Susanna Morgan, Hints toward a Society (1812)

[Morgan, Susanna.] Hints towards the Formation of a Society for Promoting a Spirit of Independence among the Poor. 2nd ed. Bristol: Printed by E. Bryan, 51 Corn-Street, and sold by B. Barry, Bookseller, &c., High-Street, [1812]. Copy in British Library signed at top of title page, ‘H. W. Smith.’  [shelfmark 8275.aa.12. (1)]. 

Background and Related Works:

According to The Bristol Memorialist (Bristol: William Tyson, 1823, p. 222),  the author was Susanna Morgan of Clifton, who also wrote several reports for the Prudent Man’s Friends Society, Bristol, of which Hays served on the Committee with Morgan during 1815 and 1816. Both Morgan and Hays attended the Lewin's Mead Unitarian congregation in Bristol.

The Rules with a Short Explanation of the Views of the Prudent Man’s Friend, a Society established in Bristol at a public meeting held in the Guildhall, on the 22d of December, 1812, the Right Worshipful the Mayor in the Chair. 2nd Ed. Printed by Mary Bryan, 51 Corn-Street, and sold by Barry, High-Street, [and others, but page is clipped at bottom, so date is missing, but most likely early in 1813.] [BL 8275.aa.(12.(2)]. Opening page makes clear the meeting involved inhabitants of Bristol and Clifton. Among the founding members were Richard Ash, Mr.[Alfred] Estlin, Dr. Pritchard, Mr. Lambert Schimmelpenning, and the following women: Miss S. Allen, Mrs. Eden, Miss Morgan, Mrs. Randolph, Mrs. Schimmelpenning, Miss Till Adams, Mess E. Rowe, Mrs. Stock, Mrs. Selfe, Miss Wallace, Miss Wright, Miss Fanny Wright. More than £2000 deposited into the Society in its first two years. First report was issued in 1813.


First Report of the Prudent Man’s Friend Society. 1813. [no details provided.]  [BL 8275.aa.(3.)] No listing of subscribers.


State of the Prudent Man’s Friend Society, for the year 1814. Bristol: J. M. Gutch, 15, Small-Street. Among the members is a Miss Barry, probably the daughter or sister of the original printer, Mr. Barry. Secretary for this year is Susanna Morgan, assisted by Miss Allen. The solicitor is Mr. Alfred Estlin, a solicitor, so he is most likely the Mr. Estlin of the original founders. Morgan, Miss Barry, and Mary Ann Schimmelpenning are members of the Women's Committee. A Miss Fanny Wright donated. Subscribers included Mr. Barry (High Street) and Miss Barry (Paul Street). Other subscribers include George Daubeny, Esq., Cote; J. P. Estlin, St. Michael’s Hill, along with Mr. [Alfred] Estlin of College Green; Mr. S. Harwood, Barton Hill, and Miss H. Harwood, ditto; E. Ludlow, Esq., Cotham; Thomas Morgan, Park Street, and many more. Mary Hays is not listed among those who subscribed during the year, most likely due to her arrival in Bristol late in the year. The Society met in rooms at 20 Small Street, Bristol.


State of the Prudent Man’s Friend Society, for the year 1815. Bristol: J. M. Gutch, 15, Small-Street. Miss Morgan is secretary (she is listed as from Gloucester Row), but now on the Committee with Morgan is a ‘Miss [Mary] Hays,’ joined by many other women, including Mary Ann Schimmelpenning and Miss Barry (3). The Committees met at the Society's rooms at 20 Small Street each Saturday at 11 am.


State of the Prudent Man’s Friend Society, for the year 1816. Bristol: J. M. Gutch, 15, Small-Street.  4th anniversary of the founding of the Society. Mary Hays still a member of the Committee, with Susanna Morgan secretary, joined by a Miss Allen and Miss Elizabeth Rowe. Alfred Estlin is the solicitor and another Mr. Estlin, most likely his brother, is listed as the Surgeon (3). Mary Ann Schimmelpenning also on the committee, as is Miss Barry. Hays also appears this year as a subscriber (no address is given), paying £1. More importantly, under the "State of the Account," Hays's The Brothers has earned £10.6s for the Society in 1816 (14). Hays also appears on the "Donations" page at the end of the pamphlet, donating 5s. 6d. on behalf of ‘A Lady’ (16). No Pennington or A. Smyth appear in the report.

