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The Progress of the Nation page 15


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Before this, and from the very beginning of this period, other foreigners, refugees, tempted by liberal offers, had introduced other manufactures. In 1660, the year of Charles's accession, the Anglo-French population of Jersey and Guernsey were allowed to import wool from England duty free, and pushed their manufacture - worsted hosiery - to great perfection. In 1660 some Flemings introduced the improved arts of dyeing and dressing woollen cloths, by which they raised our "cloths to an equality with the continental ones. Other foreigners in the same year were encouraged to commence the manufacture of linen and tapestry. Some others settled at Ipswich, in 1669, and the Scotch, who had carried the linen-weaving to Ireland, were at this time making great progress with it there. In 1670 the-duke of Buckingham brought from Venice men skilled in the manufacturing of glass, the Dutch loom was brought over, and, in 1676, the printing of calicoes, now so vast a trade at Manchester, was commenced in London, in imitation of those brought from India. In 1680 machines for ribbon-weaving were introduced, to which Coventry owes so much of her trade. The art of tinning sheet-iron was brought over from Germany by natives of that country, at the instigation of Andrew Yarranton, the agent of an English company. A Dutchman erected the first wire-mill in England at Shene, near Richmond; and pinchbeck was introduced by its inventor under the patronage of Prince Rupert. In fact, the seeds of many of our greatest branches of manufactures were sown during this period.

One of our greatest trading companies also was fast growing, and was destined to lay the foundation of the greatest colonial territory which the world ever saw. Most of those companies which we noticed in our former reviews were now gone down, or were broken up by the increasing aversion of the nation to monopolies; but the East India Company was every day acquiring fresh life and power. The scene of its operations lay so distant from public observation, especially at that day when the means of communication were so tardy and partial, and the press did not maintain an instant and perpetual attention upon everything concerning the realm, that the government was only too glad to leave with the company the whole management of those remote affairs, especially as it poured so much profit into the country, of which the government had its share. Accordingly, Charles had scarcely seated himself on his throne than he renewed the charter of the company granted by Cromwell in 1657, with augmented powers. This charter, dated the 3rd of April, 1661, gave the company the most absolute and unconditional power. It was authorised to seize and send home Any Englishman presuming to trade thither, and found so trading either in India or the Indian seas. They were empowered to appoint their own judges, and conduct the whole civil and military establishment; to make war or peace with any of the native powers, or any powers not Christian; to build any ports they pleased there or in St. Helena for their accommodation and defence. In short, the most complete absolutism was conferred on them in their territories, or such as they should gain, and the most complete secrecy of transactions, by shutting out every individual who might be disposed to pry into or criticise their proceedings.

Bombay, which Charles had received with Catherine from Portugal, as part of her marriage portion, was, in 1667, handed over to the company, and the effect of this addition of territory and of power was soon seen. In 1676 their accumulated profits had doubled their capital, and the price of their stock rose to 245 per cent. The following facts, drawn from a publication supposed to be written by Sir Josiah Child, entitled "The East India Trade a most Profitable Trade to this Kingdom," which appeared in 1677, will show the extraordinary traffic of the company at that early period. They employed, the writer said, from thirty to thirty-five ships of from three hundred to six hundred tons burden. Their annual exports amounted to 430,000, and their imports to 860,000; consisting of silks, raw and wrought, calico, drugs, pepper, indigo, saltpetre, &c. They, moreover, licensed other traders, who brought from India diamonds, pearls, musk, ambergris, &c., to the amount of 150,000, and took out goods from England to double that amount.

