Bellers, John (DNB00)

BELLERS, JOHN (1654–1725), philanthropist, was born about 1654. He was a member of the Society of Friends. When about thirty years old he married Frances Fettiplace, one of the three daughters and heiresses of Gyles Fettiplace, also a member of the Society of Friends, and representative of an old Gloucestershire family, long settled at Coln St. Aldwyn's. On the death of his father-in-law he became, in right of his wife, joint lord of the manor, which was held in lease from the dean and chapter of Gloucester. He was likewise patron of the living, to which in 1703 he presented the Rev. George Hunt. His wife died at Coln St. Aldwyn's on 22 Feb. 1716, and was interred at Cirencester 5 March following. From the marriage there was born at St. Andrew's, Holborn, London, 23 Aug. 1687, Fettiplace Bellers [see Bellers, Fettiplace]. For a number of years John Bellers seems to have spent his winters in London and his summers in the country. He was always engaged in philanthropic schemes. 'Many thoughts have run through me; how then it comes that the poor should be such a burthen, and so miserable, and how it might be prevented,' he says in a discourse 'To the Children of Light, in scorn called Quakers.' He addressed an elaborate proposal to parliament for a confederation of states to do away with war. He devised a scheme of education for poor children; he drew out a plan for the establishment of hospitals for the sick in London, and the providing for medical advice for the necessitous in every parish in the kingdom, and he devoted earnest attention to the state of the ill-managed prisons of the period. His labours anticipated to some extent those of John Howard. He urged his fellow-religionists to visit the prisons, to comfort and exhort the prisoners, and to ameliorate their condition. He proposed that to 'make them the more ready to hear what advice may be given unto them,' they should be 'treated with a dinner of baked legs and shins of beef and ox cheeks; which is a rich and yet cheap dish, with which they may be treated plentifully for 4d a head, or less, and he enforced this by a reference to the account of the feeding of the multitude by Christ, 'tho' they might come for the sake of the loaves more than the miracle, yet by that means there was opportunity for him to preach the gospel unto them.'

Among the friends of Bellers were William Penn and Sir Hans Sloane. In a manuscript letter to the latter in August 1724, about six months before the death of the writer, Bellers gives us a glimpse of his life in the country. He tells Sloane that he is not well, and that if he takes 'milke, or chocolatewith spaw water, or bear,' he gets still worse. Riding is, perhaps, the best exercise for him, but he does not care for it. He asks advice, and says. 'I will pay thee a fee when I see thee,' which will be soon, as he is coming to town immediately for the winter. In a postscript he refers to his plan of 'treating ye poor prisoners,' and says that in accordance with it he had on the occasion of the marriage of his 'man and chambermaid at the house' entertained fifty-eight of his poorer neighbours with baked beefe,' 'much,' he adds, 'to their satisfaction, and but about 3d. head cost.'

He died 'of age,' says the record, in the parish of St. Stephen, Walbrook, 8 Feb. 1725, and is interred in the Friends' burial-ground, Bunhill Fields.

Bellers wrote a considerable number of short works, either consisting of religious addresses to members of his own persuasion or of expositions of philanthropic schemes. The most important is: 'Proposals for Raising a Colledge of Industry of all useful Trades and Husbandry, with profit for the Rich. a plentiful living for the Poor, and a Good Education for Youth. Which will be an advantage to the Government, by Increase of the People and their Riches' (London, 1695, reprinted 1696). This college was to be 'an Epitomy of the World.' In it a number of workmen and workwomen of various trades were to live together. On the death of workmen their families were to be carefully provided for, and the children to be educated. If the workmen became old in the service, they were to be appointed overseers, and their labour was to be lightened or to cease, according as their strength failed. The rich were to found the college, and derive an annual profit from it; but it was to be, in the first place, for the benefit of the poor, especially of such as could not get employment. This scheme he worked out in detail, and stated and answered objections to it.

Certain economic views as to the importance of labour and the community of toil stated in this brief treatise have made it noteworthy in the history of political economy. Eden refers to it at some length in his 'State of the Poor' (London, 1797, i.264 et seq.) It is reprinted by Robert Owen, in his work entitled 'New View of Society' (London, 1818). Karl Marx, in his 'Das Capital,' quotes it on several occasions, and calls its author 'A Phenomenon in Political Economy' (i. 689); and H. M. Hyndman, in his 'Socialism in England,' asserts that it contains 'some of the most luminous thoughts on political economy ever put on paper' (London, 1888, p. 85 et seq.).

The scheme reappears in slightly different form in other works of Bellers, which are as follows; 1. 'A Supplement to the College of Industry; Dedicated to the Parliament' (London, 1696). 2. 'An Epistle to Friends concerning the Education of Children' (London. 1697). 3. 'Essays about the Poor, Manufactures, Trade, Money, Plantations, and Immorality, with the Excellency and Divinity of Inward Light' (London, 1699). 4. 'A Caution against all Perturbations of the Mind' (London, 1702). 5. 'Watch unto Prayer; or Considerations for all who profess they believe in the Light' (London, 1703, reprinted in America 1802). 6. 'To the Lords and other Commissioners appointed to take cure of the Poor Palatines' (1709), 7. 'Some Reasons for an European State proposed to the Powers of Europe, by an Universal Guarantee, and an Annual Congress, Senate, Dyet, or Parliament, to settle any Disputes about the Bounds and Rights of Princes and States hereafter' (London, 1710). 8. 'To the Archbishop, Bishops, and Clergy of the Province of Canterbury met in Convocation' (1712). 9. 'An Essay towards the Ease of Election of Members of Parliament' (London, 1712). 10. 'An Essay towards reconciling the Old and New Ministry' (London, 1712). 11. 'Considerations on the Schism Bill.' 12. 'An Essay towards the Improvement of Physick, in twelve proposals ' (London 1714). 13. 'To the Criminals in Prison.' 14. 'An Epistle to the Quarterly Meeting of London and Middlesex' (1718). 15. 'An Essay for imploying the Poor to Profit: dedicated and presented to the Parliament' (London, 1723). 16. 'To the Yearly, Quarterly, and Monthly Meeting of Great Britain and elsewhere' (concerning the education of the Poor, 1723). 17. 'An Abstract of George Fox's Advice and Warning to the Magistrates of London, in the year 1657, concerning the Poor, &c.' (London, 1724). 18. 'An Epistle to Friends of the Yearly, Quarterly, and Monthly Meetings concerning the Prisoners and Sick, and the Prisons and Hospitals of Great Britain' (1724).

[MS. Burials Register of Coin St. Aldwyn's, Gloucestershire, excerpted by Rev. Alfred Kent; MS. Sloane, 4037, vol. ii. f. 188; Atkyn's Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire (London, 1712); Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books, vol. i. (London. 1867).]

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