State of the Prudent Man’s Friend Society, for the year 1817. Bristol: J. M. Gutch, 15, Small-Street.  5th anniversary of the founding of the Society. Mary Hays, having now returned to London, is no longer a member of the women's committee but she remains a subscriber to the Society at £1 (28). Susanna Morgan secretary, joined by Miss Allen, Miss Elizabeth Rowe, and Miss Elizabeth Morgan (probably a relation of Susanna). Alfred Estlin is the solicitor and  Mr. Estlin is still the Surgeon (3). Mrs. Schimmelpenning is still on the committee, as is Miss Barry. John Prior Estlin is a subscriber (27).



   Some misconception having arisen as to the nature of the spirit of independence which it is the object of the following little tract to recommend, the author finds it necessary to observe, that the independence here meant, is an exemption from reliance upon others for support;* and not from the control of the laws, or of that influence, which rank when sustained with dignity, and riches when properly employed, must ever possess in civilized society.

            Though the word independence be thus liable to the objection of a double meaning, [ii] and consequently to misinterpretation, the author has not been able to substitute any other, which so accurately conveys to the mind the idea intended, as independence does, when confined to the sense of an exemption from reliance upon others for support. It is therefore retained in the title.


   *Independent, not depending; not supported by any other; not relying on another; not controlled.

  Independency, exemption from reliance or control.   Johnson.


            When a love of independence is firmly rooted in the mind, a spirit of industry and prudence will of necessity influence the conduct. And the man who is animated by it, before the subject himself and the woman he loves, to the hazard of seeing their offspring starve, or of becoming dependent upon the precarious aid of causal charity, or the inadequate supplies of a legal provision, will reflect; and previously to entering upon that important relation in human life, the character of a husband and a father, will by the utmost exertion of his talents, industry, and prudence, endeavor to merit that prize, “to which,” an enlightened writer [iii] has observed, “the idle and the improvident are not entitled.”

            Before the new era in the science of political economy, occasioned by the publication of the masterly essay of the Rev. T. R. Malthus, the advantages of a large but ill-fed population began to be doubted. Harrison, a writer in the early part of the seventeenth century, says, “Some do grudge at the increase of people in these daies, thinking a necessarie brood of cattel farre better than a superfluous augmentation of mankind.” Arthur Young likewise exposed some of the erroneous notions upon this subject. And the Rev. J. Townsend says, “Speculation apart, it is a fact that in England we have more than we can feed, and many more than we can profitably employ.” The time therefore is perhaps not very far distant, when statesmen and political economists will perceive and acknowledge, that the stability of a government and the strength and happiness of an empire, depend not [iv] upon a numerous, degraded, and half-starved population; but on one in which, from the prevalence of a spirit of virtuous independence, the necessaries, if not the comforts of life, are enjoyed by all; and where from early formed habits of industry and prudence, the firmest foundation is laid for the superstructure of a highly moral and religious national character.


August 24, 1812.




Hints, &c.


            At a time when private and public charity is extended to a degree, of which, in former times, there is no example; it is become a question of the highest interest and importance, why no sensible diminution of misery among the lower classes is observed, but on the contrary, that distress seems to increase in a twofold proportion, as benevolent efforts are made to relieve it?

            To those who are in the habit of visiting the abodes of the Poor, and listening to their complaints, no proofs of this fact can be wanting here; and those, who by their necessary avocations, or elevated situation in life, are prevented from taking a near view of the subject, must be sensible from the frequent appeals made to the humanity, that misery and suffering are far from being banished from the earth.

            [2] It is apprehended, that it will not be difficult to trace this melancholy, but undeniable, state of things to two principal causes: the misapplication of charity, and its natural tendency to produce in the objects of it, a spirit of improvidence and dependence, peculiarly inimical to their real interest.

            The situation of Europe at this time, the state of trade and manufactures in consequence of it, and the long train of evils ever attendant on war; certainly add to the difficulties experienced by the poor. But when these, which are but temporary causes, are removed, it will be found that the other two are fully sufficient of themselves to produce a sum of misery, which no benevolence—no philanthropy – no efforts of the rich, unaided by the exertions of the poor themselves, can relieve.

