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The Progress of the Nation page 14


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These effects were surely no results of the wise measures of such monarchs as Charles and James; they were traceable, as clearly as light to the sun, to the bold and able heads of the Long Parliament and commonwealth; to their victories over the enemies and rivals of the nation, and to the able regulations which they had made in all quarters for the honourable maintenance of our name and the prosperity of our commerce. What such men as Charles and James did may be seen by examining the condition of what fell under their own management. What the nation at large did by its native energy we have just seen; what these monarchs did let us now see. The royal navy, in 1666, amounted only to 62,594 tons; but in 1688, the last year of Charles, it amounted to 103,558 tons; and, though it fell off a little under James, in 1688, the last year of James, it still reached 101,892 tons. This looks admirable on the surface; but it is necessary to look under the surface, and then we perceive a marvellous difference. The nation had become justly proud of its navy, which had destroyed the great Armada, and, under Blake, had put down the supremacy of Holland and Spain at sea; and though the commons were averse to trusting Charles II. with money, after they saw that it all went to concubines, gamblers, and parasites, they were never appealed to on the subject of the navy in vain. When Danby was minister, they voted at once 600,000 for the building of thirty new men-of-war. On the evidence of Pepys, the secretary of the admiralty, we have it, that scarcely any of this magnificent array of ships were fit for use. The very thirty new vessels for which the 600,000 had been voted had been built of such villanous timber that they were absolutely unseaworthy; and the rest were so rotten and worm-eaten that they would have sunk if they were carried out of port. The same testimony was borne by the French ambassador, Bonrepaure, who, when Charles made a bluster as if he would go to sea, in 1686, examined our fleet, and reported to his government that it need not trouble itself about the English navy, for that both ships and men were merely nominal. In fact, the money which should have repaired the ships and paid the officers and men was gone the way of all Charles's money; and we have in our past chapters shown Pepys pursued in the streets by swarms of starving sailors, who demanded the redemption of their tickets; shoals of them lay in the streets, without food or means of procuring a shelter; many of them perished of hunger, and some officers are said to have shared the same fate. The whole was one most shameful scene of waste of the public money, neglect of vessels and of men, of utter indolence on the part of the crown, and consequent negligence on the part of the authorities; of scandalous corruption in many of them, and knavery and peculation in contractors. Such was the state of things that, in 1667, or seven years after the commonwealth, the Dutch, under De Ruyter, entered the Thames, destroyed the fortifications at Sheerness, took and burned some of our largest ships, and threw the capital into paroxysms of terror. "Many English sailors," says Pepys, "were heard on board the Dutch ships crying, 'We did heretofore fight for tickets - now we fight for dollars!'"

Besides the causes already enumerated for the rapid progress of England in wealth and prosperity at this period, the persecutions of protestants abroad, which drove hither their weavers and artisans, and the union with Scotland, giving internal peace and security, had a wonderful influence. De Witt, the celebrated Dutch minister, refers to these causes in a remarkable passage of his work called "The Interest of Holland," published in 1669; " When," he says, a the compulsive laws of the Netherland Halls had first driven the cloth-weaving from the cities into our villages, and, by the cruelty of the duke of Alva, the say-weaving went also after it, the English by degrees began to send their manufactures throughout Europe; they became potent at sea, and no longer to depend on the Netherlands. Also by that discovery of the inexpressibly rich cod-bank of Newfoundland, those of Bristol in particular made use of that advantage. Moreover, the long persecution of puritans in England has occasioned the planting of many English colonies in America, by which they derive a very considerable foreign trade thither; so that this mighty island, united with Ireland under one king, seated in the midst of Europe, having a clear, deep coast, with good havens and bays, in so narrow a sea that all foreign ships that sail either to the eastward or the westward are necessitated, even in fair weather, to shun the dangerous French coast, and sail along that of England, and in stormy weather to run in and preserve their lives, ships, and. merchandise in the bays - so that England now, by its conjunction with Scotland, being much increased in strength, as well as by manufactures as by a great navigation, will in all respects be formidable to all Europe."

