Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

The descent of real estates, of houses, that is, and land, having been settled in more remote and in ruder times, is less reasonable. There never can be much to complain of in a rule 'which every person may avoid, by so easy a provision as that of making his will: otherwise, our law in this respect is chargeable with some flagrant absurdities; such as, that an estate shall in no wise go to the brother or sister of the half blood, though it came to the deceased from the common parent; that it shall go to the remotest relation the intestate has in the world, rather than to his own father or mother; or even be forfeited for want of an heir, though both parents survive; that the most distant paternal relation shall be preferred to an uncle, or own cousin, by the mother's side, notwithstanding the estate was purchased and acquired by the intestate himself.

Land not being so divisible as money, may he a reason for making a difference in the course of inheritance; but there ought to be no difference but what is founded upon that reason. The Roman law made none.

BOOK III.
PART II.

OF RELATIVE DUTIES WHICH ARE
INDETERMINATE.

CHAPTER I.

CHARITY.

I Use the term Charity neither in the common sense of bounty to the poor, nor in St. Paul's sense of benevolence to all mankind; but I apply it at present, in a sense more commodious to my purpose, to signify the promoting the happiness of our inferiors.

Charity, in this sense, I take to be the principal province of virtue and religion: for, whilst worldly prudence will direct our behaviour towards our superiors, and politeness towards our equals, there is little beside the consideration of duty, or an habitual humanity which comes into the place of consideration, to produce a proper conduct towards those who are beneath us, and dependent upon us.

There are three principal methods of promoting the happiness of our inferiors.

1. By the treatment of our domestics and dependents.

2. By professional assistance.

3. By pecuniary bounty.

CHAPTER II.
CHARITY.

THE TREATMENT OF OUR DOMESTICS AND
DEPENDENTS.

A Party of friends setting out together upon a journey, soon find it to be the best for all sides, that while they are upon the road, one of the company should wait upon the rest; another ride forward to seek out lodging and entertainment; a third carry the portmanteau; a fourth take charge of the horses; a fifth bear the purse, eonduct and direct the route; not forgetting, however, that as they were equal and independent when they set out, so they are all to return to a level again at their journey's end. The»same regard and respect; the same forbearance, lenity, and reserve in using their service; the same mildness in delivering commands; the same study to make their journey comfortable and pleasant, which he whose lot it was to direct the rest, would in common decency think himself bound to observe towards them; ought we to show to those who, in the casting of the parts of human society, happen to be placed within our power, or to depend upon us.

Another reflection of a like tendency with the former is, that our obligation to them is much greater than theirs to us. It is a mistake to suppose, that the rich man maintains his servants, tradesmen, tenants, and labourers: the truth is, they maintain him. It is their industry which supplies his table, furnishes his wardrobe, builds his houses, adorns his equipage, provides his amusements. It is not the estate, but the labour employed upon it, that pays his rent. All that he does, is to distribute what others produce; which is the least part of the business.

N or do I perceive any foundation for an opinion, which is often handed round in genteel company, that good usage is thrown away upon low and ordinary minds; that they are insensible of kindness, and incapable of gratitude. If by " low and ordinary minds" are meant the minds of men in low and ordinary stations, they seem to be affected by benefits in the same way that all others are, and to be no less ready to requite them: and it would be a very unaccountable law of nature if it were otherwise.

Whatever uneasiness we occasion to our domestics, which neither promotes our service, nor answers the just ends of punishment, is manifestly wrong; were it only upon the general principle of diminishing the sum of human happiness.

By which rule we are forbidden,

1. To enjoin unnecessary labour or confinement from the mere love and wantonness of domination;

2. To insult our servants by harsh, scornful, or opprobrious language;

3. To refuse them any harmless pleasures: And, by the same principle, are also forbidden causeless or immoderate anger, habitual peevishness, and groundless suspicion.

CHAPTER III.

SLAVERY.

The prohibitions of the last chapter extend to the treatment of slaves, being founded upon a principle independent of the contract between masters and servants.

I define slavery to be " an obligation to labour for the benefit of the master, without the contract or consent of the servant."

