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The Progress of the Nation page 13

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To avoid the nuisance of carriages on such roads the habit prevailed of travelling very much on horseback; but then it required to go well armed, and, if possible, in company, for the country was infested by highwaymen. The adventures of horsemen were commonly as numerous and exciting as those who used carriages, though mails and carriages were also frequently stopped by the Nevisons, Biases, and Claude Duvals of the day. To abate the difficulties of the road, on the restoration the turnpike system was adopted - a new era in road-making - and what were called flying coaches were put on the amended ways, which conveyed passengers at a better rate; but it was only in our time that Macadam made the highways really passable at all seasons.

During the commonwealth, travellers met equally provoking impediments in passing through towns, if they dared to travel on Sundays. There was a fine for such a breach of the Sabbath; and El wood describes his ludicrous dilemma when riding to a Friends' meeting on Sunday, on a borrowed horse, with a borrowed hat and great coat; for his father had locked up his own horse, hat, and coat to keep him from the conventicle. Being stopped and brought before a magistrate, he was ordered to pay the fine; but he replied that he had no money. "You have a good horse, however," observed the magistrate. "That is borrowed," said Elwood. "Well, you have a good great coat." "That is borrowed, too," added Elwood. "Nay, then, we must have your hat, it is a good one." "That also is borrowed," continued the young quaker. At which the magistrate, declaring that he never saw such a traveller in his life, who had nothing but what was borrowed, ordered him to be detained till the morrow, and then sent back again.

In the times we are now reviewing the tables were turned, and the royalist churchmen and squirearchy were employing their country leisure in breaking up the conventicles of all sorts of dissenters, pulling down the meeting-houses of the obstinate quakers, and sending them to prison by shoals. Sir Christopher Wren, by order of the king, tried his hand at pulling down quakers' meeting-houses, before he built St. Paul's. The spirit of political and ecclesiastical party violence raged through the country, and formed a strange contrast, in the cruelties and oppression practised on the truly religious portion of the community, to the profligacy of the gentry and, above all, of the court. What rendered this condition of things more gloomy was the low position which the country clergy then occupied. The property of the church having fallen into the hands of the aristocracy, the generality of country livings were poor, and depended chiefly on the small tithes and a miserable glebe of a few acres. Whilst some few men of distinguished abilities, like Burnet, Tillotson, Barrow, and Stillingfleet, rose to distinction and occupied the few wealthy dignities and livings, the parish clergymen were too commonly men of low origin and little education. Men of family disdained the office, and the chaplain of a great house was looked on as little better than a servant; married the cook or the housekeeper, and became the hanger-on of some country hall, joining in the rude riot and the ruder jests of his patron. Even so late as Fielding's time, as we have already remarked, the relative position of the squire and the parson were those of Western and parson Adams.

Perhaps the most pleasing feature of country life was that of the position of the yeoman, or man of small independent property. This class had been increased by the various distributions of great estates; and it is calculated that at this time one-seventh at least of the population consisted of men with their families who lived on their own little demesnes producing from fifty to a hundred pounds a year. The number of men who farmed the lands of the aristocracy at that time is affirmed to have been much fewer than those who farmed their own. This independence of condition gave them independence of mind, and it was amongst this class that the strongest resistance to the dominance and intolerance of the squirearchy was found. Many of them during the civil wars and the commonwealth adopted the puritan faith, and continued to maintain it in defiance of five-mile acts, conventicle acts, and acts of uniformity. From them has descended the sturdy spirit which, uniting with the same in towns, has continued to vindicate the liberties and manly bearing of the British population.

Nor amid the corruptions and bitternesses of the times had all the ancient poetical customs of the people disappeared. Neither the asceticism of the puritan nor the profligacy of the cavalier had been able to utterly extinguish such customs as had a touch of nature in them. The Londoners made their swarming excursions to Greenwich, and Richmond, and Epping Forest, where they gave way to all their pent-up fun and frolic, and enlivened the banks of the Thames with their songs as they rowed to and fro. The old holidays of the departed church still survived. Valentine's day was still a day of love missive, and of presents of gloves, jewellery, silk stockings, and ornamental garters from gentlemen to their valentines. Mayday reassumed its jollity; may-poles, put down by the commonwealth, again lifted their heads; and Herrick's beautiful verses resumed their reality: -

There's not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up and gone to bring in May;
A deal of youth ere this is come
Back, and with whitethorn laden, home.