The clear-sighted Dutch diplomatist has summed up the grand points of England's advantages at that and succeeding periods, and some of these deserve our particular attention. The union with Scotland, though yet dependent only on the crown of the two countries resting on the same head, was a circumstance of infinite advantage. It gave a settlement and security to all the northern portions of the island which they had never enjoyed before. Till James VI. of Scotland became James I. of England, not only agriculture but' all kinds of manufacturing and commercial enterprise were kept in check by the frequent hostile inroads of the Scotch. Even when there was peace betwixt the crowns, the fierce people inhabiting both sides of the borders were in continual bickerings with each other; and a numerous body of mosstroopers, whose only profession was plunder, harassed the rich plains of England by their predatory raids. The state of things described by Sir Walter Scott as existing in these regions only about a century ago, gives us a lively idea of what must have been the savagery of the borderers at the time we are describing. If he himself, as he tells us, was probably the first who drove a gig. into Liddesdale about half a century ago, and if at that time the wilds and moorlands of the border were peopled by tribes of freebooters as wild and lawless as savages, what must have been the state of "the northern counties whilst the two countries were at feud? We are told that even the judges and king's officers could not reach the towns on the borders without a strong military guard.

But as the union of the crowns became settled and consolidated, a new era commenced north of the Trent. These counties, full of coal and ironstone, abounding with streams and all the materials for manufacture, began to develop their resources, and to advance in population and activity at an unexampled rate. Birmingham and Sheffield extended their hardware trade; Leeds and its neighbouring villages, its cloth manufacturing; Manchester, its cotton- spinning, though yet little aided by machinery; and Liverpool was rapidly rising as a port by its trade with Ireland. The union of the crowns was, in fact, the beginning of that marvellous impetus which has at this day covered all the north with coal-works, iron-works, potteries, spinning and weaving factories, and towns which have grown up around them with their 230,000 people, like Birmingham; their 130,000, like Sheffield; their 170,000, like Leeds; their 316,000, like Manchester; and 375,000, like Liverpool. It was the same security amid attendant advantages which raised the immense commercial and manufacturing population of Glasgow, Paisley, Greenock, and neighbouring towns on the other side of the border - Glasgow alone now numbering its 330,000 people.

In the south and west, Norwich and Bristol were most flourishing towns. Norwich owed its growth and prosperity to the establishment of the worsted manufacture, brought thither by the Flemings as early as the reign of Henry I., in the thirteenth century, and to the influence of four thousand other Flemings, who fled from the cruelty of the duke of Alva in Elizabeth's time, bringing their manufacture of bombazines, which has now expanded itself into a great trade in bombazines, shawls, crapes, damasks, camlets,- and imitations of Irish and French stuffs. Norwich had its fine old cathedral, its bishop's palace, its palace of the duke of Norfolk, adorned with the paintings of Italy - the gems of Greece and Rome, and where the duke used at this time to live with a state little less than royal. It had also a greater number of old churches than any town in England, except London: old hospitals and grammar-schools, and the finest market-place in the kingdom. Bristol, next to London, was the great trading port, and the growing commerce with America and the West Indies was fast swelling its importance. One of its most lucrative and at the same time infamous sources of commerce was the conveyance of convicts to the plantations of America and Jamaica. We have seen the eagerness of the courtiers of James II., and even the queen and ladies, for a share of this traffic, and the numbers of the unfortunate men implicated in the insurrection of Monmouth who were sent off thither and sold. Jeffreys himself condemned eight hundred and forty of them to this slavery, and calculated that they were worth ten pounds apiece to those who had to sell them to the British merchants, who probably made much more of them. That the profits were enormous is evident by the avidity with which victims were sought after, and with which innocent persons were kidnapped for the purpose. Bristol, in fact, at that time was engaged in a veritable white slave-trade, and the magistrates were deep in it - which coming to Jeffreys' knowledge, lie made, a plea for extorting money from them.

