« AnteriorContinuar »
the place where they lived: but now every nook of land is to be let to the great farmers, and nothing left for the poor but to go to the parish.
Though my visit,' says Sir Thomas, was unexpected, and he at the latter end of his Saturday's work, his clothes were neat and sufficiently clean. His countenance was healthy and open; he was a little lame in one leg, the consequence of exposure to wet and weather. He said he had always worked hard and well; but he would not deny but that he had loved a mug of good ale when he could get it. When I told bim my object in inquiring after him, that it was in order that other poor persons might have cottages and gardens as neat as his, and that he must tell me all his secret, how it was to be done, he seemed extremely pleased and very much affected: He said, “nothing would make poor folks more happy than finding that great folks thought of them: that he wished every poor man had as comfortable a home as his own,--not but that he believed there might be a few thoughtless fellows who would not do good in it.”
Britton Abbot was at this time sixty-seven, and had lived happily with his wife for five and forty years. He earned from twelve to eighteen shillings a week by task work, but to be sure,” he said, “I have a grand character in all this country' Five of his children were living, and having been well brought up, were thriving in the world. Upon his rood of ground he had fifteen apple trees, one green gage, three winesour plum trees, two apricot trees, currants, gooseberries, and three beehives; he reared also from this garden abundance of common vegetables, and about forty bushels of potatoes annually. When this man was turned adrift upon the world by the enclosure of the common, if he had been without hope, or if the rood of land for which he asked had been denied, he and his six children, and his pregnant wife, might have gone to the workhouse, and become a burden to the public, instead of setting it an example, and teaching a most important lesson to their superiors. We will transcribe Sir Thomas Bernard's words, and print them, as he has done, in a manner which may tend to excite the attention they deserve. “Five UNSIGHTLY, UNPROFITABLE ACRES OF WASTE GROUND WOULD TO TWENTY SUCH FAMILIES AS BRITTON ABBOT's. of an acre which was granted him was not worth a shilling a year before it came into his hands.
The reports of the same meritorious Society supply another of these
Short and simple annals of the poor,' which those who are acquainted with the fact will be pleased to see brought once more into public notice, and which those who are not, may peruse with pleasure and perhaps with advantage to them
HABITATION AND COMFORT
selves and others. Joseph Austin, a bricklayer in the neighbourhood of Cambridge, had often looked with a longing eye upon a bit of ground by the road side,-part of what is called the Lord's Waste; by a term which reflects little credit upon manorial rights, or parochial management. Whenever he looked at this spot he used to think what a nice place it would be for a house: and being a house-builder by trade, and something of a castle-builder by nature, he used as soon as he fell asleep at night to dream that he was at work there with his bricks and his trowel. At length he applied to the manor court and got a verbal leave to build there. Two of his neighbours, moved by envy as he says, threatened that if he began his house they would pull it down; upon this he applied a second time to the court, and obtained a legal permission with the assent of all the copyholders, paying for the entry of his name on the court rolls, and sixpence a year quitrent. And here we must do our country the justice to observe, that if a man of known industry and good character, like Joseph Austin or Britton Abbot, applies for an indulgence of this kind, there is very little probability that the application will be refused. Austin was at this time about forty-two years of age; he had a wise and four children, and his whole stock of worldly riches amounted to fourteen shillings : But men who deserve friends are seldom without them; and a master with whom he usually worked at harvest, sold him an old cottage for nine guineas, which he was to work out. He had for some time in his leisure hours been preparing bats ; a sort of bricks made of clay and straw, well beaten together, eighteen inches long, twelve wide, and four deep, not burnt, but dried in the sun; with these and the materials of the old cottage he went to work. The bats make a better wall than lath and plaster with a coating of clay, less wood is required, and the house is stronger and warmer; but they must be protected from rain as much as possible, and especially toward the bottom. As he had to live and support his family by his daily labour, this building could only be carried on when his regular day's work was done; he has often continued it by moon-light, and heard the clock strike twelve before he withdrew from an occupation in which his heart was engaged, this too when he had to rise at four the next morning, walk to Cambridge (nearly four miles distant) to his work, and return in the evening. If his constitution had not been unusually strong, it must have sunk under these extraordinary exertions, a fate more frequent than is generally supposed among the industrious poor. But he seems to have possessed an unweariable frame of body, as well as an invincible spirit. When the building was one story high, and the beams were to be laid on, the carpenter discovered that the timber from the old cottage would not serve for
so large a place. This was a severe disappointment; nothing, however, discouraged him; he covered it over with a few loads of haum, and immediately began a small place in the same manner, at the end, working at this with such perseverance that he got his family in within four months after the foundations were laid. This great object being accomplished, he went on leisurely with the rest as he could save money for what was wanting : after five years he raised the second story, and in ten it was tiled and coated; the inside was not completed when Mr. Plumptre communicated the story to the Society, but there was house room for himself and his family, and another apartment was let for a guinea a year.
• In this manner,' says that gentleman, Joseph Austin, with singular industry and economy, in the course of ten years built himself a house, which he began with only fourteen shillings in his pocket. During that time his wife had four children, and buried as many more. which it cost him was about 501. the whole of which was saved from the earnings of daily labour. The house and garden occupy about twenty poles of ground; and the garden is as creditable as the house to the industry and good sense of the owner ;-one of the fences was made of sweet briar and roses mixed with woodbine, another of dwarf plum trees, and against the back of the house he had planted a vine, a nectarine, and a peach tree.'
Such are the advantages which a poor man may attain by perseverance and well-directed industry--but there must be hope to aid. Hope is the leaven without which the mind becomes inert, and tends only to corruption. As well might you look for the kindly fruits of the earth without sunshine in its season, as for any good product from the people without hope.
