Front Page Titles (by Subject) 320.: POULETT SCROPE ON THE POOR LAWS MORNING CHRONICLE, 31 OCT., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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320.: POULETT SCROPE ON THE POOR LAWS MORNING CHRONICLE, 31 OCT., 1846, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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POULETT SCROPE ON THE POOR LAWS
This article is connected with, though not part of, the major series on Irish affairs beginning with No. 306, in which Mill first attacked Scrope’s proposed Poor Law Bill. Here Mill continues the discussion of Scrope’s proposals for Ireland that he began on 23 Oct. (No. 316); on the poor laws, see also Nos. 322, 326, 341, and 345. Earlier in the year, Scrope had published a collection of his Letters to the Right Hon. Lord John Russell, on the Expediency of Enlarging the Irish Poor-Law to the Full Extent of the Poor-Law of England (London: Ridgway, 1846). A review by Nassau Senior, “Proposals for Extending the Irish Poor Law,” Edinburgh Review, LXXXIV (Oct. 1846), 267-314, had particularly condemned Scrope’s advocacy of relief to the able-bodied in the form of outdoor work. Scrope replied in “The Edinburgh Review and Mr. Poulett Scrope,” The Times, 27 Oct., p. 2, and a leading article on p. 4 of the same issue supported him. Mill’s unheaded second leader is described in his bibliography as “A leading article on Poor Laws, in the Morning Chronicle of 31st October 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 62).
our friend mr. poulett scrope, after making public his views of Irish affairs, in letters addressed to Lord John Russell through our columns, has promulgated a defence of those letters against the Edinburgh Review through the more congenial medium of last Tuesday’s Times. Nearly a page of our contemporary’s broad sheet was covered by Mr. Scrope’s lucubrations, together with an editorial article to which they formed the text; and if assumed contempt on the part of one assailant, and very genuine anger on that of another, amount to refutation, the Edinburgh reviewer may consider himself well answered.
It is not particularly our part to stand up for the writer in the Edinburgh Review. We are concerned with the questions he discusses and the principles he propounds—not with him. We do not agree in all his opinions, though we do in every one of the main points of his argument. But he has rendered a great service, and one which was greatly needed, in re-stating at this time, clearly and forcibly, and with consummate knowledge of his subject, the facts and arguments which irrevocably condemn the system of poor-law management advocated by the Times and by Mr. Scrope. The most cutting thing which his two opponents can find to say against him is, that these facts and arguments are old. We were not aware that truths became superannuated by years; we submit that doctrines are never antiquated until they have been answered. When assumption and abuse are repeated every day, sense and reason, in opposition to them, will surely bear repetition once a year. The world would otherwise forget on which side the weight of truth and argument really is. The extreme emptiness of everything written against the present Poor-Law dispenses indeed with a very frequent or formal reiteration of the grounds of its justification. We remember no case in our time, of a great public controversy so long pending, in which the reasons were so entirely on one side. The assaults do not ground themselves on reason at all, but are mere appeals to feeling, deriving their main strength from the occasional, and we are bound to say frequent, disclosure of cases of abuse, such as occur in all systems, but, under any other than a centralized system, occur without detection; and the law is condemned precisely for one of the main features of its usefulness. Under what poor law, before the present, has the English nation had its attention riveted, during many weeks, on the mismanagement of one workhouse in a small country town?1 But there is a plenteous stock of people at all times who think that whenever they hear much about an evil, there is more of it, and that letting in daylight upon the miseries and vices of society is the same thing as causing them. These are the people who make outcries about increase of crime whenever a more vigilant magistracy, or a more active police, effect a greater number of apprehensions. And there is never any deficiency of declaimers, by speech or writing, to play upon the simple minds of these often very good kind of people, and use them for a purpose.
We are willing, nay eager, to go any lengths with those who demand a vigorous repression and prevention of such detestable tyranny and scarcely less detestable negligence as have been brought to light in some of the recent workhouse investigations. Instead of too strong a feeling on these points, we do not think the feeling half strong enough. Hardly anybody reflects sufficiently what a mass of abuse there is sure to be under any conceivable mode of pauper management, and what intense vigilance is constantly required to keep it down. In all places where people are detained in the power of others, and which they are either not permitted or not able to quit whenever they please—in all prisons, madhouses, hospitals, barracks, ships, schools, apprenticeships, and of course therefore in all workhouses—if brutality, or dishonesty, or total neglect of those who have no power of helping themselves, can exist without detection and condign punishment, we ought to know that in a very large proportion of cases they will exist. Though workhouses, generally speaking, are less exposed to these evils than most of the other places we have mentioned, because it is easier to get out of them, we must not forget that every workhouse contains an hospital, that most workhouses contain some sort of prison, or place of compulsory confinement, for breaches of workhouse discipline, and that in connection with every pauper system is a madhouse system. There is, therefore, no kind of abuse, capable of existing in any of these establishments, which may not exist, and that in the utmost excess, in the management of the parish poor. The case (in particular) of pauper lunatics, whether kept in the workhouse itself or turned over to some private establishment, has claims on the legislator’s care exceeding almost all others in strength. There cannot be conceived any human creatures more utterly helpless. They can be compared to nothing but the dumb animals whose treatment reflects such disgrace on humanity. Like those, they cannot even tell of their wrongs; they have no relations capable of giving them the smallest protection; and those who have the care of them are—but the “nurse” Slater, the other day, was a specimen of them.2 We may be sure, without being told, that there is and always has been a greater amount of brutal indifference, hardened want of feeling, and wanton and capricious tyranny practised towards insane paupers, than towards any other class of unfortunates whatever, in countries where personal slavery is not permitted. The public are only beginning to know what these things are, and that they are beginning, is due to the publicity which we owe to the Poor-Law of 1834.
