The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
Lecture XI. The Consideration of the Prospective Condition of Society Continued,—Duty of Maintaining the Poor
Lecture XI. The Consideration of the Prospective Condition of Society Continued,—Duty of Maintaining the Poor.
Reasons for expecting future human improvement—The brain improves with time, exercise, and the amelioration of institutions—Existing superior brains and minds prove the capability of the race—The best men are the firmest believers in man's capability of improvement—Human happiness will increase with the progress of knowledge—Ignorance still prevalent—Many of our sufferings traceable to causes removable by knowledge and the practice of morality—This exemplified in poverty, and the vicissitude and uncertainty of conditions—Means by which human improvement may be effected—The interest of individuals closely linked with general improvement and prosperity—Examples in proof of this—Extensive view of the Christian precept, that we ought to love our neighbour as ourselves—Duty of attending to public affairs—Prevention of war—Abolition of slave-trade—Imperfection of political economy in its tendency to promote general happiness—Proposal to set apart stated portions of time for the instruction of the people in their social duties, and for the discharge of them—Anticipated good effects of such a measure—Duty of endeavouring to equalise happiness—Duty of maintaining the poor—Opposite views of political economists on this subject considered—Causes of pauperism, and means of removing them—These causes not struck at by the present system of management of the poor,—but on the contrary strengthened.
I proceed to state some of the reasons which render it probable that the capacity of man for improvement is greater than experience may, at first sight, lead us to suppose.
In the first place, man is obviously progressive in the evolution of his mental powers. The moral and intellectual faculties bear a far higher sway in the social life of Europe in the present day, than they did five hundred years ago; and the development of the brain also appears to improve with time, exercise, and the amelioration of social institutions. Wherever skulls several centuries old have been disinterred, they have presented moral and intellectual organs less in size in proportion to those of the propensities, than are found in the average skulls of the modern inhabitants of the same countries. It is certain also, that, in civilized nations in general, the moral and intellectual organs are larger, in proportion to the organs of the animal propensities, than they are in savages. The skulls of civilized and savage races, in the collection of the Phrenological? page 58 Society afford proofs of this fact.* Moreover, individuals are fitted to institute, maintain, and enjoy, a highly moral and intellectual social condition, in proportion to the predominance of the organs of the superior sentiments and intellectual powers in their brains. Many persons enjoying this combination may be found in all Christian countries. They are genuine philanthropists,—good, pious, wise, long-suffering, and charitable. They see and lament the ignorance, selfishness, blindness, and degradation of the unenlightened masses of mankind, and would rejoice in institutions that should introduce peace and good-will to men, and the love of God into every mind. If men possessing such brains exist, human nature must be capable of reaching this condition; and as we are all of the same race, and regulated by the same laws, the excellent qualities exhibited by a few cannot be said to be beyond the ultimate attainment of the majority.
Farther—As the firmest believers in man's capability of improvement are those persons who them-selves possess a high moral development of brain, they are inspired, in this faith, not by a demon, but by heaven; for the moral sentiments are the Godlike elements of our nature; and the very fact that these ennobling expectations are entertained by men possessing the best moral affections, affords an indication that Providence intends that they should be realized. In proportion, then, as a large development of the organs of the higher faculties becomes general, the conviction of the possibility of improvement, the desire for it, and the power of realizing it, will increase.†
Again—Man, as already mentioned, is clearly and undeniably progressive in knowledge; and this single fact authorizes us to rely with confidence on his future improvement. In proportion as he shall evolve a correct knowledge of the elements of external nature, and of his own constitution, out of the dark chaos in which they have hitherto existed, will his means of acting wisely, and advantageously for his own happiness, be augmented. If we trace in history the periods of the direst sufferings of human nature, we shall find them uniformly to have been those of the most benighted ignorance; and Phrenology confirms the records of history on this subject; it shews us that the animal organs are the largest and most active, and that, in uncultivated men, they act blindly and with terrible energy, producing misery in every form. If the progress of knowledge be destined to augment virtue and enjoyment, our brightest days must yet be in reserve; because knowledge is only at this moment dawning even on civilized nations. It has been well observed, that we who now live are only emerging out of the ignorance and barbarism of the dark ages; we have not yet fully escaped. This is proved by the mass of uneducated persons everywhere existing;* by the imperfect nature of the instruction usually given; and by the vast multitude of prejudices which still prevail, even in the best informed classes of society. It is, in truth, an error to believe that even modern Europe is enlightened, in any reasonable meaning of the term. A few of her ablest men are comparatively well instructed, when tried by the standards of other ages; but the wisest of them have the most forcible conviction that the field of their knowledge of nature, physical and mental, when compared with the vast regions of territory still unexplored, is as a span to the whole terrestrial globe: and as to the multitude of mankind, their ignorance is like the loftiest mountain in extent, and their knowledge as the most diminutive mole-hill. The great body of the people are uninstructed in everything deserving the name of practical science. Neither our scheme of life, the internal arrangements of our houses, the plans of our towns, our modes of industry, our habits of living, our amusements, nor even the details and forms of our religious faith and worship, have been instituted after acquiring sound and systematic views of our own nature, and its wants and capabilities. The commencement of discovery in the arts and sciences, and of the art of printing itself, are still comparatively recent: while the practical application of them to increase the intelligence and happiness of the great mass of the people, with a view to realizing Christian morality and its attendant enjoyments, has scarcely yet begun.