            If we take a view of the nature of many public charities, and above all the most extensive and injurious of them, parochial relief,* we shall find [3] that their direct tendency is to operate as premiums for the encouragement of idleness; and of that spirit of improvidence, which leads the poor to marry before they have a reasonable prospect of maintaining a family. 

   If a young man and young woman become attached to each other, instead of making their attachment a motive to increasing industry, and looking to the comfort of their future union, as the reward of necessary toil, and meritorious self-denial; too generally marriage is hastily and thoughtlessly entered into; and if any idea of future difficulties for moment occur, private charity and parochial relief are looked upon as certain resources. The man, therefore, seldom refuses to accompany his companions to the alehouse; nor does the woman think it necessary to resist the attractions now held out to array herself in cheap and flimsy finery. No farther oeconomy is practiced than to save enough to pay the clergy-[4]man’s fees, to purchase a wedding dinner, and take a ready-furnished room. Every thing may go on prosperously for a time; the man with or without the assistance of his wife, earns enough to maintain her, till the birth of the first child. The expences of lying-in, from their having none or at best a small fund of savings to draw upon, begin their embarrassment; and thoughtless habits prevent the recovery of the ground lost, till the woman is again near confinement. Nothing is now in store, and application is made to some of the charities instituted for relieving lying-in women.  All. So far still goes on apparently well: no additional debts, or only trifling ones, perhaps, are contracted. But a spirit of dependence is begun to be generated, and no lesson or habit of economy is enforced. The same easy means of getting over the difficulty, are resorted to in circumstances of the same kind; till at length the family becoming too large to be supported by the labour of an individual, without privations to which he has not been accustomed; and the salutary pride of independence having been weakened by the alms already received, parochial assistance is demanded; and though the sum [5] obtained be but small in itself, yet being certain, the man begins to think it sufficient to meet the want of his family; becomes careless to applying his earnings to their maintenance; spends more of his time at the ale-house, and less at his work, till his children become beggars; and out of the gifts of thoughtless uninquiring benevolence,** he can even procure luxuries, which some industrious neighbor may well look at with envy; and it will be fortunate if the noble independence of his spirit be not sapped by the view. Too probably, he will think, “why should I, in order to lay up something for the hour of distress, be content with my dry, hard-earned crust; when by means to which no disgrace is now attached, I might live, without exertion, in comparative luxury?” Reflections such as these will naturally arise in honest, but uncultivated, minds; to whom the high moral advantages of that spirit, which “is ashamed to beg,” has never been pointed out; or where they are already understood, have never [6] been fostered and encouraged. It will be well, if unaided virtue resist the forcible appeals to the most dangerous passions of the human mind, which are furnished by the successful, but unworthy, applicant to public or private charity. 

       Let us now reverse the picture, and observe what will be the effect of that prudent and independent spirit, which, though it is the ornament of every rank in life, it is so peculiarly desirable to cultivate among the poor.

        Instead of thoughtlessly and hastily entering into an engagement, which let the inconveniences of it be what they may, cannot be dissolved: persons actuated by this spirit, resolve first to lay up a little provision against the hour of difficulty; they apply with redoubled diligence to their respective callings; and if temptation to extravagance in any form assail them, the inclination to yield is effectually checked, by the idea that it will be the means of retarding that union, which they mutually look to, as the reward of their privations. Nor is the sum of money actually saved, by any means the only, or the greatest advantage of such a line of conduct. In the period of time, during which it has been thought prudent to persevere in [7] it, their habits of economy and self-denial have been so strengthened, that what by others might be considered as serious privations, will to them appear only as the nature state of things.  

        We will now suppose that their savings are deemed sufficient; that they are married, occupying rooms or a cottage, furnished scantily, perhaps; but still the little contained in it is their own. Those persons are but little acquainted with human nature, who know nothing of the effect of those magic words – “my own.” They have the power of converting inanimate substances into objects of affection and attachment; and they will, as such, be preserved with care. The wife feels pride and pleasure in the cleanliness of her apartment, and the brightness of her furniture; and the husband before the pressing demands of a family come upon him, will feel no trifling satisfaction in adding, from time to time, some little article of convenience or ornament to their store. But the days of difficulty will at length arrive. Many little hands will be stretched to the father for food, but will not be stretched in vain. He spends no money idly on his own selfish pleasures; and his wife, inured like himself to habits [8] of self-denial, is sometimes content to fast with him, that these objects of their mutual affection may be fed.        