The puritans beheld the return of the custom with horror. In 1660, the year that Charles II. and may-poles came back again, a puritan, writing from Newcastle, says: - "Sir, - The country as well as the town abounds with vanities, now the reins of liberty and licentiousness are let loose. May-poles, and players, and jugglers, and all things else now pass current. Sin now appears with a brazen face." Just as Charles and James were landing, in the merry month of May, at Dover, Thomas Hall published his "Funebriae Florae, the Downfall of May-games" - a most inopportune moment. Yet he stoutly put into the mouth of the maypole - for he assumed it to have a mouth - as well as the whole catalogue of mortal sins, the following confession: -

I have a mighty retinue,
The scum of all the rascal crew
Of fidlers, pedlars, jayle-'scaped slaves,
Of tinkers, turncoats, toss-pot knaves,
Of thieves and scapethrifts many a one,
With bouncing Bess and jolly Joan,
With idle boyes and journeymen,
And vagrants that their country run;
Yea, Hobby-horse doth hither prance,
Maid Marian, and the Morris-dance.
My summons fetcheth far and near
All that can swagger, roar, and swear;
All that can dance, and drab, and drink;
They run to me as to a sink.
These sin for their commander take,
And I do them my black-guard make.
I tell them 'tis a time to laugh,
To give themselves free leave to quaff,
To drink their healths upon their knee,
And mix their talk with ribaldry.
Old crones, that scarce have tooth or eye,
But crooked back and lamed thigh,
Must have a frisk and shake their heel,
As if no stitch or ache they feel.
I bid the servant disobey,
The child to say her parents nay.
The poorer sort that have no coin
I can command them to purloin.
All this and more I warrant good,
For 'tis to maintain neighbourhood.
The honour of the sabbath-day
My dancing-greens have ta'en away.
Let preachers prate till they grow wood,
Where I am they can do no good.

With equal horror the puritans beheld the old sports at village wakes and Whitsuntide, the jollity of harvest homes, and the mirthful uproar of Christmas, come back. New Year's day, with its gifts - a Roman custom as old as Romulus - not only reappeared as a means of expressing affection amongst friends, but as a source of great profit to the king and nobility. For as Numa ordered gifts to be given to the gods on that day, so gifts were now presented by the nobility to the king, and long after his time by the dependents of the nobility, and those who sought favour from them, to the nobles. Pepys says that the whole fortunes of some courtiers consisted in these gifts. But Christmas-boxes, which originate in New Year's gifts, and have become confounded with them in this country, have survived the New Year's gifts of the time we are reviewing, and become a senseless demand from tradesmen, journeymen, and apprentices, because you have obliged their masters with your custom.

Growth of the Revenue and of Commerce

The great evidences of the. growth of a nation are the increase of its trade, its population, and its governmental revenue. When these three things continue to augment, pari passu, there can be no question of the substantial progress of agnation. All these had been steadily on the increase during this period, and the advocates of royalty point to these circumstances to prove the mischiefs of the civil wars and the commonwealth. It would be enough in reply, even did we admit the reality of the alleged facts, to observe that the mischief, whatever it was, was necessitated by the crimes and tyrannies of royalty. But it is necessary only to look carefully at the whole case to see that the prosperity following the restoration had its source in the. commonwealth. Spite of the violent changes and dislocations of society during the period of the conflict with Charles I., these upheavings and tempests threw' down and swept away a host of things which cramped and smothered the free action of commerce and internal industry. The lava which burst in fiery streams from the volcano of revolution, though it might for a time destroy life and property, only required a little more time to moulder and fertilise the earth. A host of mischievous monopolies were annihilated in this convulsion. The foreign commerce was carefully extended. Not only at home were Englishmen relieved from the incubus of government, absolutism, and interference with private speculation, but the haughty fleets of Dutch, and French, and Spaniards were swept from the ocean, and English merchants were encouraged to extend their enterprises, not only by the greater security at sea, but by the act of the Long Parliament allowing the import of commodities from its colonies and possessions in America, Asia, and Africa, only in English bottoms. This, it has been contended, did us no good, because it compelled the Dutch to turn their attention to the Baltic trade, and enabled them there to get the precedence of us. But this is a mistake; for the removal of the overbearing fleets of the Dutch, and the stimulus given to our commerce by this privilege, led to a far greater amount of mercantile activity in England, and enabled Us to assume a position in which at a later date we could safely introduce the principles of free navigation.