* Since the text was written, I have visited the United States of America, and seen large numbers of skulls of native Indians, and also living individuals of these races, and have found the statement in the text supported by this evidence. See the most authentic descriptions of these skulls in Dr Morton's Crania Americana; an admirable work containing 78 drawings, of the size of life, of the skulls of native American Indians, with letter-press descriptions of the mental qualities of the tribes.?
† The failure of the disciples of Mr Owen, at Orbiston, in Lanarkshire, may be supposed to be a refutation of this remark; but they followed the aspirations of their moral sentiments, without consulting the dictates of enlightened intellect. They believed that the good which they strongly desired could be at once realized, by measures suggested by the mere force of the desire, without fulfilling the preliminary conditions necessary to success. They assembled a number of selfish and ignorant people, and expected that, by a few speeches and by living a community, they could alter their mental condition, and render them in the highest degree disinterested and moral. This was irrational, and failure was the natural result; but this does not shew that wiser means might not have led to happier ends.
The register of marriages in England throws an incidental light upon the state of education. The parties married sign their names, if they can write, and affix their marks, if they cannot. Judging by this criterion, it appears that, among 100 men who marry in England, the number unable to write is 33. Among 100 women, 40; and the mean of both, 41. As it is estimated that the number who marry annually is only about 3 per cent, of the persons marriageable, the data are too limited to afford sure results; but in the absence of better evidence, they are well worthy of attention. With this qualification, we give the proportions for the different sections of the country.Scholarship of England.
|Monmouth and Wales,||48||70||59|
The fact that 41 adults out of every 100 cannot write their names, is disgraceful to England, and to the Church in particular, whose especial duty it was, either to make provision for the education of the people, or to see that it was made by the state. The Church, in its collective capacity, has in fact been always hostile to the diffusion of knowledge.—Review of the Registrar-General's Second Annual Report of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, for England, in Scotsman of 22d August 1840.
Another reason for believing in human capability of improvement is, that imperfect as our scientific acquaintance with ourselves and with external nature at present is, we are able to trace many of our sufferings to causes which are removable by knowledge and by the practice of moral duty. The evils of sickness and premature death may, in general, and with the exception of accidents, be traced to feeble constitutions inherited from parents, or to direct disobedience of the organic laws in our own persons. If knowledge of the causes of health and disease were generally diffused, and if the sanctions of religion and of public opinion were directed towards enforcing attention to them, it is reasonable to believe that in every succeeding generation, fewer parents would produce children with feeble constitutions, and fewer adults would cause their own deaths prematurely, by ignorant infringement of these laws.
Poverty, and the consequent want of the necessaries and enjoyments of life, is another vast source of human suffering. But who that contemplates the fruit fulness of the earth, and the productiveness of human labour and skill, can doubt that if a higher minded and more considerate population could be reared, who should act according to the dictates of an enlightened understanding and a sound practical morality, under wise social arrangements,—this source of suffering might also be dried up, or very greatly diminished!
