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    Book III: Chapter 4

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    Chapter 22
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    CHAPTER IV.

    HOW THE COMMERCE OF TOWNS CONTRIBUTED TO THE IMPROVEMENT OF THE COUNTRY.

    The increase and riches of commercial and manufacturing towns contributed to
    the improvement and cultivation of the countries to which they belonged, in
    three different ways :

    First, by affording a great and ready market for the rude produce of the
    country, they gave encouragement to its cultivation and further improvement.
    This benefit was not even confined to the countries in which they were
    situated, but extended more or less to all those with which they had any
    dealings. To all of them they afforded a market for some part either of
    their rude or manufactured produce, and, consequently, gave some
    encouragement to the industry and improvement of all. Their own country,
    however, on account of its neighbourhood, necessarily derived the greatest
    benefit from this market. Its rude produce being charged with less carriage,
    the traders could pay the growers a better price for it, and yet afford it
    as cheap to the consumers as that of more distant countries.

    Secondly, the wealth acquired by the inhabitants of cities was frequently
    employed in purchasing such lands as were to be sold, of which a great part
    would frequently be uncultivated. Merchants are commonly ambitious of
    becoming country gentlemen, and, when they do, they are generally the best
    of all improvers. A merchant is accustomed to employ his money chiefly in
    profitable projects ; whereas a mere country gentleman is accustomed to
    employ it chiefly in expense. The one often sees his money go from him, and
    return to him again with a profit; the other, when once he parts with it,
    very seldom expects to see any more of it. Those different habits naturally
    affect their temper and disposition in every sort of business. The merchant
    is commonly a bold, a country gentleman a timid undertaker. The one is not
    afraid to lay out at once a large capital upon the improvement of his land,
    when he has a probable prospect of raising the value of it in proportion to
    the expense ; the other, if he has any capital, which is not always the
    case, seldom ventures to employ it in this manner. If he improves at all, it
    is commonly not with a capital, but with what he can save out or his annual
    revenue. Whoever has had the fortune to live in a mercantile town, situated
    in an unimproved country, must have frequently observed how much more
    spirited the operations of merchants were in this way, than those of mere
    country gentlemen. The habits, besides, of order, economy, and attention, to
    which mercantile business naturally forms a merchant, render him much fitter
    to execute, with profit and success, any project of improvement.

    Thirdly, and lastly, commerce and manufactures gradually introduced order
    and good government, and with them the liberty and security of individuals,
    among the inhabitants of the country, who had before lived almost in a
    continual state of war with their neighbours, and of servile dependency upon
    their superiors. This, though it has been the least observed, is by far the
    most important of all their effects. Mr Hume is the only writer who, so far
    as I know, has hitherto taken notice of it.

    In a country which has neither foreign commerce nor any of the finer
    manufactures, a great proprietor, having nothing for which he can exchange
    the greater part of the produce of his lands which is over and above the
    maintenance of the cultivators, consumes the whole in rustic hospitality at
    home. If this surplus produce is sufficient to maintain a hundred or a
    thousand men, he can make use of it in no other way than by maintaining a
    hundred or a thousand men. He is at all times, therefore, surrounded with a
    multitude of retainers and dependants, who, having no equivalent to give in
    return for their maintenance, but being fed entirely by his bounty, must
    obey him, for the same reason that soldiers must obey the prince who pays
    them. Before the extension of commerce and manufactures in Europe, the
    hospitality of the rich and the great, from the sovereign down to the
    smallest baron, exceeded every thing which, in the present times, we can
    easily form a notion of Westminster-hall was the dining-room of William
    Rufus, and might frequently, perhaps, not be too large for his company. It
    was reckoned a piece of magnificence in Thomas Becket, that he strewed the
    floor of his hall with clean hay or rushes in the season, in order that the
    knights and squires, who could not get seats, might not spoil their fine
    clothes when they sat down on the floor to eat their dinner. The great Earl
    of Warwick is said to have entertained every day, at his different manors,
    30,000 people ; and though the number here may have been exaggerated, it
    must, however, have been very great to admit of such exaggeration. A
    hospitality nearly of the same kind was exercised not many years ago in many
    different parts of the Highlands of Scotland. It seems to be common in all
    nations to whom commerce and manufactures are little known. I have seen,
    says Doctor Pocock, an Arabian chief dine in the streets of a town where he
    had come to sell his cattle, and invite all passengers, even common
    beggars, to sit down with him and partake of his banquet.

