Front Page Titles (by Subject) OBSERVATIONS ON THE POOR BILL. INTRODUCED BY THE RT. HON. WILLIAM PITT (FEB, 1797). : CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs)
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OBSERVATIONS ON THE POOR BILL. INTRODUCED BY THE RT. HON. WILLIAM PITT (FEB, 1797). : CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). In 11 vols. Volume 8.
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Though no determinate system of arrangement presents itself as having been adopted for the purpose of this Bill, or at least as having been steadily pursued throughout the course of it, the whole matter of it at least may be conceived as distributable under four heads or compartments: one part taking up the out-allowance or home-provision system, and opening new sources of relief in that shape; a second, taking up the home-provision system and the small*establishment system jointly and in a system of working places under the names of Schools of Industry, establishing throughout the southern division of the united kingdoms a system of employment and industrial education, of which the scene is to shift in a manner between the public school-room and the private home; a third occupied in establishing a system of superintendence to watch over the management of these schools of industry; and the fourth taken up with a set of regulations in the way of procedure and a few other arrangements of a technical nature, such as it is commonly deemed necessary to tack to the end of statutes creative of new powers to be exercised by particular authorities.
On looking into the portion of matter relative to the subject of home provision, we shall find it distinguishable into two main divisions: the one occupied in the distribution of occasional or temporary allowances; the other in giving commencement or security to a system of what may be termed superannuation annuities, humanely destined to diffuse a gleam of comfort over the evening of life.
On looking into the amendments applied by the Bill to the plan of relief afforded by the home-provision system in the present state of the law, we shall find them introductive of the following extensions.
In Section 2, a supplement is meant to be provided for whatever deficiency, in point of earnings, may result from any deficiency in point of ability with reference to work. This clause I shall take the liberty of distinguishing by the name of the under-ability, or supplemental-wages clause.
In Section 1, another supplement for whatever deficiency, in respect to the means of maintenance, may be produced in families by an overcharge of helpless children. This may be termed the family-relief, or extra-children clause.
In Section 3, power is given (to whom not mentioned) to administer relief in the shape of capital, to be employed in the purchase of “a cow, or other animal yielding profit.” This may be termed the cow-money clause.
In Section 4, a provision is made that property, “visible property,” though it amount to £30, or perhaps more, shall not operate in exclusion of relief. This may be termed the relief-extension, or opulence-relief clause.
And in Section 23, provision is made for conferring on the scholars of these schools, in certain cases, the benefit of apprenticeship at the public expense. This I shall term the apprenticeship clause.
I shall now consider the several clauses in the order in which they have just been brought to view.†
1. Under-Ability, or Supplemental-Wages Clause.
“LIV. And be it further enacted, That if any poor person residing in any parish under the authority of this Act, and not being able to earn the full rate or wages usually given in such parish, or the parish or parishes united therewith, shall, with the previous consent of the person or persons appointed to the management of the poor of any such parish or united parishes, contract and agree to work at any inferior rate or wages, which wages shall not be sufficient for the maintenance and support of such poor person singly, or in conjunction with his or her family, it shall and may be lawful for such officers of the poor, with the approbation of one or more justice or justices of the peace in the district, to make up such deficiency as may be necessary for the support of such poor person, and his or her family, (regard being had to the earnings of such family,) out of the rates made for the relief of the poor, without compelling such poor person to be employed in any school of industry, or in any other manner under the authority of this Act.”
By the under-ability, or supplemental-wages clause, provision is made that “if any poor person entitled to the benefit of this Act,” (the efficient cause of title is not otherwise specified,) “not able to earn the full rate or wages, shall agree to work at an under rate, the deficiency may be made up to him out of the poor rates, without compelling such poor person to be employed in any manner under the authority of this Act.”
What sort of persons this class is intended to be composed of is a question respecting which I must confess myself unable to satisfy myself, not being able to collect who the persons are “entitled to the benefit of this Act;” thus much, however, I understand from the clause, that there is a class of persons to every one of whom, upon condition of their working in any manner, and receiving for their work a rate or wages falling short to any amount of the “full rate usually given in the parish,” somebody or other (I do not perfectly see who) shall have it in his power to make up the deficiency at the public charge.
The inability of the lowest class (I mean the worst paid class) of working hands in this country, viz. the labourers in husbandry, to make such provision for the sustenance of themselves and families as shall be constantly adequate to the purpose,—that is, under every variation which the ability as to work, the facility of obtaining work, and the magnitude of the burden resulting from the condition and multitude of the infants and other helpless branches of the family are susceptible of,—is a point which I fear has been but too incontestably established.*
To this inconvenience such remedies as in the course of the preceding observations presented themselves as the proper and only proper remedies, have already been pointed out. The remedies proposed by the Bill in general, and the part now in question in particular, must be confessed to be of a different stamp.
As to the casual inadequacy of the earnings of the individual compared with the demand for subsistence on the part of that same individual, two expedients have presented themselves: one is to fix the rate of wages, and thereby of earnings, viz. of the rate to be paid to individual labourers by individual employers; the other is leaving the rate indefinite, to make up the deficiency, whatsoever in each individual instance it may happen to amount to, at the public charge.
The fixation of wages is an operation which on different occasions has been proposed, and on some occasions even practised with opposite views,—to prevent what has been looked upon as excess, and to cure what has been looked upon as defect. It is with the latter view that it has lately been proposed with reference to the case now before us.
Against the fixation of wages with a view to prevent deficiency there is, however, this objection, viz. that thereby you exclude from employment many persons who might otherwise have obtained it. You aggravate the distress of the very persons, or at least a considerable proportion of the persons, whose condition you propose to meliorate. What you can do (let it be admitted) is so to order matters in behalf of the object of your benevolence, that if he receives anything he shall not receive less than what you wish him to receive; but what you cannot do is so to order matters as that, under these circumstances, he shall receive anything at all. To give him that sufficient rate of wages is an obligation not imposed upon any employer whatsoever; it is therefore an expense to which no employer who does not think he shall find his account in it, will ever think of subjecting himself.
In a word, a regulation fixing the rate of wages so as to prevent its falling below a certain rate, is, in effect, a regulation of the prohibitive kind, excluding from employment all such hands the value of whose labour does not rise to a level with that rate; a prohibition enforced by a specific and unavoidable penalty, and that penalty is the difference (whatsoever it may be in each case) between the highest sum which the labour of the workman is worth, and the lowest sum which the employer is allowed to give.
True it is that, upon a minute scrutiny, the exclusion will not be found altogether so universal as at first glance it might appear. In some instances (partly from motives of a personal nature under the difficulty of getting another hand, but at an extra price, partly from motives of compassion, rather than have an industrious workman destitute) an employer, who otherwise might have got the labour of the feeble hand in question at an under rate, proportioned to his diminution in point of ability, will pay him that full and intended legal rate which, with reference to that ability, will be an extra rate. But the effect of the principle thus operating in limitation of the exclusion has its bounds. An employer may give 9s. a week, for example, to a labourer whose labour is worth but 8s. or 7s., but he will not give the 9s. to a labourer whose labour is worth but 3s. or 4s. He will rather give for his 9s. worth of labour 10s. or 11s. or 12s. to one workman in full ability, (importing him, if necessary, from another parish,) than 27s. among three labourers whose labour taken altogether is worth no more than the 9s.
Besides the general danger (the danger of idleness) inseparable from the home-provision system, a particular source of danger seems to be opened by the particular wording of this clause. By his character for negligence or idleness, a man, though in respect of bodily ability not unequal, perhaps, to the fullest rate of earnings, shall have so ordered matters that no master will employ him but at a rate more or less inferior to that rate. In that case it will be perfectly true that, to use the words of the Bill, he is “not able to earn the full rate or wages usually given:” for, whatever may have been the original cause of the inability, the existence of it is not the less real. So far, then, as this cause of inability extends, that is so far as the class of the idle, the negligent, and the dissolute extends, (a multitude, the increase of which seems but too much to be apprehended from the operation of this clause,) the effect of it seems to be the putting the idle and negligent exactly upon a footing in point of prosperity and reward with the diligent and industrious.
If conjecture may be allowed, the circumstance that gave rise to this clause in the breasts of those who framed it seems to have been the humane consideration that, when a man does his utmost, it is hard to leave him in a worse condition than his neighbours on account of an infirmity which is his misfortune merely, not his fault. But the extreme difficulty of forming in each individual instance a well-grounded judgment (to whomsoever it belongs to form it) in the question fault or no fault, and if fault, in what degree, may, perhaps, by this time have been perceived. But fault will not, ought not to be, imputed without special and full proof: and, perhaps, the blameable conduct, the blameable cause of the inability, the bad character in which the inability to obtain the ordinary rate of wages originated,—this cause, though continuing and operating in full force, is susceptible of no proof but what is confined to a period long since past. This being the case, and supposing all possible ability as well as integrity on the part of those by whom the claim to this bounty is to be determined, I must confess I do not see how it can be otherwise than a frequent, not to say general case, that idleness should, upon the establishment of this clause, find itself in as good plight as industry.
Under this difficulty of drawing the line, an expedient which I must confess I expected to have found adopted, was the confining the title to some such efficient cause or causes as should be out of the reach of counterfeiting as well as of fabrication; old age stands in this respect on the highest ground in point of eligibility; after that come specific modifications of infirmity, such as loss of limbs, loss of the use of limbs, rupture, epilepsy, nervous afflictions, complaints which, according to the greater or less difficulty of ascertaining the matter of fact, will constitute so many efficient causes of inability more or less clearly, and certainly exempt from blame—more or less exempt from the danger of opening an inlet to abuse.
Whether all the precautions that could be taken, all the precautions which the nature of the case admits of, would be sufficient to confine the mischief within any tolerable bounds, is what I cannot but entertain some doubts of; but at any rate so long as no such checks are applied, the danger from this clause, supposing it to stand, seems very serious; for how opposite soever the views and intentions of the contrivers in the two cases, the equalization system, as applied to wages, seems hardly less threatening to industry, and thence to property, (to say nothing of the expense,) than, as applied to property, it would be to property, and thence to industry.
Against these and all other dangers of abuse the dependence for a remedy and safeguard is of course on the wisdom and integrity of those into whose hands the execution of the Act may come from time to time to fall: but, (not to mention how multifarious the ingredients sine quibus non of the mixed class called wisdom are,) wisdom may be wanting in one quarter, integrity in another, both together in a third, and after all we know not who they are. Besides that, as we have seen, the cases are various and of frequent occurrence where the union of both qualities, and both in the highest degree, would be of no avail. To oppose all new powers on no distincter ground than that all powers are open to abuse, would be the effusion of undistinguishing imbecility or of political jealousy run mad. But when a system of provision is on the carpet, involving in its essence a system of powers particularly open to abuse, the danger may at least operate as a motive for inquiry, whether there may not be found some other system less obnoxious to abuse.
