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of the least (though frequently esteemed quite otherwise), that they supported and fed a very numerous and
idle poor, whose sustenance depended upon what was daily distributed in alms at the gates of the Religious Houses. But, upon the total dissolution of these, the inconvenience of thus encouraging the poor in habits of indolence and beggary was quickly felt throughout the Kingdom,—and abundance of Statutes were made in the reign of King HENRY the Eighth and his immediate Successors, for providing for the poor and impotent,—which, the
preambles to some of them recite, had of late years greatly increased.5
The Dissolution of Monasteries, and the consequent abolition of Monastic Orders, happily, then, opened the way to the conversion of their accumulated possessions into Charities of the purest benevolence,-and widely spread that sympathy of well disposed persons for the relief of
5 Blackstone's Commentaries, edited by Archbold, vol. i. p. 358.
the Poor, which exalts this Nation above all others in the scale of general Philanthropy.
It must not, however, be concluded, that Donations for Charitable purposes as we now see them, were confined solely to the period of THE REFORMATION, find numerous instances of large bequests scattered through the Reports of The Commissioners, anterior to that Event. The origin of Alms is of very early date, as the kindness of Man must always have induced him to compassionate the distress of his species,—though the times immediately succeeding THE REFORMATION were peculiarly adapted to encourage those honourable feelings.
From this copious source of Commiseration have arisen those numerous Establishments of Charity, which the Piety and Benevolence of this Nation have erected as perpetual Monuments of their praise. There is scarcely a disease which can afflict Human Nature, or a want which the varying condition of man can experience,-scarcely a course of life, for which peculiar aid is necessary,—or a casualty of evil accident, or of the manifold visitations of adversity, in poverty or old age,-but find an open asylum, and a refuge ready prepared with
When the Monasteries were dissolved, and their Possessions surrendered to the Crown, some demesnes belonging to them, it appears, were still privately retained by certain persons, or corporations, or churches. This caused Queen ELIZABETH, when she understood the fact, to grant Commissions to some persons to search after these Concealments, and to retrieve them to the use of the Crown.
“ But,” says Mr. STRYPE, “ it was a world to consider, what unjust oppressions of the people, and the poor, this occasioned, by some griping men, that were concerned therein. For, under the pretence of executing Commissions, for inquiry to be made for these lands concealed, they, by colour thereof, and without colour of Commission, contrary to all right, and to the Queen's meaning and intent, did intermeddle and chalenge lands of long times possessed by Churchwardens, and such like, upon the Charitable gifts of Predecessors, to the common benefit of the Parishes ;-yea, and certain Stocks of Money, Plate, Cattle, and the like. They made pretence to the bells, lead, and such other like things, belong'ing to Churches and Chapels, used for Common Prayer. Further, they attempted to make titles to lands, possessions, plate, and goods, belonging to Hospitals, and such like places, used for maintenance of poor people,—with many such other unlawful attempts and extortions, to a pernicious example, if the same had been further used and suffered by colour hereof."1
Great complaints being made in consequence of this unjust Commission, The Queen, on the 13th of February, 1572, set forth a Proclamation, to withstand this manner of extortion, and unlawful practices and troubles of her subjects,and commanded, that all Commissions
1 Annals of the Reformation, vol. ii. p. 209.