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tain as the daily distribution of Egyptian grain to the inhabitants of Rome, Antioch, and Constantinople was, when the mob of these cities became, from their formidable numbers, an object of dread to the Roman Government.
The only answer which the partisans of free trade in grain have ever attempted to these considerations is, that the ruin of the agriculture in the central provinces of the Roman empire was owing, not to the importation of foreign corn as a mercantile commodity, but to its distribution gratuitously to the poorer citizens of Rome, Constantinople, and some of the larger cities in the empire. They admit, in its fullest extent, the decay of domestic agriculture, and consequent ruin of the state ; but allege it was owing to this gratuitous distribution, which was in fact a poor-law, and not to the free trade in grain. * But a very little consideration must be sufficient to show that this is an elusory distinction; and that it was the unrestricted admission of foreign wheat by purchase which in reality, coupled with the contraction of the currency, destroyed the dominion of
I. In the first place, the number who received these gratuitous distributions was, as already shown, so small
, when compared to the whole body of the grain-consuming population, that they could not materially have affected the market for agricultural produce in Italy. Not more than 150,000 persons received rations in Rome daily, and perlaps as many in the other cities of Italy. What was this in a peninsula containing at that period 16,000,000 or 18,000,000 of souls, and with 2,300,000 in its capital alone ? + It is evident that the gratuitous distributions of grain, taking those at their greatest extent, could not have embraced a fiftieth part of the Italian population. What ruined the agriculturists, who used to feed the remaining forty-nine fiftieths? The unlimited importation of cheap grain from Spain, Egypt, Sicily, and Libya, and nothing else.
II. In the next place, even if the gratuitous distributions of grain had embraced twenty times the number which they did, nothing can be clearer than that the effect on agriculture is the same, whether cheap foreign grain is imported by the private importer, or bought and distributed by the Government. If the home-grower loses his market, it is the same thing to him whether he does so from the effects of private importation or public distribution ; whether his formidable competitor is the merchant, who brings the Libyan grain to the Tiber, or the Government, which exacts it as a tribute from Sicily or Egypt. The difference is very great to the urban population, whether they receive their foreign grain in return for their own labour, or get it doled out to them from the Government store as the price of keeping quiet. But to the rural cultivator it is immaterial whether destruction comes upon him in the one way or the other. It is the importation of foreign grain which ruins him ; and the effect is the same, whether the price paid is the gold of the capitalist or the blood of the legions.
* See Edinburgh Review. No. 168. April 1846. + There are now 20,000,000 inhabitants in Italy, and it was certainly as populous in the time of Augustus, when Rome alone, which now has 180,000, contained 2,386,000 souls.
In truth, both the Government of the Cæsars in ancient, and that of Great Britain in modern times, in pursuing the policy of establishing free trade in grain, encouraging foreign importation of general subsistence, and either contracting, or doing nothing to counteract the contraction of the currency, in the latter stages of their respective empires, were striving to resist the operation of a great law in the moral world, intended to check the growth and prevent the perpetuity of nations. “ It is to no purpose,” said Dr Johnson, “ to tell one that eggs are a penny the dozen in the Highlands, and twopence a-piece in London ; that is not because eggs are many, but because pence are few." This simple observation points to a law of incalculable importance and ceaseless operation in the moral world. It is continually checking the accumulation of mankind in their old localities, and favouring their dispersion and increase in the distant parts of the earth. The accumulation of wealth in the seats of ancient civilisation, in the centre of extensive dominions, renders money cheap, and therefore labour dear in such places. Agricultural industry, incapable of receiving extensive aid from the application of machinery and the division of labour, raises its produce at a much more expensive rate in the old state than in the comparatively new one. The centre of a great empire is always undersold in the production
of rude produce by its extremities; it always can undersell them in manufactures. This simple fact comes in process of time to have a decisive effect upon the policy of governments and the fate of nations.
