Chapter IX: Of Provision Made For The Poor

There is no commonwealth at this day in Europe wherein there is not great store of poor people, and those necessarily to be relieved by the wealthier sort, which otherwise would starve and come to utter confusion. With us the poor is commonly divided into thr e sorts, so that some are poor by impotence, as the fatherless child, the aged, blind, and lame, and the diseased person that is judged to be incurable; the second are poor by casualty, as the wounded soldier, the decayed householder, and the sick person visited with grievous and painful diseases; the third consisteth of thriftless poor, as the rioter that hath consumed all, the vagabond that will abide nowhere, but runneth up and down from place to place (as it were seeking work and finding none), and finally the rogue and the strumpet, which are not possible to be divided in sunder, but run to and fro over all the realm, chiefly keeping the champaign soils in summer to avoid the scorching heat, and the woodland grounds in winter to eschew the blustering winds.

For the first two sorts (that is to say, the poor by impotence and poor by casualty, which are the true poor indeed, and for whom the Word doth bind us to make some daily provision), there is order taken throughout every parish in the realm that weekly collection shall be made for their help and sustention - to the end they shall not scatter abroad, and, by begging here and there, annoy both town and country. Authority also is given unto the justices in every county (and great penalties appointed for such as make default) to see that the intent of the statute in this behalf be truly executed according to the purpose and meaning of the same, so that these two sorts are sufficiently provided for; and such as can live within the limits of their allowance (as each one will do that is godly and well disposed) may well forbear to roam and range about. But if they refuse to be supported by this benefit of the law, and will rather endeavour by going to and fro to maintain their idle trades, then are they adjudged to be parcel of the third sort, and so, instead of courteous refreshing at home, are often corrected with sharp execution and whip of justice abroad. Many there are which, notwithstanding the rigour of the laws provided in that behalf, yield rather with this liberty (as they call it) to be daily under the fear and terror of the whip than, by abiding where they were born or bred, to be provided for by the devotion of the parishes. I found not long since a note of these latter sort, the effect whereof ensueth. Idle beggars are such either through other men's occasion or through their own default - by other men's occasion (as one way for example) when some covetous man (such, I mean, as have the cast or right vein daily to make beggars enough whereby to pester the land, espying a further commodity in their commons, holds, and tenures) doth find such means as thereby to wipe many out of their occupyings and turn the same unto his private gains.Hereupon it followeth that, although the wise and better-minded do either forsake the realm for altogether, and seek to live in other countries, as France, Germany, Barbary, India, Muscovia, and very Calcutta, complaining of no room to be left for them at home, do so behave themselves that they are worthily to be accounted among the second sort, yet the greater part, commonly having nothing to stay upon, are wilful, and thereupon do either prove idle beggars or else continue stark thieves till the gallows do eat them up, which is a lamentable case. Certes in some men's judgment these things are but trifles, and not worthy the regarding. Some also do grudge at the great increase of people in these days, thinking a necessary brood of cattle far better than a superfluous augmentation of mankind. But I can liken such men best of all unto the pope and the devil, who practise the hindrance of the furniture of the number of the elect to their uttermost, to the end the authority of the one upon the earth, the deferring of the locking up of the other in everlasting chains, and the great gains of the first, may continue and endure the longer. But if it should come to pass that any foreign invasion should be made - which the Lord God forbid for his mercies' sake! - then should these men find that a wall of men is far better than stacks of corn and bags of money, and complain of the want when it is too late to seek remedy. The like occasion caused the Romans to devise their law Agraria: but the rich, not liking of it, and the covetous, utterly condemning it as rigorous and unprofitable, never ceased to practise disturbance till it was quite abolished. But to proceed with my purpose.