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kev67
07-07-2015, 06:35 PM
I read this section in Friedrich Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England, which reminded me of some things in Emma, as well as some other C19th books.

Since, however, the rich hold all the power, the proletarians must submit, if they will not good-temperedly perceive it for themselves, to have the law actually declare them superfluous. This has been done by the New Poor Law. The Old Poor Law which rested upon the Act of 1601 (the 43rd of Elizabeth), naively started from the notion that it is the duty of the parish to provide for the maintenance of the poor. Whoever had no work received relief, and the poor man regarded the parish as pledged to protect him from starvation. He demanded his weekly relief as his right, not as a favour, and this became, at last, too much for the bourgeoisie. In 1833, when the bourgeoisie had just come into power through the Reform Bill, and pauperism in the country districts had just reached its full development, the bourgeosie began the reform of the Poor Law according to its own point of view. A commission was appointed, which investigated the administration of the Poor Laws, and revealed a multitude of abuses. It was discovered that the whole working class in the country was pauperized and more or less dependent upon the rates, from which they received relief when wages were low; it was found that this system by which the unemployed were maintained, the ill-paid and the parents of large families relieved, fathers of illegitimate children required to pay alimony, and poverty, in general, recognized as needing protection, it was found that this system was ruining the nation...



The old Poor Law required fathers of illegitimate children to pay alimony. Harriet Smith was illegitimate. I thought Harriet's father paid for her upkeep out of a sense of duty, but it may be that he was required to by law.
There was a detail in one of the later chapters that the ostler was not actually poor, but that he had applied for parish relief for his father, who was getting old.
It seems Mr Elton, the vicar, was responsible for administering parish relief. This clears something up. In C19th and earlier British literature, the clergy was considered one of the great professions, which required an education and which was quite well paid. Previously I considered it a bit of a racket, a sort of well-remunerated non-job for younger sons of the gentry. They had to write a sermon every week, visit the sick, perform funerals, marriages and christenings. However, I gather they also had this administration of welfare role.
I actually thought there was no system of social welfare before the C20th. In the C19th taxes were low, the majority of which was spent either on the military or paying off the debts accrued from past wars. However, there was a system of social welfare, only it was administered locally and paid by rates.
I have often wondered how the well off in books like Austen's felt at ease with themselves, considering the poverty that surrounded them, especially when they went to church every Sunday to listen to Jesus's parables about the rich burning in hell if they don't help the poor. I suppose in part it was because they were paying a lot on rates.
George Elliot's book Middlemarch was set at the time of the Great Reform Act, shortly before the change to the Poor Law. I thought the Great Reform Act was a positive law, which removed some of the abuses in the British system of government, such as rotten boroughs. Friedrich Engels did not seem to think so.
If Dickens wrote about workhouses, this was because he was writing after the change to the Poor Law.
In Austen's time, society was still mostly rural. As the century progressed, England became more and more urban and the cities, over-crowded. The traditional parish system may have broken down under the strain. I don't know, but I imagine in one of Austen's market towns, everyone knew everyone, and probably knew their parents and grandparents. The peasants felt they had certain rights and the gentry, certain obligations. However, the industrialists in the big cities did not see things the same way. They had read Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus and did not believe in interfering with the markets. Besides, fewer working class people went to church, and if they did, they may well have belonged to one of the non-conformist churches. So, who would administer poor relief?

kiki1982
07-08-2015, 04:27 AM
OK only a quick one because I'm going on holiday to Norway in two hours flat. Aren't I dedicated? :D



The old Poor Law required fathers of illegitimate children to pay alimony. Harriet Smith was illegitimate. I thought Harriet's father paid for her upkeep out of a sense of duty, but it may be that he was required to by law.

Oh, I think it was an unwritten code of honour that you took care of your children, even if they were illegitimate. Particularly if you were higher up in society. Obviously 'pro rata' the class of the mother (a single maid couldn't expect a fortune of 1,000 a year to care for a bastard, so to say), but nonetheless you wouldn't let them starve. Even back in the times of the slave trade in the Caribbean, most tended to look after their illegitimate offspring. Even sending them abroad to the UK for an education.



