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want of intelligence, however, have hitherto rendered every attempt to persuade any number of parishes to agree to a measure of the kind, unavailing. So troublesome and impracticable has the attempt proved, that nothing but an obligatory law is likely to bring about so desirable a purpose. The house-rents paid in many districts for the poor would much more than defray the interest of the money that would be necessary for building a large house of industry and other necessary habitations.1
The common parish workhouses seem principally intended in terrorem; and without them the parishes would be overwhelmed by the demands of paupers. They are (in general the vilest establishments, if they are worthy of such a description) devoid of any thing like tolerable superintendence. Some feeble attempts are made to employ the poor that are lodged in them, but in the greater part there is no attempt at any work, and the children are suffered to remain in ignorance and idleness.
In consequence of the miserable management that has existed in those wretched establishments, falsely called workhouses, it is not surprising that great prejudices have arisen against them; but it does not follow that they cannot be well regulated and rendered highly serviceable. There are no human institutions against which some objections may not be made; but we know from repeated experience, that well-regulated houses of industry are productive of great benefit, and at least in the present state of things we cannot do without them. They serve as an hospital for the district; the extent of the establishment furnishes the opportunity of a more complete mode of instruction for the young, and of fitting them for situations most suitable to them: in all instances the children are better fed, clothed, and instructed, than they can be with their parents.
These establishments promote industry, and will obtain for the public that portion of labor of which the children and infirm poor are still capable.1
* The improper practice of yielding to the claimants at vestries for money to pay their rent, teaches and encourages the poor never to provide for such payments, and also prevents the owner of the cottage from giving himself the trouble of collecting his rent from the individual, when he can receive it at once from the parish. The law enables parish officers to build or hire habitations for the poor, which is far less objectionable.
1 The indiscriminate association or mixture of the poor must necessarily be destructive of industry, order, and decency; therefore, as far as the workhouse will admit, they should he formed into separate classes and divisions, according to their age, quality, and conduct; by these means the parish officers and the governor may be enabled to excite industry by emulation; to discriminate between the idle vagrant, and the industrious yet distressed poor individual; to give to one his portion of reward, to the otheri if necessary, his portion of punishment.
In general it would be better to receive the children which the parents say they cannot maintain, into a well-regulated workhouse; but if the habits and character of the parents are dissolute and immoral, it is particularly advisable to receive all their children, when they apply for relief, to separate them from depravity and bad habits; for under such parents they are sure to be neglected, and not more care is taken of them, nor are they perhaps better fed, than their pigs, and educated only in profligacy. In very many cases they have been found not baptised. A better education for these children will teach them the advantage of a good character, and doubly pay the extra expense which at first may be incurred of keeping them in the workhouse (where there ought to be a proper school), until they are about ten years old, when their characters and habits will be in a certain degree formed, and when they will have imbibed some correct religious and moral notions, and learned the difference between right and wrong: and the establishment and maintenance of such well-regulated workhouses and schools would not amount to near so much as the large sums of money now squandered on the parents, on account of their children. We spare neither expense nor pains to meliorate the breed of our cattle of every sort; surely it would be a nobler object, and worthy of our utmost dilir gence, to meliorate by education, when young, the character of the most depraved of our own species. At present a great part of all the rents of the land is employed in rearing the offspring of improvidence and vice.
Very many who have but slight notions of the subject, declaim on the system of separating the children from their parents as unnatural; but it should be observed, that no such thing is recommended, except where the parents can neither feed nor educate, or in cases where they totally neglect them ; nor is it proposed to take all their children, but to leave such as the parents can maintain properly: and when the poor man sees how comfortably such of his children as he cannot himself maintain are brought up in the workhouse, and prepared to gain an honest livelihood, he becomes fully reconciled. It may be added, that wherever the parents entertain the supposed feelings and reluctance to part with their children, they will exert themselves, and struggle to maintain them properly.
It is easy and gratifying to indulge in declaiming in favor of whatever is supposed to be charitable: the unthinking multitude naturally yield to such sentiments, and are guided by the commonplace and childish cant of persons, who being void of all practical knowledge of the extensive subject now under consideration, display, as they imagine, great philanthropy, and especial tenderness for the poor. They pick out such cases as they think will most captivate the feelings of the uninformed, and of those incapable of compre, hending the whole question; and therefore, however excellent their sentiments may be as abstract principles, it is much to be doubted, whether an ostentatious display of them, instead of doing good, maynot impede proceedings of the utmost national advantage. They will expatiate on the severity of any measure that tends to separate the children from their parents, when the question only is, whether the children of those who cannot and will not maintain them, and of those who neglect them, shall be placed in a good habitation, properly fed, clothed, and educated, or remain in a situation directly opposite, and contrary to what every humane person could wish or propose. And as to the cruelty of the separation, it may be observed, that the children would remain in the same parish or neighborhood with their parents, and that such separation universally obtains in the education of the higher classes of life.
This question perhaps deserves attention full as much as any that can be agitated; on it depends, whether the most neglected and most likely to be depraved part of the community shall be properly maintained and brought up in pure principles of religion and morality, regularity and industry. The seizing this opportunity will do more for those most in want of education, than all our national schools, however excellent those institutions are acknowledged to be.
According to the miserable calculations of parish officers, the establishing such workhouses and houses of industry might at first occasion some expense; but there cannot be a doubt that it ultimately would prove economical.
