− British Isles 1800–49
Mr. Granger, at the close of his biographical history of England, says, “I shall conclude this volume with observing, that Lord Bacon has somewhere remarked, that biography has been confined within too narrow limits; as if the lives of great personages only deserved the notice of the inquisitive part of mankind. I have, perhaps, in the foregoing strictures extended the sphere of it too far. I began with monarchs, and have ended with ballad-singers, chimney-sweepers, and beggars. But they that fill the highest and the lowest classes of human life, seem, in many respects, to be more nearly allied than even themselves imagine. A skilful anatomist would find little or no difference, in dissecting the body of a king and that of the meanest of his subjects; and a judicious philosopher would discover a surprising conformity, in discussing the nature and qualities of their minds.”
EGGARY, of late, particularly for the last six years, had become so dreadful in London, that the more active interference of the legislature was deemed absolutely necessary; indeed the deceptions of the idle and sturdy were so various, cunning, and extensive, that it was in most instances extremely difficult to discover the real object of charity from the impostor.
Concluding, therefore, from the reduction of the metropolitan beggars, that several curious characters would disappear by being either compelled to industry, or to partake of the liberal parochial rates, provided for them in their respective work-houses, it occurred to the author of the present publication, that likenesses of the most remarkable of them, with a few particulars of their habits, would not be unamusing to those to whom they have been a pest for several years.
In order to convince his Readers that he does not stand alone as a delineator of mendicants, he begs leave to observe, that several of the very first-rate artists have studied from them.
Michael Angelo Buonarotti often drew from beggars; and report says, that in the early part of his life, when he had not the means of paying them in money, he would make an additional sketch, and, presenting it to the party, desire him to take it to some particular person, who would purchase it. Fuseli, in his life of Michael Angelo, says that “a beggar rose from his hand the patriarch of poverty.” The same artist, in one of his lectures, delivered at the Royal Academy, also observes, that “Michael Angelo ennobled his beggars into Patriarchs and Prophets, in the ceiling of the Sistini Chapel.”
Annibal Caracci frequently drew subjects in low life. His “Cries of Bologna,” etched by Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, pub. 1660, in folio, are evidently from real characters. It will also be recollected, that some of the finest productions of Murillo, Jan Miel, and Drogsloot, are beggars. Callot’s twenty-four beggars are evidently from nature; and among Rembrandt’s etchings are to be found twenty-three plates of this description.
Sir Joshua Reynolds frequently painted from beggars, and from these people have originated some of his finest pictures, particularly his “Mercury as a Pickpocket,” and “Cupid as a Link-boy.” His Count Ugolino, was painted from a pavier, soon after he had left St. George’s Hospital, from a severe fever. Mr. West painted the portrait of a beggar, on the day when he became a hundred years old; and considered him as a pensioner for several years afterwards. The same person was used also as a model, by Copley, Opie, &c. Who can forget the lovely countenance of Gainsborough’s Shepherd’s Boy, that has once seen Earlom’s excellent engraving from it? He was a lad, well known as a beggar to those who walked St. James’s-street thirty years ago. The model for the celebrated picture of the Woodman, by the same artist, is now living in the Borough, at the venerable age of 107.
Mr. Nollekens, in 1778, when modelling the bust of Dr. Johnson, who then wore a wig, called in a beggar to sit for the hair. The same artist was not equally fortunate in the locks of another great character; for on his application to a beggar for the like purpose, the fellow declined to sit, with an observation that three half-crowns were not sufficient for the trouble.
The late Mr. Nathaniel Hone, in the year 1750, painted the portrait of James Turner, a common beggar, who valued his time at a shilling an hour. Captain Baillie has made an etching of this picture.
That truly spirited painter, Mr. Ward, made similar overtures to a lame sailor, who thought fit to reject them and prefer his begging occupation.
One of the many fine things produced by Flaxman, is a figure of a blind sailor, Jack Stuart, mentioned in page 25 of this work. The artist has introduced him in a beautiful monument, erected in Campsal Church, to the memory of Misses Yarborough.
Beggars have not only been useful to artists as models, but serviceable to them in other instances. Francis Perrier, who was born of poor parents, when a boy, entered into the service of a blind beggar, for the express purpose of getting from France to Rome, to pursue his studies in that city; and Old Scheemaker, the sculptor, Nollekens’s master, absolutely begged his way from Flanders to Rome, for the same purpose.
