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of the Poor Laws; and on the Reports of the Two Houses of
Parliament. By John, Earl of Sheffield. IN N the account of his own conduct and views, which Louis XIV.
drew up for the instruction of his son, is the following remarkable passage :-Si Dieu me fait la grace d'exécuter tout ce que j'ai dans l'esprit, je tâcherai de porter la félicité de mon règne, jusqu'à faire en sorte, non pas à la vérité qu'il n'y ait plus ni pauvre ni riche, car la fortune, l'industrie, et l'esprit laisseront éternellement cette distinction entre les hommes; mais au moins qu'on ne voie plus dans tout le royaume, ni indigence, ni mendicité ; je veux dire, personne, quelque misérable qu'elle puisse être, qui ne soit assurée de sa subsistance, ou par son travail, ou par un secours ordinaire et réglé. What Louis XIV. thus proposed to himself as the last and greatest object of his ambition, and the highest degree of excellence to which the internal policy of his kingdom could be carried, had here been effected. A provision for all persons, who
were unable to provide for themselves, existed, at that time, in England, and had existed for more than a century. That such a provision ought to exist in every civilized country, is uncontrovertible; that England should be the only country in which it exists, is indeed honourable to the English character. If, in its consequences, it should be found to have increased the evils which it was designed to mitigate, the cause must be sought for in the injudicious application of the principle, not in the principle itself.
At the conclusion of Burnet's History of his own Times, (a book of which the great and standard value is in no degree lessened by the ridicule with which it was assailed,) that excellent biskop speaks of two great measures which particularly required the care of Parliament. First, that the law, which he affirmed to be the greatest grievance of the nation, should be made shorter, VOL. XVIII. NO, XXXVI.
clearer, more certain, and of less expense.' "The other matter, " said he, is about the poor, and should be much laid to heart. It may be thought a strange motion from a bishop to wish that the act for charging every parish to maintain their own poor were well reviewed, if not quite taken away: this seems to encourage idle and lazy people in their sloth, when they know they must be maintained. I know no other place iu the world where such a law was ever made. Scotland is much the poorest part of the island, yet the poor there are maintained by the voluntary charities of the people. Holland is the perfectest pattern for putting charity in a good method: the poor work as much as they can; they are humble and industrious; they never ask any charity, and yet they are well relieved. When the poor see that their supply must in a great measure depend on their behaviour, and on their industry as far as it can go, it will both make them better in themselves, and move others to supply them more liberally.-All this must begin in the House of Commons ; and I leave it,' he continues, to the consideration of the wise and worthy members of that body, to turn their thoughts to this, as soon as by a happy peace we are delivered from the cares of the war, and and are at leisure to think of our own affairs at home.'
Something more than a century has elapsed since Bishop Burnet thus expressed himself at the close of Queen Anne's wars, when Marlborough's victorious career had been so scandalously terminated by the peace of Utrecht. In our days a more arduous struggle has been closed by a victory more signal than even Marlborough atchieved, and by a peace whereby the great objects of the long contest have been secured. The subject of the poor laws is now brought before the legislature as Burnet in his time vainly desired; and after having gloriously concluded the most perilous and obstinate war in which these kingdoms ever were engaged, we have now to contend with, and triumph over the greatest domestic evil. It is no little encouragement to perceive that only one opinion prevails concerning the magnitude of the evil, and the necessity of adopting remedial measures; as little difference does there appear to be concerning the nature of the evil, even among those who are habitually opposed to each other on other subjects: and when a similarity of opinior is found between men whose views upon the fundamental principles
, not of literature alone, but of the most important subjects in which the dearest interests of mankind are involved, are as opposite as light and darkness, it may be presumed that the point upon which they are agreed has very much the force and character of a general truth. Hence we would gladly infer that on this occasion no feelings of party are likely to intrude; that the question will continue to be considered as one in which the common interest is concerned; and that men of all descriptions will unite in checking the
growth of this cancer in the body politic, as they would tò stop the progress of the plague, or to extinguish a conflagration.
It is impossible to enter without anxiety upon the subject of the poor laws, perhaps the most arduous and the most important subject that ever came under the consideration of parliament. The "provision which the laws of England have made for the poor is not more honourable in its principle and object than it is injurious in - its application: it operates as a perpetual bounty for the encourage-ment of pauperism ;-nothing can be more anomalous, and nothing more contradictory to the general spirit of our institutions. The peculiar boast of an Englisliman is that he cannot be taxed without - his own consent; but in this case he is liable to an assessment concerning which he has no voice, and against which he has no appeal. When the legislature imposes a tax, it always maturely considers the ability of the subject to bear it, and proportions the amount' to that ability, as well as to the necessities of the state; here, there are no limits to the assessment, and it has gone on therefore in natural progression, till the absurdity stares us in the face, when it has brought us to the very brink of ruin. The respect paid to property is another distinguishing characteristic of the laws of England, the end and object indeed of the most extensive branch of the law being to secure to every person the enjoyment of that which is his own. - But so perilously is this entrenched upon, by the manner in which -the poor law's have been misapplied, (the misapplication having very generally grown into a custom,) that it may startle the reader to be
told how nearly we have approached the fundamental principle of the Spencean philanthropists: these gentlemen themselves, perhaps, are not aware that a partnership in the land, such as they have confederated to obtain, has already been established:-that the territory of this kingdom may truly, at this time, be called the paupers' farm, from which every vagabond, who chuses to claim it, receives, in the course of the year, a larger sum, without tax, toll, vor custom, than the annual four pounds, which Mr. Evans apportions to every man, and child, as the profit of their natural estate. The Spencean plan indeed, which seems to have been seriously aimed at by some of the disaffected visionaries of 1817, was not in its utmost intention so unjust or so ruinous as the natural effect of the
poor rates will become, unless the system shall be effectually reformed by the wisdom and authority of parliament. Spence modestly required land-owners to quit what he called the people's farm: the poor-rates will soon require generally (what they bave already effected in some places) that the farms should be cultivated at the expense of the owner, for the benefit of others ;--that is, in order to satisfy the demands of the poor. Such a state must speedily produce a revolution of the most dreadful description, a kind of