“They live, and live without extorted alms

From grudging hands; but other boast have none

To sooth their honest pride, which scorns to beg,

Nor comfort else but in their mutual love –

But be ye of good courage! Time shall give increase,

And all your numerous progeny, well trained,

But helpless, in few years shall find their hands

And labour too.” –––– ***         


           Let us now suppose, that a period of twenty years has elapsed from the time of their marriage; and contrast their situation with that of the improvident couple, now with a sickly, and too probably, a vicious offspring, reduced to beggary. The prudent couple not having married till later in life, have fewer children. They are consequently better fed, and better clothed; and therefore are healthier. And it is probable, that at the end of twenty years, a family of four children, competently fed and clothed, would be equal in numbers, and greatly superior in point of physical+ and political strength, to a family consisting [9] originally of eight; but lessened by sickness, and debilitated by want.++ In a moral point of view, the difference is incalculable. A man seldom becomes completely vicious, till he is hopelessly degraded in his own eyes, and those of his neighbor. Independently, therefore, of the effect of good example and virtuous habits in early life, he who has been taught in his youth, duly to appreciate himself, is more likely to sustain the character of a good man, and a good citizen, than [10] he who has no degree of consequence to lose, in his own opinion, or that of others. 

            To the friend of peace, the advantages to society of a family so reared, over the offspring of those persons, whose imprudence has reduced them to difficulties or want, will be still more striking, if they consider that it is not among the virtuous, the industrious, and the creditable families of the poor, that the ranks are recruited for offensive war. Though, driven to it by want of other employment and the distress which war always occasions, soldiers of a better class and a better character are sometimes found: yet it is in general, the degraded, the vicious, and the idle, who are at first, the tools of the ambitious statesman. While who is so likely to act with vigour in the defence of his country, as he who has a stake in it to lose – a character in it to sustain?

            That the slight sketches here drawn are no exaggerated pictures, those who are accustomed to enquire into the causes of the distress exhibited in the dwellings of the Poor, will bear testimony. But dependence upon the relief afforded by the parish, scanty as it is, is likewise destructive of [11] those best feelings of the human mind; filial affection, and parental tenderness. 

            The father and mother of a family do not now look to the gratitude of their children for support in old age; but must be content with the scanty pittance extorted form the hand of strangers; many of whom are only one degree removed form the situation of those, whom injudicious laws have bound them to maintain.

            It is but rarely we now see the decrepit parent supported by the labour of the industrious son. This is now no longer considered as the duty of children. That duty has devolved upon the parish: and the work-house at last receives the misguided parent, who, instead of inculcating upon his offspring the advantages of an industrious and independent spirit, has given him the injurious example of dependency upon the bounty of others for that subsistence, which he ought only to have derived from his own exertions. Such is not the conduct of parents, or of children, where the pestiferous influence of the poor laws is happily unknown; and it is not the extreme of poverty alone, which can stifle in the human breast, the tender emotions of filial love. Some [12] beautiful and affecting proofs of this are given in Mrs. Grant’s “Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders.” “In this region,” she says, “people have generally such numerous families, that, by the time they attain old age, both their little property, and their bodily strength is exhausted in working and providing for them. – This, however, is but a petty evil, or none at all as they take it. Children consider it as a duty not incumbent only, but inevitable, to provide for their parents. This they do not regard as an exertion, or a meritorious duty, but merely as the circulation of their blood, or the returns of day and night; things of course that never can, or will be omitted. A Highlander would never thank any one for a compliment on his filial piety. He would stare at such a person as very ignorant and absurd, and say, ‘What then should I do? Is he not my own father?’

            “These recollections and associations,” in the mind of the Highland soldier, when far distant from home, “preserve in their pristine vigour, the fairest traits in the Highland character. Social and convivial as Donald’s inclinations are, when others join the mirthful band and share the cup of [13] festivity, he retires to his barrack or his tent, and adds the hard-earned sixpence to the little hoard, which the pay-master promises to remit home, to pay his father’s arrears of rent, or purchase a cow for his widowed mother.

