Care should be taken, that the poor are not deprived of labour, and one man not be suffered to enrich himself by substituting mechanical arts where industry was before employed, not caring whether the poor around him were starving for want of work
|On the English Constitution,||Page 1|
|On the English Laws, Courts of Judicature, and the Manner of administering Justice,||54|
|On the Army and Navy,||85|
|On the National Debt and Taxes,||96|
|On the Provision for the Poor,||113|
|On the State of Population in England,||124|
EVERY constitution of government comprehends in it a three-fold power. The legislative is the first, the judicial the second, and the executive the third. A despotic monarchical government unites all three in one person: the English constitution gives the two first powers, properly speaking, to the people, which includes the nobility, and leaves the last only to the king. The parliament, which represents the nation, is to propose laws, and to make them; the king is afterwards to give his assent, by which means they become acts of parliament, or binding laws. A jury, of which I shall speak more hereafter, is to judge and to decide, whether a person, accused of 2 having transgressed the law, be guilty, or not. The executive power of the king can be exerted only in conformity to their verdict. Hence it may easily be seen, that the liberty of the English consists in their being their own lawgivers, by means of parliaments, and in being tried by their equals, when accused of having transgressed the laws; for no punishment can be inflicted till a jury, upon oath, after a fair trial, have determined the guilt of the party accused.
The English themselves consider the following as the great bulwarks of their liberty; first, the Magna Charta, when king John, in 1215, was obliged, by his barons, to grant great privileges to them, and to the people, and which were afterward considerably extended; secondly, the right of being tried by a jury, or, if the person to be tried be a peer or peeress, by the house of lords; and, lastly, the Habeas Corpus act, which was made in 1679, though the constitution implies the tenor of it centuries ago. By this act any prisoner can demand, immediately after his imprisonment, to be brought before a judge in open court, and have the cause of his detainer and imprisonment certified; to be indicted the first term after his commitment, 3 and to be brought to trial at least the term following. This act is of the highest importance; for it places the person of a British subject in the greatest security. In times of rebellion, or if the state be in great danger, it is occasionally suspended, and the king may secure suspicious persons, without delay, and without the customary forms of law; but this is very seldom done, and when the parliament grants such a power to the king, it is only for a short and limited time1.
The principles, and the origin of the English constitution, are derived from the Saxon government; and Montesquieu observes very justly, that this noble system of government was found in the woods of Germany2. It does great credit, indeed, to the English, that they have preserved this system of government of their ancestors, and carried it to a much greater degree of perfection; whilst the Germans, on the contrary, have lost both the system, and the liberty of their forefathers. Animated by a proper spirit, we might full as 4 well have applied to our German nation the ancient doctrine of the English common law, “That liberty is the birthright of the people of England:”—and why not of all mankind, over the whole globe? We are, however, to remember, that this British constitution, as it at present subsists, is not many centuries old, and that it has cost much bloodshed, and occasioned many struggles between the people and their kings, before it was properly established. The æra when it obtained the present degree of some human perfection, is to be dated only from the Revolution in the last century. I shall offer a few remarks on this constitution, after I have previously said something more respecting its three constituent parts, the King, the Lords, and the Commons.
1 Here follows, in the German edition, an account of the fundamental laws, which, being well known in this country, is here omitted.
2 Ce beau a été trouvé dans les bois. L’Esprit des Loix, tom. I. liv. xi. c. 6. p. 276.
the Revolution in the last century
[Everywhere in this book, “the Revolution” refers to the “glorious revolution” of 1688, not the somewhat better-known one of earlier in the century.]
[Footnote] Ce beau systéme a été trouvé
text unchanged: expected système
THE royal dignity is hereditary, and may descend to females, on a failure of male issue. This right of inheritance has repeatedly, by act of parliament, been changed or limited; but, without such intervention of parliament, the crown is to remain hereditary.
The coronation oath shews under what obligations and restrictions a British sovereign is to lay himself. But though the royal power seems to be pretty limited, it yet remains very great. Let every one judge from the following particulars. The person of the king is to be esteemed sacred. The laws do not extend over his actions; and, therefore, it is supposed, that the king can do no wrong, nor even think, or intend any evil. His ministers are responsible for every thing that may be contrary to law, or to the constitution, even when they are suspected to have acted as they were ordered by their sovereign. For this reason, in political publications written in opposition to measures adopted by the government, not the king, but his ministers are to be attacked. Even in parliamentary debates, where the liberty of speech is otherwise so great, the name 6 of the king is to be held sacred, and never to be mentioned without high respect. The opposition party may direct their speeches and censures against the ministers, but never against the king himself, even when they may, perhaps, suppose, that the ministers have only conformed to higher commands. Should any expressions disrespectful to the sovereign be dropped in either house of parliament, the members who make use of them are liable to be sent to the Tower; but this can only be done by the authority of that house of parliament in which the expressions are used; and no instance of that kind has occurred during the present reign. It is, however, from hence manifest, how tenderly the name of the king is to be made use of in both houses of parliament. The king has the exclusive right to declare war, and make peace, to conclude alliances, and to send ambassadors to foreign courts, as he pleases. He is the head of the church, and the highest and most lucrative ecclesiastical preferments are in his gift. The appointment of officers, both in the navy and the army, is a prerogative of the king. He can call parliaments, and dissolve them again, when he thinks proper. He can give his royal assent to bills brought into parliament, 7 that they may become standing laws, or he may refuse it, and they are consequently lost.
The annual revenue of the king is at present fixed at 900,000l. a most considerable sum; but which, notwithstanding, has not always been found sufficient; and, therefore, parliament has granted, even during my stay in England, more than once, large sums, which sometimes have amounted to half a million, to pay the king’s debts. There is no comparison between the revenue of the kings of England in former times and that at present, even though we make allowance for the greater intrinsic value of money formerly. In the time of Henry V. the ordinary revenue of the crown amounted only to 55,714l. out of which the ordinary expences of the government were to be defrayed; which at that time amounted to about 42,507l. so that the king had a surplus of only 13,207l. At present, the sum above-mentioned, which goes under the name of the civil list, is chiefly appropriated to the current expences of the king and his household. The general expences, which are otherwise requisite to the national government, are yearly granted and raised by parliament besides; and are computed to amount in times of peace to about four millions. There is no nation in Europe 8 which raises such great sums for government, and which has provided so amply and liberally for the support of their princes as the English. Notwithstanding which, it is an observation frequently made by foreigners who come to this island, that there is hardly any court in Europe which is kept up with so little splendour as the British, which gives less encouragement to the arts and sciences, and where those who belong to the king’s household complain oftener of being in arrears with regard to their salaries. I shall only add, that, in modern times, the civil list is generally granted to the king during his life-time, though the English law maintains, that an English king never dies; but these trifling contradictions in human assertions are not to be regarded. At the time of the Revolution, the civil list was granted by parliament to king William, first for one year only, afterwards for five years, and then for his life-time.
That part of the king’s revenue which goes under the name of the civil list, is, however, not the whole which the crown possesses in relation to money. All that is raised in the nation, under the name of taxes, of duties, of excise, &c. is delivered into the treasury, and the king’s exchequer, whence the different sums 9 are issued, according to the grants of parliament, for the different exigencies of the state. The persons, who are employed in such offices as concern the finances of the kingdom, are nominated by the king, or by those who, in consequence of the royal appointment, acquire the right of appointing those who serve under them. By these means the crown can make powerful friends and dependents; and the great patronage, which both in church and state, is in the hands of the king, renders the influence of the crown very great. A few years ago, when those who are stiled patriots got the upper hand in parliament, they went so far as to vote, that the influence of the crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. Nay, an inquiry was even set on foot into the manner in which the money raised for the civil list, was expended; and one or two acts of parliament were passed for lessening the influence of the crown. This, indeed, was an exertion, which shewed for once the rights of the people, and that it was supposed, by the constitution, that the prerogatives of the king were derived from the nation, who had conferred them on their sovereign. But means were soon found to extinguish these sparks of patriotism, lest they should 10 kindle into a flame. This very transaction, and the result, has confirmed me in my opinion, that the influence and the power of the crown are very great.
When in England private persons go to law, he that loses is frequently obliged to pay all costs; but the king in his law-suits, though he loses, never pays any. If a person becomes a bankrupt, and owes any thing to the crown, that sum is previously taken from the whole of the bankrupt’s effects, and what afterwards remains is divided among the creditors. If the collector of the land-tax in a parish should become insolvent, or prove to be a knave, the inhabitants of the parish are to pay taxes a second time, to make good the deficiency of what is due to the king. If any person has in point of property a just demand upon the king, he must petition him in his court of chancery, where the chancellor will administer right as a matter of grace, though not upon compulsion1. In this respect I might almost say, that the Germans, whom many of the English 11 regard as slaves, possess more freedom; for they have a tribunal, where they can oblige their princes to render them justice, without its being regarded as a mere matter of grace2. I am, however, convinced, that, in the present times, in England, justice will never be denied any subject, if he has a just demand even upon the king; though there are instances enough in English history, where this could not be obtained. All these prerogatives are sufficient to shew, that the power of the king, and his political influence, are very great; and that there is some truth in what the emperor Charles V. asserted, in a conversation with the English ministers at Brussels, that the prerogatives of a king of England were more extensive than those of a king of France; at least it will be certainly so, if the revolution in France, which has just taken place, should be finally established.
1 It has, however, been remarked, that this is a mere matter of verbal compliment to the king, in the proceedings of the court of chancery; and that neither the chancellor, nor the king, can refuse or prevent justice from being administered in such cases.
2 Among other instances of this kind, I will only mention a process, which the city of Leipsic carried on at Wezlar against the late king of Prussia, who had erected a turnpike, and instituted a toll, on the high road leading to Leipsic. Frederic, who is stiled the Great, lost his suit; and was obliged, though unwillingly, to remove the turnpike, and drop the toll.
the English law maintains, that an English king never dies
[Hence that well-known elementary particle, the kingon, which moves instantaneously from a dead king to his successor.]
that the prerogatives of a king of England were more extensive than those of a king of France
[About equal, I’d say: both monarchs have the right to get their heads chopped off once per millennium.]
THE British nation is divided into Lords and Commons; and upon this distinction are founded the two Houses of Parliament, or the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The clergy, according to the English constitution, belong to the commons; and the bishops sit in the house of lords, not as representatives of the clergy, but as barons of the realm. The number of the house of lords is not limited. At the close of the reign of Charles II. there were only 178 peers; but they have since been increased to 216. When, in the year 1719, a bill was brought into parliament for limiting the number of peers of the realm, and vigorously supported by the earl of Sunderland, it passed the house of lords, but was rejected by the house of commons; because many members of the lower house would not be deprived of the hope of being made peers themselves. The privileges of a lord are great; and the house of peers is the highest tribunal in the kingdom. From all the courts of justice appeals may be made to the house of lords, and their decision is final.13
The English nobility, as I before observed, are numerous, and in general rich. Their riches, however, and their splendor, are more visible at their country seats than in London; though they spend the greater part of their revenues in the metropolis, from the month of November to that of June. The English nobility might be the happiest of human creatures, if they would; but I fear there are too many of them who do not enjoy that happiness, which they might derive from their independency, and their large incomes, in consequence of their ambition, and their too expensive living. They seem to wish for nothing so much as places at court, and lucrative employments under government. The style of life of many of them is such, that even their large incomes are not sufficient for their extravagant expences. Hence it arises, that some, who, by pursuing the dictates of good sense, and by prudent management, might be the freest and most independent amongst men, are burthened with debts, cringe at court, and are unmindful of their own dignity, and of the welfare of their country. For this reason those of the nobility who are Roman Catholics, appear to me to be more happy; for being excluded from places under government, and from sitting in parliament, 14 they can live more to themselves, and have more real enjoyment of their fortunes.
The English nobility are called the guardians and the pillars of the throne; and I sincerely believe, that they may be justly so considered. Though there are degrees of nobility, and they are ranked accordingly; yet I have not found that there subsists such a ridiculous pride among the British nobles, on account of the number of noble ancestors which make up their pedigree, as may be met with almost every where in Germany; nor does an English nobleman think himself, or his posterity, in the least degraded, by marrying a lady who is not of a noble extraction. This would be looked upon among our German nobility as a great degradation, by which the most noble blood would be for ever defiled and corrupted; though it is to be feared, that there are many, who pride themselves upon their noble ancestors, whose real fathers or grandfathers were very different persons from their pretended progenitors; a circumstance which is too common in all Christian countries.
The privileges of the English nobility are great and numerous. There is amongst others, a law known under the name of scandalum magnatum; by which the character of a peer is 15 to be secured against calumny and defamation. But whoever peruses the daily papers of the present times may naturally suspect the existence of such a law1; for most of them treat the characters of many noblemen very cavalierly. Sometimes, indeed, even facts and truth, when related, may have the appearance of scandal.
The crown has always found it advantageous to have the richest and most respected of her subjects on her side, and to be in a close union with them. Honours and titles are the means to obtain this end. The rich man, who might live independently, is easily blinded by these things. He becomes connected with the court, and supports its measures, oftentimes from motives of vanity, and oftentimes from self-interest and necessity, because his expences become greater, and lead him to wish for a participation of those good things, of which government has the disposal.
It reflects no small honour upon the English nobility, that so many among them have distinguished themselves as men of science and literature, 16 as authors, and friends to the Muses. The names of a Bacon, Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Burlington, Pembroke, Orrery, Lyttelton, Pomfret, Chesterfield, and others, are well known in the republic of letters, and of arts. But the times seem to be altered: both learning, and the patronage of the learned, appear to be in a decline among the present nobility. Their education is, perhaps, in modern times more expensive, since travelling is now more frequent than formerly; but, notwithstanding this, men of genius, and of shining talents, are Much attention is paid to external accomplishments; but the internal furniture of the head, and the ornaments of the heart, are not sufficiently regarded. Much time and money are expended in dress, public exhibitions, plays, masquerades, hunting, racing, and gratifying sensual pleasures; but the number of those truly noble lords, who do honour to themselves, and to their rank, by promoting the welfare of their country, and encouraging and patronizing arts and sciences, is by far the smallest. Yet, even at present, I could mention respectable names of noblemen, still living, who do honour to their country, and to their elevated station.17
The nobility on the continent are known to be possessed, in general, of great pride; and in England, here and there, something of a similar kind may be likewise observed; but, certainly, in no respect comparable to what is to be met with in some other countries. I have made an observation, which, though it may appear a little paradoxical, is, I believe, nevertheless true. In kingdoms, and principalities on the continent, the nobility which are to be met with at their respective courts, are, to outward appearance, more condescending, and more polite and easy in their conversation, than those who live on their estates in the country, at a distance from the metropolis and the court. In England, the reverse seems to prevail. Those who are in possession of lucrative places under government, or who are called the Ins, are rather, pro tempore, haughty; and some of them resemble those petty tyrants, who are not much liked in other countries. On the contrary, those who are not, or at least but little, connected with the court, appear affable and civil; and almost to forget, that, by the regulations of society, which, in such cases depend on the chance of birth, they are placed in a higher degree above those who are presumed to be their inferiors.18
It is well known, that the English nobility have divested themselves, long ago, of a prejudice under which, in many other countries, their equals still labour. Here it is in no respect looked upon as degrading, when the younger sons of noblemen support and enrich themselves by traffic; which laudable way of thinking would, perhaps, be adopted more on the continent, if, after the example of the English, not all the children of a nobleman, but only his eldest son, were to inherit, and bear the title. At the royal exchange in London, man may, perhaps, conclude a bargain with a merchant, without knowing that he is a near relation, or even the brother of a lord, because he bears only the name of the family. Many marquisses, counts, and barons, in other countries, might be infinitely more happy and useful than they are, if they copied after the wise example of the English, and engaged in trade, or in some profession, that they might live without anxiety; and without verifying what Juvenal says, that it is one of the greatest hardships of poverty to make those ridiculous who labour under it:
Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se,
Quam quod ridiculos homines facit.
This is frequently the case in other countries, but not in England. I remember, among other instances, that, a few years ago, a man, who got his livelihood by plying a ferry-boat, between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, became unexpectedly an Irish peer, because death had made some havock in his family.
1 It would not, in the present age, I am informed, be considered as very honourable in any nobleman to ground a prosecution upon this statute; nor do even the courts of law much countenance such exclusive privileges.
there are many . . . whose real fathers or grandfathers were very different persons from their pretended progenitors
[File under: Things you could say in the 18th century that you could no longer say in the 19th.]
men of genius, and of shining talents, are scarce.
final . missing
more condescending, and more polite and easy in their conversation
[Reminder: “condescend” was a positive.]
a man, who got his livelihood by plying a ferry-boat . . . became unexpectedly an Irish peer
[Insert wisecrack about Irish peerages here.]
ALL the inhabitants of the realm, the king and the peers excepted, are styled commons, and generally divided into two classes, gentry and commonalty. In the first class are reckoned, those who rank between the nobility and the middling and lower class of the people. Baronets, knights, esquires, and gentlemen, go under the denomination of gentry. The clergy are looked upon as a distinct class. Baronets and knights may be compared with what is called lower nobility in other countries, though the title of a knight bachelor seems to be in but small repute. Formerly it was a military honour and reward; but at present it is bestowed on people of different professions: and if the city of London presents an address to the king to congratulate him on any occasion, the citizens that present it are asked, if there are any among them who wish to be knighted? It then frequently happens, that people of no significance, whose wives wished to be called, My Lady, acquire the honour of knighthood. The title of esquire belongs properly to the younger sons of noblemen, and to 21 people of genteel extraction, who live upon an ample fortune; but at present this appellation is very much degraded. I have seen it in English newspapers bestowed upon notorious sharpers, and even pickpockets. The appellation of gentlemen should be given only to those who have enjoyed a liberal education, and make good use of it, at the same time that their dress excites a favourable idea, and their outside corresponds with their inside. However, this title is likewise much misused; for it is given to, and assumed by people have, neither by education, nor conduct, the least claim to it. Even a parcel of coblers and botchers, when they meet, will address the company with the appellation of Gentlemen, as two washerwomen will call one another Madam.
It is said, that in England are to be found about 10,000, who, under no other title than the appellation of Gentlemen, enjoy from 500l. to 5000l. sterling yearly incomes, derived from their estates, or personal fortunes. To these are to be added at least 20,000 of younger brothers, and sons of the nobility, and what are called people of quality. They are generally brought up as if they were possessed of great fortunes, though in reality they have 22 but very little to expect. To supply, therefore, the want of personal fortune, they must endeavour, either by their real merit, or, which is much oftener the case, by means of their relations, to get lucrative places under government, either in the army, navy, church, or otherwise. Some of the English consider this kind of gentry as the bane of the country, though I believe there are many exceptions to be made. They say, that they are ready to do any thing for money, places, and pensions; and that their dependence on government renders them dangerous enemies to the liberty of the people. Bishop Burnet expresses himself still more strongly. “They are,” says he, “for the most part, the worst instructed and the least knowing of any of their rank, I ever went amongst1.” Of those that are educated in the English universities, he asserts, that “they are rather disposed to love arbitrary government, and to become slaves to absolute monarchy;”—and that “they are easily brought to like slavery, if they may be the tools for managing it.” I am, however, of opinion, that this description of Burnet’s is more suited to former times, and that the present have rather altered for the better. Yet it 23 is very natural, and it is confirmed by daily experience, that those who are educated as if they were high in rank, though without sufficient fortune to support it afterwards, being initiated in early youth in all fashionable follies, and having themselves indulged in all sorts of excesses, will try every means to support the same kind of life. They will readily adopt any method which promises money to carry on their manner of living, as it is called, in style, in idleness and pursuit of pleasure. Besides, those who fall under this description of gentry, seldom think it to be a concern of theirs, to live within their income. They generally go beyond it, and are either involved in debts, or use every means, however abject, to procure a place under government, a sinecure, or a pension, that they may live upon the industry and the taxes of their fellow citizens. The commonalty is, generally speaking, the better part of the nation; and it is, if not folly, at least great pity, that they are not always valued by those who think themselves their betters, according to their merit with regard to the public in general; nay, that many, who belong to this useful class of the nation, look upon their situation as degrading, and aspire to appear, at least outwardly, as if they belonged 24 to a higher class of the community. This, however, is a kind of weakness, which is to be met with in all countries; though it is a pity that it should infect the English commonalty, which is superlatively happy, when compared with the greatest part of those in Europe who are in rank their equals.
The lower house of parliament, representing the commons of Great Britain, has thence taken its denomination. It consists of 558 members. To enquire into the state of the nation, to deliberate about the means of promoting public welfare, to remove national grievances, and to grant the necessary supplies, that are to be raised for the support of government and the state, are the principal objects to which the attention of the parliament is directed. They are very great; and those who have read English history with attention, will know how much, particularly in later times, this grand council of the nation has contributed to support liberty, and to advance the prosperity of the British dominions2.
When any bills have passed both houses of parliament, the king gives his assent, upon 25 which they become law, and are called acts, or statutes. This royal assent is given in old Norman French, as it was done in the times of William the Conqueror. I have often wondered how the British spirit can brook, that these monuments of former subjection and conquest should still remain; but customs are in many instances kept up and authorized, though there are good reasons for abolishing them. A foreigner will also wonder, that these laws, and these parliamentary and royal mandates, when they concern the whole community, are not, as in other countries, made publicly known, either by being read on Sundays in churches, or posted up in public places, that every one may be informed of the law which is enacted. When I have mentioned this to Englishmen, I received for answer, that it was supposed the whole nation was present in the persons of their representatives, when these laws were made in parliament, and therefore became immediately acquainted with them. This is a kind of imputed knowledge, like that of the imputed sin of the first man, which divines have called original, Adam being supposed to have been the representative of all mankind. Of these statutes, or acts of parliament, there are so great a number, that they fill more than twelve 26 quarto volumes. I have been told, that some of these statutes contradict each other; and my own experience has taught me, that a great many are not at all, or at least very little observed. If laws, enacted by these statutes, are to be repealed, they are to go back through all the same formalities, which attended their coming into existence. The manner in which the laws of England are promulgated, as well as the laws themselves, seems to stand in great need of reformation.
I have often felt the greatest pleasure, when I had an opportunity of attending debates of some consequence in parliament; and it is my firm opinion, that if, in modern times, in any country eloquence can be exhibited as it was among the Greeks and Romans in their better days, it is in the British senate. I have sometimes heard, in both houses, speeches which would by no means have disgraced a Demosthenes or a Cicero, great as those names are. Formerly, the liberty of speech in parliament was very much confined, and that which now prevails is to be dated from the time of James the First. Every member, at present, expresses his sentiments with the utmost freedom; and the spirit of the old Romans, in those days of liberty, seems particularly now and then to 27 re-appear in the house of commons. It must give pleasure to a feeling and enlightened mind, to hear the noblest language of patriotism, and see in what striking colours the interest of the court, and the liberties of the people are caricatured; but, when after long rhetorical exertions, the cry is, the question! the question! an uninformed stranger, whose passions have been worked upon by the speeches he heard, and who tacitly felt an interest in the event of the debate, will find to his great surprize, that the whole contest is too often no more than a matter of form, and a kind of mock battle between the ministerial party and those that are in the opposition, of which the issue in most instances very easily might be foretold before the house assembled. The annual sessions of parliament might be much shortened, if some speakers, particularly those in the opposition, would abridge their speeches, especially when they know beforehand that they will be of no effect. A foreign gentleman, who understood English pretty well, came out of the house of commons, much fatigued, because the debates had lasted till late at night. When I saw him on the next day, and asked him how he had been entertained, his answer was, “If the words of Scripture are to be understood literally; 28 and that of every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account in the day of judgment, I will endeavour to get behind the British parliament; and I shall be sure that an eternity will be required before my account can be called for.”
In the upper house, those lords who are absent may give their votes, after a debate, by proxy. If to foreigners it should appear strange, that votes are given without hearing what has been urged for or against the question, they ought to consider, that the minister gains by this way of voting, because a third part of the votes are sometimes given in this manner. If, in the Roman senate, they likewise had voted by proxy, it might, be asked, of what use could have been the eloquence of a Cicero, or of any other orator?
1 Hist. of his own Times, vol. ii. p. 648.
2 Here follows, in the German, an account how the public business is transacted in parliament, which being well known to Englishmen, is not here translated.
it is given to, and assumed by people who have
text has who, have with superfluous comma
a parcel of coblers and botchers
[Today I Learned . . . first, that “botcher”, “bocher” or “bocher” is the earlier spelling, and, second, that the word comes from the name for a male goat. When did Europeans stop eating goat?]
enjoy from 500l. to 5000l. sterling yearly incomes
[The OCR intelligently read both ells as £. You can see its point.]
it might, indeed, be asked
missing comma after “indeed” supplied from Dublin edition
FORMS of government are, in the social state of men, a necessary evil. We cannot do without them, on account of the ambitious, the wicked, the foolish members of society; I for my part should declare myself for a monarchical government, if the chiefs of nations were always wise men and friends to mankind. The objections against an aristocracy, are many and too strong to be refuted. As for republican government, which seems to be so favourable to inestimable liberty, it is much to be lamented, that the history of old and modern republics shews too plainly, how much even this form of government suffers by ambition, selfishness, ignorance, and folly. Man, considered in a state of nature, revolts against all restrictions of his liberty: it, therefore, will always remain a problem to find out a form of government, which is adapted to that natural liberty of man, and to that society in general, in which he lives, in such a manner as to answer in every respect, when it is put into practice. Till then, we must pronounce every sort of government a good one, which, when well 30 administered, promotes the happiness of those who live under it.
Since, however, all the three before mentioned kinds of government are imperfect, it is not easily to be conceived, that a fourth, which is a compound of three imperfections, should become a perfection. This is applicable to the British constitution. It is a medley, a composition of monarchical, aristocratical, and republican materials; and though it has been looked upon, particularly by the English themselves, as a masterpiece of human wisdom, yet many visible defects may be discovered in it. I very readily pronounce the British constitution, when compared with other governments, a very excellent one; but it appears to me that the new constitution, which is just introduced into the united American provinces, is free from many defects which may be found in the English, and has advantages which the latter has not. However, since that new one has not yet been sufficiently tried, and its preference has not been stamped with an experience of many years, it must be left to time to decide whether the British or the American constitution is superior.
Political contests, which have been almost perpetual, and parties which seem to be permanent, 31 have kept the nation continually in a kind of ferment; and the revolutions which have happened, seem to be a sufficient proof, that the English constitution, which is composed of such jarring elements, must contain within itself the causes of its destruction. The English history, of former and modern times, furnishes proofs sufficient, that the nation was never without complaints of its constitution being violated; though the true spirit of this constitution, and the rights of the people which it contains, were never properly understood before the times of James the First; nay, I may say, only since the reign of Charles the Second. Before I became somewhat acquainted with the political affairs of England, and how they are transacted, I used to think, that if the maxims of the constitution were strictly adhered to, by the crown, lords, and commons, the people might be happy, and the king beloved and honoured. But as often as I expressed these thoughts, I always was answered: “This is impossible, England cannot be governed, but by parties.” Indeed, considering the English form of government, it can hardly be otherwise. Authority, and the lust of power, are things which too easily take possession of the mind: they seem to be of 32 an elastic quality, they resist and want to extend the more, the more they are confined. There is no nation whose history this assertion can more verify than the English, and the good sense and spirit of the people has nowhere struggled harder and oftener in opposition to arbitrary power, than on their island. In the times of queen Elizabeth, and of her father Henry, this spirit was, however, much less manifested than afterwards. The undetermined prerogatives of the crown were so extensive, and encroached so much upon the rights of the people, that, at that period, the crown might almost be said to be in possession both of the executive and the legislative power. Soon after the royal and the republican ingredients of the English constitution began to wrestle very hard with each other, which of the two should fall to the ground. In the time of Cromwell, the republican proved to be victorious; but how far that would have been the case, if he had lived longer, may reasonably be questioned.
I have before observed, that the power of the crown in England is very great; and though the privileges and power of the parliament seem to be very extensive likewise, yet the influence of the crown may generally procure a 33 majority in both houses, and by these means become in fact the legislative power, and do as it pleases, though in appearance every thing seems to be done constitutionally. Hence the English distinguish between real government and apparent; hence government is called the public; and the money which is raised by taxes in the nation, and which is under the controul of government, and the majority of the house of commons on the side of the minister, is called the treasure of the public, or public money. I mention this, because a foreigner will not find these significations of the word public mentioned in any English dictionary.
Rapin says, “The policy of the kings (speaking of the successors of Henry V.) turned wholly upon governing their parliaments by secret intrigues, without discovering any desire of altering the constitution1.” This practice, excepting perhaps the reigns of some princes, particularly those of Henry VIII. who sometimes acted in a very arbitrary manner, has been continued to modern times. If the ministers of the crown have sufficient money and patronage to procure a majority in 34 their favour, they are safe, and enabled to govern as they like, or to do as they are ordered by their master. It is difficult for those who are either poor, or avaricious, to resist the temptations of gold, and keep clear from the contaminations of bribery and corruption. At parliamentary elections, money circulates very freely, and that party which wants to prove victorious on such occasions, is generally profuse in bribes. However, these very means, so often, and so justly blamed, prove at the same time the liberty which the nation enjoys. Instances occur in ancient times, in which kings have directed whom electors should return as their representatives, and these directions have been sometimes complied with; but at present the ministers of the crown stand in need of costly means to procure to themselves parliamentary interest, which shews at once that despotism is out of the question. Hence it might farther very properly be asked, whether a minister, who employs bribery in order to have persons returned for the house of commons who are in his interest, is more to be blamed, or those who had it in their power to choose for their own advantage, but suffered themselves to be corrupted, and afterwards complain, that the majority of the parliament, according 35 to their judgment, is not in favour of liberty and the people? It is however, evident from this very circumstance, that if there were no power in the English Constitution, which had both inclination and sufficient means to corrupt, parliament would be more free and patriotic; its deliberations and debates would be influenced by nothing, but the desire to promote the happiness and welfare of the nation. Instead of this the royal power and prerogatives are a kind of a perpetual thunder-cloud, which hovers over the liberties of the people. It avails little to say, that the house of commons alone has the power of raising money by taxes and other impositions, and therefore has the best check upon ambitious designs, or any arbitrary proceedings of the ministers of the crown; for if these have procured a majority in this very house, they may grant public money as they please, and raise it by taxes as they think proper. The nobility inclines almost in every country to the side of the government, and in England it is particularly so. It is, therefore, no wonder, that in the upper house the majority is almost always for the crown, when so many of the nobility enjoy lucrative places, which are in the gift of the king. The case is the same in the lower house, where 36 many, on account of pensions and places, are dependent on the minister, or are related to lords who are in the interest of the crown. Whether the new American constitution, by having only a president, whose office is limited to four years, and at the same time no nobility or house of lords, will be free from those inconveniences which attend the British constitution, time alone can discover.