The consumers in towns, the capitalists who employ labour, see with envious eyes the high price of labour and the necessaries of life-the necessary consequence of the plenty of money—and clamour incessantly for the unlimited introduction of cheap distant grain, and the contraction of the currency, in order to obviate these disadvantages. They would willingly have the wealth in their own hands, which is the growth of ages of prosperous opulence, and purchase subsistence and pay labour at the rate of rude and indigent states. They succeed to a great degree in achieving their objects, by contracting the currency, and forcing free trade upon an old state ; but they do so by draining its heart's blood, and prostrating alike its independence and national strength. They lower prices, but it is only by diffusing misery ; they pacify for a short time the inhabitants of towns, but it is only by permanently ruining those of the country. In the struggle to maintain the prices of poverty in the midst of riches, industry is blighted, small capitals are destroyed, the value of money rises, while that of labour falls. The nation comes to consist only of overgrown capitalists and indigent multitudes. The indirect taxes levied on the declining fruits of industry cease to be productive, and Government is driven to the last and dire resource of heavy and increasing direct taxation. Capital, alone left to meet the demands of the state, is, as the just retribution for its rapacity, in the end destroyed. Deprived of all the perennial fountains of prosperity and strength, the nation falls under the suicidal acts of its own rulers. They put it to death for fear of its dying. Human ingenuity seeks in vain to escape the operation of the law, which at the appointed season limits the growth and undermines the power of nations. In seeking to avoid Scylla it falls into Charybdis ; by ruining the prosperity of others, human selfishness destroys its own. The same law which makes an apple fall to the ground, restrains the planets in their course, and upholds the magnificent fabric of the heavens. Dr Johnson's observation points to a law
which limits the lifetime of nations, restrains the march of conquest, and has for ever rendered universal dominion impossible.
But although, for this reason, it was inevitable that the weakness arising from the prostration of the strength of its central provinces should in the end have destroyed the power, and terminated, if not overturned by actual violence, the existence of the British empire, yet the means of long combating this mortal malady had been given to it by Providence, if they had not been thrown away by the selfish ambition or the blind infatuation of its later rulers. Its vast and growing colonies in every part of the world afforded it the means of counteracting for centuries the decrepitude of age by the vigour and the elasticity of youth. It was inevitable in the days of its maturity that Great Britain should come to depend for the supply of subsistence and the materials of manufactures, in part at least, on distant states—but those distant states might have been its own transmarine possessions. Then prosperity and riches would have reacted incessantly on that of the parent state. The original stock would have been long vivified and invigorated by the growth of its offshoots. But the selfish and suicidal policy which has alienated or ruined our colonies, for the sake of a temporary profit to the dominant urban class at home, has thrown away these advantages, and brought the weakness and difficulties of age upon the state, which still possesses within itself the means of prolonging a respected and prosperous existence.
[FOREIGN AND COLONIAL REVIEW, JULY 1844]
Never was there a more just observation, than that there is no end to authentic history. We shall take the most learned and enthusiastic student of history in the countryone who has spent half his life in reading the annals of human events and still we are confident that much of what is about to be stated in this article will be new to him. Yet it relates to no inconsiderable state, and is to be found in no obscure writer. It relates to the history of Russia, the greatest and most powerful empire, if we except Great Britain, which exists upon the earth, and with which -sometimes in alliance, sometimes in jealousy
we have been almost continually in contact during the last half century. It is to be found in the history of Karamsin, the greatest historian of Russia, who has justly acquired a European reputation; but whose great work, though relating to so interesting a subject, bas hitherto, in an unaccountable manner, been neglected in this country.
We complain that there is nothing new in literaturethat old ideas are perpetually recurring, and worn-out topics again dressed up in a new garb—that sameness and imitation seem to be irrevocably stamped upon our literature, and the age of original thought, of fresh ideas, and creative genius, has passed away! Řely upon it, the fault is not in the nature of things, but in ourselves. The stock of original ideas, of new thoughts
, of fresh images, is not worn out; on the contrary, it has hardly been seriously worked upon by all the previous efforts of mankind. We may say of it, as Newton did of his discoveries in physical science, that “all that he had done seemed like a boy playing on the sea