Michael Quinn (ed.), The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: Writings on the Poor Laws, Vol. 1
NEIGHBOUR'S-FARE PRINCIPLE DEFENDED1
This rule may be stated as the Sheet-Anchor of public charity. Without it no tolerable economy, no real justice. Above a million a year at least depends upon it: and the pecuniary part is perhaps the smallest part of its importance. It may be termed the Magna Charta2 of national charity. No rational economy can rationally be expected from that manager, who, when the matter has been thus stated to him, should persist in stating it as a grievance, and as a matter of charge against the Management of an Industy House, that a man had rather live out of it than in it.
Applied to treatment, as to any thing else, good and bad are terms of comparison: they suppose a standard. In the present instance, every pg 268thing depends upon the choice of the standard: upon the assumption of the only true one. The standard presented by economy, justice, industry, morality and genuine humanity, is in this case the fare of the lowest paid, and therefore worst-faring class of independent, selfmaintaining, self-subsisting hands.
The standard set up by misadvised humanity, deaf to the laws of justice, economy, industry, morality and genuine humanity, is a sort of vague, obscure image of the sort of treatment which a man himself conceives he could put up with in such a case. No standard was ever more erroneous: none more variable: the error varies and rises, as the individual rises in rank and opulence. The Poor have one standard, the substantial Tradesman another: but even that of the substantial Tradesman (the ordinary judge in causes of this sort) is much too high. The true standard would be that which would be set by a Jury of a man's peers, just able to maintain themselves, each man by the sweat of his own brow, and none of them exposed, (if so the case would be) to fall into that situation in which it would be a man's interest to wish the fare as luxurious as possible. When I say peers, I do not mean Peers of the Realm, but peers of the pauper whose claim is before the Court. To be judged by his own true peers, by his own next neighbours in rank and fortune, such in this case is man's right, such ought to be his obligation. Unfortunately for the country, unfortunately for the interests of justice, industry, economy, temperance, morality and genuine humanity, it is by Peers of the Realm, and their neighbours in Council, or in Parliament, that the standard comes to be fixed.
Being favoured by a friend in office with the accounts of an establishment of considerable magnitude for the maintenenace of persons of this, the lowest class, I was looking over some of the articles with him, while the soup I was about to give him was putting upon the table. Pre-apprized of his opinion, that the expenditure, taken in the lump, was such as might bear retrenchment, I thought myself tolerably secure from disagreement, in pointing out by way of confirmation, as an example tolerably in point, an annual charge for pepper to the amount of £18 in money. Pepper (said my guest)—after a pause for reflection—Pepper, repeated he, and with genuine not affected gravity—No I would not grudge them a little pepper. Pepper, let me tell you, (the approach of the soup was by that time become sensible) pepper is no uncomfortable thing for a poor man to have a little of in his soup. I had begun starting the question how our forefathers managed, in regard to soup and comfort, before the communication was opened with the pepper countries:—but the soup, with or without pepper in it, was by that time on the table. My Right Honourable and truly honourable friend, who is little pg 269expecting to see the laws of hospitality thus violated in his person, will in consideration of the occasion and the motive, smile forgiveness upon this treachery; on similar consideration, the traitor, in the name of the country, forgives him.
I took care to specify freedom from interest in the event as a qualification not to be dispensed with on the part of the Jury above supposed: and certainly not without good cause.
Some years ago, a tenant of mine, a Butcher in a country town, and who happened at the time to be Overseer came to me in a state of alarm: the inhabitants of the Work-house, so called ut lucus a non lucendo,1 were up in arms against him—For what offence?—Feeding them with sheep's heads. What, according to the conception of those gentlemen in low life, was the proper destination of the species of offal in question, whether to feed the men that worked for them, or to feed dogs with, or Scotch members, the informant did not state. A few days after, I happened to be dining with a gentleman of the latter description. At the dinner—a first dinner and an excellent one, what I stuck to as the best dish was this very species of offal, which had given so much offence to my fellow parishioners. From the documents communicated by the Rev. Mr Davies, I have the satisfaction of finding that, even in England, there are parts of the country in which there are persons to whom the dish is no such object of aversion.2 But the people he speaks of are hard-working people—labourers in husbandry, who think themselves but too happy if now and then, once in a week or so, they can, at their own expence, give themselves such a treat. For all this, I would not answer for their not proscribing sheep's heads with as much rigour as the Butcher's boarders did, were they in quality of the Jury above supposed, to have to sit for the purpose of settling the dinner for the first day of their dining with the Parish.
