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* shadows of a shade,” compared to the irresistible necessities of nature. “Not to be led into temptation,” is the prayer of divinity itself; and to guard against, or rather to prevent, such insnaring situations, is one of the greatest heights of human prudence: in private life it is partly religious; and in a Revenue sense, it is truly political.
The rich, in ease and affluence, may think I have drawn an unnatural portrait; but could they descend to the cold regions of want, the circle of polar poverty, they would find their opinions changing with the climate. There are habits of thinking peculiar to different conditions, and to find them out is truly to study mankind.
That the situation of an Excise officer is of this dangerous kind, must be allowed by every one who will consider the trust unavoidably reposed in him, and compare the narrowness of his circumstances with the hardship of the times. If the salary was judged competent an hundred years ago, it cannot be so now. Should it be advanced, that if the present set of officers are dissatisfied with the salary, that enow may be procured not only for the present salary, but for less; the answer is extremely easy. The question needs only to be put; it destroys itself. Were two or three thousand men to offer to execute the office without any salary, would the government accept them? No. Were the same number to offer the same service for a salary less than can possibly support them, would the government accept them? Certainly not; for while nature, in spite of law or religion, makes it a ruling principle not to starve, the event would be this, that as they could not live on the salary, they would discretionally live out of the duty. Quere, whether poverty has not too great an influence now? Were the employment a place of direct labour, and not of trust, then frugality in the salary would be sound policy: but when it is considered that the greatest single branch of the Revenue, a duty amounting to near five millions sterling, is annually charged by a set of men, most of whom are wanting even the common necessaries of life, the thought must, to every friend to honesty, to every person concerned in the management of the public money, be strong and striking. Poor and in power, are powerful templations; I call it power, because they have it in their power to defraud. T'he trust unavoidably reposed in an Excise-officer is so great, that it would be an act of wisdom, and perhaps of interest, to secure him from the temptations of downright poverty. To relieve their wants
would be charity, but to secure the Revenue by so doing, would be prudence. Scarcely a week passes at the office but some detections are made of fraudulent and collusive proceedings. The poverty of the officers is the fairest bait for a designing trader that can possibly be; such introduce themselves to the officer under the common plea of the insufficiency of the salary. Every considerate mind must allow, that poverty and opportunity corrupt many an honest
I am not at all surprised that so many opulent and reputable traders have recommended the case of the officers to the good favour of their representatives. They are sensible of the pinching circumstances of the officers, and of the injury to trade in general, from the advantages which are taken of them. The welfare of the fair trader, and the security of the Revenue, are so inseparably one, that their interest or injuries are alike. It is the opinion of such whose situation gives them a perfect knowledge in the matter, that the Revenue suffers more by the corruption of a few officers in a county, than would make a handsome addition to the salary of the whole number in the same place.
I very lately knew an instance where it is evident, on comparison of the duty charged since, that the Revenue suffered by one trader (and be not a very considerable one) upwards of one hundred and sixty pounds per ann. for several years; and yet the benefit to the officer was a mere trifle, in consideration of the trader's. Without doubt the officer would have thought himself much happier to have received the same addition another way. The bread of deceit is a bread of bitterness; but alas! how few in times of want and hardship are capable of thinking so: objects appear under new colours, and in shapes not naturally their own; hunger sucks in the deception, and necessity reconciles it to conscience.
The commissioners of Excise strongly enjoin, that no officer accept any treat, gratuity, or, in short, lay himself under any kind of obligation to the traders under their survey: the wisdom of such an injunction is evident; but the practice of it, surrounded with children and poverty, is scarcely possible ; and such obligations, wherever they exist, must operate, directly or indirectly, to the injury of the Revenue. Favours will naturally beget their likenesses, especially where the return is not at our own expence.
I have heard it remarked, by a gentleman whose knowledge in Excise business is indisputable, that there are numbers of officers who are even afraid to look into an unentered room, lest they should give offence. Poverty and obligation tie up the hands of office, and give a prejudicial bias to the mind.
There is another kind of evil, wbich, though it may never amount to what may be deemed criminality in law, yet it may amount to what is much worse in effect, and that is, a constant and perpetual leakage in the Revenue: a sort of gratitude in the dark, a distant requital for such civilities as only the lowest poverty would accept, and which are a thousand per cent. above the value of the civility received. Yet there is no immediate collusion; the trader and officer are both safe; the design, if discovered, passes for error.
