« ZurückWeiter »
204.-THE INDUSTRY OF THE BRITISH NATION.
CHENEVIX, [The following extract is from a posthumous work, in two volumes, entitled · An Essay upon National Character,' published in 1832. There are many striking reflections in this book, which is now little read. Richard Chenevix was well known in the literary and scientific circles of his day; and was the author of two plays, which were considered a most successful imitation of the old dramatists.]
England, now the most renowned seat of industry, was not always thus active in pursuing her industrious speculations. Like every country in which early obstacles are great, she was retarded at her first outset in the career ; but, like every country where those difficulties are no more than enough to awaken salutary exertions, she has finally taken a lead, and has left all her early competitors in amaze at her inexplicable progress. The other advantages which she possesses, her laws, her constitution, her Shakspere, her Newton, other nations are more apt to dispute ; and, as the Grecian officers did to Themistocles after the battle of Salamis, each allows her only the second place next to itself. But in industry all are compelled to own, as did the Athenian generals to Miltiades, before the day of Marathon, that she has no rival, and to give her up the place of eminence.
Many were the nations who had the start of England in industry ; and the Italians, the Germans, the Flemish, and in some respects the Dutch were her predecessors. In very early times, indeed, she possessed neither manufactures nor commerce, although the aptitude of her mind for the mechanical arts was observed by the Romans, at the end of the third century, to be superior to that of the Gauls. Still
, however, sharpened as it was by necessity, it was not applied to general purposes even in the time of Alfred ; nor does the history of her trade or manufacture present any memorable feature, except its backwardness
, till long afterwards. The thirteenth century, indeed, can boast of some commercial treaties with Norway and Flanders, a considerable exportation of wool, the manufacture of some fino linens, the society of the staple, the merchants of the steelyard, &c. But these Were far from being even the prognostics of the future development of British industry; for the principal business was in the hands of foreigners, and the mint was conducted by Italians. The next contury witnessed much greater progress, and opened under the favourable auspices of the Charta Mercatoria, given by Edward I., granting safety to all merchants of Almaine, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, &c., who traffic with England—a measure the more expedient, because as yet the natives did not much navigate to other countries, and the produce was carried away by foreigners in foreign ships. Some English vessels did, indeed, trade to the Baltic, but none bud penetrated into the Mediterranean. The condition of the shipping, too, was mean and poor, as may be learned from the navy lent by Edward I. to Philip the Fair, the largest vessels of which were manned by forty men ; and in 1338 the galleys of Edward III, werc built at Nice. Notwithstanding this, however, the balance in favour of Britain must have been considerable, since the exports were
equal to more than seven times the value of the imports. But, unfortunately, they still consisted in raw produce, as wool, woolfells, lead, tin, &c., with the exception of some leather and some coarse cloths ; for the natives did not learn how to fabricate those materials for themselves until the conclusion of this era, when manufactured articles became a little less uncommon among the goods exported. The navigation act, prohibiting all British subjects to carry merchandise, except in British ships, manned mostly by Britons, dates from 1381, and the importation of woollen cloths was forbidden in 1399.
The fifteenth century, which revealed so many important secrets to the world, could not fail to be beneficial to England, although it contained the most disastrous period of her history. Still, however, she found means to apply much attention to her woollen manufactures ; and a long list of foreign wares, prohibited in 1463, shows that their fabrication at home had made their importation useless. These, too, principally consisted in woollens of all descriptions ; in a variety of articles of which leather and iron are the immediate ingredients; and in a few silken goods ; and prove that necessary industry had made more progress than luxury.
But the advantages which she was destined to reap from the general proficiency of Europe were to accrue to her more largely at a later period; and not even the sixteenth century saw them fully expand. Nevertheless, her trade increased, and her ships ventured into the seas of the Levant, where they carried woollen stuffs and cadf skins. She traded also with the west coast of Africa, with Brazil, with Turkey, with the islands of the Mediterranean ; and her commerce with the Netherlands became most extensive. Although the exportation of wool continued, that of woollen cloths increased to an incredible amount; and the ruin of Antwerp gave her the manufacture of silk. So much, indeed, had her traffic augmented, that in 1590, her customs, which Queen Elizabeth had farmed for fourteen thousand pounds, were raised to fifty thousand pounds; and while her ships, both royal and commercial, were increasing in burden and in number, her ports, docks, storehouses, &c., were improved ; and she undertook voyages of discoveries and circumnavigation.
