« AnteriorContinuar »
the resolution to persevere; while not a few, diffident of their own care, are tempted to commit their savings to the hands of persons of doubtful character and desperate fortune, who, grasping at whatever they can obtain from the unwary, promise them good interest, and employ the money of the industrious and frugal in their own hazardous and dishonest speculations. By the failure of such persons, the poorer inhabitants of a whole district are sometimes reduced, in a single hour, to a state of absolute indigence and dependence.
If any method then could be devised, for giving to the honest and successful labourer or artizan, a place of security, free of expense, for that part of his gains which the immediate wants of his family do not require, with the power to reclaim all or any part of it at pleasure, it would be a most desirable thing, even though no interest should be received.
But if in addition to such an advantage, the possessors of small savings were enabled to receive regular interest, on a scale advancing, to a certain extent, in proportion to the amount and continuance of their deposits, the benefits of the scheme would be sufficiently great to secure its popularity and permanence.
A plan, combining these advantages, occurred to the Rev. Henry Duncan, of Ruthwell, in Dumfriesshire. Having maturely reflected on the best mode of reducing it to practice, and explained its probable benefits to his neighbours, he succeeded in establishing in his own parish the first institution of the kind, about Midsummer, 1810. The name which he gave to it was, "The Parish Bank Friendly Society of Ruthwell."-Though the Society began without any patronage from rank or wealth, its intrinsic merits, and the founder's diligence and zeal in superintending its progress, ensured to it a degree of encouragement which he could not have anticipated.-We consider it indeed as an astonishing fact, that in the Bank Society of that retired parish, inhabited chiefly by cottagers, there has been a progressive accumulation of capital, amounting, at the close of 1814, to upwards of eleven hundred and sixty pounds; the greater part of it belonging to individuals who, in all probability, but for the facility which the scheme afforded, would not have saved a single shilling. This has taken place too, under circumstances in which the depositors have had it always in their power to withdraw any part or the whole.'
These remarks are well illustrated in the following anecdote which was lately related to us, with perfect simplicity, by a poor Scotch woman. Her father, she said, had contrived to scrape together thirty-two pounds, the savings of a life of labour. He deposited country bank notes to that amount in the locker of his chest, from his ignorance of any better method of disposing of them, and there they remained safe but unproductive. But at last, the notes went out of fashion, and nobody would give a shilling for them, so the money was all lost.' To avoid a similar disaster, she placed 127. of her own in the hands of a respectable tradesman, and received interest once a year. On drawing her interest she used, she said, to be vain of her superior sagacity. But alas! the
person in whom she confided became, like the country bank, insolvent, and her little treasure was swallowed up in the general ruin. With the observations contained in the foregoing quotation on the obvious necessity and high importance of Provident Institutions, or Saving Banks, we entirely coincide. The statement, however, which it contains, respecting their origin and progress will require some correction; and while the honourable emulation which exists as to the merit of the discovery renders it necessary to weigh with impartiality the pretensions of different claimants,—the change, which it requires no prophetic wisdom to anticipate from the plan, both on the comfort and character of the great mass of the people, will prevent such an inquiry from being deemed frivolous or uninteresting.
Our limits will not permit us to notice the abortive bills brought before Parliament by Mr. Pitt and Mr. Whitbread, for the improvement of the condition of the lower orders and the dimiution of the burden of the poor-rates. But we cannot pass
in silence the Speech of Mr. Curwen on the 28th of May last, which introduced his motion for a Select Committee to take into consideration the State of the Poor-laws.' On that occasion Mr.
Curwen declared that the reform which he had in view respected a question which involved the expenditure of the enormous annual sum of eight millions, applied not to the ease and comfort of the poor, but calculated to render them dependent, indolent, and unhappy. He could not expect, he said, to cut down the system at once, but his object was gradually to undermine it, and he entertained a sanguine hope, that by means of public instruction, and the establishment of secure depositories for the savings of industry, they might be speedily diminished and eventually rendered unnecessary. In Ireland, he observed, where there are no poor-rates, the benevolence of the affluent affords a decent support to the deserving poor; and in Scotland, where the moral character of the people is so respectable, and where regular poor-rates exist only in a few districts, and are scarcely felt, the wants of the indigent are well supplied. Mr. Curwen then stated, that his plan to relieve the poor, independently of the existing statutes, would be similar to one which he could recommend as sanctioned by his own experience for the long period of thirty years. During that time all the workmen employed by him had contributed individually sixpence per week to a common fund. The money so subscribed had now increased to the sum of thirty thousand pounds; and at the present time the depositors enjoyed from it-relief in sickness, occasional weekly allowances, and many other comforts. He intended, therefore, to propose that the House should call on all classes of the people to subscribe to a National Bank on a similar principle.
The contribution, he observed, ought never to exceed one-thirtieth of a man's weekly income. Supposing a person to earn ten shillings a week, four-pence taken from that sum would produce upon a general scale 4,800,000l. Taking something from the higher classes which, compared with their incomes, would be a mere trifle, the annual amount of the bank stock would be 8,800,000l. The advantage of such a fund for the relief of the lower classes would, he said, be incalculable. It would convey comfort to every poor man, without the degradation inflicted on him by the law as it now stands.
As we are ignorant of the details of this plan we can give no opinion of its merits. We fear that, like Mr. Acland's plan of 1786, it is intended to be compulsory on the poor, as well as the rich; and, if so, it has our unqualified disapprobation. Such a scheme would act as an oppressive and ruinous impost, and would be nothing less, than relieving the wealthy from the burden of the poor laws, by placing that burthen on the back of the indigent themselves. If the poor laws, as they now stand, be the chastisement of whips, this would be the chastisement of scorpions-But we cannot at present enter on a subject which, from its magnitude and importance, demands the most patient and minute investigation. The chief purpose for which we have noticed Mr. Curwen's speech was to bring forward the remarkable fact of the long existence of a voluntary association which has been and continues to be supported by the contributions of the industrious poor, and which has actually a floating capital of 30,000/.