What, in such case, shall be deemed this “full rate or wages,” which is to be made up at all events is another point that seems as necessary as it may be found difficult to be settled. In the compass of England and Wales some hundred thousands a-year may be at stake upon this single point. 1. Is it the full rate or wages of the highest paid species of labour in the district in question? Certainly not in every case. 2. Is it the “full rate or wages” of the highest paid species of labour where the employment of the individual in question happens to be of that species? If so we may have bad ship-wrights pensioned at 9s. a-week or a guinea, (according as day work or piece work is taken for the standard,) or bad mathematical instrument makers at half as much: this therefore was not intended. 3. Is it the “full rate or wages” according to an average taken of the earnings of all the species of employment exercised within the district put together? This, requiring a vast previous assemblage of highly interesting but hitherto uncollected documents, is what (for that as well as other reasons) can hardly have been intended. 4. Is it the “full rate or wages” earned in the species of employment most abundant in the district, as the words “usually given” might seem to import? I should suppose nor that neither. 5. Is it the “full rate or wages” earned in the lowest (meaning the lowest paid) species of employment therein exercised? This I should rather think is what is meant, (or at least upon this view of the diversity would be meant,) because this construction would be the least dangerous; but this is not anywhere expressed.
Take even the lowest paid species of employment, the quantum of the earnings will be found to admit of great variation in great towns (the metropolis for example) compared with distant country places. There are country places in which it is not higher than 1s. a-day; in London and the neighbourhood it can hardly be reckoned lower than 2s. With all this enormous difference in the habitual rate of supply the necessary means of living are scarcely cheaper anywhere than in London. Are so many thousands of bad workmen then, with or without families to receive near £32 a-year as a minimum, when less than £16 a-year is proved by experience to be enough for good ones? And who will stay in the country at single allowance if he can secure double allowance only by coming up to London, which partly by a late Act, partly by this intended Act, everybody is enabled to do without disturbance?
An answer is, that as at present and in practice necessity is measured for the purpose of relief, so in future and under this Act will wages be measured for the same purpose. The reply is, no such thing. As far as the intended law is obeyed, as far as it produces the effect it aims at, the measure at present, used for this purpose will not be employed but laid aside. Under the existing order of things the relief granted is measured by and adjusted to what (in the breasts of those to whom it belongs to judge) is the proper quantum of the demand on the score of indigence. But this mode of measurement is precisely that which will not satisfy the liberality of the framer of the Act, for this is what the Act declares, if it declares anything. Full is a word not only of precision, but of energy. The “full rate,” that and nothing less, is the rate without which the legislator has declared he will not in future be satisfied; and whosoever presumes to give less than that full rate disobeys. That such disobedience would not be uncommon is what I will not say either I should hope or I should fear, but what at any rate I should except. But where would be the expediency of that law of which the sole trust were to be in the disobedience it might excite? Meantime disobedience, eligible or ineligible, pardonable or unpardonable, will not be universal. Five standards (as we have seen) for the measurement of the bounty, five standards rising one above another in liberality, will be in every parish open to a man’s choice. In each instance, be his inclinations what they may, ever so weak, ever so lavish, ever so heedless, within the prodigious scale raised up by these five standards, a man may without much straining find a warrant in this part of the intended Act; but at any rate, to one or other of them he must conform himself if he pays any regard to the Act:—five standards, the lowest of them little less than sufficient, as we have seen, to double the poor rates, overwhelm the metropolis, and depopulate whatever part of the country is not covered by a town.
2. Family-Relief, or Extra-Children Clause.
“XXXVII. And be it further enacted, That any father entitled to the benefit of this Act, and having more than two children under the respective ages of five years, and part of his family unable to maintain themselves; and any widow being so entitled, and having more than one such child, and part of her family, shall have such allowances from the parish or united parishes where he or she shall reside, in respect of all such children of such father beyond the number of two; and in respect of all such children of such widow beyond the number of one; to such amount as the person or persons appointed to the management of the poor of such parish or united parishes, with the consent of the visiters of the district in rotation or any two of them, shall deem sufficient for the maintenance of such child or children under all circumstances, or as two justices of the peace in the district on appeal from the allowances made by the consent of the said visiters, shall order and direct; and that such allowances so made shall continue in respect of such child or children above the number of two and one respectively, until such child or children, in respect of whom such allowances are made, can and shall maintain themselves by their labour; and that all and every the child or children of any such father or widow being respectively of the age of five years or upwards, in respect of whom any such allowance as aforesaid shall be paid, shall, upon request made in pursuance of this Act, be sent into the school or schools of industry established in or for any parish or united parishes, and shall be received into such school or schools of industry to be instructed and employed in such business as shall be suited to the age and strength of such child or children, and not dangerous or prejudicial to the health of such child or children, unless the parent or parents of him, her, or them, will undertake diligently to instruct and employ, and shall diligently instruct and employ such child or children at their own homes in such business as the person or persons appointed to the management of the poor of such parish or united parishes, or the manager of the said school or schools of industry, shall from time to time direct; and which such persons respectively are hereby authorized to direct to be done in conformity to the provisions of this Act, and that such allowances so directed shall continue to be paid until such respective children can maintain themselves by their labour, and that the earnings of every such child, to whom any such allowance shall be directed to be paid, except such part thereof as is hereinafter directed to be allowed to the parent or parents of any child or children who shall be industrious and conform to the rules established by or in pursuance of this Act, shall, during the continuance of the same, go in aid of the fund for the support of the said school or schools of industry; and that any child or children whose parent or parents is or are not able to maintain them, and in respect of whom no such allowance shall be paid or payable by virtue of this Act, may be received into such school of industry, to be therein instructed and employed in such work or employment as shall be suited to such child or children as before directed, or in such other place and under such instruction as shall be agreed upon in the manner before directed, and under such terms and conditions or at such rate or wages, as shall, in pursuance of this Act, be settled to be paid and performed in consideration of the work done by such child or children; and the earnings of such last-mentioned child or children, except such part thereof as shall be allowed as aforesaid, shall go in aid of the fund for the support of such school or schools of industry.”
In this Section (clause 1) two classes of persons are instituted, who, on the condition of their respectively having a certain number of children, parts of their respective “families, and unable to maintain themselves,” shall be entitled to a weekly allowance, considered in respect to its quantum; this allowance is not to amount at any rate to less than 1s. a-week for each extra child, and it may amount to ever so much more. Considered in respect to its duration, it is to continue not only till each such extra child shall be able to maintain itself by its own labour, but till it actually shall maintain itself by its own labour,—“can and shall maintain themselves by their labour,” says the Act.
1. Measuring the extent of this clause, we shall find it, I much fear, at once too ample and too narrow: too ample to be reconcileable to the interests of private industry or of public economy; too narrow to cover the extent of the demand for the relief which itself provides. To judge of the demand in point of necessity and utility for the bounties given by this clause, let us observe upon what footing the title to relief stands under the existing order of things. At present, supposing the discretion properly and successfully exercised, demand and supply are proportioned to each other: from those who have not wherewithal to maintain themselves and families, be those families ever so small, relief will not be withholden; to those who have wherewithal to maintain themselves and families, be those families ever so large, relief will not be given. Under this clause a family may labour under the severest distress, and derive no benefit from the intended Act. A family may wallow in abundance, and derive an enormous pension from it. To entitle the head of the family to the allowance—to the pension or congeries of pensions thus provided, it is not necessary that the family taken together should be unable otherwise to maintain itself. It is sufficient if the extra children, the children taken in the extra number, should, separately taken, be unable to maintain themselves. The heads of families in question as described are, first, a father having more than two “children unable to maintain themselves;” and, second, “a widow having more than one such child.” As to the difference made here between fathers and widows, that in general the ability of the male sex in this respect will be greater than that of the female is not to be disputed. But will it in every instance be exactly in that proportion? May not there be some instances in which a woman with a good trade will be better able to maintain two children than a man to maintain the same number with a bad one? May not the instances be many in which a man with or without a wife shall be better able to maintain three children than a widow to maintain two? And may not there be instances where a widow with two children shall be better able to maintain herself and family, than a widow left pregnant for instance with one child in arms, or in a state requiring still more attendance, may be able to maintain herself and that one?
Doubts remain with regard to the import that are material to the effect. This inability with regard to the maintaining themselves, is it sufficient if it extend to the supernumerary children, or must it extend to all the children? And in either case is it sufficient if it be partial, or must it be entire?
2. As to the quantum of the pension. Under the existing system if 6d. a-week (for example) per child be requisite and sufficient to make up for the deficiency of earnings, 6d. a-week may, without any further addition, be allowed. Under this Bill 1s. a-week, requisite or not requisite, must, if anything, be allowed. Shillings in any number may be allowed, and that more than one should in general, or at least frequently, be allowed, seems to be intended: for that less than 1s. requisite or not requisite should not in any case be allowed is expressly stipulated. A shilling a-week is £2, 12s. a-year; 6d. a-week is £1, 6s.; 9d. a-week is £1, 19s.; 3d. a-week is 13s. Thirty-nine shillings, (almost £2 a-year,) or even 26s., or even 13s. a-year, repeated upon forty or fifty thousand children, amounts to no small sum. Granting (what is a good deal to grant) that less than the shilling a-week cannot in any situation, or at any age, be made to suffice for the maintenance of any child,—what cannot possibly be granted is, that this deficiency in the amount of earnings cannot exist in the shape of any less sum than the entire amount of the sum necessary for the child’s maintenance. In situations where money is oftener reckoned by millions and thousands than by pounds and shillings, the saving that might be made upon a pitiful shilling a-week is apt to appear as nothing; but where a penny comes so often to be repeated, an error to the amount of a few pence in this low pension-list may amount to a source of profusion not only more abundant in quantity, but much less warranted by use as well as much more pregnant with mischief, than even the high pension-list which is the object of so much jealousy as well as so much envy.
3. The duration of the allowance presents another topic of observation. The continuance is to be until the children in question actually “shall maintain themselves by their labour:” while their earning anything will depend of course upon the head of the family, who, through wilfulness, or negligence, or indolence, may keep the children either in idleness or employed in labour, which, however useful to the family, cannot or need not be brought to account in the shape of a fixed sum so long as the allowance, excessive or moderate, is to continue.
The maintenance, it may be said, will be afforded, and that in the fixed shape in question, by the wages which the child will receive for the work which the head of the family must send the child to perform at the school of industry on pain of receiving none of the benefits of the Act. It may be so; but, however, it may be otherwise. The children may, some or all of them, be under the age, (five years is the age at which this schooling is to commence, sec. 20.) In a thinly-peopled part of the country the burthen of the school, with its schoolmaster and schoolmistress, and warehouse and warehouse-keeper, will, if the parish be single, be by far too heavy for it: if several parishes are put together, the school, put it where you will, by its distance will be rendered inaccessible to a great part of its scholars. The pensions are to commence in July next, (Sec. 1, 67.) Not a school can be begun to be built till at the end of a chain of administrative operations, such as in known instances has taken up years, and of which the first link cannot take place till after Michaelmas, (Sec. 10,) and it is in aid of the “fund for the support of the schools,” and not in aid of this pension-fund, that the earnings, whenever they do take place, are after all to be applied.
A circumstance that renders the danger the more formidable is, that the two currents of profusion, the allowance on the score of extra children, and the allowance on the score of supplemental wages, may, for anything that appears to the contrary, mingle together, and flow with united force. First comes the pay of the idler, made up to an equality with the earnings of the industrious; then come the extra children of the idler to be put in whatsoever number upon the pension-list.
“Regard” (it is provided) shall be “had to the earnings of the family.” Regard (it is provided) shall be had to the allowance from a fund, not named, but which appears to be what I call the superannuation fund; but of any “regard which may be had” to any such allowance as that on the score of extra children, no mention is to be found. No deduction is, therefore, intended to be made on any such score.
