Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 61, No. 377, March 1847 online

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"If I oft
Must turn elsewhere - to travel near the tribes
And fellowships of men, and see ill sights
Of maddening passions mutually inflamed;
Must hear humanity in fields and groves
Pipe solitary anguish; or must hang
Brooding above the fierce confederate storm
Of sorrow, barricadoed evermore
Within the walls of cities - may these sounds
Have their authentic comment!"

In order to deal effectively with pauperism, it is necessary to know the
causes which lead to the impoverishment of individuals and masses of
individuals, and to be familiar with the condition, manners, customs,
habits, prejudices, feelings, and superstitions of the poor.

We do not propose to institute an elaborate inquiry into the _causes of
pauperism_, or to make the topic a subject of separate investigation.
Our chief object will be, to collect into classes those of the poor who
are known, from personal observation, to become chargeable to parishes,
which process will afford abundant scope for remark upon the causes
which led to their impoverishment. We may require the company of the
reader with us in the metropolis for a short space, and may satisfy him
that he need not travel ten miles from his own door in search of
valuable facts, and at the same time convince him _that pauperism is not
that simple compact evil_ which many would wish him to believe. We might
also show that, in the metropolis and its suburbs, there exist types of
every class of poor that can be found in the rural and manufacturing
districts of England; just as it might be shown, that its inhabitants
consist of natives of every county in the three kingdoms. Its fixed
population, according to the quarter in which they live, would be found
to resemble the inhabitants of a great town, a cathedral city, or a seat
of manufactures. And that portion of its inhabitants which may be
regarded as migratory, would complete the resemblance, except that the
shadows would be deeper and the outline more jagged. These persons make
London their winter-quarters. At other seasons they are employed by the
farmer and the grazier. It is a fact, that the most onerous part of the
duties of the metropolitan authorities are those which relate to these
migratory classes. Among them are the most lawless and the most
pauperised of the agricultural districts. Others, during the spring,
summer, and autumn months, were engaged, or pretend that they were
engaged (and the statement cannot be tested,) in the cutting of
vegetables, the making of hay, the picking of pease, beans, fruit, and
hops, and in harvest work. Or they travelled over the country,
frequenting fairs, selling, or pretending to sell, knives, combs, and
stay-laces. Or they were knife-grinders, tinkers, musicians, or
mountebanks. As the winter approaches, they flock into the town in
droves. There they obtain a precarious subsistence in ways unknown; some
pick up the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table, others overcrowd
the workhouses. It would lead to many curious and useful results if this
matter were fully investigated. The reader's company is not, however,
required for this purpose; at the same time, the previous remarks may,
in some measure, prepare his mind for the consideration of kindred
topics. It may introduce a train of reflection, and prompt him to
inquire whether the wandering habits of these outcasts have been in any
degree engendered by the strict workhouse system and workhouse test
enforced in their native villages, by the destruction of cottages, and
the breaking up of local associations, and whether these habits have
been fostered by the facilities with which a bed and a mess of porridge
may be obtained at the unions, without inquiry into their business and
object in travelling.

Let us steer our course along the silent "highway," the Thames, and make
inquiries of the few sailor-looking men who may still be seen loitering
at the several "stairs;" we shall learn that not many years since these
narrow outlets were the marts of a thriving employment, and that there
crowds of independent and privileged watermen plied successfully for
fares. These places are now forsaken, and the men have lost their
occupation. Some still ply; and the cry at a few stairs, of "Boat, your
honour?" may still be heard. Others have been draughted into situations
connected with the boat companies, which support them during the summer
months. A large number swell the crowds of day-labourers, who frequent
the legal quays, the sufferance wharves, and the docks. And the rest,
unfitted by their age or habits to compete with labourers accustomed to
the other fields of occupation, sink lower and lower; sustained for a
time by the helping hands of comrades and old patrons, but at last
obliged to seek a refuge at the parish workhouse. Death also does his
part. At Paul's Wharf stairs, a few inches above high-water mark, a few
shrubs have been planted against the river wall - and above them is a
small board, rudely cut, and on it are inscribed these words, - "To the
memory of old Browny, who departed this life, August, 26, 1846." Let us
stroll to the coach offices. Here again we see a great change - great to
the common eye of the public, who miss a raree show, and a still greater
one to the hundreds and thousands of human beings whose subsistence
depended upon the work done at those places. A few years ago, the reader
may have formed one of a large group of spectators, collected at the
"Peacock" at Islington, to witness the departure of the night mails, on
the high north road. The cracking of whips, the blowing of horns, the
prancing horses, the bustle of passengers and porters, and the
consciousness of the long dreary distance they had to go, exercised an
enduring influence upon the imagination and memory of the youthful
observer. Now, a solitary slow coach may be sometimes seen. In those
days, all the outlets of the metropolis presented similar scenes. Then
call to remembrance the business transacted in those numerous, large,
old-fashioned, square-galleried inn-yards; and reflect upon the hundreds
who have been thrown out of bread. The high-roads and the way-side inns
are now forsaken and silent. These remarks are not made merely to show
that there is an analogy between the several districts and employments
in the metropolis, and those of the country. If this were all, not
another word would be written. But it so happens that the comparison
affords an opportunity, which cannot be passed over, of referring to the
changes which are going on in the world; and forcibly reminds us, that
while some are rising, others are falling, and many are in the mire,
trodden under foot, and forgotten. It is with the miserable beings who
are in the last predicament, that poor-laws have to do.

