Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV.: hannover.—appropriation of landed property. - Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2
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CHAPTER IV.: hannover.—appropriation of landed property. - Thomas Hodgskin, Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 2 
Travels in the North of Germany, describing the Present State of the Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in that Country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hannover (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820). Vol. 2
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hannover.—appropriation of landed property.
Different sorts of proprietors.—The sovereign.—Nobles.—Corporations.—Free property.—Large farms.—Minute division.—Meyer tenure described.—Leibeigen tenure described.—Consequences.—An example.—Discussion and improvement.—Economists.—Farmers.—Bauers.—Middling class increasing.—Regulations influencing the number of poor.—One forbidding marriage without permission considered.—Manner of providing for poor.—A custom of exposing them.—Institution at Hersberg.—Benevolence and charity.
The land of Hannover is divided amongst persons who may be conveniently classed thus:—The sovereign, the nobles, town and religious corporations, persons not noble. In what proportions it may be so divided is not known. One-sixth at least belongs to the sovereign, and possibly more than three-sixths may belong to the nobles, one-sixth to the corporations, and less than one-sixth to persons not noble. That which belongs to the sovereign is again divided in general into large portions, which have once been noble or ecclesiastical properties, and are now let by the crown in their entire state. They may contain from 500 to 3000 acres, or in the unfruitful provinces even more, with rights of pasturage over large districts, and in some cases, with a right to the services of the peasants. The tithes also are sometimes united to them. They are let to the amtmen, to individuals, or to noblemen filling the office of amtmen; but it is always considered as a favour to have them, and they are let only to those persons whom the government wishes to gratify or reward. Although the individuals in general pay a certain rent, they are rather considered as administrators of the royal property than as tenants making a bargain and dealing with landlords. The duties of the amtmen as magistrates are generally combined with this administration. These large portions are sometimes cultivated entirely by the first tenant, sometimes they are again divided into many small portions, which are held by the bauers according to some ancient tenures and some certain conditions, called either Meyer or Leibeigen, and to be afterwards described. Sometimes also the property of the sovereign is divided into small farms held immediately of him on such conditions; and then the amtmen are the collectors of the revenues from the farms of this sort which lie in their districts. The whole of this property, whether divided into large or small portions, is never put up to auction, nor is the letting subject to competition; consequently the rent is never high. Some portions are in fact held for almost nothing, as a large farm which was formerly the property of a monastery, at Wehnde near Göttingen; for others a very moderate rent is paid. They are let sometimes for the life of the tenant, sometimes for a term of years, and sometimes during pleasure; yet, as the persons who hold them are generally respectable magistrates, they are never subjected to lose their farms without some gross impropriety of conduct. The sovereign has more or less property in all the provinces, but comparatively little in the marsh lands and in Friezland.
There are 644 noble properties in the kingdom, several of which are united in the hands of one person; but there is no one nobleman whose income amounts to more than 30,000 Thalers, or L.5000 per year. Counts Hardenberg and Platen are amongst the most opulent of the nobility. I have met with three instances which have been mentioned, of nobles cultivating their own estates; but in general there are no houses on the properties of the nobles, other than the houses of the farmers; and few of the nobles ever live in the country. Those who retain their property in their own hands generally live in towns. Some exceptions have been met with; but for a nobleman to live in the country without being a magistrate, or without holding some office, is looked on as degrading. Such persons are rather treated with contempt, and are designated by the odious name of “Land Junker.” Some of the nobles have full power over their properties, and can let them all to one person, and on what terms they please; in which case they make respectable farms, and may contain from 100 to 500 acres. Such are the farms belonging to the family Von Lenthe, situated at Lenthe, near the town of Hannover. But more generally the nobles have not full power over their property. It is divided into small portions of 5, 10, 20, 30, or 80 acres, which are held on certain conditions, either of doing service, or of paying rents which have been long ago established, and which the landlord has no power whatever to alter. It may be from this cause that so few nobles reside in the country. They have in truth no land but what is occupied by other people. The use of these small portions of land on certain conditions, is the property of the occupier, which he can sell; as the stipulated rent and services are the property of the landlord. The bauer has an hereditary right to the use, the landlord an hereditary right to be paid for that use.