The over-narrowness of the provision with reference to its evident object, the scantiness of it in a particular point of view, comes now to be considered. To characterize the head of a family on whose labour the subsistence of the family is considered as depending, “father” if of the male sex, “widow” if of the female, are the only terms employed. But there are other relations which are either charged by law, or at least apt to be engaged by shame or affection in the maintenance, or at any rate in the guardianship of their infant or other helpless relatives. Within this sphere of duty, perfect or imperfect, (for I will not plunge into discussions of positive law for the purpose of drawing the line,) grandfather and grandmother, brother and sister, uncle and aunt, may at any rate be considered as comprised. In whatever point of view the matter be considered, if the claims of the two relations specified are to be regarded as strong enough with reference to the intended bounty, those of the six relations not specified present themselves as still stronger.
In the instance of these comparatively distant relatives, if bound by law, the burthen of the obligation, unaccompanied as it is in their case with those matrimonial comforts which constitute the equivalent for parental burthens, is so much the harder: if not bound, the act of taking up the burthen is so much the more meritorious, and stands so much the more in need of foreign inducements to give it birth.
To give consistency to the provision by the supply of these omissions is a task which, though certainly not impracticable, would be found not unaccompanied with difficulty, and if the expediency of the provision considered in substance be liable to doubts, this difficulty will add force to them. Complication is of itself an evil, and such an evil as requires no inconsiderable mass of benefit to outweigh it.
3. Cow-Money Clause.
“LXVII. And be it further enacted, That whenever any poor person entitled to the benefit of this Act, shall want relief for himself or herself, or his or her family, and such person shall be possessed or can obtain possession of land, or is entitled unto common of pasture sufficient to maintain a cow, or other animal yielding profit, whereby such poor person by care and industry might, in addition to their other earnings, acquire a competence to maintain himself or herself, and his or her family without further parochial relief, it shall and may be lawful for any two justices of the peace in the district, on the recommendation of the persons appointed to the management of the poor in such parish or united parishes aforesaid, and of two of the visiters of the district in rotation, certifying that such person is of good character, and that, in their opinion, an advance in money for the purpose mentioned in the said certificate (and which purpose shall be set forth in the certificate of such persons appointed to the management of the said poor) might tend to increase the income of such person, and thereby ultimately tend to diminish the parochial burthens, and which certificate shall be in the form No. NA, in the Schedule hereunto annexed. And which justices are hereby authorized and empowered, on receipt of such certificate, and on due consideration, to order and direct the payment of such money in advance, as in the judgment of such justices will be necessary for the purchase of such cow or other animal, or to direct security to be given for the rent of such land, and which money so to be allowed shall not exceed what shall be necessary to increase the income of such person by the profits to arise therefrom, to the amount to which such person would be entitled to relief for himself or herself, or for his or her family.”
I now come to the cow-money clause. The benevolence which suggested this clause is expressed in the most conspicuous characters; on the question of policy, the following observations have presented themselves.
Hitherto the danger of profusion has confined itself to income: it now threatens capital. In the preceding clauses the allowances authorized, how much soever too ample, continued to be, as they are under the existing system, in the first instance occasional only, at the worst gradual, accommodated as to their rate of efflux to the influx of the fund from which alone they could be derived. Here capital is given under the very name of capital, and as a substitute to income. The pension during pleasure is instantly converted into a pension for years or during life, and that pension at the same instant bought out by a gross sum, leaving the demand for a fresh pension to recur at any time, to be again bought off, and so toties quoties. The spigot was there opened, here the bung-hole.
It would be something in the way of security, though surely not much, if the cow were but safely lodged in the cow-house of the indigent to whom the possession of her is to be an inexhaustible spring of affluence. But even this security, slender as it is, is not provided. The capital is to be advanced, not in the shape of the cow, but in the shape of hard money, with which the object of this extraordinary bounty is left perfectly at liberty to lay in a fund either in milk or gin, according to his taste.
The cow dies or is stolen, or (what is much more likely) is supposed to be stolen, being clandestinely sold to an obliging purchaser at a distance. What is to be done? “Want of relief” warranted the first cow; the same cause will necessitate a second—limit who can the succeeding series of cows: The disappearance of the first cow (it may be said) will excite suspicion; the disappearance of a second cow will strengthen suspicion; true, but upon a mere suspicion without proof will a family be left to starve? The utmost security then amounts to this, that to a certain number of successive pensions thus bought out will succeed a pension which will not be bought out.*
By donations or loans of this sort, made by gentlemen, of high amount to deserving individuals, selected from such of their tenants or dependants as have been fortunate enough to be comprised within the circle of their notice, good is said to have been done in certain instances. I make no doubt of it. Milk is a wholesome as well as pleasant beverage; milk is particularly good for children. Thirty pounds, twenty pounds, or even ten pounds, cannot but form a very comfortable accession to the property of an individual who happens at the time to be suffering under the pressure of indigence. When at his own expense a man administers charity in so large a mass, it would be extraordinary indeed if he did not pay a considerable attention to the propriety of the application of it; and should the object prove less deserving than was supposed, or the benefit less permanent than was hoped, there is at least no immediate perceptible harm done to any assignable individual. But while the hands by which the bounty is to be dealt out remain in the clouds, or were they even lying upon the table, it seems rather too much to expect equal attention, or even in general sufficient attention, when the praise and the thanks are reaped by the hands which thus disseminate the bounty, while the burthen of it rests on the shoulders of third persons.
Over and above the general love of popularity, motives of a more personal nature may intervene, and that most naturally and frequently to no such light amount. A man to all appearance wanting “relief” for “him”...“self” or his “family,” and who to all appearance “would be enabled by the advance of money for purchasing a cow” “to maintain him”...“self” and his “family” without further “parochial relief,” may, besides being to all appearance a very industrious and deserving man, have the good fortune to possess a vote. No matter what the situation, high or low—parliamentary or having nothing to do with parliament, for a county, for a borough, or for one of those situations which gives votes for boroughs. If he himself does not possess the vote, the father, or his son, or his brother, or the father or brother of his wife or sweetheart may, which may come to much the same thing. To any man thus circumstanced (and the multitude of men thus circumstanced is not likely to be small) this cow-money clause will be a matter of particular convenience. To give the value of a dinner to such a purpose might be an act of imprudence as well as a matter of expense, and as (experience has shown) might be fatal to the cause. A bounty for good votes, a bounty to the amount of £10, as we have seen, or £20, or £30, might, under favour of this clause, be given with the most perfect safety, and without a farthing expense.
It is the profusion, I must confess, that frightens me; the topic of corruption I leave to more brilliant pens. Figures of arithmetic, and not of speech, are the figures that govern me. Standing even upon this frigid ground, I can see no bounds, I must confess, to the profusion, where the incentive remaining in full force, the main checks, all the checks which preserve any tolerable uniformity of operation, are thus to be taken away.
Even the shape of the bounty seems to my unfortunate apprehension as objectionable as the quantum of it. If the £10, or the £20, or the £30, must be given, I had rather have seen the disposal of it left altogether to the dispensing hand than clogged with the condition enforced or not enforced of converting it into a cow.
1. A resource which is to supply a permanent deficiency should be permanent as that deficiency. Here the deficiency is deemed permanent, since an occasional or temporary allowance is deemed inadequate to the supply of it. The probable remainder of the life of a cow, already in a condition to yield an annuity in the shape of milk, is limited, sickness and casualties apart, to about eight years, after which she may sell for about half price.
2. A resource which is to supply a permanent deficiency should in the variations, if any, to which the amount of it is subjected or exposed, keep pace with any variation in the deficiency, or, if that cannot be, should remain constant and invariable, so as to afford a solid ground of dependence without any partial, much less total, cessation during the period that the demand continues in unabated force. But the annuity paid by a cow undergoes a necessary suspension,—frequently of four months’ continuance, never of less than two months,—average, (say) three months, or a quarter of a year.
3. A supply allotted as a resource to indigence should be of a nature rather to strengthen by exercise, than to weaken by omission or disuse, the spirit and habit of industry. A dairy of cows would do this. Attendance upon a single cow is a species of industry, if industry it can be called, which is, of anything that can bear that name, the nearest of kin to idleness.
4. In the general account of the national wellbeing nothing is gained, but a good deal lost, if Paul be stript of as much as is bestowed on Peter. Setting aside the accidental faculty of profiting by the too-little-known opportunities afforded by husbandry in its highest and freshest state of improvement—to the maintenance of a cow the possession of land will be indispensable. This land must either be land in separate ownership, or land in the state of waste, and common land. Of land in separate ownership about three acres is looked upon as necessary to the constant maintenance of a cow. Those three acres, how are they to be had? are they to be bought and given along with the cow? This the clause does not go so far as to say. Are they to be hired, and the rent paid for them?—not to mention cow-house and dairy, for which articles shifts (it may be said) will be made. Nor for this neither does the clause go so far as to make provision. The cow, then, is to be turned upon the common; but no sooner is the cow upon the common than the expiration of the annuity of at least by far the greatest part of it, five, six, or seven-eighths, is certain and near at hand. In the existing state of population on the one hand, and husbandry on the other, it is a point pretty well ascertained,—a common will afford airing ground to a milch cow, but it will not afford maintenance. It will keep the animal alive; but it will not keep alive in her the capacity of yielding milk in a quantity amounting to a resource. While the annuity is thus sinking, so is the value of the capital itself. After a year’s existence upon a common, a well-fed cow turned out in the increasing vigour of her youth will instead of gaining have lost in value.
But before the cow was turned upon the common the common was already overcharged. The common which is not already in this state it will I believe be difficult to find. The accession of this new mouth will not add to the quantity of the pasture. So much, therefore, as the owner of this cow gets, so much do the owners of other cows lose.
Capital, therefore, cannot be given in this shape without being paid for at least twice over, (even laying out of the question the certain and enormous depreciation in value:) once by the amount of the purchase-money, again by the amount of the annuity or rent charge thrown by the depreciation of the amount of the pasture upon the other commons: a depreciation equal at least to the utmost gain accruing to the commons thus favoured. If £10 then be the money paid, and £10 be the value of the cow to the individual on whom she is bestowed, £20 at least would be the loss to the community, the receiver of the bounty deducted:—£10, the clear loss to the whole community, the receiver of the bounty included.
By donations in any shape you may take a few favoured individuals out of the class of poor, and place them in the class of people of easy circumstances. But this, which is only the system of monastic charity upon a great scale, giving the beef whole instead of dealing it out in broth, is limited in its extent as well as pernicious in its effects, and in relieving present indigence sows the seed of future.
The system to be sought for is a system which shall make the supply of means keep pace with that of wants, and that by a pre-established chain of causes and effects, whatever be the rapidity or anomality of the progression. This problem has been the object of a good deal of reflection, embracing the subject in all its relations and dependencies, and the solution of it is supposed to be effected.
Consistency may be another point to be considered. While the Bill with this clause in it for the surcharging of common lands is depending, another Bill is depending, or at least in contemplation, the professed and sole object of which is the diminution of the quantity of the land thus circumstanced. The principle in the one case is, that the existence of land in this state is advantageous to the community; in the other case, that it is disadvantageous. An option between these two conflicting measures seems very requisite to be made.