Cromwell encouraged our commerce by all the means in his power, and most successfully; and the commercial activity thus excited acquired power, and continued to increase ever, afterwards. He encouraged and extended our colonies, especially by the acquisition of Jamaica, and the trade with the West Indies and American, colonies added increasingly, during the period now under review, to our commercial wealth and navy. The writer of "The World's Mistake in Oliver Cromwell," published in the "Harleian Miscellany," says: - "When this tyrant, or protector, as some call him, turned out the Long Parliament in April 1653, the kingdom had arrived at the highest pitch of trade it ever knew. The riches of the nation showed itself in the high value of land and of all our native commodities, which are the certain marks of opulence.'' Besides this, the great quantity of land thrown into the hands of small proprietors, from time to time, and from a succession of causes, ever since the great breaking up of the Roman church and all its monasteries and convents by Henry VIII., was every day telling more markedly on the wealth and spirit of the people. We have just noticed what a powerful body the yeomanry had become; and, from the same causes, a large accession of capital had flowed into trade. The culture of these divided lands was enormously increased; instead of lying vast deserts and hunting grounds, they now were become fertile farms. The internal resources of the country were rapidly and constantly developing themselves; and, from the quiet transfer of the taxation from the aristocracy to the people at large, it had become the interest of the monarchs, if they did little positively to accelerate the growth of national wealth, at least to leave in freedom the capital-increasing exertions of the population. The more the people traded abroad, the greater were the proceeds of the customs; the more they consumed, the greater the proceeds of the excise; now the chief items of the royal revenue, All the sources of national wealth originated in the Long Parliament and the commonwealth, for the transfers of the customs and excise were first made then, and only resumed after the restoration.

We may now notice the rapid growth of these items of revenue. In the first year of Charles I.'s reign - namely, 1660, - the proceeds of the customs were 361,356; in the last year of James's reign, 1688, they were 781,987. Thus, in twenty-eight years the customs had more than doubled themselves. We have not the same complete accounts of the proceeds of the excise, imports and exports, for the same period; but those which we have show the same progressive ratio. In 1663, the imports and exports together amounted to 6,038,831; in 1669, or only six years afterwards, they were 6,259,413; and, since 1613, they had risen up to that amount from 4,628,586. This showed a steady increase of consumption in the nation. During this time the imports exceeded the exports considerably; demonstrating the fact that the internal wealth was greater than the export of goods; but the balance of trade gradually adjusted itself, and, in 1699, the excess of exports over imports was 1,147,660; showing that even exportable articles of manufacture, of raw produce, or of commodities the growth of our colonies and settlements, had continued to increase. The proceeds of the excise in 1660, when Charles became possessed of it, amounted only to about one million; but continued to increase so rapidly that in little more than a century it netted ten millions. The value of land, and of all kinds of property, rose in proportion. Davenant, in his "Discourses on Trade," shows that the value of the whole rental of England, in 1660, was but 6,000,000; in 1688, it was 14,000,000. So that, in 1660, the whole land of England, at twelve years' purchase, was only worth 72,000,000; but, in 1688, at fourteen years' purchase, its then estimated worth, it was 254,000,000. As to the mercantile shipping of the country, old and experienced merchants all agreed that its tonnage in 1688 was nearly double what it was in 1666. Sir William Petty, in his " Political Arithmetic," published in 1676, states that, within the previous forty years, the houses in London had doubled themselves: the coal trade from Newcastle had quadrupled itself, being then 80,000 tons yearly; the Guinea and American trades had grown up from next to nothing to 40,000 tons of shipping; the customs were tripled; the postage of letters increased from one to twenty; the whole income of government, in short, was trebled; and the number and splendour of coaches, equipages, and household furniture were wonderfully increased.

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 13

John Bunyan
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Roger Williams
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Miltons Birthplace
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John Milton
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Scene from the Hudibras
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Allegorical Figure of a Commonwealth
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Sir Isaac Newton
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John Bunyan
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Dr. William Harley
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Thomas Britton
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Furniture >>>>
Costumes of Charles II
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St. Stephens, Walbrook
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Nell Gwynnes Looking Glass.
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Old London Water Carriers
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Medal exhibiting a Man-of-War
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The Finger Pillory
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The Folly on the Thames
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Sir Christopher Wrens plan for rebuilding London
Sir Christopher Wrens plan for rebuilding London >>>>

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