The land belonging in name to religious corporations, in reality to the crown, is again divided like other crown lands, into large and small portions, held on similar conditions to those by which they are held. That which belongs to towns is sometimes divided into farms of from 60 to 100 acres; but it is much more generally divided into very small lots of 1, or 2, or 10 acres, which are hired by the tradesmen, and other inhabitants of the towns, who use them as gardens, or to grow corn for their family consumption. Instances have been met with also of the amtmen dividing a portion of their hired land into smaller portions, which they let to the peasantry. In fact, almost every family of the middling and poorer classes, whether living in town or country, and whatever may be its other occupations, has a small portion of land, at least large enough to grow the fresh vegetables necessary for its own consumption, and very often large enough to grow both the potatoes and the corn it requires. This minute division is in some measure convenient, but carried too far it becomes pernicious; and may be remarked as an example of an imperfect division of labour. For example, bakers, butchers, shopkeepers, and others, are also farmers of 10 or 12 acres of land. They are too poor to keep horses, and they are obliged to hire them and agricultural instruments from other persons. They have no time to look after the people they hire to do their work; mutual discontent ensues, and the ground is never more than half tilled. I might wish every mechanic and artisan to have so much ground as he can cultivate himself in his spare time, but for him to have more is wrong. Most of the towns and villages have large commons also, on which the inhabitants have a right to keep one or two cows. The milk, and what can be made of it, very often forms a great part of the nourishment of the poor, and the delicacies of the rich.
The occupiers of small portions of land, whether held under the crown, under nobles, or corporations, may be conveniently divided into two classes, distinguished by the conditions of their tenure. There are a great many different tenures, so many, indeed, that, even rich as the German language is, it hardly contains terms for them all. I have enumerated more than twenty, but the division here adopted may serve to give a general idea of their nature. The first class are called Meyers, half Meyers, or quarter Meyers, according to the size of their farm. It is, however, very rare for a whole meyer, in any of the fertile districts, to possess so much as one hundred Morgen of land, about eighty acres; from thirty to forty acres is the more usual size of their farms, while the half and quarter meyers have much less. The other class are called Leibeigeners. The German words are here used, because farmer would most inadequately represent meyer, and so different an idea is connected with the term slave, or bondman, when it is applied to the slaves of the West Indies, from what it ought to signify when applied to the German leibeigener, that I shall use neither of them, though one or other is the translation usually given in dictionaries. The term leibeigener signifies strictly a person who owns his own body, and nothing more.
The conditions by which the meyers have the use of their land, consist in paying to the landlord a certain fixed yearly sum, or yearly quantity of corn, for rent. The landlord cannot alter these conditions, neither can he refuse, except when the heir is an idiot, or the rent has not been paid, to renew the lease on the death of the occupier. I never found the rent, in the fertile districts, to exceed twelve shillings per acre; generally it was between this sum and seven shillings. I have heard that it has been so high in Hildesheim as thirty shillings. It amounts to this sum in the marsh lands for free land, but throughout Kalenberg, and the provinces moderately fertile, it may be roughly stated as between seven and twelve shillings per acre, or from two to three and a half Thalers per Morgen. In Lüneburg, Bremen, and the other desolate provinces, much land which is occupied pays no rent, but it all pays tithes, and is burdened with small services. The meyers have also to give the landlord a certain sum when, from death or from sale, the occupier is changed. I met one instance of a much higher rent. The people in the neighbourhood of Göttingen hired small portions of land for a season to grow tobacco, on which the landlord laid a certain quantity of dung, and for this land they paid at the rate of thirty-five shillings per acre. The rent is sometimes paid in corn, sometimes in money, sometimes in both. When paid in corn, it seems to give endless trouble. The corn is thought not good, or fault is found with it, and the parties are sure to disagree. With rent sometimes, though rarely, trifling services are also combined, such as supplying the landlord with a pair of horses when he wants to go to town, but all these services are fixed, not to be altered at the will of the lord, and an exemption from them may be, and has been, very generally purchased. A progress is making, particularly on the lands held from the crown, in abolishing them. All the buildings, stock, instruments, belong to the meyer, to the landlord nothing belongs but the rent.