The tendency of the General Enclosure Bill seems alike favourable to the interests of the rich and poor. It does, perhaps, without much seeking, all that can be done, of what appears to be sought to be done by the present Bill. Its most direct and prominent object is the giving facility to the wealthy towards the augmentation of their wealth. But at the same instant it effects with equal certainty an object of still higher amount, the raising of the wages of labour in favour of a class among the poor, and that the only one in which the wages of labour have been shown to be in many cases unavoidably inadequate to the purpose of maintenance.
I confine myself to the cow, because the cow alone occupies the foreground; there are indeed other animals in the offscape, but the species are indiscernible, and I have already plunged but too deep into the details of husbandry.
I should incline to the sow as absorbing less capital, as giving more exercise to industry, and affording a resource less precarious in its nature. But there are those that will tell me that in the government of the dairy swine are dependent upon cows; nor will the expensive beneficence of the author of this clause content itself with so inferior a resource. Looking beyond the sow I see everything or nothing. A rattle-snake is “yielding profit” to the hand that shows it, and no common is surcharged by it.
The resource presented by a loom is a permanent one: it may be rendered an unfluctuating one. A loom eats nothing; is not apt to be sick; does not sink in value by under-feeding; has no legs to be driven away upon; and is not exposed to sudden death. The working of one loom need not hinder the working of another.
A loom is but one example of a machine. But protesting against the donation of capital in any shape, protesting against the principle, I will not dive further into the mode.*
4. Relief-Extension, or Opulence-Relief Clause.
“LXVIII. And be it further enacted, That no person shall be excluded from parochial relief, or the benefit of this Act in any particular before-mentioned, on account of any real estate hereinafter-mentioned, or on account of any visible property not exceeding the value of £ NA in the whole, and of the description hereinafter mentioned, that is to say, if such property shall consist of a tenement or cottage with the appurtenances, whether such person shall hold the same or any part thereof in his or her own right, or in the right of his wife, and whether severally or as joint tenant, or as tenant in common, or shall occupy any tenement or cottage with the appurtenances, belonging to his or her lawful child or children, or the issue of such child or children being respectively part of his or her family, and whether as guardians or otherwise, of whatever value the said tenement or cottage with the appurtenances may be, and also if such property shall consist of tools or implements of trade, or household furniture, wearing apparel, or other necessaries suitable to the condition of such poor person, not exceeding in value in the whole the sum of £ NA , but that every person in the situation and condition before-mentioned, and not able from other circumstances to maintain himself or herself, or his or her family, shall be entitled to the benefit of this Act as fully and effectually as if such person was not possessed of such property as aforesaid.”
We come now to the relief-extension clause, or opulence-relief clause. In reading the above system of donations, a natural, and I am apt to think, a scarcely avoidable supposition is, that it is for the indigent, and the indigent only, that they could have been intended; whether they are really confined to the indigent, whether the field open to them be not so ample as to comprise what in the instance of people of the working class may be styled opulence is a question on which it will rest with the reader to decide.
The proviso is “that no person shall be excluded from parochial relief or any of the benefits of this Act, on account of the possession of any tenement or cottage with its appurtenances, whatever may be his or her estate or interest therein, or on account of any other visible property not exceeding in the whole the value of £30, which shall consist either of tools or implements of trade or household furniture, wearing apparel, or other necessaries suitable to the condition of such poor persons.”
Under these words, what seems tolerably clear is that a man may be worth £30 of “visible property,” (to say nothing of concealed or non-apparent property,) and still come with as irrecusable claim to the above list of pensions and donations as if he had not property to the value of a single farthing. What to myself (I must confess) is not by any means clear, is to what higher pitch the opulence may rise without striking the proprietor’s name out of the book of indigence.
Let us consider it, in the first place, as not exceeding £30. A document naturally enough to be wished for by one who would wish to form a just estimate of the effect of this clause, is a comparative statement, setting forth on one hand the number actual or probable of individuals whose property rises to the height of this minimum, on the other hand the number of those whose property falls short of it. Should the indigent list, as thus defined, be found, as I cannot help vehemently suspecting it would be found, to include a vast majority of the good people of England, five, six, or seven millions for example, the system of home provision, as thus explained, would be found (I much fear) to amount to a plan for throwing the parish upon the parish.
The nature of the process by which the mass of national wealth is accumulated was (I doubt) not sufficiently considered in the formation of this Bill. To judge by this clause in particular, it looks as if certain hypotheses somewhat of kin to the following had been assumed—that wealth is the gift of nature, not the fruit of industry; that every human creature, male as well as female, comes into the world with £30 in its pocket; and that this sum is what it belongs to the government to guarantee to every man the undiminished possession of against misfortune and imprudence, as it guarantees to him the possession of his two arms and his two legs against the attacks of injury.
The apprehension of doing undesigned injustice to the intentions of the Bill is an apprehension that pursues me through the whole tenor of it, but really I know of no means of coming at the intention of an instrument, unless it be through the words. Judging of it, then, from the words, £30 is the mass of property which every person without exception may it is supposed possess, and yet be in a state of indigence: in a state so low, so much below the natural state of man, as ought not to be suffered to continue. This minimum, the guarantee we see thus made of it, is not confined to families collectively taken; it is not confined to heads of families; it extends to every human being whatsoever, having a family or none, living under the head of a family, or living by himself. A head of a family may have his own £30,—£300 may be the amount of the family estate, and all the while the family hanging on the parish.
If consistency be an object in legislation, it may be worth while to compare this intended pauper relief with the Pauper Law Relief Act of Geo. I., which exempts, or seeks to exempt persons, whose circumstances fall below a certain pitch of supposed indigence, from the sort of general outlawry in which that proportion of the people stands involved; against which the weight of the expense, howsoever heaped together, has shut the doors of justice. Five pounds is the sum assigned in that case, £30 (not to say £300) is the sum assigned in the present case; according to this proportion it will be matter of some curiosity to observe how much easier a man will find it to get other people’s money than his own, and how many there will be in possession of the former faculty, while they stand excluded from the latter.
That it is by no means clear that under this clause the specified sum of £30 is the highest which a man might retain of his own while he was maintained at the charge of others, has been already hinted; and the more closely the clause is scrutinized into, the greater the difficulty of ascertaining the real limit will appear.
My doubt is, in the first place, whether in the computation of the visible property the moveable is, or is not, to be added to the immoveable; whether the words “in the whole,” are meant to be confined to the “other visible property,” or to be extended to the tenement or “cottage.” That they were not meant to extend to the tenement or cottage, and that therefore a man may, without standing excluded from any of these bounties, be possessed of £30 worth of visible moveable property in addition to the fee-simple of a cottage, may be thus argued.
From the word “appurtenances,” it may be inferred that the cottage may have more or less land annexed to it, especially when it is considered that under the cow-money clause, it is intended a man shall keep a cow. But even without land, 40s. or even 50s. a-year is but an ordinary rent, but an ordinary annual value, for a cottage; and as in the instance of immoveable property, small concerns (coming within the reach of a greater proportion of purchasers) are apt to sell for more years’ purchase than large ones, twenty years’ purchase upon 40s. a-year, that is £40, may be taken for rather a low estimate. Allow but the £30 for the value of the dwelling, this will not leave a farthing for the furniture, tools, clothes, and other necessaries. It does not seem to accord with the views manifested in this Bill, that the property of the cottage a man lives in, altogether unaccompanied with any other necessary, should debar altogether from a share in the bounty so liberally bestowed, when the annual value of the house is no more than the ordinary rent of the abodes of the worst paid class of labourers.
But if the value of the cottage is not to be included in the £30, it is then to be added to the £30; £40 worth of immoveable property upon a low estimate may thus be added to £30 of immoveable property, and the possessor not excluded by this £70 from the right of obtaining cows, supplemental wages, and pensions, on the plea of indigence.
The pursuit of the strict rules of grammar might raise up other difficulties in abundance, on the ground of this single clause: but this specimen may suffice.
The more conspicuous the spirit of humanity that shines through every clause, the more sincerely one regrets to see it in such straits. What seems to have led the author of the Bill into the difficulty in the present instance, is the often painted, and always melancholy, picture of an industrious family, reduced by blameless misfortune from a state of comfort and independence to a state, perhaps, of confinement, at any rate of wretched dependence, from which a small relief, if administered in time, might have rescued them; dependence on scanty and, in point of quantity, precarious charity, confinement to the idleness, and discomfort, and ignominy of an ordinary poor-house,—Come in and give up your all, or stay out and starve; such is the harsh though unavoidable alternative presented by poor-house charity in the existing state of things; an alternative the more excruciating when the all thus to be given up for a mess of pottage is (as it sometimes will be found to be) the sad remnant of fallen opulence, sufficient at one time to place its possessor above the necessity of manual labour.
This is one of the many cases in which compassion is as laudable, as in a feeling heart, it is unavoidable. But compassion is one thing; relief, efficacious and unmischievous relief, a very different thing: the one may be always bestowed and in any quantity; the other should never be attempted to be bestowed, especially at the expense of the community, and upon a scale extending over the whole community, till after the strictest and most comprehensive inquiry whether the undertaking lies within the sphere of practicability, and whether the removal of the evil, if possible, be not inseparably connected with the introduction of still heavier and more extensive, though less permanent and immediate, evils. We commiserate Darius, we commiserate Lear, but it is not in the power of parishes to give kingdoms. To banish not only indigence but dependence, it would be necessary to banish not only misfortune but improvidence. To guarantee to every man a subsistence is practicable and practised; to guarantee to every man the perpetuity of his station in the scale of opulence would be altogether impracticable, the very attempt mischievous and perseverence ruinous.
What seems not to have been sufficiently considered is, that betwixt the absolute refusal of relief and the exaction of the absolute surrender of permanent property, in return for transient relief, there is a medium, which is the granting the relief to the extent of the property on the footing of a loan. This middle course, the only feasible one, the only unpernicious one, is practicable, for it is practised. A mode of practising it, and practising it without expense, forms one leading feature of the large-establishment system in the shape and magnitude herein-above supposed.
Meantime, although it were regarded as an established point that cottages, any more than kingdoms, cannot by the hand of public charity be secured against decline, let us not conclude that the misfortune is altogether beyond the relief of remedy. It is in this quarter of the region of distress that we may behold a part of the extensive field in which private charity, as well as domestic friendship, may exercise and feast itself without prejudice either to industry or justice; nor let it remain unheeded that so long as there is propriety or even established character, with but a tolerable prospect of repayment, if no assisting hand can be obtained either from domestic connexion, from neighbourly intimacy, from special patronage, or from wide-spreading though private charity, the presumption, though not absolutely conclusive, is at any rate not weak, not only that extraordinary merit, but that ordinary good conduct, has been wanting; and that the pangs of falling prosperty are but the just and useful punishment of improbity or improvidence.
Thus stands the account of the mischief, the apprehension of which has been excited by the view of the destined amendments to the existing system of out-allowances. What possible good can arise out of those amendments in any instance, I must confess myself unable to conceive. Under the existing system indigence does actually receive such, and, taken in the lump, at least as much relief as is necessary. The plan of distribution remaining untouched, what was the task that could remain for these amendments? Either to do nothing, or to administer relief where it is not necessary.