The history of all ages demonstrates, that in those countries where the right of property is established, the richest man has the greatest sway, and is generally most respected. In all republics, the most wealthy citizens have been dangerous to liberty. Rome, and other free states, were by these means bent down under the yoke of monarchical government; and the history of Florence evinces the same truth in modern times. If, therefore, the constitution of England should ever be altered, I am of the same opinion with David Hume2, that it will rather change to an absolute monarchy than to an entire republican government; though I most sincerely join the excellent author of the Commentaries on the Laws of England, in his wish to the British constitution as it now is, 37 Esto perpetua! Since, however, nothing in this world is perpetual, it is by no means impossible, that, in future times, princes of ambition may seize such opportunities as have offered in former times, but which have been neglected, to render their power absolute. In the reign of Henry VIII. an act was passed by the parliament, by which the king was empowered, with the advice of his council, to issue proclamations, enjoining obedience under whatever pains and penalties he should think proper; and which proclamations were to have the force of perpetual laws3. The prerogative of issuing proclamations, with a power of exacting obedience to them, as it was exercised even before the passing of this statute, is called by Hume “a strong symptom of absolute government4.” He likewise says, “that the people in those times had little notion of being jealous of their liberties, were desirous of making the crown independent, and wished 38 only to remove from themselves, as much as possible, the burthens of government. A large standing army, and a fixed revenue, would, on these conditions, have been regarded as great blessings5.” Burnet says, “I have seen the nation thrice on the brink of ruin,—After the Restoration all were running fast into slavery; had king Charles II. been attentive to those bad designs (which he pursued afterwards with more caution), upon his first return, slavery and absolute power might have been settled into law with a revenue able to maintain it6.” Had Cromwell lived longer, or had he had a successor, on whom his spirit had devolved, the English nation might, by this time, have been used to absolute monarchy, already more than a century. What has happened formerly, may happen again, notwithstanding the encomiums that are passed, perhaps with more confidence than truth, on what are honoured with the appellation of enlightened times.
It is in vain to say, that the spirit of Britons would never suffer them to submit to be treated 39 like Frenchmen formerly, or like Spaniards; for English history furnishes reigns of kings, who have treated their subjects in a very manner. Even members of parliament have been imprisoned, at the will of some sovereigns, or their favourites. Juries were oftentimes no security to the liberty of the people, the jurors being overawed by the royal power, and sometimes even fined when they gave verdicts contrary to the will of the judges dependent on the crown. Nay, there are reigns in which juries seem to have beep unknown, or at least as little in use, as they are at this very day in some parts of Scotland. That noble aversion, which the nation hitherto has shewn against standing armies, seems to wear off by degrees. Twenty years ago, when I came first into England, the inhabitants of London would not so calmly have submitted to be pushed off in the streets from the footway, with the but-end of a musket, by a troop of soldiers, marching two a breast as they do at present. The excise laws, which in England are as severe as in any country, have likewise been imposed, and very tamely adopted. What, therefore, has happened in former times, inconsistent with liberty, may happen again in those which are to come.40
Whoever views the British constitution, as it now actually appears, cannot but easily discover many things, which stand greatly in need of a reform. I shall mention only a few. It is frequently said, that the English nation is happy and free, because they are their own legislators, being represented in parliament. I verily believe, that the real intention of the constitution is, that it should be so. But considering that the number of inhabitants, in England and Wales, is generally estimated at between six and seven millions, among whom are only 260,0007 that are intitled to vote at elections for members of parliament; can it be said, that the nation chooses its own representatives? Is it true, that it is sufficiently represented by 513 members of the house of commons, deducting 45 for Scotland, when many flourishing towns send no representatives at all, and others by no means in proportion to the number of their inhabitants? When the votes of those who come into the house of commons for 41 decayed places, called rotten boroughs, are in all respects full as good as any other parliamentary vote given? Is it to be supposed, that those who, perhaps, have paid three, or more thousand pounds, for the honour of representing such a borough, have given that sum away merely with a view of doing good to their country? Foreigners, indeed, have too great an opinion of this representation of the nation, and of its being its own legislator. They do not know the proportion which the represented bear to the number of those that represent them; they are little acquainted with the manner in which the elections are carried on; they are often credulous enough to believe, that all the laws originate from the whole body of the people, by means of their representatives, when the most important bills or laws are generally brought in by the ministers of the crown, and carried through by their decided majorities. Even Montesquieu, though he had visited England, betrays in his encomium on the British constitution8, that his notions, particularly with respect to what concerns the representation in parliament, were not altogether conformable to truth, but contradicted by 42 experience. He intimates, that the representatives of towns and boroughs were inhabitants of the places which they represented9; and says, that every citizen had a right to vote for their representatives, excepting those who are in so low a station, that they might be reputed to have no will of their own10. When I first came into England, I entertained a notion similar to that of Montesquieu; but I am now of opinion, that there are many boroughs which are represented by a person, of whom those that choose him, often know as little as he knows of them; and the small number, which I have before remarked, who have a right to vote, clearly shews how much Montesquieu was also in that respect mistaken.
Since a representation, which is proportionable to the number of the inhabitants of the realm, must be considered as an essential part of the constitution, it is a subject of surprize, that the number of members of the house of commons is not increased; that large towns and boroughs remain unrepresented; and that the representation of those should be continued which are totally decayed. But the reasons why these improvements are not adopted, are 43 sufficiently obvious. It has been proposed, within these few years, to add some new members to the house of commons; and there was undoubtedly abundant reason for such a measure. It has, nevertheless, been opposed and rejected. Some were of opinion, that such a measure would be a dangerous innovation. “Leave,” it was said, “the old venerable fabrick of the constitution as it is: do not tamper with it.” They certainly did not recollect, that the house of commons has even in modern times increased in numbers. In the reign of Charles I. there were only 494 members; and consequently, since that time, 19 new representations in parliament have taken place. The very intention of the venerable fabric of the constitution, if I may repeat the expression, is, that it should be ornamented with the picture, or representation, of every town or borough in England; but how many of them, though of note, and in a flourishing condition, are totally unrepresented! The fact is, that ministers who are attached to and fond of the system of bribery and corruption, would find the sums too great that would be required to answer their purpose, if the number of the members of the house of commons were increased. They might even experience their 44 influence at new elections too weak, if it were to be extended over a number of unrepresented places in England, and still more in Scotland. It reflects, therefore, no small honour on a minister of the crown, and his constitutional principles, when he shewed himself, a few years ago, inclined to favour an increase of representation, which was proposed in parliament, though the scheme afterwards miscarried. All the increase of representatives in the house of commons would, however, avail but little, if the number of the peers be not limited. For if they can be created by dozens at once, as was actually done in the year 1711, it will be always in the power of a minister to gain a majority in the upper house, to counter-balance the patriotism of the house of commons.
Another reason why the representation of the nation in parliament is not altogether consistent with the ends that it should answer, may be derived from those members who sit as delegates of the people, though they are universally known to be dependents on the crown, because they enjoy places and pensions given by government. It is true, there is a law which enacts, that whenever a member accepts a place from the crown, his seat in the house is immediately 45 vacated; but in such cases they are generally re-elected. If those who have it in their option to choose whom they please, elect such persons again, it is their own fault; and, perhaps, it may be said, that government cannot be blamed. But the case is generally different; for the election is carried on under the influence of the crown. It is, however, the depravity and venality of the greatest part of the electors, which, beyond any thing else, destroys the spirit, and defeats the intention of the constitution. A foreigner, who has never been present at those scenes in England, when the representatives of the people in parliament are chosen for seven years, cannot possibly form a proper idea of them. Numbers of those who give their votes for a man, whom they intrust with a septennial care of their rights and liberties, do it in a state of intoxication. The riots, which then so frequently happen, are a reproach to the police, and a scandal to all sober people, and to all who have any regard for morality and virtue. It is a singular sight, during an election, to see persons of quality, who wish to be chosen, or their friends, enter the cottages of the poor, squeeze their hands, salute their wives and daughters, promise a great deal, and open houses for those 46 who will vote for them, where, at their expence, roast beef, plum pudding, ale, wine, and spirituous liquors, are served liberally and plentifully. All seem then to be upon an equality; generosity and condescension, united with the fairest promises, are conspicuous to a degree, which might charm a stranger, who was not acquainted with the views of the candidates, and the manœuvres practised on such occasions. But the scene greatly alters when he who canvassed for votes has obtained his end. He then commonly gives himself little concern about those who chose him, and has their interest, perhaps, no more at heart than that of the inhabitants of Madagascar. There are laws against bribery at elections, but they are easily evaded. Those who have acquired great riches in the East Indies, and whom the English call nabobs, do not care how much they pay for the honour of a seat in parliament. Nay, it is even said, that the nabob of Arcot has sometimes furnished gentlemen with the sums, requisite to procure a seat in the house of commons, that they might take care of his interest, if there should be occasion for it, when East India affairs are before the parliament. According to this state of things, every prince on the continent might, if he thought proper, 47 have his own members in the house of commons; and what Jugurtha said of Rome might be applied to the British senate, “That it might be bought by him who could afford to give the proper price11.”
I shall mention only one thing more, which seems to militate against the original design of the constitution. I mean the duration of a parliament, which includes at present seven years. This is certainly a long time, for a majority in the lower house, which is on the side of the crown, to encroach on the rights and liberties of the people. It is worth a bad man’s while to buy a seat in the house: for he may well entertain hopes, that, during seven years, he shall find means not only to reimburse himself, but also to get something profitable from those by whom his vote may be wanted. The commune consilium, or common council, which is mentioned in Magna Charta, though very different from the present form of British parliaments, may yet be considered as the foundation of them. The summonses for those common councils were issued forty days before their meeting, and the cause of the summons was also declared, that they might know the reasons 48 for which they met, and come prepared accordingly. If the English think their Magna Charta so sacred as they pretend it to be, why have they deviated from the good intentions of their Great Charter in favour of their liberties? Why do those who have a right to send representatives, place an unlimited trust in them for seven whole years, without knowing for what they send them, the article of granting taxes, and drawing money out of their pockets, only excepted, of which in the present times they may always be extremely certain? If parliaments lasted only for a year, or even for three, it would not be so easy as it is now, for a minister of the crown to obtain a majority. The treasury may afford every seven years the expences of a general election; but if parliaments were annual, or triennial, it would soon be found, that the sums spent in procuring a majority could not be afforded, and elections would of course be more free and more disinterested, because the public welfare would be the only interest which the greater part of the electors would have in view. There has been of late years an annual motion made for triennial parliaments, but it must ever be unsuccessful, while the minister has a decided majority against it. Besides, even those who are not his 49 friends, would hardly vote for shortening the duration of parliaments, except they were certain of being re-chosen without much expence; for at present most of the members of the lower house, who have given themselves great trouble to obtain a seat, recollect how difficult and expensive a business it was. Shortening the duration of parliament must, therefore, be the result of the exertion of the people themselves; for as matters are circumstanced, it will hardly ever originate either from the crown, or from a majority of the house of commons.
Various causes, since the latter part of the reign of king James I. have occasioned state-parties to subsist in England without interruption. In this respect the English government appears to me to be a kind of political Manicheism, where a good God, and an evil one, seem to be always at war against each other. The power of the crown and the liberty of the people are, in their very nature, contradictory to one another; and yet, if I were to be asked, whether it would not be better that one of these deities were subdued? I should be at a loss what answer to give; for I believe there would be parties notwithstanding. At present, the court has its party, and so have the people. Some adhere to their party from principle; 50 others from interest, and selfish motives. I know, however, from my own observation, that it is a mistaken notion to suppose, that every one who is of the court party is not a friend to his country, or that a real patriot is always against the court. Those who, from natural disposition, are attached to liberty, are always jealous of every thing that threatens to invade the rights of mankind; they will submit rather to any thing than bear those fetters of usurped power, which the bulk of people suffer so easily to be put on. There are many in England, who are animated by this noble spirit of liberty; but their number is small, when compared with that of the whose nation. Mock patriots are in abundance in this country. They talk much of liberty and the constitution, but with no other view than to raise themselves, and to gratify their ambition, or to take revenge when it is disappointed. The members of the established church are generally greater friends to monarchical government than the Dissenters, though there are many of the latter denomination who wish well to the crown, because they think that monarchical government is less subject to broils and fermentation than the republican. The reason why many of the Dissenters are addicted to republicanism, or 51 at least to a greater limitation of the regal power than some of the Churchmen, may be easily accounted for. The constitution of their congregations, or religious assemblies, is not favourable to subordination, and inclines much towards independence; which, at least in former times, has had an influence on their principles of political government. The oppression which their forefathers experienced from the episcopal church, under the sanction of royalty, is another reason, which is strengthened by the exclusion of Dissenters from all lucrative posts and offices, both in church and state.
The old denominations of state-parties, such as Whigs and Tories, High-flyers and Jacobites, are at present not very common; at least the two last are now almost forgotten. Patriots and courtiers are the fashionable words; and these are also sometimes distinguished by the appellation of Ins and Outs. Those who bask in the sunshine of royal favour, who partake of the good things which government has to bestow, and who can introduce their relations and friends to share with them in the loaves and fishes, are called the Ins. The Outs, or the opposition, in the mean time, do all that lies in their power to drive them from their lucrative places, and seat themselves in them. They 52 generally, when they are out, adopt the mask of patriotism, but throw it aside as useless, and turn courtiers again, when they are in possession of what they wanted. This kind of sporting between the Ins and Outs, who shall be the king’s ministers, is very frequent and very expensive; for the Ins when they are obliged to go out, are very often provided with pensions for life, which the nation is to pay. The people themselves, though the money comes out of their pockets, seem not to mind it, but rather keep up the sport by factions among themselves, in favour of one party or the other; for they are seldom long satisfied with any administration. Indeed, there is no depending upon them. The English are as changeable as any nation on the globe; and of this, among other proofs, the frequent changes of their ministry may be considered as an evidence. They sometimes appear inclined even to idolize their kings, while at other times they will set aside the most common respect which it has been usual to pay to monarchs. James II. was obliged to escape in disguise to one of the sea-ports, in order to pass over into France. When he was brought back from Feversham, the people, who had been exasperated against him, received him with shouts and acclamations. Perhaps little was wanting to have replaced 53 him on the throne, and to have sent the saviour of the English constitution and liberty back again to Holland. So much truth is there in the observation of Virgil,
Scinditur incertum studia in contraria vulgus.
Whoever reflects on the restoration of Charles II. cannot but be surprised at the suddenness with which the people repassed from republicanism to monarchical government. The prayers which to this day are read in the episcopal churches, to commemorate what is called the Martyrdom of Charles I. and the Restoration of Charles II. may serve as a proof of the servile submission of the people, at the time when these prayers were introduced. Indeed, it may be questioned, whether people who can say them seriously deserve to be free? It is, however, curious enough to see, how one part of the nation, I mean those of the established church, are resorting on the day of king Charles’s Martyrdom to church, to implore the Deity to forgive the sin of their forefathers, in putting to death a king; while many of the Dissenters openly express their approbation of Charles’s execution, and express their full satisfaction in the conduct of those republicans who brought him to the block.
1 Hist. of England, vol. ii. p. 797. Dissertation on Whigs and Tories.
2 Essays, vol. i. p. 27.
3 It seems, however, manifest, that the parliament which framed this extraordinary act, did not intend that it should have so extensive an operation as some writers have supposed; for the same parliament afterwards enacted, though with some inconsistency, that no proclamation should deprive any person of his lawful possessions, liberties, inheritances, privileges, franchises; nor yet infringe any laudable custom of the realm.
4 Hist. of England, vol. v. p. 197.
5 Ibid. p. 456, note. The justice of this statement of Mr. Hume, respecting the disposition of the people of England at that period, is not, however, universally admitted, though I think it to be a very true one.
6 Hist. of his Own Times, vol. i. p. 649.
7 It was asserted in the House of Commons, on the 25th of April, 1782, that in the above mentioned number were included 60,000 excise and custom-house officers, together with others who are dependent on the crown, and consequently vote as they are directed. But excise-officers, and custom-house officers, have since, by act of parliament, been rendered incapable of voting.
8 L’Esprit des Loix, liv. xi. ch. vi. tom. I. p. 257.
9 L’Esprit Loix, liv. xi. ch. vi. tom. I., p. 264.
10 Ibid. p. 265.
11 Urbem venalem,—si emptorem invenerit. Sallust. de Bello Jugurth. c. 39.
Wendeborn’s “every seven years” is not entirely accurate. For much of the 18th century, the Parliament of Great Britain was on a fairly reliable seven-year election schedule: 1715, 1722 and so on, with a few shorter gaps along the way. But by Wendeborn’s time, no Parliament lasted longer than six years or so: 1768, 1774, 1780. In the course of the 19th century there would be a total of 24 elections, ranging from a few months to over six years apart. Under current law, elections are to be held at five-year intervals—but even then, elections can be held sooner, throwing the whole schedule out of whack.
if the maxims of the constitution were strictly adhered to
[It is not easy to explain how this is to be achieved, since the United Kingdom to this date has no written constitution.]
treated their subjects in a very arbitrary manner
text has arbittary
soldiers, marching two a breast
[The Dublin edition hyphenates “a-breast”, which seems reasonable.]
many flourishing towns send no representatives at all
[Sit tight, Gebhard. The first Reform Act is only about forty years away.]
If those who have it in their option to choose whom they please, elect such persons again, it is their own fault
[Unless the voters have so little confidence in themselves that they have enacted term limits, nullifying the basic principle that In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.]
at other times they will set aside the most common respect which it has been usual to pay to monarchs
[Most people would agree that it is disrespectful to chop off a king’s head—but the following sentences make it plain this is not what he is talking about.]
[Footnote] L’Esprit des Loix, liv. xi. ch. vi. tom. I., p. 264.
text has de Loix
IN England, properly speaking, there are but two kinds of law in general use, the Common Law, and the Statute Law. The civil and canon laws are used only in certain peculiar courts and jurisdictions, where they are adopted, by custom. The common law is of the same kind as that which we call in Germany Herkommen, and comprehends those customs and usages which have, from time immemorial, obtained the authority and sanction of laws. Some of these customs prevail over the whole kingdom; others are confined to certain districts. Besides these, there are particular rules and customs, adopted in particular courts of judicature, which, by length of time, have obtained the authority of law. Those customs, which go under the denomination of common law, derive their origin chiefly from the Saxons. Alfred the Great was, in all probability, the first who began to collect them into a code, or book, which 55 might serve as a rule in courts of judicature; though this collection afterwards became more known under the name of the Laws of Edward the Confessor. William the Conqueror adopted the greatest part of them, added some of the Norman laws, and had the whole translated into his own language. These customs, however, which now compose a great part of the common law, were soon found insufficient for the decision of many cases. To remedy this deficiency, another species of law was added, which is called the statute law. It consists of acts, or edicts, made by both houses of parliament, and sanctioned as laws by the assent of the king. These statutes are almost innumerable, and the collection of them is a monster in its kind. The last edition of this code of laws, published by Owen Ruffhead, amounts to more than twelve volumes in quarto. Many of these acts have been drawn up by persons who were by no means qualified for such a business; and, in some instances, they contradict each other. Hence, and from the obscurity with which many of them are worded, arises the English proverbial expression of the glorious uncertainty of the law, so beneficial to the lawyers, and which renders their profession so lucrative. It has been more than once proposed, 56 during the time of my residence in England, to reform the statute law, and by comprehending the whole, or at least the general and public statutes, in a proper and well digested code, to make it less liable to misconstruction, more concise, more intelligible to common understandings, and more useful for regulating the decisions of courts of judicature. The necessity of such a reform is acknowledged by the most eminent lawyers themselves; but it has hitherto always been neglected. The want of eminent and able men to execute this business cannot be pleaded as an excuse; for there are many, to my own knowledge, abundantly qualified for it. Besides, the character, as well as credit of a nation, which is proud of a free and well constituted government, and whose wisdom in legislation is justly extolled by surrounding states and kingdoms, seem absolutely to require it.
The civil and the canon law are permitted to be used in four courts only, and even then under different restrictions. For if either the civil law, which, properly speaking, is the Roman law, or the canon law, which is the Roman ecclesiastical law, come into any collision with the common or the statute law, the former must always give way, and their authority 57 is nothing when contradicted by the latter. The courts, in which the civil or canon laws are received, are the ecclesiastical, the military, the admiralty courts, and the courts of the two universities. Their reception, however, which is dated from the reign of king Stephen, is owing to custom, confirmed by acts of parliament; and it may be said, that the authority of these laws, in many other European countries so highly respected, is in England only on sufferance.
For the honour of the English laws, and the English nation, torture and the rack were never admitted in the ordinary execution of justice. It is true, that, in the time of queen Elizabeth, the rack and torture were sometimes used; but when, under a following reign, the privy council consulted the judges, whether the assassin Felton might be put to the rack, they unanimously declared, that such a proceeding was not allowable by the laws of England. A century has elapsed since this declaration; though some other European nations have not yet adopted those sentiments of humanity, which long ago have honoured the laws of the English, and their administration of justice!58
Among the very visible and much lamented imperfections of human institutions, laws, and government, the great expence attending the administration of justice, according to law, is certainly not one of the least. If it cannot be done without some expence, it ought at least to be rendered as small as possible. After societies were formed, one of the first views with which laws were made, and governments erected, was, that justice might be administered; yet there is no country, which lays claim to any civilization, where the expences for obtaining justice, according to law, are not complained of; and, I believe, there is no where more reason for it than in England. This, however, ought to be said, in favour of the English courts of judicature, as they are at present, in preference to those among other nations, that justice is administered, few instances perhaps excepted, with great impartiality; and that despotism, bribery, riches, and all those foul sources which too much influence courts of judicature in other countries, do not contaminate the British. This, I think, may, in some degree, balance the great expence, which generally attends the administration of justice in England.59
Many are the law courts, as well for administering justice and redressing wrongs, as for giving opportunities for the litigious to get rid of their money. Some of them are of an inferior, others of a superior kind. I shall say only a few words of the latter. The first of them is the court of chancery, the highest of all the courts of judicature, the house of peers excepted, to which, as the last resort, appeals from all other courts lie open. The lord chancellor is here the judge, assisted by twelve masters in chancery, who are generally doctors of law. In the absence of the chancellor, the master of the Rolls supplies his place. This court divides itself into two distinct tribunals; the one is called the ordinary or common law court, the other the extraordinary or court of equity. I believe there are very few countries besides England, if any, where the rigour of the law is wisely moderated by a court of equity; and yet I have reason to think that even here, notwithstanding the existence of a court of equity, the instances are not unfrequent, where, when sentence is pronounced, it might be exclaimed, summum jus summa injuria. Law suits in this court are very tedious, and very costly. A bill filed in chancery often takes up more than a hundred sheets of paper; and the answers to 60 it, with the replies, as many, together with the evidence given upon oath, which is not taken publicly from the witnesses, but privately in writing. Every sheet contains but very few lines, and every line but a certain limited number of words. I have seen many law-writings on the continent, but none written so wide as these; not, as it might be supposed, to obtain justice at a moderate price, or to lessen the costs of suit. The gentlemen of the law, who transact the business in this court, are generally looked upon as the most eminent in their profession; and the high road to the great law-offices of state lies through this court of chancery. People in Germany often wonder that in England, a man born in a humble situation in life, may stand a chance of filling some of the highest and most lucrative offices of state; but here it is neither the pedigree, nor the favour of a prince, that always promotes to high stations. Merit will frequently raise a man in England, though I have found, that circumstances, connexions, patronage, and party spirit, must too often give the first lift to merit, if it be not to remain unrewarded, and buried in oblivion. There is, however, no country in Europe, where the old saying, dat Justinianus honores, is 61 oftener verified than in England, and not only in regard to honours, but riches also.
The court of king’s bench is the second in rank, and the principal of all those where the common law prevails. Out of the four judges in this court, the first is called lord chief justice of England, because his jurisdiction extends over all the kingdom. All processes issuing out of this court are in the king’s name, and the kings themselves used to preside here in ancient times, whence it derives its denomination. It takes cognizance both of criminal and civil causes. Though from inferior courts appeals may be made to this, yet, even from this, the party that is not satisfied with the determination of the court of king’s bench, may remove it by writ of error into the house of lords, as the dernier resort.
The court of common pleas decides on actions brought by subjects against subjects, according to the rigour of the law, and has likewise four judges, of whom the first is called lord chief justice of the common pleas.
The court of exchequer is a tribunal to call the king’s debtors to an account, and those who defraud the revenue of the crown. It is a kind of inquisition in its way, and, as I am informed, a very rigourous one, particularly 62 since the excise laws have been so much extended. Whoever is called before this court, and who is conscious of being in debt to the crown, or of having defrauded it, may readily say to himself: Thou shalt by no means come out hence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. This court has a chancellor1, who is generally the first minister, and has the key to the treasury. He is always a member of the house of commons, where the constitution has very wisely fixed the granting and the disposing of the public money. But, since the king appoints him, it is frequently thought by the English that some of these chancellors have been only the mouth by which he speaks to the commons, and that such prime ministers have sometimes managed the affairs of state, and public revenues, by corrupted majorities, more to the interest of the crown and their own, than for that of the nation. Of some chancellors it has even been suspected, that they have not been extremely conscientious in keeping their accounts of the public money. A 63 prime minister declared some years ago2 in the house of commons, that he had found out six and twenty millions which were not yet accounted for, though spent long ago. Supposing, however, that there really was some foundation for such suspicions as I have mentioned, it is certainly not the fault of the constitution that such things happen, but the evil originates somewhere else. The place of a chancellor of the exchequer, though a responsible one, is much envied, not only because it is very honourable, and extremely lucrative, but likewise on account of the great patronage which is annexed to it, by whose means a minister can serve his old friends, and make many new ones. As for the responsibility, he has not much to fear, if the majority of the house of commons be on his side. If he loses that, he loses his place, and may be called to an account. But in these days of septennial parliaments, he can easily procure a majority, being at the head of the treasury, and of all affairs of state; and it is in his power to stamp all his ministerial transactions with the sanction of parliament. Should he, however, find himself in danger, and fear an impeachment, he may have a king’s patent for a peerage 64 in his pocket; and after producing it, bow to his adversaries in the house of commons, retiring up to that of the lords, where he is pretty safe. We in Germany, as well as in other countries, entertain oftentimes a notion of the responsibility of a prime minister in England, which, in our eyes, makes his place appear to be a very dangerous one, and that he may receive his deserts for maladministration on a block on Tower-hill; but this danger is imaginary. A prime minister under a despotic prince on the continent, has more to fear from the whims of his master, and the envy and malice of his favourites, than an English minister has from his nation, and its representatives. Indeed, from what I have seen on many changes of administration, during my residence in England, I have reason to think, that the thought or fear of responsibility, never keeps any body from endeavouring to get into the high offices of government. They all trust to their honesty, to the uprightness of their intentions, and to their good consciences, never entertaining any fear about the possibility of being called to an account.
Besides the chancellor, the court of exchequer has four judges, who are called barons of the exchequer. These four, together with 65 the foregoing eight, in the court of king’s bench and the court of common pleas, make the twelve judges, who are appointed for life, and receive very handsome salaries, that they may be above all temptations of bribery, and corruption3.
The manner of administering justice in England, has, upon the whole, something particular, and is certainly superior to that which prevails at present in other countries. Among these preferences I reckon first the trial by a jury, on whose judgment depends the verdict of guilty or not guilty. It is beyond the power of a judge to condemn or to absolve a person accused, as he thinks proper. Here are twelve men, who perhaps may one time or other stand in the same predicament, or be in the same situation as the accused or the defendant, and who are his equals, that are to judge upon oath, from the evidence given, whether he falls under the censure of the law, or not. 66 In this manner, a single trial, of a few hours, will terminate a civil or a criminal process at once, which, in other countries, perhaps would last months or years.
This method of administering justice is derived from the Saxons, and may be looked upon as the best means to protect the poorer subjects against the oppressions of the opulent and the more powerful. Thus only can the laws be vindicated against that reproach, which Rousseau endeavours to cast upon them, as if they were only instruments in the hands of the powerful to oppress the feeble and the poor4. The English history furnishes many instances to the contrary, and refutes his assertion, which he has subjoined in a note, to his text, that the general spirit of the laws of all countries favours always the stronger against the weaker, and the rich against the poor; and that this is an inevitable inconvenience, and one that is without exception5. We meet in the annals of 67 England, and in the history of her laws, proofs enough, that not only the oppressive intentions of the great and the opulent, but even of tyrannical princes, have been and may be frustrated. However, as human institutions are never free from imperfections, so it is the same in this instance; for the influence of the court has, sometimes, been so great, that juries have been packed, or over-awed, to give verdicts, according to the wish of those by whom they were directed. English historians relate several facts, which prove this assertion; but I can hardly persuade myself that in modern times any thing similar has been done, though there are people who believe this to have been the case.
