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The Victories of Peace - I


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The commercial supremacy of England is so overwhelming that we scarcely admit any foreign nation to the honours of comparison. Of the goods exported from all the foreign countries of the world nearly one-half comes to England. Our exports - produced by the labour of a population of only thirty-four million - are equal to one-third of those of all the rest of the world. Of the seventy million spindles employed in the production of cotton fabrics, forty million belong to the people of the British islands. With all woven fabrics - cotton, woollen, linen - with coal, iron, machinery, and many other articles indispensable to human well-being, we have supplied mankind, to their advantage and to ours.

This pre-eminence is of comparatively recent origin. It is, indeed, of no higher antiquity than the wars of the French revolution, of which it is in some measure a product. Even now it does not require an exceptionally prolonged life to go back almost to the dawn of the cotton trade. In 1785 our export of cotton goods was no more than 800,000. In that year our entire exports were under 14,000,000, and our imports only a trifle more. For many years scarcely any tendency to increase had been apparent.

England was not the birth-place of the industries which have attained upon her soil a maturity so splendid. Calicoes were imported from India long before they could be made in. England (During the seventeenth century there arose an outcry that the use of Indian calicoes was ruining our own woollen and silk manufactures. In 1700 and afterwards acts were passed forbidding the importation of calicoes, under heavy penalties. Daniel de Foe, writing in 1708, was of opinion that this prohibition had averted the ruin of our manufactures!). Silk-weaving was taught us by the Italians and French. The Flemings brought us our fine woollen trade. The Venetians showed us how to make glass. France and Holland were before us in paper-making, and a German erected our first paper-mill. Cotton-printing came to us from France. Although we had long made coarse linens, we were indebted for the finer varieties to Germany and Belgium. Our cloth was sent to Holland to be bleached or dyed. The Dutch caught our fish for us down to the end of the eighteenth century. A Dutchman began our potteries. The Danes and Genoese built ships for us. The Dutch were our masters in engineering, and showed us how to erect the wind and water mills which presided over the lowly dawn of our manufacturing system. Tuscany made our straw hats. Much of our salt and most of our earthenware came from the Continent. Till nearly the middle of last century we imported two-thirds of the iron which we used. The use of coal for smelting was then only beginning, and the infancy of our gigantic iron trade was watched with hostile eyes by a people who saw that it devoured the wood which they needed for fuel. The industrial genius of England awoke late, but at one stride it distanced all competitors.

Until long after the middle of the eighteenth century commerce was strangled by the impossibility of conveying goods from one part of the country to another. While the English, with ill-directed heroism, expended life and treasure in the worthless strifes of the Continent, they were almost without roads at home. In all Europe there were no roads worse than theirs. It cost forty shillings to transport a ton of coals from Liverpool to Manchester. Men could not travel in Lancashire without considerable personal danger, owing to the condition of the roads. During the winter months travelling was generally impossible. The food of London was for the most part carried on pack-horses. Often the large towns endured famine, while the farmers at no great distance could find no market for their meat and grain. Communication between London and Glasgow was maintained by a stage-coach, which undertook this great enterprise only once in a month, and accomplished it in. twelve or fourteen days. The seclusion resulting from the absence of roads rendered it necessary that every little community, in some measure every family, should produce all that it required to consume. The peasant raised his own food. He grew his own flax or wool; his wife or daughters spun it, and a neighbour wove it into cloth. He learned to extract dyes from plants which grew near his cottage. He required to be independent of the external world, from which he was effectively shut out. Commerce was impossible until men could find the means of transferring commodities from the place where they were produced to the place where there were people willing to make use of them.

The woollen trade maintained a precarious existence, disabled by a law passed in the reign of Edward VI., which bound the manufacturers to use in their trade no better appliances than the men of the fourteenth century had used. Thus fettered, it is matter of surprise that the export of woollens reached so large a sum as two or three million sterling. Legislation sought in its blundering way to aid the struggling traders. The export of wool was forbidden, and all foreign woollens were strictly excluded.

