Imágenes de páginas

had become at length so great and alarming, as to require the utmost effort of legislative wisdom to counteract or diminish it.

In the pamphlet now before us, Mr. Rose observes, that his attention has long been given to the situation of the poor in this country, from a persuasion that it was capable of improvement, and that he had been an anxious coadjutor of Mr. Pitt in his measure for improving the whole system of the Poor Laws; but that in the pursuit of that object, by attempting too much, the minister had failed altogether.

These evils both to the poor and to the higher classes were generally complained of, without the extent of them being known, I thought it of importance, therefore, to obtain Parliamentary Returns, by a Bill I brought in for that purpose* in the year preceding the publication above alluded to: and, I believe, considerable surprize was excited by the information then given, no less respecting the immense proportion of the population of the country reduced to subsist by money raised for their relief, than by the enormous amount of the sum so raised. I hoped that such an authentic exposure of a charge upon the property and tenantry of the country, equal to nearly one half of the revenue of it in 1783, without a proportionate benefit to the poor,—the number of whom was rapidly increasing, many of them in a comfortless state,-would incite endeavours to find remedies where they were so urgently required.' (pp. 2–3.)

These remarks, proceeding as they do from a statesman who has always been friendly to the principle of legal provision for the poor, and who, in his first pamphlet, strenuously resisted the proposal of Mr. Malthus for the gradual repeal of the poor laws, must be considered as decisive of the fact, that there is, in the system of these laws, something wrong, which loudly calls for a remedy. We are not indeed of the number of those who see nothing but unningled evil in this system, which naturally arose out of the condition of society at the time of its establishment, and which, by giving a legal claim for relief to the indigent and the wretched, has for more than two hundred years prevented or mitigated an incalculable quantity of distress. While, therefore, we regard with feelings of decided aversion, the barbarous policy of those who would cut the knot which they cannot untie, and by abolishing the system at once, con sign to neglect and hopeless' misery myriads of their fellow-crea tures, we rejoice in every plan which is gradual and preventive rather than positive in its operation; and which arises from the impulse of private benevolence and the energy of private zeal, rather than from the selfish calculations of legislators.

The establishment of Corporation Boxes, and of Male Friendly Societies, the former of which are of great antiquity, and the latter nearly a century old, has to a certain extent counteracted the prest * *3 Gep. III. . 144.


sure of poor-rates, and the growth of those bapeful habits of dependence, which it cannot be denied that poor rates are calculated to produce. By the Act for the encouragement of Friendly Societies, which Mr. Rose introduced, and which was passed in the year 1799, much good has been done. In it no attempt was made to alter the popular frame of these associations, far less to render the entrance into them compulsory. · How valuable this protection has been,' says Mr. Rose, may be easily judged of by the rapid growth of these societies, the members of which have increased from somewhere about 50,000 (I speak from recollection) to more than 704,000, according to the numbers under the Act for the returns of the poor between 1793 and 1805.'-p. 29.

The advantages which have arisen, both to the individual contributors and to the public, from these Societies, have been great, and we are happy to observe that in various parts of the United Kingdom, Female Friendly Societies have lately been formed. This is indeed a simple and obvious, but a truly valuable extension of the plan. When we consider the influence of women in a civilized country on the manners of society, when we reflect that by the very constitution of their nature, they are more helpless and dependent than men, and that from their domestic occupations and retired habits, they are freed from many of those temptations which often prove too powerful for the virtue of the other sex, we cannot doubt that they are likely to avail themselves of the means offered to them of providing against the peculiar hardships of their own lot, and that they will endeavour to recommend a corresponding foresight to their husbands, sons, and neighbours.

Much has been said of the dangerous purposes to which these associations may be turned. Mr. Rose, certainly not a partial judge in such a case, intimates that he believes such apprehensions to be chimerical, and expressly declares, that, though he has sought anxiously for information on that head, he has not been able to discover a single instance where those consequences have followed in the case of a society, whose rules were registered according to law. To detect the commencement and to prevent the progress of such evil consequences, an easy expedient occurs. Let the wealthy and intelligent members of the community become honorary or ordinary members of the Friendly Societies in their neighbourhood : they will thus be entitled to vote at the election of officers, to give their opinion in cases of importance, and to awe into silence those turbulent spirits who may wish to propagale mischief. We can assure the higher ranks that their aid not only in contributing to the funds, but in making the proper arrangeinents, is much wanted, and will be gladly and gratefully received: indeed they can scarcely purchase so much popularity at

[ocr errors]

so trifling an expense. Their donations and contributions would be doubly acceptable, as they would be given without the prospect of a return, and this feeling, we well know, has a powerful influence in adding to the respect which poverty and ignorance are disposed to pay to intelligence and wealth. We deeply lament the disasters which, on account of the erroneous principles of their constitution, and the ignorance, neglect, or selfishness of managers, have already befallen many of these institutions, and seem to be impending over the greater part of the rest; and we cannot but join with Mr. Duncan in earnestly urging the higher ranks to turn their benevolent exertions in this direction; that by affording to them the benefit of their patronage and support, they may avert the disappoitment and misery with which their ruin would be attended.

Friendly Societies partake of the nature of insurances on life and property, by promising certain advantages in the event of certain casualties or contingencies. They are preferable, however, to common insurance offices, inasmuch as the members insure each other, and retain all the profits in their own hands for the general advantage. There is also a benevolent principle intimately blended with Friendly Societies, which leads those who form them to be concerned for each other's welfare, and to consult for each other's good. Admirable, however, as this principle is, and excellent as are the institutions with which it is connected, the benefits to be derived from them by the individual members are often distant, and in their very nature uncertain. We have known industrious persons who have regularly contributed to Friendly Societies for forty or fifty years without receiving a shilling from the funds, Something more, therefore, seemed to be wanting in order to complete the system of encouragement to saving, which the legis lative support of Friendly Societies had begun, and the desideratum has been happily supplied by the institution of Banks for Savings. On this subject we quote the following apposite statement from the Introduction to the Rules of the Kelso Friendly Bank Society, which was one of the earliest establishments of this kind in Scotland.

