Page images
PDF
EPUB

if he attempted to give his appearance an air of decency, by drifting his hair With powder? Students in the learned professions, and many others, who obviously must make themselves fit to mix in company-with- persons their superiors in professional situation, would also feel it severely, by having a'check given to that line of conduct, without being allowed to continue which they could scarcely make their way to those steps of preferment, by which alone they could one day hope gradually to attain those embluments and honours, which it ought to be their honest ambition to aspire to. The principle os the tax was at war with the morals of the people; it fen-ed to confound and mislead their fense of moral rectitude, by converting what was not in itself immoral into a crime. It had indeed, his Lordssiip said, been too much the practice of Tax Bills of late to make this confusion of right and wring, by selecting objects of taxation not immoral in themselves, and yet declaring them so, for the purposes of the revenue. So convinced was his-judgment of the mischievous effect of this, that he declared he hadbfien more than once inclined to oppose them on that ground. *

'Another, and a radical objection also, in his mind was, the invidious distinction the tax would make between the indigent and the affluent; all distinctions of that nature ought at alt times to Be avoided, in a country like this. The Bill went to fix a certain badge or token, which could not be mistaken, and which, if the accounts of combinations and conspiracies that had been so industriously circulated were true, which he, for one, did not believe, would give persons concerned in such proceedings a certain mark for distinguishing those of their own way of thinking, by Act of Parliament. Let their Lordships jlso recollect, that this tax might give rife to a watch-word, which, however ludicrous and absurd in the first instance, might lead to serious consequences. The newspaper writers already talked of the contrast between the Guinea Pigs and the Sivinijh Multitude., and the print-fliops who dealt in caricature, had exemplified the idea. Surely at this time past experience had not been so wholly unattended to, as not to have strongly indicated the impolicy of suffering watch-words to get into use too easily. The distinction of Roundhead and Cavalier, in the i-fh century, originated in a circumstance equally trivial atf that of wearing or not wearing hair-powder; and yet they all fcnew to what scenes of inveterate animosity and fatal mischief those idle nick"-names gave rise. Perhaps the distinction of Whig and Tory might be traced to a source as, insignificant; and they all knew, thai the distinction had entirely govcrned'the world of political party ever since. Even the song of LiUibullero, fung in

N 2" th^ the camp of James the lid. did more than so trifling a cause could previously have been imagined likely to effect. Theirv .Lordships would do well to pause a moment on those historical facts, and call to mind that this was the first time that a British subject had been laid under restrictions respecting the dress he thought proper to wear ; besides the manifest injustice of obliging those who had not a fiftieth part of his income to pay the sanie price of duty for powdering his hair, that he was called upon to pay on that account. In the cafe of persons, who, like the students he had mentioned, had but slender incomes, it would prove a most oppressive tax. How ill, se_\ instance, could a subaltern officer on half-pay afford a guinea out of his scanty receipt! In fact, he could not afford to pay it. An old proverb said, the additional weight of a fly on a person suffering under extreme pressure, would render that pressure intolerable j and yet this metaphor of the weight of a fly fell short of the degree of pressure of forcing one guinea a year out of the pocket of a man, whose whole income amounted to no more than £34 a year. Let their Lordships for a moment turn that in their minds, and he was persuaded their humanity would induce them to support the clause a Noble, Lord meant to offer that day.

The Bill, the Earl observed, would have a further pernicious effect —it would encourage informers by giving them one half of the penalty; and how easily might an information be grounded against even those, who might not mean to offend, against the statute I Is powder was worn once only in the year, the tax was incurred, and if a certificate had not been taken out, the penalty might be demanded, and the party, if not able to pay it, rendered liable to great difficulty and distress. His Lordship put the case of a kitchen-wench, out of a Christmas frolic, seizing the dredging-box on a holiday night, and dusting her hair for once with flour, perfectly unconscious of the consequences. The wench might be informed against, convicted, the penalty levied, and she, unable to pay the informer his half, although the other moiety might be remitted, was liable to be sent to jail, and thus without a hope of extrication, from the humility of her state and condition, compelled to spend the remainder of her days in a prison. Were their Lordships aware when they felt willing to vote this tax, that they were about to vote such a severe punishment as imprisonment for life to a poor wretch, for the mere frolic, innocent in itself, of catching up the dredging-box once, and dusting her hair with a little flour i

Lord GreniAIU in reply (aid, there never was a period when, (he unpleasant duty of finding taxes capable of producing a

revenue revenue equal to the extraordinary exigencies of the times, pressed more irresistibly on ministers. The tax in question, he owned, he had thought particularly excellent, as it was a tax on the vanity and luxury of individuals, a tax that fell more particularly on the rich, and those who were able to bear it, and did not affect the poor. It would undoubtedly bear hard on certain individuals, which he lamented as much as the Noble Earl did, but what tax could possibly be found that would not press somewhere in a manner much to be regretted? The tax on hair-powder, he really believed, was, and would continue to be, a popular tax, and with good reason. With regard to what had fallen from the Noble Lord, in respect to watch-words and nick-names, he believed that when ill-disposed persons chose to have their jest at any price, they never were at a loss for occasions to fix upon, and that one occasion would serve them just as well as another. (If, therefore, in & moment of pressing necessity, .ministers were to be terrified from doing their duty from a weak apprehension that their efforts would produce such idle consequences, they would in his mind be utterly unfit for their situations.