Vicissitude and uncertainty of condition also afflict thousands who are placed above the reach of actual want of food and raiment; yet how much of these evils may be traced to the dark mysteriousness in which trade is generally conducted; in consequence of which, each manufacturer is often in secret ruining both himself and his neighbour by over-production, without any of them being aware that he is the source of his own and his neighbour's calamities; and how much evil may be ascribed to the grasping and gambling spirit, which prompts so many persons to engage in wild speculations, which a sound education in political economy might prevent! Evils like these appear to be to some extent avoidable, by knowledge of the principles which govern commerce, and by the practice of prudence and morality by individuals.
The last reason which I assign for believing in the capability of man for improvement, is, that he can scarcely advance a step in knowledge and morality, without inducing a palpable amelioration of his condition. If you will trace the history of our countrymen through their various states, of savages, barbarians,—chivalrous professors of love, war, and plunder,—and of civilized citizens of the world, you will find the aggregate enjoyment of the people increased with every extension of knowledge and virtue. This is so obvious and certain, that I forbear to waste your time by proving it in detail, and only remark that we cannot reasonably suppose that the progress is destined to stop at its present and still imperfect stage.
For all these reasons, let us hope that improvement, although not boundless yet so extensive that its limits cannot be defined, lies within the reach of man, and let us proceed to consider some of the means by which it may be attained.
The first step towards realizing this object is to produce a general conviction of its possibility, which I have endeavoured, in this and the preceding lectures, to accomplish. The next is to communicate to each individual a clear perception of the advantages which would accrue to himself from such improvements, and a firm conviction of the impossibility of individuals in general ever attaining to the full enjoyment and satisfaction of their highest and best powers, except by means of social institutions founded on the harmonious action of all their faculties.
In support of this last proposition, I solicit your attention, for a brief space, to our helpless condition as individuals. In social and civilized life, not one of us could subsist in comfort for a day, without the aid and society of our fellow-men.* This position will perhaps be disputed by few; but the idea is general, that if we only acquire property enough, we may completely realize the happy condition so delightfully sketched by Moore, when he invokes felicity to a friend in the following words :—
"Peace be around thee wherever thou rov'st;
May life be for thee one summer day;
And all that thou wishest, and all that thou lov'st,
Come smiling around thy sunny way."
* Alexander Selkirk lived in solitude for four years, on the uninhabited Island of Juan Fernandez, in comfort, and even with enjoyment, after he had become accustomed to his situation; but he had a fine climate, a fertile soil, and unbounded range for action. A human being left without aid in a civilized community, would be far more helpless and miserable.?
Now, the principle which is here illustrated holds good universally in social life.
If you are a parent, and see the imperfections of the prevailing system of education, you cannot amend it until a teacher and a large number of parents shall have concurred in views similar to your own, and combined in the institution of an improved seminary. Many applications have been made to me, for information where seminaries for rational education, particularly for females, were to be found; but until very recently, I could not tell; because none such, to my knowledge, existed. There are now some of these in various parts of the kingdom; but before they were instituted, individual parents were compelled, by social necessity, to place their children in schools of which they did not approve, because they could find no better. Nay, enlightened teachers have told me that their schools are arrested in their progress, and retained in arrear of their own knowledge and convictions of improvement, in consequence of the prejudices of parents rendering it unsafe for them to adopt new methods. The improved schools, so far as they exist, have been created by the enlightenment of parents and teachers, by the aid of the press, and by the general spread of knowledge.
Is any of us convinced that human life is rendered unnecessarily laborious by our present habits of competition, and does he desire to limit his hours of labour, and long ardently to enjoy more ample opportunities for exercising his moral and intellectual faculties?—he soon discovers that while his neighbours in general continue to seek their chief happiness in the pursuit of wealth, or the gratification of ambition, he can accomplish little towards realizing his moral desires. He must keep his shop open as long as they do; he must labour in his manufactory up to their full standard of time; or if he be a member of a profession, he must devote as many hours to business as they; otherwise he will be distanced in the race, and lose both his means of subsistence and his station in society. So true is this representation that, in my own day, many of the men who, without fortune, have embarked in public life—that is, who have taken the lead in public affairs, and devoted a large portion of their time to the business of the community—have ruined themselves and their families. Their competitors in trade, manufactures, or professional pursuits, were dedicating their whole energies to their private duties, while they were dividing their attention between them and the public service; and they were, in consequence, ruined in their individual fortunes, and sank into obscurity and want. Yet it is certain that the business of the state, or of a particular town or city, should receive a due portion of attention from the inhabitants.
