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Progress of the Nation. page 11

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Condition of the People

The moral condition of the people, as we have just seen, was at this period deplorable. The neglect of education left the great bulk of the working class ignorant and depraved, and the long peace which the reigns of Elizabeth and James maintained had so greatly augmented the wealth and prosperity of the nation, that the insolence of illiterate abundance added to the public exhibition of rudeness and riot. In one respect, however, the whole people had become greatly enlightened - they had learned very extensively their political rights. The rise and opulence of the merchants and middle classes, through commerce, and through the destruction of church lands, had impressed them with a feeling of their importance, and led them no longer to bow and cringe before the nobles, but to claim their proper authority as the third, and, indeed, the greatest; estate. From the time when Henry VIII. set a-going discussions regarding religious liberty, and permitted the Bible to appear in good plain English, the light which, sprang up on the subject of human rights was wonderful, and could never be withdrawn or extinguished. The mistake, as regarded royal prerogative, was soon seen, and an endeavour was made to restrict the reading of the Bible to the noble and the classical only, but it was in vain. Those who had the Scriptures soon spread abroad their knowledge of their great principles, and as the Stuart government was daily found to be weaker, the sense of popular right was growing stronger and more universal. So soon as the parliament began to resist the encroachments of the crown, and even to do it with arms in their hands, it became necessary to convince the people at large that their rights were at stake, and to explain what these rights were. Such knowledge as this could never be taken back again, and accordingly from this period the principle that all power proceeds from the people and exists for the people, became the great fixed sentiment of the nation, which, spite of temporary checks and appearances, has gone on strengthening and confirming itself,, and diffusing itself to this hour, and must go on till it has entirely moulded government by the great and eternal principles of justice and individual right to its perfect form - a free government worthy of free men. Accordingly, we have seen that the army, that body of the people which rushed forward at the call of parliament to defend with their lives the public liberties, at once advanced into the most sweeping tenets of democracy, and demanded their adoption before the community was ripe for them.

The physical condition of the kingdom, therefore, during the reign of James, was evidently greatly improved, and almost justifies the glowing description of Clarendon, made to set off the mischiefs of resistance to royalty. " For twelve years before the meeting of the Long Parliament," he says, "the kingdom enjoyed the greatest calm, and the fullest measure of felicity that any people, in any age, for so long a time together, had been blessed with, to the wonder and envy of all other parts of Christendom." It was inevitable that much of this prosperity must be overthrown, or rather interrupted by a ten years' fierce contest, like that which arose betwixt the crown and the people. That not only were the people severely pressed by taxation to support this contest, but that they were harassed, plundered, and had their agricultural operations impeded, and their crops destroyed by the contending forces, is quite certain. Prince Rupert and his cavalry especially subsisted by marauding, and the rise of the clubmen in the vast bodies that we have described, show that the depredations on the rural population were extensive, and inflicted by both parties. Consequently, during the great struggle, the price of country produce rose extremely. Wheat, which in the early part of Charles's reign was as low as 44s. a quarter, rose after 1640 to 73s.; 85s. in 1648; and in 1649 was 80s.; but no sooner was the commonwealth established, and peaceful operations renewed, than it fell as rapidly, being in 1650 76s. 8d., and falling so much that in 1654 it was down to 26s. This was the lowest, and it averaged during the remainder of the protectorate, 45s., as near as possible its price at the commencement of the struggle. Other articles of life rose and fell from the same causes in the same proportion; the prices of the following articles, except during the war, may be regarded as the average ones for this period: - A fat cygnet, about 8s.; pheasants, from 5s. to 6s.; turkeys, 3s. to 4s.; fat geese, 2s. each; ducks, 8d.; best fatted capons, 2s. 4d.; hens, Is.; pullets, Is. 6d.; rabbits, 7d.; a dozen pigeons, 6s.; eggs, three for Id.; fresh butter, 6d. per pound. Vegetables, being so little cultivated, as we have stated, were very dear; cauliflowers, Is. 6d. each; potatoes, 2s. per pound; onions, leeks, carrots, and potherbs, dear, but not so much so. Mutton and beef, about 3½d. per pound. The wages of servants hired by the year and kept, were for a farm servant man, from 20s. to 50s. a year, according to his qualifications: those obtaining more than 40s. were expected to be able to do all the skilled work, as mowing, thrashing, thatching, making ricks, hedging, and killing cattle and pigs for daily consumption. Women servants, who could bake, brew, dress meat, make malt, &c. obtained about 26s. a year, and other women servants, according to age and ability, from that sum down to 14s. a year. A bailiff obtained 52s. Labourers or artisans hired by the day, during harvest, had, a mower, 5d. a day and his food; a reaper, haymaker, hedger, or ditcher, 4d.; a woman reaper, 3d.; a woman haymaker, 2d.; if no food was given, these sums were doubled. At other times labourers received from Easter to Michaelmas, 3d. a day with food, or 7d. without; and from Michaelmas to Easter, 2d. with food, and 6d. without. Carpenters and bricklayers received 8d. a day with meat, or 1s. without; sawyers, 6d. with meat, or ls. without; and other handicrafts nearly the same, through the year till Michaelmas, after that considerably less.

The great extension of foreign commerce, by the opening up of North and South America, the East and West Indies, the Mediterranean, and the North of Europe, the fisheries of Newfoundland, and the introduction of coffee, spices, cottons, and other new and tropical produce, must have greatly increased the comfort of domestic life. Yet, with all this mutual prosperity, there still abounded much pauperism and vagabondism. The war naturally had this consequence -great numbers of the dispersed cavaliers and royal troopers taking to the highways, and to a loose and predatory life. There was an indisposition, too, on the part of many parishes, to burden themselves with the imposition of the poor laws, which had been strengthened by various enactments since the 43rd of Elizabeth, and they therefore drove out of their boundaries the unemployed to seek work elsewhere. This, of course, continued the evil vagabondism and pilfering, and time only could enable the government to bring into general operation the poor-law.

Notwithstanding the amount of pauperism, however, the nation was never in a more prosperous condition than during the government of Cromwell. All authorities admit this single fact. The author of the "World's Mistake in Oliver Cromwell" says, "When this tyrant, or protector, as some call him, turned out the Long Parliament in 1653, the kingdom had arrived at the highest pitch of trade, wealth, and honour, that it in any age ever yet knew. The trade appeared by the greatest sums offered them for the customs and excise - nine hundred thousand pounds a year being refused. The riches of the nation showed itself in the high value that land and all our native commodities bore, which are the certain marks of opulency." It was not, therefore, the pressure of their physical condition, but the perpetual political excitement and uncertainty which followed the death of Cromwell, which induced the people to! receive monarchy again - the old leaven of king-worship not being thoroughly expurgated, but requiring fresh lessons of royal folly, wickedness, and oppression to compel them to put the ancient institution of kingship under proper constitutional restraint.

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