Though the biographical part of this publication exhibits some curious customs of the London beggars which have fallen within the author’s observations, and though it may in some instances be deemed original, yet he confesses that he has adopted the usual craft of the common vender, who invariably puts the best sample into the mouth of the sack, – such he needs not state the truly interesting Introduction to be. It was written and presented to him by his honoured and valuable friend, FRANCIS DOUCE, Esq.
HE present work is very far from being offered as a general view of that peculiar branch of pauperism, which includes the many wandering classes of mankind that are supported by the casual and irregular bounty of others, or by means that have at least the appearance of industry or honourable ingenuity; for that would be a task requiring the united efforts of the historian, the legislator, and the antiquary. It may be deemed sufficient to submit to the reader’s notice such accounts and gleanings as immediately relate to the particular characters which are here once more embodied and presented to him by the aid of the graphick art. In the mean time a slight sketch of the state and progress of mendicity in former ages may be neither unacceptable nor without its use.
The Beggar’s calling, if not one of the most respectable, may doubtless be regarded as one of the most ancient. In every part of the globe where man is congregated, the inequality of his condition, the too frequent indolence of his habits, or the shifts to which human misery is occasionally reduced, will compel him to depend for his support on the generosity of his fellow-creatures, and even sometime lead him to prefer this disgraceful state of existence. The sacred volume has supplied us with evidence of the mendicant profession at an early period. King David, when imprecating curses on the head of the enemy, prays that “his children by continually vagabonds, and beg;”* [* Psal. cix. v. 10. The passage in 1 Samuel, ii. 8. “He lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill,” has not been used, because the original word does not seem to mean a common beggar. Strictly rendered, it signifies a poor person, or one in want.] and the story of Ulysses and the beggar Irus, as related in one of the oldest works extant, is known almost to every one.
The state of mendicity among the Greeks and Romans is but obscurely recorded; nor have any specific laws or regulations that they might have framed relating to that subject been transmitted to us. The Beggars in Horace, who lamented the death of the musician Tigellinus, were probably of the common kind, though some have supposed them to have been fortune-tellers or prophets. Their dress would be of the ragged sort, the mendicula impluviata of Plautus. We learn from Seneca, that the beggars of his time practised every species of imposture, and even amputated their limbs for the purpose of exciting compassion.
During the middle ages, we meet with a few legislative acts relating to the vagrant classes. In a capitulary of the Emperor Charlemagne, beggars were prohibited from wandering about the country; and another ancient law of the Franks is cited by Beatus Rhenanus in his German chronicle, by which every city is ordered to maintain its own poor, who are nevertheless to be compelled to manual labour, or otherwise not to be entitled to relief; a vagrant life is also strictly prohibited. For a considerable time the kingdom of France was much infested with a set of itinerant beggars, usually known by the appellation of Truands, and their occupation by that of Truandise; from which terms our own language has adopted an obvious word of much significance. These people likewise gave name to one of the streets of Paris, called La Truanderie; and under pretence of begging alms, committed the most atrocious crimes and excesses, practising every kind of fraud and imposture; so that the name gradually became the representative of every thing that was bad and infamous. In later times they were called Argotiers. They assumed the form of a regular government, elected a king, and established a fixed code of laws and a language peculiar to themselves, constructed probably by some of the debauched and licentious youths who, abandoning their scholastic studies, associated with these vagabonds. The facetious author of a poetical life of the famous French robber Cartouche, has given a very humorous account of the origin of the word Argot, which, at the expense of graver etymologists, he derives from the ship Argos; contending that this jargon, a term that would perhaps have supplied the real and perverted meaning of the other, was either invented by the navigators of that celebrated vessel, for the purpose of deceiving his majesty of Colchos, or constructed by Agamemnon at Argos, and transported afterwards to Troy, where the Greek generals used it to harangue their soldiers. The same writer has likewise compiled a dictionary of the language in question, which is given at the end of Cartouche’s history. Their king assumed the title of the Great Chosroes, in imitation of the Persian monarch of that name, and his officers had their several cant denominations contrived with considerable ingenuity. One of these sovereigns thought fit to prefer his own name, and was called Roi de Thunes. This fellow used to be drawn triumphantly through the streets in a little cart by two stout dogs, and at length finished his career on a gibbet at Bourdeaux. The new members of this honourable fraternity were graciously received by the monarch, and consigned to his officers for instruction. These taught them to counterfeit wounds, sores, and ulcers, by means of the juice of celandine and other