* In all the plans which have been produced for the management of the poor, the defect,' says Sir Thomas Bernard, seems to be, that they do not propose to operate as on free and rational agents, and on religious and accountable creatures, each filling his place best when most earnestly seeking his own happiness ; but as upon works of art and mere mechanism, where the greatest momentum is to be acquired when the ma. chinery is most complicated, and the principles of action most involved. We have made repeated experiments on parochial manufactures, on farming the poor, on increasing the poor's rate, on the patronage of sentimental beggars, and the establishment of incorporated work-houses :Let us now try the influence of religious motive, the consequence of melioration of character, and the effect of improvement of condition. Let us endeavour to operate by individual kindness and encouragement, by the prospect of acquiring property, and by every other incitement to industry and prudence ; and we shall find that when the component parts of the body politic become sound and perfect, the state itself will be healthy and thriving.'
This is true radical reform, this is the reform of which the na.
tion stands in need,--and it is that also in which every one accord: ing to his station may bear a part. The good man will not be deterred from persevering in good, though his attempts to benefit others should somewjmes end in disappointment, or sometimes be ill-bestowed and unthankfully requited.* A poet more conversant with humble life than any of his brethren, and in knowledge of human nature, its principles and its powers, scarcely inferior to the greatest of his predecessors, says upon this subject
• I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning,
Has oftener left me mourning ! The experience of most good men would agree with the poet's; for though diseases of the mind and all vices--without ceasing to be vices--are such) are unhappily frequent as well as diseases of the body, like them also they are exceptions to the general and healthy state of man.
So far as the further increase of pauperism can be prevented, and the poor rates diminished, by improving the condition of the present generation of the poor, more may be done by benevolent individuals, and by making parishes sensible of their true interest, than by any parliamentary interference. It augured well of the Society, when upon first proposing this establishment, Sir Thomas Bernard the founder deprecated any attempt at proceeding rapidly and prematurely. In the same spirit of wisdom, after eight years of patient inquiry, he laid it down as a principle that, in every measure respecting the poor, we should avoid sudden and rapid changes. The Turks have a proverb, that hurry comes from the Devil, and slow-advancing from God. More than this, he says truly that not only sudden changes ought to be avoided, but also any unnecessary variation in form and manner from long-existent institutions. Far different this from the principle of our political-or more properly speaking, our pseudo-reformers, who under pretence of restoring the constitution to what it never at any tinie was, would, by their violent innovations, dislocate the parts, loosen the foundations, and subvert the whole fabric! Great good may be brought about by means so easy and gradual as almost to be imperceptible.
'Les Princes et austres,' says Comines, se plaignent aucunesfois comme par déconfort, quand ils ont fait bien ou plaisir à quelqu'un disans que cela leur procede de malheur, et que pour le temps a venir ne seront si legers, ou a pardonner, ou a faire quelque liberaliié, ou autre chose de grace, que toutes sont choses appartenantes a leurs offices, A mon avis c'est mal parlé ;. et procede de lasche cæur a ceux qui ainsi le font et disent; car un Prince ou un autre homme qui ne fut jamais trompé, ne scauroit estre qu'une beste, ny avoir connoissance du bien et du mal, ny qu'elle difference il y a. Et davantage, les gens ne sont pas tous d'une complexion : par quoy, par la mauvaistié d'un ou de deux, ne se doit laisser a faire plaisir a plusieurs, quand on en a le temps et opportunité.'-Liv. if. c. 3.
If such slips of waste land as were given to Joseph Austin and Britton Abbot, and as even now are every where to be seen, were in like manner to be appropriated wherever there were labourers of good character able and desirous to improve them, that moral charm which delights the traveller in Flanders, would then be added to the English landscape : the very face of the country would in a few years show that the vital parts had recovered their tone and their healthy action; the poor rates in the agricultural parts of England would be prevented from increasing at first, and gradually reduced; the amount of the additional produce in fruit and garden vegetables would appear, if it were calculated, surprisingly great ; and there would be a produce of virtues and human happiness, the worth of which is beyond all calculation. Greatly too would this desirable end be furthered, if the great landed proprietors, instead of throwing their estates into the largest farms that can be managed by an individual, were in some degree to reverse their system, and ascertaining what are the smallest that can be cultivated with
proper advantage, were to afford many families the means of subsisting with comfort and respectability, instead of enabling one to adventure for wealth by speculating in agriculture upon a large scale. Too long has that foul philosophy prevailed which considered men either as mere machines who fulfilled all the purposes of their existence if they furnished recruits for fleets and armies, and raised money sufficient for the exigencies of the state; or as mere animals, whose wants were all that were to be taken into the account of statistic economy. Hence the absurd assertion that the greatest benefactor of his species was the man who made two blades of grass grow where only one had grown before; and hence the more absurd approbation with which the hyperbole was received as a maxim of political wisdom! Quicquid amat valdè amat may truly be said. of the Englishman; a good deal of this disposition has been shown in the ardour with which agriculture has been taken up as a fashion, and as one of the many means for acquiring notoriety. The benefit which has resulted from it may remain when the folly shall have evaporated, and the evil past away ; but it were well if our gentle and noble agriculturists would more generally take a pride in increasing the comforts of the peasantry, and ameliorating their moral and intellectual state. Great and successful efforts have been made not only in improving the fleece of the sheep, but in increasing the tallow and spoiling the mutton; in fitting cattle to the standard of perfection at the shambles ; in delighting amateur graziers with the beauty of Farnese Tups, Bulls-Belvedere, and Cows de' Medici ; and astonishing amateur butchers by the weight and dimensions of Lambert Oxen. The skill of the engraver has been called in to perpetuate the triumphs of art over nature, in in