This obligation may arise, consistently with the law of nature, from three causes:

1. From crimes,

2. From captivity.

3. From debt.

In the first case, the continuance of the slavery, as of any other punishment, ought to be proportioned to the crime; in the second and third cases, it ought to cease, as soon as the demand of the injured nation, or private creditor, is satisfied.

The slave-trade upon the coast of Africa is not excused by these principles. When slaves in that country are brought to market, no questions, I believe are asked about the origin or justice of the vender's title. It may be presumed therefore, that this title is not always, if it be ever, founded in any of the causes above assigned.

But defect of right in the first purchase is the least crime with which this traffic is

chargeable. The natives tse excited to war and mutual depredation, for the sake of supplying their contracts, or furnishing the market with slaves. With" this the wickedness begins. The slaves, torn away from parents, wives, children, from their friends and companions, their fields and flocks, their home and country, are transported to the European settlements in America, with no other accommodation on shipboard than what is provided for brutes. This is the second stage of cruelty; from which the miserable exiles are delivered, only to be placed, and that for life, in subjection to a dominion and system of laws, the most mer-ciless and tyrannical that ever were tolerated^ upon the face of the earth; and from all* that can be learned by the accounts of the people upon the spot, the inordinate authority which the plantation-laws confer upon the slave-holder is exercised, by the English slave-holder especially, with rigour and brutality.

But necessity is pretended; the name under which every enormity is attempted to be justified. And, after all, what is the necessity? It has never been proved that the land could not be cultivated there, as it is here, by hired servants. It is said that it could not be cultivated with quite the same conveniency and cheapness, as by the labour of slaves : by which means, a pound of sugar, which the planter now sells for sixpence, could not be afforded under sixpence-halfpenny;—and this is the necessity.

The great revolution which has taken place in the Western World, may probably conduce (and who knows but that it was designed?) to accelerate the fall of this abominable tyranny: and now that this contest, and the passions which attend it, are no more, there may succeed perhaps a season for reflecting, whether a legislature which had so long lent its assistance to the support of an institution replete with human misery, was fit to be trusted with an empire the most extensive that ever obtained in any age or quarter of the world.

Slavery was a part of the civil constitution of most countries, when Christianity appeared; yet no passage is to be found in the Christian Scriptures, by which it is condemned or prohibited. This is true; for Christianity, soliciting admission into all nations of the world, abstained, as behoved it, from intermeddling with the civil institutions of any. But does it follow, from the silence of Scripture concerning them, that all the civil institutions which then prevailed were right? or that the bad should not be exchanged for better;

Besides this, the discharging of slaves from all obligation to obey their masters, which is the consequence of pronouncing slavery to be unlawful, would have had no better effect, than to let loose one-half of mankind upon the other. Slaves would have been tempted to embrace a religion, which asserted their right to freedom; masters would hardly have been persuaded to consent to claims founded upon such authority; the most calamitous of all contests, a helium servile, might probably have ensued, to the reproach, if not the extinction, of the .Christian name.

- The truth is, the emancipation of slaves should be gradual, and be carried on by provisions of law, and under the protection of civil government. Christianity can only operate as an alterative. By the mild diffusion of its light and influence, the minds of men are insensibly prepared to perceive and correct the enormities, which folly, or wickedness, or accident, have introduced into their public establishments. In this way the Greek and Roman slavery, and since these, the feudal tyranny, has declined before it. And we trust that, as the knowledge and authority of the same religion advance in the world, they will banish what remains of this odious institution.

CHAPTER IV.
CHARITY.

PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE.

This kind of beneficence is chiefly to be expected from members of the legislature, magistrates, medical, legal, and sacerdotal professions.

1. The care of the poor ought to be the principal object of all laws; for this plain reason, that the rich are able to take care of themselves.

Much has been, and more might be, done by the laws of this country, towards the relief of the impotent, and the protection and encouragement of the industnous, poor. Whoever applies himself to collect observations upon the state and operation of the poor-laws, and to contrive remedies for the imperfections and abuses which he observes, ^nd digests these remedies into acts of parliament; and conducts them, by argument or influence, through the two branches of

the legislature, or communicates his ideas to those who are more likely to carry them into effect; deserves well of a class of the community so numerous, jhat their happiness forms a principal part of the whole. The study ana activity thus employed, is charity, in the most meritorious sense of the word.

