Curious catechism

Curious catechism  (1830) 






Present Distresses,





The Grave-Diggers,




A Curious Catechism.

MANY excellent things have been lately published concerning the present scarcity of provisions; and many causes have been assigned for it. But is not something wanting in most of those publications? One writer assigns one cause; another one or two more, and strongly insists upon them ; but who has assigned all the causes that manifestly concur to produce this melancholy effect, at the same time pointing out how each particular cause affects the price of each particular sort of provision?

I would willingly offer, to candid and benevolent men, a few hints on this important subject; proposing a few questions, and adding to each what seems to be plain and direct answers.

1. I ask, first, Why are thousands of people starving, perishing for want, in every part of the united kingdom? The fact I know: I have seen it with my eyes, in every corner of the land. I have known those who could only afford to eat a little coarse food every other day. I have known one picking up stinking sprats from a dunghill, and carrying them home for herself and her children. I have known another gathering the bones which the dogs had left in the streets and making broth of them to prolong a wretched life! Such is the case at this day, of multitudes of people, in a land flowing with milk and honey! abounding with all the necessaries, the conveniences, the superfluities of life!

Now why is this? Why have all these nothing to eat? Because they have nothing to do. They have no meat, because they have no work.

2. But why have they no work ? Why are so many thousand people in Scotland, England, and Ireland, in every county from one end of the kingdom to the other, utterly destitute of employment.

Because the persons who used to employ them cannot afford to do it any longer. Many who employed fifty men, now scarce employ ten, those who employed twenty, now employ one or none at all. They cannot, as they have no vent for their goods; food now bearing so high a price, that the generality of people are hardly able to buy any thing else.

3. But, to descend from generals to particulars, why is bread corn so dear?

Because such immense quantities of it are continually consumed by distilling. Indeed an eminent distiller near London, hearing this, warmly replied, "Nay my partner and I generally distil but a thousand quarters of corn a-week.” Perhaps so: suppose five and twenty distillers, in and near the town, consume each only the same quantity: here are five and twenty thousand quarters a-year, consumed in and about London! Add the distilleries throughout England: and have we not reason to believe, that half of the wheat produced in the kingdom, is every year consumed, not by so harmless a way as throwing it into the sea, but by converting it into deadly poison: poison that naturally destroys, not only the strength, health, and life, but also the morals of our countrymen!

"Well, but this brings in a very large revenue to the King." Is this an equivalent for the lives of his subjects? Would his Majesty sell an hundred thousand of his subjects yearly to Algiers, for ten hundred thousand pounds? Surely no. Will he then sell them for that sum, to be butchered by their own countrymen? "But otherwise the swine for the navy cannot be fed." Not unless they are fed with human flesh! Not unless they are fatted with human blood! O tell it not in Constantinople! that the British raise the royal revenue by selling the flesh and blood of their countrymen.

Surely this is evidence sufficient for the establishment of Temperance Societies, which at present promise to do so much good.

4. But why are oats so dear?

Because there are four times the horses kept (to speak within compass) for coaches and chaises in particular, that were some years ago. Unless therefore four times the oats grow now which grew then, they cannot be at the same price. If only twice as much is now produced (which perhaps is near the truth) the price will naturally be double to what it was.

To the ruinous Corn Bill may be attributed our present dearth of provisions, and what is still worse, that want of interchange of property which might go on, as other countries will not receive our produce because we will not accept of theirs.

As the dearness of grain of one kind will naturally raise the price of another, so whatever causes the dearness of wheat and oats, must raise the price of barley too. To account therefore for the dearness of this, we need only remember what has been observed above; although some particular causes may concur in producing the same effect.

5. Why are mutton and beef so dear?

Because most of the considerable farmers, particularly in the northern counties, who used to breed large numbers of sheep or horned cattle, and frequently both, no longer trouble themselves with either sheep, or cows, or oxen, as they can turn their land to far better account by breeding horses alone. Such is the demand, not only for coach and chaise horses, which are bought and destroyed in incredible numbers; but much more for bred horses, which are yearly exported by hundreds, yea thousands, to France.