Yet we ought not to think that the English are the only nation, which has reserved the judging in criminal cases to itself, and that nothing like it had existed before Alfred the Great. The Saxons, and other northern nations, did the same. Even ancient history furnishes instances of a similar kind. I will not refer to the Greek republics, but only quote the account which Quintus Curtius gives of the tragical execution of Philotas, where he 68 makes this observation, that the Macedonian kings durst not inflict punishment in capital crimes, until, in war time, the army, and in time of peace the people, had inquired into the fact, and declared the accused guilty6. When Rome was free, a citizen could choose his own judges; nay, even in the second century this privilege prevailed during the reign of Trajan, if Pliny tells the truth in his panegyric upon this emperor7. A man might then reject those of his judges he did not like; he might exclaim, “I will not have him, because he is too timid, and too little acquainted with the goodness of the times; and I reject the other because he is too much addicted to the prince.” But all this is trifling when compared to an English jury, which is greatly preferable, and may be justly styled the glory of the English law. So much care is taken, in selecting the jurymen, in hearing the evidence, and in preventing an unjust verdict being given, that I sometimes have been at a loss which to 69 admire most, particularly in criminal cases, whether the excellency of this manner of judging itself, or the wisdom and ingenuity of the laws which are made to obviate perversion of justice, to prevent the jurymen from being biassed by any means, or the accused from having any reason to complain, that justice was not fairly administered. Twelve men, who are supposed to be unacquainted with the wretched chicane of the law, chosen out of six and thirty, and approved by the accused himself, are to judge whether he be guilty or not. They are upon oath, and to be guided by common sense, by the evidence given in their presence, and by their consciences. The whole process is a work of few hours, and the accused knows his fate. When to this mode of proceeding are added the benefits of the Habeas Corpus act, which I have mentioned before, it may be truly said, that the English manner of administering justice is preferable to any other8.
After these just encomiums on the proceedings in English courts of judicature, let me add a few observations and strictures, which 70 do not lessen the value of the constitution itself, but relate only to history and to some abuses. In the first place, therefore, I shall remark, that the trial by juries, though of a very ancient date, had, however, never before that respectability and that impartiality, which it has obtained since the Revolution under king William. Not full three hundred years are elapsed, since under Henry VII. juries were often set aside and judgment given in a summary manner, and by arbitrary decrees; or, if juries even were summoned they were fined, imprisoned, and punished, if they gave a verdict against the inclination of the crown. Things went on not much better in the times of Henry VIII. and queen Elizabeth; nay, I have been told that in some parts of Scotland, trials by juries are even now not much in use; and it is well known, that the Canadians have hitherto in vain solicited for this mode of administering justice to them, though they are British subjects. In the second place I cannot help observing, that the carelessness or the levity, with which oaths are taken and administered in English courts, must strike a foreigner, who is accustomed to look upon such a ceremony as a thing which is not to be trifled with, in a society where the loss of liberty and property, the loss 71 of character and life itself, depends oftentimes on an oath, which is sworn in a court of judicature. But it certainly cannot make the best impressions on a man of principle, to see in London, a person swearing ten oaths almost in a breath at the custom-house, without seemingly knowing what he is about, and afterwards finding him at the Old Bailey giving evidence, in a case where the life and death of a fellow-creature are concerned, with almost the same indifference as when he swore at the custom-house. Indeed things, I am told, are carried so far, that people may be hired, who, for a trifling gratuity, will swear any thing. Let the constitution of the courts of law be ever so good, and the intentions of judge and jury be ever so just and humane; yet an innocent person may, though seldom, be condemned, because the profligacy of the witnesses made them regardless what evidence they gave, though they were upon oath. It is true, perjury is threatened with punishment; but certainly not with one that is sufficiently severe; and a crime like this, which ought to be classed amongst the most horrid, is too frequently connived at from a mistaken lenity. There is another thing that will excite the attention of a foreigner, in an English court of judicature, which I shall 72 mention in the third place; I mean the examining of the witnesses, and the speeches which are made by the different counsellors of each party. It has often given me pleasure, when I have observed the dexterity and ingenuity with which some of them manage these examinations, and afterwards plead the cause of their clients: but it must hurt the feelings of humanity, to see how some of them bully, ridicule, and even insult the witnesses, by their questions, and the remarks that they make upon them; which are certainly not always pertinent. Sometimes, when the character or appearance of a witness betrays dishonesty or profligacy, it may be very necessary to confound, to surprize, and to expose him; but if a man of character, or a man whose evidence is distinguished by its artless simplicity, is made a subject of ridicule and laughter before the whole court, merely to give a lawyer an opportunity of displaying his talents for abuse, and low wit, at the expence of a good member of society, this is certainly extremely censurable, and what a court of justice ought not to countenance. The dignity of a court of judicature, good manners and decency, as well as humanity, revolt against such a way of proceeding; which, when I have been among the spectators, I expected 73 would have been checked by the court: but it was connived at. I have been present at the public pleading of causes in my own country, in Holland at Amsterdam, in France at Paris, and in Switzerland at Geneva and at Bern; but though the orators at those bars were sometimes vehement, yet I do not recollect that any thing came up to what I have heard in England. Whoever has perused with attention, what Cicero9 and Quintilian10 say upon this subject, will be of opinion, that they would never authorize what I have sometimes heard, in English courts, either to please and to gain the jury, or to divert the audience. Instances, however, occur, where those who want to make merry at the expence of others, meet with very smart retorts; and I remember, that a counsellor who examined a witness at the bar, asking him, where he had received his education? was immediately answered, “Not at Billingsgate, where you seem to have received yours.”
That no man, upon groundless or malicious accusation, may be troubled with a prosecution, particularly a criminal one, the English laws have wisely instituted a grand jury, to enquire upon their oath, whether there be sufficient 74 cause to call upon the party to answer it? Evidence is heard upon the written accusation, which is called an indictment; and if they find that there is sufficient ground for it, they endorse upon it “a true bill.” Upon this the party stands indicted, and is to answer before the court, and a petit jury. Notwithstanding this wise and humane precaution, an innocent person may sometimes be exposed to a prosecution, even a malicious and a criminal one. But the instances of this kind are few, and by no means chargeable to the English constitution and the laws themselves. I do not know at present any country, besides the states of North America, where a subject is more protected against prosecutions of malice and despotism than in the British dominions; under which denomination I do not comprehend either the East Indies or Hanover.
The punishments which the English laws inflict upon offenders, are to their honour far remote from that appearance of cruelty, which they carry along with them in other countries. It is not left to the discretion or opinion of a judge or magistrate, what kind of punishment he chooses to inflict upon offenders; but the English laws themselves have, in most cases, wisely specified the punishment for the different 75 offences. The judge may moderate, but he can neither alter, nor increase it. It cannot, however, be denied, that the English laws, if not literally too sanguinary, are yet too suffocating; for the operation of stopping a delinquent’s breath, for about an hour, by means of a rope on the gallows, is in England, during one twelve months, more frequently performed, than in all Europe together in the same space of time. Hence it is, that executions of this kind lose all the terrors, which attend them in other countries. The English rogues laugh at them, and say jokingly, It is but hanging. So little is this punishment, as in other countries, regarded as an infamy, that a malefactor is attended by his friends to the very gallows, and highwaymen are buried not only in consecrated church-yards, but even in the still more sacred churches themselves. The notions which the English entertain of crimes and punishments, will, undoubtedly, stagger a foreigner, particularly a Frenchman, or a German, but they are notwithstanding just. It cannot be a stigma upon a whole family, if one that belongs to it, suffers for the transgression of the law; and it is both cruel and absurd, to punish with infamy the innocent surviving relations of a person, 76 who, by suffering for his crimes, has atoned to the law and to society.
It is very justly said of English punishments, that they are not in proportion to the crimes, and do not produce the end for which they are inflicted, to operate in terrorem. A man who commits a most cruel murder is but hanged, and one who from want and hunger robs another of a few shillings is punished in the same manner. A person, whose life must fall a sacrifice to the violated laws of society on account of his crimes, is, no doubt, sufficiently punished by simply inflicting death upon him; but I think that the atrociousness of the crime, and the aggravating circumstances under which it was committed, should be considered, or at least the suffering for crimes less heinous be mitigated. In London, generally every six weeks, seldom less than half a dozen wretches, are exhibited under the gallows, before a croud of many thousands, among whom, perhaps, are at least a hundred who deserve hanging more, than some that are just going to suffer. The spectators, who are used to sights of this kind, seem to be entertained with such melancholy exhibitions; they no more see the distressed features under the caps of those that die, than they see the inward pangs and agonies of some 77 before they were turned off. The surrounding croud thinks the death of a malefactor more easy than that of many an honest and worthy man who dies on a bed; and the pickpocket robs under the gallows, looks up to those that are suspended under it, and says very composedly to himself, It is only hanging. I have seen several public executions in Germany, and have observed the awful impressions which they made upon the surrounding thousands of spectators; but when I saw the first of this kind, many years ago, at Tyburn, it appeared to me, as if it had been a holiday for the entertainment of the populace; and from that time I left off wondering, that there were so many criminals to be tried every six weeks at the Old Bailey. Sometimes an over zealous clergyman, who attends the malefactors at the execution, contributes not a little to prevent the effect which all kinds of punishment should produce, to deter others by the example of him who suffers, and to prevent future crimes. Some clergymen of this cast, seem to think, that they can transform an abandoned wretch, who never regarded religion, or never knew much of it, into a saint, between the time he is condemned to die, and that of his execution, and endeavour to comfort him, in the moment he is going to 78 be turned off, with the certain hope, that he is that instant to enter the paradise, to which, as I suppose, they themselves presume to have the key. Newspapers afterwards do their duty, by saying that most of the unhappy victims, that fell a sacrifice to the offended laws of their country, behaved with that decency which their awful situation required, and were, with prayers and pious ejaculations in their mouths, launched into eternity. Indeed, I think, the English have no reason to wonder why the number of their criminals increases every year; for it will certainly continue to be the case, if they do not instil more religious principles into the minds of the young, both by precept and example, and if they do not make their punishments and their executions a little more awful; not for the sake of those who suffer, but for the benefit of those who are to be warned by their example. Formerly the anatomical knife carried some terror along with it, when the body of one who had committed murder was ordered to be dissected; but this prejudice is now pretty well worn off. Transportation, a punishment so frequently inflicted, should to all appearance strike terror into the heart of an Englishman, who is said to love his own country above all others; but I 79 have found it to be otherwise. Many transports, who were sent in former times to America, or the West India islands, have fared better there than in their own country, and lessened the fear of exile or transportation. It has been calculated, that each of those, who are cast for transportation, stand government in, or cost the nation, above fifty pounds sterling; a sum, which would enable an honest man, in Germany, to live decently and support a family, assisted by his industry. I remember, that it was once proposed to send those who were, on account of atrocious crimes, condemned to transportation, as slaves to Algiers, to be exchanged for innocent persons kept there in captivity; but this, probably very proposal, was not adopted; though, in my opinion, if it had been put in practice, it would prove one of the best means to prevent crimes. The pillory, one of the strangest exhibitions of a malefactor in public on a scaffold, and in a situation of which we in Germany have no idea, is a cruel punishment, and worse than death itself, if the populace be permitted to pelt the delinquent. In two or three instances, during my residence in London, have persons, who were condemned only to be exposed in the pillory, been killed by the mob; but of late 80 more care has been taken that this might not happen again; though I have reason to think, that these precautions were sometimes more owing to money which came from the delinquent, than to the regulations of the police. Those punishments which the English laws inflict, and which have the appearance of barbarity, are either greatly mitigated, or abolished. Treason and petty treason carry a severe death with them; but a man who is to be executed for treason, is at present first hanged, before the rest of the sentence of the law takes place. A woman condemned to be burned is first strangled, and that species of barbarity, called peine forte et dure, which formerly was practised on a person that stood obstinately mute, and would not plead to an indictment of felony or of high treason, is at present entirely abolished. He that will, on such an occasion, not hold up his hand, as is usual, is now considered as convicted; and it is settled by act of parliament, that standing mute shall be equivalent to conviction.
I shall add a few remarks on the English prisons. The philanthropic Mr. Howard has written on this subject in general, so amply, and his publications are so well known in Germany, that I may refer those who want to be 81 better informed, to the accounts which he has given. The English gaols are very numerous, and I believe in no European country more prisoners are kept than in England. Whether in former times there were fewer, and whether centuries ago that might have been applied to London, which Juvenal11 says of ancient Rome, when the forefathers of his forefathers lived, I have some reason to doubt. It is said, in an act of parliament made under Henry VIII. that sixty thousand persons and above, were then prisoners in the kingdom for debts and crimes; and seventy-two thousand criminals were executed during that reign for theft and robberies12. Indeed, if this be really fact, the times must have certainly mended, and we have no reason to complain violently against the depravity of the present. They are wicked enough, but certainly not to be compared to what they were formerly; though the reformation of manners and criminals will never come up to the good police of the wise Alfred, who, as it is said, hung up by 82 way of bravado, golden bracelets, near the highways; and no man dared to touch them13. In our days, the daring ingenuity of English thieves would steal them, if they were fastened to a gibbet, and a watch placed near them. The state of English prisons, and the condition of prisoners has of late greatly mended, through the humane endeavours of Mr. Howard. Nevertheless, there is still great room for reformation, and such as is absolutely necessary. The prisons are stocked with felons and debtors. The latter class occupy one part of the prison separately, but the former, without regard to sex, age, or crimes, are kept promiscuously, to the great improvement of immorality. Old and hardened offenders are mixed together with those who are but just initiated into iniquity, and the latter improve very fast in all kinds of wickedness, by what they hear and see of the former, with whom they soon become more intimately connected. If they happen to be set at liberty again, they come out of prison much more hardened and instructed in all manner of vices than they went into it. When the late American war prevented felons from being transported to the English 83 colonies, floating prisons were invented, under the denomination of hulks, where culprits are sentenced to hard labour, as it is called, which consists chiefly in ballast-heaving. I have seen them work on the Thames, but I doubt whether their labours can be called hard, since free men who do the same work for money, exert themselves abundantly more, and longer a day than those felons do. Since this punishment is limited to a certain time, they are set at liberty, when it is expired; but no provision being made for them, or means devised how they may get a livelihood in an honest way, they are let loose upon the public again, where they oftentimes begin their depredations a‑new, and, being improved and hardened in the company, in which they have been kept, commit more enormous crimes, perhaps on the very day when they are dismissed, than they were guilty of before. Whoever reflects upon this mode of punishment, will be at loss how to reconcile it to the wisdom of a well regulated police. Indeed, I must say, that in Germany we manage these things better. As for those unfortunate beings, the prisoners for debt, they are much to be pitied. The prisons are full of them, and though what is called an act of insolvency opens, now and then, the doors of the 84 prison, for those who are absolutely unable to pay, to be restored to liberty; yet, on account of the great credit which is easily obtained, and the extravagance of living, which is the fashion, they soon fill again. Those who have left the prison, by means of an act of grace, oftentimes are obliged, either to return to it again, or to be maintained out of the poor’s-rate, and thus become burthensome to the public. How much room is here for reformation, and for the exertion of a wise legislature!
1 Though the chancellor of the exchequer is spoken of as at the head of this court, it must be observed, that he never presides in it in any causes between the crown and the subject. Causes in this court are tried by juries, and the barons of the exchequer preside.
2 February 16, 1785.
3 Here follows, in the German original, a summary account of some judicial courts and of subordinate magistrates: but since these things are well known to Englishmen, it is not translated. Sir William Blackstone, in his excellent Commentaries on the Laws of England, treats very amply on courts public and general, as well as of special jurisdiction, Vol. iii. c. 4, 5, 6; on courts of a criminal jurisdiction, Vol. iv. c. 19; of subordinate magistrates, Vol. i. c. 9.
4 Il y a dans l’état civil une égalité de droit chimérique et vaine, parceque les moyens destinés à la maintenir servent eux-mêmes à la détraire et que la force publique ajoutée au plus fort pour opprimer le foible, rompt l’espece d’équilibre que la nature avoit mis entre eux. Oeuvres de Rousseau, tom. vii. p. 164. Edit. Amst. 1762. 8vo.
5 L’esprit universel des loix de tous les pays est de favoriser toujours le fort contre le foible, et celui qu’a, contre celui qui n’a rien; cet inconvénient est inévitable et il est sans exception. Rousseau, l. c. note q. p. 165.
6 De capitalibus rebus, vetusto Macedonum modo inquirebat exercitus, in pace erat vulgi. Nihil potestas regum valebat, nisi prius valuisset auctoritas. Curtius, lib. vi. c. 8. in fine.
7 Licet rejicere, licet exclamare, hunc nolo, timidus est et bona seculi parum intelligit; illum nolo quia Cæsarem fortiter amat. Plin. Panegyr. c. 36.
8 In the German original follows a more ample description of an English trial, and an account of the benefit of clergy, which being well known to English readers are here omitted.
9 De Oratore, lib. ii. cap. 54. seq.
10 Institut. Orat. lib. xi. cap. 3.
Felices proavorum atavos, felicia dicas
Sæcula, quæ quondam sub regibus atque tribunis,
Viderunt uno contentam carcere Romam.
12 Hume’s Hist. of England, vol. iv. p. 275.
13 Hume’s Hist. of England, vol. i. p. 96.
the English proverbial expression of the glorious uncertainty of the law
[Ooh, ooh, I know this one, having looked it up in connection with Beeton’s Book of Household Management, “Legal Memoranda” chapter. To rehash:
According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable—which cannot be considered a fully reliable source—this glorious phrase goes back to a toast uttered by one Mr. Wilbraham in 1756, to “the glorious uncertainty of the law”. In 1802—which is to say, some years after Wendeborn—it was expanded by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (wearing his parliamentarian hat, not the dramatist one) to “The glorious uncertainty of the law [is] a thing well known and complained of, by all ignorant people, but all learned gentleman [consider] it as its greatest excellency.” ]
very handsome salaries, that they may be above all temptations of bribery, and corruption
[I don’t believe this is mathematically possible.]
under Henry VII. juries were often set aside and . . . fined, imprisoned, and punished, if they gave a verdict against the inclination of the crown
[Yup. Sounds like Henry VII.]
it must hurt the feelings of humanity, to see how some of them bully, ridicule, and even insult the witnesses
[“Objection! Badgering the witness.”]
the English laws, if not literally too sanguinary, are yet too suffocating
[We are in the era of 220 Capital Crimes. Since the preferred method of execution was hanging rather than beheading, and the drop had not yet been perfected, the “literally” part is absolutely correct, if a little tasteless.]
A man who commits a most cruel murder is but hanged, and one who from want and hunger robs another of a few shillings is punished in the same manner.
[Ah, but don’t forget: only the murderer is then made available to medical students for dissection. That makes all the difference. (At least that was the idea. A few pages along, we learn that it had no long-term deterrent effect.)]
but this, probably very wholsome proposal, was not adopted
[Later in the book, he will decide to spell it “wholesome” instead.]
THE English are very justly of opinion, that standing armies are the grave-diggers of the liberty of a nation, whenever a despotically inclined prince can make use of them to bury the rights of mankind. For this reason the soldiery, according to the rigour of the English laws, are not to be considered as a distinct order in the community; and the British constitution knows no such state, as that of a perpetual standing soldier; but a citizen and a soldier shall be the same, as it was in the best times of the Roman republic. Even the kings of England had before Henry VII. no life-guards. In modern times something similar to a standing army has been introduced; but upon a very different footing from those of other countries. Parliament grants, every year, the sum required for maintaining the army, without which it could never subsist; and another act of parliament is yearly passed, to punish mutiny and desertion, and for the better payment of the army and their quarters. Without this act no martial law could be established, and nobody would be under any obligation to provide them quarters.86
The British army may amount, in times of, peace, to 40,000, in which number the garrisons in Ireland, Gibraltar, the West-Indies, and North America are included. In war time foreign troops are taken into pay, and petty foreign princes, particularly in Germany, are very ready to sell their good subjects, who foolishly submit to it, for English guineas; by which means the English army, in times of necessity, is frequently raised to 150,000 men. The militia in England is at present greatly changed from what it was in former times. It is reduced to 29,880 men, when even under James I. it was still rated at 160,000. The navy of Great Britain, since the times of Cromwell, is become so powerful, and so formidable, that a numerous militia is at present unnecessary for the defence of the country. The English fleets can prevent an invasion of the island better than the greatest number of troops, which never would be able to guard a coast of more than a thousand miles in circumference, if an enemy should attempt a landing. For this very reason, England stands in no need of fortresses, which besides may become formidable to the liberty of the nation; and the English may justly think themselves happy that they can do without them; though, of late, an expensive fortification 87 plan, has been more than once proposed in parliament, but as often very properly rejected.
It may be said of the English troops in general, that they are good soldiers, and of great courage, particularly when they are well fed, and in no want of beef and strong beer. That the officers places in the army are sold, is justly to be censured, because many a youngster, who, perhaps, has more money in his pocket, than heroism in his heart, is placed over a deserving veteran, or a man of real military talents. It has given me, in my own country, much pain, when I have seen how severely, nay brutally, officers treat the soldiers; such ill usage is not very common in England. It seems as if a British soldier, even under a musket, was conscious of his being to be treated as an Englishman. The pay of an English soldier, is, considering the great dearness of living in England, very trifling, particularly when they are quartered either in or near London.
A powerful navy is an object of far greater consequence to England than an army. It is the best bulwark of the British empire, and is, therefore, not cramped with such restrictions as the army, nor subjected to laws 88 that are the result of jealous liberty, which cannot be endangered by the navy. For this very reason no annual acts of parliament are required for keeping it up, and the marine department is looked upon as one that is established for ever. The English navy began to be respectable ever since the twelfth century, though it bore not the most distant comparison to what it is at present. Sir Edward Coke thought England had reason to boast of the strength of her navy, during the reign of queen Elizabeth, when the whole consisted only of thirty-three ships of war; but what would he have said, had he lived in the present times, when Great Britain counts between 110 and 120 ships of the line, and all her ships of war amount to almost 500. They carry not much less than 14000 guns1, which can make noise enough in the world, and through whose mouths the English may speak in a very decisive tone to other nations, when they differ from them in opinion, about matters of political interest, 89 national ambition, or supposed rights which have been violated.
The manning of the English navy requires, in time of war, from 60 to 80,000 sailors. These have either voluntarily engaged to serve on board, or they are pressed. The first receive a bounty, or premium on their engaging; the latter are taken by force. A number of ten or more sailors, with an officer in the navy at their head, which are called a press-gang, go, armed with cudgels and cutlasses, through the streets. They enter public houses, and such as bear not a good name; and whatever persons they meet, in the day or night-time, whom they think fit to become sailors, they take hold of without ceremony. Appeals however may be made, if improper persons are taken, to the regulating captains, or to the lords of the admiralty; and the friends of any impressed man, if they know where he is, and can afford the expence, may cause him to be brought by writ of habeas corpus, before the judges, who have a power to discharge him, if he has not been at sea, or is not a proper person for the service. This business of impressing is not always transacted without fighting or bloodshed. When the press is hot, they will row up and down the Thames in boats, 90 board the merchant-ships, and strip them of their sailors. Violent battles, and even murder, will sometimes happen on such occasions. I do not know how this impressing of sailors can be reconciled to that liberty, and personal security, of which the English are apt to boast. If only idle people, and such as are single, were impressed and forced to suffer themselves to be maimed or killed, as it is said, for the good of their country, some specious excuses, perhaps, might be found for such infringements of right and liberty; but when industrious fathers, as is often the case, are torn from their wives and their family, whose only support they were; when the poor mother, in such instances, surrounded with three or four children, is obliged to go begging, it is impossible that humanity should not ask with astonishment, How a nation can pride itself on the rights and liberty of the meanest of its individuals, when, in times of war, such things happen so frequently? The cries of the oppressed are loud; complaints of patriots on this subject are made before the publick; friends to mankind propose plans to remedy this evil; but, it continues notwithstanding2. In the reign 91 of William III. an act of parliament was made to register 30,000 seamen. They were to enjoy great privileges, but be subject to heavy punishments, if in time of war, when called upon, they did not appear immediately. This act, however, was repealed in queen Anne’s time, under pretence, that such an engagement was a kind of slavery. Some years ago it was proposed, that every parish should be obliged, by act of parliament, to deliver, every year, a stipulated number of boys, to be distributed in merchant ships, that they afterwards might serve on board king’s ships. There are above twelve thousand parishes in England and Scotland. If each of them furnished yearly two boys of twelve years each, the number of them would within ten years amount to 240,000. Supposing 100,000 of them died, and 60,000 were under the age of eighteen, there would remain a naval militia of 80,000 young sailors, which might be yearly recruited in the most easy manner from those growing up to maturity. At present, they who are pressed by force are carried on board a tender, which, in fact, is a floating prison, where they are kept till it is so crouded, that they are in danger of being suffocated, before 92 they are delivered up to a man of war. How many acts of injustice and cruelty, on such occasions happen, is well known in London, and in other sea-port towns in the kingdom. If the contradictions in human actions, and in the modes of thinking among men, were not so frequent and so conspicuous, it might appear almost incredible, that people who are forced against their wills, and in such a manner, into the sea-service, should behave, notwithstanding, with so much bravery and courage, and perform such deeds as the English sailors generally do; for I believe that very near half of those who serve on board of the king’s ships are impressed.
The English navy owes its strength chiefly to the British commerce, which produces so many able seamen, and to the navigation-act. The coal trade from Newcastle to London, the commerce with the West-India islands, and the remaining colonies in North America, together with the British fisheries, particularly that of Newfoundland, are looked upon as nurseries of British sailors, by whom the dignity and power of the British navy is kept up. As most of the raw materials for building ships, and fitting them out, are brought from foreign 93 countries, it is easily to be conceived, that it must be very expensive to the nation to maintain a respectable navy. Even in times of peace, more than two millions are granted by parliament for its support.
There are, besides others, two fine hospitals near London for invalids of the navy and army. The first is at Greenwich, the other at Chelsea. Both are noble buildings, and kept very neat, and in good order. The number of sailors and soldiers, who are maimed or crippled in the service of their country, and maintained in these hospitals, is but small, when compared with the whole British navy and army; but it must be remembered, that the number of out-pensioners oftentimes exceeds those who are received within the walls of these extensive buildings. I am informed, that after a war, those, who are supported by these hospitals, under the denomination of out-pensioners, frequently amount to more than ten thousand. Each of them receives annually not quite eight pounds sterling for his support, which, indeed, seems to be but very little; but it is supposed, that those who are out-pensioners are not so disabled as to be incapable of doing something towards their own maintenance. The fund, or sum, 94 which is annually required for supporting these hospitals and invalids, is chiefly raised from the trifling deductions made in paying the navy and the army. Each officer, each sailor or soldier, is to leave a trifle from each pound he receives, besides the pay of a whole day in the year. This altogether amounts to a considerable sum, though in war-time, when the number of the wounded increases, it is by no means sufficient. In these cases, parliament grants the out of the public money. Humanity, which, however, is never the cause of wars and invalids, demands such institutions; and reasons of state and policy render them absolutely necessary. In England, they may be said to be splendid, and suitable to the dignity of the nation; but yet they are justly censured for fixing the salaries of the governors and officers, belonging to these national institutions, too high, and granting too little to the poor soldiers and sailors, who are maimed in the defence of their country, and fighting battles against its enemies. Moreover, these places are frequently given to generals and officers of a considerable rank, who enjoy other places under government, or are opulent themselves. They might, indeed, be contented with smaller 95 salaries, or be appointed to such posts for mere honour’s sake, without enjoying large incomes, which mostly originate from the deductions made from the small pay of a soldier or a sailor. This observation is in a greater degree applicable to Greenwich hospital than to that at Chelsea.
1 Hume, in Hist. of England, vol. v. p. 481. whose statement of the English navy in the times of queen Elizabeth, differs from that, before mentioned of sir Edward Coke, says, that at her death the navy consisted only of 42 ships, which carried altogether no more than 772 guns. Only four ships, of 40 guns, were at that time in the navy, and none was of a higher rate.
2 In queen Elizabeth’s reign it was even worse than now. Hume, at supra, p. 459.
all her ships of war amount to almost 500
[This would seem to be an exaggeration; even at the height of the Napoleonic wars it didn’t get much past 300. After its 1945 high of over 2000 ships (the 1918 peak was well under a thousand), the British Navy today is significantly smaller than it was in Wendeborn’s time. There’s a nifty graph available online.]
it continues notwithstanding
[It got worse before it got better. Pressment in the British Navy was never explicitly banned; it just went out of fashion after the Napoleonic wars. As recently as 1835, a newly enacted statute made it plain that pressment as such remained perfectly legal:
“It limited the length of service of a pressed man to five years, and added the provision that a man couldn't be pressed twice.”
(In case anyone wondered: conscription, for any and all services, wasn’t introduced until 1916.)]
parliament grants the deficiencies out of the public money
text has deficiences
THERE is no country in Europe, which is more heavily burdened with taxes than England. The very light which falls through the windows, and which in London, during the winter, is mixed with no small portion of darkness, must be paid for. Excise and custom-house duties are without number. The demands of government, and the national debt, have, within these twenty years, so much increased, that the inventive powers of the ministers of finances, seemed frequently to be a stand, as if they were exhausted. For this reason, many of the old taxes from necessity have been doubled, nay some trebled, though the event has proved, that the mines were not always so rich, as to become twice or three times proportionably productive, to answer the demands and the expectations of the minister.
