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the officer on that day might be wholly dispensed with. Some of these gentlemen have expressed to me the uneasiness of mind which they feel, when forced, by law, to enter the establishments committed to their care, especially when convinced that it is a work of supererogation. One, in particular, has frequently said, that it was hard to be obliged, after leaving the house of worship, to go to the distillery, before he could open his Bible in his own house, or form one serious reflection on what he had been hearing.
Now, Mr. Editor, would it not be prudent, respectfully to suggest to the legislature the propriety of putting a stop to these open and legalized profanations of the Lord's day. In the case of the one, the inconvenience, if any, would be much less than might at first view be anticipated; in the case of the other, the revenue would sustain no injury, and the feelings of the conscientious officer not be wounded by being forced to engage in duties, useless in the abstract, and revolting to his mind, when taken in connexion with the declarations of Scripture respecting the sanctity of the Sabbath-day.
I remain, Sir, yours,
M -N, Feb. 18th, 1834.
[As the subject of the following article is one at present of much interest to the public, and upon which different opinions may be entertained, we will be ready to afford room for a brief and temperate discussion of it.-EDIT.]
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ORTHODOX PRESBYTERIAN. SIR,
THE establishment of poor-laws in Ireland having become a question of great national interest, and one which must soon attract the attention of the legislature, I am induced, through your valuable Periodical, to state the following objections against any compulsory system for the relief or support of the poor of this country. Every other question at present under public discussion in comparison with this, must be viewed as trifling and unimportant; for the people of this island are now upon the transit of a great moral revolutionand if it can be shown, as it is proposed, that to legislate on
charity is not only wrong in principle, but necessarily destructive to the growth and expansion of virtue, it must be revolting to every patriotic mind, for the sake of a brief season of sickly prosperity, to entail upon the land an incurable distemper. In a word, a system of poor-laws, no matter how carefully constructed and guarded against abuse, must, in the very nature of things, and from the peculiar habits and situation of the lower classes of our population, prove detrimental both to the physical and moral condition of the inhabitants of Ireland. The impolicy or expediency of a poor-rate is a mixed question, in which many weighty, social, and religious interests are involved; for it is one beautiful specimen of the righteousness of God's administration upon earth, that invariably right legislation in temporal matters, is most favourable to the growth of piety, and virtue, and prosperity amongst a people. The perfection of human laws is the transcript of eternal justice; and if the law of love, written within the breast, be either superseded or controlled by the enactments of the statute-book, then is violence done to the principles of our constitution, and a portion of God's image exposed to be blotted out from man's bosom.
I am sensible, that at the very outset of these speculations there are strong prejudices to overcome before the cold logic of reasoning can be brought to bear successfully upon the understanding; for misery felt and present in every quarter, and the cry of distress in the deep pathos of oppressed humanity, are more irresistible advocates for the system we condemn, than any arguments, however intrinsically cogent and powerful, we are able to bring against it. It is also to be feared, that a just and natural desire to punish the absentee landlords of Ireland, in a way which such persons feel most sensibly, by attacking the purse and the pocket, has induced many welldisposed and benevolent individuals rather to lend their countenance to a scheme which may eventually involve most landlords in bankruptcy, and not a few of their tenants, now independent and comfortable, in the most abject and helpless poverty. How severe the censure which truth compels us to pronounce on many of the titled nobility and extensive landed proprietors of Ireland, when we affirm, in sober sadness, that a fraction of the treasures squandered on vice and folly, as they roll in splendour along the streets of continental cities, if spent at home in deeds of beneficence and Christian patriotism; would earn for them the respect and honour of their now despised and oppressed countrymen; and circulate the bless
ings of peace and prosperity throughout the length and breadth
of the land.
It is not to be wondered at, that crime is familiar where kindness is unknown, and the charities of our nature lie buried up amid the wild excesses of pride and selfishness. Yet is it possible, in our over-haste to inflict punishment on certain obnoxious individuals, to involve the innocent with the guilty; and instead of securing the honest and industrious poor from their untold miseries, to sink them still lower and more inextricably in want and degradation. It can be no boon to bribe away a man's independence, or a nation's virtuous resistance to poverty, by taking from him who has not much a little, and from him who has much something more, and thereby create a right to demand relief, on the part of those who should stand only in the attitude of suppliants, and address the common sympathies of our nature, which are seldom or never deaf to the cry of misery or misfortune.