This dependence of individuals on the condition of the social circle in which they live, extends through all the ramifications of existence. Does any individual entertain higher notions of moral and religious duty than are current in his own rank and age?—he will find, when he attempts to carry them into practice, that he becomes an object of remark to all, and of dislike and hostility to many. Does another perceive the dangers*to health and comfort, in narrow lanes, small sleeping apartments, and ill ventilated rooms and churches, and desire to have them removed?—he can accomplish absolutely nothing, until he has convinced a multitude of his fellow-citizens of the reasonableness and advantage of his projected improvements, and induced them to cooperate in carrying them into effect. Does any of us desire to enjoy more rational public amusements than those at present at our command?—he cannot succeed, unless by operating on the understandings and tastes of thousands. Perhaps the highest social pleasure of life is that of familiar converse with moral and intelligent friends; but do we not feel that, from the limited cultivation of taste and intellect still prevalent, our social parties are too often cumbrous and formal displays of wealth and luxury, and occasions much more of ostentation than of pleasing and profitable mental excitement? It is only by a higher general education that this evil can be removed. It is the want of mental resources that causes the dull display.
But perhaps the strongest proof of the close connection between the public welfare and private interest, is afforded by the effects of any great political or commercial convulsion. In 1825-6, we saw extensive failures among bankers, merchants, and manufacturers; and how universal was the individual suffering throughout all classes! Labourers could find no employment, and the shopkeepers who depended on them had few customers, and of these many were unable to pay. The great manufacturers who supplied these classes with clothing and articles for domestic use were idle; the house proprietor suffered for want of solvent tenants, and the landed proprietor found a dull and disadvantageous market for his produce. Contrast this picture with the condition of the country when the great branches of manufacturing industry are prosperous, and how different the happiness of individuals ! Thus it appears, that even under the present system of the pursuit of individual interest, the real welfare of each individual is much more closely connected with that of his neighbours than is generally recognised. This proves that a fundamental element of individual advantage is public prosperity.
According to my humble conviction, therefore, the very first lesson relative to our social duties, which should be given to the young, is to open their understandings to the great fact, that the precept of Christianity which commands us to love our neighbours as ourselves, is actually written in our individual and social constitutions, and must be practically realized before individuals can become truly prosperous and happy.
The precept has been generally interpreted to mean that we should do specific acts of kindness to the men who live locally in our neighbourhood, or who are connected with us by ties of intimacy or kindred; but, although this is unquestionably one, and a very important application of it, the principle of the precept goes much farther. It enjoins us to arrange our social institutions, and our whole practical conduct, in such a manner as to render all simultaneously, and, as nearly as may be, equally, happy; and apparently our nature has been, constituted to admit of this being done with unspeakable advantage to all, whenever we shall thoroughly understand our constitution, its wants and capabilities. At present this principle is imperfectly understood, and certainly not generally acted on.
A few years ago we used to hear the maxim often repeated, that private persons had nothing to do with page 61 public affairs; that their business was to mind their shops, their manufactories, their professions, and their families, and to leave public matters to public men. The evil consequences of the world having followed this rule in past ages, may be read in the wide aberrations of many of our laws and institutions, and of our social condition, from the standards of reason and general utility, if you will peruse the pages of history, you will find the caprices of a single sovereign often leading to wars which spread devastation and misery among millions of people. These could not have been waged if the millions of persons on whom the calamities fell had considered the public interest inseperably connected with their own, and had had courage to exercise an enlightened control over the actions of their rulers. Another instance is presented in the history of the slave-trade. It proceeded from individual rapacity, and constituted the foulest "blot that ever stained the fame of Britain. It enriched a few individuals at the expense of every principle of humanity, and in defiance of every Christian precept. At no period was it approved of by the general voice of the people; but each was too busy with his private affairs to make a simultaneous and general effort to arrest its progress. At last, growing intelligence, and increasing morality, in the great body of the people, did produce this co-operation; and, after ages of crime and misery, it was extinguished, by the nation paying L.20,000,000 for the freedom of the slaves. If the British people had been able earlier to insist on the cessation of this odious traffic, how much of human misery, besides the loss of the L.20,000,000, would have been avoided! if we 'trace narrowly the great causes why our rulers have been permitted to waste the public resources, and incur the national debt, which now forms so great an impediment to public improvement, we shall find that too often the individuals of the nation were calculating the private gain which hostilities would yield to them. War created a demand for farm produce to maintain fleets and armies, for cloth to clothe them, and for iron to arm them, and so forth; and men shut their eyes to the fact that it was destroying the national resources, and that they themselves would, in the end, be forced to pay for all. Unfortunately the maxim that each of us should mind his private affairs, make gain of the public if he can, and leave public measures to public men, still reigns in too much vigour. The number of persons who take an enlightened interest in social welfare is still small: so much is this the case, that even in this course of lectures, the audience has diminished in proportion as I have left the interests of individuals, and proceeded to discuss those of the public. This indicates a humble degree of mental cultivation. One of the most certain marks of a truly enlightened mind, is the power of comprehending the dependence of our individual welfare of public prosperity. I do not mean, of course, that each of us should become a political reformer, or a conservative, or a brawler about town politics and police regulations, as if these constituted our chief business, to the neglect of our private duties. This would augment, instead of diminishing, the evils of our social condition. What I wish to enforce is, the conviction that, in the general case, our individual enjoyments are inseparably connected with those of the society in which we move; and that it is both our interest and our duty to study attentively the nature, objects, and practical results, of our social institutions; and to devote all the time and attention that may be necessary to bring them into accordance with the dictates of our higher powers.
