved inaccurate and erroneous, it is at least a reason for receiving those that are offered in their stead with some degree of scepticism. But what is of most import ance in this question, though it seems, to be too generally lost sight of, is that an abstract principle may look very well in the closet, and yet be found to work very ill, if at all, when brought out among the conflicting passions and interests of active life. When we examine some of the maxims of political economy, it is impossible not to admire their wisdom; and yet in the present state of society among ourselves, and with the experience we have had of our relations with foreign states, there is probably not one of these leading maxims, whe ther regarding domestic or international policy, which could be adopted in its fullest extent without leading to great internal convulsions, and perhaps the total dissolution of our social system.
In the speculations of some eminent individuals, (and it would appear from the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on the Poor Laws, that even distinguished statesmen now begin to lean to the same side,) a limited range of causes and consequences are held to be data from which the most distant results may be calculated. What is possible, though it has never happened, is by means of a chain of metaphysical reasoning, brought before the eye so well defined, and placed in so clear a light, as to appear probable, if not certain; and we turn with terror from contemplating the misery that may be the lot of the human race ten thousand years hence, to look with indifference on that which now prevails around us. But, unable as we are to estimate the progress of the moral and intellectual powers of man which remote futurity may unfold, and the changes which even the material world itself may undergo, we are as incapable of predicting the order in which the events of the intervening period shall succeed one another; whether the series, of which we see but a small part, may not naturally terminate long before reaching the goal we have assigned it, as some of the rivers of Africa are supposed to lose themselves in the interior, instead of flowing onwards to the ocean; or whether that
series may not be retarded, deranged, or finally destroyed by radical, though gradual, changes in the constitution of society. If saving banks should become general, and fulfil their present promise, they may afford an illustration of the means of effecting such changes. At all events, the course of human affairs is not to be delineated by the geographer, nor demonstrated by the mathematician. And nothing does appear to us more illogical, as well as revolting, than to allege as a reason for leaving the destitute and helpless to perish, that, if they are relieved, the number will increase till the means of relief shall be found inadequate.
We have said all this because we wish our readers to perceive, that, amidst the complicated and fluctuating arrangements of society, it cannot be with certainty predicated of causes apparently similar that, at a remote period, the effects will be so also. And though the jealousy that now prevails in Scotland of the increase of the poor-rates be proper and necessary, it would be well that we should not steel our hearts against the claims of misery by a groundless dread of the burden becoming as intolerable here as in England. We claim for the Scots Poor Laws none of the praise that has been lately bestowed on them, but a great deal for the mode in which they have been administered; and as long established practice, sanctioned by our Supreme Courts, has remedied their defects and inconsistencies, there is no reason to fear that any dangerous innovation will hereafter be tolerated. The clearest proof of the point we wish to establish is, that, while the population of Scotland is to that of England as one to five and two-thirds, the rental as one to eight and three-fourths, and the poor laws substantially the same in both, the sums expended on the poor of the former country, according to the returns made to the General Assembly, are to the amount of poorrates in the latter only as one to forty-eight. t
Hutcheson's Justice of Peace, &c. Book. III. ch. 2.
+ Returns have been made to the General Assembly from only about 750 parishes, of which the amount, including collections, voluntary contributions of heri
But by the present administration of the poor laws of England, the boundary between indigence arising from age, sickness, or infirmity, and from vicious indulgence or gross imprudence, has been thrown down; and a promise held out to the lower orders indiscriminately, of the means of subsistence almost independent of their own exertions and moral conduct. No country but one so wealthy as England could have persevered for half a century in such a system of mismanagement and folly, and even there a most alarming crisis can be at no great distance, if some more effectual remedy than any that has yet been proposed in Parliament, be not speedily applied. But with this clear conviction of the ruinous consequences of the present system, it appears, nevertheless, that the proposal which has been made out of doors to repeal the poor laws in toto, without substi tuting any provision for the impotent poor in their place, is not to be listened to for a moment. "It is better," says a humane proverb, "that ten guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer." This was perhaps the maxim of those who framed the poor laws, after the most barbarous enactments had been tried in vain, and repeated injunctions to practise charity had confessedly been disregarded; the speculations of the present age, by reversing it, would carry us back three centuries, and revive the laws which the state of society was then found to require. Even any considerable amendment of the present system is thought to require the support of a military array.