The events in which England was engaged during the seventeenth century produced a very different effect upon the enterprising spirit of the nation from those which occurred two hundred years before. The age of Henry V. was the chivalrous age of that country, and chivalry is not propitious to the plodding drudgery of commerce. In the civil wars between the two Roses, the people took no more part than did the Roman people in the wars of Marius and Sylla. No improvement, then, could accrue to them from such ill-directed efforts. But the civil wars of the seventeenth century were for liberty. Every victory, every defeat, enlightened the people, and rapid strides were made; colonies were planted in the New World — the foundation of Anglo-American prosperity was laid-commercial treaties were formed, and manufactures received an increase which would appear incredible did not a later period far surpass it. Such was the prosperity of trade, that in 1613 the customs, which but twenty-three years earlier were farmed for fifty thousand pounds sterling, amounted to one hundred and forty-eight thousand pounds; and between the year 1641 and 1647, the parliament levied forty millions, to wage war against the king. Even in the worst times of the republic, commerce was protected, as the generalization of the navigation act and other wise measures of Cromwell sufficiently prove. Sir James Childe, in his ‘ Discourses on Trade,' states that, in 1670, the exportation of home manufactures, notwithstanding the loss of some branches, had, upon the whole, increased one-third ; and another high authority, Sir William Petty, including a a period of forty years, rates this proportion even at a greater average ; for, besides that, many things had doubled during that time, many had trebled and qnadrupled, and the revenues of the post-office, a sure criterion of public business and commercial activity, had arisen in the proportion of twenty to one. At the expulsion of the Stuarts, the following statement appears in the writings of Davenant:—that the tonnage of the royal navy had increased between the years 1660 and 1688, from sixty-two thousand tons to one hundred and eleven thousand tons, while that of the commercial Davy had been doubled; that the customs had increased from three hundred and ninety thousand pounds, to five hundred and fifty-five thousand pounds; and the rental of England in lands, houses, mines, &c., which in 1660 was valued at six million pounds, was in 1698 fourteen million pounds : while the total value of the territory, estirnated at the first epocha at twelve years' purchase, and at the latter at eighteen, had risen from seventy-two to two hundred and fifty-two millions.
These successive augmentations have been considered by their contemporaries as so many limits which it was impossible to pass ; and England was supposed, at each of them, to have reached the zenith of her prosperity ; nevertheless, she has continued still to culminate, and men to think that she can rise no higher. The eighteenth century, when so many colonies received the produce of so many manufactories, and returned such valuable commodities for new barter; when all the wonders of the preceding epocha were so much outdone, was held, in its turn, as one of the eras which must inevitably bring on a retrograde motion. And, indeed, if unbounded prosperity must absolutely be followed by ruin, these apprehensions may be in some measure excused, though they were not realized.
The revolution which established the present constitution gave a development to British commerce of which history records no precedent. According to Davenant, the exports in 1703, a year so marked with disasters occasioned by the weather, amounted to more than six millions and a half. In 1709, the net amount of customs was near one million and a half; and the revenue of the post-office, which at the Restoration was twenty-one thousand pounds, had becomo ninety thousand pounds in 1715, including the addition of one-third of the original postage enacted by Parliament, but which the extent of business made easily supportable. Successive reductions of the interest of money took place, till at length, in 1749, it reached three per cent., which low rate, however, was no impediment to levying the most extraordinary supplies, in 1761 amounting to near twenty millions sterling, besides near three millions of interest on the national debt. A war which ensued shortly afterwards threatened a diminution of this prosperity ; yet, but two years after its conclusion, and the recognition of Anglo-American independence (1786), the customs of England netted above five millions and a half, the exports sixteen millions, the post-office half a million ; the tonnage of the navy, royal and commercial, was equal at least to three-fourths of that of all the rest of civilized Europe and America united, and the public revenue was fifteen million three hundred and ninety-seven thousand four hundred and seventy-one pounds, leaving a surplus above the expenditure of nine hundred and nineteen thousand two hundred and ninety pounds. Thus had this nation, the most extraordinary that civilization has witnessed, again attained one of those impassable limits which touch the verge of ruin, and, as usual, amid the melancholy forebodings of all who rejoiced in her prosperity.
The period which followed these predictions has not realized them ; but has shown, that even beyond those last limits there is still another limit. In 1823, the customs were eleven millions and a half, the export fifty-two millions, of which forty-three consisted in home manufactures ; the post-office was one million and a half, the revenue fifty-seven millions and a half, leaving a surplus of six millions and a half above the expenditure. The reign of Queen Elizabeth is often hailed by modern despondents as the good time of old England ; yet the entire customs of the country amounted, in her days, to one eight-hundredth part of the present customs, and to one-tenth part of the present post-office alone. Such a proportion of wealth, resulting from honest industry, never yet belonged to twenty millions of human beings; and what happy grounds does not such prosperity as this afford to all who would prophesy that the ruin of England is nearer at hand than ever.