The conditions by which the leibeigener holds his land are also fixed, they are not the arbitrary will of his lord, and it descends with these to his children; but they are conditions of service so onerous, that they reduce him almost to slavery. He is obliged to cultivate the land of his lord a certain number of days in the year, to neglect his own harvest while he is carrying in that of his lord, to employ his horses to bring home his lord’s wood, to supply his lord with coach-horses when he demands them; in short, to do him all sorts of feudal services. This relation of the two parties to one another is equally prejudicial to both. If the landlord had to hire labourers, he might have his work tolerably well performed, but it is now shamefully performed, because the people who have it to do have no interest whatever in doing it well, and no other wish but to perform so little as possible within the prescribed time. The people acquire from this sort of labour habits of slothfulness and neglect, which they never lay aside, even when performing their own work. This relation of the peasant to the landlord has been properly named “a school to teach idleness,” and both parties are now injured by their adherence to the absurd regulations of people whose very names are forgotten. It is remarked, that the inhabitants of Hoya and Diepholz, where the tenures approach most to leibeigen, are much worse in their manners, and more stupid than the inhabitants of Kalenberg, whose land is all held by the meyer tenure; but these again are as much inferior to the perfectly free farmers of Hadeln or Friezland as they are superior to the people of Hoya.
The following quotation from a periodical work, but which is no longer published, points out some of the evils of this practice, and the good of abolishing it. “We know,” the editors speak, “a property in Mecklenburg whose owner was obliged, according to the laws of that country, to supply the leibeigener with whatever was necessary for his subsistence, which the heavens had denied him. So long as this practice lasted, nothing was preserved to supply a harvest that failed, and the proprietor was not only obliged to suffer all the losses which were occasioned by bad harvests on his own land, but he was also obliged to support his leibeigeners.”
“On changing their tenure into free property, their manner of living changed also. Eggs, butter, fowls, calves, and other products, which before were unnecessarily consumed, were now made into gold. The rent was punctually paid, the proprietor improved his revenue, and the tenants elevated themselves from the deepest poverty to a state of comfort.”∗
A few years ago, such a tenure existed in a great part of Germany, and has undoubtedly been a great cause for that slowness with which the Germans are reproached by more active people. From this fact we may learn, that men are only improvident in proportion as their wants are supplied by other persons, and that the simple means of making the race frugal, is to supply the wants of no man, and to leave every man the produce of his own labour. This would be the best Agrarian law which could possibly be made. And to legitimate without diminishing luxury, every man should be honest enough not to take to himself the natural share of another.
The meyer ordinance, as the law is called, which secures the rights of the tenants, and regulates all the relations which they have to their landlords, might possibly have been when it was made extremely beneficial. It prevented the landlords from making arbitrary exactions, it hindered individuals from accumulating large properties, and it secured the cultivator from violence. But the day of violence is now fortunately passed, general competition, if left free, will render large accumulation not possible, and long continued customs exclude arbitrary exactions. Contracts of all kinds must and will, from the interest of both parties, be fairly made, and generally observed, and this law, therefore, which continues to prescribe the conditions on which land shall be used is now decidedly injurious. Neither the landlord nor the occupier is completely the owner of the land. It is the law, he who, by his industry, can unite the farm of an extravagant neighbour with his own, and cultivate it, ought not by law to be hindered from doing it. But the meyer law does not allow of two farms being united in the possession of one person. The landlord who can get a greater rent for his land ought also to be at liberty to take it. The rights of the occupant are equally good, or perhaps better than the rights of the landlord, and no possible means can be taken to reconcile one with the other but by permitting either to buy the rights of the other, and thus to make the land, however minutely it may be divided, the perfect free property of either one or the other. Prussia, it has been mentioned, has attempted to effect it by a law. This is the very greediness of legislation. The customs of men are with their governors only a sort of air-bubbles, that they can puff up and burst at their pleasure. But nature will not be hurried; ages of bad laws have degraded the bauer, and he can neither be made industrious nor energetic by a decree. And the decrees of Prussia, which were to make all property free, have not accomplished it.∗
The quotation above made, and the instances adduced of alteration, must have shewn the reader that this important subject has already occupied the attention of the writers and the governments of Germany. The restrictions on a free use of property have long been regarded by all the intelligent people of Germany as great evils; and I am happy to say that a progress has been made not only in Hannover, but in many other places, in acquiring accurate notions of their nature, and in abolishing them. The situation of the peasants is, in truth, every where a great deal better than it was a century ago. From the increasing freedom of discussion, there can be little doubt but that the whole of these restrictions are in a fair way of being totally abolished. The French abolished them during their occupation. They have since been partially restored. For example, all land formerly held by a feudal tenure in Hannover was restored to this tenure on the restoration of the present government, but that abolition was violence, and what is now going on is the effect of an improvement in knowledge. That was but momentary, this will be permanent. It is only to be wished that it may be rather left to the people than accomplished by the laws.