    The occupiers of land were in every respect as dependent upon the great
    proprietor as his retainers. Even such of them as were not in a state of
    villanage, were tenants at will, who paid a rent in no respect equivalent to
    the subsistence which the land afforded them. A crown, half a crown, a
    sheep, a lamb, was some years ago, in the Highlands of Scotland, a common
    rent for lands which maintained a family. In some places it is so at this
    day; nor will money at present purchase a greater quantity of commodities
    there than in other places. In a country where the surplus produce of a
    large estate must be consumed upon the estate itself, it will frequently be
    more convenient for the proprietor, that part of it be consumed at a
    distance from his own house, provided they who consume it are as dependent
    upon him as either his retainers or his menial servants. He is thereby saved
    from the embarrassment of either too large a company, or too large a family.
    A tenant at will, who possesses land sufficient to maintain his family for
    little more than a quit-rent, is as dependent upon the proprietor as any
    servant or retainer whatever, and must obey him with as little reserve. Such
    a proprietor, as he feeds his servants and retainers at his own house, so he
    feeds his tenants at their houses. The subsistence of both is derived from
    his bounty, and its continuance depends upon his good pleasure.

    Upon the authority which the great proprietors necessarily had, in such a
    state of things, over their tenants and retainers, was founded the power of
    the ancient barons. They necessarily became the judges in peace, and the
    leaders in war, of all who dwelt upon their estates. They could maintain
    order, and execute the law, within their respective demesnes, because each
    of them could there turn the whole force of all the inhabitants against the
    injustice of anyone. No other person had sufficient authority to do this.
    The king, in particular, had not. In those ancient times, he was little more
    than the greatest proprietor in his dominions, to whom, for the sake of
    common defence against their common enemies, the other great proprietors
    paid certain respects. To have enforced payment of a small debt within the
    lands of a great proprietor, where all the inhabitants were armed, and
    accustomed to stand by one another, would have cost the king, had he
    attempted it by his own authority, almost the same effort as to extinguish a
    civil war. He was, therefore, obliged to abandon the administration of
    justice, through the greater part of the country, to those who were capable
    of administering it; and, for the same reason, to leave the command of the
    country militia to those whom that militia would obey.

    It is a mistake to imagine that those territorial jurisdictions took their
    origin from the feudal law. Not only the highest jurisdictions, both civil
    and criminal, but the power of levying troops, of coining money, and even
    that of making bye-laws for the government of their own people, were all
    rights possessed allodially by the great proprietors of land, several
    centuries before even the name of the feudal law was known in Europe. The
    authority and jurisdiction of the Saxon lords in England appear to have been
    as great before the Conquest as that of any of the Norman lords after it.
    But the feudal law is not supposed to have become the common law of England
    till after the Conquest. That the most extensive authority and jurisdictions
    were possessed by the great lords in France allodially, long before the
    feudal law was introduced into that country, is a matter of fact that admits
    of no doubt. That authority, and those jurisdictions, all necessarily flowed
    from the state of property and manners just now described. Without
    remounting to the remote antiquities of either the French or English
    monarchies, we may find, in much later times, many proofs that such effects
    must always flow from such causes. It is not thirty years ago since Mr
    Cameron of Lochiel, a gentleman of Lochaber in Scotland, without any legal
    warrant whatever, not being what was then called a lord of regality, nor
    even a tenant in chief, but a vassal of the Duke of Argyll, and with out
    being so much as a justice of peace, used, notwithstanding, to exercise the
    highest criminal jurisdictions over his own people. He is said to have done
    so with great equity, though without any of the formalities of justice; and
    it is not improbable that the state of that part of the country at that time
    made it necessary for him to assume this authority, in order to maintain the
    public peace. That gentleman, whose rent never exceeded £500 a-year,
    carried, in 1745, 800 of his own people into the rebellion with him.

