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to this I can find no authority on which I can rely with any sort of confidence. It is my impression, however, from a number of reasons - each in itself insignificant, but which taken
together leave little doubt upon my mind — that it had attained that number by a growth so slow as to be scarcely perceptible, and had nearly approached to it many generations before. Simon Fish, in “ The Supplication of Beggars," says that the number of households in England in 1531 was 520,000. His calculation is of the most random kind; for he rates the number of parishes at 52,000, with ten households on an average in each parish. A mistake so preposterous respecting the number of parishes shows the great ignorance of educated men upon the subject. The ten households in each parish may, probably (in some parts of the country), have been a correct computation ; but this tells us little with respect to the aggregate numbers, for the households were very large — the farmers, and the gentlemen also, usually having all the persons whom they employed residing under their own roof. Neither from this, therefore, nor from any other positive statement which I have seen, can I gather any conclusion that may be depended upon. But when we remember the exceeding slowness with which the population multiplied in a time in which we can accurately measure it — that is to say, from 1588 to the opening of the last century — under circumstances in every way
more favorable to an increase, I think we may assume that the increase was not so great between 1500 and 1588, and that, previous to 1500, it did not more than keep pace with the waste from civil and foreign war. The causes, indeed, were wholly wanting which lead to a rapid growth of numbers. Numbers now increase with the increase of employment and with the facilities which are provided by the modern system of labor for the establishment of independent households. At present, any able-bodied unskilled laborer earns, as soon as he has arrived at man's estate, as large an amount of wages as he will earn at any subsequent time; and having no connection with his employer beyond the receiving the due amount of weekly money from him, and thinking himself as well able to marry as he is likely to be, he takes a wife, and is usually the father of a family before he is thirty. Before the Reformation, not only were early marriages determinately discouraged, but the opportunity for them did not exist. A laborer living in a cottage by himself was a rare exception to the rule ; and the work of the field was performed generally, as it now is in the large farms in America and Australia, by servants who lived in the families of the squire or the farmer, and who, while in that position, commonly remained single, and married only when by prudence they had saved a sufficient sum to enable them to enter some other position.
Checked by circumstances of this kind, population would necessarily remain almost stationary, and a tendency to an increase was not of itself regarded by the statesmen of the day as any matter for congratulation or as any evidence of national prosperity. Not an increase of population, which would facilitate production and beat down wages by competition, but the increase of the commonwealth, the sound and healthy maintenance of the population already existing, were the chief objects which the government proposed to itself; and although Henry VIII. nursed his manufactures with the utmost care, in order to keep the people well employed, there is sufficient proof in the grounds alleged for the measures to which he resorted, that there was little redundancy of occupation.
In the statute, for instance, for the encouragement of the linen manufactures, it is said that — “The King's Highness, calling to his most blessed remembrance the great number of idle people daily increasing throughout this his Realm, supposeth that one great cause thereof is by the continued bringing into the same the great number of wares and merchandise made, and brought out and from, the parts beyond the sea into this his Realm, ready wrought by manual occupation; amongst the which wares one kind of merchandise in great quantity, which is linen cloth of divers sorts made in divers countries beyond the sea, is daily conveyed into this Realm ; which great quantity of linen cloth so brought is consumed and spent within the same; by reason whereof not only the said strange countries where the said linen is made, but the policy and industry of making and vending the same, are greatly enriched; and a marvelous great number of their people, men, women, and children, are set on work and occupation, and kept from idleness, to the great furtherance and advancement of their commonwealth ; but also contrarywise the inhabitants and subjects of this Realm, for lack of like policy and industry, are compelled to buy all or most part of the linen cloth consumed in the same, amounting to inestimable sums of money. And also the people of this Realm, as well men as women, which should and might be set on work, by exercise of like policy and craft of spinning, weaving, and making of cloth, lies now in idleness and otiosity, to the high displeasure of Almighty God, great diminution of the King's people, and extreme ruin, decay, and impoverishment of this Realm. Therefore, for reformation of these things, the King's most Royal Majesty intending, like a most virtuous Prince, to provide remedy in the premises ; nothing so much coveting as the increase of the Commonwealth of this his Realm, with also the virtuous exercise of his most loving subjects and people, and to avoid that most abominable sin of idleness out of the Realm, hath, by the advice and consent of his Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, ordained and enacted that every person occupying land for tillage shall for every sixty acres which he hath under the plow, sow one quarter of an acre in flax or hemp.”
This Act was designed immediately to keep the wives and children of the poor in work in their own houses; but it leaves no doubt that manufactures in England had not of themselves that tendency to self-development which would encourage an enlarging population. The woolen manufactures similarly appear, from the many statutes upon them, to have been vigorous at a fixed level, but to have shown no tendency to rise beyond that level. With a fixed market and a fixed demand, production continued uniform.
