LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter IV

Contents Vol. I
Prelude 1
Prelude 2
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
‣ Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Contents Vol. II
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Note to Chapter XV
Contents Vol. III
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Note to Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Note to Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Note to Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Index of Persons
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WHATEVER might have been the monotony of the life of the editor of a provincial journal in the mere discharge of his office duties, I could always find an ever-changing interest in the necessity for seeing many things with my own eyes; in making personal inquiries in distant places as to the correctness of reputed occurrences—in fact, in being my own reporter. Much of my time was spent on horseback. My ordinary costume was knee-breeches and top-boots. My varied out-door life was as healthful as it was instructive. In these local operations the brain was not heavily taxed. Education was going on. Some exercise of the intellect was essential to report the speeches at a public meeting. The facts exhibited at a coroner’s inquest might be best dispatched in that brief style which was once considered sufficient for the London newspaper, but which is now displaced by the most wonderful accumulation of “horror on horror’s head.” Sometimes, however, the country newspaper might attempt to be graphic when it had to record occurrences of an unusual nature; and yet the absolute limitation of space would often compel me to throw away the kernel of the picturesque to give my readers the hard shell of the literal.

On the 4th of July, 1816, I rode out to Maidenhead Thicket to behold a remarkable proof of the
alleged want of employment in the mining and manufacturing districts. On the road from Henley there was the halt of a cavalcade—not such as the poet and the novelist have so often described as the halt of jovial pilgrims taking their morning meal in the beechen shade; but of a party of grim colliers clustered round a waggon laden with coals, which they had drawn for many miles, and whose further progress was interrupted at the mandate of a Bow-street magistrate. From Bilston Moor—where the furnaces of many iron-works no longer darkened the air with their smoke, and the windlass of many a pit was now idle—forty-one men, having a leader on horseback, had the day before passed through Oxford, dragging the waggon in solemn silence, asking no alms, but bearing a placard, on which was inscribed, “Willing to work, but none of us will beg.” Their intention, as well as that of another party marching on the St. Alban’s Road, was to proceed to London, in the belief that the
Prince Regent could order them employment. At Maidenhead the military were prepared for some dire conflict with want and desperation. But Sir Richard Birnie very wisely went forward with two police-officers, finally persuading these men to let their coals be taken into Maidenhead, and to receive a handsome present which would enable them to return to their homes. They were punctilious in refusing to sell their coals. The march of the blanketeers of Manchester in the next year was not so quietly prevented.

There never was a problem more difficult of solution, even by the soundest political economists of the time, than that of the condition of the labouring classes in 1816 and 1817. When I look back on
what I wrote on this overwhelming subject in the last four years of the reign of
George the Third, I behold a succession of fallacies and half-truths propounded with a sincere belief and with a benevolent earnestness. I was groping my way, in common with most public writers, in the thick darkness by which we were surrounded. The text upon which I commonly preached was from Southey—not the Southey denounced by the “Anti-Jacobin” of 1797, but the Southey of 1817, who denounced Byron and the “Satanic School.” The text was not in any great degree an exaggerated description of the condition of England. “We are arrived at that state in which the extremes of inequality are become intolerable.” The fallacies and half-truths of the usual comment upon this doctrine sprang from a narrow and one-sided view of the causes of these extremes.

I maintained, not without reason, that the existence of some radical disease in the condition of the labouring classes had been long indicated by the progressive increase of the Poor Rates. I held that the prodigious increase in the demands of pauperism, from the million and a half sterling in 1776, to the eight millions in 1815, was the consequence of some system which, as it had multiplied the temporary sources of profitable labour, had a natural tendency to multiply population, without providing for the regular support of the human beings which it called forth. I averred that the mechanical improvements of the forty years constituted that system. The war, which produced a comparative monopoly of commerce, gave birth to a new machinery to supply that monopoly. The manufacturing system made no provision for that inevitable period when the trading intercourse of the world
would return to its accustomed channels, and mankind would be free to use the same instruments of commercial advantage that we had employed. The system had called into action half a million of human beings whom it had now unavoidably abandoned. The State must therefore supply the means of life, which the ordinary modes of employment could no longer give.