    The introduction of the feudal law, so far from extending, may be regarded
    as an attempt to moderate, the authority of the great allodial lords. It
    established a regular subordination, accompanied with a long train of
    services and duties, from the king down to the smallest proprietor. During
    the minority of the proprietor, the rent, together with the management of
    his lands, fell into the hands of his immediate superior ; and,
    consequently, those of all great proprietors into the hands of the king, who
    was charged with the maintenance and education of the pupil, and who, from
    his authority as guardian, was supposed to have a right of disposing of him
    in marriage, provided it was in a manner not unsuitable to his rank. But
    though this institution necessarily tended to strengthen the authority of
    the king, and to weaken that of the great proprietors, it could not do
    either sufficiently for establishing order and good government among the
    inhabitants of the country; because it could not alter sufficiently that
    state of property and manners from which the disorders arose. The authority
    of government still continued to be, as before, too weak in the head, and
    too strong in the inferior members; and the excessive strength of the
    inferior members was the cause of the weakness of the head. After the
    institution of feudal subordination, the king was as incapable of
    restraining the violence of the great lords as before. They still continued
    to make war according to their own discretion, almost continually upon one
    another, and very frequently upon the king; and the open country still
    continued to be a scene of violence, rapine, and disorder.

    But what all the violence of the feudal institutions could never have
    effected, the silent and insensible operation of foreign commerce and
    manufactures gradually brought about. These gradually furnished the great
    proprietors with something for which they could exchange the whole surplus
    produce of their lands, and which they could consume themselves. without
    sharing it either with tenants or retainers. All for ourselves, and nothing
    for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile
    maxim of the masters of mankind. As soon, therefore, as they could find a
    method of consuming the whole value of their rents themselves, they had no
    disposition to share them with any other persons. For a pair of diamond
    buckles, perhaps, or for something as frivolous and useless, they exchanged
    the maintenance, or, what is the same thing, the price of the maintenance of
    1000 men for a year, and with it the whole weight and authority which it
    could give them. The buckles, however, were to be all their own, and no
    other human creature was to have any share of them; whereas, in the more
    ancient method of expense, they must have shared with at least 1000 people.
    With the judges that were to determine the preference, this difference was
    perfectly decisive; and thus, for the gratification of the most childish,
    the meanest, and the most sordid of all vanities they gradually bartered
    their whole power and authority.

    In a country where there is no foreign commerce, nor any of the finer
    manufactures, a man of £10,000 a-year cannot well employ his revenue in any
    other way than in maintaining, perhaps, 1000 families, who are all of them
    necessarily at his command. In the present state of Europe, a man of £10,000
    a-year can spend his whole revenue, and he generally does so, without
    directly maintaining twenty people, or being able to command more than ten
    footmen, not worth the commanding. Indirectly, perhaps, he maintains as
    great, or even a greater number of people, than he could have done by the
    ancient method of expense. For though the quantity of precious productions
    for which he exchanges his whole revenue be very small, the number of
    workmen employed in collecting and preparing it must necessarily have been
    very great. Its great price generally arises from the wages of their labour,
    and the profits of all their immediate employers. By paying that price, he
    indirectly pays all those wages and profits, and thus indirectly contributes
    to the maintenance of all the workmen and their employers. He generally
    contributes, however, but a very small proportion to that of each; to a very
    few, perhaps, not a tenth, to many not a hundredth, and to some not a
    thousandth, or even a ten thousandth part of their whole annual maintenance.
    Though he contributes, therefore, to the maintenance of them all, they are
    all more or less independent of him, because generally they can all be
    maintained without him.

    When the great proprietors of land spend their rents in maintaining their
    tenants and retainers, each of them maintains entirely all his own tenants
    and all his own retainers. But when they spend them in maintaining tradesmen
    and artificers, they may, all of them taken together, perhaps maintain as
    great, or, on account of the waste which attends rustic hospitality, a
    greater number of people than before. Each of them, however, taken singly,
    contributes often but a very small share to the maintenance of any
    individual of this greater number. Each tradesman or artificer derives his
    subsistence from the employment, not of one, but of a hundred or a thousand
    different customers. Though in some measure obliged to them all, therefore,
    he is not absolutely dependent upon any one of them.