The writer proceeds to show how profitable this trade was to the public as well as to the company: - " The pepper I reckon at eightpence a pound weight; so necessary a spice for all people, which formerly cost us three shillings and fourpence a pound, being nowhere to be had but in India; and were we obliged to have it from the Dutch; they would probably raise it as high as they do their other spices; yet, supposing it so low as one shilling and fourpence a pound, it would be a further expense of 6,000 to the nation. Saltpetre is of that absolute necessity that, without it, we should be like the Israelites under the bondage of the Philistines - without the means of defending ourselves. Possibly, if we had no Indian trade, we might, in time of peace, purchase it, though it would cost us double what it does now. But, in case of war, where could we have sufficient? Not surely from our enemies. Or would our gentlemen, citizens, and farmers be willing to have their cellars and rooms dug up, as in Charles I.'s reign, and be deprived of freedom in their own houses, exposed and laid open to saltpetre-men? Which method would be, besides, by no means equal to the affording us the necessary supplies. Raw silk we might possibly be supplied with from other parts, though not so cheap as from India; and India wrought silks serve us instead of so much Italian or French silks, which would cost us almost treble the price of Indian silks, to the kingdom's loss of above 20,000 a year. Calicoes serve instead of the like quantity of French, Dutch, and Flemish linen, which would cost us thrice as much; hereby 200,000 or 300,000 is saved to the nation."

Amongst the articles of the greatest luxury which the company imported was tea. So long as we procured/tea from the Dutch merchants it was too dear for general use. So late as 1666 - that is, six years after the restoration - it cost fifty shillings a pound from the Dutch East India Company; but the English company soon after made its way to China, in 1678, and imported four thousand seven hundred pounds of it; and from this period we may date the more frequent use of it. It was long, however, before it became the formidable rival of beef and beer to breakfast, or superseded these articles altogether at the afternoon meal. It was at first sold in the liquid state in London, and it was long in making its way through the country; many ladies, in their ignorance of its true use, committing the mistake of boiling the leaves, and serving them up as greens, throwing away the liquid.

In 1677, under the privilege of a new charter from Charles, the company began to earn money in their Indian territories. These privileges were again extended by a fresh charter from Charles in 1683, and by James in 1686. In 1687 they laid the foundations of Calcutta, and went On rapidly acquiring trade and territory, to be noticed in our future reviews.

Meantime, the trade with our American and West Indian colonies was becoming valuable. During the latter years of the Stuart dynasty, the exports to these colonies had risen to the amount of about 400,000 per annum, in different manufactures, provisions, household furniture, &c.; and the imports thence in tobacco, sugar, ginger, cotton wool, fustic, indigo, cocoa, fish, furs, and timber, to nearly a million. Thus the trade and wealth of England at the close of this period were in a condition of healthy and rapid development, and our colonial system beginning to attract the "envy and admiration of the world." What this has grown to by a steady progression in our time, may be seen by comparing the revenue of the country now with what it was then. Then it amounted to about 1,500,000; now, including the revenue of India and the colonies, it amounts to 100,000,000.

Condition of the People

Notwithstanding the rapid growth of the country in commerce and internal wealth it would be a false indication than the body of the working class was well off. They were a body without education, without political rights, and, consequently, without that intelligence and union which can alone insure the fair reward of their labour; nor was the humanity of the most civilised portion of the community at that period of a degree which regarded the sufferings of others with much feeling. All our accounts of it leave the impression that it was a hard and cruel age; as is generally the case, sensuality and barbarity went hand in hand. The sanguinary vengeance which Charles took on the leaders of the commonwealth, immediately on his restoration; the savage persecutions for religion in England and Scotland; the terrible use of the iron boot and the thumbscrew in the latter country; the bloody campaign of Jeffreys in England; the sale of convicts, and the kidnapping of innocent people for the plantations; public whippings, pilloryings, brandings, and tongue-borings, as in the case of James Naylor - all designate a brutal and unfeeling tone of society. Macaulay quotes from writers of the age many other revolting traits of this stamp. "Whigs were disposed to murmur because Stafford was suffered to die without seeing his bowels burned before his face. Tories reviled and insulted Russell as his coach passed from the Tower to the scaffold in Lincoln's Inn Fields. As little mercy was shown by the populace to sufferers of a humbler rank. If an offender was put into the pillory, it was well if lie escaped with life, from the shower of brickbats and paving-stones. If he were tied to the cart's tail, the crowd pressed round him, imploring the hangman to give it the fellow well, and make him howl. Gentlemen arranged parties of pleasure lo Bridewell, on court days, for the purpose of seeing the wretched women who beat hemp there whipped. A man pressed to death for refusing to plead, or burned for coining, excited less sympathy than is now felt for a galled horse, or an overdriven ox. Fights, compared with which a boxing-match is a refined and humane spectacle, were the favourite diversions of a large part of the town. Multitudes assembled to see gladiators hack each other to pieces with deadly weapons, and shouted with delight when one of the combatants lost a finger or an eye. The prisons were hells on earth - seminaries of every crime and every disease. At the assizes, the lean and yellow culprits brought with them from their cells to the dock an atmosphere of stench and pestilence which sometimes avenged them signally on the bench, bar, and jury. But on all this misery society looked with profound indifference."

