The Mendicity Association

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXVI (23) | Start of Chapter

With my first and constant friend Miss H. I went to the Mendicity; and to a tourist this institution is one of no small interest. Paupers assemble here in the morning, and stay till six at night, and get two meals for picking oakum. The breakfast is stirabout; the dinner, potatoes and some kind of herbage pounded together, well peppered, put into barrels, shovelled out into black tins, and set out upon the floor.* Here they sit upon the dirty boards, and eat, some with spoons and some with their fingers. It was a most disgusting sight. The crowd was immense. Never had I seen so much filth embodied in one mass, with so many ugly, forlorn, and loathsome faces. They seemed to be the "odds and ends" of the workmanship of ages, flung together into this pile, as offal that had been picked and culled, torn and shaken, till all that could be used had been worked up. We turned from the forbidding sight into the school-room, where the children of these woe-begone parents were assembled for instruction; and here a war was in progress, between the mistress and a woman who had entered demanding the services of a scholar. The mistress refused, and the fight became so serious that I begged the overseer to take the case in hand. He declined, and the battle ended in favor of the mistress. This Mendicity does this: it keeps many from actual starvation, and is a tolerable quietus to the penurious, who would rather see a fellow-being metamorphosed into a brute, than lighten their purses.

Who could look on a sight like this without asking, what political economy could produce such a picture of God's best and noblest workmanship? What fountain but the stagnant Lake of Sodom could send forth streams like these? Where is the somebody that has done all this, and what is his name and genealogy? Bring him out, if he can be traced, in the face of the congregation—yes, in the face of high heaven. Let him be examined before the judges, and if he cannot

* I did not then see any tables, though they have them now.

answer for this his strange work, send him away; let him hide his face for ever from the face of man. If it he voluntary idleness, pay the culprit no premium for sloth and filth. "He that will not work shall not eat," should be the stereotyped motto while seed-time and harvest remain. But if his idleness be, because no man hath hired him; if his rags be the remuneration for days of faithful toil; if there be a watchman on Judah's towers, a nobleman, a husbandman, a shopkeeper, who has defrauded this poor man of his wages, who has kept back part of the price that he should give, let him see to it, and let him see to it in season; for God, be assured, is a correct accountant. Not a figure will be added or subtracted wrong. Not an injured poor man will cry to him for redress, but that cry will be heard. Not a forbidding mendicant, who here has his food flung out to him as though he were a dog or an ass, but has his cause registered in the high court of heaven, and the immaculate Lamb of God is his pleader. And that Pleader never practised, and never acknowledged any benevolence but a self-denying one, and paid no honor to any station but honest poverty. "He took on him the form of a servant." Was this, I ask, disgracing poverty?

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.