Sketches by Boz HTML version

Our Parish
1. The Beadle. The Parish Engine. The Schoolmaster
How much is conveyed in those two short words - 'The Parish!' And with how many
tales of distress and misery, of broken fortune and ruined hopes, too often of unrelieved
wretchedness and successful knavery, are they associated! A poor man, with small
earnings, and a large family, just manages to live on from hand to mouth, and to
procure food from day to day; he has barely sufficient to satisfy the present cravings of
nature, and can take no heed of the future. His taxes are in arrear, quarter-day passes
by, another quarter-day arrives: he can procure no more quarter for himself, and is
summoned by - the parish. His goods are distrained, his children are crying with cold
and hunger, and the very bed on which his sick wife is lying, is dragged from beneath
her. What can he do? To whom is he to apply for relief? To private charity? To
benevolent individuals? Certainly not - there is his parish. There are the parish vestry,
the parish infirmary, the parish surgeon, the parish officers, the parish beadle. Excellent
institutions, and gentle, kind-hearted men. The woman dies - she is buried by the
parish. The children have no protector - they are taken care of by the parish. The man
first neglects, and afterwards cannot obtain, work - he is relieved by the parish; and
when distress and drunkenness have done their work upon him, he is maintained, a
harmless babbling idiot, in the parish asylum.
The parish beadle is one of the most, perhaps THE most, important member of the local
administration. He is not so well off as the churchwardens, certainly, nor is he so
learned as the vestry-clerk, nor does he order things quite so much his own way as
either of them. But his power is very great, notwithstanding; and the dignity of his office
is never impaired by the absence of efforts on his part to maintain it. The beadle of our
parish is a splendid fellow. It is quite delightful to hear him, as he explains the state of
the existing poor laws to the deaf old women in the board- room passage on business
nights; and to hear what he said to the senior churchwarden, and what the senior
churchwarden said to him; and what 'we' (the beadle and the other gentlemen) came to
the determination of doing. A miserable-looking woman is called into the boardroom,
and represents a case of extreme destitution, affecting herself - a widow, with six small
children. 'Where do you live?' inquires one of the overseers. 'I rents a two-pair back,
gentlemen, at Mrs. Brown's, Number 3, Little King William's- alley, which has lived there
this fifteen year, and knows me to be very hard-working and industrious, and when my
poor husband was alive, gentlemen, as died in the hospital' - 'Well, well,' interrupts the