I had never seen the practical working of the manufacturing system, and thus I talked, as it was the fashion to talk when Southey wrote, “The nation that builds upon manufactures sleeps upon gunpowder.” But I was perfectly familiar with the condition of the agricultural districts. I held, truly, that the organization of society in Great Britain had been completely changed by the system of inclosures and agricultural improvements. These were forced on by the increased demand for corn, originating in the extraordinary consumption and waste of war, and in the increased wants of an increased manufacturing population. I wept over the diminution of the labour which was once required by imperfect modes of cultivation. I grieved over the extinguishing of those indirect means of support which supplied the primitive wants of the ancient peasantry. I missed the old commons on which I used to ramble in my boyhood. I saw no longer the half-starved cow of the cottager tethered before the broken-down hedge of his slovenly garden, and the pig lying on the dunghill that blocked up the dirty approach to his ruinous hovel. The additional patch of garden-ground that was allotted to him seemed to me but a poor compensation for the heath where he once might freely cut the turf for his fire. I grieved the grief of
ignorance when I quoted the population returns of 1811, to prove that while two or three millions of additional mouths had been maintained from the land, some thousands less had been maintained upon the land. The interests of the consumers appeared to me small in comparison with those of the producers. Had I looked more deeply into the matter, I might have mourned over a greater evil than the destruction of the semi-barbarous independence of the squatters who had regarded the heaths and commons as their proper and peculiar inheritance. I might have reasonably mourned that the Agricultural Labourers were slaves to the Poor Laws—brought into the world as paupers by the improvident encouragement to early marriages under the allowance-system; kept through life as paupers by receiving as alms what they had fairly earned as wages; deprived of profitable employment, and hunted from parish to parish, by the laws of Settlement; punished with the most unrelenting severity if they should knock down a rabbit. I might at that time have protested against the bulk of the population being kept in the most degrading ignorance, by the dread which then very generally prevailed in rural districts, that to educate the labourer was to unfit him for the duties (they might have said the degradations) of “that state of life into which it had pleased God to call him”—the formula of consolation always addressed to the poor for the repression of any impious desire to better their condition.

Looking at the whole structure of my mind at that period—its disposition to see chiefly the sentimental side of most public questions—to seek for the picturesque in the scenes around me rather than grapple
with their realities of life—I am not sure that I did not regard the inclosure system as a sort of private and personal wrong. I find these lines of mine printed in my newspaper at the end of 1819:—
“Year after year the quiet face has chang’d
Of my loved walks; they are as friends estrang’d.
The close lanes where the fearless blackbird sung
In the thick bush to which the rent wool clung;
The leafy nooks where the first violet blush’d;
The plashy dell where the hid fountain gush’d;
The clumps of elm that caught the lingering light;
The broad fresh meads with cup and daisy bright;
The stubbled path where leapt the frighten’d hare;
The level green, at evening O how fair!
For me are gone or spoil’d—joy there is none
In pent-up roads that whiten in the sun,
And frowning walls that hide the distant hills,
And trim square fields where the tired fancy chills.
O! whilst the levelling hand but left me these,
To watch the streaky west with heart at ease,
I envied not the sons of mighty lakes,
And mountains hoar, where loftier music wakes,
Where the loud wind puts forth a voice of wrath,
And there are solemn thrills in every path.
Mine were the haunts of mute and musing peace.
Ah! dreamt I not that soon these joys would cease;
When Loveliness should flee the cultur’d plain,
And dull Utility usurp her reign.”

The experience of all men, whether in the South or the North, was sufficient to show that a superfluous population was now pressing upon the capital devoted to the maintenance of labour. But, in that time of bold and impudent assertion, there were believers even in Cobbett when he said “I am quite convinced that the population, upon the whole, has not increased, in England, one single soul since I was born.” Still less would many doubt the truth of his description of the Labourers’ Paradise in the days “before they
were stripped of the commons, of their kettles, their bedding, their beer-barrels.” Then, as every “swink’d hedger at his supper sat,” we are to believe that he rejoiced in the prospect of unlimited rashers from the flitches in his bacon-rack. Alas! that age of gold must have had a brief term. It did not exist in the days of
Arthur Young. There was a glimpse of it when the Southern labourer became too dainty to relish the coarse brown bread of his forefathers, saying that he “had lost his rye-teeth;” and when the “Farmer’s Boy” complained of the stony cheese, “too hard to bite.” It would be difficult to fix the exact date of the “good times” of the man who believed that England had been decaying for three centuries as regarded the number of her people and their means of subsistence. The believers in Cobbett’s wild assertions were the wholly ignorant or the half-instructed; and they believed in him the more when he paraded his contempt of “those frivolous idiots that are turned out from Winchester or Westminster School, or from any of those dens of dunces called Colleges and Universities.” Such was the taking style of the rampant days of democratic journalism. The direction has changed of that form of vulgarity which revels in class prejudices and hatreds. No man now can be called “educated” who has not drunk of that Castalian fountain that nourishes the Isis and the Cam. Having sipped ever so little of this golden water, the privileged few are fully qualified to become, as indeed they are,
“the only knowing men of Europe,
Great general scholars, excellent physicians,
Most admired statesmen, profess’d favourites,
And cabinet-counsellors to the greatest princes,
The only languaged men of all the world.”—Jonson.