There are these, it is true, who will throw themselves on the parish, and go into the workhouses with the view of receiving gratuitous support superior to what their negligence and indolence elsewhere would have procured them; it should, therefore, be a determined principle, that the rate and mode of subsistence should be lower than what any industrious man or woman could earn.1
It must be matter of wonder to all persons acquainted with the subject, that the system of appointing new parish officers yearly, should have continued so long. It probably might have been sut-
1 The diet should not be better than that on which the industrious laborer can subsist in his own habitation, at the lowest rate of wages; and with that view the breakfast, dinner, and supper for each day should be prescribed equally wholesome and cheap, and no deviating from the routine allowed. The neglect of this regulation, in most instances, has proved an enormous expense and source of fraud and peculation. The object therefore should be, to provide that which is wholesome and cheapest, but by no means to subsist the poor better in the workhouse than the common laborer can afford in his cottage.
It cannot be made obligatory on the magistrates to visit regularly the workhouses; but if they should undertake that addition to their various troublesome duties, it would be essentially beneficial; yet not to visit them at stated times, when preparations would be made to gloss the ordinary mode of proceeding, but at times inostconvenient to themselves.
ficient when the duty in the first simple state of the poor laws was plain and inconsiderable, and when only the chief and most intelligent persons were appointed to those situations. But, for a long time past, scarce a session has elapsed without throwing some new dutyon justices of the peace as well as on parish officers, insomuch that the appointment, according to a routine of the farms, is become absolutely ridiculous, and disgraceful to the good sense of the country. Persons scarcely removed from idiotism and incapacity, and frequently those who can neither read nor write, nor are in the least acquainted with the business, because it is the turn of their farms, are appointed ; and the courts of law have thought proper to decide that women are eligible to the office. Even if the parish contained a sufficiency of respectable persons who might be deemed fit for the office, they enter on it little acquainted with its details, or the parish affairs; they pass lightly through it, and if towards the end of the year they may have acquired some knowledge of its duties, gladly quit it as soon as they possibly can, their principal care being to avoid trouble, not to give offence, or do any thing that may be unpopular ; and consequently they yield to many improper applications.
The business of overseer is become by far too troublesome, and so difficult and unpleasant, that no country gentleman can be expected to undertake it. Those who are disposed to render active service in the neighborhood, are already engaged in the character of justice of the peace; in which situation they have enough to do, and cannot properly act in both capacities. Even if there should be in the parish, which is not often the case, several intelligent gentlemen, they would not undertake the constant annoyance arising from parochial office, especially in its present state. But in very many parishes they have not a single person of any consequence who is willing to undertake, or who is capable of the situation. Besides, their continuance in office is the great object; and the steady attendance for any length of time of the principal persons in the parish, however well disposed they may at times be, cannot constantly be depended on.
It seems universally admitted, and therefore perhaps unnecessary to repeat the arguments, that it is become absolutely expedient to appoint a reputable person approved by the magistrates in petty sessions, permanently to officiate for the parish officers, with a salary in proportion to the extent of the parish, and of the duty to be done. Such an officer, properly selected and remunerated, may be expected so to devote his time and attention as to makehimself fully acquainted with the character and circumstances of each applicant; but no person should be appointed to that office, nor as overseer, who is either shopkeeper, baker, butcher, or publican, or otherwise concerned in supplying relief to the poor. The appointment, however, of a peruianent officer with a salary, may not be necessary in very small parishes. *
We know by experience, that in all parishes where the population is considerable, it is expedient to make the appointment of a permanent overseer compulsory. As the practice now stands, the lowest and least informed of the parishioners may prevent such an appointment, which often actually happens, and in many instances from the worst motives. The parish should be obliged to present the name of the person selected to the magistrates in petty sessions, in the same manner as the names of overseers are proposed. A permanent overseer, thus appointed, must necessarily be a person acquainted with the manner of keeping accounts, and making reports, &c. and may be very useful in preparing returns called for by
It is difficult to imagine any assembly of persons more incompetentthan most of the country vestries, who assume the levying of such immense sums, the greater part of which is wasted in the expenditure, and often becomes a job among themselves.
There is nothing so necessary as to define the power of such vestries, and of parish officers, even for their own sake, whose inability and incompetency render it absolutely requisite that there should be precise laws and rules to direct them. In many cases, in country parishes, where the clergy neglect to preside in vestries, for the regulating and directing the affairs, which the law has declared to be a " special duty incumbent on them, and for the discharge of which they are responsible to the bishop," (see Burn's Eccles. Law, article Vestry) the meetings are very irregular. At such tumultuous assemblies no business can be properly transacted. In consequence of the great increase of business, it is necessary that committees of vestry should be chosen annually, according to the provision of 22 G. III. c. 83, which directs, that, for such purposes an agreement to that effect must be signed by two-thirds in number and value of the persons assessed to the poor rate, and approved by the justices in petty sessions. The number composing the committee to be regulated in proportion to the population of the parish; which committee, with the minister, should assist the overseers, who are to exercise their own judgment finally, under the direction of the magistrates of the division. This select vestry, or committee, to meet monthly, or oftener if necessary, to examine into the state of the poor, to inspect the ac
' Requisitions should be according to a form perfectly simple and plain. When complicated and difficult, despondence ensues; and they are now
fenerally very incorrectly sent from country parishes, the columns being filled up at random, by no means to be relied on, especially when the minister does not attend to them.
VOL. XIII. Pam. NO. XXV. I