Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

nation, but a decrease in the prosperity of thousands of individual households.

The effect of inclosures was very similar. The old system of the villagers cultivating in turn strips of land
in open fields was undoubtedly unsound, if the amount of wealth produced is the sole criterion; but it

produced enough for the individual village-community, and the increased production accruing from

inclosures went to swell the total wealth of the nation and of those who manipulated it at the cost of the

tillers of the soil. The cost to the community was potential rather than actual; common lands which are

now worth millions were appropriated by landlords in defiance of the law. This illegality was remedied

in 1549, not by stopping the inclosures but by making them legal, provided that "sufficient" commons

were left; if the incloser considered his leavings enough, the gainsaying of the tenants was to be ignored,

or punished as treason or felony in case of persistence. England, however, was still fairly big for its three

or four millions of souls, and an Act of Queen Elizabeth provided that every new cottage built should

stand in four acres of its own. This anticipation of the demand for three acres and a cow did something to

check excessive specialization; for the tenants of these cottages added a little cultivation on their own

account to their occupations as hired labourers or village artisans. In the seventeenth century the

land-hunger of the landlords was generally sated by schemes for draining and embanking; and vast tracts

of fen and marsh, such as Hatfield Chase and Bedford Level, were thus brought under cultivation.

Commerce rather than industrialism or agriculture is the distinctive feature of English economy during
the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century. By means of newly developed trade-routes, the

East and the West were tapped for such products as tobacco, tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, rum, spices,

oranges, lemons, raisins, currants, silks, cotton, rice, and others with which England had previously

somehow or other dispensed; and the principal bone of contention was the carrying trade of the world.

Shipbuilding was the most famous English industry; and when Peter the Great visited England, he spent

most of his time in the Deptford yards. For some of these imports England paid by her services as carrier;

and so far as India was concerned it was a case of robbery rather than exchange. But exports were more

and more required to pay for the ever-increasing imports. It is impossible to state categorically either that

the imports provoked the exports or the exports the imports; for the supply creates the demand as much

as the demand creates the supply. There can have been no conscious demand for tobacco in England

before any Englishman had smoked a pipe; and when an English merchant in Elizabeth's reign took a

thousand kerseys to Bokhara, he did so without waiting for an order. Both exports and imports, however,

can only develop together; the dimensions to which English commerce had attained by Walpole's time

involved exports as well as imports; and the exports could not have been provided without developing

English industries.

In particular, England had to export to the colonies because the colonies had by the Navigation Acts to
export to England; and Walpole's abolition or reduction of duties on colonial produce illustrated and

encouraged the growth of this trade. In return for colonial tobacco, rice, cotton, sugar, England sent

chiefly woollen and afterwards cotton manufactures. These woollens had long been manufactured on the

domestic system in the sheep-rearing districts of England, particularly Yorkshire; many a cottage with its

four acres for farming had also its spinning-wheel, and many a village its loom; and the cloth when

finished was conveyed by pack-horses or waggons to the markets and fairs to be sold for export or home

consumption. But between 1764 and 1779 a series of inventions by Arkwright, Hargreaves, and

Crompton, transformed the simple spinning-wheel into an elaborate machine capable of doing the work

of many spinners; and once more an advance in national productivity was made at the expense of the

individual workers who took to breaking the machines to stop their loss of work.

 

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