The landed property which is entirely free is confined principally to Friezland and the marsh lands, and is divided into farms of from 40 to 100 acres; some few farms are larger. Much of that belonging to the towns, which is divided into small parcels, may also be classed as free; that is, the magistracy of these towns have power to let it in what sized parcels, and on what terms they please.
From the manner in which land is divided, there are three distinct classes of cultivators, each of which follows in some measure methods of cultivation peculiar to itself.
First, Those who have large farms, whether hired of the crown or of nobles. They are called economists, have tolerably large capitals, and when they have a very large amt-farm, keep one or more bailiffs to superintend the management, and have establishments that are regulated with all the nicety of military subordination. There is first a head bailiff, or steward, then there are two or three under-bailiffs to look after particular divisions of the farm; clerks to keep accounts; a chief shepherd, who has the management of the sheep, and the superintendence of the other shepherds; a chief waggoner, who has the same office with the teams, and a chief workman, who in like manner looks after the thrashers, weeders, and other labourers. Many of the actual tenants are jurisconsults, and have not received an agricultural education; of course, their stewards are the managers. The stewards consult their employer on any great alterations, shew him their accounts, and pay into his hands the profits, but they have all the management themselves. Formerly, the stewards were mere practical farmers, who were taken from cultivating their own ten or twenty acres to look after such an establishment. They were admitted to the table of their principal once or twice in a year, and were highly honoured by such a notice. Some such are yet found, but, in general, they are persons who have been regularly educated as agriculturists at some one of those academies or institutions for teaching agriculture which are at present numerous in Germany. They are not only farmers, but they are men of a liberal education, who live with their employers. They are said to receive from 300 to 180 Thalers, L. 50 to L. 80 per year.
The second class of cultivators are the owners of free property. These persons direct the labours on their farms, have some considerable capital, own or hire the land, and own the stock. They hire labourers to do the work of their farms, and they resemble very much English farmers.
The third are the occupiers of small farms, whether leibeigeners or meyers, for these in their manner of cultivating and living only differ as to more or less of knowledge and activity. They have this in common, that neither of them have, in general, much more capital than their necessary implements, two or four horses, and money to support themselves and families. When they have servants, they are generally the junior members of their own families; but they think of what is to be done, and they themselves are the persons who do it. This is by far the most numerous class of cultivators, and they are what we call peasants; in German they are bauers. Probably four-fifths of the country is cultivated by them.
A class of men, resembling strictly our agricultural labourers, that is, who work merely for hire, are in no part of Germany very numerous. They are found in the marsh lands; some are met with at all large farms, but at both these places they have, in general, also some little property of their own. By far the greater part of the agricultural labourers are the bauers, who are at the same time the occupiers of the land, and the owners of the stock.
