happiness. It is obvious that the reasonable expenditure for the purpose of keeping the people in a comfortable state, and the means of meeting it in an agricultural country like America, must be greatly less than in mixed agricultural and commercial countries, like France and Scotland; and these again must bear a small proportion to the necessary expenses and the means of a highly manufacturing and commercial nation, such as England. To make a comparison, therefore, between these countries or between others in a similar condition respectively, with a view to charge that which makes the greatest expenditure with extravagance, appears to be not more reasonable, than it would be to murmur that the head of a large family, enjoying an ample fortune, should dedicate a greater sum to the support and assistance of his poor relations, than the head of a small family in circumstances comparatively narrow..

But perhaps it may be objected, that if the necessity for the exercise of charity increases with every step in the progress of society, individual distress must of course increase also, and the general condition of the people be deteriorated.

To this it may be answered that, where the demands of charity are duly answered, the general happiness of the people is rather advanced than trenched upon by the increased extent of charitable exertion. I should upon the whole conceive that a peasant would be more happy in the power of sending his children to a village school within half a mile of his cottage, or a town-resident to one within half a furlong, than the cultivator in an agricultural country, could be in the scanty and occcasional intercouse which he

could have with any instructors at all in the insulated situation of his residence ; and that the children in the former case would be more likely to turn out blessings to their parents. In Canada, I am credibly informed, that the means of procuring instruction are so scanty, that even many members of the legislature cannot sign their names. Though government, through the exertion of some benevolent men in authority there, are about to use means for affording greater facilities of instruction,

Again I should conceive, that a poor man who fractures one of his limbs in a highly civilized country that fulfils its moral duties as to charity, and is instantly carried to an hospital, where all the comforts and skill attendant upon such a state of society are employed towards his cure, enjoys some trifling advantages over the peasant of the agricultural country, who may meet with the same accident in the middle of a large wood, 100 miles distant, even from the scanty comforts and deficient skill which are usually found in such countries.

Once more--although the ordinary fluctuations in the condition of the labouring part of the community are necessarily greater in the most advanced than in the previous stages of society, yet I should certainly be disposed, from personal observation, to assert that, where the measures for meeting the con, sequences of these fluctuations, which have been detailed in former chapters of this treatise, are duly called into action, as in every moral country they will be, there the poor man's condition is upon the whole more desirable than in the earlier stages of society. For not only are the ordinary fluctuations met and remedied, but the extraordinary fluctuations

also. He feels secure that, if he is himself industrious, his family will meet with due support, both when their ordinary expenses are greater than he can afford, and also when accident imposes upon them any extraordinary difficulties. And when the support, although given as a modification of charity, is confined to these two cases, it is both desirable in theory, and true in fact, that the sense of degrada. tion attached to personal relief under any form should gradually wear away, and attach itself only to cases of distress induced by idleness and profligacy. In all others it comes by degrees to be considered as a provision due by law or custom from the society at large, in return for the general advantages received by its progress in wealth and prosperity. This observation especially applies to the case of the poor laws in England, where we frequently hear it stated, in terms of lamentation and reproach, that 12 in 100, or nearly an eighth of the resident population are reduced to the state of paupers, subsisting upon charity; whereas it is well known to all persons conversant with the execution of the poor. laws, that at least one third of those persons are the offspring of industrious parents of large families, who receive their subsistence from the state by a legal provision, involving no disgrace or imputation upon the receivers, and conferring great and important benefits upon the state in its present condition of so, ciety. Strictly speaking, therefore, it cannot be considered so much in the light of charity under any of its modifications, as in that of a tax upon property, which when duly apportioned, is calculated, as I haave shown in a former chapter, to produce economi

cal results highly beneficial both to the agricultural and commercial interests of the community. It

appears then that just comparisons concerning the charitable expenditure of different countries must include a review of the different states of society in which they may be; and that when the argument is stated merely by comparing the nominal amount of the sums expended in each, to be just, it must be applied only to two places where the people are in similar circumstances. These comparisons, however, when fairly drawn, are not without their use for many purposes.

In an interesting volume entitled Collections relative to the systematic Relief of the Poor, at different Periods and in different countries,” published for Crutwell, Bath ; and Murray, London; many such comparisons are instituted with great candour and sagacity, both with respect to ancient and modern states. They are well worthy of the notice of philanthropists, and seem to bear out the compiler in several conclusions highly important to his own country. One of them is stated by him in the following words :“Whatever may be the state of religion, government, morals, and police, the sums annually devoted to the relief of the infirm and poor are not so small as to warrant the vain suggestion which many delight to propagate, that the sacrifice of property to the support of the poor in England, by the operation of the poor's law, is greatly disproportionate to that which common humanity devotes to the object in other countries. That the legal allotment of a portion of the public wealth, to the support of those whose labour has been or may be beneficial to

the public, is in any view of national policy 'more disadvantageous to the community than the leaving all who are in want to seek at large for the charity of individuals is a conclusion to which I conceive an observer would never be led by an examination of the state of the poor and the effects of charity in catholic countries." In Naples and Milan the sums expended in charity are larger in proportion to the population than in Liverpool and London, yet no one who has seen the four cities will dispute the superiority of the condition of the people in the two latter. Edinburgh, which has no extensive poor's rate, applies nearly as large a sum to the support of its

poor in proportion to the population, as Liverpool contributes, including its very high poor's rate. But the situation of the poor in Liverpool and Edinburgh is probably upon a par with respect to comfort. We see then that, where the moral duties of charity are duly performed, there its professed objects will be attained ; and this by a pecuniary expenditure not greater than will be extracted by the pressure of misery against the fears or feelings of individuals where the moral duties are neglected. The difference in the two cases will not be so much in the expense as in the effect. In one the people will be happy, decent, moral, and industrious.; in the other they will be wretched and brutal, and profligate and slothful. The same author, after a review and comparison of the condition of the poor in England, Scotland, and Holland, where legal relief to the poor is part of the law of the land; and in Ireland and other countries of Europe where no such laws exist, concludes with stating his conviction that " it will certainly be found that the charities of other coun

« ForrigeFortsett »