To understand, however, the immense difference betwixt the England of that day and of the present; we have only to state that the population of neither of these pre-eminent towns amounted to 30,000, few county towns exceeded 4,000 or 5,000, and the whole population of England was, according to various calculations, at the most five millions and a half instead of twenty-two millions, as at present.

To protect the trade of England, Charles II. immediately passed an act, statute 12 Car. II., c. 18, commonly called the navigation act, carrying out the principle of the act of the commonwealth already referred to, confining the import of all commodities from Asia, Africa, or America to English bottoms, and also all goods from Europe to English ships, or the ships of the particular country. The next year a similar act was passed by the Scottish parliament. The act of the commonwealth had effected its purpose - the depression of the Dutch carrying trade, and it was now time, to relax these restrictions; but we have seen that even in our own time it has required a struggle to repeal these laws, and convince the public, by the subsequent immense increase of foreign commerce, of their impolicy. Charles's government went further, and, in 1662, forbade any wine but Rhenish, or any spirits, grocery, tobacco, potashes, pitch, tar, salt, rosin, deals, firs, timber, or olive oil, to be imported from Germany or the Netherlands. In 1677, alarmed at the vast importation of French goods and produce, his government prohibited every French article for three years; but the act remained unrepealed till the 1st of James II., by which our merchants and shopkeepers were deprived of great profits on these silks, wines, fruits, and manufactured articles, and the public of the comfort of them.

Another evidence of the growth of the country was the increase of the business of the post-office. The origin of the English post-office is due to Charles I., who, at the commencement of his disputes with the parliament, established a system of posts and relays. This the civil war put an end to; but the commonwealth, in 1656, established the post- office, with correspondent improvements. At the accession of Charles, a new act was passed, 12 Car. II., c. 25; and three years after, the proceeds of this office and of the wine duties were settled on the duke of York and his heirs male. The duke farmed it out at 21,500, but on his accession the revenue amounted to 65,000. By this post a single letter was carried eighty miles for twopence; beyond eighty miles threepence was charged, and there was an advance according to the weight of packets. The privilege of franking was allowed, though not expressly granted in the act, to peers and members of parliament. There were mails, however, only on alternate days, and in distant and difficult parts of the country, as on the borders of Cornwall and the fens of Lincolnshire, only once a week. Wherever the court went mails were sent daily; this was the case, also, to the Downs, and in the season to Bath and Tunbridge Wells. Where coaches did not run, men on horseback carried the bags. The increasing business of London soon demanded a more frequent delivery, and the penny post was first started by William Dockwray, which delivered letters six times a day in the city, and four times in the outskirts. At this time the post-office business included the furnishing of all post- horses, whence the name; and the governments on the continent generally retain more or less of this practice. The growth of England from the time of the Stuarts till now receives a significant proof in the present gross receipts for letters, letter-stamps, and other post-office business being upwards of a million and a half.

The transmission of the mails made it necessary to improve the roads, and hence commenced the toll-bar system, by an act of 15 Car, II., which ordered the repairing of highways and the erection of bars upon them, in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire, owing to the great north road being so much cut up by the heavy malt and barley wagons coming from Ware, whence their contents were forwarded by water to London and other towns. The system was found so advantageous that it gradually became general.

The extension and improvement of our manufactures was greatly promoted by the persecution of the protestants in France and the Spanish Netherlands. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685, compelled thousands of citizens to seek refuge in England, who, as we have seen, were at first warmly patronised by James n., but afterwards as much discouraged. Their value to the country was, however, too obvious to suffer their neglect by the mercantile community. They settled in Spitalfields, and introduced the weaving of silks, brocades, and lutestrings; and the trade and the descendants of these refugees still distinguish the same quarter of London. It is supposed that they also brought with them the art of making the finest kinds of writing paper, which was previously imported from France.

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 14

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