Page images
PDF
EPUB

tary alms

the relief of the poor and impotent, and for setting and keeping to work the able poor.”

In Scotland, after the work of reformation had been fully completed, and the Presbyterian government more firmly established, a practice similar to that enforced by the above statute was begun and has been continued to the present day; and a description of it, taken from the statement of the ablest advocate of the system, will serve not only to show its similarity, but also with how much discretion and discrimination volun

may

be collected and administered. “In those Scottish parishes the whole public relief which the poor obtain, passes to them through the organ of the Kirk Session, or Ecclesiastical Court, composed of elders, who in general are men of respectable character, though not always taken from the higher or even middling classes of society. The minister presides over this body, with the title of Moderator; and he and all such members of his court as have a practical share in the management and distribution of the charitable fund, do almost universally reside within the parish.

“ The fund itself is mainly derived from weekly collections, made every Sunday, of the voluntary offerings of those who attend divine service. In addition to this source of revenue, the Kirk Sessions have a small capital either in money or in

land, bequeathed to them by charitable individuals, or gradually formed out of the accumu, lated savings of past years. But we are safe in saying generally, that the chief part of a sessions income arises from the free-will contributions at church of the inhabitants themselves, aided by certain fees, which are exacted at burials and proclamations for marriages, and sometimes by fines for such irregularities of conduct as are subject to ecclesiastical censure and discipline. From the amount of all these items, there must be deducted the expense of certain salaries to clerks and other office-bearers, in order to obtain the free income of each session for charitable purposes.

“ But there do occur cases of emergency, such as a year of scarcity, or some uncommon depression of manufacturing wages, which, even in our most remote and agricultural districts, has a sensible influence on the price of country labour, and more particularly on the means and comforts of female householders. To provide for such cases, there is sometimes an encroachment made by the Kirk Session on its capital, if it has any ; or a special collection is made at the churchdoor; or an extraordinary subscription set on foot within the parish ; or, lastly, a parish meeting of heritors, or land-proprietors, who in general agree to raise a specified sum, and part in the understanding that each of them will con

С

tribute proportionably to his interest in the parish.”Edinburgh Review, vol. xxviii. page 9.

Upon the continent, until the Revolution, France resembled the state of England previous to the Reformation, and the more civilized part of Europe. The private beneficence of individuals, always increasing by gifts in life-time, or testamentary, was engrafted on various munificent institutions, aided and supported by the Government. And as to the other feature predominant in the history of indigence, namely, prædial servitude, although Louis X. (Hutin) abolished it in the regal domains, yet it existed in the great fiefs and seigneuries, and did not finally cease until the reign of Louis XVI.* and the period of the Revolution. Yet a state of society, which has hitherto prevented indigence from pressing on the public fund, has arisen from the Revolution itself. This has been owing to the sale of the national lands, which were bought by the lower orders of society, in small allotments, and at inconsiderable prices; and to the privileges given to the inhabitants of the communes, not proprietors of lands, of depasturing cattle, after the crops are taken, upon the severals and upon the wastes and commonable lands. On these small portions the proprietors and their families work and subsist; and in consequence of this right of depasturing, the necessity of continued and regular labour is in some degree superseded.

* “ Nous avons indique pour le prix de poesie de l'annee prochaine un sujet interessant, c'est ‘La servitude abolie en France sous le règne de Louis XV1.'—Nous avons choise ce sujet apres la lecture d'un tres bel edit qui vient de paraitre, par lequel le roi renonce aux droits de main-morte dans tous ses domaines. L'on doit esperer que cet exemple sera suivi dans le reste du royaume, quoique le roi n'ait voulu contraendre en rien les possesseurs.”—Correspondance Literaire de La Harpe, vol. ii. p. 416. Ann.1779. See also“ Necker's Compte rendu" on this subject.

The Encyclopædia* had ridiculed, as superstitious, the respect in which the establishments, built on Christian principles, for the relief of suffering humanity, had been hitherto held; they were condemned as narrow in their views, and founded on principles too confined for the great and extended views of philanthropy, with which the golden age of the French Revolution was to bless mankind. The National Convention, therefore, expressly recognizing the right of the poor to relief, determined on concentrating and generalizing all institutions of this nature, by raising a fund for this purpose from the nation at large, and selling all the property attached to the hospitals and establishments of this kind. This last measure was the only one adopted; and further, by the imposition of oaths which their conscience would not permit them to take, they lost the services of that most excellent order of men,

* Dupin, Histoire de l'Administration de Secours Public.

the curés, or parish-priests; and of those amiable and exemplary females, the Sæurs de Charité, whom a spirit of religion had devoted to the labours of active charity.

But the error was soon discovered; and in less than a year after the decree for the sale, it was repealed, when three-fifths of the property had been sold. But during this interval the poor languished and died, in poverty and distress; and in the defect of the means of the relief of one branch of indigence, the loss of human life would be almost incredible, if the fact was not ascertained by unquestionable documents. In the year 10 of the Revolution, the mean revenues of the Hospitals at Lyons had been reduced to one-third. Owing to this deficit, there were insufficient funds to provide for the children brought into the Foundling Hospital there ; and out of eight hundred and twenty children brought in from May 1795 tọ January 1796, twenty-eight only; were alive on the first of February 1796*.

But the consular government re-established these administrations on a firmer foundation; and under Bonaparte and Louis XVIII, they have assumed a character and consistency combining in some degree the establishments previous to the Revolution with those which grew out of it.

* Description Physique et Politique du Departement du Rhone, par Verninac, ancien prefet.-Lyon, An ix. p. 123, 124.

« PreviousContinue »