VAGRANTS, or TRAMPS, a class of beggars, many thousands in number, who, having their headquarters in the large towns in England, wander about the country, subsisting upon charity and plunder. In England the spirit of the laws and still more of the pub lic opinion have always been averse to putting restraints upon the inclinations of even viciously disposed persons, and, consequently, the country has never been without a class of habitual vagrants—beggars and pilferers by profession. But there is reason to be lieve that the number of these social pests has, for many years past, been declining, abso lutely as well as relatively to population. The statute-book has long contained laws against but they have never been systematically executed. The severest of the early laws were directed against the gypsies—at one time a really formidable class of vagrants—and against wandering soldiers and marines, and persons pretend ing to he discharged soldiers and marines. Such vagrants were made liable to the pun islimout of felony. The vagrancy laws are now comprised in the acts 5 Geo. IV. c. 83, 1 and 2 Viet. c. 38, the vagrant act amendment act of 1873, supplemented by local police regulations. Those statutes (using the descriptive phrases of previous enactments) made idle and disorderly persons—that is, persons able, in whole or in part, to maintain themselves and their families, and neglecting to do so—liable to one month's imprison ment and bard labor; rogues and vagabonds (habitual vagrants and persons suspected of living by crime), liable to three months' imprisonment and hard labor; and a third class, described as incorrigible rogues, liable to be committed for trial at the sessions, to be kept to hard labor in the interim, and after conviction, to be sentenced to one year's imprisonment and hard labor, with whipping in the case of males. The police have authority to enter houses of reception for travelers, and to arrest persons suspected of falling under any of the above named descriptions, and carry them before a magistrate for trial. But between the difficulty of finding satisfactory evidence of the character of persons thus found wandering, the commendable fenr of making mistakes, the popular feeling that vagrancy is not a crime, and the unwillingness of magistrates to add to the expanse of prison cstsblishments, the statutory powers have never been used to such an extent as to affect the prevalence of vagrancy.
On the other band, a direct and material support has 'been given to vagrancy by the arangements which, under the new poor-law, now exist in most, districts for the relief of the traveling poor. In almost every union workhouse in England there is a
casual ward, intended for poor artisans and laborers making their way, as they some times have to do, from places where work is slack to places where it is plentiful. The casual ward has been taken possession of by the vagrant, for whom the law provides only a prison-cell. From two-thirds to three-fourths of its occupants are usually habitual vagrants. Here the vagrant gets his supper, his bed, and in most ceseshis breakfast. The fare is exceedingly meager—a little bread with occasionally a bit of cheese, or a small quan tity of skillet'' (gruel); and the sleeping accommodation is usually worse than that of the lowest lodging-houses—cleauliness being impossible with such occupants, and there being no desire to give them comfort. But the vagrant gets supplies of food in his by begging and plundering; and he seeks the casual ward chiefly for the .shelter and the society. In 1848 Mr. Charles Buller, then president of the poor-law board, prescribed a set of rules, which for a time almost deprived the vagrant of this Relief was to lie refused to all able-bodied young men unless they produced passes or certificates declaring their character from a clergyman or some person in a public position, or unless the workhouse officials were satisfied they were actually des titute; orders for the casual ward were to be given only by the police—whom the tramp regards as his natural enemies ; and a suitable task of work was to be exacted from every person relieved. But these rules were soon withdrawn. In a good many cases, the police are still employed to give away the orders, and on the whole with advantage; but passes (this was the reallF valuable regulation) are not required ; and in not a few cases, no task of work is exacted, because the poor-law guardians found that they lost money upon the work done by vagrants. In other cases, an option is given to the tramp of doing a certain amount of work, or going away in the morning without his breakfast. He almost always prefers the latter alternative: But, in general, about three hours' work is imposed ; and when the workhouse authorities insist upon it, the vagrants usually—though greatly disliking work—comply with this condition.