The large farmers are the people who are theoretically acquainted with agriculture, and who introduce improvements, till they slowly make their way through all parts of the country. They bear some analogy to our country gentlemen, and the consequence of having such a class of men seems to have been, that the agriculture is in no part of Germany so wretched as it is in some parts of France and Italy. I never saw in the former country, though I have in both the latter, women breaking the clods with wooden mallets, instead of its being done by horses dragging a roller, nor did I ever see them carrying manure to the field on their heads. The middling classes of farmers are, however, confined to particular spots, and between the great farmers and the bauers there is so great a difference in point of wealth, and so great a dissimilarity of education, and of habits, that the knowledge of the former descends but slowly to the latter, and when it reaches them is scarcely of any service. The large farmers are gentlemen of education, but the bauers are so occupied by the labour of routine, that they are excluded from all theoretical knowledge, and can make no other improvements than those which they may see practised by the larger farmers. They are too often objects of ridicule not to make their children, when they have acquired wealth by parsimony, eager to leave the occupation of their parents. Every man would rather be one of the inferior servants of the government than a bauer. Another class of men is wanted between these two to promote the improvement of all; and it appears to be growing up. Agriculture on a large scale is no longer dishonoured, and several instances are known of intelligent men practising it. None of them have given up a residence in towns, and become mere farmers, but tradesmen, medical men, and others, bought or hired portions of land when the French occupied the country, some of which they still retain. And they have neither all the advantages of the great agriculturists, nor the disadvantages of the peasants. The clergymen are also very often intelligent farmers, and spread by their influence, more knowledge, and better habits, among the people. The sale of the domanial lands would be one of the most important improvements that could be adopted for Hannover. It would effectually create such a class of men. I know no single act which, without offending the prejudices, or injuring in any way the interest of any one person, would so much tend to improve the agriculture, and to increase the industry and wealth of the people of Hannover, as the sale of all the domanial land by public auction. It should be divided in good sized farms, as the individuals who have now an interest in it die, and then be sold. Prussia has done this in all her newly-acquired provinces.
I may here state the conditions under which landed property is held in other parts of Germany. Most of the sovereigns, like the sovereign of Hannover, have large domains. The King of Prussia has sold or given away much of his. The Elector of Hesse Cassel is supposed proportionately to possess the most. Leibeignshaft exists generally in all the eastern parts of Prussia. In the greater part of Brandenburg, and in Saxony, the cultivators hold their land on a tenure resembling the meyer tenure, and sometimes even more free. In Mecklenburg and Holstein most of the property is free. In south-eastern Germany Leibeignshaft is predominant, and in the neigbourhood of the Rhine hardly known.
From the manner in which the land is appropriated in Germany generally, and from the effects of that different mode of appropriation which is the rule of the marsh lands, and which resembles the mode followed in England, it seems that much of the prosperity of Great Britain has been owing to property in land being entirely free. The owner has been at liberty to dispose of it as he thought fit, and, instead of its being neglected, it is certainly one of the most highly improved countries of Europe. This same fact is true of Holstein and Mecklenburg, where the land is in general not subjected to any restriction, and where the agriculture is well known to be better than in the other parts of Germany. Private interest has, therefore, in this instance, effected a great public good, without any limitations or directions by a legislator. Where he has interfered, as in the meyer law, he seems to have done mischief on the whole. While I mention the advantage of our system, it would be unjust totally to pass over the advantages of the other. The minute division of landed property in Germany, the regulations which have forbid an augmentation of rent, or a union of farms, and which have secured to the bauer the full enjoyment of the use of the land, have prevented any person, except the sovereign, from amassing an enormous quantity, and have preserved among the inhabitants a species of equality as to property. There are, comparatively, few absolutely destitute labourers. The mass of the people do not live in such affluence as Englishmen, but this is more than compensated to them by all being in some measure alike. In civilized society, it is not destitution, but the craving wants which the splendour of other persons excites, which are the true evils of poverty. The meyer regulations have hindered improvement, but they have also hindered absolute destitution and enormous accumulation. I would not be understood to affirm, that these evils, so far as they exist in our country, have in the slightest manner been occasioned by property being free. They have been occasioned by other causes, totally distinct from this freedom, which also exist in Germany, but which have been there partly counteracted by those restrictions on property which have prevented accumulation.