            “Poor Donald is no mechanic, he cannot, like other soldiers, work at a trade when in quarters: yet, day after day, with unwearied perseverance, he mounts guard for those who have this resource, to add a little to this fund, sacred to the dearest charities of life – to the best feelings of humanity. This sobriety preserves alive the first impressions of principle – the rectitude, the humble piety, and habitual self-denial, to which a camp life, or the unsettled wanderings that belong to it, are so averse. 

           “There are instances of very late occurrence, not of individuals only, but of whole regiments of Highlanders, exercising this generous self-denial, to remit money to their poor relations at home, to an extent that would stagger credulity, were it particularized.”

           Such being the nature of charity, that it is most truly said of it, “that it is more blessed to give than to receive”: it now remains to enquire how [14] the Poor, can more effectually, and less injuriously to their moral character, be assisted – and how that salutary spirit of independence, which injudicious established and private charities have almost annihilated, can in some measure be restored!

            It is hoped from the following hints, persons possessed of the requisite talents may be induced to give their attention to the subject: and though the labour may be great, and the effect for a long time be imperceptible, yet the truly benevolent mind will not shrink from the exertion of sowing the seeds, though the golden harvest may be reaped by another.

             There appear to be but three modes by which the Poor can be effectually assisted without destroying those principles, which tend to preserve their rank in the scale of moral and accountable beings. These are


I.         By increasing the quantity of food proper for the sustenance of man.

II.    By encouraging a spirit of moral restraint and independence, by which the tendency of population to increase beyond the means of support may be checked, and [15]

III.   By affording occasional pecuniary or other assistance in cases of strictly unforeseen and unavoidable distress.


   The first mode is so limited in its nature and capable of being resorted to by so few, that it will not be necessary to say much upon it here. Next to the man who cultivates and improves the moral and religious faculties of his fellow creatures, stands perhaps among the benefactors of mankind, he who “makes a blade of grass to grow, where never blade of grass grew before.” But the operation of this branch of beneficence, in its most extended sense, must necessarily be limited.

   A time may be supposed to have arrived, when every inch of the terrestrial globe has been brought to yield all that can be yielded by it. When every substance which industry can discover, or science prepare, is applied in the most economical manner to the support of life: still population without checks, will exceed the utmost limits to which the preparation of food can be extended.

   It is therefore taking a very short sighted view of the subject, to suppose that by giving money the wants of the Poor can at all times and to an [16] indefinite extent be relieved. It may under certain circumstances and to a limited extent, be useful: but if acted upon as a general principle, it will be found to be perfectly inefficient and nugatory.+++

    This, therefore, brings us to the consideration of the second mode, by which the Poor may be assisted, viz. by encouraging a spirit of independence, and moral restraint, by which the tendency of population to increase beyond the means of support may be checked.

   The only foundation for conferring lasting benefit upon the Poor, by these means, is strongly to impress upon their minds, that no real and effectual assistance can be given them by others. That, though a little occasional aid from the rich may sometimes be serviceable, yet it is upon their [17] own exertions, habits of economy and prudent foresight alone, that they and their families, must depend for their comforts, as well as their daily bread. That this inability of the rich to do any thing effectual for them, does not proceed from hard-heartedness, or an unfeeling indifference to their welfare; but that it arises from the unchangeable nature of things, as established by an allwise Providence; that thus reason, reflection and judgment, the grand distinguishing faculties of man, might be brought into action.

    But the more enlightened the mind, and enlarged the ideas, the more likely are these lessons of prudence, as well as those of religion and virtue to be understood and practiced. And as education is necessarily the first step towards enlightening the mind, active benevolence can never employ itself more usefully than in the establishment and superintendence of schools. Happily for the best interests of mankind, these are truths which are now almost universally acknowledged: and the exertions making in consequence of it, afford to the philanthropic mind, long wearied by the din of war, and appalled by the horrors and the extensive ruin of which it is [18] productive, a hope, which like a speck of light in a gloomy horizon, gives a faint promise of a brighter day.

