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Chronological Digest of Facts relative to the Industrious Orders, from the Introduction of the Poor-laws to the Present Time.
THE condition of the several classes of society, and their relations to each other, have not undergone any material change since the introduction of the celebrated act of Elizabeth; and, so far as the poor are concerned, the great object of the legislature and individuals has been either to improve the administration, or correct the abuses of a system previously established. The measures for these purposes have been almost innumerable; but, as it would both exceed the limits of these pages, and be void of utility to detail them at length, I shall content myself with briefly noticing, in chronological order, the more important acts, suggestions, discoveries, and occurrences which have had any influence on the state of the industrious orders.
A. D. 1604. Under 2 Jac. I., it is enacted that rogues adjudged incorrigible and dangerous shall be "branded on the left shoulder with a hot iron of the breadth of a shilling, having a Roman R upon it, and placed to labour; if, after such punishment, they are found begging and wandering, they shall be adjudged felons and suffer death." The severe penalties of this act continued in force till the 12th Anne, when they were modified; and, at length,
a just distinction was made between idle and disorderly persons, and rogues and vagabonds.
Parliament continued to act on the futile expedient of fixing the rate of wages; under the 2d Jac. I. c. 6, the powers of justices in rating are extended to "all labourers, weavers, spinsters, and workmen, or work women whatsoever, either working by the day, the week, month, year, or taking work at any person's hands whatsoever to be done in great or otherwise."
From expressions in the 2d Jac. I. c. 9, against tippling, it appears that at this period it was common, even for country labourers, both to eat their meals and to lodge in inns and alehouses; but it is uncertain whether this mode of living was occasioned by the statute of Elizabeth which prohibited the erection of cottages, and the statutes of inmates, which (in the city of London, and probably in other corporate towns) limited the number of inmates in a house to one family; or whether it was an intermediate state in the progress of society from the absolute dependance of the slave on his master for diet and habitation, to the improved condition of the free labourer, who, at present, rarely resides under the same roof with his employer.
Among the useful laws enacted during the reign of James I. may be mentioned the act for securing the subject against antiquated claims of the crown on lands which had been enjoyed 60 years; the act for putting down monopolies, and the act for repeal
ing the absurd laws of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth for promoting tillage. It is, however, mortifying to reflect, that while these salutary measures were adopted by parliament, neither a Coke, nor a Bacon, should oppose the law suggested by royal superstition for making it felony to "consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil and wicked spirit." Even Sir Matthew Hale left a man for execution who was convicted of witchcraft, under the 2d Jac. I. c. 12: and, so recently as the year 1711, a British jury could be found, at Hereford, ignorant enough to be persuaded that a woman could converse with the devil in the shape of a cat.
A. D. 1610. The high price of butcher's meat in the reign of James I. (the necessary consequence of agricultural improvement) is a strong proof that flesh meat constituted an inconsiderable portion of the diet of labourers at the beginning of the seventeenth century. About the period mentioned in the margin beef was 3d., and mutton 3 d. the pound. At this time the wages allowed by justices in a midland county to labourers in husbandry were from sixpence to tenpence the day without meat; and to women haymakers fourpence the day without meat. In these ratings the magistrates calculated that half the day's earnings were equivalent to diet for one day, which is a much less proportion than would be requisite at present. The price of corn was rather higher than in the middle of the following century. The average price of middling wheat from 1606 to
1625 was 17. 14s. 1d. the quarter; whereas the average price for the twenty years, ending in 1745, was 11. 9s. 10d.
While such wages and prices continued it was impossible the labourers could command an abundance of the necessaries of life. Besides many esculent plants, which are now cultivated in the fields, and in a scarcity of corn are found to be admirable substitutes even for bread, were in the beginning of the sixteenth century either little known, or exclusively confined to the tables of the rich. Potatos at present are a general article of diet; in King James's reign they were considered as a great delicacy. They are noticed among the articles provided for the queen's household: the quantity, however, is small, and the price 2s. the pound. In 1619 two cauliflowers cost 2s., and sixteen artichokes 3s. 4d.prices which sufficiently prove their rarity. Tea and sugar, which now form regular articles of cottage economy, were still greater rarities. The former article was not imported in any considerable quantities till after the establishment of a new East India company, with liberty to trade to China and Japan, in 1637. No notice is taken of tea in the book of rates, annexed to the act passed in 1660, for granting Charles II. a subsidy of tonnage and poundage upon all merchandise exported and imported; but in a subsequent act passed in the same session, tea, coffee, and chocolate, are subjected to the excise. It is singular, however, that the duty was imposed on the liquor prepared from these articles in lieu of the
articles themselves; from which it may be inferred none of these beverages were made by private families, but purchased ready prepared from the compounders.
A. D. 1630. In this year certain orders were issued to the magistracy and others by the privy council, directing that justices shall divide themselves, and hold petty sessions monthly within certain districts, for watching over the administration of the poor-laws. That lords of the manor shall take care their tenants and parishioners be relieved by work or at home, and not be suffered to "straggle" and beg in their parishes. That court-leets take cognizance of all offences in buying and selling, of disorderly alehouses, and of those that "goe in good clothes and fare well, and none knowes whereof they live; those that be night-walkers, builders of cottages, and takers in of inmates." That the laws for the apprenticing of poor children be enforced; and that where any money or stock has been, or shall be given to the relief of the poor in any parish, such gift to be no occasion of lessening the rates of the parish. That wandering persons, with women and children, give an account to the constable or justice where they were married, and where their children were christened; "for these people live like salvages, neither marry, nor bury, nor christen; which licentious libertie make so many delight to be rogues and wanderers."
This year is also distinguished by a singular expedient for relieving the poor, which was recommended to the inhabitants of the metropolis, in a