herbs; to make preparations of grease, &c. for the purpose of hindering dogs from barking, and many other tricks and contrivances essential to the profession of a beggar. The necessary qualification for an officer at court was the possession of masks, rags, plaisters, bandages, crutches, and other matters calculated to excite charity and compassion; a candidate for the monarchy, which was elective, must have passed through one or more offices, and have sported a limb in all appearance shockingly diseased, but curable in a day’s time. The royal habits were composed of a thousand bits of rag, of various colours. Every year the king held a council of his officers and subjects, who reported their proceedings, and paid him the legal and accustomed tribute money; offences were inquired into, and summary punishments inflicted. Many of the above officers were runaway scholars and debauched priests, who taught the novices the Argot language, and performed other duties which exempted them from the usual tribute to the sovereign. These impostors were divided into numerous classes, assuming various appellations. Those who counterfeited maimed solders were called Narquois, corresponding with our Rufflers. The little urchins, who before the establishment of regular hospitals, were permitted to beg in groups, and appeared as half-starved, were denominated Orphelins or Orphans. Fellows assuming the character of broken merchants and tradesmen called themselves Marcandiers and Rifodés: these, pretending to have been ruined by war, by fire, and other calamities, made use of false certificates of their loss, and were frequently accompanied by their wives and children. The Malingreux were the dropsical and otherwise diseased impostors who frequented the churches, and demanded alms to enable them to make pilgrimages and perform masses to particular saints. The Hubins shewed certificates of having been bitten by wolves or dogs, and placed themselves under St. Hubert’s protection. The Coquillarts pretended to have made a pilgrimage to St. James or St. Michael, and sold their cockleshells even to those fools who had done so. The Sabouleux counterfeited demoniacs, by means of soap held in the mouth, with which they produced their foam, and exhibited false wounds on their heads and bodies, which they pretended to have inflicted on themselves during their fits. These last were the most faithful subjects of the Great Chosroes, and paid him a much higher tribute than any of the rest. Besides the above, there were the Petres, the Courtaux, the Polissons, the Capons, the Francmitoux, and a variety of others, all assuming different characters, to defraud the unwary in every possible manner. These particulars have been collected together as exhibiting a general view of the manners and practices of the begging tribe in the kingdom of France, where the regulations concerning them appear to have been very frequent and severe. In the reign of Francis I. many edicts of the court issued against them, by some of which all the beggars in Paris were compelled to clear the city sewers and ditches, and to assist in repairing the fortifications; and for this purpose the police officers seized upon all that were able-bodied and competent to work. Many were banished to the provinces, and if they continued to beg, and refused to assist in the vintage, they were ordered to be hanged. Whipping was the more general punishment; and where licensed, they were not suffered to go about in troops, but confined to travel in pairs only, to prevent robberies and other mischief. Those who could not labour, on account of infirmity, were maintained in hospitals, or by contributions at churches, where they were not permitted, as at present, to beg, under pain of whipping. In the admirable Pictures of Paris by Mercier, there is an interesting article on the sturdy beggars of that city, where their noisy orgies at their places of rendezvous, when they have stripped themselves of their false limbs and hideous plasters, are eloquently described. He mentions one cruel and wicked practice among these impostors, namely, that when they steal other people’s children for want of their own, they distort and even dislocate the members of the unfortunate victims, to give them what they impiously term, the arms and legs of God Almighty.
With respect to the vagabonds of Spain, who will be found to resemble, with small difference, many of the classes above described, it will be sufficient to refer the reader to those excellent novels, Lazarillo de Tormes, and Guzman de Alfarache. The manners of the Italian mendicants and impostors are admirably depicted, with many entertaining stories, in the very curious work of Rafael Frianoro, entitled, “Il vagabondo, overo sferzo de bianti e vagabondi.” Viterbo, 1620, 12mo. in which the catalogue of names of the partiers, and of the impostures practised, far exceed those of any other country.
Della Valle, in his travels to the East Indies, informs us, that the beggars there make us of a trumpet to express their wants, frequently terrifying the people into charity by their loud clamours. Of the Chinese mendicants some particulars will be found in explaining one of the plates of this work.
It would amount to positive negligence, if, in the present sketch, those wanderers that are usually known among ourselves by the appellation of Gypsies, and on the continent by that of Bohemians, on account of their first appearance in that country, were passed over without some notice; but their history has been so learnedly and copiously detailed by M. Grellmann, that it may be thought sufficient on this occasion to advert to the English translation of that excellent work by Mr. Raper, published 1787, in quarto.