    The personal expense of the great proprietors having in this manner
    gradually increased, it was impossible that the number of their retainers
    should not as gradually diminish, till they were at last dismissed
    altogether. The same cause gradually led them to dismiss the unnecessary
    part of their tenants. Farms were enlarged, and the occupiers of land, not.
    withstanding the complaints of depopulation, reduced to the number necessary
    for cultivating it, according to the imperfect state of cultivation and
    improvement in those times. By the removal of the unnecessary mouths, and by
    exacting from the farmer the full value of the farm, a greater surplus, or,
    what is the same thing, the price of a greater surplus, was obtained for the
    proprietor, which the merchants and manufacturers soon furnished him with a
    method of spending upon his own person, in the same manner as he had done
    the rest. The cause continuing to operate, he was desirous to raise his
    rents above what his lands, in the actual state of their improvement, could
    afford. His tenants could agree to this upon one condition only, that they
    should be secured in their possession for such a term of years as might give
    them time to recover, with profit, whatever they should lay not in the
    further improvement of the land. The expensive vanity of the landlord made
    him willing to accept of this condition ; and hence the origin of long
    leases.

    Even a tenant at will, who pays the full value of the land, is not
    altogether dependent upon the landlord. The pecuniary advantages which they
    receive from one another are mutual and equal, and such a tenant will expose
    neither his life nor his fortune in the service of the proprietor. But if he
    has a lease for along term of years, he is altogether independent; and his
    landlord must not expect from him even the most trifling service, beyond
    what is either expressly stipulated in the lease, or imposed upon him by the
    common and known law of the country.

    The tenants having in this manner become independent, and the retainers
    being dismissed, the great proprietors were no longer capable of
    interrupting the regular execution of justice, or of disturbing the peace of
    the country. Having sold their birth-right, not like Esau, for a mess of
    pottage in time of hunger and necessity, but, in the wantonness of plenty,
    for trinkets and baubles, fitter to be the playthings of children than the
    serious pursuits of men, they became as insignificant as any substantial
    burgher or tradesmen in a city. A regular government was established in the
    country as well as in the city, nobody having sufficient power to disturb
    its operations in the one, any more than in the other.

    It does not, perhaps, relate to the present subject, but I cannot help
    remarking it, that very old families, such as have possessed some
    considerable estate from father to son for many successive generations, are
    very rare in commercial countries. In countries which have little commerce,
    on the contrary, such as Wales, or the Highlands of Scotland, they are very
    common. The Arabian histories seem to be all full of genealogies; and there
    is a history written by a Tartar Khan, which has been translated into
    several European languages, and which contains scarce any thing else; a
    proof that ancient families are very common among those nations. In
    countries where a rich man can spend his revenue in no other way than by
    maintaining as many people as it can maintain, he is apt to run out, and his
    benevolence, it seems, is seldom so violent as to attempt to maintain more
    than he can afford. But where he can spend the greatest revenue upon his own
    person, he frequently has no bounds to his expense, because he frequently
    has no bounds to his vanity, or to his affection for his own person. In
    commercial countries, therefore, riches, in spite of the most violent
    regulations of law to prevent their dissipation, very seldom remain long in
    the same family. Among simple nations, on the contrary, they frequently do,
    without any regulations of law ; for among nations of shepherds, such as the
    Tartars and Arabs, the consumable nature of their property necessarily
    renders all such regulations impossible.

    A revolution of the greatest importance to the public happiness, was in this
    manner brought about by two different orders of people, who had not the
    least intention to serve the public. To gratify the most childish vanity was
    the sole motive of the great proprietors. The merchants and artificers, much
    less ridiculous, acted merely from a view to their own interest, and in
    pursuit of their own pedlar principle of turning a penny wherever a penny
    was to be got. Neither of them had either knowledge or foresight of that
    great revolution which the folly of the one, and the industry of the other,
    was gradually bringing about.

    It was thus, that, through the greater part of Europe, the commerce and
    manufactures of cities, instead of being the effect, have been the cause and
    occasion of the improvement and cultivation of the country.