There is, on the whole, therefore, a great difference between the agricultural labourer of Germany and the agricultural labourer of Britain. The bauer must give one portion of his produce to the state, another as tithes, and a third to his landlord, but the remainder, though small, is his own. He tills his own field, and the reward of his industry depends, in some measure, on nature. Our labourer has to give portions of his labour to the state, to the landlord, and as tithes, and he has also to give a large portion to his employer. He tills the ground that is appropriated to another, and his reward depends so little on the seasons, or on his own exertions, that, whether the heavens give or withhold their bounties, whether he is idle or laborious, he has usually enough, with parish support, barely to subsist. The bauer depends on himself, and so long as he can labour, he is never degraded by being told he is subsisted by the state, or by his landlord. There is but one country in which the productive labourers, who are the most industrious men of the world, are said to be maintained by the charities and bounties of persons who produce nothing. The landlord and the capitalist produce nothing. Capital is the produce of labour, and profit is nothing but a portion of that produce, uncharitably exacted for permitting the labourer to consume a part of what he has himself produced. When this is given to him as charity, if he be not oppressed, he is at least insulted. Those who imagine themselves to be very benevolent people, while they dole out to the labourer a pittance of what they have exacted, delude themselves with a hypocritical cant, that, however it may be sanctioned by laws, and however it may accord with the customs of society, was never surpassed by any of the cant of the most absurd religion. By your labour shall ye eat bread is holy wisdom, and he who does not gain what he consumes by his own industry, assuredly eats the bread which nature made the property of another. The poor are the terror of the rich, and the scourges of society. But the affluent have little right to complain when their repose is disturbed, for it is they who inflict poverty on their fellows, and at the same time teach them to desire wealth. The evils of society cannot be remedied by acts of parliament. Individuals must reform themselves. Avarice must exact less, and it will have more security and enjoyment. Generally it seems to be supposed, because the rich make laws, that the poor only need restraints, and to be reformed. This is a mistake. It is the class of society which has long ruled that most needs reformation, and that deserves most of the blame for the social evils which exist.
I may here add the little I learnt relative to the support and management of the poor. It seems consistent with the regulations concerning landed property in Germany, that there should not be so many paupers there as in our country. Some other regulations are known, which have probably assisted in protecting Germany from the evil of pauperism to the same extent in which it exists with us. There is no legal provision for paupers. A law of the guilds, which extended to most trades, forbad, and still forbids, where guilds are not abolished, journeymen mechanics from marrying, and, in most countries of Germany, people are obliged to have the permission of the civil magistrate before it is legal for the clergyman to celebrate a marriage. The permission seems to be given or withheld as the parties soliciting it are thought by the magistrates to be capable of maintaining a family. At least, it is to prevent the land from being overrun with paupers that the law on this subject has been made. There are so many persons who are ready to impose restrictive laws on their fellow men, and such an undue value seems to be set on the good they can effect, that it is necessary to observe that the whole good of this last restrictive law seems not equal to the evil resulting from it. It is hoped, therefore, nobody in our country will be fond of extending the power of the magistrate to give or withhold a permission to marry.
This regulation substitutes the permission of the magistrate for the natural reasons why people should or should not marry. These latter are the proper motives for conduct; and of them the parties can be the only judges. The magistrate may give his permission from caprice, and, from the reverence with which he is regarded, they who can obtain it, imagine nothing more is required to justify their union, and make it full of happiness. A union that is sanctioned by both priest and magistrate is regarded as doubly sacred, and all the evils which may follow from it as decreed by nature. Thus the people on the Harz, who marry young, are said to have looked on the smallpox as a blessing, because it relieved them from the superabundance of their children. They refused for a long time to allow inoculation, saying, they would not interfere with the will of the Lord. “He hath given and He hath taken away, blessed be His name.” They seem to have regarded marriage as a duty, and the misery consequent on it as an infliction they were bound patiently to suffer. The misery which may follow from a marriage, is the natural reason why it should not take place. This important fact the magistrate prevents the parties from knowing, by substituting his permission for the natural reason.
From the quantity of children born out of marriage in these countries,∗ it is also probable that this regulation, though it may prevent hasty marriages, does not much diminish the number of births. It drives men and women to live together without the permission either of the magistrate or the priest. Their passions are stronger than their respect for the law, and they violate their own principles of religion because they cannot obtain the permission of the magistrate. When once principles are violated, no man can tell where the violation will stop. It is, therefore, of paramount necessity, that no laws should ever be made which supply a strong temptation to violate them. On this principle we ought to be careful not to lay any impediments in the way of reasonable gratifications, and not to make a law which tempts men to reject the authority of the magistrate, and at the same time violate their own principles of religion.
