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but in the other there are no pleasures-nor hardly hope.
Another cause may be assigned for the contrast presented between rural and civic industry, in the different conditions under which labour is exercised." In the country, labourers are often hired for a year, during which term they are guaranteed against all casualties. Then, again, their remuneration does not so exclusively depend on wages; if unemployed, they have (or shall I say had?) often a pig, or the produce of a plot of ground, on which they can retreat as a temporary resource. Add to which, they are not exposed to those temptations to pleasure and irregular habits which are among the most prominent causes of extreme wretchedness in the inhabitants of towns.
The experience of the period that has elapsed since Sir F. Eden wrote (and from whose work the preceding observations have been mostly abridged), shows that agricultural districts may be subject to as severe visitations of poverty and privation as manufacturing towns. But this by no means impugns the truth of the general principle, that the extension of commerce was one of the causes of the origin of the poor. It is an evil inseparable from commercial pursuits-that it tends rapidly to augment population, without simultaneously providing a permanent source of subsistence to the people. The employment resulting from commerce must always be liable to variations; depending on a state of peace or war,
the invention of machinery, or the ever-varying taste and fashion of the times. Unless there be some certain provision for the people, independent of these fluctuations, it is evident that they must not only be exposed to great occasional distress, but that even commerce itself cannot be advantageously pursued. Without it, when the demand for labour decreases, numbers must perish from want; and on the other hand, when the demand for labour increases, hands cannot be obtained to meet it. Therefore, to prevent the evil, and secure the advantage of such vicissitudes, provision must be made, either by the community or the people themselves, for their occasional maintenance, independent of their occupations.
There is one error which it is essential to guard against, before leaving this part of our subject; namely, the inference which might be drawn, that because the poor are not mentioned during the feudal age there was no poverty or distress. No doubt, in disastrous times, from the lateness of harvest, from the failure of crops or the ravages of warfare, a great landholder was often as much embarrassed to supply the hungry mouths around him with food, as a free labourer was to support himself; and a famine, we may be assured, fell with no less fury on the cottar than the manufacturer: but the poor not having become an object of legislative enactment and provision, we have no record of their sufferings and privations.
Having premised these general remarks, I shall next notice the principal facts in the progress of the poor to the period of the Reformation.
In the year 1376 we have evidence of a strong disposition to vagrancy among labourers, in the complaint of the House of Commons that masters are obliged to give their servants high wages to prevent them running away; that many of the runaways turn beggars and lead idle lives in cities and boroughs, although they have sufficient bodily strength to gain a livelihood, if willing to work; that others become staff-strikers (cudgel-players) wandering in parties from village to village, but that the chief part turn out sturdy rogues, infesting the kingdom with frequent robberies. To remedy these evils, the Commons propose that no relief shall be given to those who are able to work within boroughs or the country; that vagrants, beggars, and staff-strikers, shall be imprisoned till they consent to return home to work, and whoever harbours a runaway servant shall be liable to a penalty of ten pounds. This is the first time beggars are mentioned; it shows the earliest opinion of parliament on mendicity; and from the language of the Commons we learn that they were chiefly found in towns, where, owing to commerce and the introduction of manufactures, the principal wealth of the nation had accumulated.
Two years after, by 12 Richard II. c. 7, it is directed that impotent beggars should continue to reside in the places they were at the time of passing this act in case those places are not able to main
tain them, they are to remove to some other place in the hundred, or to the place of their birth. From the tenour of this act, it is evident, that the district where they finally settled, was bound to maintain them; and the legislature of 1388 proceeded on the same principle of a compulsory assessment as that of the celebrated act of Elizabeth in 1601. It seems, too, from the enactments of this period, that the indigent classes had a legal claim on the revenues of he clergy. In 1391 it is declared that, in all appropriations of tithe for the support of monastic institutions, a certain portion should be set apart for the maintenance of the poor.
In these regulations we see the foundation of our present system of poor-laws; and instead of referring their origin to the 43d Elizabeth, we ought only to ascribe the concentration and development of an ancient practice that had prevailed for some ages before her time. It is apparent, indeed, from the acts to which I have referred, and from others in the public statutes which might be quoted, that for nearly two centuries prior to the Reformation, the legislature was sedulously struggling against the evil which accompanied the transition from slavery to free labour, and that their policy was directed to ob jects similar to those which now engage attention, namely, to analyse the mass of vagabondage, impos ture, and real destitution, which infests society, to punish the former and relieve the latter. Branding, whipping, imprisonment, and setting in the stocks, were the punishments chiefly employed for the sup
pression of vagrancy. Scholars were liable to these penalties unless provided with written testimonials from the chancellor of their respective universities. Sailors, soldiers, and travellers were also to be provided with passports, and were required to travel homewards by the straightest road. Artificers and labourers (11 Henry VII. c. 2) were forbidden to play at unlawful games, except during Christmas, and two justices were empowered to restrain the common selling of ale in towns and places where they should think expedient, and to take surety of alehouse keepers for their good behaviour as they might be advised at the time of the sessions. All these enactments, however, evince a great improvement in the condition of the people; while they show that their newly-acquired liberties were accompanied with those excesses and disorders which mostly, for a season, attend their first enjoyment.
By an act passed in 1530, beggars were divided into two classes; namely, the aged and impotent, and vagabonds and idle persons; and justices were empowered to license persons of the first description to beg within certain precincts. Their names were directed to be registered, and to be certified at the next sessions. Begging without a licence, or without the limits assigned, subjected to imprisonment in the stocks for two days and nights, and to feeding on bread and water. Able-bodied vagabonds found begging, were flogged at the cart's tail, and then sworn to return to their places of birth, or where