    This order, however, being contrary to the natural course of things, is
    necessarily both slow and uncertain. Compare the slow progress of those
    European countries of which the wealth depends very much upon their commerce
    and manufactures, with the rapid advances of our North American colonies, of
    which the wealth is founded altogether in agriculture. Through the greater
    part of Europe, the number of inhabitants is not supposed to double in less
    than five hundred years. In several of our North American colonies, it is
    found to double in twenty or five-and-twenty years. In Europe, the law of
    primogeniture, and perpetuities of different kinds, prevent the division of
    great estates, and thereby hinder the multiplication of small proprietors. A
    small proprietor, however, who knows every part of his little territory,
    views it with all the affection which property, especially small property,
    naturally inspires, and who upon that account takes pleasure, not only in
    cultivating, but in adorning it, is generally of all improvers the most
    industrious, the most intelligent, and the most successful. The same
    regulations, besides, keep so much land out of the market, that there are
    always more capitals to buy than there is land to sell, so that what is sold
    always sells at a monopoly price. The rent never pays the interest of the
    purchase-money, and is, besides, burdened with repairs and other occasional
    charges, to which the interest of money is not liable. To purchase land, is,
    everywhere in Europe, a most unprofitable employment of a small capital. For
    the sake of the superior security, indeed, a man of moderate circumstances,
    when he retires from business, will sometimes choose to lay out his little
    capital in land. A man of profession, too whose revenue is derived from
    another source often loves to secure his savings in the same way. But a
    young man, who, instead of applying to trade or to some profession, should
    employ a capital of two or three thousand pounds in the purchase and
    cultivation of a small piece of land, might indeed expect to live very
    happily and very independently, but must bid adieu for ever to all hope of
    either great fortune or great illustration, which, by a different employment
    of his stock, he might have had the same chance of acquiring with other
    people. Such a person, too, though he cannot aspire at being a proprietor,
    will often disdain to be a farmer. The small quantity of land, therefore,
    which is brought to market, and the high price of what is brought thither,
    prevents a great number of capitals from being employed in its cultivation
    and improvement, which would otherwise have taken that direction. In North
    America, on the contrary, fifty or sixty pounds is often found a sufficient
    stock to begin a plantation with. The purchase and improvement of
    uncultivated land is there the most profitable employment of the smallest as
    well as of the greatest capitals, and the most direct road to all the
    fortune and illustration which can be required in that country. Such land,
    indeed, is in North America to be had almost for nothing, or at a price much
    below the value of the natural produce; a thing impossible in Europe, or
    indeed in any country where all lands have long been private property. If
    landed estates, however, were divided equally among all the children, upon
    the death of any proprietor who left a numerous family, the estate would
    generally be sold. So much land would come to market, that it could no
    longer sell at a monopoly price. The free rent of the land would go no
    nearer to pay the interest of the purchase-money, and a small capital might
    be employed in purchasing land as profitable as in any other way.

    England, on account of the natural fertility of the soil, of the great
    extent of the sea-coast in proportion to that of the whole country, and of
    the many navigable rivers which run through it, and afford the conveniency
    of water carriage to some of the most inland parts of it, is perhaps as well
    fitted by nature as any large country in Europe to be the seat of foreign
    commerce, of manufactures for distant sale, and of all the improvements
    which these can occasion. From the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, too,
    the English legislature has been peculiarly attentive to the interest of
    commerce and manufactures, and in reality there is no country in Europe,
    Holland itself not excepted, of which the law is, upon the whole, more
    favourable to this sort of industry. Commerce and manufactures have
    accordingly been continually advancing during all this period. The
    cultivation and improvement of the country has, no doubt, been gradually
    advancing too; but it seems to have followed slowly, and at a distance, the
    more rapid progress of commerce and manufactures. The greater part of the
    country must probably have been cultivated before the reign of Elizabeth;
    and a very great part of it still remains uncultivated, and the
    cultivation of the far greater part much inferior to what it might be, The
    law of England, however, favours agriculture, not only indirectly, by the
    protection of commerce, but by several direct encouragements. Except in
    times of scarcity, the exportation of corn is not only free, but encouraged
    by a bounty. In times of moderate plenty, the importation of foreign corn is
    loaded with duties that amount to a prohibition. The importation of live
    cattle, except from Ireland, is prohibited at all times ; and it is but of
    late that it was permitted from thence. Those who cultivate the land,
    therefore, have a monopoly against their countrymen for the two greatest and
    most important articles of land produce, bread and butcher's meat. These
    encouragements, although at bottom, perhaps, as I shall endeavour to show
    hereafter, altogether illusory, sufficiently demonstrate at least the good
    intention of the legislature to favour agriculture. But what is of much more
    importance than all of them, the yeomanry of England are rendered as secure
    , as independent, and as respectable, as law can make them. No country,
    therefore, which the right of primogeniture takes place, which pays tithes,
    and where perpetuities, though contrary to the spirit of the law, are
    admitted in some cases, can give more encouragement to agriculture than
    England. Such, however, notwithstanding, is the state of its cultivation.
    What would it have been, had the law given no direct encouragement to
    agriculture besides what arises indirectly from the progress of commerce,
    and had left the yeomanry in the same condition as in most other countries
    of Europe ? It is now more than two hundred years since the beginning of the
    reign of Elizabeth, a period as long as the course of human prosperity
    usually endures.