The prevalence of these views would lead to numerous and important advantages. We should learn to regard public measures in their real relationship to general utility, and not through the distorting medium of our private interests and partialities. We should proscribe class interests as public nuisances; and believe in the incalculable power which society possesses to improve its condition whenever it chooses to act in the right direction. We should feel much more disposed than at present to promote, with our moral influence, the ascendancy of all measures calculated to lead to public good, relying on their benefitting ourselves in our social capacity. Another effect would be, that men of far higher moral and intellectual character would become candidates for offices of public trust and honour, because they would be certain of support from a moral and intelligent public. At present the busy men in all the minor departments of political and public life, are too often those who are actuated by a restless vanity, or who expect to attain some selfish end through their public influence and connections. From the general disbelief in disinterested motives, public men are at present frequently rewarded with obloquy and abuse, however zealously and uprightly they may have discharged their official duties; and this deters men of delicacy, who also entertain a strong sense of justice, from accepting official trusts. There are, fortunately, many exceptions, but I fear that there are also too many examples of the truth of this remark. The truly enlightened and disinterested shrink from the means which selfishly ambitious men employ, not only to obtain, but to wield and preserve power; and hence, the field is left too open to them. The remedy for these evils i6 to educate the public at large into a perception of the real nature and importance of their social interests and duties.
If I be correct in the opinion that the happiness of each individual is inseparably connected with that of the society in which he lives, and that the law that we must love our neighbour as ourselves, really means, in its extensive sense, that individual enjoyment can arise only from improved social habits and institutions,—then I shall not be thought to be guilty of extravagance, when I remark, that in times past this view has rarely, to any practical end, been pressed on the attention of society. Within the last fifty or sixty years, political economy has been discussed on philosophical principles; but the leading aim of the economists has been to demonstrate the most effectual means of increasing wealth. The very title of the first valuable work on the subject in this country, is "The Wealth of Nations," by Dr. Adam Smith. The principles which he expounded, it is true, are, in many respects, coincident with those which I am now advocating; and no one can value his labours, and those of his successors, such as Ricardo, M'Culloch, and their followers, more highly than I do; yet it is unquestionable that the great aim of all these writers has been to clear away the rubbish that impeded the play of our selfish faculties, and to teach the advantage of repealing all laws that impede a man in following his own bent, in search of its own happiness in his own way, restrained only by the obligation that he shall not directly injure or obstruct the prosperity of his neighbour. In the infancy of civilization, the exposition of the natural laws by which wealth is created and diffused is most valuable, and these writers are worthy of all consideration as being useful in their day. But society must advance in its course. It has augmented its wealth, while many persons doubt whether the increase of happiness has, in all ranks, kept pace with that of its riches. What seems now to be wanted is, the application of principles in harmony with our whole nature, physical, animal, moral, and intellectual, calculated to lead to the gratification of all our page 62 powers. We need to be enlightened regarding the constituent elements of our own happiness, and to pursue it, in combination, in a right direction. The gigantic efforts of Britain in war, afford an example of the prodigious power, in the form of violence, which we are capable of wielding; and if our forefathers had dedicated to the physical and mental improvement of the people, the same ardour of mind, and the same amount of treasure, which they squandered in battles between the years 1700 and 1815, what a different result would at this day have crowned their labours ! If they had bestowed honours on the benefactors of the race as they have done on its destroyers, how different would have been the direction of ambition!
