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Good Words 1860
Note to the Article "Dr Chalmers at Elberfeld"


As many inquiries have been made regarding the working of the system of poor relief at Elberfeld, one or two words may be added in explanation. Though established by Christian men, it has no connexion with the Church, but is entirely civic and philanthropic, nor is it intended as a final remedy against the evil, or as one which lessens the duty of the Church to the poor. It is considered more than ever incumbent on each denomination to take charge of its own poor, and fulfil those obligations to them which no city board ought or can. As this is done, the town relief will be restricted to such waifs of society as no religious body claims. It has been objected against its adoption that it presumes more leisure than we in England can afford. But an hour in the week was what a deacon had to give up to his work in the palmy days of St John's. The average in Elbcrfeld is probably about the same ; nor ought it to be forgotten that the town in which the experiment has been made is the busiest in Prussia. Indeed, whatever difficulties beset the theory have been greatly removed by its thorough trial. It has been simplified by use, and the statutes of the Elberfeld Poor-Law Board (Armen-Ordnung fur die Gemeinde Elberfeld) are accessible to any one who wishes a more intimate knowledge. The experiment may be tried on a large scale or a small. Let it be only kept in view that the organisation must be such as to facilitate the work, while checking any imprudence of the workers; and that the number of poor allotted to one must never be so great as to become a burden. Since the paper was written a letter received from a gentleman identified with the movement, and an active member of the Prussian Herrenhaus, carries on the story to the end of last year, and furnishes some interesting details. The experiment was begun partially in January 1853 with 2128 souls. By March these had sunk to 1613 ; by October to 992. The next year was hard times, and the number did not diminish. Moreover, the ecclesiastical relief of the Lutheran body broke down, and the new association took up their poor, so that the year 1855 began with 4017 souls. By the end of 1856 there were only 1478. Through an excessive slackness of work the number of poor had risen in April 1858 to more than a thousand above that of the preceding year; yet the system proved elastic and capable. The crisis was safely met, and before November the number had fallen to its natural limits. During 1859, notwithstanding the war panic, the slackness of trade, the mobilising of 1200 men, and the consequent loss of wages to their families, the number did not much exceed, and in April was almost the same as that of 1857. At the close of 1859—and it was as trying and exceptional a year as the system has encountered —1743 were on the roll. Besides these, there were 630 receiving indoor relief, and distributed as follows:—175 old men and women in the almshouse; 75 persons in the infirmary; 330 orphans in the orphanage; and in the asylum 50 children whose parents have either deserted them or are in prison. The total number of destitute poor, therefore, was 2373, being, in a population of now 55,000, 44 1/3 per cent, against 11 per cent. in 1850. The expenditure for outdoor relief in 1847 was £7774; in 1852, £7072; in 1858, £3300; and in 1859 about £2600. Or, to take another test, the poor-rates fell from 6s. 8d, a-head in 1849, (and not 47s., an error which the reader would quickly correct,) to less than 3s. a-head in 1859, and the number of the families of outdoor poor from 650 to 180. Such figures need no comment; but in reading these statistics it must be remembered that they represent an exhaustive poor-relief, and not that partial measure doled out by our own system; and that the population has been steadily increasing. Another statement of the writer is gratifying and encouraging. Most of the visitors, superintendents, and others—in all, the working staff is 282—have been seven years in office. At the end of last December one-third, or 94, had permission to retire. It was natural to expect they would use it. On the contrary, they unanimously declared to the council their wish to remain in office. May these facts find some who will hear them say, "Go thou and do likewise."


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