But we shall soon find that this conclusion is, on the whole, too sweeping. Even that age had its philanthropists, and we may name the crowds who flocked to witness the agonies of a hanging man to reduce in some degree the wide distance betwixt the mobs of this age and that. But, as it concerns the condition of the people, the important difference is that the humanity which has now pervaded the upper and middle classes of our time was scarcely to be recognised then. The poor were treated with little tenderness. Though four-fifths of the working people. were engaged in agriculture, agriculture was then extended over a wonderfully small portion of the country. There was a surplus of hands, and these, therefore, were poorly paid, whilst their clothing and provisions were comparatively high. Not more than half the area of the island was then, it is supposed, in cultivation, and the tillage was rude and slovenly. The rate of wages for agricultural labourers, wood-cutters, shepherds, and the like, differed in different parts of the country, but 111 the best it did not average more than four shillings a week with food, or six shillings without. In Essex, in 1661, the magistrates of Essex fixed the rate of wages from March to September at eightpence a day with food, and one shilling and twopence without; and for the other months, sixpence with food, and a shilling without. Women had, of course, less. In most counties a similar scale was fixed by the magistrates; and an act of Elizabeth empowered them to punish whoever gave more or less, and the labourer who received more or less. Wheat at this time was seventy shillings a quarter - a far higher price than it generally is in our time. All kinds of clothing that they could make themselves were much higher than with us, because manufacturing was not so extensive.

The wages of artisans were but little better, except in London, where first-rate bricklayers and carpenters could earn two shillings or two-and-sixpence a day. In many counties, indeed, they were restricted to the same rate as that of the labourers. In 1685 this was the case in Warwickshire, where the daily wages of masons, bricklayers, carpenters, shinglers, and other handicraftsmen, are fixed with those of ploughmen, miners, ditchers, &c., at only sixpence a day. A shilling a day is quoted as extravagant wages. The consequence was that children were compelled to work as early as six years of age. This was very much the case at Norwich; and writers of the time refer with pride to the fact that before nine years of age children earned more than was necessary for their own support by twelve thousand pounds a year! The consequence of the miserable pay and the dearness of food and clothing was an amount of pauperism scarcely less than in the reign of Henry VIII. or Elizabeth. The poor rates amounted a this period to from seven to nine hundred thousand pounds a year - that is, one-sixth of what they are now, with a population not one-third of the present one. One-tenth of the present population, or only one-thirteenth when trade is good, claims relief; but then it was asserted by writers of the day that one-fourth of the people were paupers.

The condition of the poor was rendered infinitely worse two years, after the restoration of Charles II. than it had been, by an act which was passed to prevent poor people settling in any other place than the one where they had previously resided. This was the origin of the law of settlement, which continued down to our time to harass the poor, and to waste the parochial funds in litigation. In fact Sir Frederick Eden, in his work on "The State of the Poor," asserts that it has caused more litigation, and has been more profitable to the lawyers than any other act ever passed.

The preamble of the act of 1662 recounts the prevalence of pauperism, and at the same time professes that this enactment "is for the good of the poor!" "The necessity," it says, "number, and continued increase of the poor, not only within the circles of London and Westminster, with the liberties of each of them, but also through the whole kingdom of England and dominion of Wales, is very great and exceeding burdensome, being occasioned by reason of some defects in the law concerning the settlement of the poor, and for want of due provision of the regulations of relief and employment in such parishes or places where they are legally settled, which doth enforce many to turn incorrigible rogues, and others to perish for want, together with the neglect of the faithful execution of such laws and statutes as have formerly been made for the apprehension of rogues and vagabonds, and for the good of the poor."

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 15

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