   But as an auxiliary to education, in endeavoring to impress upon the minds of the Poor, the necessity of self exertion and prudence, it is proposed that a society be formed to be called The Society for promoting a spirt of Independence among the Poor.^

      To those who have their families and themselves to support from the produce of their daily labour prudence dictates, that in youth and health, provision should be laid up for sickness and old age. But as the voice of prudence, in this, and every other class of society, is too often unheard in the conflict of the passions, and unheeded by the careless confidence of youth, it becomes a duty incumbent upon those whose situation in life makes them in some degree the guardians and the guides of the lower classes, to remind them of [19] what is their true interest in this respect; and to point out the means by which at the expence of a trifling sacrifice of present gratification they may ensure their future ease and comfort. A principal object of this society therefore should be, the establishment of Benefit and Annuitant Societies, on such a basis of accurate calculation, that no danger of bankruptcy would be incurred; or any encouragement given to habits of idleness and dissipation, by frequent meetings at public houses.^^ One day in the year of relaxation, and social enjoyment, will however be found useful as an additional inducement to the Poor to enter into the club. Men and Women’s societies should however be separate, and the refreshment at the anniversaries of the latter be confined to tea.^^^

            [20] Sir F. M. Eden in the Preface of his excellent work observes “that friendly societies have now established upon the broad basis of experience, one great and fundamental truth of infinite national importance: viz. that with very few exceptions the people in general of all characters and under all circumstances with good management are fully competent to their own maintenance.” If no other good effect than this had been produced by these societies, the wisest political economist might have been proud to have suggested the plan. But it originated in the natural good sense of the people; and though the calculations of the profound arithmetician are necessary to give this resource all the stability of which it is capable, [21] and the moralist should point out the deviations which may lead to vice, and terminate in misery; yet the national views upon which it is founded are a proof that the laboring classes by no means require that very minute interference of the rich in their concerns, which has of late been thought desirable. If the Poor are treated too much like children, they will become like children helpless and dependent.

            A second object of the society should be the establishment of a Poor Man’s Bank, in which he might safely lay up his savings to accumulate with interest: but with the power of drawing them out, when wanted. This institution is not superseded by the establishment of benefit societies. On many occasions besides sickness (at which time the aid of the benefit society alone is granted) a fund of saving would be of the greatest advantage to the Poor Man. The loss of a horse or cow, if he be able to keep one – the apprenticing a child, or clothing him for service – the scarcity, and consequent high price of provisions &c. A Bank of this kind guaranteed by men of known property and respectability, and managed by a Committee of Gentlemen or Ladies, would be a [22] great benefit to the Poor. And if one or two of the Committee, and a hired Clerk, were to attend on every market day in country towns, and two days in a week in cities, the whole business of this useful institution might be conducted with little trouble to each individual.

            Connected with this bank should be a fund to be raised by subscription, from which small sums might be advanced to poor persons under temporary embarrassment, to be returned by small weekly or other payments. This plan has been successfully adopted by the Bath Society for the Suppression of Vagrants, &c. which has found the persons so accommodated most meritoriously*^ punctual in observing the times of repayment. That many families have been prevented from becoming burthensome to the parish by this timely assistance, cannot be doubted: and it is equally probable that the honest and salutary pride of many a poor man has by the same judicious [23] means, been preserved from the mortal wound of asking charity.

            A third object of this society should be the printing and distributing tracts, by which the advantages of independence and industry, should be illustrated by tales and anecdotes, and enforced by plain and conclusive reasoning.*^^

            Fourthly, it should be an established principle with the members of this Society, to discourage all indiscriminate alms giving; and all charities which by their direct or indirect tendency may be injurious to the independence of the poor. They should likewise determine to confine their private charities, as far as circumstances will permit, to the relief of those who do not receive parish pay; and to confine that assistance in general to occasional aid, from the conviction that it is the vitiated and unnatural state of the lower classes, [24] brought on by the operation of the poor laws, injudicious charity, and their natural effect an improvident and dependent spirit, which alone render any thing more than temporary assistance either necessary or desirable.

            It will probably be objected to the formation of a society, proposing the attainment of such an important object, that it would require revenues which it would be impossible to raise. But let only the sums which are worse than thrown away in indiscriminate alms and injurious charities, be applied to the purposes of this institution, and funds more than sufficient to meet the most enlarged views of the projector would easily be raised. And if the objects of it be in the course of time obtained, a sensible diminution will take place in that heavy, and, to the lower class of housekeepers, that oppressive tax, the poor rate. Let half the sums so saved be applied with the views of the society, and to the reflecting mind, the superior advantages of which they may be made productive, will be sufficiently evident. 

