As the condition of the poor and the indigent, not only constitutes an important feature in the state of society, but also in the character of the government under which we live; some statements regarding the actual extent and progress of PAUPERISM and MENDICITY are necessary to complete this chapter.
POVERTY has been well defined to be that condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, and consequently no property but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life; that is, the state of every one who ? labour for subsistence. INDIGENCE, on the other hand is that condition which implies want, misery and distress. Indigence, therefore, and not poverty, is the evil against which good government must guard. Where indigence exists, the burden, of what are called paupers must follow; or, which possibly is much worse, mendicity will ensue. Pauperism and mendicity have of late years become such evils as to call for the interference of parliamentary investigation, in the hope of being able to check the calamities by improved legislation.
On the subject of PAUPERISM, facts have been developed that excite attention and demand further inquiry. We could give the abstracts for the whole kingdom, but that regarding the metropolis will answer our purpose, and comes more immediately within the plan of this work. The number of persons relieved permanently, on an average of the last three years, was 36,034; occasionally, being parishioners, 81,282; total relieved 117,316—so that the number of persons relieved from the poor's rates appears to have been 11 2/3 nearly in each 100 of the resident population—while, the number relieved in 1803 was nearly 7 1/3 in each 100; and that while the population has increased about one-sixth, the number of parishioners relieved has advanced from 7 1/3 to 11 2/3 in each 100. The total of the money raised by the poor rates was 679,284l., being at the rate of 13s 5 1/2 d. per head on the population, or 2s. 5d. in the pound, of the total amount of the sum of 5,603,057l. as assessed to the property-tax in 1815. The amount raised by the same rates in 1813 was 471,938l., being at the rate of 10s 11 1/4d. per head. This, therefore, exhibits an increase of nearly one-half in the amount of money raised to relieve paupers, and 2s 6 1/2d. on the rate per head on the population.—This increase of pauperism has been marked by a decrease of FRIENDLY SOCIETIES, institutions peculiar to England. The number of persons belonging to such societies appeared to be for the last three years, nearly 5 in the 100 of the resident population; a decrease, when compared with the abstract of 1803 of nearly 3 ½ in each 100. The sum annually raised for poor rates during the last three years, for England and Wales was 8,168,340l. 13s 9d.! but as some persons, and amongst them distinguished members of parliament, have declared that unless the evil be checked, that the poor rates would swallow up the property of the kingdom, it may not be unsatisfactory to state, that according to the printed abstract of 1804, from the returns made to the tax-office for the year ending April 1804, that the rental of real property in England and Wales, amounted to 38,000,000l.; and that the summary of real property as assessed to the property-tax in 1815, amounted to 52,000,000l., being an increase of nearly one-half in that period. But it will appear that the system of providing for the poor is not quite so perfect as it might be, from the fact that nearly one-third of the money raised by the poor's rates is expended in objects independent of the maintenance of the poor.
The extent of pauperism is great, and the proportion of it that falls on the metropolis will be inadequately ascertained by comparing its population with that of the kingdom. To cure or alleviate the evil of MENDICITY and VAGRANCY, the House of Commons promoted inquiries by a Committee; and the evidence obtained was extremely interesting and important. The Report developed such a body of evidence, as to ascertain beyond all possibility of doubt, the gross and monstrous frauds practised by mendicants in the capital, and in its immediate neighbourhood.
The following facts were ascertained :—That considerable sums of money have been found in the pockets, and secreted in the clothes of beggars, when brought before magistrates; that beggars make great profits by changing their clothes two or three times a day, and receiving money which was intended for others; and that a blind man with a dog has collected thirty schillings a day and others gain from three shillings to seven, eight, and even more per day. There are two houses in St. Giles's, which are frequented by considerably more than two hundred beggars. There they have their clubs; and when they meet they drink and feed well, read the papers and talk politics! Nobody dares to intrude into their clubs, except he is a beggar, or introduced by one; the singularity of the spectacle would otherwise draw numbers around them, which would hurt the trade. A Prussian (De Archeuholtz) speaking of his visit to England a few years ago, says, "one of my friends who wished to observe and study every order of men, put on, one day a ragged coat, and promised a handsome reward to a beggar who, in consequence introduced him to the club. There he found gaiety with familiarity, and nothing to indicate poverty but rags, the livery of the order. This one threw down his crutches in the corner of the room; another untied a wooden leg; a third took off the plaster from his eye; another a wig of hoary hairs; and all shewed themselves in their proper forms, related the adventures of the day, and formed schemes for the next." Their average daily collections amount to from three to five shillings per day, two shillings and sixpence of which it is supposed they each spend at night, besides sixpence for a bed. A negro beggar retired some time ago to the West Indies, with a fortune of 1,500l. ! Beggars have said they go through forty streets in a day, and that it is a poor street that does not yield two-pence; and that it is a bad day that does not yield eight shillings, and more.—Beggars make great use of children in practising upon the feelings of the humane. Children are sent out with an order not to return without a certain sum. One man will collect three, four, or five children from different parents, paying sixpence or ninepence for each during the day. Some children have been regularly let out by the day, for two shillings and sixpence, as the price of their hire: a child that is shockingly deformed is worth four shillings a day and even more. Two beggar women were one day overheard talking on this trade. One said, she paid two shillings for the child she carried; what! replied the other, are you a fool? two shillings for so fine a child as that ! I would not give more for a monster! Before the Commons' committee an instance was stated of an old woman who keeps a night school for the purpose of "instructing children in the street-language."