Nor should the mention of the orders of mendicant friars be omitted, who, no doubt, had their prototypes in the knavish priest of Cybele. Of these persons there were four orders; viz. the Augustinians, the Carmelites, the Dominicans, and the Minorites. They wandered from place to place, professing poverty, and exciting the charity of others. They had assumed and acquired unlimited control over the consciences of the deluded victims of their artifice, and at length became particularly odious to the monks and the clergy in general, continuing nevertheless to maintain their power and influence, from the marked favour and protection of the Roman Pontiffs, who regarded them as some of their best friends and supporters. In our own country these people encountered a most bitter and inveterate enemy in the celebrated Wickliffe, who in his sermons, and other works, declaimed against them with much vehement eloquence as thieves, hypocrites, and children of Judas Iscariot; telling them that Christ never commissioned any one to appear in the character of a beggar; and that although he preferred a state of poverty, he never demanded alms himself, nor allowed of others doing it, but in cases of extreme necessity.
Another set of ecclesiastical mendicants were those pseudo-monks, who, among many other irregularities, scrupled not to take to themselves wives, whilst their brethren contented themselves with concubines. These were branded by the regular monks with the appellation of Beghards, and are specifically termed sturdy beggars, in a very bitter invective against them by Felix Hammerlein, a civilian and canon of Zurich, in the fifteenth century, who emphatically calls them the legitimate sons of Belial. Many other writers declaimed against them with great acrimony, and some of the more rigid Papists seem to have classed them among the Lollards, an appellation that has very much arrested the attention of the learned in etymology, though without any certainty as to its origin.
The records of our early history supply few, if any, materials that throw light on the subject before us; and the laws of the Saxons, as well as those of our British ancestors, are entirely silent as to any regulation concerning vagrants or mendicants of any kind. A curious incident however in the life of Edward the Confessor, as related by his historian Alured of Rievaulx, is worthy of being mentioned. This sovereign is said to have been remarkable for his benevolence to the poor, many of whom he privately supported. Among these was one Ralph, a Norman, a miserable object, whose limbs were shockingly contracted by disease. This man, scarcely able to creep along upon his knees, as was the usual practice with such persons, and urged by necessity, the mother of invention, was the first who is reported as making use of a hollow vessel of wood, in the form of a bason, in which he placed his hinder parts, guiding and supporting his crippled limbs by means of his hands, and thus sailed along, as it were, upon the ground. On the king’s death he made a pilgrimage to his tomb, and addressing himself to the monarch as if alive, was healed, as says the legend, of his disease.
The next two centuries of English history are equally barren of incident to our purpose. From that time however the statute laws of the kingdom furnish abundant regulations concerning the vagrant classes; and it has therefore been thought worth while to submit to the reader’s notice the following extracts and abridgments.
The statute of labourers, made in the 23d year of Edw. III., recites that there are many sturdy beggars who prefer a life of indolence to active labour, and commit theft and other crimes; and therefore with a view to discourage such practices, and compel these persons to work for their living, it enacts, that none, on pain of imprisonment, shall, under colour of pity or of alms, give any thing to those who are competent to labour, or presume by such means to “favour them towards their desires.”
By stat. xii. Rich. II. c. 6. every beggar who is able to work shall be put in the stocks, and such as are unable to work shall abide in the cities and towns where they may be dwelling at the time of proclaiming this statute; and if the inhabitants shall not be able to maintain them, then the said beggars shall withdraw themselves to other places within the hundred, rape, or wapentake, or to the places of their nativity, within forty days as above, and there continually abide during their lives: and that all who go in pilgrimage as beggars, but are able to work, shall be punished with the stocks, unless they have letters testimonial from a justice of peace. The sheriffs and gaolers are also charged with the custody of beggars, though it does not appear for what particular offence. Religious persons and hermits who beg must have licence from their ordinaries, and scholars of the universities from their chancellors, under the like penalties.
The stat. xix. Hen. VII. adverting to the rigour of the last-mentioned regulations, and to the great expense of confining vagabonds and beggars in prison, enacts, that an immediate discharge from the gaols shall take place, and all beggars be set in the stocks for a day and a night, without other food than bread and water, and then sent to the place of their nativity, or where they may have resided for the space of three years. It also enacts, that such beggars as are not able to work be passed to their own torns, where only they are to be allowed to beg.