Against the system of out-allowances (setting aside these objections on the score of economy and industry, which have been urged by way of objection to the system itself) the great and general complaint, as far as I have had occasion to observe, is, not that it is insufficient, but that it should be necessary; that is, that many industrious hands should be continually thrown upon the parish, (as the phrase is,) who ought (as certainly they ought, if possible) to be enabled to maintain themselves without being subjected to any such degrading obligation. But the keeping them from thus falling upon the parish is what the Bill neither does, nor so much as professes to do. So far from it, as far as it does anything, it throws them there, it throws them in greater numbers; it throws them with greater weight. The grievance is that the industrious poor should be so liable to be indigent, that the independent hand should be so liable to fall into dependence. Whether the cure be possible is another question; but be that as it may the Bill does not attempt it.
What I had all along been considering as a point understood to have been established, was the inferiority of the wages of husbandry as compared with those of other labour. What I had in consequence understood to have been the object of the Bill, as far as out-allowances are concerned, was to confine the bounty to the class which presents the title to it. But unless the benefit of the cow-money clause be thus confined, (which it can only be by forced implication, for there are no words of limitation, to perform the office,) I can see no branch of the bounty to which working hands in general have not a claim as irrecusable as any that can be made by this particular, though not very ample class: all are equally invited, none excepted; manufacturers, handicraftsmen, even domestic servants, and others, the high paid and pampered inhabitants of large towns.
If necessity (it may be said) be equal, no matter what the class. True, but in any other class necessity is not equal; at the same time that in every class, “the full rate or wages,” (whatever be the class and whatever be the rate,) the full rate or wages, be the work worth anything or nothing, is guaranteed by the Bill to every hand without exception, which with ever so little good-will or fruit will set itself to work. The bounties it provides are bestowed (for anything that appears) not only upon the worst paid classes, but upon every better paid class, up to the best paid. And upon these the quantum of the bounty it bestows is not a quantity limited by that which is necessary, but a superfluous quantity rising up to the height of the highest pitch of superfluity which the earnings of the best paid class are capable of furnishing. It relieves them not according to the measure of their necessities, nor according to the quantity of relief they really want, but according to the “full rate or wages usually given,”—given one knows not to whom, unless to them; in a word, according to the means they have had in their hands of placing themselves above the necessity and above the bounty.
5. Apprenticeship Clause.
“XL. And be it further enacted, That all poor children, who shall at any time have received employment under or by virtue of this Act, and shall obtain a certificate of his or her good behaviour during the time of such employment from the person or persons appointed to the management of the poor of any parish or united parishes, with the consent of two of the visiters of the district in rotation, and confirmed by the guardian of the poor for the county or division, shall be entitled to be put out as apprentices or hired servants by the person or persons appointed to the management of the said poor, with such rewards as hereinafter mentioned, by writing under their hands, according to the Form No. NA and No. NA in the Schedule hereunto annexed, or to that or the like effect; and that every male child of the age of fourteen years, and every female child of the age of twelve years, or at an earlier age if it shall be thought fit, may be bound apprentice to any reputable person in Great Britain, to be taught any art, trade, mystery, or occupation, or any handicraft business or manufacture, which they are respectively fit for, for any term not exceeding seven years, and so that the term of such apprenticeship shall not endure beyond the age of twenty-one years for male children, and of nineteen years for female children, and in any employment of husbandry for such time not less than three years for such child or children respectively, and as the major part of the persons hereby authorized to bind such apprentices shall think most suited to the circumstances of such respective child or children, or until such child or children respectively shall attain the ages, if a male, of twenty-one years, or, being a female, of nineteen years; or such persons respectively may, if they shall think the strength or capacity of any male child or children suited thereto, cause him or them to be employed and bound as apprentices in the sea service for the time and in manner aforesaid, and according to the laws in force for binding poor apprentices to the sea service; and that every writing made in pursuance of this Act shall be as binding as an indenture between the master, mistress, and apprentice, and the guardian of the poor for the county or division confirming the same, and his successors; and shall in all respects have the same effect, and operate as an indenture for apprenticing poor children, whose parents are not able to provide for them, made and executed in conformity to any of the laws now in force relating thereto, and shall be enforced in like manner by the guardian of the poor for the county or division for the time being, according to the directions of this Act herein given, with relation to any property belonging to any parish in such county or division. And all and every child or children, of the respective ages before-mentioned, or at an earlier age if it shall be thought fit, may be hired to any reputable householder or husbandman in Great Britain by such persons as aforesaid, with such allowance of the visiters as before is mentioned, to be domestic or menial servants in husbandry, housewifery, or otherwise, for any term not less than one year, or until such child or children shall respectively attain their ages, if male, of twenty-one years, or, if a female, of nineteen years, or until marriage, at such competent rate of wages as shall be in that behalf agreed upon; and at the end or other expiration of such hiring, may be taken into employment in the said school or schools of industry, or otherwise, under the authority of this Act, or may be again hired for such term as aforesaid, and so from time to time, until they shall respectively arrive at such ages as aforesaid. And that, upon every such binding or hiring as aforesaid, the persons joining in such contracts, on the behalf of such poor apprentices or servants, shall take care that they shall be sufficiently clothed and maintained according to their respective wants and conditions, and that the wages (if any) to be paid to them shall be paid to or laid out for the use and benefit of such child or children: and the said person having authority to join in making such contracts may, with such consent as aforesaid, pay out of the funds provided for the relief of the poor by virtue of this Act, or any the laws now in force, such reasonable fee or consideration for the binding out of such poor apprentices as they shall deem necessary; and may also provide such poor child or children, so bound out as apprentices or hired as servants, with such suitable clothing as shall be necessary, at the expense of the parish or united parishes, and as a reward for the good behaviour of such child or children during their said employment in such school or schools of industry, or other places aforesaid, in which they shall have been employed before the commencement of such apprenticeship or hiring as aforesaid; and that such fee or consideration so paid or contracted for, or such suitable clothing so provided, shall not be charged or chargeable with any stamp duty whatever.”
By this clause every child of a certain description is declared to be entitled to be put out as an apprentice or hired servant, with certain advantages not specified.
This clause being but a frame, and the picture not hung up (but why not hung up?) a criticism on the picture may appear chargeable with precipitation.
Reasoning under this disadvantage, what occurs to me on the subject is as follows:—In the matter of apprenticeship, three points may be distinguished; the legal subjection during the continuance of the relation thus contracted—the exclusive privileges attached to that relation by a particular law in a numerous class of instances—and the comparative rank in life it confers in a still more extensive class of instances as compared with the condition of an unprivileged hand occupied in ordinary labour.
1. Of the utility of the legal subordination my conception is the same with that which stands apparent on the face of the bill. Conceiving of it as calculated to operate in a certain degree as a source of instruction, and in a yet higher degree in the still more important function of a security for good behaviour, every accession to the number of the instances of its existence presents itself to me in the shape of a public benefit.
2. As an instance of the monopoly in trade, I know of but one opinion relative to it—oppression, in the instance of the individuals excluded from the occupation thus engrossed—excessive earnings, in the instance of the partakers of the privilege; whence the alternation of penury with excessive plenty in a rank of life where sensual excesses supply the demand for occupation in a vacant mind:—enhancement of prices in every article connected with the subject-matter of the monopoly:—such appear to be the consequences to the several parties interested—to individuals excluded, individuals favoured, and the community at large.
3. As a source of exaltation, so long as the superiority it confers is confined to that which is the natural result of the improvement and augmentation of natural powers, the situation presents nothing but what appears to be the unavoidable consequence of any such improvement—a consequence beneficial, perhaps, in some points of view, pernicious in none: but so far from being either necessary or useful, it seems pernicious, to wit, on the accounts just mentioned, if in any respect it be the result of coercive law. But this property is what may be attributed to it in either of two cases; if a man be excluded from the situation by a direct prohibition to engage in it, or if public money be employed to pay a man for helping a boy to get into it; in the one case the coercion takes the shape of restraint, in the other case of compulsion; in the one case the monopoly is a direct one, in the other case an indirect one, produced by an addition made to the general mass of taxes.
Considered as confined to the lowest, that is, the lowest paid class of working hands, I see an uncertain chance of improvement, in point of morality, to be bought at a certain expense. I am not disposed to underrate morality, but in the present instance I am not able to obtain what to me appears a requisite assurance that the chance purchased will be worth the price. In the instance of each apprentice thus taken in consideration of so much public money, I want sufficient means of assuring myself in relation to both of two points; that an apprentice would not have been taken without the money, and that the portion of morality paid for by the money will be worth it. In the first case, the business seems exposed to the following dilemma: if the fee be small, it will not be sufficient to turn the scale; it will produce no more apprenticeships than would have been produced without it: if it be large, it opens a proportionably wide door to profusion and abuse. In the second case, the fee, large or small, holds out to improper hands a temptation, which without it does not exist. He who takes the apprentice without money can propose to himself no other advantage than what is to be derived from the service; and thence the instruction, employment, and morality of the apprentice. He who takes the apprentice with and for money, may have employment for the money without having any for the apprentice.
All this while, let it not be forgotten, there are existing laws under which the taking of apprentices, in the employment in question, without money, is compellable, and which are more or less enforced. Hence a source of complaint and jealousy and injustice, real or imagined, while one man in a parish is compelled to do for nothing that which another man is paid for.
Under these doubts, though really they are but doubts, with regard to the value of the purchase, the vis inertiæ would, I think, if it depended on me, be sufficient to keep the money in my pocket, especially while there are so many purchases to be made with it, the value of which is beyond doubt; among which the purchase of so much security in respect of property, as is constituted by the leaving the money in the pockets of the contributors, ought not to be forgotten.
To judge of the clear benefit resulting from this or that application of a sum of money, compare the gross benefit with the mischief of the most mischievous tax—for instance, the taxes operating in prohibition of justice. This test I consider as a principle in finance, and it is, for aught I know, a new one:—of the expenditure that will abide it, the utility ought, it should seem, to stand pretty clear of doubt.
If the occupations into which it is proposed to force hands by public money be of the high paid class, the question of the expediency of the provision presents itself under a different shape. If the individual thus forced into apprenticeship in this class by dint of the fee be one more than would have existed in the class without the fee, this addition, as far as its influence extends, goes to the reduction of the monopoly, and tends accordingly, though in a microscopic degree, to the diminution of the mischiefs of it. If, on the contrary, he makes no addition to the number of the sharers in the monopoly, but only occupies the place of some other individual, who, but for the fee would have occupied it, then no effect is produced, but the throwing away of so much money.
Reasons for apprehending that the addition upon the whole may be rather apparent than real, are not wanting. This expedient for forcing hands into the class of employment in question has no tendency to increase the quantity of employment in the species of employments belonging to that class: its real tendency is of the opposite kind, to send hands to the employment, not employment to the hands. But viewing the whole mass of employment, of the species in question, in the lump, while the demand for the work—for the produce of the employment—is not increased, no fresh hand can be forced into the employment in question without forcibly keeping some other out of it. The individual who would thus have been kept out, in any instance, by force of the bounty—the individual who but for this bounty would have been received into this extra paid and superior class—is more likely to be one belonging to that same class than one belonging to the inferior class. For no reason can be assigned why the superior class should not in the way of natural increase be as capable of keeping up its numbers as the inferior class; and the offspring of the superior class has better opportunity of an introduction into his own superior class than is likely to fall to the share of a member of the inferior class.