And here it becomes necessary to draw a line of distinction between poverty and pauperism, which are often used as synonymous terms, though in the English language no two words are more opposite in spirit and meaning. Poverty is an evil inseparable from humanity in its present disordered state; pauperism is an evil we create wantonly ourselves, and by which we aggravate a partial and temporary evil into a moral pestilence, that would speedily infect the whole mass of our population. The poor may be rich in contentment, virtuous and happy; but the parish pauper has stamped upon his brow the brand of a degradation that can never be healed. The poor man, by hard and honourable industry, may retrieve his fortunes, and walk forth among his fellows with the air and gait of a freeman; but the man who once stretches out his hand to receive the pittance of a forced and tortured charity, surrenders his birthright of independence for a mess of pottage, and becomes both a drone and drag-weight on society.
It were far better, then, for the lower classes to toil and struggle against want and wretchedness, with the energies of a free and unbroken spirit to bear them through, than to sacrifice their virtuous dislike to the niggardly support of a parish allowance. There are but few instances of persons once entered on the parish books, ever again returning to the industry, which, in an evil hour, they had abandoned for the sake of the paltry bribe held out either in the shape of publie charity, or of those contributions which are customary in all Christian assemblies. Man will not work strenuously for the
necessaries of life, when these can be procured, not only without labour, but even without much anxiety or care; and hence any system which professes to relieve either our wants or miseries beyond the limits of native and spontaneous charity, must, in some way or other, cut up those delicate sensibilities of the human heart, which prompt us on the one hand to raise up our oppressed brethren om the dust of poverty and wretchedness, and on the other, to receive with gratitude those precious gifts of charity which sorrow or suffering require. It is a very beautiful and just observation of Mr. Burke, "that it is better to cherish virtue and humanity by leaving much to free will, even with some loss to the object, than to attempt to make men mere machines and instruments of a political benevolence. The world, on the whole, will be a gainer by a liberty, without which virtue cannot exist."
Poor-laws establish a bounty on both pauperism and population. When the people of any country increase beyond the production of food for their support, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that great want and distress prevail. Now a poor-rate tends to increase population, without increasing the food for its support; and it may therefore be said, not only to perpetuate, but to create the poor which it maintains. Nations may, for a time, increase their numbers beyond the due proportion of their food, but they will, in the same proportion, destroy the ease and comfort of the affluent, and, without any possible advantage, give universality to that misery which had been only partial. The course of nature may be easily disturbed by wrong legislation, but man will never be able to reverse its laws. Let us see what would be the immediate effect of raising the income of the Irish poor, by a statute for their compulsory support. Let two shillings a day, upon an average, be made up to them from a public fund, and what would follow? The competitors among the buyers in the market of food would rapidly raise the price, and the commodity, or article of food, would not, in the end, be divided amongst many more than at present. It cannot be proved that any sacrifice of money made by the rich, could effectually, for any length of time, prevent the recurrence of distress among poor. Great changes might indeed be made. The rich might become poor, and some of the poor rich; but while the present proportion between population and food continues, a part of the community must find it difficult to support themselves and their families.
There is a certain limit to the agricultural produce of any
country, but no assignable limit to its population. For example, the gross produce of Ireland might be doubled, or trebled, or quadrupled, by an improved system of husbandry, and by the reclaiming of moors and waste lands; but there is clearly a limit somewhere to the work of production and cultivation; yet we can assign no limit to the growth of population, except the impassable barrier which want and misery raise up against its further progress. The great evil under which Ireland labours, is a redundant population in proportion to the present means of its subsistence. Within the last half century her people have increased at a rate almost incredible. By a census taken in the year 1791, the population amounted to 4,206,612; at present there is sufficient evidence for asserting that it does not fall short of eight millions. Thus in thirty-one years, the population has been more than doubled, leaving at the present time more than one person on every square acre in the island. Besides the habits of the lower orders are so imprudent, and their moral education has been hitherto so imperfect and neglected, that they rush into marriage without reflecting how their families can be supported. Now the establishment of poor-laws would just have the effect of stimulating and increasing these evil propensities, and of taking away any restraint which still lingers in the mind against the degradation of beggary. In a single year, a poorrate would at least double its capital; and in a very short space of time, landed property must speedily disappear before the Leviathan of pauperism, when Pharaoh's lean cows had eaten up the fat ones. Poor-laws have almost destroyed the independence and virtue of the lower orders in England; and if not speedily counteracted, bid fair to break up the very foundations of society, and pour over all the land the wild elements of insurrectionary violence. Millions are collected every year for the poor, and still poverty presents its haggard aspect in every town and hamlet, or may be met with, immured in frightful and disgusting masses, within the work-house, where suffering innocence is too often obliged to associate with idleness, villainy, riot, and debauchery.
Pauperism, like the spreading ivy, has insinuated itself into every crack and aperture of the social edifice. Cropping its luxuriant shots might check for a season its encroachments, but cutting its roots might perhaps endanger the tottering fabric which it first undermined, and now holds together. Yet in spite of all the wealth of proud England, and the vigilance of her police, and the sober habits of her people, do we read in almost