There is no legal provision in Hannover for the poor. The Vorstehers of the villages, and some of the citizens of the towns, call on the inhabitants, generally of a Sunday, for some little contribution for the relief of the distressed, which, from the publicity of the thing, they are under a sort of necessity to give, and if they do not, the collector is ordered to notify it to the clergyman. The collectors bring with them a book, in which the sum given by each person is inscribed, and they, in some cases, receive a small recompense for their labour. The funds so obtained are distributed by the collectors, by the clergymen, and by the magistrates of the towns, according to the wants of each person soliciting relief. When this money is collected, the inhabitants are warned by the collectors not to give alms, and they seem to expect, that, for what they give on this occasion, they ought never to be tormented by beggars. With the exception of some wandering journeymen, I saw, infact, very few beggars. In the town of Hannover itself I scarcely saw one. In some of the marsh lands the practice is to allow the poor to beg for themselves on a Sunday. They then go regularly from house to house, and the inhabitants as regularly bestow their mite on the afflicted. I met a similar custom in France, where the old ladies lay by a certain portion of sous ready to bestow on every Sunday. In both these cases the quantity of beggars seemed so regular, that each inhabitant knew pretty accurately how many would call for relief.
In the town of Hannover, which contains 20,000 inhabitants, about 300 persons, including children, may receive occasional relief from the funds collected as above mentioned. They are under the inspection of the police, and are employed by it to sweep the streets, &c. Most of them were women, and, till I inquired the reason, I was astonished to see a number of debilitated old females occupied as scavengers in the midst of winter. Nor did the assertions that they were idle, worthless characters, justify the practice. There is something about women, something in the honour which is due to the sex of our mothers, which forbids us giving them so nauseous and disgusting an employment. Twice a-year all the persons receiving this sort of alms are led in procession about the streets, in order that they may be known, and their idleness exposed to contempt. The children sang, and the men and women followed, accompanied by police officers. Some of them hid their faces, but most of them seemed totally to disregard this public exposure. If it were always true that poverty was a consequence of neglect, idleness, or dissipation, to expose it publicly might merit praise; but, in the present state of the world, it may be brought on men by misfortune; they may be born to it as their inheritance; it may be inflicted on them by the rapaciousness of their rulers; and, in such cases, it is cruel to steep the bread of charity in the bitter waters of public infamy. This is the proper reward of crimes, not of misfortune.
Exclusively of the persons so relieved, there is in Hannover a work-house, in which were 13 children and 30 grown up persons. Some of the latter were sent here as a punishment. All were employed. The children were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. Formerly the funds of the establishment were greater than at present, and then the children were further instructed. The master still shews some of the first essays at drawing of a man who has since enjoyed a little reputation as a sculptor. There are also in Hannover two establishments for orphans.
In Celle, a town containing between 8000 and 9000 inhabitants, some funds bequeathed to an orphan-house, and what is collected from the people, are both appropriated, under the inspection of the master of the work and orphan house, to support the poor and orphans. The children are sent into families to be nursed, and distressed persons are relieved at their own houses, chiefly by giving every one who is able to work something to do, and paying for it. About 30 imbecile and aged persons lived in the house; about 200 orphan children were brought up by the funds; and about 200 persons were occasionally relieved.
In Linden, a village close to Hannover, containing between 800 and 900 inhabitants, who were chiefly working people, there were between 40 and 50 persons who occasionally received relief. In one other, or rather several villages united into one parish, Eingepfarred, containing nearly as many people, but removed from any town, there were only four persons who received relief, and one of these was a blind woman. In the marsh lands the numbers were greater.
From these few facts there is reason to believe that neither the number of paupers nor of beggars is so great in Hannover as in Britain. In no country has so many regulations been made concerning the poor as in our’s, and nowhere are they so numerous. Is this not another proof of the inefficiency or folly of legislating so much? It is most strange, that, with an ingenuity surpassing that of all the world, with all the great branches of productive industry united in our own hands, that a greater portion of our people than of any other should be found subsisting on the charities, either ordered or spontaneous, of the rest of their countrymen. Though paupers be few in Hannover, there, as in other parts of Europe, it has been found necessary to found alms houses and form societies for their relief. Amongst these, one resembling, in its spirit and form, the plan adopted in Hamburg, deserves to be mentioned. It was carried into execution in the little town of Herzberg, in 1800, by the present Hofrath Arenhold, when he filled the situation there of chief magistrate. I was assured it had been attended with the most beneficial effects, and that his benevolence and praise-worthy exertions were still gratefully remembered by the inhabitants. Wherever the power of the magistrate is efficaciously exerted, begging may undoubtedly be prevented, but comparative poverty is a constitutional evil of European societies, which no outward and local remedies can cure. From several other establishments of this kind, I know the Hannoverians are not behind in the race of benevolence. It may, however, be doubted if benevolence does not sometimes extend to interference, and if the error of our present systems is not a ridiculous desire to shelter some people from the natural results of their own follies and crimes.
