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The progress of the nation


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We open our remarks on this subject, as we did our former ones, in the review of our progress at the end of the reign of George II., with the observation that our material and intellectual progress has been checked by our enormous foreign wars. It may be said, Yet how much our wealth and power have increased during the prosecution of these wars. We re- ply, But how much more these would have been increased had we spent the same money and energies on peace and peace- able objects. We have spent on wars since the commencement of George III.'s reign two thousand seven hundred and sixty million eight hundred thousand pounds, and have had in them one million and fifty thousand of our fellow-country-men slaughtered, according to the calculations of Spackman in his " Statistical Tables; " and, besides this, the number of foreigners that our soldiers and sailors have killed, which, undoubtedly, are many more. Say, however, that they are only an equal number, these make no fewer than two millions one hundred thousand men killed in these wars. Can any considerations of worldly policy justify this horrible carnage in the course of sixty, or of any number of years? Can any worldly policy justify the expenditure of two thousand seven hundred and sixty millions eight hundred thousand pounds sterling on wars - wars undertaken without the consent of that posterity which for ages must continue to bear the charge of them? Has any nation, any more than any individual, a right to expend the money and estates of others in quarrelling and fighting? There are millions already paying every year their quota of the interest of the debts incurred by these wars who never consented to them, and, being in the bosom of futurity, could not be asked to consent to them.

The British nation, making high pretences to Christianity, showed by these insane wars that it did not understand or would not obey the plainest precepts of Christianity. The Christianity of the reign of George III. was a bloody farce, and an abomination. Men who could expend nearly three thousand millions of money, and put to death more than two millions of men in endeavouring to coerce Americans, or to mix in the quarries of continental despots, were not Christians, however they might' arrogate that divine title; they were not even honest men; they were recklessly expending what was not their own.

And who are these men whom we have killed? - Americans, French, Dutch, Danes, Spaniards, Italians, and Germans. Now, putting all Christian and all humane considerations out of the question, and betaking ourselves to questions of political economy, all these men would have been customers for our manufactures, and we should have been their customers for corn and other raw produce. Both they and we should have lived in far greater comfort; our working classes would have enjoyed plenty of work, and plenty of cheap food; there would have been no occasion for corn laws, for there would have been no debt, and there- fore no need of increased taxation, or increased rentals. And let us imagine how ranch commerce the nearly three thousand millions of money which went to slaughter so many men would have originated, how many manufactories and shops it would have kept in action; how much education it would have diffused amid the ignorant population, thus increasing their power of promoting the général welfare; how many taxes it would have rendered unnecessary, instead of being, as they were by the war, rendered tenfold more imperative.

During the late thirty years of peace we saw how général became the demand for the reduction of taxation; how active became the minds of all men in devising fresh reductions of expenditure; and how greatly the arts of life, and plans for the élévation of the minds and views of the people were extended. War returned, and with it fresh taxation, fresh accumulation of the public debt. Men begin to ask them- selves to what this debt is to grow, and with it to what a scale of taxation we are to ascend? At this moment, though at peace, we are maintaining such armies and navies and paying such an annual amount of taxation as a Century ago would have Struck the direst consternation into our fathers in the worst times of war.

It is one of the heritages of the reign of George III. that we have grown out of the salutary fears entertained by our ancestors of a standing army. The constant wars of that reign made such an army a habit; and it appears now to have become a perpetual institution.

But, say advocates of this State of things, the nation, through all, has become so infinitely richer. If we are so rich, why not, then, begin to reduce the debt? Why continually adding to it in times of peace? Why should our hard-working fellow-men, who earn some ten or twenty shillings a-week, have the burden of this debt added to their other burdens? These are questions continually forced on the historian as he contemplates the vast wars and the vastly-growing debts of the reign of George III. It is the curse derived from that time that we continue to regard debt and taxation with a strange apathy; we are familiar- ised to lavish expenditure and a cumbrous system of govern- ment, made so by the desire of the différent administrations to buttress timeservers up by the multitude of their paid retainers. Hence the long train of commissionerships for all imaginable and almost unimaginable purposes, and the high rate at which all our governmental dignitaries are paid, though generally men of enormous estates, and well capable of doing something gratuitously for the good of their country. But, to-day, patriotism must be a well-paid patriotism.

Yet, notwithstanding the enormous waste of the wealth and the energies of the nation on war during the reign of George III., it is equally true that it made extraordinary progress in material strength and greatness. In the extent of empire, as we have observed, though we lost the American colonies, which became the United States, we acquired vast territories in the East Indies; we conquered the Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, and a number of West Indian islands; and, though only intending to found in Australia a settlement for criminals, we founded a great continent.

The progress of the country in commerce during this reign, notwithstanding the rage for war, had been extraordinary. We shall go more particularly into these details under their proper heads; but some idea may be formed from these facts that, at the commencement of the reign, the number of British vessels of all kinds amounted to only 7,075, with a tonnage of 457,316 tons; but at the end of the reign the vessels amounted to 30,000, with a tonnage of upwards of 3,000,000 tons. At the commencement of the reign the exports were £14,500,000, and the imports £9,579,159. At, the end of the reign the exports had risen to £43,438,989; and the imports to £30,776,810.

A great proportion of these results had been produced by the rapid growth of manufactures. The introduction of steam, and the inventions of the spinning jenny and other kinds of machinery, had given such a development to our manufactures, that the value of these at the end of the reign made three-fourths of the whole exports. Agriculture had made considerable progress, and of this art the king was a zealous patron, especially of the improvements in the breed of sheep, importing himself merinos from Spain at a great cost. There were also great promoters of such improvements in stock, as Bakewell, Cullen, and others, and the high price of corn and of all kinds of agricultural produce during the war acted as stimulants to farming. The value of land also caused the inclosure of vast tracts, and much planting of trees was done, especially in Scotland, which had previously been very deficient in that respect.