The splendours of the cotton trade were yet far in the future. For many centuries India had grown cotton and woven it into clothing. But the industry seemed to possess no element of progress, and it remained insignificant (The cotton manufacture was introduced to Europe by the Mohammedan invaders of Spain, probably in the tenth century. Four hundred years later it had crept into Italy; but it had no vitality anywhere in Europe till the mechanical inventions of England raised it to sudden greatness). Down to 1790 America had not even begun to export cotton (In 1784 an American ship landed eight bags of cotton at Liverpool, and the custom house officers seized them, on the ground that cotton was not a product of the United States! Fifty years later (in 1832) England received two hundred and twenty million pound.-; of cotton from America); the trifling supply which we required came wholly from the East. So coldly did our governing powers look upon the infancy of the cotton trade, that till 1721 the weaving or selling of calicoes was penal, and till 1774 it was an offence to weave a fabric composed entirely of cotton., Only one-half of the threads were suffered to be of this suspected material; the remainder must be linen.

The feeble silk trade was struggling in wrath and despondency against French competition. Urgent appeals were addressed to the government, praying for the exclusion of the abhorred rival productions. The prayer, after being supported by destructive riots, was at length granted.

The linen trade crept humbly on its obscure way, aided only by the very simplest mechanism, and upheld by government bounties. To the close of the century spinning was done by females in their own houses, and the diminutive home production of linens was supplemented by an importation from Germany and Belgium.

In 1770 the quantity of coal raised in the country was six-million tons. Paper was produced to the value of only three-quarters of a million sterling annually. Everywhere we remark a commerce still in its infancy, and exhibiting scarcely any tendency towards increase.

Shortly after the middle of the century there arose in England a passion for the formation and improvement of canals and highways. Ultimately it passed into a species of mania - a miniature of that more violent frenzy under the influence of which the men of a later generation created for themselves more perfect methods of communication. The first great enterprise of this description which was successfully accomplished was the Duke of Bridgewater's canal, connecting Liverpool with Manchester. Many similar works followed. In the fourteen years from 1760 to 1773 four hundred and fifty-two acts were passed for the formation or improvement of highways. Before the century closed, England had provided herself with such length of canal, and had so amended her roads, that commerce was no longer repressed by difficulty of transport. A vast expansion of traffic was the immediate result.

But various obstacles still barred the progress of England to manufacturing greatness. In especial, she had no better motive power for her machinery than water. During many centuries little thought had been given to mechanical invention. Of what avail was it to possess machines which there was no power to put in motion? But that disability was now to be removed, and the first condition of greatness in the industrial arts - an adequate moving power - was to be bestowed. On the 5th January 1769 James Watt announced his patent "for a method of lessening the consumption of steam and fuel in fire-engines." That may be regarded as the birth-day of our manufacturing supremacy. Without Watt's improvements, the steam-engine was scarcely of practical value. Now, it became the source and sustaining power of mechanical energy, whose action quickly changed the face of the world.

The value of Watt's great invention was soon illustrated by improvements in cotton machinery, which without it would have been comparatively worthless. In 1767 Hargreaves had invented the spinning-jenny. Two years later Arkwright's frame superseded the earlier invention, and was itself in six years more superseded by the mule of Crompton. In 1787 Mr. Cartwright, a clergyman of Kent, invented the power-loom. These machines increased the efficacy of each workman two or three hundred-fold.

But the mercantile legislation of European countries was fitted to intercept and destroy the good which those beneficent inventions offered to the world. The system in use was one of regulation and restraint. Nothing was left to the free action of natural laws. Every industry was subjected to the operation of artificial encouragements or hindrances which enfeebled its energies and impeded its progress. Right across the path to which Watt and Cronipton and Cartwright pointed mankind there lay obstacles which the ignorance and selfishness of ages had piled up. These had to be removed, and an appropriate provision for their removal was disclosed at the fitting moment. In 1776 Adam Smith published his "Wealth of Nations," a book from which Great Britain learned in time to understand the true foundation of economical greatness. Adam Smith was an indispensable supplement to the work of the inventors.

