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I am not prepared to say, with those who with Mr. Malthus declaim against the poor-laws, that the dread of falling lower in the scale of society is extinguished.
The natural principle of looking forward, and exerting ourselves to better our condition, is one interwoven with the frame and condition of our being; “ stronger indeed in some than in others; but constant in its habitual influence upon all; and forms one of those great practical conclusions in morals, approved,” as Dugald Stewart justly observes, “ by the experience of men in all ages of the world, and of which, if we wish for any additional confirmation, we have only to retire within our own bosoms, or to open our eyes upon that which is passing around us*.” This principle of our common nature may be extended by moral culture and improved education, and on these means I place the greatest reliance; and if I do not insist more on them, it is not because I am less sensible of their importance, but because they are not strictly within the line of my general argument.
The following observations might, perhaps, be considered too minute in a work which is intended to embrace a general view of indigence in civil society, if arrangement and method did not facilitate business; and if the details of the prac
* Hist. Philosophy, vol. ii. c. 4. s. 5.
tical part of a system, new in its operation in this country, did not compose an important part of its efficient administration.
Yearly, after the select vestry has been elected, it is expedient to divide the members into classes, (four, for instance, if the number be twenty,) of five in each class; and so contrived, that in each class, if the parish be extensive, there shall be one person from each part, district, or tything. To each of these classes regular days of attendance should be appointed; and each member of the class should be expected to attend, or find a substitute, under penalty of a small fine, on the day fixed for the attendance of his class : thus the necessary attendance of no individual can exceed seven or eight times in the year, although his voluntary attendance may be as often as he pleases, and the attendance of a quorum is thus insured. It is best to debit the overseers with the amount of the rates, and they will discharge themselves by their payments, and the sums they are unable to collect. Should the overseers, or the assistant overseer, pay the poor every fortnight, the day before the select vestry meet, and according to a list given out and ordered by the select vestry, the accounts may be settled and passed at every one of their meetings. The following classification or order of
payment, combined with a general alphabetical table,
or register of the poor, very much facilitates the knowledge of each particular case :
1. Widows and single women, old and infirm. 2. Widows and families. 3. Single men, old and infirm. 4. Idiots of both sexes. 5. Orphans. 6. Families, old and infirm. 7. The families of able-bodied men. 8. Bastards.
It is expedient, too, that there should be laid before each vestry meeting a return of the sick, signed by the regular medical attendant; that the particular applications for relief should be made to the overseers when they meet, and entered by the assistant overseer in a book, which
be laid before the vestry at their meeting ; and it is better, unless under particular circumstances, not to require the attendance of the person applying in the vestry itself.
The general business will be much facilitated by subdividing the select vestry into three committees. 1. For arranging the poor-rates, and altering
them as occupation and property changes. 2. For auditing accounts. 3. For superintending and directing parochial
labour, if necessary. As well as by taking the following order for the dispatch of business at each meeting :
1. In reading the minutes of the last, and in
quiring what has been done in consequence. 2. In examining and passing the accounts. 3. In settling what rates should be enforced. 4. In examining the list of sick. 5. In considering and answering the claims of
applicants. 6. In arranging and discussing examinations
or legal questions, or any other business not
comprehended under the above heads. Upon a plan very nearly resembling that above detailed, the concerns of the parish of Speen, in the county of Berks, have been conducted from Easter 1819, as early as possible after the passing of the Act 59 Geo. III. c. 12, introduced by the Right Hon. W. Sturges Bourne, commonly called the Select Vestry Act.—The parish, which is entirely agricultural and inclosed, consists of about 3355 acres of land, is divided into five tythings, and contains a small town (Speenhamland) abutting on the market-town of Newbury, and three other small collections of houses. The population in
1801 amounted to 1754
2392 And now, 1829, in consequence of 67 new houses having been built, and reckoning five inhabitants to each house, is probably 2700.
The number of houses in 1829 is 595.
It is hoped and believed that the following are the results :
First, That there has been that unity of system in the pay and management of the poor, which prevents the inequality of relief, to which the ability and temper of overseers of different characters, changing every year, will naturally tend.
Secondly, The individual character of each poor person has been discovered, and is, in a certain degree, registered for the regulation of future vestries and parish officers.
Thirdly, Abuses with respect to settlements have been prevented, by examining with attention the cases of poor persons claiming relief; by conceding to the orders of removal, when they have been founded on justice ; by discussing, in a friendly manner, with officers of the parish from whence poor persons have been removed, their respective cases, useless litigation has been prevented, and, consequently, the legal expenses have been very inconsiderable.
Fourthly, A necessary consequence of the two preceding observations is, that appeals to the magistrates have been, in a great degree, rendered unnecessary, and, in fact, have rarely taken place.
Fifthly, Previous to the passing of the Select