• It was long a matter of deep regret, that no plan had been devised for securing to the labouring classes a place of safe deposit for the fruits of their industry, so as to encourage them to save, in the years of active exertion, such a portion of their gains, as they might be able to spare from their present necessities, as a resource in the season of misfortune, or the decline of life. The public banks cannot be expected to descend to the trifling details in which they would be involved, were they to receive or pay out such small sums as a shilling or two at a time; and it is their practice in this part of the kingdom (Scotland) not to receive a smaller deposit than ten pounds. Now the want of a place of safety for small profits prevents many from attempting to preserve them. Fear of being robbed, deters some; others have the virtue to begin who want


the resolution to persevere ; while not a few, diffident of their own care, are tempted to commit their savings to the hands of persons of doubtful character and desperate fortune, who, grasping at whatever they can obtain from the unwary, promise them good interest, and employ the money of the industrious and frugal in their own hazardous and dishonest, speculations. By the failure of such persons, the poorer inhabitants of a whole district are sometimes reduced, in a single hour, to a state of absolute indigence and dependence.

. If any method then could be devised, for giving to the honest and successful labourer or artizan, a place of security, free of expense, for that

part of his gains which the immediate wants of his family do not require, with the power to reclaim all or any part of it at pleasure, it would be a most desirable thing, even though no interest should be received.

• But if in addition to such an advantage, the possessors of small savings were enabled to receive regular interest, on il scale advancing, to a certain extent, in proportion to the amount and continuance of their deposits, the benefits of the scheme would be sufficiently great to secure its popularity and permanence.

• A plan, combining these advantages, occurred to the Rev. Henry Duncan, of Ruthwell, in Dumfriesshire. Having maturely reflected on the best mode of reducing it to practice, and explained its probable benefits to his neighbours, he succeeded in establishing in his own parish the first institution of the kind, about Midsummer, 1810. The name which he gave to it was, “ The Parish Bank Friendly Society of Ruthwell.”—Though the Society began without any patronage from rank or wealth, its intrinsic merits, and the founder's diligence and zeal in superintending its progress, ensured to it a degree of encouragement which he could not have anticipated.—We consider it indeed as an astonishing fact, that in the Bank Society of that retired parish, inhabited chiefly by cottagers, there has been a progressive accumulation of capital, amounting, at the close of 1814, to upwards of eleven hundred and sixty pounds; the greater part of it belonging to individuals who, in all probability, but for the facility which the scheine afforded, would not have saved a single shilling.---This has taken place too, under circumstances in which the depositors have had it always in their power to withdraw any part or the whole.'

These remarks are well illustrated in the following anecdote which was lately related to us, with perfect simplicity, by a poor Scotch woman. Her father, she said, had contrived to scrape together thirty-two pounds, the savings of a life of labour. He deposited country bank notes to that amount in the locker of his chest, from his ignorance of any better method of disposing of them, and there they remained safe but unproductive. But at last, the notes went out of fashion, and nobody would give a shilling for them, so the money was all lost.' To avoid a similar disaster, she placed 121. of her own in the hands of a respectable tradesman, and received interest once a year. On drawing her interest she used, she said, to be vain of her superior sagacity. But alas! the person in whom she confided becamė, like the country bank, insolvent, and her little treasure was swallowed up in the general ruin.


With the observations contained in the foregoing quotation on the obvious necessity and high importance of Provident Institutions, or Saving Banks, we entirely coincide. The statement, however, which it contains, respecting their origin and progress will require. some correction; and while the honourable emulation which exists as to the merit of the discovery renders it necessary to weigh with impartiality the pretensions of different claimants,—the change, which it requires no prophetic wisdom to anticipate from the plan, both on the comfort and character of the great mass of the people, will prevent such an inquiry from being deemed frivolous or uninteresting.

Our limits will not permit us to notice the abortive bills brought before Parliament by Mr. Pitt and Mr. Whitbread, for the improvement of the condition of the lower orders and the dimiuution of the burden of the poor-rates. But we cannot pass in silence the Speech of Mr. Curwen on the 28th of May last, which introduced his motion for a Select Counnittee to take into cousideration the State of the Poor-laws. On that occasion Mr. Curwen declared that the reform which he had in view respected a question which involved the expenditure of the enormous annual sum of eight millions, applied not to the ease and comfort of the poor, but calculated to render them dependent, indolent, and unhappy. He could not expect, he said, to cut down the system at once, but his object was gradually to undermine it, and he entertained a sanguine hope, that by means of public instruction, and the establishment of secure depositories for the savings of industry, they might be speedily diminished and eventually rendered unnecessary. In Ireland, he observed, where there are no poor-rates, the benevolence of the affluent affords a decent support to the deserving poor; and in Scotland, where the moral character of the people is so respectable, and where regular poor-rates exist only in a few districts, and are scarcely felt, the wants of the indigent are well supplied. Mr. Curwen then stated, that his plan to relieve the poor, independently of the existing statutes, would be similar to one which he could recommend as sanctioned by his own experience for the long period of thirty years. During that time all the workmen employed by him had contributed individually sixpence per week to a common fund. The money so subscribed had now increased to the suni of thirty thousand pounds; and at the present time the depositors enjoyed from it-relief in sickness, occasional weekly allowances, and many other comforts. He intended, therefore, to propose that the House should call on all classes of the people to subscribe to a National Bank on a similar principle.


« AnteriorContinuar »