By statute xxii. Hen. VIII. persons unable to work are to be licensed by certificate from mayors, sheriffs, bailiffs, or justices, to beg within certain districts; and if they be found begging without such licence, they are to be set in the stocks for three days and three nights, and fed only on bread and water, or else whipped, at the discretion of the magistrate, who is afterwards to give the party a licence and dismiss him. Persons being “whole and mighty in body, and able to labour,” and found begging, are to be whipped at the cart’s tail till blood come, and then dismissed to their own district, receiving a licence, stating their punishment, and authorizing them to beg by the way. Scholars at the universities begging without licence, to be punished as above. Persons wandering about with unlawful games, and fortune-tellers of all kinds, to be punished for the first offence by two days whipping; for the second, by like whipping, with subsequent pillory and loss of one ear; for the third, the like punishment, with loss of the other ear. The licence was in these words: “Memorandum, that A.B. of Dale, for reasonable considerations, is licensed to beg within the hundred of P.K. in the county of L.;” and the licence after whipping is as follows: “I.S. whipped for a vagrant strong beggar, at Dale, in the county of L. according to the law, the 22 July, in the 23 year of King Henry the Eighth, was assigned to pass forthwith and directly from thence to Sale, in the county of M. where he saith he was born, or where he last dwelled by the term of three years, and he is limited to be there within fourteen days next ensuing, at his peril, &c.”
By this act, persons delivered from gaol, or acquitted of felonies, who could not pay the usual fees, were to be licensed by the keeper to raise such fees by begging for the space of six weeks, on pain of whipping for default of such licence.
By the 27th Hen. VIII, further provisions were made for the labour and employment of vagabonds and beggars. Churchwardens to gather alms for supporting the poor on Sundays and holidays. Begging children, between the ages of five and fourteen years, to be placed under masters of husbandry; and those between the ages of twelve and sixteen to be whipped for running away. Beggars offending again after the first punishment to be marked by cutting off the upper gristle of the right ear; and if found still loitering in idleness, to be indicted as felons at the quarter sessions, and on conviction to suffer death. The mendicant friars are specially excepted in this act, which provides many additional supports for the poor besides the vast donations from the still existing monasteries, and the alms-houses and hospitals.
At the commencement of the reign of Edw. VI. a most severe and extraordinary statute was made for the punishment of vagabonds and relief of poor persons. It does not appear who were the contrivers of this instrument, the preamble and general spirit of which were more in accordance with the tyrannical and arbitrary measures of the preceding reign, than with the mild and merciful character of the infant sovereign, who is well known to have taken a very active part in the affairs of government. It repeals all the former statutes on this subject, and enacts, that if any beggar or other person, not being lame or impotent, and after loitering or idly wandering for the space of three days or more, shall not offer himself to labour, or being engaged in any person’s service, shall run away or leave his work, it shall be lawful for the master to carry him before a justice of peace, who, on proof of the offence, shall cause the party to be marked with a hot iron with the letter V on the breast, and adjudge him to be his master’s slave for the space of two years, who shall feed him “on bread and water, or, at his discretion, on refuse of meat, and cause the said slave to work by beating, chaining, or otherwise in such work or labour (how vile soever it be) as he shall put him unto.” If the slave should run away or absent himself for fortnight without leave, the master may pursue and punish him by chaining or beating, and have his action of damage against any one who shall harbour or detain him. On proof before the justice of the slave’s escape, he is to be sentenced to be marked on the forehead or ball of the cheek with a hot iron with the letter S, and adjudged to be his master’s slave for ever; and for the second offence of running away, he is to be regarded as a felon and suffer death. The children of beggars to be taken from them, and, with other vagrant children, to be apprenticed by the magistrate to whoever will take them; and if such children so apprenticed run away, they are to be retaken, and become slaves till the age of twenty in females, and twenty-four in males, with punishment by chains, &c. and power to the master to let, sell, or bequeath them, as goods and chattels, for the term aforesaid. If any slave should maim or wound the master, in resisting correction, or conspire to wound or murder him, or burn his house or other property, he is to suffer death as a felon, unless the master will consent to retain him as a slave for ever; and if any parent, nurse, or bearer about of children, so become slaves, shall steal or entice them away from the master, such person shall be liable to become a slave to the said master for ever, and the party so stolen or enticed away restored. If any vagrant shall be brought to a place, where he shall state himself to have been born, and it shall be manifest that he was not so born there, for such le he shall be marked in the face with an S, and become a slave to the inhabitants or corporation of the city for ever. Any master of slave may put a ring of iron about his neck, arm, or leg, for safe custody, and any person taking or helping to take off such ring, without consent of the master, shall forfeit the sum of ten pounds.
This diabolical statute, after remaining for two years, was repealed, on the ground that, from its extreme severity, it had not been enforced; and, instead of it, the xxii. Hen. VIII. was revived. The taking apprentices the children of beggars was, however, continued; but, instead of slavery, for the offence of running away, the punishment of the stocks was substituted. In the last year of King Edward’s reign, further provisions for supporting the poor were made, by gathering alms at church by the parish officers, who were “gently to ask and demand of every man and woman what they of their charity will be contented to give weekly toward the relief of the poor, and the same to be written in a register or book.” The collectors are empowered to make such of the poor labour as they shall think fit; but none are permitted “to go, or sit openly a begging.”
