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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/743

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723
THE COMING SLAVERY.

the offspring of the worthy save burdening their parents by increased local rates. Kay, I even admit that these swarms of good-for-nothings, fostered and multiplied by public and private agencies, have, by sundry mischievous meddlings, been made to suffer more than they would otherwise have suffered. Are these the responsibilities meant? I suspect not.

But now, leaving the question of responsibilities, however conceived, and considering only the evil itself, what shall we say of its treatment? Let me begin with a fact.

 

A late uncle of mine, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, for some twenty years incumbent of Hinton Charterhouse, near Bath, no sooner entered on his parish duties than he proved himself anxious for the welfare of the poor, by establishing a school, a library, a clothing club, and land-allotments, besides building some model cottages. Moreover, up to 1833 he was a pauper's friend—always for the pauper against the overseer. There presently came, however, the debates on the poor-law, which impressed him with the evils of the system then in force. Though an ardent philanthropist, he was not a timid sentimentalist. The result was that, immediately the new poor-law was passed, he proceeded to carry out its provisions in his parish. Almost universal opposition was encountered by him; not the poor only being his opponents, but even the farmers on whom came the burden of heavy poor-rates. For, strange to say, their interests had become apparently identified with maintenance of this system which taxed them so largely. The explanation is, that there had grown up the practice of paying out of the rates a part of the wages of each farm-servant—"make-wages," as the sum was called. And though the farmers contributed most of the fund out of which "make-wages" were paid, yet, since all other rate-payers contributed, the farmers seemed to gain by the arrangement. My uncle, however, not easily deterred, faced all this opposition and enforced the law. The result was that in two years the rates were reduced from £700 a year to £200 a year, while the condition of the parish was greatly improved. "Those who had hitherto loitered at the corners of the streets, or at the doors of the beer-shops, had something else to do, and one after another they obtained employment"; so that, out of a population of eight hundred, only fifteen had to be sent as incapable paupers to the Bath Union Workhouse, in place of the one hundred who received out-door relief a short time before. If it be said that the £20 telescope which, a few years after, his parishioners presented to my uncle, marked only the gratitude of the rate-payers, then my reply is the fact that, when, some years later still, having killed himself by overwork, in pursuit of popular welfare, he was taken to Hinton to be buried, the procession which followed him to the grave included not the well-to-do only but the poor.