I forget on what occasion, a friend of mine, on giving me an account of an exhibition of Charity Children,3 was mentioning as a treat that was given to them in the course of it, a portion of Cake and Wine. On the mention of this part of the celebrity, observations, not altogether of the approving cast, could not but present themselves.—A new and dangerous taste infused into those children of indigence, a taste for luxuries unsuited to their condition, and high above their reach.—Hence, within themselves, the seeds sown of the sense of privation, regret and discontent—towards their superiors in opulence, and pg 270those in authority over them—the seeds of jealousy, envy and ill-will.—Fermented liquors, the grand source of vice and misery—more prolific than all others put together, held up to their longing eyes, and held up by authority, in the character of a bounty and a reward: held up a chosen instrument of gratification, a fit object of desire. In a word, this glass of wine, I could not but confess—it showed as the cup of Circe to my eyes.1 I hazarded but little of all this: for it was soon apparent that that little was too much. The right of the dear sweet innocents had been proclaimed a heavenly one. It was a fond Father I had to deal with—with a fond Mother by his side: and one of them had no aversion to a glass of wine. Benevolence and beneficence were familiar to my friend: theoretical and rigid enquiries into the principles of public economy were not equally so. I was glad to make my escape as quick as I could: with the loss of I know not how much of my character for common humanity and good nature.
The substantial Tradesman's standard is not the true standard (I have said) any more than the Peer's. Witness the Dietary of the Shrewsbury House of Industry:2 one of the very best patterns of economy in this line that the country has hitherto afforded. Three meals a day: while men in the highest ranks of life content themselves with two, not to mention that Homer's heroes grew into heroes upon one. Butcher's meat five days out of the seven: their providitors, conceiving by the force of sympathy the hardship it must be to fast (for not eating Butcher's meat is fasting) even for a single day, nor yet unmindful of the propriety of keeping up a distinction between the receivers and dispensers of public charity, ordained a two days' fast by way of compromise. Five days out of the seven, Butchers meat at the expence of others: while one day in the week so many are glad to get it, and not one day in the week so many are able to get it, of those whose existence rests on no other fund than the produce of their own labour. Such has been the course of these too generous dispensers of their own, as well as the public, bounty, boasting, and in print, of their economy for these ten years: boasting with almost universal applause, and certainly, when comparisons are made, not without prodigious reason. But such economy would require yet to undergo no inconsiderable change, to bring it to the standard either of true economy or justice.
Is not this enough? Turn then to the union of St George's and St Andrew's. There is a place to look to if you would wish to see Paupers living in high state: there you may see to what lengths that pg 271indulgence may run and does run where the true and only true standard, the neighbour's-fare principle, is lost sight of.
Charity-fed idlers refusing the cloaths provided for them1—why?—because they have cloaths of their own that they like better.
Charity-fed idlers with a train of servants to attend them: beggary and impudence enthroned: industry and independence ministering unto them. Maitre d'hotel under the name of Master: Housekeeper, under the name of Mistress, each a servant to themselves:2 Treasurer to the Household:3 Cobbler at a salary: Taylor and mantua-maker paid by the piece: Yeoman of the pantry, or pantry Assistant, one: Housemaids, 5: Valet de Chambre one, under the official stile of Barber: House-Porters, one: Hall-keeper, one: Cook, one: Scullion, one, Messenger, one, Butlers two: stiled cellarmen, one Upper and one Under: Coal-Cellar man, one: Laundry Maids, 12: Chairmen, one or more pair, number not mentioned: All at separate salaries.4 Each with their appropriate functions: each one adept in that branch of Servant Hall science, which in technical language is called the knowledge of his place: each, like a Senator in his Curule Chair,5 nobly determined not to budge an inch from it. The House Maid who cleans the Committee Room disdaining the Hall: the Hall-cleaner the Kitchen: the Kitchencleaner the Pantry: the Pantry-cleaner the Stairs.
The officer who, upon occasion, turns a cock,6 or is supposed to turn it, is a separate officer: the Footmen either want science for it, or disdain it. How the spit can have been turned must be left to conjecture. I find no officer to turn it. Perhaps, like the King's, it required a Member of Parliament:7 and the last incumbent had lately accepted the Chiltern Hundreds.8
pg 272Reading over the Red book of the establishment,1 I am led to fancy myself in Hindostan: where no man who smokes [a] pipe ever lights one: one man fills a pipe, and another lights it. No: I am at the Opera: where four Footmen with laced liveries form part of the establishment of a Woodcutter. In Hindostan, gentlemen have indeed more servants than are quite necesary: but beggars, at any rate, do without them. In Hindostan, the world is somewhat broad at the base: but it is not turned topsy-turvy, as at St George's and St Andrew's.
Oakhum Overlooker one: Oakhum Boiler as many.2 These appear to be a sort of Chief Justices in Eyre3 or Chancellors of the Dutchy:4 for though there is an Oakhum-picking and boiling Room with Coals for it,5 and perhaps it should seem in order that there may be coals for it, of Oakhum picked or boiled no traces are to be found. For to him who boils Oakhum, it is too much to look at it.
Not a trace of work done by any body, unless it be at I know not what silk Mills: and there, instead of being paid for the work, the establishment pays for doing it: 50 children at the silk Mills with 2s a week each.6 50 young gentlemen and ladies whose work is worth 2s less than nothing.