The last statute that it will be necessary to refer to, is that of the xxxix. Eliz. c. 4. for the punishment and suppression of rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, by which houses of correction are for the first time established; and all persons calling themselves scholars, and going about begging, fellows pretending losses by sea, persons using unlawful games, fortune-tellers, procurers, collectors for gaols and hospitals, fencers, bearwards, common players of interludes, minstrels (except such players as are licensed by any baron of the realm), jugglers, tinkers, pedlars, common labourers able in body, but begging and refusing labour for reasonable wages, persons delivered from gaol and begging for fees, all persons whatever beg that beg in any manner as wanderers, and all gypsies, or pretending so to be, shall be adjudged rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, and be liable to the punishment of whipping till the blood come, and passed to their respective parishes, and committed to the house of correction until further provision by work, or placing in almshouses. If any of the above persons shall appear to be dangerous to the inferior sort of people, or will not otherwise be reformed, they shall be committed to the house of correction or county gaol, and at the quarter sessions, if necessary, banished from the kingdom to such places as shall be assigned by the privy council, or otherwise be sent to the galleys of the kingdom for life, with pain of death on returning from banishment. No vagabonds or beggars to be imported from Ireland, Scotland, or the Isle of Man, or, if already here, to be sent back to their respective countries. No diseased poor persons to be suffered to repair to the baths of Bath or Buxton for cure, unless they forbear to beg, and are licensed by two justices; and that the above cities be not charged with finding relief for such persons. This statute not to extend to children under seven years old, nor to glassmen of good behaviour, travelling with licence, and forbearing to beg.
It is impossible to look upon a more finished picture of the general manners of the begging classes, a little before the Reformation, than in the following extract from the once deservedly celebrated satire, entitled the Ship of Fools. Although of foreign construction, it is not the less calculated for the meridian of England; and indeed the translater has in some degree adapted it to his own country. The author thus addresses the parties in question:
“All vacabondes and myghty beggars, the whyche gothe beggynge from dore to dore, and ayleth lytell or nought, with lame men and crepylles, come unto me, and I shall gyve you an almesse saluberryme and of grete vertue. The mendycans be in grete nombre, wherfore I wyll declare unto you of theyr foolysshe condycyons. These fooles, the whiche be founde in theyr corporal bodyes, wyl nourysh and kepe dyvers chyldren. The monkes have this myschefe and the clerkes also, the whiche have theyr coffers ful of grete rychesses and treasoures. Nevertheles yet they applye themselfe in the offyce of the mendycans, in purchasyng and beggynge on every syde. They be a grete sorte replenysshed wirth unhappynes, saynge that they lede theyr lyves in grete poverte and calamyte; and, therefore, they praye evry man to gyve them theyr good almesse, in release of theyr payne and myserye. And yet they have golde and sylver grete plentye, but they will spende nothinge before the comyn people. Somtyme the cursed taketh the almesse of the poore indygente. I fynde grete fautes in the abottes, monkyes, pryours, chanons, and coventes, for all that they have rentes, tenementes, and possessyons ynough, yet, as folkes devoyde of sense and understondynge, they be never satysfyed with goodes. They goo from vyllage to vyllage and from towne to towne, berynge grete bagges upon theyr neckes, assemblynge so moche goodes that it is grete mervayle, and whan they be in theyr relygyous cloystersm they make them byleve that they have had lytell gyven them or nothynge; for God knoweth they make heven chere in the countre. There is another sort of pardoners, the whiche bereth relyques aboute with them, in abusynge the pore folkes; for and yf they have but one poore peny in theyr purses they must have it. They gadre togyder golde and sylver in every place, lyke as yf it grewe. They make the poore folkes byleve noche gay gere. They sel the feders of the Holy Ghoost. They bere the bones of some deed body aboute, the which, paraventure, is damned. They shewe the heer of some old hors, saynge that it is of the berde of the Innocentes. There is an innumerable syght of suche folkes and of vacabondes in this relame of Englonde, the whiche be hole of all theyr membres and myghte wynne theyr lyves honestly. Notwithstondynge they go beggynge from dore to dore, because they wyll not werke, and patcheth an olde mantell or an olde gowne with an hondred colours, and byndeth foule cloutes about theyr legges, as who say they be sore. And oftentymes they be more rycher than they that gyveth them almesse. They breke theyr chyldren’s membres in theyr youthe, bycause that men sholde have the more pyte of them. They go wepynge and wryngynge of theyr handes, and counterfettynge the sorrowfull, praynge for Goddes sake to gyve them an almesse, and maketh o well the hypocrytes that there is no man the whiche seeth them but that he is abused, and must gyve them an almesse. There is some stronge and puysaunt rybaudes, the whiche wyll not laboure, byt lyve, as these beggers, without doynge ony thynge, the whiche be dronke oftentymes. They be well at ease to have grete legges and bellyes eten to the bonis; for they wyll not put noo medycynes therto for to hele them, but soner envenymeth them, and dyvers other begylynges of which I holde my pease. O poore frantyke fooles, the whiche robbeth them that hath no brede for to ete, and by adventure dare not aske none for shame, the auncyent men, poore wedowes, lazars, and blynde men. Alas! thynke theron, for tyely ye shall gyve accomptes before Hym that created us.”
