The Forming of the Charitable Institutions of the West of England: A Study of the Changing Pattern of Social Aspirations in Bristol and Somerset, 1480-1660

The Forming of the Charitable Institutions of the West of England: A Study of the Changing Pattern of Social Aspirations in Bristol and Somerset, 1480-1660

The Forming of the Charitable Institutions of the West of England: A Study of the Changing Pattern of Social Aspirations in Bristol and Somerset, 1480-1660

The Forming of the Charitable Institutions of the West of England: A Study of the Changing Pattern of Social Aspirations in Bristol and Somerset, 1480-1660

Excerpt

This study bears a direct relationship to a larger work now in progress. The first volume, published in 1959 under the title, Philanthropy in England, 1480- 1660, was an essay commenting on evidence drawn from ten English counties (among them Bristol and Somerset) which together comprised something like a third of the land mass of the realm, about a third of the population in 1600, and perhaps half of the wealth of England in the age with which we are concerned. An effort was made to assess the social problems of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to describe the nature of the problem of poverty in this era, and to trace out the heroic measures which men took to secure its control, if not its cure. Though important remedial legislation was enacted, it was our conclusion that men of the age reposed their principal confidence in private charity, gathered in charitable trusts into large and disciplined aggregates of wealth with which extremely effective and enduring social institutions could be founded and maintained. Men of the age by their own efforts and with their own substance gained a large measure of control over the spreading and chronic social blight of poverty and, more importantly, went far towards securing its prevention by a vast enlargement of the ambit of social and economic opportunity.

The reader of this essay may wish to refer to that volume for a fuller explanation of the historical method employed, for comment on its limitations, and for certain conclusions based upon large masses of evidence drawn from the ten selected counties, among which Bristol and Somerset are numbered. In particular, we would emphasize the comments made there on the decline in the purchasing power of money through most of our period, which affects, of course, the statistical evidence presented throughout this work. Generally, however, it may be said that the philanthropic impulse was derived from many sources during our period and that it evoked a steadily and rapidly mounting charitable response which reached a great climax of giving in the first generation of the seventeenth century, when, it is not too much to say, the basic institutions of the modern society were securely established. Men's aspirations underwent a notable metamorphosis in the century following the English Reformation . . .

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