Cobbett, half knave and half enthusiast, knew perfectly well that the primitive organisation of English social life had long passed away; and yet, after describing that he had seen a woman near Petworth “bleaching her home-spun and home-woven linen,” he deduces this moral: “The Lords of the Loom have taken from the land in this part of England this part of its due; and hence one cause of the poverty, misery, and pauperism that are becoming so frightful throughout the country.” Such were his sober views when he was writing his “Rural Rides” in 1823—a book which, in spite of its monstrous exaggerations, is one of the most interesting pictures of Agricultural England which those times have left us. But in the year 1818 he appears to have gone crazy on the subject of “Paper Currency.” He has a scheme for overturning the Government with a legion of Jew boys; and means to take the Bank by storm with the artillery of printer’s ink and tissue-paper. He proposes to make every sound reformer a handicraftsman in the manufacture of forged Bills of Exchange; and calls upon every unfortunate adventurer in this dangerous traffic to dignify himself by an association with the radical reformers. Mr. Cobbett’s very original plan may be given in his own words. “Graving tools, price five shillings,” must be procured; “a printing apparatus, that a man may keep in a cubic foot of space, and some paper.” Ben Jonson’s “Press in a Hollow Tree” was a complex affair compared with this simple apparatus of Revolution. But the engraving? There is no difficulty. “If it were possible to suppose that there is not a single man amongst all the engravers in England who wishes to see an end of the present state of things, any man
may become an engraver of a Bank Note in a month.” The patriots are now to produce as many notes of the Bank of England as will represent a million of pounds sterling. What is to be done with them? These instruments of national blessing are not to be used for mercenary purposes, in defrauding a tradesman out of his goods. They are to be dropped, “by men who can trust each other,” in the streets of London and in the great towns one dark night. They will be picked up in the morning, “some in twists, others in little cheap pocket-books, others in bits of paper—all found. Nothing, the country-folks used to say, is freer than a foundal!” The notes would be quickly passed; the runners and blood-money men would be instantly put in motion. But nothing could be done for punishment. The word found would stop all legal proceedings. The circulators of the notes could prove their innocence. The blessed consequences of this hopeful scheme are thus joyously stated by the arch-demagogue: “All money transactions would be at a stand. No buying, no selling. A bank-note would be rejected as something beneath contempt; and the richest men, in ready money, would be those who happened to have a bit of gold, silver, or copper coin. Three hundred thousand families of fundholders would be penniless in an hour and starving in a week.” The “friend of humanity” is for carrying on his work of benevolence upon a large scale. As a burlesque of Cobbett’s ordinary style—its solemn dogmas, its minute details, its confidential disclosures, its unequalled impudence—this article was worthy of the authors of the “
Rejected Addresses.” But the scheme was propounded in sober earnest; in the confident belief, in which many partook, that the
whole system of paper-credit, funds, national debt, and taxes, would tumble down in one great sweeping bankruptcy, and leave the world free for all to scramble for its natural riches upon equal terms.