Reader—Oh, but you mistake the matter. These servants are not hired on purpose: they are the Paupers themselves in masquerade: what you take seriously is but a jest.
pg 273Author. If it be, it is a very expensive one: for jest or earnest, they are all paid. What they were before they were put into these stations does not seem of very material account: the material thing is that they occupy them and are paid for it: paid for it exclusive of their board, or their board wages. Thomas what are you about?—Nothing, Sir. John what are you doing?—Helping Thomas. This dialogue gives the classification. The Johns and the Thomases, divide this flock: the bulk of it Thomases: the flower of it Johns.
To some eyes this may seem profusion: no—it is frugality. Under this management, even under this management, the yearly expence per head, if the statement given of it is to be believed, (common expenses excluded) is but £6:1 in St Martin's it is more than double.a
I must be allowed to mention on this occasion—though not on any but with respect—the Revd Mr Davies. I have much to answer for to that gentleman. Valuable, highly valuable, are the documents for which we are indebted to him. He gave them for one purpose: I have employed them for a very different—perhaps an opposite one. How insufficient the pittance, cries he, which the industrious, the selfsubsisting poor, have to live upon. More therefore, says he, ought to be given to them. Agreed, say I, as far as it is possible without prejudice to justice or to industry. But is it possible? Meantime I draw this conclusion—more, at any rate, ought not to be given to the burthensome poor—to those who, with or without necessity casting themselves upon the public charity, are subsisted not at their own, but at the public charge. Thus different therefore, at least, though certainly not repugnant, are our views. His, to augment the portion of the self-subsisting poor: mine, to reduce to that standard the portion of allowance made to the burthensome poor. Observe then the difference between the two schemes: the one, wearing the face of indulgence on the surface of it: but at bottom neither useful nor practicable: the other, wearing rigour on the surface: but at bottom, practicable, useful, and the only one that is so.
It is with difficulty the self-subsisting Poor can get even small Beer: many even go without it altogether. Well: and are they at all the worse for the want of it? In point of health and strength at least, no man can say yes, they are. Very well then, if it is not necessary to the selfmaintaining and labouring class, still less is it to the burthensome and pg 274unlabouring class of Poor. Out then with small beer: away with it. Strike the article of small beer then out of the list of fancied necessaries.
What then, cries my humane and reverend antagonist—would you grudge a man, an industrious man—a man who strains every nerve to procure subsistence for himself and family—would you grudge such a man a little small beer?1 Heaven forbid—nor Tokay neither if it were possible for him to have it, I mean for all to have it who have the same pretensions to it: and to have it without prejudice either to his own industry, or to the justice due to others.—But it is possible? There lies the difficulty: the unfortunate, insuperable difficulty. Of those to whom you were to give the small beer, one would sell it to buy strong—another would make ground from it to plant[?] his inquiry in to get bread by, or meat to add to it: both will proportionally shrink from work, or at least make others shrink from it by their example.
Ask Mr Wood else: to whom the public are indebted for the elegant and instructive account of the Shrewsbury House of Industry.2 House-room is more necessary than beer:—What, would you grudge a man a house to shelter from the inclemency of the weather? Do so and he comes upon the Parish to be fed as well as housed. This argument had rendered it a practice to pay rents (p. 16. ed. 1791). What was the consequence? In how many instances was this rent allowance consistent with either economy, industry or justice?—Not 'in one out of fifty':3 and the proof of it was, that when the rent allowance was taken away, instead of throwing themselves on public charity for either food or lodging, they lived more comfortably than before. Economy, now becoming necessary to them, was found practicable, and practised.
Ye who feel the error, blush not to avow it. It scarce needs, it scarce admitts of, an apology. Few errors have been more pernicious in their effects: none ever was, none ever can be more respectable in its source. It flows from the most amiable of the virtues, and religion herself has spread her mouth over it.
The golden rule—whatsoever ye would that man do unto you, that do ye also unto them,4 a mine not less of prudence than of beneficence, is a mine of which the stores have scarce yet been sufficiently explored. Yet even this, with all its expansion, has its bounds. Justice confines it in one quarter: Possibility, in another. The Sheriff ought not to pg 275change places with the Assassin: the Peer can not feed Paupers as he would wish, or as he has been wont to feed himself. Both pray for, both ought to have secured to them, their daily bread:1 but the daily bread of the one is not the daily bread of the other.
But Generous as the error is, it is not less truly an error, nor a less pernicious one: nor of this, any more than other errors, let it be forgotten—that 'when the error has been pointed out, the apology is gone'.
This is not, this surely is not of the number of those transgressions, against which guiltlessness should be numbered among the qualifications for throwing the first stone.2 If it was, few hands would be more eminently incompetent than the one now so busy in the task.
Mark well the principle then—neighbour's-fare. The name given to it is proverbial—familiar—even to vulgarity.—It must be so to be useful.—Wide waft it, ye winds—God speed it among the throng.
I am fighting some of my best and most respected friends—I know it but too well—I cast myself on their forgiveness.—Will this obtain it?—I am fighting myself likewise.
What has been said of Dr Johnson on the ground of infidelity,3 may not be inapplicable to myself on the ground of false tenderness. The stronger my propensity to yield to it, the more strenuous my efforts to subdue it.