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expences were considered with it. Fifty pounds a-year, and one shilling and nine pence farthing a-day, carry as different degrees of significancy with them, as my Lord's steward, and the steward's labourer; and yet an outride officer in the excise, under the name of fifty pounds a year, receives for himself no more than one shilling and ninepence farthing a day.
After tax, charity, and sitting expenses are deducted, there remains very little more than forty-six pounds; and the expences of horse-keeping, in many places, cannot be brought under fourteen pounds a year, besides the purchase at first, and the hazard of life, which reduces it to thirtytwo pounds per annum, or one shilling and ninepence farthing per day.
I have spoken more particularly of the outrides, as they are by far the most numerous, being in proportion to the foot-walk as eight is to five throughout the kingdom. Yet in the latter, the same misfortunes exist; the channel of them only is altered. The excessive dearness of bouse-rent, the great burthen of rates and taxes, and the excessive price of all necessaries of life, in cities and large trading towns, nearly counterhalance the expences of horse-keeping. Every office has its stages of promotions, but the pecuniary advantages arising from a foot-walk are so inconsiderable, and the loss of disposing of effects, or the charges of removing them to any considerable distance, so great, that many out-ride officers with a family remain as they are, from an inability to bear the loss, or support the expence.
The officers resident in the cities of London and Westminster, are exempt from the particular disadvantages of removals. This seems to be the only circumstance which they enjoy superior to their country brethren. In every other respect they lie under the same hardships, and suffer the same distresses.
There are no perquisites or advantages in the least annexed to the employment. A few officers who are stationed along the coast, may sometimes have the good fortune to fall in with a seizure of contraband goods, and that frequently at the hazard of their lives: but the inland officers can have no such opportunities. Besides, the surveying duty in the excise is so continual, that without remissness from the real business itself, there is no time to seek after them. With the officers of the customs it is quite otherwise, their whole time and care being appropriated to that service, and their profits are in proportion to their vigilance.
If the increase of money in the kingdom is one cause of the high price of provisions, the case of the Excise officers is peculiarly pitiable. No increase comes to them—they are shut out from the general blessing—they behold it like a map of Peru. The answer of Abraham to Dives is somewhat applicable to them, " There is a great gulf fixed."
To the wealthy and humane, it is a matter worthy of concern, that their affluence should become the misfortune of others. Were the money in the kingdom to be increased double, the salary would in value be reduced one half. Every step upwards, is a step downwards with them. Not to be partakers of the increase would be a little hard, but to be sufferers by it exceedingly so. The mechanic and the labourer may in a great measure ward off the distress, by raising the price of their manufactures or their work, but the situation of the officers admits no such relief.
Another consideration in their behalf (and which is peculiar to the Excise) is, that as the law of their office removes them far from their natural friends and relations, it consequently prevents those occasional assistance from them, which are serviceably felt in a family, and which even the poorest, among the poor, enjoys. Most poor mechanics, or even common labourers, have some relations or friends, who, either out of benevolence or pride, keep their children from nakedness, supply them occasionally with perhaps half a hog, a load of wood, a chaldron of coals, or something or other, which abates the severity of their distress; and yet those men, thus relieved, will frequently earn more than the daily pay of an Excise officer.
Perhaps an officer will appear more reputable with the same pay, than a mechanic or labourer. The difference arises from sentiment, not circumstances. A something like reputable pride makes all the distinction, and the thinking part of mankind well knows, that none suffer so much as they who endeavour to conceal their necessities.
The frequent removals which unavoidably happen in the Excise, are attended with such an expence, especially where there is a family, as few officers are able to support. About two years ago, an officer with a family, under orders for removing, and rather embarrassed in circumstances, made his application to me, and from a conviction of his distress, I advanced a small sum to enable him to proceed. He ingenuously declared, that without the assistance of some friend, he should be driven to do injustice to his creditors, and compelled to desert the duty of his office. He has since honestly paid me, and does as well as the narrowness of such circumstances can admit of.
There is one general allowed truth, which will always operate in their favour; which is, that no set of men, under his Majesty, earn their salary with any comparison of labour and fatigue, with that of the officers of Excise. The station may rather be called a seat of constant work, thau either a place or an employment. Even in the different departments of the general revenue, they are unequalled in the burthen of business; a riding-officer's place in the customs, whose salary is sixty pounds a year, is ease to theirs; and the work in the window-light duty, compared with the Excise, is lightness itself; yet their salary is subject to no tax, they receive forty-nine pounds twelve shillings and sixpence, without deduction.
