Sivut kuvina

of the Reform question. We say general prosperity, because we are as much aware as any one can be of the magnitude and severity of the distress, which, during the same time, affected numerous individuals and classes of society. Indeed, the severity of this distress among many, contrasted with the general opulence and wellbeing with which they were surrounded, has been, without doubt, one among the many causes of the widespread discontent which has generated the desolating passion for democratic power.

But while this is admitted on the one hand, it must be conceded, on the other, that the general prosperity of the empire has, during that period, reached a height never before equalled. Facts undisputed, decisive facts, place this beyond a doubt.

The population of the island has, during this time, very greatly increased ; and the sum of the national wealth has increased in a still greater proportion. Since 1811, the population of the whole empire has increased above a fourth, and that of the great towns, generally speaking, above a half. The census of 1821, and that just completed, demonstrate this remarkable fact. The population of the British empire is now doubling once in forty-two years. *

Such a rapid increase— the effects of the extraordinary growth of our manufactures, and the prodigious demand for labour by the vast armaments of the war—is not, of itself, any sure criterion of general prosperity ; but, coupled with a corresponding or greater increase of national wealth and general prosperity, it is a most decisive proof. Whatever may be said of the growth of innumerable beggars, as in Ireland, it is quite clear, that a nation which is at once adding to its numbers, and increasing their prosperity, is in the highest state of public welfare.

Now, no one can move from home—he can hardly walk, either in the streets or the fields—without being sensible, that in the last twenty years the middle and lower orders have prodigiously increased in happiness, upon the whole, in this country. Look at the dwellings of the middle ranks : how they have expanded in size, augmented in comforts, increased in elegance ! What multitudes of villas have, during that time, grown up round all the great cities, indi

* Dupin, p. 32.

cating at once the improved tastes, easy circumstances, and prosperous lives of their inbabitants! What crowds of open carriages are to be everywhere seen in the streets, filled with the sons and daughters of the middle classes ; a species of vehicle literally unknown during the war ; a luxury confined to the great and the affluent, during the most prosperous periods of any former peace. Approach the shops, not only of the metropolis, but of any of the considerable towns in the country; what luxury and opulence meet your eye—what multitudes of inventions to catch the taste of wealth—what innumerable comforts to gratify the wishes of industry! Enter the private houses of the citizenstheir dress, their furniture, their habits of life, bespeak the general ease of their condition. The dwellings of shopkeepers and artisans are better furnished now than those of the nobility were thirty years ago ; and the abodes of private gentlemen are arrayed in a style of sumptuous elegance, which a century back was confined to the palaces of princes.

In another costly and beneficial species of luxury, the change is still more extraordinary. The taste for travelling has become universal, not only among the higher, but among the middle orders. Steamboats have furnished the means of visiting the most distant quarters of the empire, with ease and expedition, to multitudes who, twenty years ago, never thought of stirring from home. There is hardly a shopboy in London who has not seen the Highlands of Scotland, or the Lakes of Cumberland; and the scenes which we formerly read of in Coxe and Eustace, as remote, and, to most, inaccessible quarters of the globe, are now as familiar to every gentleman as the principal objects in his own country.

Nor is this great and increasing expenditure the result, as many imagine, merely of an increased turn for expense among the middle orders. Facts demonstrate the reverse. The common complaint, that capital cannot find an investment, that the bankers have more money thrown on their hands than they know what to do with, is decisive evidence that, great as the industry of the country is, the accumulated savings of its industry are still greater. The Funds, the great savings' bank of the middle orders, maintain

their high price, notwithstanding the gloomy aspect of the Continental horizon, and the imminent peril of domestic convulsion : a clear proof that the opulence of the nation, upon the whole, is so great, that it cannot find any adequate means of employment. Ask the bankers, and they will tell you, that they never had such extensive balances in their hands belonging to the industrious classes, and that they literally are at a loss to find an outlet for the accumulation of so many rills. Inquire of the attorneys whence they draw the immense loans which are advanced in mortgage on landed estates, and threaten, before long, to effect a general change in the state of landed property in every part of the kingdom, and they will answer, that they find them with ease among the industrious classes in the towns; and that the owner of many a noble palace is, in truth, little better than a trustee, permitted to gather in his rents for the use of the thriving citizens, among whom they are ultimately divided.