It seems Mr Elton, the vicar, was responsible for administering parish relief. This clears something up. In C19th and earlier British literature, the clergy was considered one of the great professions, which required an education and which was quite well paid. Previously I considered it a bit of a racket, a sort of well-remunerated non-job for younger sons of the gentry. They had to write a sermon every week, visit the sick, perform funerals, marriages and christenings. However, I gather they also had this administration of welfare role.

Well paid... I think it was a promise of a career, even for not so fortunate men, but your finances largely depended on the living you could secure, i.e. the favour of any rich ladies/gentlemen. Any idea why Mr Elton wants Emma? And when he can't get her, he takes his other wife (I forget her name now)? They want to marry money. Edward Ferrars cannot marry because his mother has cut him off. He can take orders, but he'll only have 200 a year. Henry Tilney is deemed unwise and even scolded by his father at first for wanting to marry a penniless girl whom his father thought was an heiress... On the other side, though, clergyman was deemed a respectable profession and they moved in good circles, giving them potential access to good money.
Austen's own father was a clergyman and he wasn't very rich either. The family became quite poor, I though, after his death.



I actually thought there was no system of social welfare before the C20th. In the C19th taxes were low, the majority of which was spent either on the military or paying off the debts accrued from past wars. However, there was a system of social welfare, only it was administered locally and paid by rates.
I have often wondered how the well off in books like Austen's felt at ease with themselves, considering the poverty that surrounded them, especially when they went to church every Sunday to listen to Jesus's parables about the rich burning in hell if they don't help the poor. I suppose in part it was because they were paying a lot on rates.

I once read that in some sense the Victorian regimented Poor Law actually made things worse than things were before. Particularly the work houses were not such a good development, though they were intended well, as places of rehabilitation.
However, as you say, before the Poor Law centralised relief efforts, the parish took care of everything, so care for the elderly, the infirm, etc. was all very local and close to the community. I'm not sure whether contributions were at all mandatory, but in my experience there was an unwritten code,, so to say, which the Victorians put in stone for subsequent generations, that the rich had a moral duty to care for those who hadn't been so fortunate as they. After all, they believed that God had made society as it was (pre-Darwin) and so God also required from them that they did good with the benefits God had given them. Welfare kind of meant going to care for the sick, summoning a doctor for a neighbour at your expense if you deemed that necessary, giving food and other supplies to poorer neighbours and things. A more in kind approach to welfare.



If Dickens wrote about workhouses, this was because he was writing after the change to the Poor Law.

Indeed. Dickens' father was put in a debtors' prison and the family got into a workhouse when they must have been just about established, I think. Although I have read that actually not all work houses were that bad. Apparently there was a flaw in the system. As with so many Victorian, and dare I say English systems (I think they are still as na´ve over there), the system of the work house was intended well, but was abused by nasty people. The governours of the work houses were not paid enough, though they were supposed to be middle class. So they wanted to keep their position up, but needed to do this without the necessary money. Point is, some of them 'fiddled their expenses' if you will, and creamed off anything they wanted/needed from the budget for the work house, to the detriment of the very people they were supposed to help of course. A little bit like Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre: dresses his wife in fancy clothes but can't be bothered to heat the school properly...



In Austen's time, society was still mostly rural. As the century progressed, England became more and more urban and the cities, over-crowded. The traditional parish system may have broken down under the strain. I don't know, but I imagine in one of Austen's market towns, everyone knew everyone, and probably knew their parents and grandparents. The peasants felt they had certain rights and the gentry, certain obligations. However, the industrialists in the big cities did not see things the same way. They had read Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus and did not believe in interfering with the markets. Besides, fewer working class people went to church, and if they did, they may well have belonged to one of the non-conformist churches. So, who would administer poor relief?


Hm, I think that's an interesting point. What came first? The murderous Victorian centralised system or the break-down of society as it was before the IR? There was definitely a shift in focus and maybe a traditional parish welfare system, even if it had worked in urban centres like London before the Poor Law, could no longer function because population growth was so great that it was no longer manageable by a bunch of amateurs, so to say.

Right now off to do the last packing.

kev67
07-08-2015, 08:42 AM
OK only a quick one because I'm going on holiday to Norway in two hours flat. Aren't I dedicated? :D



Very dedicated. Have a good holiday.