In the year 1566, Thomas Harman, Esq. probably a justice of peace, published a very singular and amusing work, intitled, “A Caveat, or Warning for Commen Cursetors [runners] vulgarly called Vagabones;” in which he described the several sorts of thieving beggars and other rogues with considerable humour, and has collected together a great number of words belonging to what he humorously calls the “leud losy language of these lewtering luskes and lasy lorrels, wherewith they bye and sell the common people as they pas through the countrey.” He says they term this language Pedlar’s French, or canting, which had not then been invented above thirty years. As the book has lately been reprinted, it will be proper, on this occasion, to use it more sparingly, and to mention only such of Harman’s vagabonds as fall under the begging class. These are, !. The Rufflers, particularly mentioned in the stat. xxvii. Hen. VIII. against vagabonds, as fellows pretending to be wounded soldiers. These, says Harman, after a year or two’s practice, unless they be prevented by twined hemp, become 2. Upright men, still pretending to have served in the wars, and offering, though never intending, to work for their living. They decline receiving meat or drink, and take nothing but money by the way of charity, but contrive to steal pigs and poultry at night, chiefly plundering the farmers. Of late, says the author, they have been much whipped at fairs. They attack and rob other beggars that do not belong to their own fraternity, occasionally admitting or installing them into it by pouring a quart of liquor on their pates with these words, “I do stall thee, W.T., to the rogue, and that from henceforth it stall be lawful for thee to cant for thy living in all places.” All sorts of beggars are obedient to them, and they surpass all the rest in pilfering and stealing. 3. Hookers or Anglers:– these knaves beg by day, and pilfer by night, by means of a pole with a hook at the end, with which they lay hold of linen, or any thing hanging from windows or elsewhere. The author relates a curious feat of dexterity practised by one of them at a farm house, where, in the dead of the night, he contrived to hook off the bedclothes from three men who were lying asleep, leaving them in their shirts, and when they awoke from cold, supposing, to use the author’s words, “that Robin Goodfellow had bene with them that night.” 4. Rogues, going about with a white handkerchief tied round the head, and pretending to be lame. These people committed various other frauds and impostures, in order to obtain charity. 5. Pallyards, with patched garments, collecting, by way of alms, provisions, or whatever they could get, which they sold for ready money; they are chiefly Welshmen, and make artificial sores, by applying spearwort, to raise blisters on their bodies, or else arsenic or ratsbane, to create incurable wounds. 6. Abraham men; pretending to be lunaticks, who have been a long time confined in Bedlam, or some other prison, where they have been unmercifully used with blows, &c. They beg money or provisions at farmers’ houses, or bully them by fierce looks or menaces. 7. Traters, or fellows travelling about the country with black boxes at the girdle, containing forged briefs, or licences to beg for hospitals. Some have clouts bound round their legs, and walk as if lame, with staves in their hands. 8. Freshwater Mariners or Whipjacks, whose ships, says the witty author, were drowned in Salisbury Plain. These counterfeit great losses at sea by shipwreck and piracy, and are chiefly Irishmen, begging with false licences, under the supposed seal of the Admiralty, so artfully constructed as to deceive even the best lawyers. 9. The counterfeit crank, who is described at large, with a figure, in another part of this work. 10. Dommerars, chiefly Welshman, pretending to be dumb, and forcibly keeping down their tongues doubled, groaning for charity, and keeping up their hands most piteously, by which means they procure considerable gains. 11. Demanders for glymmar, who are chiefly women that go about with false licences to beg, as sufferers from fire; glymmar, in pedlars’ language, signifying that element. Many other classes are enumerated in this curious volume, as priggars of prauncers, swadders, jarkmen, patricos, bawdy baskets, autem morts, walking morts, doxies, dells, kynchin morts, and kynchin coes; but all these are rather pilferers than beggars.
