Quote said by Mr. Bumble, the parish Beadle. Bumble is giving his views on poor relief to Mrs. Corney.
Charles Dickens was a vigorous critic of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, and used works such as Oliver Twist to lampoon it, such as we see here with his portrayal of the attitude of Mr. Bumble. Many liberal thinkers, such as Dickens, felt the new Poor Law led to the demonization of the poor.
‘I never,’ said Mr. Bumble, ‘see anything like the pitch it’s got to. The day afore yesterday, a man—you have been a married woman, ma’am, and I may mention it to you—a man, with hardly a rag upon his back (here Mrs. Corney looked at the floor), goes to our overseer’s door when he has got company coming to dinner; and says, he must be relieved, Mrs. Corney. As he wouldn’t go away, and shocked the company very much, our overseer sent him out a pound of potatoes and half a pint of oatmeal. “My heart!” says the ungrateful villain, “what’s the use of this to me? You might as well give me a pair of iron spectacles!” “Very good,” says our overseer, taking ’em away again, “you won’t get anything else here.” “Then I’ll die in the streets!” says the vagrant. “Oh no, you won’t,” says our overseer.’
‘Ha! ha! That was very good! So like Mr. Grannett, wasn’t it?’ interposed the matron. ‘Well, Mr. Bumble?’
‘Well, ma’am,’ rejoined the beadle, ‘he went away; and he did die in the streets. There’s a obstinate pauper for you!’
‘It beats anything I could have believed,’ observed the matron emphatically. ‘But don’t you think out-of-door relief a very bad thing, any way, Mr. Bumble? You’re a gentleman of experience, and ought to know. Come.’
‘Mrs. Corney,’ said the beadle, smiling as men smile who are conscious of superior information, ‘out-of-door relief, properly managed: properly managed, ma’am: is the porochial safeguard. The great principle of out-of-door relief is, to give the paupers exactly what they don’t want; and then they get tired of coming.’
‘Dear me!’ exclaimed Mrs. Corney. ‘Well, that is a good one, too!’
‘Yes. Betwixt you and me, ma’am,’ returned Mr. Bumble, ‘that’s the great principle; and that’s the reason why, if you look at any cases that get into them owdacious newspapers, you’ll always observe that sick families have been relieved with slices of cheese. That’s the rule now, Mrs. Corney, all over the country. But, however,’ said the beadle, stopping to unpack his bundle, ‘these are official secrets, ma’am; not to be spoken of; except, as I may say, among the porochial officers, such as ourselves. This is the port wine, ma’am, that the board ordered for the infirmary; real, fresh, genuine port wine; only out of the cask this forenoon; clear as a bell, and no sediment!’
Having held the first bottle up to the light, and shaken it well to test its excellence, Mr. Bumble placed them both on top of a chest of drawers; folded the handkerchief in which they had been wrapped; put it carefully in his pocket; and took up his hat, as if to go.
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