Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση
[ocr errors]

that crime had increased 55 per cent, while the population had increased but 19 per cent; leaving an excess of crime over population of 36 per cent, to be accounted for by other means, or causes.

Such were poverty and crime in England two years ago; and, while the causes are in action which have produced these results, such will poverty and crime continue to be there. But, dreadful as is even this exposition of human degradation and wretchedness, still more dreadful, in these respects, is the condition of Ireland. That beautiful country, one of the most favored by God, of all the countries upon the earth, with the means of abundance and happiness, is one of the most heavily cursed by man in his oppression of his fellow man, and in all that is either pitiable, or revolting, or detestable, in human ignorance, debasement and sin. It is, however, worthy of remark, that while many ten thousands of the Irish are scattered over England, in quest of employment and food, comparatively few of the Scotch poor are to be found there. Of 2000 London beggars, examined by Matthew Martin, Esq. under authority of the British Parliament, but sixtyfive were Scotsmen. I find, too, that in 1818, the whole assessment for the poor of Scotland was £43,000; which was £600 less than the assessment in the county of Cumberland during that year.

I know, indeed, that these are details, on which some will be unwilling to dwell; and of which the inquiry may be proposed, what is the good of bringing them before us? Why, it may be asked, do you array before us crimes, which we can do nothing to prevent, and tell us

* Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, vol. xxi, p. 867, et seq. | Hansard, v. xviii, pp. 1527, 8.

of this vast amount of suffering, which we can do nothing to relieve? I reply, that I would pray for a serious consideration of this frightful difference,' to use the language of Mr Peel, between the increase of crime and the increase of population,' existing in the very bosom of the most opulent and powerful nation of Europe, as a means of the security of our own country from a similar degradation and wretchedness. Under the most limited, and the mildest monarchy on the earth, and in a country, the resources of which have seemed inexhaustible, poverty and crime are fast outrunning the advance of population! This is no fiction. When I consider, therefore, what numbers we already have among us of native poor, what vast numbers by emigration are every year added to this part of our population, and what an apathy prevails among us in regard to our exposures to the greatest of the calamities of other lands; when I advert to the changes, which, within two or three years, have passed under

my own eye, arising out of the fluctuations of business, and affecting thousands, paralyzing the capitalist, and throwing the laborer out of the employment on which he depended for his daily bread; and when I carry forward my thoughts, but a short distance, to the period when our cities will be doubled, or quadrupled in the number of their inhabitants; when, if our children shall have gone on with no better lights than we have had, and making no better efforts than we have made, the evils growing out of neglected poverty may be well nigh irremediable; I cannot but strongly feel that a voice is wanted, which can call attention to these subjects, as it has not yet been called to them. I am well aware that mine is not the voice that can accomplish this great object. Nor do I think that any individual is alone capable of doing what is to be done in this work, or of teaching all that is to be taught in it. It calls for the best talents, and for the best and most persevering devotion, of the best minds. And if such talents, and such devotion can be obtained for it, a good may be secured to our country, which, if for any considerable time to come it shall be disre. garded, or lightly considered, may be irrecoverably lost.

I would neither overstate existing evils, nor indulge a sickly imagination of those which may be before us. But, in the reports which are almost daily brought to us, and of the vast extent of poverty in Europe, and of the intellectual and moral debasement, and the abject misery with which it is there connected, it seems to me that God himself is sending forth an admonition to us, which ought to thrill through the heart of every statesman and philanthropist in our country. Who can look at these facts, and not inquire, how is it that such multitudes of our race have been brought to this degradation, and wretchedness? Why is it that the nations of Europe, with their priesthood and churches, their literature and arts, their commerce and wealth, are every year increasing the numbers, already immense, whose existence must be one of hopeless want and of the deepest depravity; the numbers of those who are wholly beyond moral restraint, and who at times can scarcely be restrained by the greatest civil power that can be brought to bear upon them? We read, and we hear of this distant poverty and crime; and we too easily forget them, as if, in these excesses, they would always be as distant from us as they now are. But where, and in what is our security? Are we indeed in no danger of having among ourselves a population as poor, as degraded, and as criminal as that of Europe? This, it seems to me, is a question of great national importance; and of immediate, peculiar, and most solemn concern to the inhabitants of our cities. Let us look at our cities, and ask, what are the tendencies there to an accumulation of poverty and crime? Or, varying the question, that we may obtain a somewhat broader view of the subject, let us inquire, what are the causes of the tendency of cities to the growth of poverty and crime?

The fact of this tendency of cities needs no proof. Very different views, however, are taken of its causes. And never shall we obtain the true remedy of the evil, or the most effectual means of its prevention, till we get at the deepest and most influential of the causes of it. What, then, are these causes?

In presenting to Parliament the statements we have quoted from him, Mr Peel thought it to be his duty, to give his views of the causes of the “frightful evils exhibited in these statements. These causes he considered to be, ' 1st, The increased mechanical ingenuity of the age; those very mechanical improvements, which are the source of the prosperity of the country; and, 2dly, The very unsatisfactory state of the parochial police.' The Duke of Wellington looked not for causes beyond the deficiency of the police.' Another member, however, assigned a third cause; to wit, the low rate of laborer's wages, and the want of sufficient employment for laborers.' To me, indeed, it is amazing, that great statesmen, and great political economists, in treating of the greatest interests of the social condition of man, can thus confine their views to the very surface of society. That these are, in truth, causes of the want and crime referred to, admits not of doubt. But are they the

causes, which primarily demand the attention even of the statesman, and the political economist? Are they either the most active, or the most powerful of the

causes of these great evils ? On the contrary, I think that I see these causes, in the spirit of monopoly, in the luxury, and extravagance, and profligacy of the more favored classes; and in the low estimation in which the more affluent and powerful hold, and have ever held, the humbler orders of their fellow beings. I think that I see them, in the whole history of the legislation of England respecting the poor, and criminals, and every class of those who are considered as offenders; in the vestry and the judicial proceedings respecting them; and in the records, especially of the Police Courts, of the throngs of those who are sent to prisons, or to the hulks, - sinks, perhaps, of deeper iniquity than those, from which the culprits were taken. I see them, also, in the multitudes of beggars who are sent to Bridewell for a week, if perchance their settlement be not in the metropolis. From Bridewell, these beggars are carted to their settlements in the country. And as every other parish is equally disposed to be rid of them, as are the parishes from which they are sent, they are left to go where they will. A very large proportion of them, therefore, find their way back to the metropolis, even before the officer who had conveyed them away has returned there. Here, again, they are apprehended; again they are sent to Bridewell; again are carted to their parishes, and are soon again in the city; and thus they run the circle, hundreds continually dropping off, the miserable victims of their vices; whose places are supplied by increasing numbers, if possible more vicious, extending around them a more deadly influence, ai thus enlarging the amount of human corruption a wretchedness. And if, looking for a moment beyon the metropolis, we take into our account the statement

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »