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I never heard of more than one objection against this expedient of badging the poor, and confining their walks to their several parishes. The objection was this - What shall we do with the foreign beggars? must they be left to starve? I answered, No; but they must be driven and whipped out of the town; and let the next country parish do as they please, or rather, after the practice in England, send them from one parish to another until they reach their own homes. By the old laws of England, still in force, every parish is bound to maintain its own poor; and the matter is of no such consequence in this point as some would make it, whether a country parish be rich or poor. In the remoter and poorer parishes of the kingdom, all necessaries of life proper for poor people are comparatively cheaper; I mean buttermilk, oatmeal, potatoes, and other vegetables; and every farmer or cottager, who is not himself a beggar, can spare sometimes a sup or a morsel, not worth the fourth part of a farthing, to an indigent neighbor of his own parish, who is disabled from work. A beggar, native of the parish, is known to the squire, to the church-minister, to the popish priest, or the conventicle-teacher, as well as to every farmer; he has generally some relations able to live, and contribute something to his maintenance; none of which advantages can be reasonably expected on a removal to places where he is altogether unknown. If he be not quite maimed, he and his trull and litter of brats (if he has any) may get half their support by doing some kind of work in their power, and thereby be less burdensome to the people. In short, all necessaries of life grow in the country, and not in cities, and are cheaper where they grow; nor is it equitable that beggars should put us to the charge of giving them victuals, and the carriage too.
But when the spirit of wandering takes him, attended by his females and their equipage of children, he becomes a nuisance to the whole country; he and his females are thieves, and teach the trade of stealing in their brood of four years old; and if his infirmities be counterfeit, it is dangerous for a single person unarmed to meet him on the road. He wanders from one county to another, but still with a view to this town, where he arrives at last, and enjoys all the privileges of a Dublin beggar.
I do not wonder that the country squires should be very willing to send up their colonies; but why the city should be content to receive them is beyond my imaginatien.
If the city were obliged by their charters to maintain a thousand beggars, they could do it cheaper by eighty per cent. a hundred miles off, than in this town, or in any of its suburbs.
There is no village in Connaught that in proportion shares so deeply in the daily increasing miseries of Ireland as its capital city; to which miseries there hardly remained any addition, except the perpetual swarms of foreign beggars, who might be banished in a month, without expense, and with very little trouble.
As I am personally acquainted with a great number of streetbeggars, I find some weak attempts have been made in one or two parishes to promote the wearing of badges; and my first question to those who ask an alms is, "Where is your badge?" I have, in several years, met with about a dozen who were ready to produce them, some out of their pockets, others from under their coats, and two or three on their shoulders, only covered with a sort of capes, which they could lift up or let down upon occasion. They are too lazy to work; they are not afraid to steal, nor ashamed to beg; and yet are too proud to be seen with a badge, as many of them have confessed to me, and not a few in very injurious terms, particularly the females. They all look upon such an obligation as a high indignity done to their office. I appeal to all indifferent people whether such wretches deserve to be relieved. As to myself, I must confess this absurd insolence has so affected me, that for several years past I have not disposed of one single farthing to a street-beggar, nor intend to do so, until I see a better regulation; and I have endeavored to persuade all my brother walkers to follow my example, which most of them assure me they will do. For if beggary be not able to beat out pride, it cannot deserve charity. However, as to persons in coaches and chairs, they bear but little of the persecution we suffer, and are willing to leave it entirely upon us.
To say the truth, there is not a more undeserving, vicious race of human kind than the bulk of those who are reduced to beggary, even in this beggarly country. For as a great part of our public miseries is originally owing to our own faults (but what those faults are, I am grown by experience too wary to mention), so I am confident that, among the meaner people, nineteen in twenty of those who are reduced to a starving condition did not become so by what the lawyers call the work of God either upon their bodies or goods; but merely from their own idleness, attended with all manner of vices, particularly drunkenness, thievery, and cheating.
Whoever inquires, as I have frequently done from those who have asked me an alms, what was their former course of life, will find them to have been servants in good families, broken tradesmen, laborers, cottagers, and what they call decayed housekeepers; but
(to use their own cant) reduced by losses and crosses, by which nothing can be understood but idleness and vice.
As this is the only Christian country where people, contrary to the old maxim, are the poverty, and not the riches of the nation; so the blessing of increase and multiply is by us converted into a curse; and as marriage has been ever countenanced in all free countries, so we should be less miserable if it were discouraged in ours, as far as can be consistent with Christianity. It is seldom known in England that the laborer, the lower mechanic, the servant or the cottager, thinks of marrying until he has saved up a stock of money sufficient to carry on his business, nor takes a wife without a suitable portion; and as seldom fails of making a yearly addition to that stock, with a view of providing for his children. But in this kingdom the case is directly contrary; where many thousand couples are yearly married, whose whole united fortunes, bating the rags on their backs, would not be sufficient to purchase a pint of butter-milk for their wedding-supper, nor have any prospect of supporting their honorable state, but by service, or labor, or thievery. Nay, their happiness is often deferred until they find credit to borrow, or cunning to steal, a shilling to pay their popish priest, or infamous couplebeggar. Surely no miraculous portion of wisdom would be required to find some kind of remedy against this destructive evil, or at least not to draw the consequences of it upon our decaying city, the greatest part whereof must of course in a few years become desolate or in ruins.