The political economist may be right when he announces, that the
introduction of machinery has, on the whole, been beneficial; and that
the change of employment from one locality to another, depends upon the
action of natural laws, of which he is merely the expositor. It may be
the case, too, that he is attending carefully to the particular limits
of his favourite science, when he occupies his mind with the laws
themselves, rather than with their aberrations. But those who treat upon
pauperism as an existing evil, to be dealt with now, should remember
that they have to do not with natural laws, as they are separated and
classified in the works of scientific men, but with the laws in all
their complexity of operation, and with the incidents which arise from
that complexity.

The coachmen, the guards, the ostlers, the horse-keepers, the
harness-makers, the farriers, the various workers in the trade of
coach-builders, and the crowd of tatterdemalions who performed all sorts
of offices, - where are they? The inquirer must go into the back streets
and alleys of London. He must search the records of benevolent
institutions; and he must hold frequent converse with those who
administer parochial relief. But his sphere must not be confined to the
metropolis. Let the reader unroll his library map of England, and devote
an entire afternoon to the study of it. Trace the high-roads with a
pointer. Pause at every town, and at every stage. Refer to an old book
of roads, and to a more modern conveyance directory. Let memory perform
its office: reflect upon the crowds of persons who gained a subsistence
from the fact that yourselves and many others were obliged to travel
along the high-road on your way from London to York. There were
inn-keepers, and waiters and chambermaids, post-boys and "boots." Then
there were hosts of shop-keepers and tradesmen who were enabled to
support their families decently, because the stream of traffic flowed
through their native towns and villages. Take a stroll to Hounslow. Its
very existence may be traceable to the fact that it is a convenient
stage from London. It was populous and thriving, and yet it is neither a
town, a parish, nor a hamlet. Enter the bar of one of the inns, and take
nothing more aristocratic than a jug of ale and a biscuit. Lounge about
the yard, and enter freely into conversation with the superannuated
post-boys who still haunt the spot. You will soon learn, that it is the
opinion of the public in general, and of the old post-boys in
particular, that the nation is on the brink of ruin; and they will refer
to the decadence of their native spot as an instance. The writer was
travelling, not many months ago, in the counties of Rutland,
Northampton, and Lincoln; and while in conversation with the coachman,
who then held up his head as high, and talked as familiarly of the "old
families," whose mansions we from time to time left behind us, as if the
evil days were not approaching, our attention was arrested by the
approach of a suite of carriages with out-riders, advancing rapidly from
the north. An air of unusual bustle had been observed at the last
way-side inn. A waiter had been seen with a napkin on his arm, not
merely waiting for a customer, but evidently expecting one, and of a
class much higher than the travelling bagmen: and this was a solitary
way-side inn. We soon learnt that the cortège belonged to the Duke of
- - . The coachman added, with a veneration which referred much more to
his grace's practice and opinions than to his rank, - "He always travels
in this way, - he is determined to support the good old plans," and then,
with a sigh, continued, "It's of no use - it's very good-natured, but it
does more harm than good; it tempts a lot of people to keep open
establishments they had better close. It's all up."