2. The application of parochial relief is intrusted, in the first instance, to overseers and contractors, who have an interest in opposition to that of the poor, inasmuch as whatever they allow them comes in part out of their own pocket. For this reason, the law has deposited with justices of the peace a power of superintendence and control: and the judicious interposition of this power is a most useful exertion of charity, and oft-times within the ability of those who have no other way of serving their generation. A country gentleman of very moderate education, and who has little to spare from his fortune, by learning so much of the poor-law as is to be found in Dr. Burn's Justice, and by furnishing himself with a knowledge of the prices of labour and provision, so as to be able to estimate the exigencies of a family, and what is to be expected from their industry, may, in this way, place out the one talent committed to him, to great account.

3. Of all private professions, that of medicine puts it in a man's power to do the most good at the least expense. Health, which is precious to all, is to the poor invaluable: and their complaints, as agues, rheumatisms, &c. are often such as yield to medicine. And, with respect to the expense, drugs at first hand cost little, and advice costs nothing, where it is only bestowed upon those who could not afford to pay for it.

4. The rights of the poor are not so important or intricate, as their contentions are violent and ruinous. A lawyer or attorney, of tolerable knowledge in his profession, has commonly judgment enough to adjust these disputes, with all the effect, and without the expense, of a lawsuit; and he may be said to give a poor man twenty pounds, who prevents his throwing it away upon law. A legal man, whether of the profession or not, who, together with a spirit of conciliation, possesses the confidence of his neighbourhood, will be much resorted to for this purpose, especially since the great increase of costs has produced a general dread of going to law.

Nor is this line of beneficence confined to arbitration. Seasonable counsel, coming with the weight which the reputation of the adviser gives it, will often keep or extricate the rash and uninformed out of great difficulties. «

Lastly, I know not a more exalted charity than that which presents a shield against the rapacity or persecution of a tyrant.

5. Betwixt argument and authority (I mean that authority which flows from voluntary respect, and attends upon sanctity and disinterestedness of character) something may be done, amongst the lower orders of mankind, towards the regulation of their .conduct, and the satisfaction of their thoughts. This office belongs to the ministers of religion; or rather, whoever undertakes it, becomes a minister of religion. The inferior clergy, who are nearly upon a level with the common sort of their parishioners, and who on that account gain an easier admission to their society and confidence, have in this respect more in their power than their superiors: the discreet use of this power constitutes one of the most respectable functions of human nature.

CHAKTER V.
CHARITY.

PECUNIARY BOUNTY.

I. The obligation to bestow relief upon the poor.

II. The manner of bestowing it.

III. The pretences by which men excuse themselves from it.

I. The obligation to bestow relief upon the poor.

Thet who rank pity amongst the original impulses of our nature, rightly contend, that, when this principle prompts us to the relief of human misery, it indicates the Divine intention, and our duty. Indeed, the same conclusion is deducible from the existence of the passion, whatever account be given of its origin. Whether it be an instinct or a habit, it is in fact a property of our nature, which God appointed; and the final cause for which it was appointed, is to afford to the miserable, in the compassion of their fellow-creatures, a remedy for those inequalities and distresses which God foresaw that many must be exposed to, under every general Rile for the distribution of property.

Beside this, the poor have a claim founded in the law of nature, which may be thus explained:

All things were originally common. No one being able to produce a charter from Heaven, had any better title to a particular possession than his next neighbour. There were reasons for mankind's agreeing upon a separation of this common fund; and God for these reasons is presumed to have ratified it. But this separation was made and consented to, upon the expectation and condition that every one should have left a sufficiency for his subsistence, or the means of procuring it: and as no fixed laws for the regulation of property can be so contrived, as to provide for the relief of every case and distress which may arise, these cases and distresses, when their right and share in the common stock were given up or taken from them, were supposed to be left to the voluntary bounty of those who might be acquainted with the exigencies of their situation, and in the way of affording assistance. And, therefore, when the partition of property is rigidly maintained against the claims of indigence and distress, it is maintained m opposition to the intention of those who made it, and to his, who is the Supreme Proprietor of every thing, and who has filled the world with plenteousness, for the sustentation and comfort of all whom he sends into it.