The English taxes may be divided into three classes. The demands of government stand first, the provincial taxes or county-rates follow, and the church and poor’s rate fill up the rear. The peace establishment, together with 97 the civil list, amount yearly to full five millions, and the interest for the national debt, is, at present, something more than nine. The county rates, or provincial taxes, in England only, are reckoned at five millions; the income of the established church, with the tithes, is said to amount to three millions1, and the poor’s rate above two millions, if not three. Hence it appears, that the English are to raise annually twenty-five millions in taxes of different kinds; and supposing the whole amount of the current specie, in Great Britain and Ireland, to be twenty-five millions, it is evident, that this sum circulates yearly, in paying duties and taxes. Bank notes and bills of exchange, are, therefore, absolutely necessary; and it is astonishing how the times have altered within less than two centuries. In the reign of queen Elizabeth, the current specie of the kingdom was computed at four millions only, and a shilling in England went as far as two shillings in France, which is the very reverse of the case at present2. Yet, is there any doubt, that the people of England in those times were full as happy as in ours, when the necessities both of the state and of individuals, are so enormously increased? 98 The English nation was then, without a bank, and with only four millions of specie, as much respected as at any other period, recorded hitherto in the annals of its history.
Luxury, pretended refinements of life, together with a number of expensive wars, some of which were certainly not of the utmost necessity, have increased the wants of the nation, and with them the public debts, taxes, and burdens. When government first began the borrowing scheme, five, nay even six per cent. were paid as interest. The creditors were not permitted to reclaim their capital; but they were allowed to sell the whole or part of it, to whom they pleased, by which means these debts, vulgarly called stocks, became a kind of merchandise, saleable as goods in the market. The plan of making a fund of public debts, is of Italian or Florentine invention, improved only and stretched to the utmost in England. What Leonard Aretin said of the bank or stocks of Florence, in the fourteenth century, that they rose according to circumstances, and were regulated by fear, hope, and speculations, is applicable in all respects to the English funds. The scenes of roguery in the stock-market, the impositions which are daily committed, to make the public funds rise or fall, are beyond conception, 99 and the credulity with which every idle story, and every palpable lie is swallowed, stands as a melancholy proof of the weakness and imbecility of the human mind.
It is calculated that the English, within the space of about a century, have spent no less than forty-five years in wars. They are very expensive among all nations, but certainly more to the English than any other, which may easily be accounted for, from the manner in which the estimates and subsidies, are made; from the mode in which they are granted, and afterwards spent. When king William died, the national debt amounted to little more than sixteen millions, and is risen now to more than two hundred and fifty. It became an established maxim with the ministers of state, who were so happy as to be placed at the head of the treasury, to borrow millions after millions, upon the credit of the parliament, without ever entertaining an idea of repaying their loans. They thought it fully sufficient to provide for the interest required, by laying on new taxes, and generously left the rest to posterity. The millions thus borrowed, remain in the treasury as long as water in a sieve, and become, within a twelvemonth, a mere phantom in the funds. The nation pays, as long 100 as it is able, the interest of its debts, and since it is an absolute impossibility to pay them off, it must declare itself, one time or other, insolvent. The word bankruptcy has lost in this enlightened age the terrors of ignominy, which the prejudice of former times had annexed it. Every London Gazette announces bankrupts twice a week, by half dozens and dozens, and every body looks upon them as common things. Should it, therefore, excite much wonder, if the nation itself found it necessary to declare its situation by means of a Whereas &c.? To speak, however, seriously, neither agriculture, nor commerce, will cease in England, because several thousands who lead an idle life, by means of their income from the public funds, will be under a necessity, when the bubble of credit bursts, to apply to some beneficial employments, and to become useful members of society. Most of this kind of people live at the expence, and upon the labour of the more industrious part of the nation, and in some respects rob them of their own3. Nay, it might even be said, that the generality 101 of them are supported and fed by government out of the public funds, for which reason they are almost always satisfied with the measures it pleases to adopt. They look upon it as their tutelar goddess, without being anxious for the support of constitutional liberty, or caring for the burdens laid upon the more industrious part of the nation. Liberty, therefore, cannot but gain, if such a revolution in the British finances should take place, which certainly is unavoidable. Those millions which now are to be raised to pay the interest of such an exorbitant national debt must then cease; or, if a composition should take place, they must be lessened, and every necessary of life must become more reasonable. Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, will flourish more, if the industrious man pays in taxes, only one third to government of what he is to spend in support of himself and his family, instead of paying at present actually more than half. England then will see more happy times; she will commence a new epocha in her history, which will have again its spring, its summer, its autumn, till at last, if posterity renews the game of its ancestors, after a century or two more are elapsed, a new bankruptcy will ensue, and a cold winter shall destroy those insects again, which feed upon the fruits that properly belong to 102 the industrious. There is no new thing under the sun; changeable time alters and restores many things,
Multa dies, variusque labor mutabilis ævi,
Retulit in melius; multos alterna revisens
Lusit, et in solido rursus fortuna locavit:
it alters the state of nations as well as that of private men.
The English funds have been long ago looked upon as uncertain; and those who buy in, do it always on a supposition that they can sell out again, if any danger should present itself. Yet, hitherto, both British subjects and foreigners, have not hesitated to place their money in them, because the confidence in the riches of the nation has been great, and the interest or dividends have been paid, hitherto, very regularly, without any deduction whatever. Besides, if any body wants the whole or part of his capital back again, to dispose of it otherwise, he can sell out almost whenever he pleases, without trouble, submitting only to the variations of the market price. These are undoubtedly great conveniences, which those seldom meet with that lend out their money to individuals, or on common or personal security. The interest of the creditor is likewise 103 secure as long as the taxes are sufficiently productive, and government can send the necessary millions to the bank for the payment of the half yearly dividends. But should the time come, when it is not able to do this, or is obliged in time of war to appropriate the money, which was intended to pay the creditors their interest, to the necessary expences of the state, the credit then is gone, at least for a short time, and the national bankruptcy is declared. I have seen Englishmen who cannot, or will not persuade themselves of the possibility that such an event, not only might, but, at last, must happen, and think, that all England would be undone, if it should ever take place. They, however, do not consider, that the number of those who have money in the funds, is calculated at 25,000; that about 17,000 are said to be British subjects, the rest foreigners, and that comparing these with the whole of the inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland, which are reckoned at about twelve millions, the number of sufferers, if the state should become insolvent, is, comparatively speaking, but very small. Besides, it does not follow, that in case the state cannot raise, by taxes, ten millions to pay the interest due to the creditors, that a total insolvency should 104 ensue. Supposing that even no more than six millions, without overburdening the nation, could annually be raised, to satisfy the creditors in paying their dividends, they ought to be satisfied with that, and every one of them, I believe, would in such an instance, readily submit to a composition. Each creditor of the state would lose in proportion, so much of the capital of which he is possessed in the funds, as would reduce the whole of the national debt to such a standard, that six millions, annually raised by taxes, would be sufficient to pay the interest. Every man in his senses, may easily convince himself, that it is an absolute impossibility ever to pay off this enormous national debt; and I do not know, whether it would not be the best means that an enterprising minister could adopt, to do the nation an essential service, if he, with the consent of parliament, declared the insolvency, and proposed a composition. By such a measure, he would ease millions of a grievous burthen, he would dispel the anxieties of thousands, he would relieve the industrious, and bring those who live in idleness and affluence, at the labour and expence of others, to a greater degree of equality with the rest of the community. There is no ground for apprehension, that such a method 105 of reducing the national debt would annihilate the credit of government. Not the three hundred thousandth part of the subjects of Great-Britain have any concern in the public funds; and those who have but little in them, would be indemnified for their loss, by the reduction of taxes, and, in consequence, of the dearness of living. Those who live in affluence from their income out of the public funds, would derive the same advantage, and have, perhaps, sufficiently left, to live in a decent manner, though their capital, and consequently their interest, were reduced to two thirds or one half only, of what they had before4. Foreigners, who have interest in the British funds, would have no more reason to complain than others. 106 They get in their own countries, if they are not in a mercantile line, seldom more for their money, when it is lent upon good security, than three per cent. and in the English funds they get at present seldom less than four. Besides, it ought to be considered, that the English nation loses every year, more than two millions, which are to be gained by English industry, and are sent abroad to satisfy the demands of foreigners, who in case of a composition for reducing the national debt, ought to share of course the fate of other creditors, if they happen to be among their number.
Many schemes have been proposed, to pay off the national debt, but always without any effect. At present, since it is arrived to such an alarming height, it seems to border upon frenzy, for any man to think seriously of a possibility of doing it. Had the original intention of the sinking fund been rigorously pursued, things would never have gone so far as they are. But, instead of that, reckoning from the accession of queen Anne, the nation has within eighty-seven years, contracted two hundred thirty-four millions of debt. Is it possible to think, that by a progressive and proportionable accumulation, a national insolvency can be thirty years distant? It is true, that 107 some millions have been paid off in times of peace; but the whole from the accession of George I. to the year 1785, amounted to no more than 21,652,000. There is no doubt, that above three times that sum, has dropped into the sinking fund; but the rapacious hands of ministers have alienated and applied it to quite different, nay, even opposite purposes, than to relieve the nation from those enormous burdens under which it groans. There is likewise no hope, that it ever will be otherwise, if parliament makes no severer laws, and does not enforce them by the strictest regulations, to protect a fund which should have been held sacred, and ought to have been most conscientiously applied. However, this would come now too late, since not much can be saved as an overplus of the revenues, and attempts have been made, even in parliament, to prove, that the national expenditure exceeds the income considerably. But supposing that there was a possibility of paying off, in times of peace, a million annually, what could it avail, if one war increases the debt, with more than an hundred and ten millions? The credulous, indeed, are made to believe, that a million is yearly paid off; but others consider this as a delusion and a farce. Foreigners must really wonder, 108 that whilst this reduction of the debt is boasted of, new millions are borrowed, and the people, instead of being relieved, are burdened with new taxes.
As for the taxes themselves, they are almost endless. Some are called annual, such as the land and malt-tax; but custom and necessity, has established them in such a manner, that they may be considered as perpetual, full as well as the others. They do not always answer the expectations of the minister, they entail want and misery upon the poor, and call loud enough, Ne plus ultra; or stretch the bow no farther, for it is going to break! When first a tax is laid on, some grumbling and some discontent is, perhaps, heard in the beginning; but when it is once established, no body seems to mind it any more. There is no nation, which talks, writes, and boasts more of liberty than the English, and yet there is none more burdened with taxes, duties, and excise, all which it bears patiently, though excise is certainly inconsistent with the government of a free people. In the beginning of the American war, I have oftentimes heard the English say: the Americans ought to be subdued, because they would not submit to pay taxes, as well as they themselves, in order to ease the burden of the 109 nation. They consequently knew, and were sensible of the hardships under which they laboured; but wished, notwithstanding, for coercion, to make the Americans likewise oppressed with the evils of which they themselves complained. To obtain this end, they submitted to be loaded from time to time with new impositions, to furnish the interest for the new loans, and with more than an hundred and ten millions of new debts, which have been accumulated in that fruitless war.
Much might be said of the manner in which the taxes are laid on. I have heard it frequently mentioned in favour of them, that they are optional; but, I believe, there are some, which are not. The commutation-tax, for instance, is one of them, since whoever is to pay for his windows, must pay the duty upon tea likewise, though he, perhaps, never drinks or buys any. This commutation-tax may be looked upon as a companion to that odious impost in France upon salt, called gabelle. It has farther the appearance as if in England, in laying on taxes, not sufficient regard was paid to the different classes of people, and their circumstances. The rich, when compared to the poor, pay too little, though it reflects honour on the English legislation, that neither the nobility, nor any 110 body else, are exempted from paying their share, towards every tax, which receives the sanction of parliament. In Germany, France, and most European countries, the nobility and the Romish clergy have taken care to exempt themselves from the greatest part of those impositions, which the industrious and poorer class of the community are obliged to pay, frequently towards the support of the extravagance, pride, and folly of their despotical sovereigns. This is a melancholy remnant of feudal barbarity, happily abolished, long ago, in England. The reasons, however, why the middling and the poorer classes of people, are, in proportion, heavier loaded than the rich, is pretty evident. The members of parliament, are mostly people of fortune, and the taxes are laid on by them. A patriot in the house of commons has, with the rest, but one vote. When a duty is laid on sope and candles, consent is easily obtained, but when a tax on dogs and packs of hounds is proposed, the minister will find a strong opposition. There is likewise some truth in what an honest Englishman asserted in a pamphlet written not many years ago: “That dissipation and vice are winked at by government, and the morals of the people are sacrificed to the increase of the 111 revenue5.” Indeed, whoever reflects on the encouragement given to tea-drinking, to annual lotteries, to numberless distilleries, taverns, and alehouses, might be induced to think, that this assertion is not altogether without foundation.
Since the imposts, which are collected as duties, taxes, or excise, are so various, it is obvious, that numbers of tax-gatherers, excisemen, and custom-house officers, commissioners, &c. are necessary, whose salaries and perquisites amount to great sums. It has, therefore, frequently been proposed, to reduce all taxes, if possible, into one, or at least to simplify and reduce them to a few. The poor would gain by such regulations, if their situation in life, and their inability of contributing much, were consulted, and the number of revenue-officers was lessened. However, all these well-intended proposals have been neglected. The poor contribute greatly towards the revenue, and government has even an income from the large sums which the nation raises to maintain its poor. The minister wants the revenue officers as his own creatures, to vote for his interest on elections, and though, within a few years, they 112 have been incapacitated by an act of parliament, to vote at parliamentary elections, yet it has been done formerly; and it would be no matter of surprize, if a future minister, who could keep his place only by venality, bribery, and corruption, should find means to repeal this act, that he might procure to himself a parliament devoted to his dictates and to his interest. Nay, it is said, that ministers have laid on taxes, which they knew beforehand would not be productive, merely to increase their myrmidons, and to have more votes at command.
1 Some will allow but half this sum.
2 Hume’s Hist. of England, vol. v. p. 485.
3 Celui qui mange dans l’oisiveté ce qu’il n’a pas gagné lui même, le vole; et un rentier l’état paye pour ne rien faire ne differe guere mes yeux d’un brigand qui vit aux des passans. Rousseau Emile, tom. ii. p. There is certainly some truth in this.
4 There is another way of easing the nation of its burden, without suffering its pensioners to be starved. If the buying and selling of the funds was unexpectedly stopped at once, and all the annuities were gradually to terminate with the lives of the then proprietors, whose names are actually on the books in the Bank, every death of such a person would bring relief to the state, and the national debt might be very nearly extinguished within twenty or thirty years. It ought, however, to be confessed, that such a way of clearing the nation has the appearance of hardship, more than the other which I have mentioned; though, in fact, it would only resemble the suppression of convents and monasteries, when their inhabitants are provided for during their lives, but after their deaths the cells are not filled up again.
5 Observations on the present state of the parochial and vagrant poor. London. 1773.
The very light which falls through the windows . . . must be paid for.
[He’s not kidding. The window tax, aka The Worst Idea Ever, remained in effect until 1851.]
seemed frequently to be at a stand
text has be at / at a at line break
which the prejudice of former times had annexed to it
text has annexed to / to it at line break
[Footnote] un rentier que l’état paye pour ne rien faire ne differe guere à mes yeux d’un brigand qui vit aux dépens des passans.
corrected by author from un rentier qui l’état paye pour ne rien faire ne differe guere a mes yeux d’un brigand qui vit aux depenses des passans.
[Footnote] tom. ii. p. 74.
text has 74- for 74.
[Aside from this final punctuation error, the Dublin edition has the identical text with identical errors.]
THE preceding section on taxes naturally leads me to mention another species of impost or public burthen; I mean the maintenance of the poor, whose number, on account of the high price of provisions, is excessively great. Concerning the dearness of provisions and the causes of it, I shall on some future occasion say more. There are in no country such large contributions raised for the support of the poor as in England; yet there is no where so great a number of them; and their condition, in comparison with the poor of other countries, appears truly the most miserable: they never seem to be apprehensive, or to think of making any provision for a time of want. In Germany and other northern countries of Europe, the poor keep always in mind that it is cold in winter, and that no harvest or fruits can be reaped from the earth while it is covered with snow. On this account they consider in time the warmer cloathing they will then require, and lay up such a store of provisions 114 as their circumstances allow, in order to prepare themselves in the best manner possible for the inclemency of that season. But in England it seems as if the poor and necessitous never looked forward, or would not trouble themselves to think of what may happen to them in future. They neither foresee the winter’s cold, nor the scarcity of that season; and, therefore, when it arrives, are the most forlorn beings imaginable. The lower classes of people have no disposition to be frugal or provident: when trade becomes dull and employment scanty, they who maintained themselves by their labour, must either beg or obtain support for themselves and their families from the parish. The watermen of the Thames, whole gains are very sufficient for their livelihood, when the river is frozen or covered with shoals of ice, are often seen dragging a boat or little ship through the streets of London, and begging alms of the public. In those counties and towns where manufactures are carried on, there is for this very reason the greatest number of poor; for as soon as any particular branch of them is on the decline, the workmen who were employed in it are threatened with want, and in danger of starving. The number of the poor in such counties raises the poor-rates very 115 high, and consequently makes both land and houses less eligible to purchase; for according to the value or rent of houses, the poor-rates are levied; so that the tenant of a middling house, of about forty pounds yearly rent, in a county where four shillings in the pound are demanded, for the support of the poor, must pay a yearly tax of eight pounds for poor-rates.
In Germany there is a great difference, as to value, between the dresses of the different ranks of people; but in England this distinction holds in a much smaller degree. The cloathing manufactured for the poor and common people, is in small proportion to their number, and few or none of them like to wear it. Even in country places it is but little used; and in London, or the great towns, it is seldom or never to be seen. All do their best to wear fine clothes, and those who cannot purchase them new buy the old at second-hand, that they may at least have the appearance of finery. Servants in general live nearly as well as their masters and mistresses; and when servant-men or maids marry, they frequently begin the married state with a life of more expence, or rather profusion, than their circumstances will admit, and continue the same until children and want force them to 116 apply for bread to their parish. The English thieves and rogues usually say, “We can be but hanged at last.” In like manner servants and others, who by their extravagance and mismanagement bring poverty upon themselves, feel as little contrition, and say, “The parish must maintain us.” Such instances, however, of and depravity, render the wealthy and industrious not very willing to contribute to the support of the poor; and the poor themselves generally thank neither God nor man for the charity that feeds them.
The number of those who are born poor, and of those who from misfortune or misconduct become so in time, is very great. The first are brought up by charities; the latter are maintained, and at last buried out of the same fund. No person, therefore, need wonder that the taxes which are yearly collected under act of parliament, for the support of the poor, should in England alone amount to three millions sterling1: a sum which must appear altogether extraordinary, when it is considered, that the revenues of many kingdoms do hardly, by 117 half, amount to so much2. At the same time it ought to be remembered, that the extremely necessitous poor only are supported by it; that the streets of London, notwithstanding all this, are crowded with beggars; that the poor blind, led by dogs, beg charity, and that this is equally the case, in proportion, in the country3.
If we may not presume that the funds for the poor are mismanaged and misapplied, we shall never be able to account for the number of beggars in England, or reconcile the contradiction which strikes us, while we view the country every where covered with the seats of the noble and the rich, and at the same time so many poor persons half naked and starving around them.
Some years ago a small treatise was published, entitled, “Observations on the Poor-Laws, 118 on the Present State of the Poor, and on Houses of Industry, by R. Potter, London, 1775.” It is well written, and gives full and pointed intelligence on the subject. Alfred the Great ordered his clergy to take the care of the poor upon themselves, and, incredible as it may appear to the financiers of the present day, he gave up one half of his revenues for the support of the poor, and one fourth part as a provision for the old and decrepit. The present laws, for the maintenance of the poor, originated in the reign of Elizabeth. It was then enacted, that the churchwardens and two or three of the most respectable inhabitants of every parish, annually to be chosen, should together inspect the management of the affairs of the indigent. They were to see the children of the poor put to work, and employment found for those who were unable to maintain themselves through want of it. These overseers were authorised to lay a tax on the parish, for the support of the poor and disabled; to send their children to school, and punish all who were able, but too lazy, to work. They were empowered, also, to make contracts with the proprietors of lands, for the building of alms and other houses for the poor. These rules had, at first, 119 a very good effect, but coming, through time, to be very imperfectly observed, the overseers at length turned out little better, in general, than petty tyrants over the poor. The workhouses of a parish are frequently let to persons, who, by means of a contract for that purpose, take the charge of providing for the poor upon themselves; and, in order to derive undue advantages from it, deal so unjustly with them, that the poor prefer begging in the streets to the treatment they receive in their workhouses. Whoever, by reading the treatise above-cited, and by observation of daily occurrences, becomes sensible of the want of humanity in many of these overseers, and of the condition the poor are in themselves, will be at a loss what to think of the charitable institutions of a nation, which thinks so highly, and, in some respects, justly boasts of its generosity and humanity, and amongst whom so many splendid and costly buildings are destined for the relief of the indigent, the sick, and the unfortunate. Such frequent instances occur, of poor persons dying through want, nakedness, and hunger, that their unfeeling overseers might justly be arraigned at the bar of humanity, for the murder of their fellow-creatures.120
It is supposed, that a million of poor people are maintained at the public expence; but I should think there were a great many more: their number increases every year. From a very accurate calculation, made in the year 1680, it appears, that the annual sum, requisite to provide for the poor, amounted to 665,392 pounds sterling. In the year 1764, it had risen to upwards of 1,200,000 pounds; and, in the year 1773, it exceeded, as before-mentioned, three millions; but even this sum was not sufficient for the purpose. In the above quoted treatise, there is an account given of a workhouse, erected within these few years for the poor, in the county of Norfolk, which plainly shews how much the poor-rates may be reduced; the poor themselves better taken care of; more liberally supported, and made useful to the public, by due regulations being observed. It is surprising that this example, so worthy of imitation, has not been followed by other counties. Admitting that there are ten thousand parishes in England, and in each parish a workhouse, containing twenty poor; if we suppose, that each individual, by work found him, could earn four-pence a day, this labour would annually produce, if they 121 worked only three hundred days, one million sterling.
Mr. Gee, who appears to be no greater a statesman than a friend to humanity, made, some years ago, a proposal to send all the poor to the colonies. I rather think, that in a few years, if the times do not mend, whoever can pay their passage there, will, without waiting for an act of parliament, ship themselves to America. The rich will then be able to judge whether they can do without the poor; and unless great emigrations should take place, England will, in time, consist of two ranks of people only; of the rich, and of beggars; or, in other words, of masters and slaves.
Whoever pursues these reflections on the establishment made for the poor, and the sum necessary for their support in England, will soon be led to think how much the wealth of the nation is ideal and imaginary, and how unequally what they really possess is distributed. Allowing there are seven millions of people in England, one million is so poor it must be supported by the rest: that four millions earn only as much as is requisite for their necessities; granting, also, that without reckoning any individual to be possessed of more than one thousand pounds, one million has 122 five hundred pounds each, and the other one thousand each, and then ask where are these fifteen-hundred millions of pounds sterling to be found? How unequally is wealth divided! how ideal must it be, when there are scarcely twenty-five millions of coin to be counted in the kingdom! But it is with property in money as it is with that of land; not one in a thousand has twenty paces of his own; yet we all find room enough for our graves.
——— Æqua tellus
People who live on the continent, when they see a traveller who speaks either good or broken English, generally suppose him to be a Briton, whose pockets are lined plentifully with money. They bow to him, and make him pay, if an opportunity offers, accordingly. But I can assure my countrymen, if what I have said before has not already altered their opinion, that there are numbers of British-born subjects, such as the inhabitants of some of the western islands, who are unacquainted with any coin; nay, others, who, perhaps, during their whole lives, never tasted 123 a morsel of bread. An old man, from the Orkneys, arrived on the northern coast of Scotland, and tasting there some bread, which he found, according to his palate, very delicious, cried out, “Oh! how luxuriously the people live here!” Is there any one, even of the poorest, in Germany, of whom the same could be said, as of this old man, who, in all probability, had gone through life as happily as many London epicureans, and grown old, without those distempers that attend luxury. He, according to his way of living, hardly stood a chance of becoming a beggar; and even as such, he could not be very burthensome to his community.
I am almost of opinion with Dr. Franklin, that this enormous sum, collected annually for the poor in England, increases their number as well as their wretchedness, and that, perhaps, it might be for the benefit of the nation, if poor-rates were entirely abolished, and the distribution of charities left to every man’s own discretion.
1 Sir John Sinclair, in his History of the Public Revenue of the British Empire, page 115, speaking of the poor-rate, says, “A grievous burthen, which, it is supposed, amounts at present to at least three millions per ann.”
2 According to Busching, the geographer, the revenues of the kingdom of Denmark are six millions of thalers, which answers to one million of pounds sterling; and those of Sweden amount hardly to a million and a half, English money. With half of the provision of the poor in England, therefore, whole realms, crowns, armies, navies, and other expences of the state, are supported! How much matter is here for an arithmetician, a financier, and a philosophic observer!
3 It is inconceivable to me how the author of the book Londres, after having been here, could write thus:—“Londres n’a point de pauvres—en bannissant la mendicité, etc.” vol. I. p. 112.
Such instances, however, of worthlessness and depravity
text has worthlesness
[Corrected from Dublin edition.]
[Footnote] How much matter is here for an arithmetician, a financier, and a philosophic observer!
[How little matter is here for anyone who can observe at the outset, whether philosophically or otherwise, that the population of England is and was several times greater than that of Denmark or Sweden!]
tasting there some bread, which he found, according to his palate, very delicious, cried out, “Oh! how luxuriously the people live here!”
[We will meet an even better story on page 370, when the author gets to the Character of the English.]
MUCH has been written, and many disputes have arisen within these few years, concerning the number of inhabitants in England, whether it is decreasing or increasing. Patriots, or at least those who are called so, have lamented for many years past, that population has been in a state of decrease; whereas, on the other side, persons have not been wanting, who have contended that it has within these eighty years greatly increased. Dr. Goldsmith, in a poem called The Deserted Village, sometime ago described the state of the kingdom as very deplorable, and asserted, that the number of inhabitants was diminishing, by the devastations which a daily increasing luxury occasioned, and by the frequent and numerous emigrations to America. His strains are very flowing, his descriptions animated, and the scenes which were painted by his muse very affecting; but I believe, few, if any, arising out of those causes, which he assigns as the sources of his pathetic complaints, are to be met with in England. What the poet had lamented in elegant rhimes, 125 Dr. Price1 endeavoured afterwards to prove by calculations. Mr. Eden2 (now lord Auckland), Mr. Wales3, and the rev. Mr. Howlet4, have endeavoured to refute him; and, as some have thought, with success, though others have intimated, that their intention was only to prove, for the benefit of those who wish for an augmentation of the state revenues, taxes, and duties, that the decrease of population was a mere chimera, which haunted the joyless imagination of some speculative men in the kingdom. This seems to me as improbable, as another assertion, that the imagination of the antagonists of Dr. Price was haunted by expectations of rewards and emoluments from the administration of that period, and that they were thereby led to search for proofs of those things which they wished to be true. Whoever will examine, with some attention, the facts and calculations, which both parties have produced, to prove their opposite assertions, will find arguments on both sides, which 126 will keep his judgment in suspense; and he will agree with me in opinion, that an exact calculation of the inhabitants, instituted by government over the whole kingdom, would be the only certain method of settling this dispute. This might easily be done, if a week were fixed upon, in which every parish was to number its inhabitants, under the inspection of the clergyman, or of some magistrate, and if the result were afterwards sent in to an office, appointed by government, where the accounts of the enumerations over the whole kingdom should be received. Why no administration has ever given such an order, or why no act of parliament has been passed for that purpose, though it would be extremely beneficial in calculations and estimates relative to finances, is a thing which appears to me rather extraordinary; and which has almost the appearance, that the ministers of state are apprehensive that an exact enumeration of the people would not answer their expectations, and by no means confirm the arguments which their political writers have advanced in favour of an increased population. Something of the kind has been, if I may so express it, done tacitly within these few years; for I have been told, that 127 those trifling taxes on the registering of christenings and burials, which have almost the appearance of a national dishonour, were invented and laid on, merely to ascertain, with some degree of probability, the true state of population in the kingdom. But why might not this be done publicly? Why are far-fetched arguments to be used, when an order for a general enumeration might silence at once those who are said to draw gloomy pictures of the population and of the prosperity of the kingdom?
The causes which Dr. Price alleges for a decrease of population, carry plausibility along with them; though it cannot be denied, that his opponents are not much behind hand with him. He proves, from the best authorities, that in the year 1690, there were in England and Wales together 1,319,215 houses. He reckons five inhabitants5 to each of them, which, however, appears to him rather too much; and supposes the whole to have been, at that time, about six millions and a half. In the year 1777, the number of houses, which did and did not pay the window-tax amounted 128 to 952,734, or, as Dr. Price fixes it, to a million. If here again five persons are reckoned for each house, the population has decreased a million and a half, since the year 1690. Mr. Wales takes great pains to refute what the doctor has advanced upon the population of London, and yet the reasonings of the latter remain, after all, apparently strong. Those arguments which Dr. Price derives from the decrease of the excise upon necessaries of life, and the increase of the imposts laid upon articles of luxury, are such, that all the subtile and elegant reasoning of the author of the letters to lord Carlisle, will hardly shake, and much less overthrow them.