It is not necessary to pursue this matter further. Nor is it required
that we should follow these unfortunates who have thus been thrown out
of bread, or speculate upon their fallen fortunes. Nor need we specially
remind the reader, that this is only one of many changes which have come
upon us during the last quarter of a century, and which are now taking
place. Space will not permit a full exposure of the common fallacy,
that men soon change their employments. As a general rule, it is false.
The great extent to which the division of labour is carried, effectually
prevents it. Each trade is divided into a great many branches. Each
branch, in large manufactories, is again divided. A youth selects a
branch, and by being engaged from day to day, in the same manipulation,
he acquires, in the course of years, an extraordinary degree of skill
and facility of execution. He works on, until the period of youth is
beginning to wane; and then his particular division, or branch, or
trade, is superseded. Is it not clear that the very habits he has
acquired, his very skill and facility in the now obsolete handicraft,
must incapacitate him for performing any other kind of labour, much less
competing with those who have acquired the same skill and facility in
those other branches or trades?

The most important preliminary inquiry connected with an improved and
extended form of out-door relief is, how can the mass of pauperism be
broken up and prepared for operation? We are told that the total number
of persons receiving relief in England and Wales is 1,470,970, of which
1,255,645 receive out-door relief. Without admitting the strict accuracy
of these figures, we may rest satisfied that they truly represent a
dense multitude. It is the duty of the relieving officers to make
themselves acquainted with the circumstances of each of these cases, and
to perform other duties involving severe labour. The number of relieving
officers is about 1310. This mass is broken up and distributed among
these officers, not in uniform numerical proportion, but in a manner
which would allow space and number to be taken into account. The officer
who is located in a thickly populated district, has to do with great
numbers; while the officer who resides in a rural district, has to do
with comparative smallness of numbers, but they are spread over a wide
extent of country. The total mass of pauperism is thus divided and
distributed; but division and distribution do not necessarily involve
classification, and they ought not to be regarded as substitutes for it.

To the general reader, the idea of the classification of the many
hundreds of thousands of paupers, and the uniform treatment of each
class according to definite rules, may appear chimerical. To him we may
say, Look at the enormous amount of business transacted with precision
in a public office, or by a "City firm" in a single day. All is done
without noise or bustle. There is no jolting of the machinery, or
running out of gear. There is that old house in the City. It has existed
more than a hundred years. And it has always transacted business with a
stately and aristocratic air, - reminding us of Florence and Venice, and
the quaint old cities of Ghent and Bruges. The heads of the house have
often changed. One family passed into oblivion. Another, when nature
gave the signal, bequeathed his interests and powers to his heirs, who
now reign in his stead. But, however rapid, or however complete the
revolutions may have been, no sensible interruption occurred in the
continued flow of business. The principles of management have apparently
been the same through the whole period. Yet, as times changed, as one
market closed and another opened, as new lands were discovered, trading
stations established and grew into towns, as the Aborigines left the
graves of their fathers, and retired before the advance of
_civilisation_, and as India became English in its tastes and desires,
so did the business and resources of the old house expand, and its
machinery of management change. Once in a quarter of a century, a group
of sedate looking gentlemen meet in the mysterious back-parlour; a few
words are spoken, a few strokes of the pen are made, a few formal
directions are given to the heads of departments, a new book is
permitted, an addition to the staff is confirmed, and the power of the
house is rendered equal to the transaction of business in any quarter of
the world, and to any amount. Now, look at this great house of business
from the desk. Study the machinery. A young man, perhaps the eldest son
of a senior clerk, enters the house, and takes his seat at a particular
desk: and there he remains until superannuation or death leaves a
vacancy, when he changes his place, from this desk to that, and so on,
until old age or death creeps upon him in turn. He is chained daily to
the desk's dull wood, and makes entry after entry in the same columns of
the same book. This is his duty. He may be unsteady, irregular, inapt,
or incorrect, and his being so may occasion his brethren some trouble,
and draw down upon himself a rebuke from a higher quarter; but the
machinery goes on steadily notwithstanding. Each clerk, or each desk,
has its apportioned duty, which continued repetition has rendered
habitual and mechanical. In the head's of departments, a greater degree
of intellect may appear necessary. It is hardly the fact, however. For
the head of the department has passed through every grade - he has
laboured for years at each desk, and knows intuitively, as it were, the
possible and probable errors. His discernment or judgment is a
spontaneous exercise of memory, and resembles the chess-playing skill of
one who plays a gambit. Now, what is all this? It is called "official
routine." It appears, then, that an extensive business may be transacted
steadily and successfully, providing always that a few general rules are
laid down, and steadily adhered to, and enforced. _In books these rules
are simplified, classified, and rendered permanent._ A book-keeper may
imagine that thousands of voices are above him and around him, giving
orders and directions, and admonishing to diligence, and accuracy, - all
of which are restrained, subdued, and silenced, and yet all are still
speaking, without audible utterance, from the pages before him. And in
strictness, it would not be a flight of imagination, but a mode of
stating a truth which, from its obviousness, has escaped observation. Of
course, these books may speak incoherently and discursively, just as the
human being will do; and if they do speak, thus the evils which arise
are apt to be perpetuated. The books, then, must have a large share of
attention, and be carefully arranged. Then they must have a keeper, and
his duties must be explicitly stated, and his character and his means of
subsistence made dependent upon his accuracy and vigilance. There is
then the choice of the person who is to perform the business which the
books indicate and record. The requirements vary in different
occupations. In one, strict probity is a grand point; in another, strict
accuracy as to time, or skill in distinguishing fabrics and signatures.
In some cases, firmness, mildness, and activity, under circumstances of
excitement, is required; and these qualities, among others, would appear
to be indispensable in parochial and union officers, - if the fact of
their oversight did not render it doubtful. The last lesson we learn is,
that business should be checked as it proceeds. There are two methods.
The one is a system of checks, and is practicable when the business does
not occupy much space. The other is a system of minute inspection; there
are cases in which both methods may be partially applied, and that of
poor-law administration is one of them.