In all other nations, that are not absolutely barbarous, parents think themselves bound by the law of nature and reason to make some provision for their children; but the reason offered by the inhabitants of Ireland for marrying is, that they may have children to maintain them when they grow old and unable to work.
I am informed that we have been for some time past extremely obliged to England for one very beneficial branch of commerce; for it seems they are grown so gracious as to transmit us continually colonies of beggars, in return for a million of money they receive yearly from hence. That I may give no offence, I profess to mean real English beggars, in the literal meaning of the word, as it is usually understood by Protestants. It seems the justices of the peace and parish-officers in the western coasts of England have a good while followed the trade of exporting hither their supernumerary beggars, in order to advance the English Protestant interest among us; and these they are so kind as to send over gratis, and
duty free. I have had the honor, more than once, to attend large cargoes of them from Chester to Dublin; and I was then so ignorant as to give my opinion that our city should receive them into Bridewell, and after a month's residence, having been well whipped twice a-day, fed with bran and water, and put to hard labor, they should be returned honestly back with thanks as cheap as they came: or if that were not approved of, I proposed that, whereas one Englishman is allowed to be of equal intrinsic value with twelve born in Ireland, we should in justice return them a dozen for one, to dispose of as they please.
As to the native poor of this city, there would be little or no damage in confining them to their several parishes. For instance: a beggar of the parish of St. Warburgh's, or any other parish here, if he be an object of compassion, has an equal chance to receive his proportion of alms from every charitable hand: because the inhabitants, one or other, walk through every street in town, and give their alms without considering the place, wherever they think it may be well disposed of; and these helps, added to what they get in eatables, by going from house to house among the gentry and citizens, will, without being very burdensome, be sufficient to keep them alive.
It is true the poor of the suburb parishes will not have altogether the same advantage, because they are not equally in the road of business and passengers; but here it is to be considered, that the beggars there have not so good a title to public charity, because most of them are strollers from the country, and compose a principal part of that great nuisance which we ought to remove. I should be apt to think, that few things can be more irksome to a city-minister than a number of beggars which do not belong to his district; whom he has no obligation to take care of, who are no part of his flock, and who take the bread out of the mouths of those to whom it properly belongs. When I mention this abuse to any minister of a city parish, he usually lays the fault upon the beadles, who, he says, are bribed by the foreign beggars; and, as those beadles often keep ale-houses, they find their account in such customers. This evil might easily be remedied, if the parishes would make some small addition to the salaries of beadles, and be more careful in the choice of those officers. But I conceive there is one effectual method in the power of every minister to put in practice; I mean, by making it the interest of all his own original poor to drive out intruders; for, if the parish beggars were absolutely forbidden by the minister and
church-officers to suffer strollers to come into the parish, upon pain of themselves not being permitted to beg alms at the church-doors, or at the houses and shops of the inhabitants, they would prevent interlopers more effectually than twenty beadles.
And here I cannot but take notice of the great indiscretion of our city shopkeepers, who suffer their doors to be daily besieged by crowds of beggars, (as the gates of a lord are by duns,) to the great disgust and vexation of many customers, who I have frequently observed to go to other shops, rather than suffer such a persecution; which might easily be avoided, if no foreign beggars were allowed to infest them.
Wherefore I do assert, that the shopkeeepers, who are the greatest complainers of this grievance, lamenting that for every customer they are worried by fifty beggars, do very well deserve what they suffer, when an apprentice with a horse whip is able to lash every beggar from the shop who is not one of the parish, and does not wear the badge of that parish on his shoulder, well fastened and fairly visible; and if this practice were universal in every house to all the sturdy vagrants, we should in a few weeks clear the town of all mendicants except those who have a proper title to our charity; as for the aged and infirm, it would be sufficient to give them nothing, and then they must starve, or follow their brethren.
It was the city that first endowed this hospital; and those who afterward contributed, as they were such who generally inhabited here, so they intended what they gave to be for the use of the city's poor. The revenues which have since been raised by parliament are wholly paid by the city, without the least charge upon any other part of the kingdom; and therefore nothing could more defeat the original design, than to misapply those revenues on strolling beggars or bastards from the country, which bears no share in the charges we are at.
If some of the out parishes be overburdened with poor, the reason must be, that the greatest part of those poor are strollers from the country, who nestle themselves where they can find the cheapest lodgings, and from thence infest every part of the town; out of which they ought to be whipped as a most insufferable nuisance, being nothing else but a profligate clan of thieves, drunkards, heathens, and whoremongers, fitter to be rooted out of the face of the earth, than suffered to levy a vast annual tax upon the city, which shares too deep in the public miseries, brought on us by the oppressions we lie under from our neighbors, our brethren, our countrymen, our fellow-protestants, and fellow-subjects.