Mr. Martin, a gentleman residing in Westminster, and whose exertions to procure information on these subjects, and a remedy for the evils, some years ago, stated, as the result of his inquiries, the number of beggars about the metropolis to be 15,000. But the committee, from the evidence laid before them, conceived the number to be much larger. To the information already given, it may be added, that beggars, having perambulated their circuits, live well, spending a considerable sum of money; have hot suppers, and regale themselves with various liquors. That the St. Giles's beggars (already mentioned) are divided into companies, and subdivided into walks, and live luxuriously at night. They eat no broken victuals, are mostly of a desperate character, sell the clothes that are given to then, and tear their clothes to aggravate the appearance of distress. They assemble in the morning, agreeing upon their respective walks; that some of their walks are sold. In summer, many of them emigrate to watering-places, &c. &c.
Beggars evade the vagrant act by carrying matches, and articles of little intrinsic value, for sale. There is no form of distress which they do not assume, in order to practise upon the humanity of strangers.
In Mr. Martin's calculation, formed thirteen years ago, there were, out of 15,000 beggars, 5,300 Irish; but Mr. Martin's estimate of the whole number is much under the facts of the present moment. Much pains, by very particular inquiries, were taken in 1815, by a remarkably humane gentleman, to ascertain the number of mendicants in London only; and the result was, that there were 6,876 adults, and 7,288 children, making the total of 14,164.
Mr. Martin's estimates of their numbers, and of the sums annually extorted from the public by their importunities follow
Total (including 9,288 children)......15,288
The amount of sums gained by them was not estimated at a lower rate than what may be deemed absolutely necessary for the maintenance of such a body of people although in beggary; and the succeeding low sums were accordingly fixed upon:—
For 6,000 grown persons, at 6d. a day each, £. s.
lodging and clothes inclusive.............. 54,750 0
For 9,288 children, at 3d. per day, clothes
inclusive......................................... 42,376 10
Gross annual expense...................... 97,126 10
The mischief's resulting from mendicity, an evil that has afflicted every part of civilized Europe for many centuries, are most grievous. Begging is a species of extortion. The numbers restrained by disgust from giving alms bear no proportion to those who are impelled by sympathy; and hence to the beggar the difference is greater in point of comfort between begging and working. Then how true a saying is it, "that every penny spent is a reward to industry, while every penny given is a bounty upon idleness." The luxuries seen in many instances to be enjoyed by professed beggars are a sort of insult on the hard-working son of industry, by holding him out as the dupe who toils to earn a maintenance inferior to what is to be obtained by canting and grimace. Besides, it affords facility to the commission of crimes by the removal of shame, which is the greatest safeguard of honesty.
As the best security not only against pauperism and mendicity, but also against the extension of crime, will be found to be in exciting and promoting religious and moral habits among the humble, and therefore the frequently-neglected classes of the community; and, as many have been improvident and have descended into indigence and criminality from deficient education and idle courses; in the chapter respecting education, public-charities, &c., we shall treat of what efforts have been made to supply securities against the continuance of evils as enormous as they are alarming.
From what has just been detailed, it will be seen how amazing is the extent of pauperism and mendicity. That there should be such numerous proofs of the benevolent care extended towards the helpless poor is a proud boast for the nation; but, at the same time, it is to be lamented, that out of this good should result evil, owing to the inefficacious application of the system. In a working country like England, so distinguished for the industrious, plodding habits of its natives, it never could have been intended that the necessitous poor—necessitous from want of work, loss of parents and friends, or ruinous accidents—should be supported in idleness, because they "threw themselves on the parish." It cannot be that because individuals are compelled to appeal to parish allowances, therefore they must be supported without working; but hence, however, may, be traced much of the burden on parishes, and no work being provided in these houses, their very name becomes a misnomer. They have been any thing but houses of real industry and useful reform;—of late, however, the necessities of the times have promoted a more rational system. Instead of allowing these places to be the scenes of idleness and misery, many of them have been properly converted into places of activity and industry. The workhouse of St. Martin-in-the-Fields merits particular praise: able men and boys are employed as tailors, show-makers, flax-dressers, weavers, mat-makers, &c. and the women and girls in needle-work, knitting, spinning, &c. About 800 are so employed. The parish is indebted to Mr. James Cadwallader Parker, and Mr. Francis William Barron, late churchwardens, for those recent improvements.
Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819