« 上一頁繼續 »
CHAP. 1.- HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE POOR-LAWS. (§ 1.) 285
having had an opportunity of ascertaining, by personal observation, a great variety of facts about which I find the most contradictory statements in the works of authors who are all equally entitled to credit for their talents, their characters, and their means of information. One good consequence which is, at least, to be expected from the succession of bad years which lately took place, is, that the mass of important information which these were the occasion of bringing before the public, is likely to invite speculative men to attend to the reformation of this branch of police, at a time when the general principles of Political Economy are unquestionably much better understood than at any former period when it was an object of legislative attention. The labours of Sir Frederic Eden in this department are entitled to peculiar praise. They do great honour to his persevering industry as a collector of facts, and to his enlightened zeal as a good citizen; and whoever undertakes the subject after him, will find the consideration of it much facilitated, by the extent and accuracy of his researches. It is to be regretted, that he had not bestowed a little more time in condensing and arranging his materials; as his valuable work, certainly, is not likely, in its present form, to attract the attention of an ordinary reader. In justice to this author, however, I must observe, that this very defect seems to have been owing, in a great measure, to a motive which reflects greater honour on him than the attainment of literary fame; an anxiety, while Mr. Pitt's Poor Bill was under the examination of Parliament, to contribute whatever information he was possessed of that might have the most remote tendency to enlighten and direct its proceedings. For the inelegances of style which the work contains, no better apology can be offered than in his own words : in quoting which, I cannot help remarking, how completely they prove with what facility he might have added the graces of composition, if he had aimed merely at the fame of an eloquent writer. “I have endeavoured to be plain, simple, and perspicuous, but have never wasted that time in polishing a sentence which I thought I could better employ in ascertaining a fact; and even in matters of fact thus brought forward, there will, I more than doubt, be too often found something to object to as inaccurate."* In compiling the foregoing historical sketch, I have availed myself very largely of the assistance which this writer's work afforded me, confining myself, however, to the most prominent facts, and distinguishing them, as much as possible, from details of inferior importance. The view which I have exhibited, with all its imperfections, will, I hope, be sufficient to convey a general idea of the present system of Poor-laws in England, and of the most interesting discussions to which it has given rise.
SECT. II.—OF THE SCOTTISH POOR-LAWS.
I now proceed to a short statement of the Laws relative to the same subject, in our own part of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Laws with regard to the poor, merit our attention not merely on account of their more immediate reference to the concerns of our own country, but as affording an experimental proof of the good or bad effects resulting from a system which is strikingly contrasted with that of the English legislators. Of the contrast which this part of our Scottish policy exhibits to the corresponding regulations of the English code, particular notice was taken at an early period, by a very eminent man, who had enjoyed the best opportunities of observing the consequences of both. I allude to Bishop Burnet, who, in the Conclusion of his History of his Own Times, published in the year 1708, expresses himself thus :-“ It may be thought a strange notion from a Bishop, to wish that the Act for charging every parish to maintain their own poor, were well reviewed, if not quite taken away; this seems to encourage idle and lazy people in their sloth, when they know they must be maintained ; I know no other place in the world where such a law was ever made. Scotland is much the poorest part of the island, yet the poor there are maintained by the voluntary charities of the people. Holland is the most perfect pattern for putting charity in a good method; the poor work as much as
* [State of the Poor, Preface, p. xxix.]
they can; they are humble and industrious; they never ask any charity, and yet they are well relieved. When the poor see that their supply must, in a great measure, depend on their behaviour and on their industry, as far as it can go, it will both make them better in themselves, and move others to supply them more liberally; and when men’s offerings are free, (and yet are called for, every time they go to church or to sacrament,) this will oblige those who distribute them, to be exact and impartial in it, since their ill conduct might make the givers trust them with their charity no more, but distribute it themselves."*
From the particulars which I am now to state, it will appear that Bishop Burnet had confined his attention solely to the established practice of the two different parts of the island, in their management of the poor, without taking into consideration the existing Statutes on the subject in the Scottish code, which he probably regarded as a dead letter. At the same time, it is somewhat curious, when we consider how conversant this writer was with the jurisprudence of both parts of the island, that he should have regarded the law of compulsory maintenance as altogether peculiar to the English code. This circumstance, however, does not in the least detract from the value of this very weighty testimony with regard to the opposite effects of compulsory assessments and voluntary charity.