Of the extravagant violence of the Radical Press it may be considered that Cobbett was an exceptional instance. But there were others as coarse, but far less clever; and thus he was infinitely more dangerous than the whole body of the other violent and unscrupulous writers who were operating upon the passions of the humbler classes. The “Register,” in November, 1816, became a Twopenny publication. It was soon equally to be found in the mechanics’ club-room of the North and in the village ale-house of the South. Gaping rustics would eagerly listen to some youngster who had learnt to read since the days of Bell and Lancaster, as he poured forth the racy English, in which there were no fine words or inverted sentences. At this juncture—and probably with an especial regard to these Readings of Village Politicians—the Public House (those were the days before Beer-shops) became an object of dread to many who thought, in a fashion not quite obsolete, that direct repression was the only way of dealing with every seductive influence upon the morals of the common people. A “Hertfordshire Clergyman” addresses Lord Sidmouth in “The Times,” complaining that for the public house the parish church is deserted; that the few poor who come there have their senses so besotted with drink, and their minds so poisoned with prejudice and ribaldry, that the clerical function is becoming useless. His proposed remedy for the evil is, to shut up the public houses at nine o’clock in the summer and seven in the
winter. Imagine the agricultural labourer, thus imprisoned in his uncomfortable cottage, at an earlier hour of a November night than that of the Norman curfew; his scanty wages almost forbidding the household luxury of a candle; with no society except that of the peevish household drudge his wife, and their dirty and noisy children; utterly without amusement; having no mechanical aptitude, like the Swiss peasant, to carve a toy; unable to read, as nine-tenths of the adult rural population were then unable. There were sagacious men living in a thinly populated district of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, who thought that the cottager ought not to be condemned after his day’s labour to the silence and solitude of the prison-cell. In the account of an “
Institution for teaching Adults to Read, established in the contiguous parts of Berks and Bucks in 1814”—an octavo volume which was printed and published at the office of the Windsor paper—there is this passage: “Suppose a traveller, unapprized of the existence of such an institution, to be passing through any part of our district on a dark winters night, and to perceive an unusual degree of light beaming from a cottage-window, would he not conclude that those within were either carousing, and as the regular consequence, intoxicating themselves, or that the persons assembled were so for the purpose of listening to some of the numerous fanatics who hold nightly meetings in whatever cottages will receive them? How would he be surprised, and, if alive to right moral and religious feelings, gratified likewise, to find, on entering the cottage, a number of persons of all ages from ten upwards, quietly seated round a table, and engaged in reading or learning to read the
Scriptures; and if at the same time he were informed that the like instruction was going on in upwards of fifty places of the same moderately-sized district, could he doubt for an instant whether the continuance of such an institution could fail of producing a most salutary and beneficial effect on the minds and habits of those instructed?” The writer of this volume was the
Rev. Charles Goddard (afterwards Archdeacon of Lincoln). His parish of Hitcham was in the beautiful but then wild district in the neighbourhood of Dropmore. He was a man of great ability—the friend of Lord Grenville, who took a leading part in the organization of this Adult Institution. Many were the cottages around Burnham Common; but thither the traveller then rarely went in search of the now famous “Beeches,” that had attracted little notice since the time when Gray read his Virgil at the foot of one of these most venerable stunted giants. Stoke was then a true country village. Onward the wayfarer might go, through roads then recently made, to that beautiful tableland which ends at Hedsor, and yet he would not reach the extreme limits of this Adult Institution. Marlow, with the crowning woods of Bisham, Shottesbrook, Cookham, Bray, were within its area. This attempt to bring instruction home to the elder peasantry was a more arduous undertaking than that of Dr. Birkbeck, seven years afterwards, to establish a “Mechanics’ Institute” in London. Necessarily the rural institution made little noise; its uses had become obsolete after the great extension of schools for general education. I doubt whether it is noticed in the Education Annals of a time when earnest men were beginning to think that there was little safety
in popular ignorance. But that it bore its fruits I may well believe; although the sciences were not taught in those cottage assemblies, as I might judge from the discourse of an ancient shepherd in Burnham Beeches some twenty-five years ago, who told me that these trees were “as old—aye, as old as the world.”