The growth of material wealth during this reign had in no degree improved the condition of the working class in any proportion to that of other classes. Landlords had greatly raised their rents, and farmers, by the high price of corn and other provisions, had grown comparatively rich, many very rich. The merchants and master manufacturers had shared liberally in the benefits of a vastly increased commerce, and the wonderful spread of manufactures; but the working manufacturers, betwixt the high price of corn and meat, and the lowness of their wages, were in a miserable condition, and frequently, as we have seen, were driven to riot and insurrection. The hand- loom weavers were swamped by machinery, and those working the machinery were living in wretched houses, and in a most neglected and unsanitary condition. Before Sir Robert Peel, senior, introduced his bill for reforming the hours and other regulations of cotton mills, many of these worked night and day, one gang, as it was called, succeeding another at the spinning-jenny, in hot, ill-ventilated rooms. Apprentices were purchased of parishes, either children of paupers, or orphans of such, and these were kept by mill-owners, and worked long hours, one gang having to quit their beds in the morning for another gang of these poor unfortunates to turn into them. The agricultural labourers were little better off. Their habitations were of the worst condition, though squires kennels on the same estates were equal, in all sanitary conditions, to tolerable mansions. Their wages remained only some eight or ten shillings a-week - when the wheat, which they had raised, was one hundred and thirty shillings per quarter, and a stone of flour of fourteen pounds cost a gold seven-shilling piece. This drove them in shoals to the workhouse, and produced a state which we shall have to describe. Their mental and moral condition was equally deplorable. Education, either in town or country, was scarcely known. In our time, even, there was not a school in all the swarming region of Whitechapel, and many another equally poor and populous region of London, much less in country towns and agricultural parishes. It was a settled maxim amongst the landed gentry, that education, even of the most elementary kind, would totally destroy the supply of servants; and it was gravely stated in parliament, that the plot of Thistlewood was owing to the working-classes being able to read.

The charity schools throughout the country were discovered, by the operation of Henry Brougham's commission, to be monopolised by the landlords of the different parishes and the clergy, and the ample revenues for education embezzled by them. In some such schools there was not a single scholar; in others, as at Pocklington, in Yorkshire, the free grammar school, with an endowment of one thousand pounds a-year, had only one scholar; this one has informed us that he received next to no education. This state of physical and moral destitution was made the more dreary by the equally low state of religion. The dissenters were on the increase, and, chiefly in towns, were exerting themselves to disperse the Egyptian darkness of this Georgian era, and Methodism was now making rapid progress amongst the working-classes, both in town and country. But the preachers of methodism met with a reception from the country squirearchy and clergy which has no parallel since the days of popish persecution. They were dragged out of the houses where they preached, kicked and buffetted, hauled through horse ponds, pelted with mud and stones; and the clergy and magistracy, so far from restraining, hounded on the mob in these outrages. The lives of these preachers, and the volumes of the " Wesleyan Magazine," abound with recitals of these brutalities, which, except recorded there, could not now be credited. What John Wesley and his brother Charles, and George Whitfield suffered themselves, especially in Devonshire and Cornwall, reads now like a wild romance.

The state of the church of England was one of the most surprising deadness and corruption. Vast numbers of the churches had no minister resident, except a poor curate at a salary of some twenty pounds per annum, who, therefore, was compelled to do duty in two or three neighbouring parishes at once, in a manner more like the flying tailor of Brentford, than a Christian minister; and the resident incumbents were for the most part given up to habits of intoxication, inherited from the last reign. Some of these ruling pastors held three or four livings, for the license as to the plurality of livings was then almost unbounded. That we may not be supposed to be drawing imaginary pictures, we will quote a few facts which came before parliament, even towards the end of the reign of George III.

According to returns made by the bishops in 1807, the number of incumbents in the eleven thousand one hundred and sixty-four parishes of England and Wales, was only four thousand four hundred and twelve, or little more than one in every third parish. In 1810, the matter had a little improved, for the whole number of residents was found to be five thousand nine hundred and twenty-five. The duty of the kingdom was chiefly done by curates, and how were these curates paid? Lord Harrowby stated in the house of peers, in 1810, that the highest scale of salary paid by nonresidents to their curates, who did all the work, was fifty, sixty, orat the most seventy pounds a-year; but that a far more usual scale of payment was twenty pounds, or even ten pounds, per annum; that this was much less than the wages of day labourers, and that the worst feature of the case was that the non-residents and the pluralists were amongst those who had the richest livings, so that men drawing eight hundred or even two thousand pounds a-year from their livings were often totally unknown to their parishioners, and that often, " all that they knew of the curate was the sound of his voice in the reading-desk, or pulpit, once a week, a fortnight, or a month."

The consequence was that the condition of the agricultural population was as debased morally as it was destitute physically - in the almost total absence of education, the very funds granted by pious testators for this end being embezzled by the clergy or squirearchy. Everything which could imbrute the people was encouraged by the aristocracy, on the plea that it made them good soldiers. When the horrors and brutalities of almost universal dog-fightings, cock-fightings, bull and bear-baitings, began to attract the attention of philanthropists, and it was sought by parliamentary enactment to suppress them, they were defended by Wyndham, and others, on the ground that they accustomed the people to the sight of blood, and made them of the " true British bull-dog character." Some limits were set, before the end of the reign, to these barbarities, and some little more freedom was extended to dissenters, which we shall notice in the proper place; but such was the steadfast bigotry of George III., and of his son and ministers after his insanity, that every attempt to abolish the Test and Corporation Act, or to effect catholic emancipation, was, during George III's reign, in vain.

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