The machinery by which pauperism may be efficiently dealt with, may be
thus generally expressed. There would be required: -

_First_, A Board of Guardians, elected according to law, and with powers
and duties defined and limited by legal enactment.

_Second_, A staff of efficient officers.

_Third_, A scroll of duties.

_Fourth_, A set of books, drawn up by men of scientific ability, and
submitted to the severest scrutiny of practical men.

_Fifth_, A system of inspection under the immediate control of the

_Sixth_, District auditors, whose appointment and duties are regulated
by the law.

_Seventh_, And in the negative, the absence of any speculative,
interfering, disturbing, and irritating power, which may be continually
adding to, varying and perplexing the duties and the management, in
attempting to carry into practical operation certain crotchets, and in
rectifying resulting blunders.

Much might be said upon each of these requisitions. But we propose
rather to limit our remarks, and to turn them in that direction which
will afford opportunities for exhibiting the various classes and
varieties of poor, and suggesting modes of treatment.

The books which are necessary to enable the several boards of guardians
to deal with each individual case, not only as regards the bare fact of
destitution, but also with reference, to its causes and remedies, are
the Diary or Journal, and the Report Book. The Diary is simple, and may
be easily constructed to suit the circumstances of each locality. Every
person who has any business to transact, and values punctuality,
possesses a Diary, which is drawn up in that form which appears most
suitable to his peculiar business or profession. In it is entered the
whole of his regular engagements for the day or year, and also those
which he makes from day to day. Then on each day, he regularly, and
without miss, consults his remembrancer, and learns from thence his
engagements for the time being, and so arranges his proceedings. Such a
book, drawn up in a form adapted to the nature of the business
transacted, and ruled and divided in a manner which a month's experience
would suggest, would be, the DIARY. It would differ from that raised by
the man of ordinary business in the respect that its main divisions
would not be daily, but weekly or fortnightly, according as the board
held its meetings. It would be kept by the relieving officer, and laid
before the Chairman at each Board meeting - it is in fact a "business
sheet." The name of each poor person who appears before the Board, and
with respect to whom orders are made, would appear in this book on each
occasion. And the arrangements of its contents would depend upon the
classification of the poor.

The Report Book[1] was briefly commented upon in a former article. Its
size should be ample - for it is presumed that each page will record the
results of many visits, and be referred to on each occasion that the
pauper appears before the Board. The lapse of time between the first
entry and the last, may be seven or even ten years.


|Present Relief|
| Names of| Date| |______________|The circumstances
No. I |Dependent| of |Residence|Money. | Bread|
| Family. |Birth| |s. d. | lb. |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
| | | | |
The cause } |
and date of } |
first } |
application. } |
The FACTS of } |
the history of } |
the case, } |
abstracted to } |
the date of } |
the last visit } |
Relations who, } |
according to } |
law, should } |
assist. } |
Friends who } |
do assist, or } |
are likely } |
to do so. } |

|The circumstances as Orders of
|they existed when the Board,
|visited by R. O.,&c. and Remarks
| ___________
|Visited Dec. 16, 1846.
|Visited, &c.

This report is prepared from the actual visit of the relieving officer
at the home of the applicant, and by coincidental inquiry. Upon its
first reading, there would appear the names of the heads of the
family - the names of their children who may be dependent upon them, and

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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 61, No. 377, March 1847 → online text (page 1 of 22)