Whatever might be my heresies as to the best modes of bettering the condition of the Poor, I never had any doubt of the advantages of educating them. It was not often that I came into contact with men who were capable of uniting strong benevolent impulses with the broad view of the consequences of making the pauper more comfortable than the independent labourer. A sort of instinctive horror of the Malthusian doctrine was at the bottom of the thoughts of many sensible persons, who, in spite of their own convictions, were for the most liberal parish allowances according to the number of children in a family, and for the best dietary within the Workhouse walls. Such were, to some extent, the convictions of one of the shrewdest and most warm-hearted of self-taught men with whom it was ever my happiness to become acquainted. Mr. Ingalton had a flourishing business as a shoemaker at Eton. His son, a young artist of great promise, was for some years the most intimate companion of my leisure; and he is one of the few whom time has spared to show me how justly I esteemed him. In his painting-room I have had many a friendly argument with his intelligent father. There was another occasional visitor of that painting-room, who was ready to discuss controverted subjects of social economy, with a perfect theoretical knowledge, but with the practical earnestness of a Christian
love for his fellow-creatures. Often have I listened with real delight to an instructive dialogue between the refined scholar and the thoughtful tradesman, who was not wanting in book-knowledge but was stronger in his mother-wit. I see his stately figure in his working garb—fresh from the “cutting out” of his back-shop—standing side by side with the tall and thin clergyman before his son’s easel, and discoursing, with no ordinary knowledge of the principles of Art, upon the composition of the “Cottage Interior” or the “Village Concert.” The characters of the English scenes which his son painted, in the days of
Wilkie, were studies from life; and thus the transition of talk was natural enough from the picture to the reality. The accomplished divine, who was not unfamiliar with many an abode of poverty, was a patient listener to every plea for tenderness to the improvident, and of compassion for the ignorant followers of things evil. But he believed in more enduring helps than casual charity. A few years before, he had proclaimed the great principle, that “the only true secret of assisting the poor is to make them agents in bettering their own condition, and to supply them, not with a temporary stimulus, but with a permanent energy. . . . . Many avenues to an improved condition are open to one whose faculties are enlarged and exercised; he sees his own interest more clearly, he pursues it more steadily, and he does not study immediate gratification at the expense of bitter and late repentance, or mortgage the labour of his future life without an adequate return.”* A year or two later, I had a more intimate knowledge of this admirable expositor of principles which have even-

* “Records of Creation,” 1816.

tually triumphed over the fears of the rich and the doubts of the learned. But in yielding up some prejudices to the gentle persuasiveness of the Fellow of Eton—who, by his recent sermons in the College Chapel had produced a marked effect in the moral conduct of five hundred youths—I could scarcely then have believed that I was receiving lessons of practical wisdom from a future Archbishop of Canterbury, when I was an earnest listener to
John Bird Sumner.

At the Lady Day of 1818 I was placed in a position to acquire a somewhat enlarged experience of the working of the Poor Laws. My father, as Chief Magistrate, nominated me one of the Overseers of the Parish of Windsor. He wished me to become familiar with public business; and although the appointment was not much to my taste I soon came to acknowledge that he was right. I could scarcely have foreseen the benefit that such experience, however limited, would be to me in my future professional pursuits. As there is no man from whom something may not be learnt, even in standing with him under a gateway in a shower of rain, so there is no public office, however little elevated above that of the Constable, and far below the grandeur of the Justice of the Peace, from which he who sets about the performance of its duties in a right spirit may not acquire some practical wisdom to fit him for a higher sphere of action. In attempting to describe the Experiences of an Overseer, I look back upon a state of things which has almost wholly past away in the great social changes of four decades.

A Parish Vestry is held to pass the Overseers’ accounts of the previous year. There is a vast deal
of wrangling, but especially about sundry small items in the entries of one Overseer, who is considered to have been excessively lavish of the public money in a very unprofitable direction. He has been extremely particular in his records of the sums paid to tramps. Sometimes, fourpence or sixpence is, “by direction of the magistrate,” given to one who is travelling with “a pass,” which document the magistrate signs. Oftener, a sixpence, or a shilling even, is wrung from the tender-hearted Overseer, for the relief of an Irishman and his wife, or a poor sailor, or a distressed mechanic, who have each told their sorrowful tale at his door. A rigid vestry-orator would enforce the letter of the penal statutes against vagabondage, and asks what is the use of having a notice up at all the entrances of the town, to the effect that all beggars and vagrants will be taken up and punished according to law? He is answered, by being told that the punishment is seven days’ confinement in the common prison, when the vagrant is to be duly conveyed to his or her parish; and that the laws made for another state of society are impossible of execution, even if the whipping-post and the stocks could be revived in their ancient terrors. So the lavish Overseer has his triumph. If another succeeds him who is less impressible, I see the Mayor’s door besieged by a clamorous host, from whom there is no escape till every one has obtained an order upon the lesser functionary. Then the filthy common lodging-house, unregulated by any sanitary laws, receives into its bosom the healthy and the diseased, the decent and the shameless, the innocent wife travelling to seek the husband who has found work in a distant place, and the brazen harlot swilling gin with her ragged
paramour. They leave behind them, as they move forward to another scene of miscalled relief for their real or simulated wants, a terrible benediction of small-pox and typhus. Some die in the dens of filth where they had congregated at night-fall, and the parish has to bury them. It was in vain that I recommended the establishment of proper lodging-houses in all large towns, alleging that the aggregate cost would be less than what the Overseer must distribute to these wanderers, and would do something to prevent the mixture of the worthy with the unworthy.* The time was far distant when the Legislature would descend from its dignity of party-warfare, to bestow a thought upon “the dangerous classes.” The beadle’s “move on” was deemed all-sufficient for the cure of mendicity.