If this then be the case, it seems to follow that as often as the child of the labourer or impoverished tradesman thus gets a lift, the consequence is, that some other child of a tradesman, by finding the condition of the tradesman shut against him, must receive a fall.
Let me not be understood as pleading in favour of any forced system of casts; all I contend for is a system of equal and unexpensive liberty. Where no partitions are set up or kept up by the hand of law, good fortune and merit on the one hand, ill fortune and improvidence on the other, will keep up every degree of mixture which the interests of hope and industry can require.
The conclusion seems to be, that in this instance, as in the other, no advantage is near so certain as the expense.
If the bargain,—natural advantages and bounty taken together—be worth making, candidates for a share in it are not likely on either part—on the part of master or apprentice—to be wanting. The individuals it lies open to are “every child who shall at any time have received employment by virtue of this Act, and shall obtain a certificate of his or her good behaviour during the time of such employment, according to the form, No. (NA) in the schedule annexed.” If then £5, for example, be the apprentice fee, £5 may be the price of a day’s service. While a patron exists in whose judgment a douceur of this kind, whatever may be the amount of it, may be worth the acceptance of an obsequious client, howsoever it be with other manufactures, the manufacture of apprentices need not stagnate. Whether an article of this sort be worth throwing into any such fund as the election fund, is a question that must wait its answer till the picture above spoken of has been inserted into its as yet vacant frame.
The facility thus provided might have been regarded and intended in either of two lights: in the light of a distinction or reward, or in the light of a general benefit. In either case it may have been regarded as an instrument of morality, though exercising its operation at a different period in the two cases: in the one case, at the period previous to the apprentice-contract, acting upon the individuals concerned in the quality of candidates for the advantage; in the other case, at the period subsequent to the formation of the contract, acting upon them in the quality of persons subject to the powers conferred by the contract.
In which of these two lights it was considered is what I do not clearly see: the question is not altogether immaterial: for the purposes do not exactly harmonize, at least in the quantity of expense they call, for there is a considerable difference; in the one way the magnitude of the benefit is in the direct ratio, in the other in the inverse ratio of the numbers on whom it is conferred. The facility of admission being so great, the attainment of the advantage being so easy, it follows that unless the facility were the result of inadvertence, the direct general benefit rather than the indirect one resulting from the operation of the distinction in the character of a reward, was the object principally in view; for the certificate of general good behaviour being a matter of course, unless where some very flagrant and special instance of ill-behaviour can be proved, can scarcely be considered as drawing any other than an accidental line.
The difference between the quantity of money that may be requisite in the two cases is such as may render this point, minute as it may seem, worth settling. Call the average number of parishes in an union five; this for the 10,000 parishes in England (Wales included) makes 2000 unions. Annual average number of boys and girls capable of being put out apprentices in each union, suppose ten, 20,000 in the whole. Annual total amount of apprentice-fees at £5, £100,000; at £10, £200,000.
Suppose distinction and reward to be the object rather than immediate and universal benefit, then instead of the five, one apprenticeship for each five in the course of the year will (let us say) suffice: in this way the expense would he reduced from the £100,000, or the £200,000 to £20,000 or £40,000.
The refusal of the certificate will be a stigma: fewer or more, what is to become of the individuals thus stigmatized? Who will give them employment? Who will have anything to do with them that can help it? They who have been thus pronounced unfit either for apprenticeship or service? Those for whose good behaviour security is most wanted, these are they in whose instances the security is refused. Once more, what should we say to that pharmacopæia which, for those who are in good health, should provide aurum potabile, and other expensive drugs; but for those who are sick, nothing? whether found sick, or made sick by it as here.
The considerations thus brought under review will be apt to appear minute and somewhat vague; but that the utility of a provision should turn upon considerations to which those epithets are applicable, and that too a provision by which public money is scattered without being weighed or counted,—is not that a circumstance sufficient of itself to present the provision in a questionable shape?
Is the supposition above made of the ten apprenticeable youths per union to be regarded as a reasonable one? This is but one out of a multitude of arithmetical questions all equally pertinent, which may have presented themselves in crowds under this as well as every other of the clauses touched upon. For all such questions, I must confess myself to have but one answer—utter ignorance. The blame, however, if I may venture to say as much, lies not with this humble comment, but with the text, which, while heaping up so immense a mass of bounty, knows nothing of the numbers of those by the number of which that bounty is to be multiplied, nor consequently of the expense.
General Remarks on Home Provision.
The grant of this indulgence is limited, it is true, to the case of a man’s being “a person entitled to the benefit of this Act,” but how this point is to be ascertained is a matter which I am much inclined to believe will be found beyond the comprehension of those who are to judge—it most certainly is beyond mine—and, in the meantime, the family must not be left to starve.
But for all those bounties a fund, it may be said, is provided, and that an ample one, the fund arising from the whole stock of as yet unemployed ability, now for the first time to be turned to use.
To this I feel myself compelled to make two answers: one is, that I doubt the real produce of this stock when put in motion will turn out to be little or nothing, to say no worse; another is, that, be it ultimately what it may, it cannot for a long time be in readiness to honour the drafts thus largely made upon it.
On the first of these points I shall have occasion to touch separately; the other is more particularly to the purpose here.
The impediments to the union of profit with relief-employment, and thence all profit to be drawn from employment on the one hand, and relief and the distribution of the bounties on the other, are these:—
1st. That the distribution of the bounties is to commence at the very commencement of the Act, viz. on the 10th of July in the present year. But, by section 10, it is not till after the 29th September following that the first link in the long and complicated chain of causes and effects, on which the commencement of the means of employment is to depend, can be begun upon; a work which, where it finds willingness on the part of the great variety of persons whose co-operation is necessary, can scarcely do otherwise than take up years; and which in those districts in which there is any want of such necessary co-operation will, so long as such want continues, not be begun upon at all.
Meantime the distribution of the bounties is running on full swing, for immediately “from and after the commencement of the Act” as aforesaid, it begins as soon as “any father” is “entitled to the benefit thereof according to the provisions hereinafter-mentioned.”
For the purpose of entitling a man to the benefit of the Act there is nothing anywhere specified, from the beginning to the end of the Act, unless it be the qualification of wanting relief, the qualification spoken of in the 16th section; nor yet to disentitle a man, but the act of refusing employment or instruction, the disqualification specified in section 21. On such refusal a man is made to stand precluded not only from the “benefit of the Act;” in short, not at all from the benefit of the Act by name, but from relief itself, from every species and degree of relief whatever.
But till a man has made the refusal in question the disqualification does not take place, and till tender shall have been made refusal cannot have taken place. But tender of employment cannot be made till the means of employment exist; that is, till the establishment for affording employment has been set upon its legs. The only assignable disqualification then cannot take place in any district till nobody can say when, while the only assignable qualification, the wanting relief, exists in itself already, and exists in the shape of a qualification under the Act, as soon as the Act itself comes into existence—that is, on the 10th of July next.
Another circumstance that stands in the way of the coincidence between disbursement and supply is the impracticability of performing the condition on which the bounties are made to depend, viz. the acceptance of the instruction and employment, an impracticability that will be found to take place in many cases. That the children are not to be lodged in the schools in which they are to work seems pretty clear; that the adults are to be lodged in any such common dwelling does not appear. The districts, though not upon anything like what I have termed the large-establishment scale, will, so it seems, consist of a considerable number of parishes laid together. The greater the number of parishes that may come to be laid together, the greater the distance between the school wheresoever situated, and the houses of the greatest part of the number of the scholars, who are to be of all ages from five years upwards. Here then comes a sort of dilemma.
If the district is small, the expenses necessitated by those parts of the establishment, of which the expense is incapable of diminution, will be so great as to cut out every possible profit that could be made out of the earnings of so small a number of working hands. If the district is large, whether from the proportion of the time consumed on the journey to and fro, or from inability to perform it, or inability on the part of the parents or managers to enforce the performance of it, the labour of a great part of the intended scholars will be out of the reach of being collected.
The exclusion thus put by distance in the instance of infancy is co-extensive, it is evident, with the inability, whatever be the source.
But wherever the performance of the condition meant to be annexed to the receipt of the bounty is or is deemed impracticable, and that without any supposed fault on the part of the intended object of the bounty, the condition sinks of course, and the bounty stands alone.
After what has been said on topics of so much more weight, a hint of this topic will probably be deemed sufficient; to follow it up and apply it in the way of calculation would be matter of some difficulty, and occupy more space than can be allotted to it here.
A third reason is, that from the mode of payment a large proportion of the hands must be fully paid, while their work is worth nothing, so far from being worth enough to pay for its own charges. The mode of payment prescribed, and prescribed without limitation or exception, is payment by the piece. I do not say that this is not the best mode of payment in many instances, perhaps in by far the greatest number of instances; but in some instances it is impracticable, because the degree of advance made in quantity of work done is unsusceptible of mensuration; in other instances it is apt to be disadvantageous, on account of the difficulty of ascertaining the goodness and quality of what is done, and in proportion to the difficulty of ascertaining quality will be the certainty of bad work; and work may in many instances be so bad, as not only to afford no profit but to destroy the value of the materials. But in all instances there will be a certain period, the period of instruction, during which, with all imaginable diligence and honesty on the part of the workmen, the work will be worth nothing. But while the work is acquiring its value the workman must live, and will be made to live. Accordingly, by section 19, if “the sum allotted for the support and maintenance” of the family, whether under the name of wages, earnings, or allowances, proves deficient, the deficiency is to be made up. Payment by time, instead of the piece, will then take place in the first instance through necessity, and, having taken root, the interest which idleness will give a man in its continuance will render it not very easy to eradicate. I do not dispute but that it may in most instances be eradicated under a proper system of regulations and inducements adapted to the nature of the case; all I mean is, that I see no great probability of the growth of any such good economy, under the auspices or rather the rod of a system of legislation, which after enacting that, practicable or not practicable, the working hands, that they may do so much the more work, shall be paid according to what they do, enacts, in the same breath, that they shall go on for an indefinite time, receiving whatsoever may be thought proper to allow them under the name of maintenance, although what they do shall continue to be worth nothing; and this without so much as the inconvenience of quitting their own homes.
Had the application been left to individual discretion, a hint, coming from so high a quarter, might as a hint have been of no small use; but the precept being thus peremptory and unbending, its tendency would rather be to bring the principle into discredit than to promote the use of it.
Essay on the question,—Who are the persons for whom the several bounties provided by this Bill are intended?
When a system of bounties so various in its appearance, so vast in its magnitude, and in its apparent burthensomeness to the public so formidable, is provided, a natural question is, Who are the persons destined to partake of it? The answer I must confess myself unable to give: had I been able, it is the answer I should have given, not this essay, or, rather, as the question would have been needless, the question would not have been started.
“The benefit of the Act:”—the word benefit, as employed with reference either to the Act in general, or to some part of its contents, occurs either in the singular or the plural number in nine sections: in five of them (1, 2, 3, 19, 20) in the singular; on which five occasions such of the effects of the Act as are considered as being of a beneficial nature are considered as comprising one entire undistributed, undiversified mass of benefit: in two others in the plural (sections 4, 17); and in the two remaining ones the benefits spoken of are spoken of as resulting from particular provisions therein mentioned, and not as resulting from the entire body of the Act. In neither of these two sections, therefore, is to be found the benefit of the Act. The first time the phrase occurs, which is at the very opening of the Act, a sort of promise is made to give the elucidation here sought: “Any father entitled to the benefit thereof,” viz. of this Act, “according to the provisions hereinafter mentioned.” The accomplishment of this promise, if it be one, is unfortunately forgotten. Provisions there are enough which speak of this benefit, which allude to it, which, like this provision, speak of it as indicated, but there are none that indicate it.