One of the most remarkable and furtunate circumstances in the above statement is, that the domestic and proper industry of Englishmen—the produce of their hands and minds—furnishes four-fifths of their exports. Of all the modes of traffic, the most advantageous would be for one and the same people to perform every operation relating to it; that is to say, for them to grow the raw material, and fabricate it at home, and then export the manufactured commodity in ships of their own construction, and manned by themselves. To complete this process in all its stages has not fallen to the lot of any empire extensively engaged in industry; nor could it be possible for the same country to produce all the materials employed in manufactures, some of which belong to the coldest, others to the warmest climates. But if the soil be occupied in producing what it can best produce, and if the returns of trade bring home other materials, the advantage is nearly as great ; and the rationale of industry is fully satisfied by the proportion of labour which remains to be bestowed upon them. Now, though England does not produce the silks which she weaves, or the dyes with which she colours them; though all the wool which she spins, all the iron which she converts into steel, may not be of native growth, yet her commercial superiority enables her to procure those primary substances at as low a price as they would cost her were they the produce of the land. It is, then, with great wisdom that she has turned her attention, not to compel an unpropitious soil and climate to yield the drugs and spices of the East, but to import them; not to work ungrateful ores into imperfect instruments, but to purchase the crude matter wherever it is best, and to bestow upon it that which gives it value, that which alone is value-labour. Neither is she the only country that has pursued the same prudent system; almost all commercial nations have adopted it. But there never did exist an empire which bestowed so much of its own—of itself-upon the raw productions of nature, and spun so large a portion of its wealth out of the unsubstantial, intangible, abstract commodity, coinposed of time, intellect, and exertion, and which is marketable only in the staples of civilization. In the ten millions of foreign or colonial produce which England exported in 1823, there was much important labour--much nautical skill and industry ; but, in the remaining forty millions, there was not merely four times, but perhaps sixty times as much happy application of time, intellect, and exertion; and they who appreciate her by her colonies, and by her mere transport of external produce, have a feeble idea of her state of improvement.
Could any single principle suffice to designate, with absolute precision, the difference between civilization and luxury, it might be the value of time. Time must be estimated by what it produces; and superior understanding can make a minute bring more blessings to mankind, than ages in the hands of idleness. Neither is it by the selfish enjoyments of luxury that our moments can be repdered precious, but by the acquisition and application of intellectual force, and their productive power is the justest measure of civilization.
Now, the productive power of time must be estimated by the quantity and the quality—by the usefulness and the multitude of its productions. The most civilized and enlightened nation is that whose industry can pour upon the world the greatest proportion of the best and most valuable commodities in the shortest time.
From the rapidity with which such a nation fabricates good things, is derived a necessary appendage to this mode of appreciating civilization—cheapness. It must not, however, be supposed that this is unlimited, or that a low price of manufactures can compensate for their mediocrity. Civilization does not make bad things for nothing ; this is the work of idleness, or of luxury affecting to be industrious. The bent of civilization is to make good things cheap.
It is a proud and true distinction, that, in this island, the average consumption of woollens per head is more than double of what it is in the most favoured country of Europe; and more than four times as much as the average of the entire Contibent, including even its coldest regions.
205.-THE STRAWBERRY PLANT.
St. Pierre. [BERNARDIN DE ST. PIERRE is best known through his delightful tale of Paul and Virginia.' His “Studies of Nature, from which the following is an extract, is a work of very unequal merit;—inaccurate in its science, visionary in its morals and politics. Still there are passages of great eloquence, and even of strong good sense, which ought not to be forgotten. St. Pierre was born in 1737; led a wandering life for many years; was in some danger during the French Revolution from his declaration of a belief in a Supreme Being; was protected by Joseph Bonaparte, and pensioned by Napoleon; and died in 1814.]
One day in summer, while I was busied in the arrangement of some observations which I had made respecting the harmonies discoverable in this globe of ours, I perceived, on a strawberry plant which had been accidentally placed in my window, some small winged insects, so very beautiful that I took a fancy to describe them. Next day a different sort appeared, which I proceeded likewise to describe. In the course of three weeks, no less than thirty-seven species, totally distinct, had visited my strawberry plant: at length they came in such crowds, and presented such variety, that I was constrained to relinquish this study, though highly amusing, for want of leisure, and, to acknowledge the truth, for want of expression.
The insects which I had observed were all distinguishable from cach other by their colours, their forms, and their motions. Some of them shone like gold, others were of the colour of silver and of brass ; some were spotted, some striped ; they were blue, green, brown, chestnut coloured. The heads of some were rounded like a turban, those of others were drawn out into the figure of a cone. Here it was dark as a tuft of black velvet, there it sparkled like a ruby.
There was not less diversity in their wings. In some they were long and brilliant, like transparent plates of mother-of-pearl; in others, short and broad, resembling net-work of the finest gauze. Each had his particular manner of disposing and managing his wings. Some disposed theirs perpendicularly; others horizontally; and they seemed to take pleasure in displaying them. Some few spirally, after the manner of butterflies; others sprang into the air, directing their flight in opposition to the wind, by a mechanism somewhat similar to that of a paper-kite, which, in rising, forms, with the axis of the wind, an angle I think of twenty-two degrees and a hall.
Some alighted on the plant to deposit their eggs; others, merely to shelter themselves from the sun. But the greatest part paid this visit from reasons totally unknown to me; for some went and came in an incessant motion, while others moved only the hinder part of their body. A great many of them remained entirely motionless, and were like me, perhaps, employed in making observations.
I scorned to pay any attention, as being sufficiently known, to all the other tribes of insects which my strawberry plant had attracted ; such as the snail which nestles under the leaves; the butterfly which flutters around; the beetle which digs about its roots; the small worm which contrives to live in the parenchyme, that is, in the were thickness of a leaf; the wasp and honey beo which hym around the blossoms;