The next requisite for improving our social condition, is the command of time for the discharge of our social duties. One day in the week is set apart for teaching and practising our religious duties; but in that day, little instruction is communicated by our public and authorized teachers, touching the affairs of this world, and the laws by which the happiness of our social state may be best promoted. The other six days of the week are devoted to the advancement of our individual interests in the pursuit of wealth, or, as the Scripture designates it, to the collection of "the meat which perisheth." In the existing arrangements of society, our social duties do not appear to be generally recognised as incumbent on us. There are few seminaries for making us acquainted with them, and no time is allotted for the practice of them. Those unofficial individuals who discharge public duties, must either sacrifice to them the time which their competitors are devoting to their private interests, or overtask their minds and bodies by labouring when nature demands repose. With all deference to existing opinions, I should humbly propose that a specific portion of time should be set apart for teaching in public assemblies, and discharging practically our social duties, and that all private business should then be suspended. If half a day in the week were devoted to this purpose, some of the following consequences might be expected to ensue.
In the first place, the great importance of social institutions and habits to individual happiness would be brought home to all. It would be half a day dedicated to the consideration of the means by which we might practically love our neighbours as ourselves: A public recognition of the principle, as one capable of being carried into effect, would, in itself, bend many minds towards realizing it.
Secondly, such an arrangement would enable, and also excite, the people at large to turn their attention seriously to moral and social considerations, in which their true interests are so deeply involved, instead of considering it meritorious and advantageous to neglect them: and it would tend to remove a dense mass of ignorance and prejudice which offers a powerful obstacle to all improvement. If I be correct in thinking that individual men cannot realize the Christian precepts in their actions, while living in a society whose ruling motives are opposed to them, it is obvious that the rectification of our social habits is an indispensable prelude to the introduction of practical Christianity; and how can these be rectified unless by instructing the people in the means of improving them? Thus the religious community are deeply interested in promoting the plan of reformation now proposed.
Thirdly, the dedication of a specific portion of time to our social duties, would leave leisure for truly virtuous and enlightened men to transact public business, without exposing themselves to be ruined by their competitors in the race of private interest. Under the present system, the selfish are enriching themselves, while the patriotic are impoverishing their families by discharging their public duties. But as individual morality and happiness never can be securely and permanently maintained without social improvement, it follows that some adequate means must be used to communicate to men in general a correct and elevated view of their own nature, position, interests, and duties, as rational beings, with a view to induce them to improve their social habits and institutions, as a necessary preliminary to their individual wellbeing. In the "Constitution of Aran," I have endeavoured to shew that the power of abridging labour by mechanical inventions, appears to have been bestowed on man, to afford him leisure for cultivating his moral and intellectual powers; and if this idea be correct, there can be no natural obstacle to the dedication of sufficient time to the duties in question.
Perhaps the notion will present itself to many persons, that if the industrious classes were congregated to receive instruction in this manner, the result would be the formation of innumerable clubs and debating societies, in which vivacious but ignorant men would imbue the weaker brethren with discontent, and lead them into mischievous errors. This would probably happen, if a sudden adoption of the plan took place, without previous preparation. At present, ignorance of sound social principles is so prevalent, that such unions might be abused; but a young and rising generation may be prepared, by training and education, for comprehending and performing their social duties, and then leisure for the practice of them would lead only to good.
So little attention has been paid to instructing the people at large in their social duties, that I am not acquainted with a single treatise on the subject, calculated for popular use, except the 38th Number of "Chambers' Information for the People," which contains an excellent exposition of a variety of public duties; but it is necessarily limited, in comparison with the vast extent of the subject. Nay, not only has no sufficient instruction in social duties been provided for the people, but the opinion has been very generally adopted that they have no such duties to discharge, except to pay taxes, and to bear arms in the militia; and that they go out of their sphere when they turn their attention to public affairs. This appears to me to be an erroneous assumption; because the industrious classes are, if possible, more directly and seriously affected by the good or bad management of public interests than the rich; in whose hands alone it has been imagined that the discharge of social duties should be placed. The operative tradesman and small shopkeeper absolutely rise and fall with every wave of public prosperity or adversity; whereas the landed proprietor and the great capitalist are able to weather many a social storm, with scarcely a perceptible abridgement of their enjoyments.