As every trade or profession had its patron saint, so the beggars made choice of St. Martin, who appears to have had a great regard for them. This person was originally a soldier of rank in the armies of the Emperors Constantius and Julian; but preferring a religious life, he applied to Saint Hilary, of Poitou, who appointed him his sub-deacon, and soon afterwards becoming a saint himself, he of course acquired the power of working miracles, many of which, with much other legendary matter, have been related by his credulous but elegant historian, Sulpitious Severus; and transferred, with due additions and improvements, into that grand repertory of pious frauds, the Golden Legend, and some other works of similar authority. It is related of him, that when a soldier, as he passed by one of the gates of Amiens in winter time, he met a poor naked man, on whom none would bestow alms. Martin drew out his sword, and cutting his mantle asunder in the middle, gave one half to the poor man, having nothing else to bestow on him, contenting himself with the remainder to keep him from the cold. On the ensuing night he saw the Saviour of the world in heaven, cloathed with that part which he had given to the poor man, and exclaiming to the angels that surrounded him, “Martin, yet new in the faith, hath covered me with this vesture.” Ever afterwards he became particularly attached to beggars and poor people. The cripples and lepers seem, however, to have made exclusive choice of St. Giles for their patron, to whom the hospitals and other places for their relief were usually dedicated. So the parish church of Cripplegate was dedicated to him, and the ward itself named after a very ancient gate, to which the crippled beggars particularly resorted. There would be some difficulty to account for their preference of this Saint, as he does not appear to have been either lame or leprous. He was a noble Christian, born at Athens, a man of singular charity, giving largely to the poor, and on one occasion doing more than St. Martin, by giving the whole of his coat to a diseased and naked beggar, who is said to have been immediately healed on putting it on.
As an exemplification of the legend of Saint Martin might be acceptable to many readers, it has been thought fit to select, as an appropriate embellishment, one of the oldest figures of the Saint that remain, and to place it before the title of the work. This print has been copied with scrupulous fidelity from an ancient engraving in copper, in the truly valuable collection of Thomas Lord, Esq., by A German artist, whose name unfortunately has not been preserved, and who probably executed it between the years 1460 and 1470. In this instance the story has not been correctly adhered to; for the designer of the print has there introduced a couple of beggars; an error that is sufficiently compensated by the variety it affords of the mendicant costume, one of these fellows making use of a creeper and dish, the other of a crutch. A later print of this subject, and of extreme curiosity on all accounts, may likewise be consulted. It is from a design by Jerom Bosche, an artist of grotesque celebrity, and represents Saint Martin in a boat, full of beggars, with crowds of others on shore, in every possible form and attitude. It is accompanied with the following inscription, in the Flemish language: “The good Saint Martin is here represented among the crippled, nasty, wretched tribe, distributing to them his cloak instead of money; the miserable crew contending for the spoil.”
In the year 1741, a spirited presentment to the Court of King’s Bench was made by the Grand Jury of Middlesex against the unusual swarms of sturdy and clamorous beggars, as well as the many frightful objects exposed in the streets; in which they state, that notwithstanding a very strong presentment to the same effect had been made by a former jury in 1728, they had found the evil rather increased than remedied. This they ascribe to negligence in the proper officers, and trust that a proper remedy will be applied, and themselves not troubled with the poor, at the same time that they are every day more and more loaded with taxes to provide for them; and that his Majesty’s subjects may have the passage of the streets, as in former happy times, free and undisturbed, and be able to transact the little business to which the decay of trade has reduced them, without molestation.
In the last session of the present parliament the matter has been again taken up with a degree of skill and vigour that reflects great honour on its conductors; and we may indulge a hope to see the streets of the metropolis freed from the many public and disgusting nuisances that have increased with its population, and the real objects of charity and compassion humanely and properly cherished and protected, as well as the vast and oppressive expense of supporting them reduced.
Already we perceive the alarm has been taken by the members of the mendicant tribes; and it may not be too much to add, that the interest and curiosity of the present work are likely to augment in proportion as the characters that have led to its composition shall decrease in numbers. That they should entirely disappear, may be more than can be reasonably expected.
The figure above represents an English Beggar about the middle of the fifteenth century, and has been copied from a Pontifical among the Lansdowne MSS. in the British Museum; on one of the margins of which the illuminator has rather strangely introduced it.