It ought, however, to be observed, in looking at the increase of the poorrates, rapid as it certainly has been, that a comparison of the sums total of different periods, affords no just criterion of the real increase. We must take into account the depreciation of money or other kind of currency,
tors, and assessments, is estimated at L. 107,100. (See last Number, p. 505.) To this one-fifth has been added for the returns still wanting.
The amount of the English poor-rates is the average expenditure for the years 1813, 1814, and 1815, as given in the Abstract to be afterwards referred to.
* Commons' Report, p. 3. + Quarterly Review, June 1818.
particularly as indicated in the price of the necessaries of life, (clothes, fuel, &c. as well as food,) in connection with the rate of wages; and even the increase of luxury among the rich, and the better style of living among all ranks, which may have somewhat enlarged the wants of the very lowest class. Again, if the question be, Whether the number of paupers has increased, it is necessary to compare the population of the periods in question; and if we wish to know, whether assessable property now sustains a greater burden than formerly, the different value of that property must enter into the calculation. War and peace, or the change from the one to the other; the state of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce; good or bad harvests,must all be taken into consideration before the permanent increase of pauperism can be ascertained; and before we can assent to the conclusion, perhaps somewhat hastily announced, that the inevitable tendency of a legal provision for the poor is to increase the number of paupers, and the sums required for their relief, in a higher ratio than the means of affording it can be supplied. On a future occasion we shall probably examine the soundness of this conclusion, in regard to the poor-rates of Scotland. At present we shall confine our attention to England, in which, as the laws are now administered, it certainly appears but too consistent with experience.
The distress which followed the termination of hostilities, whatever may have been the cause of it, was felt by all ranks, and to such a degree by the agricultural classes, that, as appears from the reports made to the Board of Agriculture in 1816, whole parishes were nearly abandoned by the tenantry, who, in some instances refused to occupy the land rent-free. The taxes to which they would have been subjected, and the poor-rates in particular, in many instances above 20s. on the pound of rent, amounted to more than the probable value of the whole disposeable produce. In this state of conflict between the rights of the landowner or his tenants, who pay nearly all the parish-rates, on the one hand, and the claims of the poor, on the other, the attention of the Legislature was anxiously turned to the subject of the poor-laws, and their adminis
tration. On several former occasions, this difficult and important department of our internal economy had been under the consideration of Parliament; many expedients had been suggested for stemming the torrent or diminishing its force; and after the failure of all that had been tried, it was to be expected that more wise and decisive measures would have resulted from the late laborious investigation. We wish to make the remainder of this article a historical notice of these proceedings, and their results, as far as yet ascertained.
On the 21st February 1817, a committee of the House of Commons was appointed to consider the Poor Laws, before whom evidence was taken from the end of February till the 10th June, and whose Report was presented to the House, and ordered to be printed on the 4th July. This Report is highly interesting, not only for the historical view which it exhibits of these laws and their operation, and the measures which it suggests for their amendment, but also from its being the only one on any great branch of our internal policy, the Report of the Bullion Committee perhaps excepted, in which there is a strong disposition evinced to act upon the general principles that have been recommended by speculative writers, such as those who have been already adverted to. We shall only notice the principal alterations proposed. These are, to make the owners instead of the occupiers of tenements of small value, rented for short periods, liable for the rate,-to subject extra parochial places,-to limit the amount of the assessment,―to enable parishes to establish Benefit Societies, holding out better terms than are granted by voluntary associations, to establish working schools for children whose parents are unable to maintain them, the children to live separately, instead of giving money to their parents,― to abandon gradually the impossible condition of finding employment for those who are in the full vigour of health and strength, or, if this be thought impracticable, to employ the country poor on small parochial farms, and, in regard to the poor of large towns, to afford them facilities for removing to other places in quest of work, even out of the realm,-to enable parishes to appoint an officer with