These, with numberless other evils, have all their origin in the poverty of the officers. Poverty, in defiance of principle, begets a degree of meanness that will stoop to almost any thing. A thousand refinements of argument may be brought to prove, that the practice of honesty will be still the same, in the most trying and necessitous circumstances. He who never was an hungered man may argue finely on the subjection of his appetite, and he who never was distressed, may harangue as beautifully on the power of principle. But poverty, like grief, has an incurable deafness, which never hears; the oration loses all its edge; and' “ To be, or not to be,” becomes the only question.
There is a striking difference between dishonesty arising from want of food, and want of principle. The first is worthy of compassion, the other of punishment. Nature never produced a man who would starve in a well-stored larder, because the provisions were not his own: but he who robs it from luxury of appetite, deserves a gibbet.
There is another evil which the poverty of the salary produces, and which nothing but an augmentation can remove; and that is, negligence and indifference. These may not appear of such dark complexion as fraud and collusion, but their injuries to the Revenue are the same. It is impossible that any office or business can be regarded as it ought, where this ruinous disposition exists. It requires no sort of argument to prove, that the value set upon any place or employment, will be in proportion to the value of it; and that diligence or negligence will arise from the same cause. The continual number of relinquishments and dis
charges always happening in the Excise, are evident proofs of it.
Persons first coming into the Excise, form very different notions of it, to what they have afterwards. The gay ideas of promotion soon expire ; continuance of work, the strictness of the duty, and the poverty of the salary, soon beget negligence and indifference: the course continues for a while, the Revenue suffers, and the officer is discharged: the vacancy is soon filled up, new ones arise to produce the same mischief, and share the same faté.
What adds still more to the weight of this gievance is, that this destructive disposition reigns most among such as are otherwise the most proper and qualified for the employment; such as are neither fit for the Excise, or any thing else, are glad to hold in by any means : but the Revenue lies at as much bazard from their want of judgment, as from the other's want of diligeuce.
In private life, no man would trust the execution of any important concern, to a servant who was careless whether he did it or not, and the same rule must hold good in a Revenue sense. The commissioners may continue discharging every day, and the example will have no weight while the salary is an object so inconsiderable, and this disposition has such a general existence. Should it be advanced, that if men will be careless of such bread as is in their possession, they will still be the same were it better; I answer that, as the disposition I am speaking of, is not the effect of natural idleness, but of dissatisfaction in point of profit, they would not continue the same. A good servant will be careful of a good place, though very indifferent about a bad one. Besides, this spirit of indifference, should it procure a discharge, is no way affecting to their circumstances. The easy transition of a qualified officer to a compting-house, or at least a school-master, at any time, as it naturally supports and backs his indifference about the Excise, so it takes off all punishment from the order wbenever it happens.
I have known numbers discharged from the Excise, who would have been a credit to their patrons and the employment, could they have found it worth their while to have attended to it. No man enters into the Excise with any higher expectations than a competent maintenance; but not to find even that, can produce nothing but corruption, collusion, and neglect.
Remarks on the Qualification of Officers.
In employments where direct labour only is wanting, and trust quite out of the question, the service is merely animal or mechanical. In cutting a river, or forming a road, as there is no possibility of fraud, the merit of honesty is but of little weight. Health, strength, and hardiness, are the labourer's virtues. But where property depends on the trust, and lies at the discretion of the servant, the judgment of the master takes a different channel, both in the choice and the
wages. The honest and the dissolute have here no comparison of merit. A known thief may be trusted to gather stones; but a steward ought to be proof against the temptations of uncounted gold.
The Excise is so far from being of the nature of the first, that it is all, and more than can commonly be put together in the last : it is a place of poverty, of trust, of opportunity, and temptation. A compound of discords, where the more they harmonize, the more they offend.
To be properly qualified for the employment, it is not only necessary that the person should be honest, but that he be sober, diligent, and skilful; sober, that he may be always capable of business; diligent, that he may be always in his business; and skilful, that he may be able to prevent or detect frauds against the Revenue. The want of any of these qualifications is a capital offence in the Excise. complaint of drunkenness, negligence, or ignorance, is certain death by the laws of the board. It cannot then be all sorts of persons who are proper for the office. The very notion of procuring a sufficient number for even less than the present salary, is so destitute of every degree of sound reason, that it needs no reply. The employment, from the insufficiency of the salary, is already become so inconsiderable in the general opinion, that persons of any capacity or reputation will keep out of it; for where is the mechanic, or even the labourer, who cannot earn at least 1s. 9 d. per day? It certainly cannot be proper to take the dregs of every calling, and to make the Excise the common receptacle for the indigent, the ignorant, and the calamitous,