A few years subsequent, indeed, to the passing of the Act which I have quoted, a very curious complaint is entered in the statute book, from the surface of which we should gather that so far from increasing, manufactures had alarmingly declined. The fact mentioned may bear another meaning, and a meaning far more favorable to the state of the country ; although, if such a phenomenon were to occur at the present time, it could admit of but one interpretation. In the 18th and 19th of the 32d of Henry VIII., all the important towns in England, from the Tweed to the Land's End, are stated, one by one, to have fallen into serious decay. Usually when we meet with language of this kind, we suppose it to mean nothing more than an awakening to the consciousness of evils which had long existed, and which had escaped notice only because no one was alive to them. In the present instance, however, the language was too strong and too detailed to allow of this explanation; and the great body of the English towns undoubtedly were declining in wealth and in the number of their inhabitants. The statutes speak of “ divers and many beautiful houses of habitation, built in tyme past within their walls and liberties, which now are fallen down and decayed, and at this day remain unreëdified, and do lie as desolate and vacant grounds, many of them nigh adjoining to the High streets, replenished with such uncleanness and filth, with pits, sellars, and vaults lying open and uncovered, to the great perill and danger of the inhabitants and other of the King's subjects passing by the same. And some houses be
weak and feeble, ready to fall down, and therefore dangerous to pass by, to the great decay and hinderance of the said boroughs and towns.”
At present, the decay of a town implies the decay of the trade of the town; and the decay of all towns simultaneously would imply a general collapse of the trade of the whole country.. Walled towns, however, before the Reformation, existed for other purposes than as the center points of industry: they existed for the protection of property and life ; and although it is not unlikely that the agitation of the Reformation itself did to some degree interrupt the occupation of the people, yet I believe that the true account of the phenomenon which then so much disturbed the parliament is that one of their purposes was no longer required; the towns flagged for a time because the country had become secure. The woolen manufacture in Worcestershire was spreading into the open country, and, doubtless, in other counties as well ; and the beautiful houses” which had fallen into decay, were those which, in the old times of insecurity, had been occupied by wealthy merchants and tradesmen, who were now enabled, by a strong and settled government, to dispense with the shelter of locked gates and fortified walls, and remove their residences to more convenient situations. It was, in fact, the first symptom of the impending social revolution. Two years before the passing of this Act, the magnificent Hengrave Hall, in Suffolk, had been completed by Sir Thomas Kitson, "mercer of London," and Sir Thomas Kitson was but one of many of the rising merchants who were now able to root themselves on the land by the side of the Norman nobility, first to rival, and then slowly to displace them.
This mighty change, however, was long in silent progress before it began to tell on the institutions of the country. When city burghers bought estates, the law insisted jealously on their accepting with them all the feudal obligations. Attempts to use the land as “a commodity” were, as we shall presently see, angrily repressed; while, again, in the majority of instances, such persons endeavored, as they do at present, to cover the recent origin of their families by adopting the manners of the nobles, rather than to transfer the habits of the towns among the parks and chases of the English counties. The old English organization maintained its full activity; and the duties of property continued to be for another century more considered than its rights. Turning, then, to the tenure of land — for if we would
understand the condition of the people, it is to this point that our first attention must be directed — we find that through the many complicated varieties of it there was one broad principle which bore equally upon every class, that the land of England must provide for the defense of England. The feudal system was still the organizing principle of the nation, and whoever owned land was bound to military service for his country whenever occasion required. Further, the land was to be so admin
. istered that the accustomed number of families supported by it should not be diminished, and that the State should suffer no injury from the carelessness or selfishness of the owners. Land never was private property in that personal sense of property in which we speak of a thing as our own, with which we may do as we please ; in the administration of estates, as indeed in the administration of all property whatsoever, duty to the State was at all times supposed to override private interest or inclination. Even tradesmen, who took advantage of the fluctuations of the market, were rebuked by parliament for “ their greedy and covetous minds,” “ as more regarding their own singular lucre and profit than the common weal of the Realm,” and although in an altered world, neither industry nor enterprise will thrive except under the stimulus of self-interest, we may admire the confidence which in another age expected every man to prefer the advantage of the community to his own. All land was held upon a strictly military principle. It was the representative of authority, and the holder or the owner took rank in the army of the State according to the nature of his connection with it. It was first broadly divided among the great nobility holding immediately under the crown, who, above and beyond the ownership of their private estates, were the Lords of the Fee throughout their presidency, and possessed in right of it the services of knights and gentlemen who held their manors under them, and