Had the task been mine, having settled with myself who the persons were whom it was my view to benefit, my first care I must confess would have been either to have found or to have made for them a name. This name, and no other, is the name I should have called them by as often as occasion recurred for speaking of them.
Having fixed a name for them, little should I think of discarding that name for any circumlocution, much less a circumlocution so enigmatical as that contained in the words, “the persons entitled to the benefit of this Act:” a designation of this sort may be pleasant in a riddle; but, whether pleasant or no, is certainly not profitable in an Act of Parliament.
If it seemed to me a fit occasion for a riddle, I should, at any rate, think it incumbent on me to give the key to it; and, how little soever conformable it be to the usage of riddles, I would give the key along with the riddle in the first instance. I would say, the persons entitled to the benefit of this Act are such and such persons. But it is evident how much better it would be to say, simply, such and such persons at once, leaving the benefit to speak for itself. To state who the persons are who are intended to be bound by an Act is matter of necessity—of equal necessity and facility, because when new obligations are meant to be imposed, if nobody is bound by them, nothing is done. But to state and discriminate who the parties intended to be benefited by it are, is, perhaps, never a necessary task, and would seldom be found an altogether easy one. The very existence of benefit in any shape may be problematical; and, supposing it ever so undisputed, the wider it is in its extent, and the more pregnant in its consequences, the more difficult it is to trace. Should the benefits of this Act prove such as the benevolence of the authors of it has been expecting to see, and such as the author of this essay on it would most sincerely wish to see result from it, the more rich the benefit, the more difficult to discriminate. Of this Act it might truly be said as is said by the poet of, I forget what else,—
So diversified, so extensive, so lasting, so prolific, the benefit, it would be difficult to say whether rich or poor, old or young, enjoyed the largest share of it.
But little as it seems necessary in the text of an Act to make mention of its benefits, what seems indispensably necessary is to state, and that in the clearest terms, who the persons are who may be considered as entitled to such of the benefits or supposed benefits of it for which there is anything to be done: in other words, how a man may know whether he is or is not entitled to whatever he may be disposed to claim under the notion of its being a benefit; and, consequently, if anything for that purpose is to be done, what that is which becomes thus requisite to be done.
The necessity of being thus explicit will appear the more indispensable when it is considered out of what description of persons those for whom the most immediate and largest share of the benefit appears to be intended are to come—the class of all others to and for whom information of every kind is most wanting and most necessary. In such mouths a most natural, and surely not altogether an unreasonable, question is, If the writer knew which of us he meant, why did he not tell us, and if he did not, could he expect that we should?
Whatever situation in life be considered, that of the poor or lowly who are to receive the main benefit of the Act, or that of the exalted or magistrates who are to dispense them—of this, as of every other Act, all and singular the benefits depend upon its being understood, and its being understood depends upon its being intelligible.
Whatever is given in such abundance by the Act—head-money for children—supplemental wages, in default of ability and industry—cow-money—is expressly confined to those who are entitled to the benefit of the Act. Who are they? I don’t know. Where is it said who the persons are that are to be considered as entitled to this benefit? Nowhere.
In five of the Sections, as we have seen (Sections 1, 2, 3, 19, and 20,) the beneficial result of the Act is spoken of as one undiversified, indivisible, or, at least, undivided mass, and then the persons in question, the persons alluded to, are spoken of as entitled to it, viz. to the whole of it, insomuch that nobody who has any part of it can have, or at least is intended to have, less than the whole of it.
In two other Sections (4 and 17) benefits in a countless, or at least uncounted, multitude are spoken of as flowing from the Act; and now a man may have some of them without having others. By Section 4, “no person shall be excluded from parochial relief or any of the benefits of this Act” on any of the accounts there specified.
By Section 17, employment and instruction—employment and instruction, two most desirable benefits, are destined for certain persons. But, to come in for his share of the benefits, it is expressly provided that a man must be “entitled to all the benefits of this Act.” Before he can have these two, or either of them, he must take out his title to every other. Before he can obtain the smallest particle either of employment or of instruction, this vacant, this neglected, this uninstructed, this altogether unfurnished mind must possess a degree of instruction—I fear to state it—a degree of instruction, with respect I speak it, such as does not appear to be possessed by even the legislator himself—a degree of instruction (I much fear) beyond the power of any man that lives. He must have comprehended the Act; comprehended it in all its parts, traced it through all its consequences, investigated and catalogued without exception “all its benefits;” and this as an operation preliminary to the inquiry whether it be his good fortune to be entitled to any the smallest share in so rich a prize.
Confessing myself not possessed of anything like the degree of instruction exacted with so little mercy of the forlorn objects of the intended bounty, I will endeavour, to the best of my ability, to make out the list of these benefits.
I. Articles which in themselves would appear to be entitled to be comprehended under the list of benefits, though not expressly characterized by that appellation, but rather expressly excluded out of it.
1. Benefit of receiving head-money for supernumerary children.
2. Benefit of receiving supplemental wages at the public charge, in addition to such wages as individuals will give.
3. Benefit of receiving cow-money—money to buy a cow—Section 3. This is, however, expressly mentioned as neither constituting the benefit of the Act, nor so much as any part of it; since the being “entitled to the benefit of the Act” is mentioned as one of two conditions which must concur in order to give a man his chance for receiving this species of bounty. The same observation is equally applicable to both those other clauses.
In one sentence our inquirer might be tempted, for a moment, to fancy himself on the point of possessing the object of his wishes,—but disappointment would be the termination of his hopes. In Section 68, after providing that “no person shall be excluded from parochial relief, or any of the benefits of this Act, on account of the possession of” certain property therein described, it goes on and adds, “but that every person in the situation and condition before-mentioned, and not able, from other circumstances, to maintain him or herself, or his or her family, shall be entitled to all the benefits of this Act.” Absolutely? If this be the case, then, the problem is solved. Is it, then, absolutely? Alas! no; but comparatively only, Section 68, “as fully and effectually as if such person was not possessed of such property as aforesaid.” Property, or no property, so the property be not above the mark, a man will be equally entitled to these benefits: but still the question remains unanswered, What must I do to be entitled?
If this concluding reference had not put out the light which for a moment appeared to show itself, the introductory one would have done the business,—would have been sufficient to render the obscurity equally impenetrable. To be entitled to all the benefits of the Act, it is necessary a man should be in the situation and condition above-mentioned: and in travelling over the three preceding sections to see what that situation and condition is, it appears to be the situation and condition of him who is entitled to the benefit of the Act. Who, then, is a person entitled to the benefit of the Act? Who? why a person entitled to the benefit of the Act.
In one place (Section 16) a case is mentioned in which a certain class of persons therein specified may receive certain advantages therein specified; and a sort of person therein also specified “shall,” (it is said,) with the consent of two other persons therein specified, (two justices of the peace in the district,) “take order for” the administering to them these benefits. This, though something like light, and the most like it of anything that is to be found in the whole compass of the Bill, is not, however, that light. The advantages there spoken of are special in their nature, the description of them being contained in, and confined within that single clause; neither are they spoken of under the name of benefits. They are benefits, if to be instructed, and employed, and maintained, are benefits: but they are not therein spoken of under the name of benefits; much less as the benefits comprising the benefit of the Act.
If they were, we might cry with Archimedes, ευϱηϰα, we have found it: for to these benefits the statement of the title is as explicit as could be wished. Who are the persons entitled to these benefits?—Answer, All persons wanting relief. If these were the same persons as those alluded to by the expression, any person entitled to the benefit of this Act, with what advantage, in point of brevity as well as precision, might the former expression have been substituted to this latter.
If, then, it be really the case that by the words “every person entitled to the benefit of this Act,” is meant neither more nor less than “all persons wanting relief,” the secret is out,—the mystery is unravelled. But if all persons wanting relief are really to be let in, why are they to be thus muffled up? why all this pains to put them in masquerade? Throwing away the surplusage about benefits and titles, why not say simply, “All persons wanting relief;” or even more simply still, “all persons;” for if relief is to be had in such quantity, and on such terms, it may be difficult to say who it is that will not be “wanting” it. The adjunct wanting relief, may be the more easily spared and added to the heap of discarded surplusage, inasmuch as if a man wants relief it is intended he should have it, and if he does not want it he will not ask for it.
Unfortunately we are still at sea. The hope of a safe landing, though at such an expense of words, and after so much buffeting from clause to clause, is still but a pleasing dream. The want of relief is not sufficient to entitle a man to the benefit after all; for in the 19th Section the case is put of a man wanting relief; and it is, if not expressly stated, yet necessarily implied, that a man may want relief, and yet not be a person entitled to the benefit of the Act, “in case (says the Bill) the person wanting relief shall be a person entitled to the benefit of the Act;” so that now we are as much at a loss as ever.
Moreover, in Section 3, the being “entitled to the benefit of this Act” is one thing, and the wanting relief another; for both conditions, it is there expressly provided, must concur, before a man can be admitted to receive the bounty there provided, namely, money to buy a cow.
Another thing which we learn from that same clause concerning the benefit of this Act, is, that the receiving money to buy a cow does not constitute the benefit of this Act, nor, indeed, so much as any part of it, since the benefit of this Act is a distinct thing, which a man must absolutely be entitled to before he can take his chance for receiving this money for the purchase of a cow.
I said but now, if this clause is to be trusted to; but that this clause is not altogether nor exclusively to be trusted to, will appear from another section to which, however, it makes no reference. Should any one, in the course of his pursuit after the true intent and meaning of the Bill, be led to take any such stride as that from the 16th Section to the 21st, he will there find it written, that in regard to relief, if that be the benefit, or among the benefits of the Act, in order to be entitled to this benefit, for such it will not be denied to be, whatever may be thought of the benefits of the Act, it is not altogether sufficient to be a person, nor yet to be a person wanting relief; for that there is a sort of person who, be his want what it may, is not to be considered as “entitled to any relief from any parish or united parishes.”—“No poor person who shall refuse any work offered to him or her under the authority of this Act, which he or she is able to execute, or to receive instructions for executing such work, or who shall not, on request made, according to the directions of this Act, permit all or any of his or her family, who are able to work and cannot otherwise support themselves, to be employed under the authority of this Act, shall be entitled to ask, demand, or receive any relief . . . . except as hereinafter is provided.”