There was now an insufficient production of cotton to supply the demand which grew apace so soon as men discovered the usefulness and cheapness of cotton fabrics. America was able to produce unlimited quantities of cotton, but she was not yet able to free the precious fibre from the seeds which clung to it. Until so freed, it was not possible that cotton should be spun and woven. So utterly were the planters frustrated by the tenacious resistance of those seeds, that for several years after Crompton's spinning-mule had made it indispensable for England to obtain abundant cotton America did not supply a single pound. But in 1793 Eli Whitney, a New England mechanic, came to the rescue of the strangled industry. He perfected a machine which easily and cheaply separated the fibre from the seed. The deliverance which he brought was immediate and complete. During the next year America sent to England one million six hundred thousand pounds of cotton. The quantity rapidly increased. In 1801 it had grown to twenty-one million pounds; in 1815 to eighty-three million; in 1830 to over two hundred million. In 1886 the total import of cotton from all countries was seventeen hundred million pounds.

Before the century closed England was thus in possession of the most perfect appliances for spinning and weaving cotton - of ample power to put these in movement - and of raw material cheap and inexhaustibly abundant. She alone of all the world enjoyed these priceless advantages. England proved herself worthy of the great opportunity afforded to her. Her cotton manufacture - the youngest, but soon to become the greatest, of her industries - grew with a rapidity to which the world has no parallel. Its progress reads like Oriental romance embodied in solid Western fact. In 1751 the English export of cotton goods to other countries was no more than 45,000. In 1764 it had increased, but only to the trivial amount of 200,000. In 1785 it had crept up to 860,000. In 1810 the amount had swelled out to 18,000,000, and in 1833 to 46,000,000. In 1874 it was 75,000,000 (In 1887 we imported raw cotton to the value of 39,897,316, and exported cotton manufactures to the value of 70,956,769, besides supplying our own home requirements. The margin left to cover wages of the labourer and profit of the manufacturer is thus very large). The home consumption of cotton goods had at the same time increased enormously (The progress from 1833 to 1874 is really much larger than these figures indicate - its true dimensions being concealed, by a change in the custom house method of recording values.).

The woollen trade felt the quickening impulse which had inspired the sister industry. The old restraints by which this manufacture had been disabled for centuries were now thrown aside. Manufacturers were at length permitted to use those mechanical appliances which were best adapted for their purposes. The devices whose use had so signally advanced the cotton trade were found to be substantially applicable to woollens. At once a development began second only in importance to that which the cotton trade enjoyed. In 1874 we imported 344,000,000 pounds of wool, and exported woollen manufactures to the value of 28,000,000.

About the close of the century machinery began to supersede those rude appliances by which the linen manufacture had hitherto been conducted. Flax was spun in mills which were driven by water or steam, and the quaint spinning-wheel sank into disuse. The hand-loom held its place much longer. The linen trade was slow to adopt the power-loom. This invaluable machine had been invented for forty years before the timid makers of linen began seriously to contemplate its employment.

In every branch of textile industry growth has been rapid and continuous, until, when the nineteenth century entered its last quarter, there were seven thousand two hundred and ninety-four factories in Great Britain. Besides supplying the enormous requirements of the home market, these works furnished the world with cotton, woollen, linen, and silk fabrics to the value of 120,000,000.

Hitherto there had been obtained from South American and Russian mines a supply of gold and silver adequate to the requirements of existing commerce. But that supply would have been wholly insufficient for the vastly enlarged transactions of the free trade period; and grave inconveniences must have resulted if the commerce of the world had been suffered to outgrow the precious metals, on which the security of all monetary systems depends. These evils were averted by an opportune discovery. The provision for the want anticipated even our knowledge of its existence. It was found that gold abounded in California, then recently acquired by the United States. A little later gold was discovered in our Australian colonies. Still later, as the requirements of the world grew, it was found that the Rocky Mountains, throughout the larger portion of their vast area, were richly charged with the precious metals. The annual production of gold and silver rose from ten million sterling to thirty-five million. In thirty years the store of precious metals available for the business of the world had received the huge addition of one thousand million sterling.

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