6. But why are pork, poultry, and eggs so dear?

Because of the monopolizing of farms, as mischievous a monopoly as was ever yet introduced into these kingdoms. The land which was formerly divided among ten or twenty little farmers, and enabled them comfortably to provide for their families, is now generally ingrossed by one great farmer. One man farms an estate of a thousand a-year, which formerly maintained ten or twenty. Every one of those little farmers kept a few swine, with some quantity of poultry: and having little money, was glad to send his bacon, or pork, or fowls and eggs, to market continually. Hence the markets were plentifully served; and plenty created cheapness. But at present, the great, the gentlemen farmers, are above attending to those little things. They breed no poultry or swine, unless for their own use: consequently they send none to market. Hence it is not strange, if two or three of these living near a market-town, occasion such a scarcity of these things, by preventing the former supply, that the price of them will be double or treble to what it was before. Hence (to instance in a small article) in the same town, where, within my memory, eggs were sold eight or ten a penny, they are now sold from eight pence to a shilling a dozen.

Another cause why both beef, mutton, pork, and all kinds of victuals, are so dear, is luxury. What can stand against this? Will it not waste and destroy all that nature and art can produce? If a person of quality will boil down three dozen of neats tongues, to make two or three quarts of soup, and so proportionably in other things, what wonder if provisions fail? Only look into the kitchens of the great, the nobility and gentry almost without exception, (considering withal that “ the toe of the peasant-treads on the heel of the courtier,') and when you have observed the amazing waste which is made there, you will no longer wonder at the scarcity, and consequently dearness of the things which they use so much art to destroy.

7. But why is land so dear?

Because on all these accounts, gentlemen cannot live as they have been accustomed to do, without increasing their income: which most of them cannot do but by raising their rents. And the farmer paying higher rent for his land, must have a higher price for the produce of it. This again tends to raise the price of land and so the wheel goes round.

8. But why is it, that not only provisions and land hu' well nigh every thing else is so dear ?

Because of the enormous taxes which are laid on almost every thing that can be named. Not only abundant taxes are raised, from earth, fire, and water but in England the ingenious statesmen have found a way to tax the very light! Only one element remains and surely some man of honour will ere long contrive to tax this also; for how long will the saucy air blow in the face of a gentleman, nay a lord, without paying for it?

9. But why are the taxes so high?

Because of the national debt. They must be while this bontinues. I have heard that the national expence, in time of peace, was, about a hundred years ago, three millions a-year. Now, the bare interest of the public debt amounts to about thirty millions! A raise which, with the other expences of government, those taxes are absolutely necessary.

Here is the evil, but where is the remedy? Perhaps exceeds all the wisdom of man to tell. But it may be amiss to offer a few hints on this delicate subject.

1. What remedy is there for this sore evil? Many thousand people are starving!

Find them work, and you will find them meat. They will then earn and eat their own bread.

2. But how shall their masters give them work without ruining themselves?

Procure vent for it, and it will not hurt their masters to give them as much work as they can do. And this will be done by sinking the provisions: for then people will have money to buy other things too.

3. But how can the price of wheat be reduced?

By prohibiting, for ever, that bane of health, that destroyer of strength, of life, and of virtue, distilling. Perhaps this alone will answer the whole design. If any thing more be needful, may not all starch be made of rice? and the importation of this, as well as meat, be encouraged?

4. How can the price of oats be reduced?

By reducing the number of horses. And may not this be effectually done, 1. By laying a tax of ten pounds on every horse exported to France; 2- By paying an additional tax on gentlemens carriages; not much for every wheel, (barefaced shameless partity,) but ten pounds yearly for every horse? And these two taxes alone would nearly supply as much as now given for leave to poison his Majesty's liege subjects.

5. How can the price of beef and mutton be reduced?

By increasing the breed of sheep and horned cattle and this would be increased sevenfold, if the price of horses was reduced; which it surely would be half in half, by the method above mentioned.

6. How can the price of pork and poultry be reduced?

First, By letting no farms of above an hundred pounds a-year.

Secondly, By repressing luxury, either by example by laws, or both.

7. How may the price of land be reduced.

By all the methods above named, all which tend to lessen the expence of house-keeping; but especially the last, restraining luxury, which is the grand source of poverty.

8. How may the taxes be reduced?

By discharging half the national debt, and so saving at least fifteen millions a-year.

How this can be done, the wisdom of the gre council of the land can best determine.


IT is reported the whole body of Sextons, or Grave-Diggers, throughout the kingdom are preparing a petition to Parliament, praying that Temperance Societies may be put down, as any restriction laid upon the distilling of spirits would be the utter ruin of them and their families! three parts in four of those that come to their warehouses, being obliged to the distillery for their passports thither; not to mention, that the more they bury, the fewer there will remain to eat; and of course, that the free toleration and licence of making, vending, and distributing strong liquor in every part of Great Britain, is the only remedy that can possibly render provisions cheap.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.