    France seems to have had a considerable share of foreign commerce, near a
    century before England was distinguished as a commercial country. The marine
    of France was considerable, according to the notions of the times, before
    the expedition of Charles VIII. to Naples. The cultivation and improvement
    of France, however, is, upon the whole, inferior to that of England. The law
    of the country has never given the same direct encouragement to agriculture.

    The foreign commerce of Spain and Portual to the other parts of Europe,
    though chiefly carried on in foreign ships, is very considerable. That to
    their colonies is carried on in their own, and is much greater, on account
    of the great riches and extent of those colonies. But it has never
    introduced any considerable manufactures for distant sale into either of
    those countries, and the greater part of both still remains uncultivated.
    The foreign commerce of Portugal is of older standing than that of any great
    country in Europe, except Italy.

    Italy is the only great country of Europe which seems to have been
    cultivated and improved in every part, by means of foreign commerce and
    manufactures for distant sale. Before the invasion of Charles VIII., Italy,
    according to Guicciardini, was cultivated not less in the most mountainous
    and barren parts of the country, than in the plainest and most fertile. The
    advantageous situation of the country, and the great number of independent
    status which at that time subsisted in it, probably contributed not a little
    to this general cultivation. It is not impossible, too, notwithstanding this
    general expression of one of the most judicious and reserved of modern
    historians, that Italy was not at that time better cultivated than England
    is at present.

    The capital, however, that is acquired to any country by commerce and
    manufactures, is always a very precarious and uncertain possession, till
    some part of it has been secured and realized in the cultivation and
    improvement of its lands. A merchant, it has been said very properly, is not
    necessarily the citizen of any particular country. It is in a great measure
    indifferent to him from what place he carries on his trade ; and a very
    trifling disgust will make him remove his capital, and, together with it,
    all the industry which it supports, from one country to another. No part of
    it can be said to belong to any particular country, till it has been spread,
    as it were, over the face of that country, either in buildings, or in the
    lasting improvement of lands. No vestige now remains of the great wealth
    said to have been possessed by the greater part of the Hanse Towns, except
    in the obscure histories of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is
    even uncertain where some of them were situated, or to what towns in Europe
    the Latin names given to some of them belong. But though the misfortunes of
    Italy, in the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries,
    greatly diminished the commerce and manufactures of the cities of Lombardy
    and Tuscany, those countries still continue to be among the most populous
    and best cultivated in Europe. The civil wars of Flanders, and the Spanish
    government which succeeded them, chased away the great commerce of Antwerp,
    Ghent, and Bruges. But Flanders still continues to be one of the richest,
    best cultivated, and most populous provinces of Europe. The ordinary
    revolutions of war and government easily dry up the sources of that wealth
    which arises from commerce only. That which arises from the more solid
    improvements of agriculture is much more durable, and cannot be destroyed
    but by those more violent convulsions occasioned by the depredations of
    hostile and barbarous nations continued for a century or two together ; such
    as those that happened for some time before and after the fall of the Roman
    empire in the western provinces of Europe.
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