Circumstances, principally connected with my health, having induced me to fix my residence for a time at the Hot-Wells, my attention was attracted by a benevolent institution, entitled “The Prudent Man’s Friend Society,” formed at Bristol, for the purpose of promoting provident habits and a spirit of independence among the poor – That is, “an exemption from reliance upon others for support.” With this spirit, forethought, prudence, and industry are necessarily connected.

A principal object of the Society in question in “the establishment of a poor man’s [68] bank, in which he may safely lay up his savings to accumulate by interest, but with the power of drawing them out when wanted.” “This bank is guaranteed by men of known property and respectability.” The Society has also raised by subscription a fund, from which small sums, generally within five pound, are advanced to poor persons under temporary embarrassments, to be returned by small weekly or other payments. Habits of consideration, punctuality and integrity are by these means formed. No interest is exacted for the loans, nor are they renewed but at certain fixed intervals. Every borrower must bring with him vouchers for his character, and a friendly surety. Thus other excellent moral consequences are likely to be produced.

Another object of the Society is the suppression of mendacity, in which the character is found or made corrupt, and the discouragement of indiscriminate alms-giving, and all charities which, by their direct or indirect tendency, may prove injurious to the industry or independent habits of the poor.

Various other advantages of similar nature are comprehended by the institution, for a more particular account of which the reader is referred to a small book* published in connection with the Society at Bristol, entitled – “Hints towards the Formation of a Society for promoting a Spirit of Independence among the Poor.”

In this little work, the production of a lady to whom the Society is greatly indebted both for its plan and formation,1 the most admirable principles are stated and developed, with a spirit of enlightened and sound philosophy, a perspicuity and a comprehensiveness, that would reflect credit upon our best writers on political economy. “The time (observes the author) is, perhaps, not far distant, [69] when statesman and political economists will perceive and acknowledge, that the stability of a government, and the strength and happiness of an empire, depend not upon a numerous, degraded and half-starved population; but on one in which, from the prevalence of a spirit of virtuous independence, the necessaries if not the comforts of life are enjoyed by all; and where, from early formed habits of industry and prudence, the firmest foundation is laid for the superstructure of a highly moral and religious national character.”

The whole business of the institution, in which the writer above quoted takes, with a respectable female friend, under the title of Secretaries, a leading and active part, is managed and carried on with the utmost regularity and precision. Every case is registered. Thus the books of the institution become the records of the history and characters of the poor.

In the preceding dialogues it was my purpose to exemplify and illustrate the leading principles of a Society, in the views of which I felt solicitous, in some respects, however humbly, to co-operate – And also, while giving a public testimony of respect and esteem for those principles of active benevolence and enlightened charity upon which the institution is founded, to recommend them to general imitation.

Mary Hays.

Dowry Square,

Hot-Wells, Bristol.

*Published by Barry, High-street, Bristol.

Following the Postscript, William Button, the publisher, advertised two works by William Giles, The Guide to Domestic Happiness (10th ed.) and The Victim. In Five Letters to Adolphus. Giles (c. 1743-1825) was father-in-law of Samuel Palmer, whose brother, Nathaniel, married Joanna Dunkin, niece of Mary Hays, in 1798. The Gileses and Palmers (and most likely the Dunkins) attended the Baptist congregation in Dean Street, Southwark, in the 1780s and '90s, where Button served as minister.

1 Hints towards the Formation of a Society for Promoting a Spirit of Independence among the Poor (Bristol: Sold by B. Barry, [1812]). The Bristol Memorialist (1823) identifies the author as Susanna Morgan of Clifton, Secretary to the Society and a fellow member of the Committee along with Mary Hays in 1815 and 1816.