Although the project of encouraging industry and independence among the lower classes, by thus securing to them the fruits of their labours, appears so simple, when proposed, as to resemble a selfevident truth, with which we have always been familiar, yet, the first institution of the nature of a Saving Bank, which we have hitherto been able to discover in this kingdom, is one of which an account is given in No. 84 of the 'Reports of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor.' It appears from that Report that a Female Benefit Club was established on the 22d of October, 1798, at Tottenham, under the patronage of a number of ladies. Combined with the main design of this institution were two other. objects, viz. a fund for loans, to prevent the use of pawn-brokers' shops, and a Bank for the earnings of poor Children.
'Children of either sex,' says Mrs. Wakefield, the writer of the ac-' count, or whatever age, whether belonging to a member or not, are permitted to bring any sum above one penny, to the monthly meeting of the stewardesses, to be laid up in the funds of the society; where their small earnings may accumulate in security, until wanted for an apprentice fee, clothing on going to service, or some other important purpose.' VOL. XVI. NO. XXXI. -Though
-Though the children (it is added) receive no addition to the pittance they deposit in the fund, yet it answers several purposes; it stimulates them to earn and to save that which would probably be idly spent, as of too small importance for care; it often encourages their parents to lay by a little store for them, which they would not have thought of doing, had they not been invited by this opportunity of placing it in safety. It habituates the children to industry, frugality, and foresight; and by introducing them to notice, it teaches them the value of character, and of the esteem of those who, by the dispensations of Providence, are placed above them; and in many instances it may supply a resource when it is essentially requisite. The success has already exceeded expectation; above sixty children bring their little treasure monthly.'
About the same time Mr. Malthus published his Essay on population. The following passage is quoted from the quarto edition of 1803, as we have not access to the first edition; but we are inclined to think that it will also be found in it.
To facilitate the saving of small sums of money for this purpose,' (he is speaking of the purchase of a cow,) and encourage young la bourers to economize their earnings with a view to a provision for marriage, it might be extremely useful to have County Banks, where the smallest sums would be received, and a fair interest granted for them. At present the few labourers who have a little money are often greatly at a loss to know what to do with it; and under such circumstances we cannot be surprized that it should sometimes be ill employed, and last but a short time. It would probably be essential to the success of any plan of this kind, that the labourer should be able to draw out his money whenever he wanted it, and have the most perfect liberty of disposing of it in every respect as he pleased. Though we may lament that money hardly earned should sometimes be spent to little purpose; yet it seems to be a case in which we have no right to interfere, nor if we had, would it, in a general view, be advantageous; because the knowledge of possessing this liberty would be of more use in encouraging the practice of saving, than any restriction of it in preventing the misuse of money so saved.'
In No. 59, of 'The Society's Reports,' we have an interesting account of a benevolent Institution formed by the Rev. Joseph Smith, Wendover, in 1799, and supported by him and two of his parishioners. In order to induce their industrious neighbours to save some part of their earnings, these worthy persons circulated proposals, offering to receive indiscriminately from the men, women, and children of the parish, any sum from two-pence upwards, every Sunday evening during the summer months; to keep an exact account of the sums deposited; and to repay to each individual at Christmas the amount of his deposits, with the addition of one-third on the whole, as a bounty for his economy. It was expressly and wisely stipulated, that the depositors might receive back the sums respectively due to them at any time before
Christmas, on demand; and that the fruits of their economy should not preclude them from parish relief, in case of sickness, or want of employment. A comfortable addition at home to the family Christmas dinner was to finish the year's account. These curious proposals are ushered in by a text, which, though not applied to its original purpose, is, as a motto, sufficiently appropriateUpon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.' The peasantry of the parish readily embraced the offer held out to them, and during the first season sixty subscribers brought their weekly savings with great regularity; none deposited less than sixpence, and the greater number one shilling each. We regret much that our attempts to obtain further information respecting this liberal and simple, but rather expensive, institution, have not proved successful; but we are told that the founders design to establish it on a permanent footing and on an improved plan.
The next Institution of this kind, and one much more nearly resembling the present Saving Banks than any hitherto mentioned, was called the Charitable Bank, and was founded at Tottenham. It is worthy of remark, (as shewing how frequently one good design generates another,) that the success of the little bank for children, formed in the same place in 1798, gave rise to this more extensive plan in 1804. It was begun for the express purpose of providing a safe and profitable place of deposit for the savings of labourers, servants, &c.; and opened once a month for receipts and payments. The books were at first kept by a lady; six wealthy individuals were appointed to act as Trustees, each of whom agreed to receive an equal part of the sums deposited, and each to be responsible, to the amount of one hundred pounds, for the re-payment of the principal with interest. Any sum above one shilling was to be received, and, to encourage perseverance, interest at the rate of five per cent. was to be allowed for every twenty shillings, which should remain a year with the trustees. Though the number of trustees at first was limited, it was agreed that for every additional hundred pounds, a new trustee should be chosen; so that the loss to the trustees in fulfilling their engagement must have been inconsiderable. The benefits of this Institution were to be confined exclusively to the labouring classes; but there was no restriction as to the residence of the depositors. One great advantage of this plan is, that it holds out to the lower classes fixed advantages, and preserves their little property from that fluctuation of value to which the public funds are liable.
In 1808, a society was formed at Bath, for the purpose of receiving, and allowing interest at 4 per cent. for the savings of industrious and respectable servants. Eight individuals, of whom