After the people at large are enlightened, and thoroughly imbued with the love of justice and of the happiness of their neighbours, another social duty will be, to carry into practice as far as possible, and by every moral means, the equalization of the enjoyment of all—not by pulling the fortunate and accomplished down, but by elevating the condition of the inferior orders. With this view, all privileges and artificial ranks which obstruct the general welfare should be abolished; not violently but gradually; and, if possible, by inducing their possessors to give them up, as injurious to the public and not beneficial to themselves.
The next social duty which I mention, relates to the maintenance of the poor. Much diversity of opinion prevails on the causes of poverty and the remedies for it; as also on the best means of managing the poor. Many political economists have page 63 taught that there should be no legal provision for the indigent, because the knowledge of such a resource induces the indolent and vicious to relax their own efforts to earn the means of subsistence, leads them to throw themselves unblushingly, and as a matter of right, on the public bounty, and thus operates as a direct stimulus to poverty. Other authorities have taught the very opposite doctrine, and given Ireland as an instance of unexampled destitution, arising from no legal provision existing for the poor; and it is now proposed to enact poor-laws for that country.* This proposal is based on the ground that, if the rich be not compelled to support the poor, they will abandon the whole class from which the indigent arise, and allow them to sink into the lowest depths of ignorance, misery, and degradation; whereas, if they be forced to maintain all the victims of unhappy circumstances, they will be prompted by their own interest to care for them, and promote their social improvement. Again, some political economists, of whom Dr Chalmers is the chief, regard all compulsory assessments for the poor as injurious to society, and maintain that private benevolence, if fairly left to itself, is quite adequate to provide for them. Other men, equally wise and experienced in the world, are altogether disbelievers in this alleged power of the principle of benevolence; and argue, that the only effect of relying on it, would be to permit the avaricious to escape from all contribution, and to throw the burden of maintaining the poor entirely on the benevolent, who, in general, are overwhelmed with other demands on their bounty.
Scientific knowledge of human nature, and of the influence of external circumstances on happiness, cannot be general, when such widely different doctrines, regarding a question so momentous, are supported by men of equal profundity and learning.
The view of it which is presented by the new philosophy, is the following :—
The causes of that degree of poverty which amounts to destitution, are great defects in the body or the mind of the individuals who fall into this condition, or in both. The lame, the deaf, and the blind, may be poor through bodily defects, and should be comfortably supported by the more fortunate members of society. Their numbers are not great, in proportion to those of well-constituted men, and the expense of their maintenance would not be felt as a severe tax, if they were the only burdens on the benevolence of the community. The idiotic belong to the same class. All that society can accomplish in regard to such persons is, to provide comfortably for those who exist, and to use means to limit their increase in future generations. This can be accomplished best, by instructing the community at large in the organic laws, and presenting to them every intelligible motive to obey them.
The most numerous class of destitute poor is that which springs from deficiency of size or quality in the brain, or in the intellectual region of it, not amounting to idiocy, but occasioning so much mental weakness that the individuals are not capable of maintaining their place in the great struggle of social existence. Persons so constituted often provide for their own wants, although with difficulty, during the vigorous period of their lives, and become helpless and a burden on the community in the wane of life. That the primary cause of their falling into destitution, is an imperfection in their mental organs, any one may ascertain, by qualifying himself to distinguish well-constituted from ill-constituted brains, and then going into any of the charity workhouses and asylums for adults, and observing the heads and temperaments of their inmates. It is obvious, that teaching the organic laws, and improving the external circumstances of society, are the most feasible means for lessening in future times the numbers of these unfortunate individuals.
Another proof that physiological defects lie at the root of the evil of poverty, may be obtained by observing the temperament, and size and forms of the heads, of the children of the higher and middle classes, and comparing them with those of the children of the poor, found in the parish charity-work-houses. The latter children, with some exceptions, spring from parents who are the refuse or dregs of the community, and through whose feebleness and vices they become burdens on the parish. Their children are palpably inferior in temperament, and in size or form of brain, to the offspring of parents of the middle and higher ranks: and teachers who have been employed in the schools of the superior grades, and have afterwards taught the children of public charities, have remarked an extraordinary difference of native capacity between the two; the children of the pauper asylum being much less apt to learn.