My initiation into the mysteries of parochial management was not calculated to enlarge my reverence for the sagacity of uncontrolled local administration. There was a Parish Committee of experts, who exercised a sort of legislative power over the Executive of Overseers. The President of this Congress was the permanent Assistant-Overseer. It assembles weekly in the Board-Room of the Workhouse. Our first duty is financial. We that had been outsiders know only that the rates are very heavy. But there are secrets in which we are now to participate. The Parish is considerably in debt. We call for a list of the debts, which, after some hesitation, is produced. One item is astounding—four hundred pounds odd due to the keeper of a Lunatic Asylum at Bethnal Green, for the care of a madman chargeable to

Windsor Express,” January 24, 1818.

Windsor. The explanation is, that this amount has been accumulating for some years—that every new Overseer ventures upon some inquiry as to the nature of the debt—that it will never do to go to the General Vestry about the matter—that the only way to make things pleasant is to pay another fifty pounds on account. But who is this Pauper Lunatic? How came he to be sent to
Mr. Warburton’s establishment? What is his present condition? No one can tell—not even the all-wise Assistant-Overseer. One or two of us are resolute for inquiry. The head constable of the borough—a permanent officer—is sent for. Yes, he can explain. Ten years ago, when the Mayor, and Justices, and Recorder, were sitting in Quarter Session, a “dangerous lunatic” was arrested by the Bow Street officer who attended at the Castle. No one knew this man, who said he wanted to petition the King when his Majesty came home from his ride; and he was very insolent and threatening when ordered to go away. Committed to beadle-custody, the culprit was brought at once before the furred gowns happily assembled; and, giving very incoherent answers, was ordered to be taken to a Lunatic Asylum. The very thought of another Hatfield demanded strong measures. Asylums for Pauper Lunatics there were none in those days. Private asylums, under very loose regulation, were abundant. My offer to see the dangerous man who had been so costly to our parish was accepted, but not very cordially. With some difficulty I found my way to the obscure region of Bethnal Green; knocked at the private door of a substantial house, which was opened by a civil man-servant; and was introduced to the manager of this establishment.
When I announced that I had come, with proper authority, to see Thomas ——, there was some hesitation. I was pressing, and my demand could not be evaded. The bell was rung, and was answered by the civil man-servant. That sleek and obliging person was the dangerous lunatic. I procured the address of friends who occasionally came to see him, and in a fortnight, having obtained a vote for the discharge of the “little bill,” handed over the sane man to the not very affectionate protection of his brother, a thriving shopkeeper in the borough of Southwark.

