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Critical History Of Poverty
by [?]

M. Morin, in the Memoirs of the French Academy, has formed a little history of Poverty, which I abridge.

The writers on the genealogies of the gods have not noticed the deity of Poverty, though admitted as such in the pagan heaven, while she has had temples and altars on earth. The allegorical Plato has pleasingly narrated, that at the feast which Jupiter gave on the birth of Venus, Poverty modestly stood at the gate of the palace to gather the fragments of the celestial banquet; when she observed the god of riches, inebriated with nectar, roll out of the heavenly residence, and passing into the Olympian Gardens, throw himself on a vernal bank. She seized this opportunity to become familiar with the god. The frolicsome deity honoured her with his caresses; and from this amour sprung the god of Love, who resembles his father in jollity and mirth, and his mother in his nudity. The allegory is ingenious. The union of poverty with riches must inevitably produce the most delightful of pleasures.

The golden age, however, had but the duration of a flower; when it finished, Poverty began to appear. The ancestors of the human race, if they did not meet her face to face, knew her in a partial degree; the vagrant Cain encountered her. She was firmly established in the patriarchal age. We hear of merchants who publicly practised the commerce of vending slaves, which indicates the utmost degree of poverty. She is distinctly marked by Job: this holy man protests, that he had nothing to reproach himself with respecting the poor, for he had assisted them in their necessities.

In the scriptures, legislators paid great attention to their relief. Moses, by his wise precautions, endeavoured to soften the rigours of this unhappy state. The division of lands, by tribes and families; the septennial jubilees; the regulation to bestow at the harvest-time a certain portion of all the fruits of the earth for those families who were in want; and the obligation of his moral law to love one’s neighbour as one’s self; were so many mounds erected against the inundations of poverty. The Jews under their Theocracy had few or no mendicants. Their kings were unjust; and rapaciously seizing on inheritances which were not their right, increased the numbers of the poor. From the reign of David there were oppressive governors, who devoured the people as their bread. It was still worse under the foreign powers of Babylon, of Persia, and the Roman emperors. Such were the extortions of their publicans, and the avarice of their governors, that the number of mendicants dreadfully augmented; and it was probably for that reason that the opulent families consecrated a tenth part of their property for their succour, as appears in the time of the evangelists. In the preceding ages no more was given, as their casuists assure us, than the fortieth or thirtieth part; a custom which this singular nation still practise. If there are no poor of their nation where they reside, they send it to the most distant parts. The Jewish merchants make this charity a regular charge in their transactions with each other; and at the close of the year render an account to the poor of their nation.

By the example of Moses, the ancient legislators were taught to pay a similar attention to the poor. Like him, they published laws respecting the division of lands; and many ordinances were made for the benefit of those whom fires, inundations, wars, or bad harvests had reduced to want. Convinced that idleness more inevitably introduced poverty than any other cause, it was rigorously punished; the Egyptians made it criminal, and no vagabonds or mendicants were suffered under any pretence whatever. Those who were convicted of slothfulness, and still refused to labour for the public when labour was offered to them, were punished with death. The famous Pyramids are the works of men who otherwise had remained vagabonds and mendicants.