So that it is necessary to sort the world into parcels--seamen with seamen, soldiers with soldiers, and the like.
Nor is this a new thing; the friendly society must not pretend to assume to themselves the contrivance of the method, or think us guilty of borrowing from them, when we draw this into other branches; for I know nothing is taken from them but the bare words, "friendly society," which they cannot pretend to be any considerable piece of invention either.
I can refer them to the very individual practice in other things, which claims prescription beyond the beginning of the last age, and that is in our marshes and fens in Essex, Kent, and the Isle of Ely; where great quantities of land being with much pains and a vast charge recovered out of the seas and rivers, and maintained with banks (which they call walls), the owners of those lands agree to contribute to the keeping up those walls and keeping out the sea, which is all one with a friendly society; and if I have a piece of land in any level or marsh, though it bounds nowhere on the sea or river, yet I pay my proportion to the maintenance of the said wall or bank; and if at any time the sea breaks in, the damage is not laid upon the man in whose land the breach happened, unless it was by his neglect, but it lies on the whole land, and is called a "level lot."
Again, I have known it practised in troops of horse, especially when it was so ordered that the troopers mounted themselves; where every private trooper has agreed to pay, perhaps, 2d. per diem out of his pay into a public stock, which stock was employed to remount any of the troop who by accident should lose his horse.
Again, the sailors' contribution to the Chest at Chatham is another friendly society, and more might be named.
To argue against the lawfulness of this would be to cry down common equity as well as charity: for as it is kind that my neighbour should relieve me if I fall into distress or decay, so it is but equal he should do so if I agreed to have done the same for him; and if God Almighty has commanded us to relieve and help one another in distress, surely it must be commendable to bind ourselves by agreement to obey that command; nay, it seems to be a project that we are led to by the divine rule, and has such a latitude in it that for aught I know, as I said, all the disasters in the world might be prevented by it, and mankind be secured from all the miseries, indigences, and distresses that happen in the world. In which I crave leave to be a little particular.
First general peace might be secured all over the world by it, if all the powers agreed to suppress him that usurped or encroached upon his neighbour. All the contingencies of life might be fenced against by this method (as fire is already), as thieves, floods by land, storms by sea, losses of all sorts, and death itself, in a manner, by making it up to the survivor.
I shall begin with the seamen; for as their lives are subject to more hazards than others, they seem to come first in view.
Sailors are les enfants perdus, "the forlorn hope of the world;" they are fellows that bid defiance to terror, and maintain a constant war with the elements; who, by the magic of their art, trade in the very confines of death, and are always posted within shot, as I may say, of the grave. It is true, their familiarity with danger makes them despise it (for which, I hope, nobody will say they are the wiser); and custom has so hardened them that we find them the worst of men, though always in view of their last moment.
I have observed one great error in the custom of England relating to these sort of people, and which this way of friendly society would be a remedy for:
If a seaman who enters himself, or is pressed into, the king's service be by any accident wounded or disabled, to recompense him for the loss, he receives a pension during life, which the sailors call "smart-money," and is proportioned to their hurt, as for the loss of an eye, arm, leg, or finger, and the like: and as it is a very honourable thing, so it is but reasonable that a poor man who loses his limbs (which are his estate) in the service of the Government, and is thereby disabled from his labour to get his bread, should be provided for, and not suffer to beg or starve for want of those limbs he lost in the service of his country.