The inconveniencies which affect an Excise-officer, are almost endless; even the land-tax assessment upou their salaries, which, though the Government pays, falls often with hardship upon them. The place of their residence, on account of the land-tax, has, in many instances, created frequent contentions between parishes, in which the officer, though the innocent and unconcerned cause of the quarrel, has been the greater sufferer.
To point out particularly the impossihility of an Exciseofficer supporting himself and family, with any proper degree of credit and reputation, on so scanty a pittance, is altogether unnecessary. The times, the voice of general want, are proofs themselves. Where facts are sufficient, arguments are useless; and the hints which I have produced, are such as affect the officers of Excise differently to any other set of men. A single man may barely live; but as it is not the design of the legislature, or the Hon. Board of Excise, to impose a state of celibacy on them, the condition of much the greater part is truly wretched and pitiable.
Perhaps it may be said, why do the Excise officers complain? they are not pressed into the service, and may relinquish it when they please; if they can mend themselves, why don't they? Alas! what a mockery of pity would it be, to give such an answer to an honest, faithful, old officer in the Excise, who had spent the prime of his life in the service, and was become unfit for any thing else! The time limited for an admission into an Excise employment, is between twenty-one and thirty years of age, the very flower of life. Every other hope and consideration are then given up, and the chance of establishing themselves in any other business, becomes in a few years not only lost to them, but they become lost to it.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which if embraced, leads on to fortune—that neglected, all beyond is misery or want."
When we consider how few in the Excise arrive at any comfortable eminence, and the date of life when such promotions only can happen, the great hazard there is of ill, rather than good fortune in the attempt, and that all the years antecedent to that is a state of mere existence, wherein they are shut out from the common chance of success in any other way; a reply like that can be only a derision of their wants. It is almost impossible, after any long continuance in the Excise, that they can live any other way. Such as are of trades, would have their trades to learn over again; and people would have but little opinion of their abilities in any calling, who had been ten, fifteen, or twenty years absent from it . Every year's experience gained in the Excise, is a year's experience lost in trade; and by the time they become wise officers, they become foolish workmen.
Were the reasons for augmenting the salary grounded only on the charitableness of so doing, they would have great weight with the compassionate. But there are auxiliaries of such a powerful cast, that in the opinion of policy; they obtain the rank of originals. The first is truly the case of the officers, but this is rather the case of the revenue.
The distresses in the Excise are so generally known, that numbers of gentlemen, and other inhahitants in places where officers are resident, have generously and humanely recommended their case to the members of the Hon. House of Commons: and numbers of traders of opulence and reputation, well knowing that the poverty of an officer may subject him to the fraudulent designs of some selfish persons under his survey, to the great injury of the fair trader, and trade in general, have, from principles both of generosity and justice, joined in the same recommendation.
Thoughts on the Corruption of Principles, and on the numerous evils arising to the Revenue, from the too great Poverty of the Officers of Excise.
It has always been the wisdom of government, to consider the situation and circumstances of persons in trust. Why are large salaries given in many instances, but to proportion it to the trust, to set men above temptation, and to make it even literally worth their while to be honest? The salaries of the judges have been augmented, and their places made independent even of the crown itself, for the above wise purposes.
Certainly there can be nothing unreasonable in supposing there is such an instinct as frailty among the officers of Excise, in common with the rest of mankind; and that the most effectual method to keep men honest, is to enable them to live so. The tenderness of conscience is too often overmatched by the sharpness of want; and principle, like charity, yields with just reluctance enough to excuse itself. There is a powerful rhetoric in necessity, which exceeds even a Dunning or a Wedderburne. No argument can satisfy the feelings of hunger, or abate the edge of appetite. Nothing tends to a greater corruption of manners and principles, than a too great distress of circumstances; and the corruption is of that kind, that it spreads a plaster for itself: like a viper, it carries a cure, though a false one, for its own poison. Agur, without auy alternative, has made dishonesty the immediate consequence of poverty, "Lest I be poor and steal." A very little degree of that dangerous kind of philosophy, which is the almost certain effect of involuntary poverty, will teach men to believe, that to starve is more criminal than to steal, by as much as every species of self,murder exceeds every other crime; that true honesty is sentimental, and the practice of it dependent upon circumstances. If the gay find it difficult to resist the allurements of pleasure, the great the temptations of amhition, or the miser the acquisition of wealth, how much stronger are the provocations of want and poverty! The excitemeuts to pleasure, grandeur, or riches, are mere