Category Archives: Beggars

Item of the Day: Essays, Political, Economical, and Philosophical (1800)

Full Title: Essays, Political, Economical, and Philosophical. By Benjamin Count of Rumford . . .  Volume I. Fifth Edition. London: Printed by A. Stahan, for T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies, Strand, 1800.






Together with

A Detail of various Public Measures, connected with that Institution, which have been adopted and carried into effect for putting an End to Mendicity, and introducing Order, and useful Industry, among the more Indigent of the Inhabitants of Bavaria.


Of the Prevalence of Mendicity in Bavaria at the Time when the Measures for putting an End to it were adopted.

Among the various measures that occurred to me by which the military establishment of the country might be made subservient to the public good in time of peace, none appeared to be of so much importance as that of employing the army in clearing the country of beggars, theives, and other vagabonds; and in watching over the public tranquility.

But in order to clear the country of beggars, (the number of whom in Bavaria had become quite intolerable,) it was necessary to adopt general and efficacious measure for maintaining and supporting the Poor. Laws were not wanting to oblige each community in the country to provide for its own Poor; but these laws had been so long neglected, and beggary had become so general that extraordinary measures, and the most indefatigable exertions were necessary to put  a stop to this evil.

The number of itinerant beggars, of both sexes and all ages, as well foreigners as natives, who strolled about the country in all directions, levying contributions from the industrious inhabitants, stealing and robbing, and leading a life of indolence, and most shameless debauchery, was quite incredible; and so numerous were the swarms of beggrs in all the great towns, and particularly in the capital, so great their impudence, and so persevering their importunity, that it was almost impossible to cross the streets without being attacked, and absolutley forced to satisfy their clamorous demands. And these beggars were in general by no means such as from age or bodily infirmities were unable by their labour to earn their livelihood; but they were for the most part, stout, strong, healthy, sturdy beggars, who, lost to every sense of shame, had embraced the profession from choice, not necessity; and who, not unfrequently, added insolence and threats to their importunity, and extorted that from fear which they could not procure by their arts of dissimulation.

These beggars not only infested all the streets, public walks, and public places, but they even made a practice of going into private houses, where they never failed to steal whatever fell in their way, if they found the doors open, and nobody at home; and the churches were so full of them that it was quite a nuisance, and a public scandal during the performance of divine service. People at their devotions were conintually interupted by them, and were frequently obliged to satisfy their demands in order to be permitted to finish their prayers in peace and quiet.

In short, these detestable vermin swarmed every where; and not only their impudence and clamourous importunity were without any bounds, but they had recourse to the most diabolical arts, and most horrid crimes, in the prosecution of their infamous trade. Young children were stolen from their parents by these wretches, and their eyes put out, or their tender limbs broken and distorted, in order, by exposing them thus maimed, to excite the pity and commiseration of the public; and every species of artifice was made use of to agitate the sensibility, and to extort the contributions of the humane and charitable.

Some of these monsters were so void of all feeling as to expose their own children, naked, and almost starved, in the streets, in order that, by their cries and unaffected expressions of distress, they might move those who passed by to pity and relieve them; and in order to make them act their part more naturally, they were unmercifully beaten when they came home, by their inhuman parents, if they did not bring with them a certain sum, which they were ordered to collect.

I have frequently seen a poor child of five or six years of age, late at night, in the most inclement season, sitting down almost naked at the corner of a street, and crying most bitterly; if he were asked what was the matter with him, he would answer, “I am cold and hungry, and afraid to go home; my mother told me to bring home twelve creutzers, and I  have only been able to beg five. My mother will certainly beat me if I don’t carry home twelve creutzers.” Who could refuse so small a sum to relieve so much unaffected distress? –But what horrid arts are these, to work upon the feelings of the public, and levy involuntary contributions for the support of idleness and debauchery!

But the evils arising from the prevalence of mendicity did not stop here. The public, worn out and vanquished by the numbers and perservering importunity of the beggars; and frequently disappointed in their hopes of being relieved from their depredations, by the failure of the numberless schemes that were formed and set on foot for that purpose, began at last to consider the case as quite desperate; and to submit patiently to an evil for which they saw no remedy. The consequences of this submission are easy to be conceived; the beggars, encouraged by their success, were attached still more strongly to their infamous profession; and others, allured by their indolent lives, encouraged by their successful frauds, and emboldened by their impunity, joined them. The habit of summission on the part of the public, gave them a sort of right to pursue their depredations; –their growing numbers and their success gave a kind of eclat to their profession; and the habit of begging became so general, that it ceased to be considered as infamous; and was, by degrees, in a manner interwoven with the internal regulations of society. . . .

In the great towns, besides children of the poorer sort, who almost all made a custom of begging, the professional beggars formed a distinct class, or cast, among the inhabitants; and in general a very numerous one. There was even a kind of political connection between the members of this formidable body; and certian general maxims were adopted, and regulations observed, in the warfare they carried on against the public. Each beggar had his particular beat, or district, in the possession of which it was not thought lawful to disturb him; and certain rules were observed in dsposing the districts in case of vacancies by deaths or resignations, promotions or removals. A battle, it is true, frequently decided the contest between the candidates; but when the possession was once obtained, whether by force or arms, or by any other means, the right was after considered indisputable. Alliances by marriage were by no means uncommon in this community; and, strange as it may appear, means were found to procure legal permission from the civil magistrates for the celebration of these nuptials! The children were of course trained up in the profession of their parents; and having the advantage of an early education, were commonly great proficients in their trade.

And there is no very essential difference between depriving a person of his property by stealth, and extorting it from him against his will by dint of clamorous importunity, or under false pretence of feigned distress and misfortune; so the transition from begging to stealing is not only easy, but perfectly natural. That total insensibility to shame, and all those other qualifications which are necessary in the profession of a beggar, are likewise essential to form an accomplished thief; and both these professions derive very considerable advantages from their union. A Beggar who goes about from house to house to ask for alms, has many opportunities to steal, which another would not so easily find; and his profession as a beggar gives him a great facility in disposing of what he steals; for he can always say it was given him in charity. No wonder then that thieving and robbing should be prevalent where beggars are numerous . . .



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Filed under 1790's, Beggars, Europe, Germany, Poor, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Reform