The accounts of a great increase of houses in several counties in England, which the two antagonists of Dr. Price oppose to his assertion of a decrease of population, are liable to many objections. I shall mention only a few. In the first place, the increase of houses, on which Mr. Wales lays great stress, is mostly to be met with in Yorkshire and in Lancashire; where, for years past, manufactories have been established, and where of course the number of houses has increased. In the second place, it might be very justly observed, that if in some counties the number of houses had increased 129 and in others not diminished, the accounts, which are yearly presented to the royal exchequer by the commissioners of the window-lights must be untrue; for they prove, according to Dr. Price, that the number of houses is decreasing. It might, therefore, if the doctor’s statement be just, very properly be asked, Whether the accounts given by Mr. Wales, or those delivered into the exchequer by the commissioners, are the most to be credited? In the third place, I think it might be readily admitted, that the cottages have decreased, but that the number of houses which pay the window-tax has increased, particularly in those counties where manufactories are successfully established. In cottages, which are exempt from the window-tax, lived perhaps more than one family, and some of them being employed in manufactories got a little money. Encouraged by this they quitted their poorer habitations, and took small houses which are not exempted from paying the window-tax, and which were erected by those people who build upon speculation. This, indeed, proves the increase of houses which pay the window-tax, and that some poor people have got a little more money than they had before; but it hardly can be used as an argument for the increase of population, and 130 the increase of families. If, therefore, an advocate for an increased population says, that in the year 1756, the number of houses in the north riding of Yorkshire had been 1716, but was at present 1985, and from thence draws the inference, that, within five and twenty years, this part of Yorkshire had an addition of 269 families, an inattentive reader might be easily misled by substituting new families for new houses, since it is not mentioned how many cottages were left empty by exchanging them for houses, though the former are more beneficial to population than palaces.
From the enormous increase of houses, which to a degree almost approaching to madness, are continually, within these twenty years, erecting near London, no inferences neither, on the general increase of the population in the kingdom, can be drawn. It may be true, that the metropolis, to its own detriment, has somewhat increased in the number of its inhabitants; but since, perhaps, the smallest part of this increase consists of persons born in London, these new inhabitants must have come from some where else, and most of them from the country, at whose loss the metropolis is extended, and becomes an enormous head to a proportionably small body. I have beea 131 likewise told, that some hundreds of houses, in that part of London, which is called Marybone, are inhabited by women of pleasure, and such as are certainly not kept with an intention to increase population. It ought to be farther observed, that a great number of inhabitants of London, who are rich, or think themselves to be so, keep houses, at a greater or smaller distance from town, where they reside during the summer months, or at least some days in the week, at which time their town houses stand almost empty, in the same manner as their country houses during the winter. From such double house-keeping of a single family, which originates in luxury, the increase of houses may be proved, but not that of families and population. And whoever wants to see the blessings of procreation, ought not to look for them in the houses of those who are rich, and are said to be of quality; no, he must go, if he wishes to see how population goes on in London, into Spitalfields, Clerkenwell, the environs of the markets, the small and dark lanes, the little courts and alleys, where it swarms with children as if the procreative faculties were excited by premiums. Here, perhaps, an honest father, or a fond mother, may sometimes be found, who consider the number 132 of their children as a blessing; while, on the contrary, among the richer class of people, wealth and happiness are estimated in families in proportion to the smaller number of their children. They teach them too often and too soon, both by example and precept, the silly pride of riches, instead of good principles and sober morals. The parents themselves find now and then their reward accordingly, and see their elder children displeased, who not seldom censure among themselves their father and mother, when the number of younger children increases. These things, however, are the natural fruits of what is called a refined and a genteel way of life, and of an education adapted accordingly. Nature has made few things necessary for the support of our lives, but folly, fashion, and refinements, have increased them to thousands, in order to render poor mortals miserable.
I cannot help concluding this article with a few observations, which I believe are here not in a wrong place. It is at present, particularly with us on the continent, very much the fashion, among statesmen and politicians, to think and to write about population, and the means to promote and increase it, because the state thereby acquires additional strength and power, 133 both in regard to the army and the finances, which equally gain by an increased number of subjects. The benevolent intention of the wise Creator, to give, by a most powerful instinct for propagation, existence and enjoyment of life to as many human beings as possible, is by no means an object which enters into the views of these politically wise men. The institutions, indeed, and regulations of the Jesuits, when they were the prudent rulers and the benevolent fathers of the people in Paraguay, never were regarded as patterns worthy of imitation by the rulers of the rest of the globe, mentioned in history. However, waving this point as chimerical, in the present situation of that state of society wherein we live, must it not strike a mind, given to observation and reflexion, as if the means which are pursued by those who are at the head of politics, are no ways consistent with those that are pointed out by the natural history of man, by the ages and numbers of both sexes? A little calculation, and a few questions, founded upon them, will both illustrate and confirm what I have said. In London are annually born about 19,000 children of both sexes, and perhaps the total number of all its inhabitants may amount to 750,000. It might be fairly reckoned, that 400,600 of 134 them are of the female sex, though I will suppose there were only 300,000. Let us divide these into three classes, and say that 100,000 are under the age of fifteen, as many between fifteen and five and thirty, and 100,000, which is estimating at least one third too much, are above that age. Let us farther suppose, that the second class alone bears children, and ask, how it happens that out of an hundred, only nineteen are pregnant within the year? and why the proportion betwixt the barren and those that are not, is as five to one? After this, let us add a few questions more: Is the imperfection of nature, or are the regulations of human society, the cause that population is not so numerous as it might be expected? Are riches, of which hardly the thousandth part of a nation is possessed, is luxury beneficial to the increase of mankind? Is matrimony, that institution in society, encouraged early enough to keep pace with the intentions and regulations of nature? Are the matrimonial laws, and the human regulations relative to population, subordinate to and consistent with the eternal laws of nature, which alone are truth, or do they in many respects contradict them? Should not moralists and lawgivers examine with a proper degree of attention, divested from prejudices, 135 the common notions of honour and virtue, which, though highly extolled by our ancestors, yet were by them but seldom put into practice? Shall those who say that war, famine, and epidemic disorders are necessary to thin the human race, be thought rational, or qualified for Bedlam? Friends to mankind, admirers of the wisdom and the goodness of your Creator, unprejudiced philosophers, who decide not by opinions imbibed by education, nor adopt, unexamined, the arrogant decisions of others; you who derive your sentiments from the careful observation of nature, and undoubted facts, answer these questions!
1 An Essay on the population of England, &c. London. 1780. Second Edition.
2 Letters to Lord Carlisle. London, 1780. Third Edit.
3 An Enquiry into the present State of Population in England and Wales, &c. London, 1781.
4 An Examination of Dr. Price’s Essay on the Population of England and Wales, &c. 1781.
5 If, on an average, six were reckoned, it would perhaps come nearer the mark. On the continent we allow generally seven millions of inhabitants to England and Wales, which I think is the most probable number.
Britain’s first census was held in 1801. At that time the population of England and Wales was reported at 8.9 million. So unless there was a colossal population boom in the 1790s, Wendeborn’s sources—with figures in the 6-7 million range—must have seriously underestimated. The general tenor of this chapter suggests that Wendeborn is absolutely frantic to believe that the population of England is declining.
Dr. Goldsmith, in a poem called The Deserted Village
Mr. Eden (now lord Auckland)
[Anthony’s great-grand-uncle William, I think. The family tree is awfully convoluted, and the tangle of baronets doesn’t help.]
an exact calculation of the inhabitants . . . would be the only certain method of settling this dispute
[. . . Yeah. If you are arguing about the population of a country, getting reliable data would seem to be an appropriate first step.]
the accounts, which are yearly presented to the royal exchequer by the commissioners of the window-lights . . . prove, according to Dr. Price, that the number of houses is decreasing
[Or, if you prefer, they prove that the number of bricked-up windows is increasing.]
perhaps the total number of all its inhabitants may amount to 750,000
[Probably more, since it was almost 960,000 in the 1801 census.]
SO much has been written on English commerce, that it is unnecessary for me to be prolix upon the subject. I do not pretend to advance any thing which can instruct an experienced merchant, or any one who is well acquainted with these matters: I wish only to entertain the inquisitive, and the foreign traveller. These things are also liable to such alterations and variations, that productions written upon this subject only ten years ago, may already be found imperfect and erroneous. It was supposed, after the loss of the greatest part of the American colonies, that the trade of England would be greatly diminished; but, contrary to expectation, since the peace it has again flourished, and even increased.
The situation of the British isles, render them eminently convenient for trade, and it is almost impossible that they should ever be deprived of it. England, by the loss of the American colonies, has, indeed, suffered much; but this may be repaired in time, if wise measures are pursued. Ireland, during the contest with America, embraced the opportunity of delivering 137 herself from the supremacy of British parliaments, and of getting rid of some hard commercial laws and restrictions, with which English selfishness, and a spirit of monopolizing, had cramped the commerce of the Irish, their manufactories, and their navigation. I should call this a misfortune for England, if I could ever persuade myself, that the restitution of natural rights, and the delivering from oppression, might, under any pretence, be justly classed among misfortunes.
The power and the riches of the English, which have attracted the admiration and the envy of almost all Europe, are greatly owing to their trade and commerce. The British nation proves indisputably, that an empire is not rendered powerful, rich, and respectable, by wars and conquests, which have loaded England with an enormous burden of debts, and been the source of other evils, but by agriculture, trade, navigation, industry, and manufactures. This island would long ago have sunk under its numerous taxes and most heavy impositions, if these means had not supported it. Before the reign of queen Elizabeth, these advantages were little known and little regarded; but in her time the power and wealth of the English began, and she might have advanced the commerce 138 of the nation infinitely more, if she had not almost changed it into the most oppressive monopolies. The navigation act, which was made under Cromwell, has been extremely advantageous to English commerce. At that time, however, the whole commerce of the English, at sea, amounted, annually, but to 95,266 tons. It had risen at the time of the Revolution to 190,000, and at the end of the reign of king William to 320,000. In the year 1774, it was no less than 800,000, which I believe was the time when British commerce had arrived at its summit; for, according to the accounts of importation and exportation laid before parliament, the latter to 15,916,343 pounds sterling, to which it has not risen again; and there are years in which it has been five millions less, such as the year 1778.
Since so many advantages, and such great riches, are to be gained by trade, it is in the highest reputation among the English, who may be called, eminently, a trading nation. To promote the interest of commerce, a board of trade has been instituted; but, whether those who are the members of it, may be always thought to be sufficiently qualified for their office, is a matter which many English politicians and merchants are inclined to dispute. 139 There is no doubt that the regulations in regard to trade, stand greatly in need of reformation and improvement; but it has always been a complaint, that all kinds of reformation for the better are obstructed sometimes by ignorance, sometimes by obstinacy and selfishness. It seems to be acknowledged by every one, though but little conversant in these matters, that English trade, in many respects, is too much clogged and cramped; but, to make it entirely free, and abolish all restrictions, as some have proposed, appears in the present situation of British politics and finances, absolutely impracticable and disadvantageous; though it can hardly be denied that perfect freedom in trade is most confident with its nature and spirit, to promote and insure its success.
English trade is either inland or foreign. I shall speak of the latter first, which extends over the whole globe, and has, at least for many years past, enriched the nation with millions annually. It is impossible to draw an exact balance of the English commerce, because every thing respecting it is founded on probability only. Those who make calculations relating to these matters, draw inferences from the course of exchange, from the calculation of foreign money, and from accounts of 140 importation and exportation. As to the first, very little can be inferred from the course of exchange, since it depends so much on tricks, on accidents, and various, not always very honourable, means which are used to raise or to lower it. As to the second, no foreign money circulates in England at present, from which, in regard to exportation, any thing can be guessed. There remain, therefore, only the custom-house books, as guides to find out the most probable balance of trade. The late sir Charles Whitworth, who, as a commissioner of the customs and a member of parliament, was well qualified for such a business, gave himself the trouble to publish the annual custom-house accounts, which are laid before the house of commons by the proper officers, from the year 1697 to 17731. It ought, however to be observed, that even these accounts are not without objections, and consequently not altogether to be depended on. For instance, where no duty is to be paid, nor bounty received, the entries made at the custom-house, will, from vanity or other less justifiable motives, by which some merchants are actuated, 141 exceed the real value of imports or exports. It must farther be remarked, that the smuggling trade, until of late, has been so great, that the annual sum which government has lost in duties by it, is said to have been almost equal to the very sum which was actually received. Of all this smuggling trade nothing is to be met with in the custom-house accounts, and consequently the conclusions, in regard to the balance of trade, rendered uncertain. Lastly, it may be observed, that the book of rates, by which the duties are calculated, was composed long ago, when the value of merchandises was at a lower price than at present. However, this is very immaterial; for, since the goods imported and exported are rated by the same standard, and the proportion which they bear to each other is calculated on the same scale, the proper balance must be found.
I shall refer the reader, who wishes to be more particularly informed, to the tables of sir Charles Whitworth2, and content myself with mentioning only, the whole sum of imports and exports, in the year 1697 and 1773, the former being the year when sir Charles begins, 142 the other where he ends. In the year 1697, the importation amounted to 3,482,586l. sterling, and the exportation to 3,525,906l. whence it appears that the exports exceeded the imports only by 43,319l. In the year 1773, the importation amounted to 11,406,841l. and the exportation to 14,763,253l. Here the exports exceeded the imports by 3,356,411l.; and what an amazing increase of trade, in favour of England, is this in less than eighty years! I shall only add, that there are years, wherein the balance in favour of exportation is greater than in 1773. For the year 1750, I find the exports surpassing the imports by 7,359,964l. and this is the greatest sum I have met with. In the years 1751, 58, 61, 64, it always exceeds six millions.
It seems to be incomprehensible, what is become of all this money, which England, as it is supposed, has annually gained by trade. If I reckon only, that within thirty years, ending at 1773, annually, on an average, five millions have been gained, it amounts to an hundred and fifty millions. Where is this money gone to, when only about twenty-five millions, in bullion, are actually to be found in Great Britain and Ireland? There are only two ways in which I can, with any probability, account 143 for it. The first is, when I consider that much money is sunk in establishing plantations in the West-India islands, and in North America. The second is, when I calculate the sums which are annually paid as interest for money vested by foreigners in the public funds, and which are estimated at three millions. I may add a third, which is that most impolitic exportation of silver bullion to China, which has within these few years risen to above a million. Besides all this, it ought to be remembered, that wealth in trade is in many respects imaginary; that by far the greater part of it consists in paper, which in itself has no value, excepting what it derives from credit as its only support.
I do not intend to give a circumstantial account of the produce of England3, or what she exports or imports by trade: I shall only observe, that she has within herself so many resources for carrying on a profitable trade, that she might be respectable in the commercial world, even without her great and rich possessions in the East and West-Indies. The soil of this happy island produces not only the necessaries, and even superfluities of life, 144 but contains plenty of materials for manufactures and commerce. Agriculture is carried to great perfection, though there is still great room for farther improvement: and the fisheries might produce far more riches than they do at present, if they had not been hitherto rather neglected.
It is proved, by experience, that England loses in her trade with Russia, Denmark, and Sweden, considerably. Most materials for ship-building are fetched from thence; and it is natural, that the loss in war-time should be considerably greater, because these commodities are then more wanted. What England loses in her trade with Russia, is generally estimated, in time of peace, at half a million; and the balance of the trade, in favour of Sweden and Denmark, is calculated at 100,000 pounds annually. Should it happen that Russia becomes more successful in her manufactories, particularly in those of woollen cloth, she will be a still greater gainer in her traffic, with England, because these manufactures, which the Russians stand much in need of, have hitherto lessened the balance.
Much has been written, and many disputes have taken place among my countrymen, concerning the question, “Whether England 145 loses in her trade with Germany, or not?” Whoever has resided, even but a short time, in England, and knows what is exported for Germany, and imported from thence, will readily admit, that England has considerably gained by this trade, and that Germany has lost. A mere comparison of those goods which are imported from Germany, and those which she receives from England, may easily decide the question. The value, the variety, and the quantity of those commodities which are imported from Germany, are inconsiderable, when compared with those that are exported. The article of German linens and yarn, has been, till of late years, the most weighty in the balance; but it is greatly diminished, and declines more and more. The importation of yarn is very beneficial for English manufactories; and it is very impolitic in the Germans, to suffer it to be exported, when they should manufacture their raw materials themselves, and then export them. The importation of staves, from Germany, and the East-country, is, in war-time, of more consequence than in time of peace; and, upon the whole, it might be asked, Whether, in this branch of trade, the Germans are more losers or gainers? They destroy their forests for present and temporary 146 gain, at a time when they themselves begin to feel already a want of timber, and particularly of fuel. As for other goods, such as Moselle and Rhenish wines, mineral waters, toys from Nuremberg, pot-ashes, quicksilver, vitriol, smalts, juniper-berries, wax, &c. which come from Germany, they are of little weight in her balance of trade with England. The whole of the importation from Germany can, in the very best years, hardly amount to half a million of pounds sterling; but if, on the other side, the exports from England to Germany are estimated, it will appear, that the former gains, in the balance of trade with the latter, at least eight hundred thousand pounds, if not a million. The exportation of woollen manufactures, of Manchester goods, of stockings, of hardware, of Birmingham manufactures, is very considerable, though, perhaps, it was formerly still more so. The fur-trade to Germany is extremely beneficial to the Canada and Hudson’s-bay companies; and if, to all this, be added the exportation of East-India goods, and the produce of the West-India islands, of both which so much is annually shipped for Germany, there remains no reason either for doubt or for surprise, that the balance of trade, between England and Germany, is greatly in favour 147 of the former. I cannot, however, dismiss this subject without making a few observations. In the first place, though it seems to be a losing trade for the Germans, yet it is not altogether so; for many of those goods, which they receive from England, do not wholly remain in Germany, but are sold to neighbouring countries, from which they receive their profits again, and reimburse themselves by this transitive trade. In the second place, I cannot pass over an assertion which I have read in some German writers, That Silesia alone furnishes England annually with 500,000 pounds worth of linens. I greatly doubt whether this ever was the fact in former times, and much less in the present, when the demand for Silesia linens has so greatly diminished, since the Irish, in almost all branches of the linen trade, have gained the superiority. In the third place, I shall mention, that those German statistical writers, as they style themselves, who very gravely, and with much warmth have maintained, that the balance of trade between England and Germany was in favour of the latter, have laid great stress on the importation of many German products from Italy, particularly by way of Venice, and from Holland, which are entered in the 148 custom-house books, as goods that came from these countries. After making some strict enquiry into this matter, I have found, that the goods thus imported, are by no means of that amount which is pretended.
The trade with France, before the conclusion of the commercial treaty, was undoubtedly a losing one for England: whether it be so still, I am unable to determine. According to the tables of imports and exports, by sir Charles Whitworth, which I have before mentioned, it would appear as if England had formerly, in the trade with France, gained at least two hundred thousand pounds annually; but the contraband trade, which was carried on till of late to so great a height, exceeded all the over-plus on the custom-house books. The greatest jealousy, in regard to trade, has always subsisted between the French and the English, and has caused many bloody and expensive wars: it would, therefore, be of infinite advantage to both nations, if a stop were put to this rivalship,4 since humanity, and even sound policy seem to demand it. The last 149 peace, which was concluded at Paris, gives some hopes for this, since it is proposed to settle the manner of carrying on trade differently from what has been done hitherto, and to make the commercial intercourse between both nations mutually advantageous. England, by this, certainly would be on the gaining side5. Immense quantities of French wines, and brandy, have been clandestinely imported, and the British revenues have lost very considerably: besides, most of the goods imported from France, are for the gratification of luxury and fashion. The great duties which were laid upon them, to serve as a prohibition, have operated the contrary way. The English epicureans and voluptuaries, of both sexes, seem for this very reason to value French wines, silks, furniture, and French fashionable follies, the more; and if the number of French opera-dancers, dancing-masters, friseurs, cooks, valets, and chamber-maids, which within these fifteen years, even during war-time, have been imported duty free, and returned to France with the spoils of English folly, is brought into the account for settling the balance of trade, how 150 much does England lose in its commerce with France6?
In the trade with Spain, which includes that of the Canaries, the balance has been always, hitherto, in favor of the English. They likewise have profited greatly, at least formerly, in the contraband trade with Spanish-America, and from bringing their fish from Newfoundland to Spanish markets. There were, as I have been told, some years ago, many more English houses in the mercantile way in Spain than there are now. Since the trade between England and Spain is advantageous to both nations, it were to be wished they were upon a more friendly footing with each other, and that on both sides, instead of standing upon punctilios, they would sacrifice, in trifles, to each other, readily. I am however, of opinion, that there will, at least on the side of the Spaniards, always subsist a kind of jealousy, as long as the 151 English are in possession of Gibraltar. Many, who may be regarded as judges in these matters, think it would be better for England to give this fortress up to Spain, for a proper equivalent, since, both in war and peace, great sums are expended to support and maintain it; and it is, in fact, they say, of little advantage to the nation, unless to feed the national pride, and to keep it for the sake of ostentation. This, however, I mention not entirely as my own, but as the sentiments of some Englishmen themselves. England, at present, cannot do very well without Spanish wool and Spanish silver, besides many drugs, among which the Peruvian bark may be reckoned the principal. On the other hand, the Spanish are in want of English manufactures; and though they have attempted to set up some of their own, yet, as I have been informed, they have hitherto met with no great success.
With Portugal, England has, for a considerable time, carried on a very profitable trade. English manufactures have found there a very good market, and so have their fish from Newfoundland. However, the Portuguese have commenced some manufactories themselves, and the late marquis of Pombal, who never could forgive the whole English nation, for a 152 box on the ear which he received from an English lady, did every thing to promote the establishment of them. It was, therefore, not patriotism, properly speaking, that prompted him to do so, but rather revenge, as he thought, on the English nation. Though the few manufactories established in Portugal, have by no means answered the expectations of those that instituted and promoted them, and some even were soon totally ruined, yet, it is said, that the sale of a few English manufactures has been lessened among the Portuguese. The French have, likewise, taken the advantage of the great prices for which the English sell their goods in Portugal, to undersell them in many articles, particularly in cloth, and other woollen manufactures. This has hurt the English trade in Portugal more than the establishment of manufactures in that country; and the French have so well succeeded in their endeavours, that the Portuguese have begun to prefer many French manufactures to the English. The balance of trade is, however, greatly in favour of England, though it seems difficult to fix the exact sum. Some say it amounts to a million and a half annually; but I believe those come nearer the truth, who settle it at somewhat 153 less than a million. Wine and fruit are the principal commodities which the English receive from Portugal; their East-Indiamen, in going to India, take great quantities of Madeira wine with them, and dispose of it, not only in Asia, but bring a great part back to England, because a notion is entertained, that this sort of wine is greatly improved, by twice passing the line. The wine which comes from Oporto is so much esteemed in England, that all other wines must give way to it; and the expectations of the French, that, after the conclusion of the late commercial treaty, their wines would become the most favoured among the English, are greatly disappointed.
It is thought, that England, in its trade with Holland, gains annually a million of pounds sterling. Supposing this to be the fact, it does, by no means follow, that Holland loses this sum entirely. She hardly keeps half of what she imports from England to herself, but disposes of it again among other nations, with some profit. On the contrary, the Dutch, before the late regulations were made, to stop the contraband trade, were considerable gainers by smuggling, which greatly diminished their loss in the balance of trade with the English. Moreover, the Dutch, 154 though this is no concern of trade, are the most numerous and the most considerable creditors in the English funds, whence they draw great sums, and this is ready money!
I have heard it said, that the balance in trade with the Austrian Netherlands is greatly against the English, who lose, in some years, half a million by it. This, I think, is hardly to be credited; and if the loss in war time is rather considerable, it is certainly not so in time of peace. The smuggling trade in lace, cambrics, and such kind of goods, has been, perhaps, most detrimental; but I have reason to think, that at present it is not carried on with the success which it had formerly.
From Italy, the English import more than they export, and the balance is consequently against them. Oil, wine, raw silk, and some other commodities which they fetch from thence, amount to more than the fish, some India goods, and some British manufactures, which they carry thither. It is said, however, that their loss does not exceed annually 200,000 pounds sterling, if even so much; but the English travellers in Italy, and the pretended , who buy antiquarian rubbish, and copied pictures for originals, enrich, likewise, Italy with English money.155
Into Barbary are sent various sorts of warlike instruments, and iron and steel manufactures; nay, the English, who are so zealous for liberty, and hold slavery in such abhorrence, furnish the Barbary despots with chains, to keep their wretched slaves in bondage. Englishmen happen now and then to be among these unfortunate beings; but it is said, that trade must not suffer on their account. Fine wool, oil, olives, capers, wax, lion-skins, drugs, and other commodities, are brought back; and I am informed, that England in this trade does not lose, though the gain is very trifling.
The trade to the West-India islands is one of the most considerable in the British commerce: the annual fleets by which it is mostly carried on, go under the denomination of Jamaica and fleets. They are of the greatest importance, and bring sugar, coffee, cotton, ginger, indigo, cocoa, rum, mahogany, logwood, and other commodities. From England, all necessaries of life, all sorts of utensils, all that belongs to furniture and dress, nay, it might be said, a great part of the luxuries of life, are exported to these islands. The value of the imports from them, together with the duties they pay on entering into English ports, are estimated at a million 156 and a half; besides, many thousands live by fitting out these fleets, which, likewise, may be considered as a nursery for seamen. The states of America, when peace with them was concluded, were in hopes, that they should reap great benefit from trading with these islands; but the British parliament has taken care to limit this intercourse very much: however, notwithstanding all the precaution taken to keep these islands in subjection to Great Britain, it is not improbable that they will take an opportunity, one time or other, to unite with the American states, and become independent. A great deal of British money has been sunk in plantations in these islands, and if the English should be ousted of their old possessions, it will be rather hard, if they are obliged to say, that they give up the farther enjoyment of the fruit of their labour and their expence.
The North American provinces, which, after seven years struggle for liberty, are now independent, were formerly a great source of wealth for England. It was reckoned, that this American trade was worth, to the British government and merchants, above two millions of pounds sterling annually; but though the loss of thirteen provinces, and the island 157 of Tobago, is very severe, and an increase of about an hundred and thirty millions of new debts, new interest, and new taxes, still severer, yet it may serve as a good, though dearly-bought lesson, to the English, to act in future with greater precaution, with more moderation, and less oppressively, which, as the now independent Americans say, was the cause which excited them to throw off the yoke, that appeared to them intolerable. They have been reproached by some of the English with the blackest ingratitude, and yet there are good grounds for an apology. The colonies have been compared to disobedient, ungrateful, and unnatural children; but this comparison, notwithstanding it has been repeated many times, and often urged with great warmth, is by no means in point. It might very properly be asked, whether the power of parents is to be never at an end, in regard to their children? whether a son is to be always under a guardian, and never allowed to be his own master? With what a just contempt would the English have received any demand of the Danish kings, to be tributary to them, and acknowledge them for their sovereigns, because the Anglo-Saxons were emigrants from Holsatia, who settled in 158 England, and there established colonies. When the ancestors of the American colonies, more than a century ago, were obliged to seek for an asylum, in the then American wildernesses, against religious persecutions, which they experienced in their native country, it was looked upon by many in England as a happy thing, to get rid of people who had, as it was thought, too much of the republican spirit, and the wish, perhaps, was pretty general, to hear no more of them. But when those, who had exiled themselves for the sake of enjoying political and religious liberty, began to make their situation a little comfortable, and, after infinite labour and hardships, had hopes of some prosperity, their far-distant rulers were immediately at hand, to burthen them with various sorts of impositions, taxes, and restrictions. The established church in England wanted episcopal establishments in America; government demanded revenues; and the English merchant and manufacturer wished to increase his riches at the expence of the colonies. Hence various sorts of taxes, navigation-acts, restrictions in regard to trade, prohibitions of erecting certain manufactories, and endeavours to lay a foundation for episcopal church-government. Was it ever to be expected, that a people, who had 159 increased to millions, who had no representatives in the British parliament, to speak and act for them; a people who remembered the hardships their forefathers had endured, and felt their own oppressions as strongly as the inclination to be free; was it a wonder, that a people who thought they had finished the years of their minority, and had come to an age to be their own masters, should try to throw off the yoke which they found too troublesome? The relation in which nations stand, in regard to each other, are almost the same as between private men. The Americans thought they stood no more in need of protectors; and the English themselves excited them, by the manner in which they treated them, to try whether they were mistaken in their good opinion of themselves or not. During the war, I have heard a hundred times, the partizans of the then ministry, some clergymen of the established church, and many manufacturers, together with some merchants, exclaim, What an ungrateful set of people are the Americans, to make such ill returns to their parent-state, by whom they were, at a great expence, protected in the war before! It might, however, always be asked, Whether the Americans would ever have been attacked by the enemies 160 of Great Britain, if they had not been her subjects; and whether the Americans were not of essential service to the English, by making a common cause with them, and dividing the strength with which Great Britain was attacked? Besides, America may say, that the English were well paid for what they did for them, if it be even called protection, during the war, which ended by the peace in 1763; for England has had, since that time to 1775, on an average, a yearly balance of trade, with the colonies, that amounted to about two millions. Are not six and twenty millions, collected within thirteen years, a very handsome sum, besides what the government drew from them? However, the war is finished, and the Americans are free; their connexions with Europe are no more of that kind which they were, when subject to Great Britain; and they will not find themselves, in future, involved in all the wars and broils which continually disturb the peace of Europe. The greatest part of mankind judge from prejudice, and one generally repeats the cry of the other, let it be ever so absurd. When those, who were first stigmatised with the most unmeaning name of rebels, remain conquerors, they who before clamorously abused them, become 161 silent, and the party triumphant is said to have fought for the good cause. Thus, when those who were at first styled heretics in a country, become the established church, they who first persecuted and damned them, will thank heaven if they, in their turn, are not dealt with according to the law of retribution. But few are acquainted with the history of man, and of whole nations; few have considered and meditated on the rights of mankind; few are possessed of sufficient strength of mind and abilities, to examine with impartiality and resolution, in riper years, the notions and ideas of fame and honour, of shame and disgrace, which they, by education, were taught to combine with certain words, and to determine their real value. I have not the least doubt, but that the revolution which has taken place in America7 will be of happy consequences even for all Europe, to governments of states and the liberty of nations, of which posterity, a century hence, will know more than we who live in the present age. England will never be ruined because she has lost some of her colonies. If she cuts, or unties, some way or other, the Gordian knot of her national debts; if she 162 makes proper use of the misfortunes she has met with, and the evils she has experienced, which have been chiefly the offspring of pride, avarice, luxury, and corrupted morals, the English nation may become more happy, and more respected than it ever has been; and I most sincerely wish, that the period when such an epocha commences may be at no great distance.