Men desire to amend the condition of the poor, by governing them. The tear that flows at the sorrow of another, is the brightest jewel of nature; and the heart has no more ennobling feeling than a wish to relieve distress. The noble mind desires wealth and power only to mitigate the sufferings of its kind. The most ardent of our race have the warmest and most affectionate hearts; so it ought to be, or the energies of the mighty would scorch, not delight us. This union is a beautiful illustration of the natural goodness of man. But unfortunately the struggle in which we are obliged to engage to acquire wealth and power too often sours the temper; we forget what was the end of our pursuit, and we come to love power more because it has been associated with our struggles, than for the benefits it may enable us to bestow. The justice of men is easily bribed by the benevolence of their intentions; and the heart that is warm in its wishes for the welfare of others, does not observe that the head is totally ignorant of the means to promote it. Hence wealth and power are often sought by unjust and unholy means. We are told by a German historian, “That Alexander went forth, as he solemnly declared, to conquer the world only that he might make it happy. And, blinded by the apparent benevolence of his declaration, authors have honoured him for it. He followed his brilliant aim through his whole life; ruin and death waited on his footsteps; and the end of his victories was a cruel military despotism. Under its government the people were never heard of; there was nothing but generals and soldiers, who quarrelled about the division of plundered nations.” The same disposition, with similar melancholy results, may be traced in many of those laws which have been made in our country, to provide work and food for the poor, and in many of those charitable donations which are recorded in our newspapers. Men seek wealth by legitimately oppressing the labourer, that they may figure as makers of benevolent laws, or as the chiefs of charitable societies. Miserable is the nation where either is much needed. Nature has created each individual with powers to provide for its own wants. She has placed the welfare of millions in their own hands, and has not subjected them to one or a few men like themselves. Our senses and our knowledge extend only to the little circle about us; and it is not only vain, but ridiculous, to wish that our power and our influence may be more widely extended. We can only obtain means to pour the oil of gladness into the bosoms of the sorrowful, by first of all condemning them to sorrow. It cannot be too often repeated, that it is the exactions of one class and the interference of legislators, which have made that poverty and misery these persons are sometimes so anxious to mitigate. Benevolence and vanity conspire to make men oppress and rule their brethren. The doctrines of selfishness are in truth full of love as well as of wisdom; and no sentiment deserves so much to be scouted, as that benevolence which curses with its care. There can be no hope for the permanent relief of our poor, till the rich and the mighty leave them to themselves; nor can there be any permanent enjoyment for the rich, till they lay aside the attributes of governing Deity, and be content with the dignity of men.
Those who govern are not content unless they can prevent the interference of others. It is a part of their plans, to substitute regular systematic relief for spontaneous charity. They forbid alms-giving, as encouraging begging; and they suppress sympathy with misfortune, because they would not have kindness imposed on. That to me is strange reasoning, which can lead to forbid alms-giving. Charity is valuable to the giver so well as to the receiver. It amends the outward condition of the latter, but it softens and improves the heart of the former. It appears not right that government should take on itself the administration of the poor, or that it should forbid relieving even that distress which is simulated. It may prevent a little imposture, but it destroys one of the best means of uniting man to man. It is a power usurped not only over our purses, but over our sentiments and our hearts. It pretends to curb our vices, but it renders us in reality deaf to the voice of misery; it hardens us against the complaints of our fellow men; and it makes us selfish and unbrotherly. How much more is the receiver also improved by the smile of charity, than by the book-recorded gift of the overseer! “The sight of a benefactor brings joy like his gifts.”
[∗]Annals for the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, year 1788. Part I. p. 30.
[∗]Bavaria, and indeed most of the other powers of Germany, are also making some attempts at what is called Güter Arrondirung. These sort of alterations which give freedom to property, and give importance to the bauer, take place almost in secret, but they are the alterations which will have the most permanent influence on the welfare of Europe.
[∗]See Table, Appendix, No. I.
[∗]Hermann und Dorothea. By Goethe, p. 167.