Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
 
The Origin of Beggary
By Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655–1716)
 
From Second Discourse on the Affairs of Scotland

AT length I found the original of that multitude of beggars which now oppress the world to have proceeded from churchmen who (never failing to confound things spiritual with temporal, and consequently all good order and good government, either through mistake or design) upon the first public establishment of the Christian religion, recommended nothing more to masters, in order to the salvation of their souls, than the setting such of their slaves at liberty as would embrace the Christian faith, though our Saviour and his apostles had been so far from making use of any temporal advantages to persuade eternal truths, and so far from invading any man’s property, by promising him heaven for it, that the Apostle Paul says expressely:—“In whatever condition of life every one is called to the Christian faith, in that let him remain. Art thou called, being a slave, be not concerned for thy condition; but even though thou mightest be free, choose to continue in it. For he who is called whilst a slave, becomes the freeman of the Lord; and likewise he that is called whilst a freeman, becomes the slave of Christ, who has paid a price for you, that ye might not be the slaves of men. Let everyone therefore, brethren, in whatever condition he is called, in that remain, in the fear of God.” That the interpretation I put upon this passage, different from our translation, is the true meaning of the Apostle, not only the authority of the Greek fathers, and genuine signification of the Greek particles, but the whole context, chiefly the first and last words (which seem to be repeated to enforce and determine such a meaning) clearly demonstrate. And the reason why he recommends them rather to continue slaves (if they have embraced the Christian faith in that condition) seems to be that it might appear they did not embrace it for any worldly advantage, as well as to destroy a doctrine which even in his days began to be preached, that slavery was inconsistent with the Christian religion; since such a doctrine would have been a great stop to the progress of it. What the Apostle means by saying, we ought not to be the slaves of men, I shall show hereafter.
  1
  This disorder of giving liberty to great numbers of slaves upon their profession of Christianity grew to such a height, even in the time of Constantine the Great, that the cities of the Empire found themselves burdened with an infinite number of men, who had no other estate but their liberty, of whom the greatest part would not work, and the rest had been bred to no profession. This obliged Constantine to make edicts in favour of beggars; and from that time, at the request of the bishops, hospitals and alms-houses, not formerly known in the world, began to be established. But upon the rise of the Mahometan religion, which was chiefly advanced by giving liberty to all their slaves, the Christians were so molested by the continual rebellion of theirs, that they were at length forced to give liberty to them all; which it seems the churchmen then looked upon as a thing necessary to preserve the Christian religion, since in many of the writings by which masters gave freedom to their slaves, ’tis expressly said, they did so to save their own souls.  2
  This is the rise of that great mischief, under which, to the undoing of the poor, all the nations of Europe have ever since groaned. Because in ancient times, so long as a man was the riches and part of the possession of another, every man was provided for in meat, clothes, and lodging; and not only he, but (in order to increase that riches) his wife and children also: whereas provisions by hospitals, almshouses, and the contributions of churches and parishes have by experience been found to increase the numbers of those that live by them. And the liberty every idle and lazy person has of burdening the society in which he lives, with his maintenance, has increased their numbers to the weakening and impoverishing of it: for he needs only to say that he cannot get work, and then he must be maintained by charity. And as I have shown before, no nation except one only (which is in extraordinary circumstances) does provide by public workhouses for their poor: the reason of which seems to be, that public workhouses for such vast numbers of people are impracticable, except in those places where (besides a vast trade to vend the manufactured goods) there is an extraordinary police: and that though the Hollanders by reason of the steadiness of their temper, as well as of their government (being a commonwealth), may be constant to their methods of providing for the poor; yet in a nation, and under a government like that of France, though vast public workhouses may be for a while kept in order, ’twill not be long before they fall into confusion and ruin. And indeed (next to Plato’s republic, which chiefly consists in making the whole society live in common) there is nothing more impracticable than to provide for so great a part of every nation by public workhouses. Whereas when such an economy comes under the inspection of every master of a family, and that he himself is to reap the profit of the right management; the thing not only turns to a far better account, but by reason of his power to sell those workmen to others who may have use for them, when he himself has a mind to alter his course of life, the profit is permanent to the society; nor can such an economy, or any such management, ever fall into confusion.  3
 
 
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