   We now come to the third and last mode by which the poor may be beneficially assisted. And that is, by occasional pecuniary or other [25] relief in cases of unforeseen and unavoidable distress. But unless this assistance be confined to strictly unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, its direct tendency will be to counteract all that is attempted to be effected by the labours of the society now proposed. When advantages from the bounty of others are looked forward to by the poor with certainty, to obtain them by their own personal exertions becomes no longer an object with them: and dependence thus commenced, though but for trifles, is too apt to become an injurious habit. Charity, to be really advantageous to its objects, should be given with a view to occasionally aiding their own efforts, and not to rendering those efforts unnecessary.

            Under the head of beneficial charities in this line come all well-regulated hospitals and dispensaries.**^ Accidents and sickness will soon consume [26] the savings of frugality; and even the allowance of benefit societies may be insufficient to meet the demands of a large family, when deprived of the exertions of an industrious parent – though industry when exerted to the utmost, may be just sufficient to maintain a family without extraneous aid, yet saving might have been impossible: or the case may be of such a nature as to require the united efforts of the greatest medical skill, which by any other means it would be impossible for the poor man to obtain. In any or in all these cases, the assistance furnished by institutions for the sick may be usefully and advantageously bestowed.

            This, however, is far from being the case with lying-in charities. The difficulties arising from these cases are not unavoidable, and ought not to have been unforeseen. That union should not have taken place, by which a child is brought into the world, who from its very birth is doomed to be dependent on the bounty of a stranger. For it would be folly to suppose that parents, who are not prepared to meet the comparatively trifling expences of a confinement, can rear up their unfortunate offspring without the assistance [27] of alms or parish pay. If, however, there be, as no doubt there must, in this scene of vicissitude, instances occur which imperiously and properly demand assistance; it would be better for the real interest of the poor, if the benevolent person interested in the case, would pay the proper attendants from his own pocket, or join with his private friends in doing so, than subscribe to institutions, which make the relief of lying-in women their object. These institutions lead poor parents to depend upon their aid, which they would not do upon occasional and private assistance. If dependence be once begun, a door is opened to all that train of evils, which it is the object of these considerations to remove.**^^  

            An object of considerable importance in this third mode of relieving the poor, would be the institution in all large towns, of a society under the authority and sanction of the magistrates, to [28] examine into the claims of all beggars, strangers in distress, and vagrants.***^

            They should be empowered to grant the immediate assistance requisite; and the public should be earnestly and repeatedly entreated to transfer to the society, the consideration of the claims of all unknown persons in distress, if the individual applied to, or making the discovery, should be unable or unwilling to enter minutely into the circumstances of the case. All the cases should be registered; and the books of the society would thus become the records of the character of the most indigent class of society. By these means the shameful impositions of common beggars and vagrants would be detected; their pernicious example removed, and the real state of the deserving poor be more generally made known.

                  Such is the slight sketch of an extensive scheme for preventing the fair fruits of benevolence from acting as a deadly poison on those who gather them. The author is not, however, so sanguine as to suppose, that any very striking effects would be immediately perceptible from its adoption. [29] The evil is too deeply rooted, to be easily or hastily removed. But if true principles, and right reasoning, upon this subject be adopted, we may look forward with hope to the time, thought distant, when – through the medium of general education – self-control, industry, and independence of spirit, shall have removed much of that vast sum of human misery, which it is our lot at present to behold.      




Printed by E. Bryan, 51, Corn-street, Bristol.

[Notes by Susanna Morgan]


* F. M. Eden says, “a legal provision for the poor checks that emulative spirit of exertion which the want of the necessaries, or the no less powerful demand for the superfluities of life gives birth to: for it assures a man that whether he may have been indolent, improvident, prodigal, or vicious, he shall never suffer want; it weakens the strongest tie of civil society, the desire of acquiring property; for it declares that whether a man is industrious or idle, his most pressing difficulties, the necessity of food, lodging, and clothing, shall be provided for.”   

** By an ordinance of Edward the Third, the penalty of imprisonment was imposed on all persons, who by giving alms through pretence of piety or charity, should encourage the idleness of sturdy labourers. 

