From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England

By Paul P. Slack | Go to book overview

4
THE PUBLIC GOOD

In The Poor Man's Friend, a tract published in 1649, Rice Bush celebrated a new beginning in 'reformation of and provision for the necessitous poor'. He dismissed the reformations of the past more quickly than previous chapters have done. 'Experience' showed that the 'many excellent orders and directions' in 'that book set forth by King Charles' -- the Book of Orders -- had failed to 'put life' into the poor laws. As for godly cities, some towns -- 'as Norwich, Ipswich, Dorchester' -- had managed to suppress idleness and beggary, but they were few in number. Much more promising now was the special Corporation of the Poor, established in 1647 to organize workhouses and employment in London; and Bush wished for further 'progress . . . in that godly work', in London and beyond. The poor should be surveyed: 'first number your poor'. They should have access to loan funds, to stocks of materials on which to work at home, to free 'physic and surgery' and free education for their children. What had been wanting so far, Bush said, was 'an improvement': 'an improvement' in 'laws, officers, time, materials, poor &c'. Now all was possible, if men would only 'improve their interest for the public good'.1


I

The Poor Man's Friend was one of a dozen tracts published between 1645 and 1653, all concerned with the problem of poverty, and all employing the same language to the same kinds of end. Their authors or publishers were without exception connected with the Hartlib circle, some at its centre, some on its fringes, and hence all influenced by that Baconian 'Great Instauration' whose all-embracing ambition Charles Webster has monumentally described.2 Their particular interest for us lies in the way that they

____________________
1
Rice Bush, The Poor Man's Friend ( 1649), title-page, sig. A2v, pp. 2, 3, 10, 12, 17, 18-20, 21. Samuel Hartlib also had a copy of the Book of Orders; and he knew of the Dorchester brewhouse, perhaps directly from John White: Sheffield University Library, Hartlib Papers [hereafter HP], 15/2/14; 28/1/21A, Ephemerides, 1649. (The Hartlib Papers are quoted from transcripts prepared by the Hartlib Papers Project, Sheffield, by permission of the Project Directors and the University Librarian.)
2
C. Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform 1626-1660 ( 1970). For tracts on the poor, see pp. 360-3, 368.

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From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Abbreviations viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - THE COMMON WEAL 5
  • 2 - GODLY CITIES 29
  • 3 - ABSOLUTE POWER 53
  • 4 - THE PUBLIC GOOD 77
  • 5 - THE PARLIAMENT'S REFORMATION 102
  • 6 - BODIES POLITIC 126
  • 7 - CIVIL SOCIETIES 150
  • Index 167
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