The earliest Statute to be found in the Scottish Acts relative to this subject, was passed in the reign of James I., in the year 1424. During the minority of this Prince, it is well known that Scotland was in the most unsettled state, great numbers who had no lawful occupation subsisting entirely by rapine and plunder. The King, on his return from captivity in England, where he had enjoyed the advantage of a good education, and had witnessed the happy effects of a regular and vigilant government, turned his thoughts to the improvement of the situation of his own kingdom; and as an indispensable preliminary to his other measures, began by improving its internal police, as this seemed most likely to be effectual in protecting
* [Vol. II. p. 659, orig. edit.]
his peaceable and industrious subjects against the violence and rapine which were then so prevalent in every part of the kingdom. In his First Parliament, it is statuted, that “na companies passe in the countrie, to lye upon onie the Kingis lieges: or thig; or sojourne horse, outher on kirk-men, or husbands of the land ;" and that “ gif onie complaint be maid of sik trespassoures to the schireffe of the land ; that he arreist sik folk, and challenge them, and tax the Kingis skaith upon them: and gif they be convict of sik trespasse, that they be punished, and find burrowes till assyeth (that is, to satisfy or recompense) the King and the partie complainand."* In the same Parliament, it is ordained, that “ na thiggeres be thoiled to beg, nouther to burgh nor land-wart, betwixt fourteen and threescore ten zeires, bot they be secure be the councelles of the tounes, or of the lande, that they may not winne their living uther waies.”+ In James III.'s Parliament, (1425,) it is ordained, that “the scheriffe sall gar arreist idle men, and gar keepe them in fastenesse quhill it be knawin quhairupon they live. And that the countrie sall be unskaithed of them : thereupon the schireffe sall receive gude and sicker burrowes. After the quhilk burrowes founden, the scheriffe sall assigne fourtie daies to sik idle men to get them maisters, or to fasten them to lawfull craftes. And they fourties daies beand gane, gif they be founden mair idle, the schireffe sall arreist them againe, and sende them to the Kingis prison, to abide and be punished at the Kingis will."I
In stating these particulars, it may be thought that I enter more into detail than is necessary or proper in this place, and that the minute provisions made for the police of a barbarous country in the fifteenth century, might safely be omitted in a political speculation, which is meant to have reference to our own times. But although I am ready to acknowledge the truth of this observation, I cannot prevail on myself to omit the opportunity which the present subject affords me, of quoting a few clauses from our old Statutes, which are valuable, as throwing light on the progress of order and civilisation in Scotland. Nor will they be found altogether foreign to the principal object of our inquiry, inasmuch as they strongly illustrate the impotency of legislative interference in curing, by the mere regulations of police, disorders which originate in the general condition and habits of the country.
* [Eden's State of the Poor, Appendix x.; Vol. III. p. cclxxviii.
I have already taken notice of the rigour of some laws of James I. against beggars. In the sixth Parliament of his successor, a law still more severe than any hitherto mentioned, was passed against the same description of offenders. It is probable that the disorders which these laws were meant to remedy, had, during the King's minority, become more prevalent. By this Act “it is ordained, for the away-putting of sornares, over-lyars, and maisterful beggars, with horse, houndes, and uther gudes, that all officiares, baith schireffes, baronnes, aldermen, baillies, as well within the burgh, as outwith, take an inquisition at ilk courte that they hald of the foresaid things : and gif ony sik be founden, that their horse, houndes, or uther gudes be escheit to the King, and their person put in the Kingis waird, quhill the King have said his will to them. And alswa that the said scheriffes, &c., inquire at ilk courte, gif there be onie that makis them fuiles, and are bairdes, or uthers sik like rinnares about. And gif onie sik be founden, that they be put in the Kingis waird, or in his irones, for their tresspasses, als lang as they have ony gudes of their awin to live upon, that their eares be nailed to the trone, or till ane uther tree, and their eare cutted off; and banished the countrie. And gif thereafter they be founden againe, that they be hanged."* Various other laws, breathing the same spirit, were enacted during the reigns of James II., James III., and James IV. In an Act passed in the fifth Parliament of James V., (1535,) after ordaining the strict execution of the Statute of James I., it is added, that no beggars should " be thoiled to beg in ane parochin, that are borne in ane uther; and that the headesmen of ilk parochin make takinnes and give to the beggars thereof, and that they be susteined within the bounds of that
* [Ibid. p. cclxxx.] VOL. IX.