*** Cowper.

+ A striking instance of the effect of the privation of air and exercise, and probably a sufficient quantity of food, in preventing the human body from attaining its full stature is given in Colquhoun’s treatise on indigence. As Deputy Lieutenant for an eastern division of London, he examined about one thousand men for enrolment in the Militia, of whom twenty-five in thirty were rejected as being under size.

++ Dr. Beddoes, in his [“]Rules of the Medical Institution for the benefit of the sick and drooping Poor,” gives what may be deemed a strong corroboration of this opinion. He says, “twelve years ago by inquiry from house to house among the Poor, in a favourably situated town, I found the more children, the more died in proportion.” Thus if there were eight in one family, and in four families two in each, more died among the first eight than the second. The fact has been since confirmed. And is it not to be expected, since what a laboring man gains will maintain himself and his wife, better with two than with eight children. Accordingly among the rich, the rule as far as I can observe, does not hold. They do not lose more children, the more they have. Except, indeed, where the rich are ill-advised enough to do by choice what the Poor do – as they themselves suppose by necessity, but in reality from want of management – keep their families on mean fare or short allowance.

+++ The only mode of serving the Poor in times of real and general scarcity, is to endeavor to lessen the consumption of food by the rich, by preventing waste, and by prevailing upon them to part with a portion of their share to their necessitous brethren. The world is then in the state of the crew of a ship at sea, on short allowance; and unless food can be produced from substances which have hitherto not afforded it, or those who have the power to make a more equal distribution can be prevailed upon to take upon themselves a small share of the privations which others suffer, nothing with a view to a general system of relief can be effected. 

^ Proposals are now issued for the establishment of a Society in Bristol, with these views, but under what was considered as a less objectionable name, “A Society for the suppression of mendacity, and the promotion of economy and prudence among the laboring classes, to be called the Prudent Man’s Friend Society.”

^^ Rules of benefit clubs are often framed solely with a view to the advantage of the public-house at which the meetings are held. In many it is a rule to spend a sum equal to one third of what is paid into the box at each meeting, and allowances so large, during sickness, and for funerals, are held out as a lure: that it is impossible the funds can for any length of time, answer the demand made upon them. And when the inevitable bankruptcy ensues, the mischief produced by it in the minds of the Poor, (by giving rise to a want of confidence in such institutions) is incalculable.

^^^ I am informed of the existence of a female benefit society founded upon this plan. It belongs to two large country parishes. The anniversary meeting is held in August. The members attend in the afternoon of the day, drest in their best apparel, and distinguished by a branch of oak in their bosoms. They accompany their Patronesses to Church: after which Tea is prepared upon the lawn of a Gentleman’s house: a Fiddler attends, but no other man is permitted to be present. The Women converse or dance together; and this afternoon of innocent recreation, under the inspection of their Patronesses, no doubt contributes something to the inducements to become members of the society In a scheme however intended for general adoption, no compliances should be enforced which are against the consciences, or contrary to the customs of any sect of Christians. Attendance at these meetings should therefore be optional.

*^ The following is the state of the account from the beginning of 1805, when this fund was instituted, to 31st of December, 1810.

  Sum lent.               Repaid.           Supposed good.          Supposed bad.

 £933.16.7             £744.16.4               £153.1.0                   £35.19.3

*^^ It would be desirable respectfully to recommend to the consideration of societies established for furnishing articles of ready-made clothing to the poor, whether they might not be advantageously changed in part (for there always will be objects of distress who must be occasionally relieved without any effort of their own) into shops for selling them at first considerably under the real value, and at length at prime cost, thus to do away the injurious influence of obligation and dependence upon the mind?

**^ It has often appeared to the writer, that if in aid of the committee of gentlemen, a female committee and visitors for the women’s wards, were instituted in large hospitals, it would tend greatly to the well-being of such establishments. There are many petty, but at the same time essential regulations, which are familiar to females in their domestic arrangements, which must necessarily escape the notice of the most attentive man; and the comfort of the female patients would undoubtedly be greatly increased, if they were visited by persons of their own sex. 

**^^ I have been informed that it is no uncommon thing for idle husbands, when their wives are pregnant, to leave them dependent upon the assistance of charities of this kind; to some of the benevolent agents of which, they are morally sure the case will be made known. The woman being recovered, the husband returns, and thus dexterously throws upon others the cure of his wife and offspring at this interesting time.

***^ A society of this kind, but embracing other objects, has long been successfully established at Bath.