It might be said, that the trade of England with regard to Ireland has rather suffered within these few years, as I have already mentioned. Several attempts have been made of late to bring about a commercial treaty between both nations, but hitherto without the desired effect. Till the year 1783, the British parliament had claimed a supremacy over Ireland and her parliament; but the revolution in America roused the spirit of the Irish, and 80,000 of their volunteers made a successful attempt, to convince the English that the power till then exercised over Ireland was a kind of usurpation. By an act of the British parliament, made in April 1780, it was acknowledged, that the Irish parliament was independent of that of Great Britain. The Irish themselves seem, at present, to wonder, why they have not cast off their yoke long ago, and the English how they could 163 so long maintain a power which did not belong to them. But whoever is acquainted with the annals of nations, and knows the power of education, joined to that remissness and torpidity which prevents new generations from examining the faults and follies of their ancestors, in order to remove or reform them, will not be at a loss to account how this has happened. But, since the Irish, with their parliament, have now obtained the right of internal and external legislation, and can regulate their commerce and navigation by acts of their own legislature, it will be impossible for the English, in future, to confine the trade, manufactures, and navigation of Ireland, as they, perhaps, might think proper. If the British cabinet will influence the Irish parliament in future, it must be done by different means than before; and whether the treasury and patronage will be always in a condition to afford them, must be left for time to decide. Should the Irish establish successfully various kinds of manufactories, and improve their agriculture, it will undoubtedly hurt the English trade: but, luckily for England, the Irish nation is not a little addicted to sloth and idleness; the greatest part of it live in poverty, and are so much used to the oppressions of their nobility, gentry, and clergy, 164 that, at least, half a century and ten Swifts will be required, to awaken them from their lethargy, to render them attentive to their own advantages, and to make use of those rights, to which they are intitled by nature, and which—though it sounds rather odd—are confirmed by that act of the British parliament, which I have before mentioned. Hitherto the balance of trade between England and Ireland, has been stated at half a million at least, in favour of the former. Supposing, however, that it might lessen, the English will, notwithstanding, draw a very great sum of ready money from their sister kingdom by the number of Irish noblemen and gentlemen, who either constantly reside in England, or come over from motives of curiosity to visit London, Bath, Scarborough, and other places; or resort hither to solicit preferment in the church, the law, the army, and the navy. Besides many young Irishmen are sent to the public schools, and the universities in England, or to study the law in inns of court, for whose support large sums are remitted. Considering all this, I am inclined to think, that not much less than a million of Irish money is annually spent in England.165
To promote the increase of trade, government has granted to several societies exclusive rights or monopolies. If a branch of trade be still very young and tender, granting monopolies may be perhaps prudent, to bring them to more strength and maturity; but if Societies which enjoy such privileges, arrive at too great wealth, and become proud and insolent; if they become burdensome to the rest of the community, they then are to be deemed detrimental to trade, and the evil arising from such a cause, is to be prevented, either by restrictions and wise laws, or by a total dissolution of such monopolies. In that society wherein we live, none of its members are more intolerable and insipid, than insolent and purse-proud tradesmen and merchants, or sneering, rich, and impertinent farmers. Those who are occupied in agriculture, and those that carry on trade and commerce are among the most respectable members of society; but both lose much of their utility and value whenever they become insolent and overbearing. I could easily prove and illustrate this, by the history of many monopolies and monopolizers; but I wish rather to give an account of those societies, which bear the name of trading companies in England.166
The African company received its charter from Charles II. They built forts on the coast of Guinea, and established factories; but their conduct being afterwards not as it should be, parliament in the year 1751, took the matter in hand, gave leave for erecting a new company, and granted a sum of money to indemnify the old for giving up their charter and privileges in favour of the former. This African company was under the regulation of the board of trade. Every British subject is at present permitted to trade to the coast of Africa, and parliament generally grants a sum of 10,000l. for the support of the forts erected there for the protection of the trade; which, therefore, properly speaking, cannot be called a monopoly. Much has been of late written and said upon the slave-trade, which belongs to that of Africa, and the friends of humanity were in great hopes that it would be abolished; but they have, hitherto, been disappointed. No doubt is entertained by any impartial man, who is neither a slave-trader nor a planter, and not connected with either of them, that this trade is a disgrace to those nations who carry it on; and it has been proved, in parliamentary debates, in the most clear and satisfactory manner, that the voice of humanity, as well as political reasons, 167 call aloud for its abolition. Two things, however, in regard to this dispute, seem to be not properly distinguished by both parties, by whom it is carried on; at least they have generally lost sight of them. These two questions, Shall the slave-trade be abolished? and this, Shall all the negroes, who are now actually employed as slaves, be set at liberty, and be declared their own masters? are undoubtedly very distinct from each other, and very differently to be answered. No man, who consults his own feelings will give a negative to the first; and if those, who from unworthy motives or from depravity of mind, become advocates of this inhuman trade, are asked only this simple question: Would it not be right, and very just, for another person, who could, by some means or other overpower you, to take you away from your own country, and transport you, against your will, wherever he pleased, to put you to hard labour, and chastise you most unmercifully if you did not fulfil his commands? the indignation which they would immediately show, on this question being put to them, would be sufficient to confound them. After this they deserve no farther refutation, but contempt, since they deny that justice to others which they claim themselves as the right 168 of man, and as due to humanity. Besides, it has been proved to a demonstration, that the present number of negroes, who are actually now on the British West-India islands, is sufficient, with the addition only of some African females, to propagate their own race, if they were properly treated, to such a degree, that there would be, within a few years, by far more than are wanted. The other question, however, Whether the negroes that are now employed as slaves are to be set at liberty? ought to be answered according to the different views it is placed in, and with retrospect to circumstances. The Quakers in Pennsylvania, we are told, have given liberty to their negroes in the most generous manner, and have had no reason to repent of this noble act of humanity. But the planters in the West-Indies do not think like Quakers; they calculate the sums their negroes have cost, and the money they have spent upon them. They ask, Who will reimburse us, who will indemnify us on account of our loss, if we give them liberty to be their own masters? However, since it happens that calculations and self-interest interfere in this instance, with the rights and exertions of humanity, let those who will not free their negroes, keep them as slaves, but let it not be permitted to treat them 169 cruelly; forbid the farther importation, at least of male slaves, and let the planters know, that if they wish in future to have the benefit of the labours of the negroes, they must promote the increase of them within their islands, and that the next generation, which succeeds the present negroes, are to be as free people as themselves. If a plan like this were executed by authority, and the influence of government, it would soon put a stop to this shameful traffic, which is a stain on the British national character. And since the English were the first that began and introduced the slave-trade, it would redound to the credit of the present times to abolish it, and set a good example for imitation, to those nations who followed the bad one which they have given.
A Turkey company was erected under James I. but it cannot be called a monopoly, since whoever pays a small sum to the company, may obtain the liberty of trading to the Levant. This trade is at present not very flourishing, which perhaps may be owing to the French, who have insinuated themselves into the favour of the Turks, and supply their wants in preference to the English; though there is no doubt but that, particularly at present, many English manufactures, especially of the woollen kind, 170 go by way of France to the Levant, and are disposed of among the Turks, by the hands of the French. During the late war with the American colonies, I remember that the Levant trade of the English was almost totally at a stand, on account of the superiority of the French in the Mediterranean, and I believe it is at present not very flourishing. The Turkey company, according to their charters, should maintain the British ambassador at Constantinople; but I have reason to think, that it is not always rich enough to do this, since, within my time, parliament has been obliged to grant sums of money for the support of the ambassador.
The South-Sea company was, by its institution, intended for a monopoly, but it has even in the beginning, made little use of its privileges; and when the peace at Aix la Chapelle was concluded, the English renounced their right of sending annually a ship to Acapulco, for which the company received by act of parliament an equivalent. Government has borrowed, from time to time, great sums of this company, and the whole amounts, at present, to very near twenty-six millions. Its present members are, in fact, only the creditors of the public, who receive their interest-money at the 171 South-Sea house, where their business is conducted.
The principal of all trading companies in England, and it might be said on the whole globe, is the East-India company. It is a monopoly in the strictest sense, and in fact an engine of state to serve the views of government. It has done much harm to England; it has imported much Asiatic riches into the kingdom, and also much evil and mischief. So much has been written about the first institution, the progress, and the history of this company, that I have no reason to repeat what has been related by so many writers8. The arguments have likewise, oftentimes, been stated, on both sides, for and against the advantages and usefulness of this company, though it appears to me, that the harm which the company has done to England, outweighs all the advantages which are alleged by those who are either interested in it, or partake of the good things and emoluments which it has sometimes to distribute. When the charter of the company expired in the year 1780, it was thought by some, that their monopoly would be at an end, and that 172 the trade to the East Indies would be free; but those who entertained such an opinion were mistaken. Government is not so rich as to repay very easily the 2,200,000l. which it owes to the company, and which is one of the conditions to be fulfilled before it can take away the charter. The ministry knew too well how serviceable the company is to their views, and the company itself found the sweets of a lucrative monopoly too agreeable, to hesitate long in bringing a sacrifice of another two millions to its tutelar goddess, which prolonged its charter for ten years more. This grant, however, is very nearly expiring; and it is now supposed that government, at the end of it, will, by means of an act of parliament, take all territorial possessions from the company in Asia, to invest the crown with the same, and leave but an exclusive trade, and the commercial concerns, in the hands of the company. Time alone will shew whether this supposition is founded in truth. If it be so, little doubt remains, but that the British nation, as well as the millions of natives in India, who have groaned a long time under the sovereign power of a few, who called themselves English merchants, will be benefited, by the adoption of such measures. During my residence in England, 173 this company has been more than once, as it seemed, on the brink of insolvency. They have been often under a necessity to apply to government for assistance, and to parliament for leave to borrow millions, to be enabled by new loans, to pay their dividends, their duties at the custom-house, and old debts. The maladministration of the company’s affairs is very evident, since the company itself is poor, and those that are sent to India as its servants, though in meaner capacities, accumulate money with ease, and generally return with riches to England. Whoever is so lucky as to obtain a governor’s place in any of the East-India settlements, or only a seat in one of the councils, nay, even any other employment, or a monopoly, or contract, may be sure that within a few years his fortune will be made, and that he can return to his own country to live in affluence. It may easily be supposed, that those who enrich themselves in such a manner, within a short time, have had their own interest more at heart than that of the company, and that such amazing fortunes as they bring home with them, are not always gotten by the fairest means, but too often in a manner which disgraces humanity, as well as the company by whom they are employed, and stigmatizes 174 not only their own character, but stains even that of the nation to which they belong. The rapacity, the crimes, the extortions, and cruelties of such miscreants, are frequently laid to the charge of the company, which has oftentimes, in India, suffered, and created enemies, on account of crimes committed by individuals. The history of the East-India company, and the transactions of many of its servants, employed in Asia, furnishes too frequently instances of human depravity, of cruelty, of oppression. It affords scenes of human misery hardly to be credited or described; and is rich in anecdotes, which make a sad contrast with that aversion to tyranny, and that generosity, which otherwise constitutes a part of the English national character. I could quote many British writers in confirmation of what I have said, who express themselves in much stronger terms.
The reasons why the affairs of the East-India company are not in the best situation, is owing to a number of causes, though I shall content myself by pointing out only two of them. The first, and, I believe, the principal, is, the company’s losing sight of the intention for which it was instituted. As a mercantile society, its views were only to be directed to commerce; but instead of that, it 175 went upon conquests, and carried on most expensive wars, by which means it became dreaded and hated by the Asiatic princes and nations, whose countries bordered upon the conquests of the company. They naturally were in fear that they themselves should be devoured in their turn, by a set of Europeans, who, under the assumed mercantile character, were armed with the power of sovereignty. The keeping, therefore, and the protecting of those immense tracts of land, which they had made themselves masters of, require armies, forts, and a number of expences, which exhaust the treasures of the company. Their poor Indian subjects, which amount to many millions, however meek, humble, innocent, industrious, and accustomed to tyranny and oppression they may be, are yet unacquainted with English laws and usages; addicted and devoted to their own, they are displeased with their European masters, and would, perhaps, be glad to be governed again by princes of their own country, and by the laws derived, time immemorial, from their ancestors. It is true, the Asiatic despots and nabobs themselves, are very seldom fathers of their people, or mild and benevolent rulers over the countries subject to them; but the greater part of those, who might be called 176 English East-India nabobs, are still worse. Many of them arrive very hungry, and in an emaciated condition in India; they suck as eagerly as leeches, to fill themselves the quicker, that they may return the sooner to their own country, and move in a higher and more brilliant sphere on their own island; for most of those, who are styled in England nabobs, are of low extraction, and starting up, like mushrooms out of their obscure condition, are naturally the more infected with national pride and prejudices. They, therefore, look upon the poor Indians as a race of men very inferior to themselves, though they are infinitely better. They think, that to be created an English baronet, to procure, by bribery and corruption, a seat in parliament, and to live, upon the frequently ill-gotten Indian wealth, in a splendid manner, in the English mode, is far more honourable and consistent with the happiness of life, than to slumber in Asiatic luxury, like a mogul, or to be adored as an Indian nabob. The fortunes brought over from Asia, and the wealth which came into the kingdom, by means of the company of which I am speaking, have done infinite mischief to England. They have corrupted the morals of the people; they have increased not only the luxuries, but enhanced, 177 also, the price of the necessaries of life; they have encouraged bribery and corruption. It is to be regretted, that government has not hit upon some means to oblige those, who come back from the East-Indies like nabobs, to appropriate part of their Asiatic spoils to public benefit. When, in former times, the Roman pretors returned to the capital out of their provinces, in a manner somewhat similar to the English nabobs, means were generally devised to ease them a little of their, not always very honestly, acquired riches, by making them ædiles. There are in England many bridges, where, on passing them, a heavy toll is to be paid; there are public edifices, goals, workhouses, and others of the kind, which are to be supported, in great measure, by the earnings of the industrious. Supposing the honour of erecting and supporting such edifices was bestowed on such nabobs, to lessen a little the public burdens, could they complain of any injustice?
Another reason, why the East-India company is in but indifferent circumstances, may be derived from the great demands of government, which, particularly during the American war, have amounted to some millions. Lord North has, under several pretences, squeezed the company 178 like a spunge. When he was obliged to give up his place as prime minister, there were 500,000 pounds of his demands on the company left unpaid, which were relinquished by parliament as unjust.
British subjects born, as well as foreigners, may become members of this company; and those proprietors, who have had a thousand pounds for a twelvemonth in its funds, are entitled to a vote, when a court is assembled. Those who are possessed of 3000 pounds may give two, and those of 6000 pounds three votes. The number of the directors of the company, the chairman and deputy chairman included, amounts to four and twenty. Six of them go out annually, and as many new ones are re-chosen. They generally meet once a week, but in cases of emergency oftener.
The subscriptions or shares of the first proprietors, in this company, were originally fifty pounds only; but in the year 1676, on account of the increase of the profits of the stock, they were doubled and advanced to 100 pounds. Since that time, the India funds are very much risen, though they bear always a proportion to the government funds, by which they are regulated. The interest-money, or, as it is called, the dividend, is paid half-yearly. Some years 179 ago, an attempt was made to raise it to ten or twelve pounds annually, by which means the value of the original shares would have been more than trebled, but parliament wisely interfered in this business. During my residence in England, the company has been several times under a necessity to borrow money, to be enabled to pay their dividends. In the year 1773, they were obliged to apply to parliament, that government might support their credit with a loan of 1,400,000 pounds. On this occasion the parliament enacted, that the company’s annual dividend should not amount to more than six per cent. till the borrowed sum was repaid. This done, they might raise the dividend to seven per cent. and when their bond-debts were reduced to a million and a half, it should be permitted to fix it at eight; and in case a surplus then remained, government were to be intitled to three-fourths of it. The above mentioned loan being re-paid, and the bond-debts being reduced to the sum fixed on by parliament, the company pays at present a dividend of eight per cent. though it has been under a necessity of borrowing again, to be enabled to do it. The India stocks are generally lower than those of government, and I suppose the reasons to be the following. First—Because the creditors 180 have only the credit of the company for security; and in case that should be found tottering, it must depend on the assistance of government. Secondly—Because the funds of the company must be at an end when its charter expires, and government will not renew it. Lastly—Because the dividends are not always equal, and can be reduced to six per cent. as in the instance which I have before mentioned.
With respect to what concerns the traffic of the company itself, I shall confine myself to a few observations only. I have read, in some German publications, that this company has not the liberty to build its own ships; but this is an untruth; for it contracts for the building of them, and takes them into service, not from restraint, but from motives of œconomy. These ships seldom make more than three voyages to the East-Indies, when they are declared unfit for the company’s service. Such a voyage is generally performed within eighteen months, of which six are reckoned for going to the East-Indies, and as many to come back; the other six are for the stay which they make there. The company insures neither the ships nor their cargoes, by which means it saves great expences, provided no misfortune happens. Private property is generally insured. The number of 181 ships which the company annually sends out to Asia is undetermined; formerly it amounted to near thirty, but at present the number must be greater, on account of the increased importation of tea. These ships, when they are in India, do not go from one port to the other, to collect their cargoes. This, as I have been informed, is done by country ships, and by traders, who furnish the East-Indiamen with those goods that complete their lading.
The company being obliged, by its charter, to export annually English manufactures, to the amount of 500,000 pounds, disposes of them in Asia. A great deal of these goods was sent, by way of the Red-Sea, to Arabia, and from thence by caravans to Egypt and the Levant. The Arabs, however, behaving rather insolently and oppressively to the English traders, it was thought expedient to try the navigation from the East-Indies, strait to Suez, over the Red-Sea, which was formerly thought a dangerous passage, at least by the Arabs. Mr. Niebuhr, whose travels are well known, communicated, when he was in India, to Capt. Holford, a chart of the Red-Sea, which he had drawn up when he navigated it, in an Arabian ship, coming from Suez. By means of this map, it is said, an English ship went from Bombay to Suez, and made a prosperous voyage, 182 without touching at any Arabian port, and without being exposed to extortions. Many other ships, afterwards, performed the same voyage, and both European and Indian goods and manufactures were brought to the Levant, and to Egypt, in this way. It was, however, soon discovered, that such a trade was not very advantageous, because the Eastern markets became overstocked with English manufactures. The prices of them fell, of course, as the East-India company carried them across the Red-sea, and the Turkey company across the Mediterranean. This, it is said, induced the former to order, that no more of its Asiatic ships should go from an Indian port strait to Suez; though it is reported, likewise, by others, that government, finding a loss in duties paid on India goods, which from England were exported again to the Levant, put a stop to such a navigation on the Red-Sea, by spending some money at Constantinople, and inducing the Porte to interdict this East-India trade to Suez, and from thence by way of Cairo, into Egypt and the Levant9.
The profits of the company, arising from their trade, are said to amount annually to two millions of pounds sterling, which calculation 183 appears to me rather too low, considering that from this sum 900,000 pounds are to be deducted for duties to be paid to government, and for the expences of shipping and navigation. The duties on importation, which are to be paid to government, by the company, cannot be exactly ascertained, since they vary according to the quantity of goods imported. They have hitherto generally been estimated at 600,000 pounds annually; though I have reason to think, that they, at present, must amount to a great deal more, since the commutation-act has generally increased the company’s importation of tea, by checking that of the smugglers.
The company has to dispose of lucrative places and employments; and that of being a commander of an East-Indiaman, is not one of the least. I have been told, that after three prosperous voyages, such a captain will have acquired a fortune sufficient to make him independent, and to maintain a family in a very decent manner: exceptions, however, to this general opinion, are to be met with. The ships of the company, in going to India, commonly stop at the Cape of Good Hope, to take in refreshments and supplies. On their return, they do the same at the Island of St. Helena, which 184 belongs to the English, but is difficult of access, in going to Asia.
When the homeward-bound East-Indiamen arrive in the British channel, they are met, at a great distance from the English ports, by smuggling vessels, that buy the India and China goods, which they can get from those, who, as officers in the service of the company, may bring from India, on their own account, a certain allowance of merchandises. These, after paying the customary duties on entering the port of London, should be sold at the public sales of the company; but many gentlemen will rather, if they can, dispose of them, duty free, to these smugglers, who pay immediately in ready money, and take the goods away, before any of the custom-house officers have been on board of the company’s ships. When these ships are at anchor near the English coast, or on the Thames, I have sometimes seen a kind of fair near them, on the shore, where a brisk traffic is carried on, in spite of all laws in favour of duties and customs, which are always very readily set aside, by those who think the dictates of natural liberty superior to all the injunctions which are intended to cramp it. However, since the late vigorous measures against contraband trade have been adopted, 185 it may reasonably be presumed, that this kind of traffic is no more of that consequence which it was some years ago.
I shall conclude this short account which I have given of the East-India company, with this observation only, that if the monopoly is to be continued, it will, undoubtedly, be to the advantage of the company, if government takes from them their territorial possessions, which are certainly the chief cause of the difficulties and debts in which they have been so frequently involved. It will be beneficial to millions of poor Indians, though there are many who think that this relief may come too late; since, in their opinion, the natives of the East-Indies, in less than fifty years, will be skilled in the military art, as practised in Europe; and, completely tired of the oppressions which they have suffered from foreigners, will shake off the yoke under which they have groaned, and drive that handful of Europeans out of India, who have ruled over them, too often, with a rod of iron.
The Hudson’s bay company is another monopoly, perhaps the most lucrative that exists; for, it is said, that the proprietors receive 2000 per cent. on their capital. This appears to me to border upon exaggeration; but it may be laid 186 down as certain, that the profits of this company are very great; which, perhaps, is the reason why they keep their affairs so secret, and in such mysterious darkness. It would certainly be very beneficial for England, if this trade were laid open to every adventurer. Instead of only three or four ships, by which, at present, it is carried on, more than forty; and instead of about a hundred and fifty sailors, perhaps two thousand might be employed in it. The exports to Hudson’s bay, if some inland settlements were erected, might be, as well as imports from thence, much more considerable than they are at present. This company gets a great deal of money for its goods from Germany. Most of the buyers, at its public sales, are German furriers and merchants, settled in London, who, at least formerly, used to bid furiously against each other, and made the people, who sent them their commissions from abroad, pay for the envy and spite which they bore against each other. The company is naturally much benefited by such dispositions of their customers. Let me, however, observe, that perhaps not half of the goods bought for Germany remain there, but are sent to our eastern and northern neighbours, by which means we ourselves profit by this trade. It 187 may, perhaps, be thought, that the navigation from England to Hudson’s bay, is not always the safest; but I have been assured, that none can be more so, and that hardly an instance can be produced, of any ship belonging to this company being lost. It is very probable, that if the American states grow more populous towards the north, this will lessen the immense profit which the company, as it is said, has hitherto reaped from its monopoly10.
The Russia company received its charter in the reign of queen Mary, and it was confirmed by queen Elizabeth. The company has hitherto enjoyed great privileges in Russia; but it seems as if the government there began to think differently, in this respect, from what it did formerly, and that the favours which the English have received in that empire, will be rather lessened. This company, properly speaking, cannot be called a monopoly, since every protestant Englishman, on paying five pounds sterling to the fund of the company, may obtain the liberty of trading to Russia. A few years ago, many foreigners, in order to obtain the privileges of the English in Russia, used 188 to come over to England to be naturalized, and then return; but an act of parliament was made, by the desire of the company, which has greatly and very properly limited this mode of partaking of those prerogatives, which English merchants and traders enjoy in Russia.
The British factory at Hamburgh is also free from the imputation of being a monopoly, or a company which carries on an exclusive trade. I have seen it asserted in a modern German publication, that the English trade to Germany was in the hands of the British factory at Hamburgh; but this is by no means true. Any person, who has an inclination for it, whether he be an Englishman, or a foreigner, settled and naturalized in England, may carry on trade to Hamburgh, or any other part of Germany, and style himself a Hamburgh-merchant, or whatever he pleases. Those that belong to the British factory at Hamburgh, and who are mostly Scotch, enjoy greater privileges than the citizens themselves. They are not only the judges in their own disputes and litigations, but also in those which they may have with the inhabitants of the place, inviting only two of the magistrates to be present at the settling of them. I shall not investigate the causes whence the privileges of the English at Hamburgh, 189 both in civil and ecclesiastical matters, arise; but confine myself to this general remark only, that whoever, on considering the reception, the encouragement, and the more than friendly treatment which the English meet with in foreign countries, compares the reception and state of foreigners in London, who are of service to the British trade, manufactures, arts, and sciences, cannot help shrugging up his shoulders, and making some observations, not of the most favourable kind, on British ideas of liberty, generosity, and liberality. The reception and encouragement of foreign opera-dancers, singers, fidlers, quack-doctors, milliners, hair-dressers, cooks, valets, and such gentry, I except of course; for they have no reason to complain.
The coasting and the inland trade is of great consequence, and extremely advantageous. The former is carried on by a number of ships of various sizes: the fitting out, the victualling, and the providing them with necessaries, employ a great number of hands, and support many families. The seamen engaged in this trade, are said to amount from fifty to sixty thousand: it is therefore a great nursery for British sailors, particularly the coal trade from Newcastle to London. Some are of opinion, 190 that the coasting trade would be rendered more flourishing, if greater attention were paid to it by government.
The inland trade, by which one province communicates its products and manufactures to another, is generally carried on with ready money; whereas the foreign trade consists more in exchanging and bartering commodities. It is of greater moment than foreigners are aware of; and I can explain this more particularly from what I have observed in London. If a stranger passes through the streets of that extensive metropolis, he will be struck with astonishment, when he sees the riches, and the variety of innumerable kinds of merchandises displayed before his eyes, in thousands of well fitted-up shops; for I believe there is no city in the world which, in this respect, can be compared to London. But this stranger’s astonishment will increase, when he observes, that hardly any people enter these shops to buy, a few, perhaps, excepted, wherein millinery, grocery, and some other things are sold. He will be at a loss how to account for the great expences the people are at, who keep these houses and these shops, which indicate riches, and seem to insinuate, that the owners of them are in easy circumstances at least, if not in affluence. 191 But it is not the chance-customer that drops in, who supports shops that betray such opulence: it is inland trade, and the distant market which furnishes numbers of buyers, unperceived by him that passes through the streets of London. I have been told, that there are no less than an hundred and fifty inns in this metropolis, from whence innumerable waggons, loaded with merchandises, set out daily, to carry them into various parts of the kingdom, and which afterwards return in the same manner. Besides, a number of different canals have been made within these fifty years, for the sake of inland navigation; by which means, land-carriage to the amount of five hundred miles, when computed, is saved, and where one horse can draw as much as forty on the high road. I remember when I first came to London, that the print and picture-shops puzzled me, when I saw numbers of fine prints, many of them elegantly framed and glazed, hung up, and exhibited at the windows, and from time to time new ones on different subjects. I saw numbers of people staring at them, on passing the streets, but I hardly ever observed any body going in to buy. It seemed incomprehensible to me, how such shops, at so vast an expence, could maintain themselves 192 without any visible customers, till I got acquainted with an eminent print-seller, who, as I was informed, had acquired, within a few years, a great fortune by his business. He explained the matter to me, and cleared up what appeared to be mysterious, by telling me that he sold great quantities of goods in the country; that he sent them to Scotland, to Ireland, to the East and the West-Indies, to America, and to other parts of the world; disposing on an average, weekly, five hundred pounds worth; and that he paid the workmen whom he employed, every Saturday, at the rate of sixty pounds and upwards. It is the same with other shops, wherein other goods are sold, and where a stranger wonders at the costliness and variety of things he sees before him, without hardly perceiving a single purchaser.
