Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Enslavement of Vagabonds
By Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1655–1716)
From Second Discourse on the Affairs of Scotland

THERE are at this day in Scotland (besides a great many poor families very meanly provided for by the church-boxes, with others who, by living upon bad food, fall into various diseases) two hundred thousand people begging from door to door. These are not only no way advantageous, but a very grievous burden to so poor a country. And though the number of them be perhaps double to what it was formerly, by reason of this present great distress, yet in all times there have been about one hundred thousand of these vagabonds, who have lived without any regard or subjection either to the laws of the land, or even those of God and nature; fathers incestuously accompanying their own daughters, the son with the mother, and the brother with the sister. No magistrate could ever discover, or be informed which way one in a hundred of these wretches died, or that ever they were baptized. Many murders have been discovered among them; and they are not only a most unspeakable oppression to poor tenants (who if they give not bread, or some kind of provision to perhaps forty such villains in one day, are sure to be insulted by them), but they rob many poor people who live in houses distant from any neighbourhood. In years of plenty many thousands of them meet together in the mountains, where they feast and riot for many days; and at country weddings, markets, burials, and other the like public occasions, they are to be seen both men and women perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and fighting together.    *    *    *    *
  Now what I would propose upon the whole matter is, that for some present remedy of so great a mischief, every man of a certain estate in this nation should be obliged to take a proportionable number of those vagabonds, and either employ them in hedging and ditching his grounds, or any other sort of work in town and country; or if they happen to be children and young, that he should educate them in the knowledge of some mechanical art, so that every man of estate might have a little manufacture at home which might maintain those servants, and bring great profit to the master, as they did to the ancients, whose revenue by the manufactures of such servants was much more considerable than that of their lands. Hospitals and almshouses ought to be provided for the sick, lame, and decrepit, either by rectifying old foundations or instituting new. And for example and terror three or four hundred of those villains which we call jockeys, might be presented by the government to the state of Venice, to serve in their galleys against the common enemy of Christendom.  2

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