To return more immediately to the tax—it could not be called oppressive with any colour of justice, as no man was obliged to wear powder in his hair; it was a matter for his own option entirely, and if he chose to wear it, he at the same time knew what he was to pay for that indulgence to his persona) pride. With respect to the penalty, the same argument that the Noble Earl had used on that ground, would equally apply to every Tax Bill that ever passed Parliament, and received the sanction of the Legislature. When it was decreed to lay a new duty in order to raise a large sum for public purposes, it became indispensibly necessary to accompany it with the means of rendering it efficient and productive to the amount which it was clear it might reasonably be expected to raise. But before he fat down, he begged to remind the House of the period of the session, the near approach of the time when the operation of the tax was to commence under the Bill, and the known practice of the other House under the constitution, whenever an alteration was made by their Lordships in a Bill termed a Money Bill. He warned the House, therefore, of the danger of risking the fate of the Bill by any alteration, and he declared it did not appear to him that any alterations, were necessary.

The Earl os Moira replied and said, he could not agree with the Noble Secretary of. State on the subject of making distinctions, in their nature invidious, and which would afford opportunities for watch-words and nick-names. People

3 were were In times like the present prone enough of. themselves to form into clubs and parties without being stimulated to it by Act of Parliament. To one part of his argument the Noble Lord had not in his mind given any answer, vrz. the principle of the tax being at war with the morals of the people. It was in his conception a strong objection against it, that it confounded morality and justice, and converted that into a crime, which was not of itself immoral.

Lord Sydney paid a just tribute to the talents and eloquence, of the Noble Earl who had just fat down, and said, he was sure if the Noble Earl himself thought lightly of either, every other person entertained a very different opinion respecting, both; on the present occasion he could not help thinking that, the Noble Earl felt more apprehension, than the occasion appeared to him to call for. The tax he really considered as a, most unexceptionable one.; it was clearly a tax on vanity and, on luxury, because hair-powder was certainly not a necessary of life, and no man was obliged to wear it unless he chose it; he could not help therefore being somewhat surprised at the opposition which had been given to it. His Lordship said, the Noble Earl had conjured up a case, which he should conceive the chicane of the most ingenious advocate could not so construe and colour, as to make it pass before a judge for a crime, or that fort of violation of the Act which would incur the penalty, viz. the cafe of a kitchen-wench seizing a dredging-box and throwing some flour in her hair on a holiday night, by way of frolic. He verily believed no very serious instance of the danger of becoming liable to the tax without intending it could easily be found, and therefore he did not much wonder that a ludicrous one should be selected. It was not very frequently his habit to refer to the newspapers to see in what manner what he' said in that House was represented, but he owned he was sorry to find he had been misapprehended, the last time he had spoken on the Bill. It had, it seems, been conceived that he had spoken against the exemption in favour of half-pay officers, which a Noble Friend of his had recommended; die fact was, as such of their Lordships as were present would recollect, he had net said one word on the subject, half-pay officers hot having been mentioned when he rose to deliver his sentiments of the particular topic (hen. In discussion, wj, the clause which related to the obligation imposed On masters of families. No man living had a higher respect for half-pay officers than he had; he thought them <?iuit!ccl to every possible consideration, he would not say out; of savour, but on a principle of common gratitude. They tjad sought our battles, they had bled, in the service of their

country i country, and such as were not disabled by their woundsj he had not the smallest, doubt, would still be proud to fight for their country, whenever she was attacked by her enemies* It was therefore no merit in him to profess an opinion in their be-, half; it was merely the discharge of a duty incumbent on himself, and upon every one of the British subjects. Indeed

'so strongly did he feel for that meritorious class of officers, that he could not venture to trust himself with all he wished to say in their behalf. Certainly it was not his wish that a Bill that was highly probable to be so popular and productive, should be' lost by risking its fate, in consequence of any alter

'ations' their Lordships might make in it. They all knew what the practice of the other House was respecting Money Bills sent down altered by their Lordships, and speaking as a constitutional man, he thought it a salutary practice. There might therefore be some danger of losing the Bill altogether, if any step their Lordships took respecting it, mould give occasion for a new Bill to be brought in, and expose it to new discussion at that period of the session. If then ministers thought it unadvifeable to adopt any clause in favour of half*

'pay officers, he earnestly implored them to do something adequately, if not more satisfactory, in behalf of a worthy set of men, to whom every individual in the country was Under obligation, who were gentlemen from their rank and services, and ought to be regarded as such by all, as well those who were not more favoured in, respect to fortune, a& those xvho might have more wealth, but who very rare-* If, if ever, would be found to possess half their talents and virtue.

The BTll having been read a third time,

Lbrd Mulgrave rose to propose an additional clause to exempt half-pay officers from the tax, agreeable to the notice he had given on Thursday last. His Lordstiip explained the grounds on which he had been induced to bring forward the clause which he should have the honour to submit to their Lordships. An exemption of clergymen and dissenters, whole incomes did not amount to J£ioo per annum, already stood part of the Bill, and he thought it highly proper that it should do so } but surely if such an exemption were deemed right in favour of the clergy, how much stronger must be the claims of the subaltern half-pay officers, the income of many of whom was no more than ^'34 a year, and even those of subalterns of a higher rank only about ten pounds more, 'llic subalterns of the army, who, from the reduction of their regiments, from wounds, from loss of limbs, were put upon Lalf-pay, were still gentlemen, and entitled to that rank in society;

« PreviousContinue »