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It has been indeed objected by one sect of philosophers, that legal establishments for the relief of the poor tend to destroy the spirit of charity; and the promulgators of this doctrine, Lord Kaimes and Mr. Malthus *, have had great fame in their generation. The answer given to the former, fifty years ago, by the Bishop of Cloyne, will serve also as an answer to the latter at the
present moment. “As to the ideal danger of excluding the exercise and extinguishing the virtue of charity, they must be strangers indeed to the distresses of the poor in this and every other country who apprehend a want of opportunities to exercise it, although the Legislature should have interfered with the utmost liberality : but it is almost ridiculous to observe with what solicitude certain writers speak of the cultivation of this virtue, at the very time that they are labouring to sap the foundation of almost
charitable institution, and especially of a legal establishment,--the most effectual and judicious provision for the poor *.”
* Lord Kaimes, in objecting to the English Poor Laws, says that “they depopulate the country and raise the price of labour."
Mr. Malthus, that "they lower the price of labour, and encourage marriages, and increase the number of labourers.”. Utrum horum creditis, Quirites?
The latter also adds, that“ if they had never existed in Enge land, the mass of happiness would have been greater than it is."
“ Nothing struck me more forcibly," says an intelligent English witness, “ than the contrast between the English and Irish peasantry."--Evidence, April 14th, 1825, p. 107.
England has Poor Laws-Ireland none.
“That a system of parochial relief,” says an intelligent Irishman, “would eventually put an end to that indiscriminate kind of charity which prevails in the country, is the opinion of very intelligent persons; and that for a time after the legal establishment, the systems of the forced and indiscriminate relief would be concurrent, there is no doubt ; but that from thence it is to be inferred that a general regulating relief would destroy real charity, is no fair deductions."
“ I think,” says another witness, “that, taking the population of Ireland at 7,000,000, those who obtain their subsistence by beggary and plunder amount to one-seventh, and supposing that 1,000,000 glean but one penny per day, it would make an annual income of 1,520,833l. 6s. 8d. I think a great portion of that sum might be saved by a provision for the aged and infirm, and much better applied than in the indiscriminate, unprofitable, and unworthy way in which it is at present.”
The regulated system has long subsisted in England. But has it destroyed private charity ? At the moment I am writing, the inclement weather and other causes of distress are exciting energies and exertions of a charity“ beyond the
* Address to the Public, &c., by R. Woodward, LL.D. &c., 1775.
+ Lords' Evidence, 1824 : p. 221. Ibid. 1825 : p. 558.
Has the Poor Law system extinguished charity ? Let Ireland itself answer the question, and
say, if charity slept or even slumbered in 1822-3, when under every roof in England, where supplications and prayers were raised to the God of all Christians, through the merits of their common Redeemer, appeals were made to English hearts in behalf of suffering Ireland. And it is no less a pleasure than a duty to assert, that to every inquiry which I made on the subject of the distribution of those succours, which flew as it were to Ireland on the wings of kindness and charity, I received the most satisfactory answers. Tnat there was mixed
with it some mal-appropriation, some error and some mistake, there can be no doubt. But that the general effect was the relief of thousands from suffering and death; that it blessed those who those who received; and that on the part of the latter it excited the strongest sentiments of gratitude and thankfulness to the former,- I received unqualified testimony from the most respectable sources of information.
If such cases of extreme emergency should ever again arise, there is no doubt that similar aid would be again promptly afforded. If there
was any thing likely at all to check it, it is a feeling, now not uncommon in England, that, with the numerous advantages of the English Constitution, and the unrestrained participation in its trade, Ireland ought to participate in its territorial burthens.
It is through Scotland principally and the north of England, the seats of manufacturing industry, that an unrestrained intercourse with Ireland has been considered as prejudicial to Great Britain. But this evil has been exaggerated. It is not the Irish labourer, but the power loom, which has reduced the value of manufacturing labour. This is the opinion not only of the intelligent gentleman, but of the shrewd Scotch operative*.
It is the sinewy arm and brawny shoulder of the peasants of Connaught, which hew the wood and draw the water in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which aid in getting in the harvest, and in digging the canal or dock. But almost all these labourers, unless the demand continues, return to their homes amidst the mountains of Connemara and the sand-swept wilds of Erris, to share with their families their hard-earned pittance.
London, and the district between it and Bristol, are to the labourers of Munster, what Edinburgh and Liverpool and their surrounding countries are
Second Report on Emigration, 1827, pp. 3—4.
to those of Connaught. None remain in either district beyond the summer, but those whom the waste of life in those districts, and especially in the voracious metropolis, demands and absorbs.
But it is for the Irish landlord that the strength of their youth is expended; and the wife, the mother, and the family, instead of being compelled, during the absence of the husband and the son, to wander in search of a precarious subsistence obtained by mendicancy, ought to find support and maintenance in their native abodes.
Scotland has first called for this act of justice, because she herself is in rapid progress to the legal assessment, from which, as every day's evidence tends to prove, she cannot escape*; and it astonishes me to find the ignorance of the fact, or denial of the existence of it, which has been frequently repeated and dwelt on, as an argument by the politico-economist of the hour t.
The plantation of the northern counties by James I., only transferred the M‘Donnells and M‘Clerys, from the west of Scotland to the eastern shores of Ulster. Identity of religion, of manners and of morals, has joined them indisso* Principles of English Poor Laws illustrated, &c. p. 26.
+ If Lord Napier is right, which there seems no reason to doubt, the money collected by the compulsory assessment for the poor in Scotland, is applied to many other purposes than their relief.- Edinburgh Law Observer, as quoted in The Times,'
Ist Jan. 1830.