As I have just been speaking of the retail-trade, which is carried on in shops, I will mention a circumstance relative to it, which is not common in other countries. On the continent, it is the custom of shopkeepers to ask a price for what they sell, which will bear an abatement; but in England many of the shopkeepers will make no abatement in the price which they first demanded. This, indeed, is the practice of shopkeepers of the best credit, 193 and of those who are supposed to be the most actuated by principles of integrity. A stranger or a foreigner, who can hardly speak the language, will be perfectly safe in such shops from being overcharged; whereas, on the contrary, upon the continent, in such instances, too much advantage is taken. The practice, however, which prevails in England, to make no abatement, does not always, I believe, proceed from such commendable motives of honesty and integrity, as are to be met with in some shopkeepers. I have been told, that those who deal in the same commodities, frequently agree among themselves about the price for which they will sell, without making afterwards any abatement, though the buyer may think it exorbitant. It may be easily supposed, that in the council where these prices are fixed, justice and equity do not always preside. The splendid manner in which many shopkeepers live, and the short time in which some of them acquire fortunes, are proofs that such a supposition, in many instances, is not ill-founded. Among themselves they sell, as it is called to the trade, a fifth, nay even a fourth part cheaper than to others; from which it appears, that they look upon twenty per cent. as a very reasonable profit. It must, however, be admitted, that from 194 the high rents of shops, the heavy taxes and other expences, considerable profits on some articles seem to be necessary. Bankruptcies are notwithstanding very common, and the London Gazette is always full of them. The credit which is given, and which is the offspring, sometimes of the desire of gain, sometimes of pressing necessities, sometimes of both, is almost incredible. Hence many who, by means of mere credit, set our from nothing, return to the same situation again, only with the honour of having appeared in the Gazette, with the loss of character, and frequently with the stigma of having defrauded others. There are instances, where an honest man, by accumulated misfortunes, becomes a bankrupt, and meets with the pity and compassion of every one possessed of the feelings of humanity; but it can hardly ever be said, that those are to be ranked among these unfortunate persons, who upon mere credit, and upon hazard, venture upon business, the ruinous and dishonourable exit of which they might have predicted to themselves, without being possessed of a spirit of prophecy. There is another great evil, arising from that unbounded and really destructive credit, more predominant in England than in any other country, which goes under the name of bad 195 book-debts. A tradesman and a merchant find great losses at the end of the year, which originate mostly in the credit they have given. To make them up, they charge the honest customer so highly, that he is to pay for the knave, and indemnify them for venturing to give credit to a person whom they trusted, perhaps on no other account but because they balanced the debt of one on whom they could depend, with that of another whose honesty was doubtful. Many a man of principle, and of substance, is jostled in the streets by a person better dressed than himself, who adopts airs of consequence, whose draper’s, taylor’s, shoemaker’s, and other tradesmen’s bills, he in part discharges, because the other does not, and he himself happens to be one of their good customers. This certainly, without impropriety, may be called hardship; for the man of character is not only over-rated and loses his money, but he is even deprived of the satisfaction of being distinguished from the knave, who, by means of credit, appears, by his expensive way of living, and his more elegant dress, the better man and the man of substance, though he has no just claim to either. I know that beings similar to these are to be met with in 196 all cultivated countries, but no where more so than in England, for no where is credit more easy to be obtained. It is undeniable, that in a commercial nation, such as the English is, credit, and an extensive one too, is necessary, but certainly it ought to be kept within proper bounds. Where is the number of swindlers greater than in England, and where do, particularly, foreign swindlers meet with more success? Supposing it to be true, that credulity is an ingredient of the English character; yet, the eagerness of gain, which is so ready in giving credit, operates more powerfully in favour of the swindler, than a disposition to credulity. The number of bankrupts, which seems to increase yearly, reflects no great honour on the mercantile part of the nation; and it will be increasing, if the bankrupt laws are not made more rigorous, and more strictly enforced; if the shame of becoming a bankrupt is, as it seems, almost entirely to be abolished; if certificates are so easily granted, and credit so easily again obtained, that a bankrupt, after paying only a few shillings in the pound, if even so much, frequently seems to prosper better than he did before. Indeed, the bounds of credit, and the regulations about 197 bankruptcies in England, want great reformation. We certainly manage these matters better on the continent.
It is said, that nearly 8000 ships are employed in the English commerce, and that half of it is confined to the port of London. For the security of the merchant, the best for insurances are made. There are several public ones, by charter from government, and private insurances are so common, that numbers of insurance-brokers get their livelihood by this kind of business, and some even acquire fortunes by it.
To promote and to facilitate commerce, a public bank, under the name of the Bank of England, was established in the year 1695. The question has been frequently agitated, Whether the institution of a bank be beneficial to a country or detrimental? Those who pretend to have investigated this matter most minutely, are of opinion, that it is profitable for a poor, but not for a rich country. I shall not presume to decide on this question; but I confess, that I do not see how England in her present situation could well be without a bank and paper currency, though the English themselves look upon their country as a rich one, and other nations do the same. It has been alleged, 198 in commendation of the establishment of the bank of England, that, by its means, the circulation of money is promoted, the interest of it lowered, and the value of landed property raised; that public credit and the strength of government is thereby increased. This last assertion is certainly true; for the nerves of government are grown stronger, by multiplying ready money by means of bank notes, whose value is made equal to gold and silver. There are, however, not wanting persons who are of opinion, that this strength is only external, and that there would be no saving such an edifice of paper wealth, if it should once happen to catch fire. They seem to think, that this paper credit, by internal commotions, or by being extended too much, might be shaken even to ruin, and that the strength of the state, derived from such ideal riches, might unexpectedly be annihilated by a political palsy. It is to be hoped, and to be wished, that those who entertain such ideas may be in the wrong; though it cannot be denied, that the bank would be under a necessity to stop, if only three fourths of its notes were presented for payment within a week. Hitherto, however, the credit of the Bank of England has been unshaken, and its notes are, without hesitation, 199 deemed equal to ready money, and received as such, not only in the British dominions, but also in many parts of the continent.
The Bank is a corporation, and in some respects to be considered as a trading company. The government business, as far as it relates to the public funds, to loans, to the payment of the various dividends, to the keeping of the account-books, and to many other of these public concerns, is transacted at the Bank, for which the company has, from government, a very handsome yearly income. The Bank likewise, advances money upon the security of stock and lottery tickets; it keeps a discount-office also, by which it is said to gain annually above 600,000l. Great care is taken that both the drawers and indorsers of such bills may be unexceptionable, and frequently some on the best houses will be rejected, apparently from partiality and mere caprice. There is likewise a bullion-office, where gold and silver is bought, and the Bank takes care to buy it at an inferior price to that which is given by refiners. From these resources, and some others, such as their estates, their funds, their savings in management, the annual income of the company is estimated at more than 900,000l. and some even will make it a million. If this be true, 200 and if their dividend, as it is asserted, amounts to little more than 500,000l. there must be every year an overplus of at least 400,000l. The true state, however, of the Bank of England, is wrapped up in mysterious darkness; and I have been told, that even not all the directors themselves are admitted behind the curtain, or shewn the caves of Plutus, where the treasures of the company are deposited. So little is the Bank inclined to let the amount of its notes be known, that when the minister lately laid a tax upon all notes and bills of exchange, by subjecting them to a stamp, the company offered to pay 12,000l. annually, instead of having their bills stamped, which was accepted. Various are the opinions concerning the amount to which the bank issues its notes; but the public will always remain in uncertainty with regard to this point. Some have contended, that the value of those that are in the hands of the public, exceeded fifty millions; but I am, at present, of opinion, that those approach more nearly to the truth, who fix the sum at about twenty; which, indeed, is a great deal, considering that the bullion in the kingdom amounts but to five and twenty millions. It appears, from the nature of the bank business, that the number and value of the 201 circulating bank-notes cannot, at all times, be equal; but may differ, even to the amount of millions, at different periods; and that the sum of ready money, which circulates in the kingdom, is by means of these bank-notes almost doubled.
When, in the year 1780, the great riots happened in London, and the Bank was threatened to be plundered, the company applied to government for a guard of soldiers to protect them, in case of similar instances, which was granted. From that time, likewise, double sets of books are said to have been kept, and one of them, as I have been informed, is every evening deposited in the Tower.
Besides the bank of England, there are a great number of private banking-houses in London, and in the country. I have often wondered how they all can subsist, and some of them acquire great fortunes, since the banking business is rather an expensive one. They pay, however, no interest for the money they are intrusted with; and it is owing to the large sums belonging to rich people, which they keep often for a long time in their hands, that they indemnify themselves for their trouble and expences, and acquire fortunes. Foreigners, who are not much accustomed to the 202 sight of great quantities of gold-coin, will be struck with amazement, when they see how unconcernedly, in bankers-shops, guineas are thrown in large shovels on the counter, and paid away with as much quickness and seeming indifference, as a shop-keeper at Bremen will count his little groats, or a French marchand his sols. Perhaps the two latter are as much pleased, when they see a heap of their brazen coin before them, as an Englishman may be, when he beholds a shovel full of gold, being used to the sight of it: so much human happiness and pleasure depend on ignorance and opinion, on custom and education.
It is natural, when I am treating of what relates to commerce, to mention duties and customs; and I will, therefore, add a few words on this subject. In no country can they be greater than in England; no where can they be exacted with more rigour; no where are they made more burthensome to a merchant. Custom-house officers and excise-men, are in no country whatever the best class of people, or such as are much liked, or greatly beloved; and I am certain, that this is the case in England, in a very eminent degree. Their number is immense; and though there 203 are, undoubtedly, some good and worthy persons among them, yet the greater part consists of people, who never were much inclined to be useful to society by their industry and application. The salaries which they receive from government, are but small, and, therefore, they supply the rest of their wants, and of their support, according to the custom of such people, by various means, which are not altogether calculated to conciliate the favour of those, who, on account of mercantile business, have to do with them. Moreover, since they depend almost entirely on government, they are, when capable of voting, under the necessity of being, on election business, on that side which they are directed to support. Hence it may be explained, why their number is rather increased than lessened11. In the year 1774, the duties collected in the different ports in England and Scotland, amounted to about two millions and a half; but since the contraband trade has been greatly checked, within these few years, the amount of duties 204 is much increased12. To support the number of custom-house officers, no less a sum than half a million is said to be required; and if the fees and perquisites, which these people demand of merchants and travellers, that go to or come from foreign countries, are but moderately calculated, more than 250,000 pounds may be added. According to Busching13, the whole of the annual state-expenditure in Denmark, amounts not quite to 700,000 pounds, English money; and the income, as I have already mentioned in another place, to a million. In England, therefore, to support the custom-house officers, requires greater expence than a kingdom!
Merchandises, which are imported with a view to export them again, must, nevertheless, pay the duties, and are kept in safe custody in the king’s warehouses, till they are shipped for exportation again: but since the price of many, particularly of the produce of the West-India 205 islands, and East-India goods, would be enormous, and prevent their being bought in foreign markets, if the high duties remained on them, a draw-back is allowed by government, that the exporters may be enabled to sell these goods at the same price as other nations. Government must do this from necessity, but it certainly gains honour by the bounties which are granted by parliament, on the exportation of several produces of industry, to encourage agriculture and manufactures. It will, however, even in this respect, happen, that sometimes the general good is sacrificed to private interest: I shall quote only one instance. Some years ago, during the late war, raw sugars, from the English West-India islands, were scarce, and very dear. The London sugar-refiners, most of them Germans, could hardly, at high prices, supply the English market, much less were they able to work for exportation. At one time they were even under a necessity to work only some days in the week, for want of raw sugars, notwithstanding great quantities of prize-sugars were carried into English ports. They applied to parliament to permit part of the prize-sugars to be sold, that they might be enabled to carry on their business with more vigour; but the West-India planters and 206 merchants, wishing to have the home-market, as usual, to themselves, and to keep up the high prices, which to them were a source of great gain, they rendered the petition of the sugar-refiners ineffectual. The consequence was, that foreigners had sugar cheaper than the English: that the sugar-refiners were obliged to let their work stand still for some days in the week, and that the planters, together with the West-India merchants, grew rich. Thus the good intentions of the legislature are obstructed; and, to gratify the selfishness of a few, many, nay, sometimes the whole public, become sufferers.
I cannot help observing, that this wise and learned nation have thought proper to lay heavy duties on all foreign learning, which is imported in books at the custom-house, and is paid for by the weight. A ponderous, dull folio, is of far greater value in the custom-house scales, than genuine wit and true refinement contained in a neat octavo or duodecimo. That English books printed or reprinted on the continent, should be prevented, by a heavy duty, from being imported, to the detriment of English authors, printers, booksellers, or bookbinders, is very just and necessary; but I do not see any reason for making the importation of foreign 207 publications, which are never republished in England, so extremely costly, difficult, and troublesome. This is an impediment thrown in the way of the progress of learning, and a hardship under which the learned themselves are laid. At the custom-house so little indulgence, even in trifles, is to be met with, that, if the whole of the duty, amounts but to a penny, which would be readily paid six times over, it is to be entered in the most expensive manner. I remember that some years ago, two little German pamphlets, of the size of an English Magazine, in a blue cover, were sent to me from Hamburgh, and a ship-broker, on seeing them directed to me, drew up, without my knowing it, a petition that they might be delivered, which he presented at the custom-house, where they, however, were ordered to be entered. The broker told me, that the duty, according to the weight of the pamphlets, would hardly amount to a half-penny, and the custom-house fees to about five shillings. As the original value of both pamphlets was only fifteen pence, I took the advice of prudence and œconomy, and sacrificed fifteen pence to save five shillings, and a great deal of trouble besides, by leaving my pamphlets in the hands of the custom-house officers. Here, 208 indeed, is great room for just and pertinent remarks; but I will abstain from making them, and only ask two questions:—First, Is a man, who ought to pay only four pence or six pence duty, which the law requires, bound in justice and equity, to lose five shillings in fees, if he wishes to receive his property? Secondly—Should no distinction be made between things, particularly trifling ones, entered at the custom-house, upon oath, for a man’s own use, and those brought in for sale and commerce? Indeed, the Muses will never pronounce a panegyric on any custom-house whatever, much less on that in London. I have been told, that a learned foreigner had invented a mathematical instrument, of which the great Newton entertained a high opinion, and had formed great expectations. The Royal Society received one as a present, and sir Isaac hearing of its arrival, was so eager to see and secure it, that he himself hastened to the custom-house, to fetch it away. The duty it was subject to, was to be paid ad valorem, and the president of the Royal Society being asked how much its value might be, answered, contrary to his usual manner, with some warmth; What do you mean? Do you think I could ascertain its value? It is of immense 209 value. Upon this, the custom-house officers fixed their own price, which was by far more than the Royal Society thought it worth. However, the duty was paid, and the Society took care, that the great calculator should never afterwards transact their custom-house business.
In whatever country the duties, with which commerce is burdened, are high, contraband trade will be carried on accordingly. I have before observed, that in no country custom-house duties are higher, and exacted with more rigour, than in England. The natural consequence must be, that smuggling is nowhere carried on with greater assiduity and spirit, and with a higher hand, than on the coasts of Great Britain. She can give the best lessons to those who have the management of duties and excise, not to hurt, or even to ruin the state or its strength, by a far-extended greediness, and by oppressions. Necessity and hope of gain render people ingenious, artful, bold, and enterprizing. The man acted very absurdly, who had a hen that laid golden eggs, and who, after killing her, cut her up, to enrich himself the sooner. In England, sad experience, in this respect, has taught her ministers of finances more wisdom, and a beginning 210 has been made to check the smuggling trade, by lowering some of the custom-house duties; by which means both the state and the honest tradesman, are become gainers.
It is astonishing, and hardly credible, to what an extent, and with what success, the smuggling trade has been carried on, within these few years. Ships from thirty to three-hundred tons, which carried from six to four and twenty guns, were employed in it, and navigated by bold sailors, from twelve to a hundred14. The king’s ships, fitted out against the smuggling trade, which carry seldom more than ten or twelve guns, were unable to engage any of the larger smuggling vessels, and were obliged to sheer off, when they happened to come in sight of them. They have even been pursued, attacked, and sunk by them; or, if they were taken by the smuggler, the crew of the king’s ships have been made prisoners, and dismissed afterwards, when the smuggler had deposited his goods in safety. Formerly, there were no less than about a hundred and twenty of the great smuggling 211 vessels, and very near two hundred of the smaller ones. The number of both has diminished, since a new method of checking the smuggling trade, as much as possible, has been adopted by government, under the sanction of parliament.
Tea, wine, brandy, and other sorts of spirits, tobacco, East-India goods, cambricks, lace and silks, are the common merchandise for smugglers. Their principal vessels made, perhaps, six or eight voyages in one year to the coast of France, or Flanders, and returned thence always deeply laden. Since the larger vessels are well provided with guns, they often take smaller ones of their trade under their protection; and if a custom-house cutter happens to meet them, the greater smuggling vessel begins an engagement, to give the smaller ones time and opportunity to escape, and to provide for their safety.
The contraband traders having agreed about the signals at sea, with their friends on the coast, the latter assemble in great numbers, with various sorts of weapons, as soon as these signals are given, and oblige the custom-house officers, if they should present themselves, to be mere spectators, unless they are supported by the military. In this case, however, the 212 smugglers, who are on land, give signals to those at sea, to stretch about twenty miles higher on the coast, where they generally, during the night, land their goods, whilst their friends on shore immediately set about providing for the security of them. Waggons, pack-horses, and every thing is ready to carry the landed merchandises to the places of their destination, which are mostly the villages round about London, whence, during the night-time, the metropolis is provided. Nay, I have frequently seen, on the public roads leading to London, at mid-day, gangs of smugglers, between fifteen and twenty, mounted on the best horses, provided with pistols and cutlasses, carrying their contraband goods behind their saddles in packages, and sufficiently resolute to repel any excise or custom-house officers, who should attempt to stop them. If these should happen to have soldiers along with them for assistance, bloody engagements will ensue, and many on both sides will lose their lives.
This contraband trade is carried on not only as a kind of warfare, but likewise as a well-regulated commercial business. There is not only regular book-keeping, but even proper riders are sent about, from time to 213 time, in their respective districts, to take commissions. The freight, and even the insurance, is settled by them, in case any persons should not be inclined to run the risk, fearing that their goods might be seized. Those who do not insure, get their commodities generally for half the price which they cost when they are entered at the custom-house, and the duties properly paid. Those who insure have them delivered for about two thirds.
The lowering of the duties on tea and coffee, on wine, brandy, rum, and other spirituous liquors, has greatly checked smuggling, and increased the revenues of government, by custom-house duties; but the contraband trade is, notwithstanding, carried on briskly. The custom-house officers may, indeed, in great measure, prevent smuggling on the arrival of packet-boats and ships that enter a port; but their efforts against those powerful smuggling vessels, and their associates on shore, whom I have mentioned, are weak. It is, likewise, very difficult to prevent that kind of smuggling, which is carried on by fishing-boats at sea. Goods, particularly such as are bought at the sales of the East-India company, and which, on exportation, receive a draw-back, are frequently, by these fishing-boats, 214 or some other small vessels, that wait on purpose at a little distance from the coast, brought back in the night time, and sold of course cheaper, than those which have not had the benefit of a drawback.
How much the contraband trade has increased, and how expensive it is for government to prevent it, appears from the number of king’s ships, which amount to more than forty, and which are cruising on the British coast, merely to watch the smuggling vessels. Some of them approach the rank of frigates, and to keep up proper force against smugglers, requires no less than 4235 seamen, and more than 220,000l. to maintain them.
On the coast of Scotland, contraband trade is carried on more briskly than on the English. Smuggling vessels are continually going backwards and forwards, between the eastern coast of Scotland and that of Holland, and Flanders, between Copenhagen, Gothenburg, and other places. They fetch rum, French and other sorts of brandy, wine, and tea. The worst is, that this kind of traffic is carried on not by barter, but with ready money, some English wool perhaps excepted, though its exportation is prohibited under severe penalties. The Faro-islands in the North, are well situated for carrying on a 215 contraband trade between Denmark and Scotland; and I have been informed, that it is done pretty briskly. At the western islands, which belong to Scotland, vessels occasionally arrive from Virginia, for the purpose of smuggling tobacco; and by large rowing-boats, a contraband trade is kept up between Scotland and Ireland. The fishing-vessels on the Scotch coast are likewise very useful to smugglers. For the sake of contraband trade societies are formed in the north of Scotland, who have always horses, waggons, and a number of people ready on the coast to be instantly at hand, when smuggling vessels appear at sea, and give signals for landing goods. Should there be any danger on account of custom-house officers, a number of resolute sailors and others, convey the goods up the country till they are safely deposited.
Within these few years, tea has been one of the principal articles for smuggling; because high duties and excise were inducements to it. The original price of tea, as it is bought in China, is but trifling, though in England the consumer pays, for the most common sort of tea, at the rate of an hundred per cent.15. If 216 therefore, the smuggler buys it duty free, and sells it again for half the price, which a grocer who has paid the duty sells it for, he may be sure of gaining at least forty per cent. by it. This, indeed, may be called encouragement to get riches by smuggling, and an inducement to prosecute it, held out by the government.
The consumption of tea in England is astonishing; it is three times greater than that of all the rest of Europe put together. Some years ago the East-India company used to import annually not much less than six millions of pounds of tea from China: at present, since the commutation-tax has taken place, the quantity is doubled. Millions of pounds, besides, are even now smuggled in; and I do not doubt, but that, notwithstanding all the vigilance of custom-house and excise-officers, some millions of pounds of leaves, grown on shrubs and trees in England, are used to adulterate and to mix with the tea that is imported from China.
The rage of tea-drinking among all ranks of people in England, is beyond conception. Two hundred years ago nobody in Europe was acquainted with the use of this drug, which is now numbered among the necessaries of life, even of poor people in England, particularly among women. Whoever considers 217 with some attention, this enormous tea-drinking in a political view, and with regard to the health of those that use themselves to it, cannot but join with Dr. Tissot16 in opinion, that it would be one of the greatest benefits that could be bestowed upon all Europe, if the importation of tea from China were prohibited. But this certainly will not be done in England, at least not very speedily. Tea-drinking is now not only a fashion, but it is a settled custom, and not easily abolished. Besides, it is to some people, for certain purposes, extremely beneficial. Government, by means of duties, and the excise on tea, raises about 1,200,000 pounds annually from all classes of people.
The East-India company also cannot but greatly recommend tea-drinking, for it gains great sums of money by it; and what would grocers do, if it were not for the consumption of tea? Dr. Tissot, as a philanthropist and a physician, may declare against its importation into Europe; but he will find very few London physicians on his side. The English are very much inclined to nervous disorders, which, for the benefit of apothecaries, chemists, and doctors, are much promoted by the tea-leaves, or 218 at least by the warm water that accompanies them. The bakers, and those who deal in butter, would likewise exclaim against the non-importation of tea; for the English say, that drinking tea, without eating with it, is very . In cottages, therefore, and in the kitchen among servants, as well in the parlour and drawing-room, tea is never served without the assistance of bread and butter. Politicians, philosophers, and patriots, talk and write of the necessity of alleviating the burdens of the people; and yet they do not seem much to regard, that more than a million of pounds sterling is levied by a tax on tea. They urge the necessity of keeping the money in the country, and yet seem to be but little concerned that the East-India company sends, annually, at least a million in pure silver to China, for the purchase of little leaves. They prove the obligation which government is under to preserve the health of the people; and yet do not care how much tea-drinking is encouraged, though eminent physicians have asserted that it corrodes the nervous system of the body, and weakens the constitution. But, whoever has in the least observed, how much wise theoretical instructions are praised, and how little they are generally practised, will not wonder, 219 that, notwithstanding all reasoning against the importation of tea, it is not only continued, but annually increased; that the monopoly of the East-India company is supported, and that very few people grumble at the heavy taxes which they are to pay, because they must drink tea. Whoever is dissatisfied with the commutation-tax, or wishes to lessen his contribution towards it, very composedly pays for the stopping up of his windows, and thinks he has gained a victory over the tax-makers, by excluding the rays of light from his dwelling. The minister in the mean time smiles at the little revenge, which they take at their own expence, by depriving themselves of day-light. He is happy, that the generality of those who pay taxes are but indifferent calculators; otherwise they would have found out how well this commutation tax is adapted to increase the revenues. The minister, when he first brought the bill for this tax into parliament, calculated the importation of tea by the East-India company, at that time, to amount to five millions and a half of pounds in weight, which produced to government annually, in entries, 750,000l. sterling. He asserted, that by lowering the duties this sum would be reduced to 160,000l.; but acknowledged, at the same time, 220 that the new produce of the additional window-tax would amount to 900,000l. He owned, therefore, that government, by sacrificing not full half a million, on lowering the duties, gained, instead of it, by the commutation-tax, more than a million.
It should farther be remembered, that the East-India company, on account of the lowering of the duties on tea, and checking the smuggling of it, is enabled to import almost double the quantity that it did before; and that, of course, the duties which it pays to government are nearly doubled also. The minister, therefore, got by his bill, very near a million and a half of revenue for tea-drinking; and the generality of tea-drinkers seemed to trouble themselves very little about his, or the East-India company’s profits. Rejoicing that they could buy teas for about a third less than before, they forgot the commutation-tax, and gloried in the liberty of blocking up their windows. I own that I expected great marks of discontent when the commutation-tax was introduced; but nothing more happened than what I have mentioned.
Smuggled goods, after being seized, are publicly sold at the custom-houses, without duties; but generally at such high rates, that 221 it may be said duties were included. Some contraband goods are not to be sold at all, but by law ordered to be burnt. Foreign embroideries of gold and silver are particularly subject to furnish materials for this strange kind of bonfires. I saw once among many other elegant and precious things, which were condemned to the fire, a very fine fur, embroidered with gold, and lined with the most beautiful sables. Somebody offered to a custom-house officer, who was to see judgment upon the condemned goods executed, thirty guineas, if he would let him cut out the sables; but he had no power to give such leave, tempting as the offer was; and the fine sables, though not contraband, were thrown into the flames, because they had the misfortune to be sewed, as lining, under the embroidery.
1 State of the Trade of Great Britain, and its Imports and Exports, progressively, from the year 1697, &c. by Sir Charles Whitworth, London, 1776. fol.
2 In the German original, the table of the year 1773 is inserted at full length, but it was thought unnecessary to print it here.
3 This is done in the German original, but it being supposed to be well known in England, is omitted in the translation.
4 It ought to be remembered, that this, and the paragraph following, were printed in Germany, in the year 1784.
5 This has since been done, and the French complain that they are by no means benefited by the new treaty of commerce which has been concluded.
6 In the year 1785, when I passed through Paris, in my way to Switzerland, I was assured, from good authority, that by the books of the lieutenant of the police, it would appear, that annually more than 2000 English travellers resorted to that metropolis. Supposing, that on an average, each of them, noblemen and the rich included, spend, upon the whole, only fifty pounds sterling, in France, the sum which the French annually got from England, amounts to 100,000 pounds.
7 This was written in the year 1784, and it begins already to be verified.
8 A pretty full and circumstantial account is given in the tenth volume of the Modern Universal History; but it does not include the last thirty years.
9 I have been lately informed, that it is carried on notwithstanding.
10 This was written in 1784, and the fur-merchants in London complain already, that the Americans get into possession of the fur-trade.
11 It ought to be remembered, that this, and the foregoing, was written before the new regulations, in regard to their salaries, fees, perquisites, and right of voting, were made in parliament.
12 In the year 1788, they amounted to 3,714,477 pounds.—According to the parliamentary journals, in the year 1604, under James I. they were altogether no more than 127,000 pounds, of which the port of London alone furnished 110,000 pounds. Hume’s Hist. of Eng. vol. vi. p. 23.
13 Geography, vol. i. part i. p. 31. German edition.
14 Reports from the committee, appointed to inquire into the illicit practices used in defrauding the revenue. London, 1784.
15 It ought to be remembered, that this was written before the commutation-act was made.
16 On the Diseases of Literary Persons, p. 120. German Edit.
In this chapter, parts of a few pages were filled in from the Dublin edition: ends of lines on pages 178, 180, 195, 200 (Dublin equivalent text on pages 127, 129, 140, 144); much of page 196 (Dublin 141).
The situation of the British isles, render them
[It ought to be “renders them” (the subject is “situation”, not “isles”), but the Dublin edition has the same thing.]
Ireland, during the contest with America, embraced the opportunity of delivering herself from the supremacy of British parliaments
[Nice try, Ireland, but it didn’t last. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and (all of) Ireland would be formally created in the year 1800.]
the latter amounted to 15,916,343 pounds sterling
text has amouted
it would, therefore, be of infinite advantage to both nations, if a stop were put to this rivalship
[As so often, things will get worse before they get better. But give it another century or so. France and England will then start squabbling with Germany instead of with each other.]
as long as the English are in possession of Gibraltar
[Spain, meanwhile, remains in possession of Ceuta. Clearly the solution is for Morocco to get hold of something England wants, so a three-way swap can be arranged.]
The wine which comes from Oporto
the Austrian Netherlands
[The future Belgium.]
and the pretended connoscenti
[I don’t like it, but the Dublin edition spells it the same way.]
Jamaica and Leeward-Islands fleets
text has Leward-Islands
[Corrected from Dublin edition.]
the loss of . . . the island of Tobago
[Cheer up, Gebhard. France may have seized the island in 1781, but Britain will get it back—several times, in fact. Tobago itself says
Over the years, the Dutch, English and French transformed Tobago into a battle zone and the island changed hands 31 times before it was finally ceded to the British in 1814 under the Treaty of Paris.
while the Commonwealth puts it more succinctly:
Tobago changed hands more frequently between 1650 and 1814 than any other Caribbean territory ]
[the United States] will not find themselves, in future, involved in all the wars and broils which continually disturb the peace of Europe
[Some guy named Monroe was of the same opinion, but it didn’t last.]
the revolution which has taken place in America will be of happy consequences even for all Europe
[Since the author is German, this must be filed under Funnier In Hindsight.]
all the negroes, who are now actually employed as slaves
[This is, to say the least, a phenomenally awkward ambiguity. Are they used as slaves, or is being slaves their job? The author’s usage elsewhere in the book suggests he means the latter.]
government . . . will, by means of an act of parliament, take all territorial possessions from the company in Asia
[Well, he’s only off by about half a century. The East India Company didn’t lose its governmental powers until 1857.]
there are public edifices, goals, workhouses, and others of the kind
[The spelling “goal” for expected “gaol” will recur.]
the Island of St. Helena, which . . . is difficult of access
[A fact that would come in handy in 1815, when it was discovered that the Mediterranean island of Elba had not been sufficiently difficult of access.]
the natives of the East-Indies, in less than fifty years, will . . . drive that handful of Europeans out of India
[Give or take a century—but only because the events of 1857 did not have the intended result.]