Here, if anywhere, one should have thought was the place for speaking of the benefits of this Act; in which case, if we had not learnt in direct terms who are entitled to those benefits, we should at any rate have learnt who are not, which is one step towards it. Instead of that we have the very general and extensive word relief. Thus much the mention of the word relief will be apt to do, to put a man in mind of the benefits of the Act; but this is to raise doubts, not to solve them. Is relief precisely the same thing with the benefits of this Act? It covers a great deal of the same ground certainly; but, if tried in the geometrical way of superposition, we should find it, in some parts of its extent perhaps, overhanging the benefit, in other parts, at any rate, falling short of it. The advantage of being put out apprentice can hardly be termed relief; and yet this, wherever the Bill has more benefits than one belonging to it, is surely one of them. Instruction, if instruction be a benefit, is another of the benefits of the Act; yet this is certainly not comprehended under relief, for it is expressly put in contradistinction to it: no instruction, no relief; and so with regard to employment. Besides, in the cow-money clause, (Section 3,) as we have already seen, the benefit of the Act is one thing, relief another thing; the benefit is a sort of thing he must be entitled to, the relief a sort of thing he must want, in order to take his chance for getting the cow-money. Yet, while it thus falls short of the full measure of the benefit or benefits of the Act, it extends, or at least wears the appearance of extending, beyond the Act, for it extends to whatever relief can be found to be provided by all the existing Poor Laws put together. This sends our inquirer upon the hunt over the whole body of the Poor Laws, for the purpose of picking up the several crumbs of relief, the several constituent elements of the general mass of relief provided by those laws, for the purpose of taking measure of the aggregate, and comparing it with the aggregate mass of the benefit or benefits provided by this Act.
It may here occur, that in proportion as the difficulty of finding out receivers for the bounty increases, the arguments that turn upon the alarming magnitude of the bounty will be losing their force; and that, if, after all, no claimants for it should be found, the mischief of which so much has been said in this comment will be as ideal as the benefit of which so much is said in the Act. But not to mention that the benefit of a parliamentary revisal is yet in store, let it not be thought that, because the draftsman has not perfectly succeeded in finding out the objects of his bounty Bill, there may not be others who will find them for him.
“Hunger,” says the proverb, “will break through stone walls;” it will find still less difficulty in making its way through mists: and whether it be from humanity, (for humanity, howsoever misguided, ought not to be robbed of its name,) whether it be from humanity, or from some of the less pure motives above hinted at, the efforts of those who may conceive themselves invited to put in their claim to the bounty, are not likely to pass everywhere unseconded by the corresponding efforts of those who may conceive themselves called upon to dispense it. In a word, the obscurity may plague the magistrate, but it will not prevent the mischief. Obscurity is the source of every mischief; it is a remedy to none.
The conclusion is, that I am altogether ignorant who they are that are entitled to the benefits of the Act, and how to find them; and in this I am altogether positive. Should anybody else be more fortunate, (it is not easy to be more diligent,)—any one of the million, for example, who have been set a gaping for these benefits,—let him accept my congratulations and my envy: I envy him and give him joy.
To give a short specimen of prolixity, to give a clear picture of confusion is no easy task. One efficient cause of unintelligibility pervades the whole Bill. Open it where you will, you find a benefit or supposed benefit spoken of as designed for somebody. Who is that somebody? The sort of person for whom the benefit is designed. Question. What is to accommodate? Answer. To accommodate is to accommodate. Explanation. As if I were to accommodate you, or you were to accommodate me. Question 2. Who then is the person to be accommodated? Answer. The person to be accommodated. Explanation. The person entitled to the accommodation given by the Act, the person for whom the benefit of the Act is intended. It would be something, if there were but one benefit, or soi-disant benefit running through the whole; unfortunately, there are as many benefits or supposed benefits almost as clauses, with as many different sorts of persons, into whose laps they are showered down by the hand of the learned draftsman, who, through the whole of its vast expanse, may be seen dealing out his favour like Merlin in the masquerade, in the character of Fortune.
Howsoever it may be with regard to contrivance, there is no want, at least, of felicity in the result. A composition of such bulk and such texture is examination proof; the lightest comment would find itself sunk down without redemption to the very bottom of the gulf of oblivion by the ponderosity of the text.
When observations to this effect, having this or any other production of the same pen for their subject, are made, (and the occasion presents itself as often as any such production presents itself,) one answer is ready, and a distinction is at hand. How much the world of industry is a gainer by the division of labour is well known: it can be no secret to any one who has ever opened a page of Adam Smith. It is thus, that in one branch of the department of the revenue, the province of the cocket reader has been separated from that of the cocket writer; it is thus, that in a higher branch of the same department, the offices of statute writer and statute interpreter, with or without that of statute understander annexed, have undergone a similar separation; the latter having, by an arrangement of some years’ standing, been allotted exclusively to the Noble and Learned Lord who presides so worthily in the Court of King’s Bench. At the end of a certain number of months or years, and at the end of a certain number of hundreds of pounds a-piece, the poor of this country, such of them as have more money than they know what to do with, may know by a knock at the noble interpreter’s great gate, which of them this and that benefit was intended for: and then it will be, as if this or that mountain of words had been left out, and this or that word or two were inserted, which, to a plain and unlearned understanding, might as well have been respectively left out or inserted in the first instance.
This being the case, so long as Westminster Hall, the great mine of certainty, is open to all who have a golden spade to dig in it with, it seems perfectly well understood, as well at the Treasury as in Westminster Hall, that whether a Bill or an Act be or be not intelligible in the first instance is a matter of indifference. To enrich it with a proper quantity of surplusage is a necessary work: but to drop into it a single grain of original intelligibility would be a work of supererogation. Certum est, says a maxim of law, quod certum reddi potest: certain is that which certain can be made. The capacity of being rendered intelligible is an attribute that constitutes the proprium in modo, as logicians term it, of an Act; since, whether it has or has not a meaning of its own, the Court are bound to construe it, that is, to find a meaning for it; so that, in fact, it would be but an idle sort of business to be at the pains of giving a meaning to a composition, which, whether it have a meaning or no, can never be in want of one.
Carrying modesty to excess, it assumes no other title than that of “Heads of a Bill,” as if there were not such thing as a word of surplusage to be found in it. On the contrary, so rich is it in surplusage, that a man might find enough in it and to spare, not only for a Bill or for an Act, but for a whole session full of Acts; and as to heads, a head is the thing of all others of which there is the least trace or appearance to be found.
In certain circumstances, to denominate is to characterize; to class is in effect to criticise. This and this alone is the sort of criticism which a work of the nature, I mean of the bulk and texture, of that which I have before me, will admit of.
With this single dissertation, the reader is now let off; want of the necessary time, despair of attention, despair of fruit; to these he is indebted for his dismission, even at this late period: certainly not, by any means, to any want of matter in the text. Fifty is the number of pages here bestowed on it, considered in this limited point of view. Considered in the same point of view, the same or thereabouts is the number of volumes that might have been bestowed on it, and with about equal cause. The same is about the number of volumes that may at any time be bestowed with about equal cause, on almost every law, while the form in which laws have hitherto been expressed continues to be observed. Reform in the mode of composing the laws, reform in the laws considered as laws, is reform in the instrument, in the very instrument by which all the work is done. Reform in the Poor Laws, or in any other branch of the laws, is but a reform in this or that branch of the work. Bad instruments can make nothing but bad works. Reform in the instrument, how remote soever in apparent use, is, in fact, prior in importance and in necessity to any reform that can be conceived to be called for in this or that corner of the field of legislative labour.
THREE TRACTS RELATIVE TO SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE AFFAIRS; WITH A CONTINUAL EYE TO ENGLISH ONES.
TRACT, No. I.—LETTER TO THE SPANISH NATION ON A THEN PROPOSED HOUSE OF LORDS. (Anno 1820.)
TRACT, No. II.—OBSERVATIONS ON JUDGE ADVOCATE HERMOSA’S PANEGYRIC ON JUDICIAL DELAYS; ON THE OCCASION OF THE IMPUNITY AS YET GIVEN BY HIM TO THE LOYAL AUTHORS OF THE CADIZ MASSACRE, A COUNTERPART TO THE MANCHESTER MASSACRE: EXPLAINING, MOREOVER, THE EFFECTS OF SECRECY IN JUDICATURE.
TRACT, No. III.—LETTER TO THE PORTUGUESE NATION, ON ANTIQUATED CONSTITUTIONS; ON THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION CONSIDERED AS A WHOLE, AND ON CERTAIN DEFECTS OBSERVABLE IN IT; IN PARTICULAR, THE IMMUTABILITY-ENACTING, OR INFALLIBILITY-ASSUMING, THE NON-RE-ELIGIBILITY-ENACTING, THE SLEEP-COMPELLING, AND THE BIENNI-ALITY-ENACTING CLAUSES.
BY JEREMY BENTHAM, ESQ.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1821.
[* ] Before I engage in the discussion of particular clauses, I find it indispensably necessary to state an apprehension I have throughout been labouring under; the apprehension of doing an unintentional injustice to the Bill by mis-stating from time to time the intended import of it. The truth is, the degree of difficulty I have experienced in the course of my endeavours to comprehend that import, has been as extreme as those endeavours have been sincere. Whatever, therefore, is herein advanced as conveying my own sense of the import of the Bill, must be understood to be submitted all along to correction—to whatever correction may be thought fit to be administered by stronger minds.
[* ] So termed here, in contradistinction to the large-establishment system, by which is meant that branch of the public-establishment system as contradistinguished from the system of out-allowances, according to which the establishments would separately considered be upon a large scale, such as that of a country workhouse, or even a system of workhouses, of which four, suppose, should be allowed to a county upon an average.
[† ] In the Bill itself the sections are not numbered; it is not the usage: sections are never numbered either in an Act (I speak of the authentic manuscript) or in a Bill; I have taken upon me to number them at a venture, knowing no other means of distinguishing them in the way of reference. My principle of distribution has been the recurrence of the introductory surplusage, “and be it further enacted,” coupled with the consideration of those discontinuances or breaks in the line of text, which are the mechanical result of the operations of the press.
This privation of the physical possibility of becoming the subject-matter of reference; this prolific cause and certain pledge of uncertainty, disorder, and inconsistency, each in the extreme; this privation of one of the many helps to intellection, the exclusion of which is peculiar to that species of composition in which the importance of the qualities of order, precision, and conciseness, stands at the very highest pitch; this deficiency, if it be a fault, is not the particular fault of this Bill or of any one concerned in it. It is the fault of everybody, and thence of nobody. [See Nomography, vol. iii. p. 233. It has of late become the practice to number the sections of Bills.—Ed.
[* ] Particularly in the case of labourers in husbandry, by the Rev. David Davies, 1795, 4to.
[* ] The quantum of the capital thus to be hazarded is no light matter. A friend of mine, who at this present time happens to be looking out for a cow, assures me he can hear of no animal of that kind to be sold for less than £30 that can be depended upon for giving milk sufficient to pay for her keep, for “yielding profit,” to use the expression in the Bill. The time, it is true, is a dear one; and the place, the vicinity of the metropolis. But to this purpose, within what may be termed the vicinity of the metropolis, a circle of at least twenty miles radius must surely be comprised. A cow which is worth £30 in the heart of this southern division of the two united kingdoms, can hardly be worth less than £15 at the very furthest extremity; because a difference much less than that of £15 ahead would, upon a very moderate number of cows, abundantly pay for the expense of driving them up to London, from even the most distant parts of England. This £30 price (let us hope) will not always continue; but at the most favourable season, should it fall to £20, the reduction will be full as much, I fear, as can reasonably be expected.
[* ] Some five-and-twenty years ago, I remember seeing in Elmsley’s window, fresh imported from Germany, a book with this title, “Means of Enriching States,” by an Aulic Counsellor to one of the Margraves. It was seized with an avidity proportioned to the importance of the discovery. The secret had been tried, and had succeeded. It consisted in stocking your farms well with cows. But the difficulty was to get the cows.