The Bethnal Green affair was an exceptional instance of lavish expenditure. The ordinary throwing away of large sums was upon Settlement cases. We had a grand battle, in my time, with the distant parish of Macclesfield. The year before, a mechanic, with a wife and family, came from the north to settle at Windsor. He brought a letter from the Overseer of Macclesfield, requesting the parish officers of Windsor to expend One Pound for his relief. This profligate father of a family required a shilling a week, which was duly paid till the one pound was expended—he required it for tobacco. His wife said that he was a good, sober workman, but that it was his habit to chew tobacco, and that he could not do without it. The shilling was denied, without any further communication with Macclesfield. The man was obstinate, took a tenement at a weekly rental of four shillings and sixpence, and after a year had expired demanded the shilling as out-door relief upon his new Windsor settlement. The war-trumpet was sounded. The order of removal to Macclesfield was signed. Away went the man, wife, and six children,
for a ride of two hundred miles, on the outside of a coach, in charge of the Overseer “in pay,” nothing loth, who delivered them safely at Macclesfield. But Macclesfield shrunk from so heavy a burden; and having no work to give the pauper who had found employ at Windsor, became Appellants against the Order of Removal. Then, attorneys, attorneys’ clerks, surveyors, surveyors’ clerks, overseers, and a host of unprofessional witnesses, had to journey in post-chaises, and to feast four days at Abingdon, before the mighty cause came on. The question was supposed to hang upon the real value of the four-and-sixpenny tenement. Legal subtlety evaded this, contending that the Apprenticeship Settlement at Macclesfield was void, for that the pauper had been first bound to a master at Leake, and had been turned over to a master at Macclesfield, by endorsement upon the original indenture without having a separate legal stamp. The Justices of Berkshire could not determine this knotty point, and it was referred to the Court of King’s Bench. Solemnly was this great issue tried, with the most eminent counsel on either side. It was decided that the Order of Removal must be quashed. Macclesfield brought back the family to Windsor. The war party was for trying the question again with Leake. But a prudential view of the heavy amount of the costs prevailed in our Congress. If we had been a “Tobacco Parliament,” such as
Carlyle has so well described, we might have sympathised with the imperative needs of the obstinate settler, who had cost us three or four hundred pounds. The quid-question was a sample of many a legal battle amongst the fourteen thousand five hundred parishes of this
kingdom, where justice was to be had by all who could pay for it.

I was accustomed, in our Committee sittings, constantly to listen to the ignorant babble about making “character” the leading principle of relief. The paid Assistant-Overseer was always the ready evidence as to character. With him squalid filth was the test of destitution, and whining gratitude, as it was called, for the alms distributed was the test of character. There was an entry in our parish books, in which a poor woman, deserted by her husband, and left to maintain her family, was described as “Madam Todd.” The amount of her weekly relief was very small, and she had, on occasions of sickness, to ask for an additional trifle. When she came to the Committee, the Assistant-Overseer, in his harsh Scotch accent, always addressed her with his curled lip as “Madam Todd.” When I first heard this, I saw a woman of some education quail before the well-known sounds; and when she retired, after some other impertinence, I asked the reason of this treatment. “Madam Todd is too proud for us—proud b—” was the answer. My wife and I sought out Madam Todd. We found a woman of a lofty spirit not yet broken by degradation, of sincere piety, and possessing an anxious desire to bring up her children without parish support, if possible. Her husband was an irreclaimable brute, with whom no decent woman could live. She found other friends; she obtained from them that real assistance in a judicious encouragement of her independent industry, which parochial “praise of them that do well” and parochial “punishment of them that do evil,” would have denied to her. She maintained her “character”
through a long life—“proud” to the end—but with the honest pride of self-respect.

After a few months’ experience of paupers and pauperism, I ventured upon a startling proposal to my brother officers—that we should visit the Out-Poor in their own homes. Never had such an innovation been heard of. Even the Assistant-Overseer knew nothing of the real condition of the hundred-and-fifty recipients of weekly relief. I am afraid that Vicar and Curate knew as little. The duty of the parish priest was then considered to be fulfilled, when he preached to the poor—when he baptized them, married them, buried them. The duty of visiting them is a modern institution. Some of our local administrators held that there was personal danger in the proposed work of supererogation. Small-pox and scarlet-fever were in many houses. Small-pox was ever in our courts and alleys and scattered cottages. The people were unwilling that their children should be vaccinated. When the medical man refused to inoculate them, there was no lack of clever old women who transmitted the variolous poison from family to family with a needle and a worsted thread. I contended that for this cause alone we ought to go amongst these ignorant recipients of our alms, and exhort them to cease from murdering their children. We did make our domiciliary visits. We were not always welcome; and I fear our moral lessons made little impression. We discovered some imposture, and we saw some real miseries of which we had not been quite aware. The great source of suffering was the want of profitable employment, and for this want we had no remedy but the old one of the parish gravel-pit. The Sur-
veyors of the Roads entered into partnership with us in giving paupers work in mending our highways. These officers were appointed annually, and were consequently as ignorant of the principles upon which good roads should be made, as we were of the relations of Capital and Labour when we set up flax-machinery in our Workhouse. Various had been the devices of previous local administrators for making commodities for which there was no natural demand, in the rooms where our old crones sat blinking over the winter’s fire, and our young children crawled and fought. The art of cutting pegs for beer-barrels was considered worthy of trial; but the brewers had their regular market for an article so easy of production. Shoemakers’ pegs were more easily made than sold. In an unlucky hour a benevolent lady persuaded the Queen to try a machine for crushing flax by hand-labour, which flax when crushed was to be disposed of to the regular manufacturer. Where the purchaser was to be found we did not know; but, with the royal example before us, we bought four machines, which the patentees taught the men and boys to work. There was a good deal of bustle in the Workhouse; and when I went out of office there was a large store of bruised flax in the lumber-rooms. We got rather sick of the process, when the machine had cut off a poor boy’s finger, and we had an orphan upon our hands who was now incapacitated for learning any mechanical trade.

