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Such, and much worse, is our condition at present, if I had leisure or liberty to lay it before you; and, therefore, the next thing which might be considered is, whether there may be any probable remedy found, at least against some part of these evils; for most of them are wholly desperate.
But this being too large a subject to be now handled, and the intent of my discourse confining me to give some directions concerning the poor of the city, I shall keep myself within those limits. It is indeed in the power of the lawgivers to found a school in every parish of the kingdom, for teaching the meaner and poorer sort of children to speak and to read the English tongue, and to provide a reasonable maintenance for the teachers. This would, in time, abolish that part of barbarity and ignorance, for which our natives are so despised by all foreigners: this would bring them to think and act according to the rules of reason, by which a spirit of industry, and thrift, and honesty would be introduced among them. And, indeed, considering how small a tax would suffice for such a work, it is a public scandal that such a thing should never have been endeavoured, or perhaps so much as thought on.
To supply the want of such a law, several pious persons, in many parts of this kingdom, have been prevailed on, by the great endeavours and good example set them by the clergy, to erect charityschools in several parishes, to which very often the richest parishioners contribute the least. In those schools, children are, or ought to be, trained up to read and write, and cast accounts; and these children should, if possible, be of honest parents, gone to decay through age, sickness, or other unavoidable calamity, by the hand of God;
not the brood of wicked strollers; for it is by no means reasonable that the charity of well-inclined people should be applied to encourage the lewdness of those profligate, abandoned women, who crowd our streets with their borrowed or spurious issue.
In those hospitals which have good foundations and rents to support them, whereof, to the scandal of Christianity, there are very few in this kingdom; I say, in such hospitals, the children maintained ought to be only of decayed citizens and freemen, and be bred up to good trades. But in these small parish charity-schools, which have no support but the casual good-will of charitable people, I do altogether disapprove the custom of putting the children apprentice, except to the very meanest trades; otherwise the poor honest citizen, who is just able to bring up his child, and pay a small sum of money with him to a good master, is wholly defeated, and the bastard issue, perhaps of some beggar, preferred before him. And hence we come to be so overstocked with apprentices and journeymen, more than our discouraged country can employ; and, I fear, the greatest part of our thieves, pickpockets, and other vagabonds, are of this number.
Therefore, in order to make these parish charity-schools of great and universal use, I agree with the opinion of many wise persons, that a new turn should be given to this whole matter.
I think there is no complaint more just than what we find in almost every family, of the folly and ignorance, the fraud and knavery, the idleness and viciousness, the wasteful squandering temper of servants; who are, indeed, become one of the many public grievances of the kingdom; whereof, I believe, there are few masters that now
hear me, who are not convinced by their own experience. And I am very confident, that more families, of all degrees, have been ruined by the corruptions of servants, than by all other causes put together. Neither is this to be wondered at, when we consider from what nurseries so many of them are received into our houses. The first is the tribe of wicked boys, wherewith most corners of this town are pestered, who haunt public doors. These, having been born of beggars, and bred to pilfer as soon as they can go or speak, as years come on, are employed in the lowest offices to get themselves bread, are practised in all manner of villany, and when they are grown up, if they are not entertained in a gang of thieves, are forced to seek for a service. The other nursery is the barbarous and desert part of the country, from whence such lads come up hither to seek their fortunes, who are bred up from the dunghill in idleness, ignorance, lying, and thieving. From these two nurseries, I say, a great number of our servants come to us, sufficient to corrupt all the rest. Thus the whole race of servants in this kingdom have gotten so ill a reputation, that some persons from England, come over hither into great stations, are said to have absolutely refused admitting any servant born among us into their families. Neither can they be justly blamed: for, although it is not impossible to find an honest native fit for a good service, yet the inquiry is too troublesome, and the hazard too great, for a stranger to attempt.
If we consider the many misfortunes that befal private families, it will be found that servants are the causes and instruments of them all. Are our goods embezzled, wasted, and destroyed? is our house burnt to the ground? it is by the sloth, the
drunkenness, or the villany of servants. Are we robbed and murdered in our beds? it is by confederacy with our servants. Are we engaged in quarrels and misunderstandings with our neighbours? these were all begun and inflamed by the false, malicious tongues of our servants. Are the secrets of our family betrayed, and evil repute spread of us? our servants were the authors. Do false accusers rise up against us? (an evil too frequent in this country)—they have been tampering with our servants. Do our children discover folly, malice, pride, cruelty, revenge, undutifulness in their words and actions? are they seduced to lewdness or scandalous marriages? it is all by our servants. Nay, the very mistakes, follies, blunders, and absurdities of those in our service, are able to ruffle and discompose the mildest nature, and are often of such consequence as to put whole families into confusion.
Since, therefore, not only our domestic peace and quiet, and the welfare of our children, but even the very safety of our lives, reputations, and fortunes, have so great a dependence upon the choice of our servants, I think it would well become the wisdom of the nation to make some provision in so important an affair. But in the mean time, and perhaps to better purpose, it were to be wished, that the children of both sexes, entertained in the parish charity-schools, were bred up in such a manner, as would give them a teachable disposition, and qualify them to learn whatever is required in any sort of service. For instance, they should be taught to read and write, to know somewhat in casting accounts, to understand the principles of religion, to practise cleanliness, to get a spirit of honesty, industry, and thrift, and be severely punished for every neglect
in any of these particulars. For it is the misfortune of mankind, that if they are not used to be taught in their early childhood, whereby to acquire what I call a teachable disposition, they cannot, without great difficulty, learn the easiest thing in the course of their lives, but are always awkward and unhandy; their minds, as well as bodies, for want of early practice, growing stiff and unmanageable; as we observe in the sort of gentlemen, who, kept from school by the indulgence of their parents but a few years, are never able to recover the time they have lost, and grow up in ignorance and all manner of vice, whereof we have too many examples all over the nation. But to return to what I was saying: If these charity children were trained up in the manner I mentioned, and then bound apprentices in the families of gentlemen and citizens (for which a late law giveth great encouragement), being accustomed from their first entrance to be always learning some useful thing, they would learn, in a month, more than another, without those advantages, can do in a year; and, in the mean time, be very useful in a family, as far as their age and strength would allow. And when such children come to years of discretion, they will probably be a useful example to their fellow-servants; at least they will prove a strong check upon the rest, for I suppose every body will allow, that one good, honest, diligent servant in a house, may prevent abundance of mischief in the family.
These are the reasons for which I urge this matter so strongly, and I hope those who listen to me will consider them.
I shall now say something about that great number of poor, who, under the name of common beggars, infest our streets, and fill our ears with