Now, although these facts go to the root of the evil, they are generally unknown and unattended to. An accomplished manager of the poor of a parish, according to the present system, is a man who resists, to the very last extremity, every application for charity; and who, when resistance is no longer possible, obtains the greatest quantity of food and raiment for the smallest amount of money. Economy in contracts is the grand object; and those managers are covered with glory, who are able to reduce the assessment on the parish one half per cent. Without meaning at all to depreciate the advantages of economy, I remark that this mode of management reminds me of the manner in which an old relative of my own coped with the rushes which grew abundantly in one of his fields. He employed women, whom he hired at so many pence a-day, to pull them up; and if the wages of the women fell from 10d. to 6d. or 8d. a-day, he thought that he had managed the rushes to great advantage that year. But it so happened, that the rushes, like the poor, constantly reappeared, and the labour of pulling them up never came to an end. At last, this excellent person died, and his son succeeded to the farm. The son had received a scientific education, and had heard of the chemical qualities of soil, of the various metals and minerals which are usually found incorporated with it, and of the effect of these and other circumstances on vegetation. He thus discovered that stagnant water is the parent of rushes; and when he succeeded to the farm, he cut a deep drain through a high bank, obtained declivity sufficient to cause water to flow, and then constructed drains through the field in every direction. By this means he dried the soil; the rushes disappeared, and have never since been seen there; the labour of pulling them up is saved, and the money which it cost is devoted to farther improvements.
* Since the text was written such laws have been enacted.
* See note on p. 64.
In making these observations, I beg it to be understood that I do not blame any particular managers of the poor for their proceedings, or accuse them of neglect of duty. The principles which I am now expounding, have hitherto been unknown to these persons, and are not yet generally acknowledged by society at large. Public men, therefore, could not easily act on them. But believing them to be founded in nature, and to be highly important, I use the freedom to announce them for general consideration, in the confidence, that they will in time become practical. Whatever may be thought of these views, one fact, at all events, cannot be controverted; namely, that society has not yet discovered either the causes of poverty or the remedy; hence, I conceive the statement of new principles to be neither arrogant nor unnecessary; leaving them, as I do, to stand or fall by the result of observation and experience.*
* The preceding lecture was written and delivered in 1835, and the views of Pauperism which it contains were then generally regarded as theoretical and unfounded. Subsequent events have not only proved them to be sound, but have strongly excited public attention to the painful fact, that in Scotland pauperism has increased and is rapidly increasing. Professor Alison, in his two pamphlets "On the Management of the Poor in Scotland," has, in my opinion, demonstrated, by irrefragible evidence, that the wretched pittances doled out to the poor in this country are inadequate to their comfortable subsistence, and that a continually increasing pauperism is the actual and inevitable consequence of the deep mental depression and physical degradation in which they habitually exist. 1840.
In England Dr Ray and Mr Tuffnell, in their admirable report, dated 1st January 1841, on "the Training School at Battersea," observe that "the pauper children assembled at Norwood, from the garrets, cellars, and wretched rooms of alleys and courts in the dense parts of London, are often sent thither in a low stage of destitution, covered only with rags and vermin; often the victims of chronic disease, almost universally stunted in their growth, and sometimes emaciated with want. The low-browed and inexpressive physiognomy or malign aspect of the boys is a true index to the mental darkness, the stubborn tempers, the hopeless spirits, and the vicious habits on which the master has to work.'* * * * "The peculiarity of the pauper child's condition is, that his parents, either from misfortune, or indolence, or vice, have sunk into destitution. In many instances children descend from generations of paupers. They have been born In the worst purlieus of a great city, or in the most wretched hovels on the parish waste. They have suffered privation of every kind." * * "They have seen much of vice and wretchedness, and have known neither comfort, kindness, nor virtue." P. 202-3. These gentlemen recommend, and have instituted, a mode of treatment calculated to remove these causes of pauperism. 1842.
Since these notes were published, a new poor-law for Scotland has been enacted and come into operation, calculated to provide more adequate sustenance for the poor: but the principles advocated in the text can scarcely be said to be recognised by those who are charged with carrying it into execution. 1846.