Governments will in time know enough of their business—they are awkward journeymen as yet—to be able to struggle more effectually against these and other evils. But whatever they do will not be done by weakening central control, but by strengthening it. No one, whose real object is to correct abuses, would seek to cripple the central authority, which is the general court of appeal against whatever is locally wrong, which is free from local interest or partiality, and which is under the supervision and criticism of Parliament, and the whole public instead of a mere locality. The Somerset-house Board3 is, and must always be, for the purposes of its institution, too weak, because it cannot see or know everything; but our wise men, it seems, were of opinion that it could see and know too much, since they decided that some of its eyes and hands—namely, its assistant-commissioners—could be dispensed with, and left it with a number hardly sufficient, by indefatigable exertion, to exercise a slight and perfunctory control over the local bodies under its charge, whose connivance or negligence is the thing really in fault in any flagrant instance of misconduct.4
But though the abuses are made a handle of, they are not the actuating cause of the clamour against the Poor-law, which began long before it had any capital of abuses to trade upon. The aim of the clamour is to get rid, not of what is bad, but of what is good in the present treatment of pauperism. It is a clamour against any mode whatever of administering legal relief, which aims at cultivating in the poor the virtue of independence; or, rather, against any mode except one which cuts to the root of that virtue, wherever any remnant of it exists. Viewed in this light, we regard the anti-poor-law movement as one of the most melancholy features of this time; one of the most serious obstacles to endeavours, rationally directed towards effecting practical improvement in the minds or circumstances of the labouring classes. There is no person, capable of understanding the present state of the world, and estimating the probabilities respecting its future, who does not see that this one virtue of independence is the very foundation on which any chance of well-being and well-doing for the labouring community must henceforth rest. There was a time when things were, in a certain degree, otherwise. There was a time when the labouring classes were willing to let their superiors in station think and act for them: to receive thankfully, or at least submissively, such relief for their necessities as those superiors thought adequate, and to yield, in return for it, that general compliance with any rules laid down for them, which must, by a necessity of Nature’s making, be accorded by those who abdicate the care and responsibility of taking charge of their own worldly circumstances. That time, however, is past; and Lord John Manners is, we suppose, the only person who thinks that it will ever more return.5 And, not to look beyond the incidents of the moment, we have a small but instructive specimen, in the things now transacting in Ireland, of what is to be expected from a people who have attained to a press, and democratic associations, and monster meetings, and who have not learnt that it is not other people’s business but their own to take care that they have food and employment. Yet, because, we suppose, the Irish of all classes have hitherto been too much addicted to helping themselves, instead of calling on Hercules to help them, Mr. Scrope and the Times are for making the Legislature bind itself to provide work and food for every person born in Ireland, not only during the present emergency but for ever. Others may expatiate on the ruinousness of this project. We are not anxious on that score, since it is too visionary, and its evils too pressing and imminent, to give the smallest fear of its ever being carried into effect. What we lament, and bitterly, is the diversion of a powerful section of the active force, so much needed for overcoming the inert resistance to improvement, into a channel in which it runs directly counter to the only course of improvement henceforth possible. We grieve to see minds and dispositions, capable of better things, wasting a great mass of available power in a weak, hopeless, and really stale and superannuated attempt to patch up society once more under the gone-by and now entirely impracticable condition of a labouring people living, and contented to live, in a state of dependence upon alms.
[1 ]For details of the notorious revelations earlier in the year of cruelty at the Andover Union, see “Report of the Select Committee on Andover Union” (20 Aug., 1846), PP, 1846, V, Pts. 1 and 2. Mill presumably has this in mind, but he may be referring only to the case cited in n2.
[2 ]On 12 Oct. an inquiry was begun in Haverhill, Suffolk, before Coroner Wayman, into the death of a lunatic pauper, John Webb (1770-1846) in the Risbridge Union. Abraham Slater (b. 1765), himself a pauper, who had entered the workhouse in 1843 and served as a “nurse,” could not be prosecuted, as he was not an official of the Union. The case was widely reported, The Times’ first notice appearing on 14 Oct., p. 8, and a full account on the 21st. See also Examiner, 24 Oct., p. 684.
[3 ]The Poor Law Commission’s offices were in Somerset House.
[4 ]By Sect. 2 of 5 & 6 Victoria, c. 57 (1842), the number of Assistant Commissioners was reduced from twelve to nine; there had been as many as twenty-one in 1835.
[5 ]John James Robert Manners (1818-1906), later 7th Duke of Rutland, M.P. for Newark from 1841, a “Young Englander” and ally of Disraeli.