In spite of occasional accident and constant disease, our supply of pauper-children never failed. We kept it up by the time-honoured process of compelling young persons to marry, under the laws which made the marriage bond a temptation to vice, and which
brought a life-long penalty of want and degradation to the unfortunates who were thus punished far beyond their sins.

The ordinary duties of an Overseer presented little variety, and no very pleasurable excitement. There was one occasion, however, in which I threw myself with the ardour of a Detective into the possible glory of hunting down and bringing to justice a desperate offender against the laws of humanity. In September, 1817, early in the morning, a young woman was found lying down on the step of my father’s door. She had come thither to seek for succour, if not for justice, under a terrible calamity. She had been married at Clewer Church in the previous December; had been left pregnant by her husband; and had crawled to the town to ask for some aid. There was no time to be lost. I had her conveyed in a sedan to the Workhouse, where she gave birth to a child. A rumour had gone forth that her reputed husband, William Griffin, straw-hat maker, had been married before. The doubt as to the legitimacy, and the consequent future support of the infant, was the parochial question. My feelings were engaged in the desire to bring the inhuman offender to justice. I obtained clue after clue to his former life. I traced him to Whichwood Forest, in Oxfordshire. In a village on a wild common, not far removed from Bibury race-course, then famous in the records of the turf, I found a middle-aged woman named Smith, the deserted real wife of the same man, according to her description, as William Griffin the straw-hat maker. The parish in which she lived was Burford. I took her before a magistrate, who entered very heartily into the inquiry, and we obtained from this
wife a very conclusive affidavit. I had one other inquiry to make: where did
Lord Falkland live in this same parish of Burford? The memory of a great man had lasted more than a century and a half in his once dwelling-place. I gazed upon the reputed house where the young statesman secluded himself from the world, to learn a higher philosophy than he could have attained in courts. In these solitary scenes he unfitted himself for partizanship, and reached that nobler cast of thought which has made Lucius Cary the most interesting personage in Clarendon’s Portrait Gallery. Through dreadful roads I reached Wantage, to see the birth-place of Alfred, and the Vale of the White Horse, for the first time. The deserted wife of Whichwood Forest had given me another clue to her husband’s iniquity. In a parish near West Wycombe I found the victim of a second marriage. The offender in this case called himself Scriven, but unquestionably he also was the straw-hat maker. The third victim was Jane Sumner, who had fainted in our streets, the daughter of decent parents at Clewer. Our indefatigable Head-Constable arrested Griffin, alias Smith, alias Scriven, who was indicted for polygamy; and the good-tempered fat official managed to get the three much-abused women together at the Abingdon Summer Assizes. Garrow was the judge—courteous in presenting his bouquets to the ladies who sat by his side on the bench; eloquent in his addresses to the guilty; weeping, as I saw that most terrible of cross-examiners weep, when he sentenced two gipsies to death for burglary. I really was not then quite aware of the existence in 1818 of the ancient plea for the benefit of clergy. The bigamist, having been quickly found
guilty upon the first indictment, was adjudged twelve months’ imprisonment. He was convicted by the clearest testimony upon the second indictment. Then the Crier of the Court called out to the convict, “Kneel down and pray your Clergy.” The judge, in tones of deep solemnity, next talked of that merciful law which interposed between his deserved punishment of being hanged. I had almost expected that the wretched man would have been called upon to repeat the “neck-verse,” which was once the touchstone of a literate. He was transported for seven years. Late in the afternoon, the excellent constable, who had been the protector of the three ladies, came to tell me that they were a little cross and jealous before the trial; but that they were then happily together at tea, rejoicing that they had all got rid of such a villain.