The Christian Scriptures are more copious and explicit upon this duty than upon almost any other. The description which Christ hath left us of the proceedings of the last day, establishes the obligation of bounty beyond controversy:—" When the son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another. — Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto ine. —And inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." * It is not necessary to understand this passage as a literal account

* Matthew xxv. 31.

of what will actually pass on that day. Supposing it only a scenical description of the rules and principles, by which the Supreme Arbiter of our destiny will regulate his decisions, it conveys the same lesson to us; it equally demonstrates of how great value and importance these duties in the sight of God are, and what stress will be laid upon them. The apostles also describe this virtue as propitiating the Divine favour in an eminent degree. And these recommendations have produced their effect. It does not appear, that, before the times of Christianity, an infirmary, hospital, or public charity of any kind, existed in the world; whereas most countries in Christendom have long abounded with these institutions. To which may be added, that a spirit of private liberality seems to flourish amidst the decay of many other virtues; not to mention the legal provision for the poor, which obtains in this country, and which was unknown and unthought of by the most humanized nations of antiquity.

St. Paul adds upon the subject an excellent direction, and which is practicable by all who have any thing to give:— "Upon the first day of the week (or any other stated time) let every one of you lay by in store, as God hath prospered him. By which I understand St. Paul to recommend what is the very thing wanting with most men, the being charitable upon a plan; that is, upon a deliberate comparison of our fortunes with the reasonable expenses and expectations of our families, to compute what we can spare, and to lay by so much for charitable purposes in some mode or other. The mode will be a consideration afterwards.

The effect which Christianity produced upon some of its first converts, was such as might be looked for from a divine religion, coming with full force and miraculous evidence upon the consciences of mankind. It overwhelmed all worldly considerations in the expectation of a more important existence : —" And the multitude of them that believed, were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common. —Neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." Acts iv. 32.

Nevertheless, this community of goods, however it manifested the sincere zeal of the primitive Christians, is no precedent for our imitation. It was confined to the Church at Jerusalem; continued not long there; was never enjoined upon any (Acts. v. 4.); and, although it might suit with the particular circumstances of a small and select society, is altogether impracticable in a large and mixed community.

The conduct of the apostles upon the occasion, deserves to be noticed. Their followers laid down their fortunes at their feet; but so far were they from taking advantage of this unlimited confidence, to enrich themselves, or to establish their own authority, that they soon after got rid of this business, as inconsistent with the main object of their mission, and transferred the custody and management of the public fund to deacons elected to that office by the people at large. (Acts vi.)

II. The maimer of bestowing bounty; or the different hinds of charity.

Every question between the different kinds of charity, supposes the sum bestowed to be the same.

There are three kinds of charity which prefer a claim to attention.

The first, and in my judgment one of the best, is to give stated and considerable sums, by way of pension or annuity, to individuals or families, with whose behaviour and distress we ourselves are acquainted. When I speak of considerable sums, I mean only that five pounds, or any other sum, given at once, or divided amongst five or fewer families, will do more good than the same sum distributed amongst a greater number in shillings or half-crowns; and that, because it is more likely to be properly applied by the persons who receive it. A poor fellow, who can find no better use for a shilling than to drink his benefactors health, and purchase half an hour's recreation for himself, would hardly break into a guinea for any such purpose, or be so improvident as not to lay it by for an occasion of importance, e. g. for his rent, his clothing, fuel, or stock of winter's provision. It is a still greater recommendation of this kind of charity, that pensions and annuities, which are paid regularly, and can be expected at the time, are the only way by which we can prevent one part of a poor man's sufferings—the dread of want.

2. But as this kind of charity supposes that proper objects of such expensive bene

« VorigeDoorgaan »