The exports to Hudson’s bay, if some inland settlements were erected
[I wish I knew if he meant, literally, Hudson’s Bay, or if he meant all of Canada. To this day, there are no major cities anywhere near Hudson Bay. Or minor ones, for that matter; I can’t find anything bigger than Arviat (pop. 2,657).]
For the security of the merchant, the best institutions for insurances are made.
text has institu-/tutions at line break
In England, therefore, to support the custom-house officers, requires greater expence than a kingdom!
[Our author seems to have trouble grasping that countries come in different sizes. The current population of Denmark—this paragraph’s point of comparison—is about one-tenth that of England. I doubt the proportion was significantly different in 1784.]
That English books printed or reprinted on the continent, should be prevented, by a heavy duty, from being imported, to the detriment of English authors, printers, booksellers, or bookbinders, is very just and necessary
[A century in the future, when the United States enacted its first international-copyright legislation, copyright protection applied only to books that were physically produced in the U.S. Everyone wins.]
I have before observed, that in no country custom-house duties are higher
[I’m going to call this a hypercorrection. The author-translator couldn’t believe that the appropriate English word order—“in no country are custom-house duties higher”—is the same as the German word order (off the top of my head, nirgendwo sind die Zollen höher als etcetera), and therefore felt compelled to move the verb.]
at the rate of an hundred per cent.15.
[Take a moment to admire how the footnote marker (originally a 9, if anyone cares) is bracketed between two full stops: one for the abbreviation “per cent.”, another for the end of the sentence.]
drinking tea, without eating with it, is very unwholesome
text has unwholsome
[Corrected from Dublin edition.]
the East-India company sends, annually, at least a million in pure silver to China, for the purchase of little leaves
[Things would stay that way for many years to come; tea plantations in India only date back to the 1850s or so.]
[Footnote] I have been lately informed
[In the printed book this footnote is marked with an asterisk instead of a number. Either it was inserted at the last minute, or the author overlooked it when converting from the German original (in which all footnotes are asterisked).]
IT might be expected, since I have spoken on trade and commerce in general, that I should say something on manufactures in particular. To be minute and circumstantial in these matters, is very difficult, and contrary to my intention. Among the English themselves, I have heard complaints, that nothing satisfactory, and which could be depended upon, has been written upon this subject, which requires infinite pains to become acquainted with, even to a moderate degree. There happen, besides, within a few years, so many alterations and changes in these things, that nothing, which is written about them, can remain true and certain for a long time.
The principal English manufactures are those of wool, leather, flax, hemp, glass, paper, porcelain, cotton, silk, lead, tin, iron, and steel. Potteries, breweries, distilleries, and cyder, may likewise be reckoned among the manufactories.
I have seen many accounts of the estimate of the present value of the British manufactures. They seem upon the whole to agree, 223 though they differ in trifles. These estimates run very high, and I must confess, that several articles which I have met with in them, appeared to me, as they were stated, to be improbable; though I do not presume to dispute the truth of them. The woollen manufactures are valued by some at sixteen millions and above; those in leather at more than ten; those in flax and hemp at two millions and a half; in silk above three millions; in glass, paper, and porcelain at a million and a half; in cotton, very near a million. In short, it would not be difficult to produce a sum above fifty millions of pounds sterling, according to these calculations, as the estimate of only the principal manufactures.
It is said, that about five millions of people, though this seems incredible, employ themselves and are employed in them. Some get rich, others procure a livelihood, such as it is. Very near a million of people are engaged in the iron, lead, and tin, and a million and a half in the woollen manufacture. Supposing each person thus employed, earned, on an average, the whole year round, only six pounds sterling, though some earn thousands, it would put thirty millions into circulation.
This produce of English industry, paper, silk, and porcelain, perhaps, excepted, is in 224 great repute, and the preference which almost every where is given to English manufactures against those of other countries, is a sufficient proof of it; though it seems as if this predilection began to abate. Of late years it has been objected to English manufactures, particularly those in woollen, that they have decreased in their intrinsic value, notwithstanding the price of them has risen. Some English cloth-manufacturers with whom I have conversed on this subject, have acknowledged, that their cloth was not now of the intrinsic value which it was formerly, but that the demand for it was greater than formerly, and that therefore the prices were risen. As for the increased sale, it is, I suppose, to be understood in regard to the English market; which really is not surprising. In former times, people of some consequence and fortune, thought themselves to appear very decently, if they had every year a new suit of cloaths, but at present three and more are annually required by a man in a middling station of life, who wishes to make what is called only a decent appearance. Besides the fashions alter in these days so much, that a man can hardly wear a coat two months, before it is out of fashion. No wonder, therefore, that the clothiers find, 225 that the demand of their manufactures has increased, and that they can even raise the price of them without exciting murmur, though their merchandise is of less intrinsic value. Those frequent changes of fashion, in regard to dress and furniture, are a great support of British manufactures; they promote trade, and keep all sorts of tradesmen employed; they increase the pride, the wants, and the cares of families, and procure employment for others; they are beneficial to government by imposts and taxes; they are the principal links in those golden chains of folly, by which men, without knowing it, suffer themselves to be bound, and to renounce, insensibly, their natural liberty and independence.
The iron, steel, and metal manufactures of Birmingham and Sheffield are sent to almost all parts of the globe. It is astonishing to see how far the art is carried to lessen labour and time, to make dispatch, and by these means to be enabled to sell cheap. Watch-chains, buttons, knives, and thousands of other things, are made with incredible facility; and pass, within a short time, through some hundred hands, before they arrive to their perfection. No less than forty different hands are busied about the metal which produces a needle. 226 Children, seven years old, are employed in some manufactories, and may earn half a crown a week, which in some respects accounts for the cheapness of things manufactured, and how it is that families, notwithstanding the apparently small wages of their labour, can maintain themselves.
These manufactories are dispersed over the whole kingdom. In the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, in Yorkshire, and in some western counties, those in wool are mostly to be met with. Bristol has manufactories in glass, and Staffordshire is known for its earthen-ware and its potteries. Yet, I may say, that almost the fourth part of English manufactories is in London and its environs; nay, of some it seems as if they had their home in the metropolis. Watch-makers, jewellers, gold and silver-workers, printers, book-binders, silk-weavers, and sugar-refiners, are particularly of this number. This unequal proportion between the metropolis and the rest of the whole country, is no doubt detrimental. It needs no arguments to prove, that the good quality of manufactures and their cheapness contribute greatly to their being demanded, and consequently promote the flourishing of the manufactures themselves. As to cheapness, it is 227 impossible to obtain that in London, where everything is excessively dear, and where, consequently, the wages of the workmen must be greater than in those parts of the kingdom which are remote from the capital, and living, of course, must be cheaper. House-rent is almost double in London to what it is elsewhere. Fuel, to which sea-coals belong in particular, is four, nay five times dearer than in the northern and some other parts of the kingdom. Moreover, some manufactories in London, render the neighbourhood where they are established unwholesome; and the numberless opportunities and bad examples for leading a dissolute life, which are not so frequent in distant parts of the country, too much infect the workmen, and consequently promote poverty, illnesses, and mortality among them. It would, therefore, undoubtedly be for the advantage of such manufactories if they, by degrees and unperceived, were removed into distant and cheaper parts of the country. To attempt any such thing quickly and forcibly, would be imprudent, and, perhaps, raise disturbances in London; but if the owners themselves did establish their manufactories at a distance from the metropolis, they would soon find how beneficial it would be to their workmen, and 228 how advantageous to themselves. The great improvements made, in later years, in regard to the carriage of goods by water, on canals, would greatly facilitate such local alterations for the benefit of manufactories. During my time, more than once, disturbances have arisen from the silk-weavers, which might have been of serious consequences, because they either were out of employ, or they justly complained that so many French silks were smuggled into the kingdom. The English silk manufactures, it is said, do not equal the French, neither in richness nor beauty of patterns, though they are proportionably higher in price. To free the English silks at least from this last objection, it would greatly contribute towards it, if manufactories were established in Yorkshire or Cumberland, where already some successful attempts of that kind have been made. Speaking here of silks, I shall just mention, that all raw silk for the English manufactories is dearly bought in China, and other countries whose natural produce it is. The English export their fine and comfortable woollen cloth, which the Turkish and Asiatic ladies prefer to all their silks; they import instead of it the spinnings of foreign worms, to form a dress of it, in which they freeze, it being never calculated 229 for their climate. The wise might here ask, Is it not strange, that people should give the preference to foreign things, for which they pay so dearly, when they have those which are better, and more comfortable at home? But whoever would seriously remonstrate in such matters, where fashion has given its sanction to folly, might be sure that the multitude, who care not for wisdom, would laugh at him as loud as at the dog that barked at the moon.
It is said of the English, that they are not endowed with great talents, for invention; but, whoever has seen the manufactories at Birmingham, and in many other places, will be easily convinced, that such an assertion is to be made with caution; and that they, certainly, are the most ingenious to improve inventions already made, to render them more perfect. And if inventions are frequently owing to accidents, the improving upon them requires sometimes more ingenuity, and assiduous meditation, than the invention itself. With more foundation, perhaps, it is said, that the English manufacturers, particularly those who employ themselves in articles of luxury, do it with less taste than some other nations, particularly their neighbours the French. It has been asserted, that they shew this want of taste much in their 230 drawings, their designs, and patterns. For this reason they have been obliged, either to procure these things from abroad, or to engage Frenchmen to work for them. I myself have known some, who for such purposes were employed and well paid by English manufacturers in the cotton and calico-printing, or the silk-weaving business. The royal academy of painting, sculpture, and architecture, was, some years ago, instituted for the purpose of removing this want, to make the principles of good taste more known in England, and to form her artists after them. It has been remarked also, that since the institution of this academy, the English manufactories have been benefited by it. The manufacturers at Birmingham, especially those that are in the toy-business, have been very successful in imitating the French; and the French themselves have been gainers by it. The English manufacturer works neater than the Frenchman, and when he has a pattern before him to work by, he generally executes the copy in a more finished style than the original itself can boast. Many Birmingham toys are sent over to Paris, where pretended English connoisseurs will pay double the money for them, on a supposition that they are French-made, and consequently, as the produce of Parisian 231 genius, superior to any of London or Birmingham. One of these conceited arbiters of taste had bought a snuff-box at Paris, and returning to his own country, shewed it on passing through Birmingham, to a manufacturer there. As a traveller of taste and experience, he asked him with a kind of sneer, “Why cannot you do these things in an elegant French gout like this?” How much might you pay for this box? asked the manufacturer, modestly. Only four Louis, was the answer. Sir, replied the other, I sold this box, and many more, to the man who has so grossly imposed upon you, for only half a guinea each. This threw the connoisseur into an immoderate fit of laughter; upon which the manufacturer asked him, whether he would permit him to cut the cover of the box, if he presented him with another of equal value and goodness. This offer was accepted; and the manufacturer, on tearing part of the cover, shewed him his name, and the place of his residence, which was concealed there. This has been related to me as a real fact; and the deceptions of this kind are very numerous.
It was once proposed to have a committee of overseers over manufactories, who should take care, that the produce of them was of the requisite goodness and quality, because 232 it has been observed, that foreigners have lessened their demands of English manufactures, because their intrinsic value was not the same as formerly. But as it has been objected, that such a kind of tribunal was inconsistent with the liberty of a manufacturer and of trade, it never was established. I will not deny, that sometimes the English manufacturer will play his tricks, and that the intrinsic value of some manufactures is lessened; but I wish, at the same time, in justice to the English, to say, that they often deal in a very honourable manner, without any deceit, and without imposing inferior commodities upon their customers, when they have a right to expect such as are of the best kind. But foreign dealers and merchants will sometimes give commissions for goods of an inferior sort, and afterwards sell them as if they were of the best, and charge the price accordingly. To prove this, I will mention only one instance, which came within my own knowledge. German tradesmen, not of the most honest class, have given orders for making callimancoes of an inferior quality, though they desired them to be made, as to outward appearance, as if they had been of the best kind. Some manufacturers have rejected such orders with disdain, as degrading their character; 233 others, perhaps, equally honest, have, out of complaisance to their customers, complied with their desire, and lessened the price which they charged considerably, thinking that those abroad would do the same, in regard to their customers; which, however, they have not done; but asked the same price as if they were the best callimancoes; and by these means injured the repute of such English manufactures. In cases like this, the Englishman is certainly free from all kind of blame, and the German tradesman is the impostor, who injures not only the manufacturer, and the produce of his industry, but wrongs also his own customer. Besides, many foreigners, French, Germans, and others, have within some years past, come over to England as spies, whose intention was no other than to be admitted, by means of letters of recommendation which they had obtained, into English manufactories; and to take the advantage of English honesty and openness, to examine the machines and tools of their invention, which they make use of, and to pry into the mysteries of their arts, that after having stolen as much as they could, they might return to their own country, and establish, in a very imperfect manner, manufactures of the same kind, the produce of which is 234 sometimes imposed upon the unwary for English. To succeed in such nefarious purposes, they, though forbidden under great penalties, entice if they can, by means of great promises, which are seldom kept, British artisans to leave their country, and to assist them in their new undertakings. Such transactions are certainly the most unfair that can be met with in the commercial line; and the English manufacturers are rather to be praised than to be blamed, if from motives of prudence, taught by disagreeable experience, they have of late looked shy upon such foreigners, and received them, even when recommended, with coldness and mistrust.
It is not many years since the English have recovered from those prejudices, which could not but obstruct the progress of manufactures. One of them is that opposition which was shewn against the use of machines to save labour, to render the work easy, and to make dispatch. It was thought, that poor people were deprived by them of employment to gain their bread, and that it was better to set numbers to work than that one person, by means of a machine, should do with ease the work of many, who were to be left idle. From such a supposition a saw-mill, which was 235 erected, about a hundred years ago, near London, was demolished again, that the labouring poor might not be deprived of employment. Upon the same principle, a tumult was ready to break out among the spinners in Lancashire, because some manufacturers wanted to introduce a new invented wheel, constructed upon such a plan, that one person could spin six threads of cotton at one time. Had it not been for some men of sense, who took pains to persuade and convince these people, that it would be for their own interest and advantage to make use of this kind of spinning-wheels, they never would have suffered them to be introduced. At present, as I have been informed, they are so well convinced of the usefulness of them, and the folly of their prejudice, that, perhaps, riots would ensue, if an attempt were made to prohibit them. All sorts of machines that can be beneficial are now introduced, improved by time, and new ones invented. Mills, set in motion by wind, water, fire, and steam, are most ingeniously constructed; and most successfully used to facilitate and accelerate various kinds of work. And, indeed, if the English will sell their manufactures at as low prices as other nations, nay even cheaper, it is, on account of the dearness of provisions 236 and of labour, impossible for them to obtain this end otherwise than by the use of machines. The quicker, and the less expensively they can work, and the more they can finish, without hurting the goodness of its quality, the cheaper they will sell, and of course dispose of a greater quantity of goods. The manufacturer will employ a greater number of workmen, and pay them good wages; he will bring money into quicker circulation, and sooner grow rich. However, notwithstanding all that I have said in favour of the use of machines, care should be taken, that the poor are not deprived of labour, and one man not be suffered to enrich himself by substituting mechanical arts where industry was before employed, not caring whether the poor around him were starving for want of work. I have been told, that in some instances, the use of machines is carried so far, that where before fifty people were employed and obtained a maintenance, at present not five are wanted, because the industry of forty-five is superseded by mechanism. Humanity and government should in such instances interfere, and either prohibit the too far extended use of machines, or devise other ways and means to employ the industry of the poor. I remember to have 237 somewhere read, that the famous father Tournemine, who lived in the beginning of this century at Paris, persuaded himself of the possibility of making a particular kind of organ, which, when played, would have the same effect upon men as the best eating and drinking; that it would gratify the appetite, and give strength to the body. Supposing that this scheme of folly could seriously have been executed, and such organs were introduced into England, and come into general use, to the great detriment of taxes and excise, because people could then dispense with eating and drinking, would the chancellor of the exchequer not have tried every means to prevent the use of such machines, because he would soon have found his coffers empty? Indeed, the parallel, between the machines that deprive the poor of the means to get a livelihood, and that which, if it were possible, would starve the minister of finances, is a very true one; only with this difference, that in the first instance humanity would shed tears, and in the other smile at the death of the excise.
Another prejudice from which the English are recovered, is the opinion, that by digging canals, and by promoting inland navigation, for the sake of carrying manufactures and the 238 produce of one province to another, many would be sufferers, who had gained their living by being employed in land-carriage. At present, every one is convinced of the great utility and convenience attending the carriage of merchandises by water upon canals, which is not only less troublesome, but also much cheaper. New canals, therefore, are dug in all parts of the kingdom; and rivers, by means of them, joined, where it can be done. This saves a number of horses, which are expensive to maintain; and goods are not only more cheaply conveyed from one place to the other, but also with greater safety, and less danger of damage. Indeed, the usefulness of such canals is at present not only readily acknowledged, but, it is even thought a subject of surprise, that people could have been so long insensible of their advantages, and backward in promoting them.
The great quantity and variety of English manufactures, requires a number of purchasers, among whom they are to be disposed of. Within the realm, the consumption is undoubtedly the most considerable; but the exportation is the great object to be kept in sight; for it is the support of foreign trade, it brings foreign money into the kingdom, it employs thousands of hands, which would otherwise be idle; and it 239 procures bread to numbers of families, who would be distressed, if they did not work for foreign countries. All European nations are more or less supplied with British manufactures, but by far the greater part goes to the East and the West Indies and to America. The American consumption was formerly very great indeed, but it is no more so now, since so great a part of the colonies are become independent, and begin to establish manufactures themselves, which will not only diminish the demand of the British, but, perhaps, will in time rival them. However, if this should happen, it will be, in all probability, more the concern of the next generation than of the present.
It may be easily conceived, from what I have said on British commerce and manufactures, how advantageous they are to the kingdom in its present situation, and how necessary it is that both, for the welfare of the state, should be encouraged, and by all means rendered flourishing. Manufactures promote industry, and devise a hundred methods to those who will work, to support themselves and their families. They increase luxury, and with that the revenues of government, by multiplying imposts and taxes, which are paid by buyers and consumers as well as by the manufacturers themselves. 240 Part of the produce of the industry of the nation, being exported to foreign countries, enriches it; and thousands, employed at home, in useful occupations, are kept from idleness, and out of mischief. Being engaged in labour, burdened with taxes, and surrounded with the cares of the world, they do not think of disturbing the peace. In some respects it might even be said, that manufactories are more conducive to population than the harder and more enervating labours of agriculture.
That question which is so frequently agitated, Whether agriculture or manufactories are to be preferred, may be considered on different sides, and consequently answered differently. The necessaries of life are undoubtedly of greater consequence than the conveniencies of it, or the comfortableness and elegance of dress. Agriculture has, therefore, in this view undoubtedly, the preference; and if the soil of a country be so fertile, as not only amply to maintain its inhabitants, but even to leave a great deal for exportation, it would be very impolitic to neglect these riches of nature, and to encourage manufactures in preference. But where both are happily united, and can be turned to advantage for the country, it is so much the more beneficial, 241 considering the relative connexion in which civilized nations are placed with regard to each other. Many countries, among which England particularly may be reckoned, have not only sufficient but even more than is necessary to maintain their inhabitants, and make them happy with their national produce. Since, however, the absence of riches, according to the common way of thinking, is supposed to be a misfortune, something is still wanting towards happiness; or, to speak more properly, we wish to increase our cares and necessities, we long for plenty of money, to live more splendidly and to multiply our imaginary wants and our ungovernable desires. This is a maxim that the English have in common with other nations, but which they generally stretch to the utmost.
Some countries, on account of their barrenness, put their inhabitants under a necessity of trying, by means of manufactures and the exportation of them, to get a little money, to buy the necessaries of life from their neighbours who have more than they want. England, on the contrary, is so happily provided for by the bountiful hand of nature, as to possess not only every thing to satisfy all reasonable demands for the support and comfortableness of 242 life, but even to be enabled to supply other nations with her abundance, and to draw from them money for the produce of her soil, as well as for her manufactures. In this respect, therefore, England has the advantage of a double strength; first, that which she derives from agriculture and rural œconomy; and afterwards that from her commerce and her manufactures. When, in former times, Tyre and Carthage, and in modern ages Venice, Genoa, and Holland, by means of trade and navigation, obtained a great weight in the balance of power, respect, and riches among nations, it needs no demonstration, that if the sources begin to dry up, the consequence of the state must necessarily sink, because it loses its internal strength. This can never be the fate of England, which does not shine like a meteor, but must always retain her true splendor and internal strength, arising from the blessings of her own soil, though her foreign trade should fail, which, however, cannot happen, since she possesses, within herself, most of the raw materials for her principal manufactures.
I have observed, that several modern British writers, who have made the political state of England the subject of their inquiries, take 243 great pains to establish an opinion, as if Great Britain had, by no means, attained hitherto the summit of her power and splendor, and that a century would first elapse, before that period arrived. I confess, I cannot persuade myself of the truth of this assertion. Riches, power, and what is called glory, are relative notions. Among private persons and families, as well as among nations, they refer to circumstances and situations. It may be that England, by her navigation, commerce, and manufactures, acquires a greater plenty of money; it may happen that she increases her navy and her armies, and becomes to be more dreaded, envied, and hated by other nations; it is possible that her landed interest, her luxury, her imposts and taxes increase1; but is it to be expected, that the British nation will proportionably become more happy than others? People who adopt this way of thinkings and who talk 244 in such a strain, seem to forget, that true happiness does not consist in mere imagination, but is as unique in its kind, as truth itself. The latter may differ in regard to the degrees of light and shade in which it is seen by intelligent beings; the former admits likewise of degrees in which it is perceived and enjoyed; but, in fact, and by nature, truth is but one, and with happiness it is the same. On this supposition, therefore, I hope to meet with indulgence, when I venture to say, paradoxical as it may appear, that the ancient Britons, in Cæsar’s time, without brilliant manufactures, and an extensive commerce, might be deemed to have been equally happy with the present English; perhaps more so. I readily grant, that they were infinitely poorer than those who call themselves, in our days, Britons; but it should be remembered, that their wants were very few. They underwent neither the troubles nor the dangers, which attend those who are in pursuit of riches; they knew nothing of the cares to keep them, nor of the plagues which attend those, who spend them in a fashionable manner, to procure to themselves an imaginary happiness, which they find in the end to be an empty phantom. The ancient Britons could easily satisfy their wants, and bear hardships 245 and adversities more patiently and with more indifference than our modern English, who are much given to suicide, and many of whom, notwithstanding their riches, their affluence, and their pride, lay violent hands on themselves as well as the wretched, which I presume was not the case among the English of old. The great, so very unequally divided, and partly imaginary riches, reduce the greatest part of the nation to a state of necessity, since living is so extravagantly dear, and more than half of what the middling people spend for their support, goes towards government’s taxes and imposts. Sometimes necessity, sometimes the interest of the nation, sometimes honour, sometimes national pride, sometimes court intrigues, sometimes fashions, and party animosities, will lead to almost perpetual wars, in which the lives of thousands are sacrificed. For we poor mortals have alone found out that horrid art of fabricating weapons, to destroy our own species, when even furious tigers among themselves, and cruel bears, as the poet says, preserve an ever-lasting peace2.246
Navigation, sea-voyages to distant parts of the globe, for trade’s and gain’s sake; distant and unwholesome climates, where commerce, troops, and garrisons are kept up, carry likewise numbers off. Professions and manufactures, which are very laborious or pernicious to health, shorten also the lives of thousands; and thus those very institutions in society, by which millions get bread, and families maintain themselves, serve, exclusively of luxury and numberless wars, to thin the human race, or at least to send a great part of it sooner out of the world than nature intended. There is scarcely a doubt but that England, on account of its natural produce, its fertility, its fisheries, might be half as populous again as it is at present, if wars, navigation, commerce, manufactures, luxury, and want of encouragement of the married state, did not prevent it. Some hundred thousands of sea-faring people, are supposed to be kept from marrying, and perhaps as many more, particularly among the middling class of people, because the dearness of living, the increased wants in housekeeping, too much arising from luxury and folly, the education bestowed on both sexes, particularly the female, which in England is very little calculated for œconomy and domestic 247 happiness, render the entering into the marriage state, extremely difficult and hazardous. If, comparatively speaking, a few get rich by manufactures and commerce, there are thousands, who suffer by them. How many, for instance are obliged in Ireland, notwithstanding all the tillage and breeding of cattle, to be contented, the whole year round, with potatoes and sour milk, hardly tasting any butcher’s meat, because Irish butter and salted provisions are to be exported to almost all parts of the world. How many thousands of poor Irish go almost naked, to render their linen and their woollen manufactures flourishing, because the produce of them is to be exported, and the weavers, the labourers, and thousands of others, must, by means of their industry, pay rent to their landlords, tithes to the clergy, and taxes to government. It seems to be no concern of those who take the greatest part of their scanty earnings from them, how these poor people live, and how they support a wretched life. Nobody, therefore, who knows the rights of mankind, would blame them, if they, being a hundred times more numerous than their task-masters, obliged them to live upon a greater equality with themselves, and either be contented likewise with sour milk and 248 potatoes; or divide, what are called the good things of this world, with more impartiality. Indeed, whoever views mankind in the state of society we live in, with an eye not blinded by prejudices, and with sentiments of philanthropy, whoever examines those refinements, which are so much extolled as the means of promoting the prosperity of the human race, and the happiness of nations, can hardly prevent the rising of some melancholy reflections within his mind, attended by a wish for a reformation of those notions which are adopted as the leading principles of a system, supposed to be best calculated for extending and increasing the comforts of life, and the benefits of society. Being myself accustomed by education to our present mode of living, I am far from declaiming against real advantages, and far from being inclined to renounce habits which are become second nature; but, on examining things as they are, with more attention, I am notwithstanding of opinion, that the farther we remove from our original state, the more we lose sight of true happiness. Him, who thinks that I speak too warmly, and with too much enthusiasm, for blending sparingly the refinements of a too highly cultivated state of society with that of simple nature, I shall only 249 ask, How, according to Tacitus, the ancient Britons and Germans lived? Of the Fennians, one of the old German nations, he says3: “They live upon herbs, their clothes are skins, their bed the earth.—The chace supports both men and women. The latter attend on such occasions the former, and partake of the prey. The shelter even of their babes, against storms and wild beasts, is but an arbour, constructed of branches of trees twined together. Hither they resort when young, and this is their receptacle in old age. This mode of life they think to be happier, than sighing under the burden of tilling the ground; than the laborious erection of houses; than being agitated by fear in defending their own, or by hope of seizing that which belongs to others. Thus secure against men, secure against the gods, they have obtained the most difficult of all things, not even to entertain a wish which they wanted to be gratified.”
I readily own, that being bred in a very different manner from that of our ancestors, it would be impossible for me to live in the manner which is here described, or that I 250 should find any comfort in it; but when it is considered, that all those who aspire to honours or riches, whether it be by commerce, manufactures, agriculture, inheritance, or by any other means, do it always in the hope, and with the intention, to obtain at last, if possible, what Tacitus calls the most difficult of all things, it is beyond dispute, that, according to our daily experience, it cannot be obtained by the present mode of living, and that it was only attainable by that in which the Fennians lived. Besides, if length of time, and duration, could decide which state of society was the most conformable to the nature of man, that of the old Germans and Britons, or that of modern refinements, judgment would be given in favour of the former; for, according to common chronology, it has subsisted in Germany and Britain longer than four thousand years, when the other can boast hardly of a thousand years duration. How much more might be said of the happiness of nations, supposed to be derived and increased by commerce and manufactures, both which notwithstanding all that can be argued against them, are, in our present state of society, not only very advantageous, but, considering the situation nations have placed themselves in, very 251 necessary and of the utmost consequence. The English, therefore, on perceiving this, have wisely stretched both to the utmost, and have contended for the superiority, in this respect, above all other countries.
1 I should be almost inclined to think, that all those means, which are used to raise England, as it is pretended, to the summit of wealth and power, fall under the denomination of unnatural proceedings, and of course must stop the sooner. A fire which, by violent and continual blowing, is raised to a great flame, will the sooner extinguish and consume itself. Credit given beyond limits, and a national debt stretched to the utmost, cannot but terminate in an insolvency. The bow, when strained too much, will break at last.
Indica tigris agit rabidâ cum tigride pacem
Perpetuam; sævis inter se convenit ursis.
Ast homini ferrum lethale incude nefandâ
Produxisse parum est, &c.
3 De Moribus Germanorum, c. 46.
callimancoes of an inferior quality
[Query: What on earth is a “callimanco”? Answer: More often spelled “calamanco”, it is a high-quality woollen fabric originally from Flanders; also, by extension, garments made from this fabric. The Oxford English Dictionary helpfully tells me it was especially popular in the 18th century.]
a new invented wheel, constructed upon such a plan, that one person could spin six threads of cotton at one time
[That would be the spinning jenny, patented in 1770 though invented a few years earlier.]
if this should happen, it will be . . . more the concern of the next generation than of the present.
[My goodness. What a modern sentiment.]
several modern British writers . . . take great pains to establish an opinion, as if Great Britain had, by no means, attained hitherto the summit of her power and splendor, and that a century would first elapse, before that period arrived
[Prescient of them, I must say.]
is it to be expected, that the British nation will proportionably become more happy than others?
[Heavens, Gebhard, who said anything about happiness?]
I am far from declaiming against it’s real advantages
and have successfully contended for the superiority
text has succesfully
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.