The general revenues, and returns of industry in the state—the exports, the imports, the tonnage of our shipping, the produce of our colonies, illustrate the same truths. They are all much greater than they were during the years of the war, in which they reached the largest amounts. The exports, which only once during the war (in 1809) reached £40,000,000, now amount to £52,000,000; and if the great change in the value of money is taken into account, it is not going too far to assert, that this latter sum indicates double the produce of industry ever raised in Britain before the battle of Waterloo. The shipping now in employment is greater than it was, even during the monopoly of the ocean by British fleets, in the time of the Continental blockade. The revenue of £50,000,000, now raised, is at least equal to what £70,000,000 would have been with the war prices: a sum almost as great as was raised by taxation in Britain even during the prolific days of the income-tax.

The agriculture of the empire has augmented in a similar proportion. It is impossible to travel anywhere without being struck with the vast improvement of the cultivation during the last fifteen years : an improvement which is most remarkable—even greater than took place during the

high prices of the war. Immense districts, which in our recollection were purple with heath, or golden with furze, have now yielded to the steady efforts of laborious industry; and the abodes, within these few years, of the hare and the lapwing, are now teeming with luxuriant and successive harvests. In spite of the terrible difficulties arising from the change of the currency, and the adaptation of rents to a new scale of prices, the aspect of the country and the condition of the farmers demonstrate that the spring of agricultural prosperity is yet undiminished : while the remarkable facts, (fatal to the Malthusian paradox,) that, with a population doubling in an old state every forty-two years, the produce of the soil has augmented in a still greater progression, and that the era of the most rapid increase of our population is the same with that which has witnessed our total emancipation from any dependence on external nations for subsistence ; and the universal complaint of farm produce being redundant in the hands of the cultivators, encourage the pleasing hope, that the vital resources of the country are yet far from having approached their ultimate limits.

What renders this rapid and extraordinary increase of general prosperity the more remarkable is, that it has taken place under circumstances which would have weighed to the earth the industry of most other states. Without descending to details, it is sufficient to enumerate three, fully adequate, one would have thought, to put an entire stop to the growth of industry among any people. The first of these is the National Debt. The annual

payment of from eight-and-twenty to thirty millions to the public creditors, is a burden far greater than ever before was borne by any nation. The annual charge of the national debt of France in 1789—the magnitude of which was the immediate cause of the Revolution—was only £11,000,000 sterling annually, by far the greater part of which was in the perishable form of life-annuities.

The second is the extraordinary Change of Prices which has resulted from the suspension of cash payments during the war, and their subsequent resumption by the Act of 1819. Without involving ourselves in the questio vexata of the currency, it is sufficient to mention the admitted facts, that

prices were more than doubled by the first act, and again nearly halved by the second ; that all the lasting contracts of individuals were formed on the basis of the war, and their

payment left to be provided for by the diminished resources of the peace prices; and that the national debt, contracted when money was at its lowest value, requires now to be provided for, when prices have so altered that it has risen to almost double its original amount. What fatal ravages

has this rapid and unparalleled change made in the fortunes of individuals; how many

old families has it levelled to the dust; how much meritorious industry has it extinguished for ever ! Yet it is in the midst of this widespread suffering, produced by these changes, that the national opulence has made such unprecedented progress.

3. Though last, not least, our labouring classes have, during all this period, had to sustain the competition, bear the burden, and withstand the demoralisation arising from the incessant Immigration of Irish—an evil peculiar to Britain, and perhaps greater than any which now afflicts any civilised state. Humboldt was the first who brought to light the important and almost incredible fact, that between the years 1801 and 1821, a million of Irishmen settled in Great Britain,* being at the rate of 50,000 a-year; and, since the introduction of steamboats, the numbers have been probably still greater. There is no instance of the influx of barbarous settlers on record to such an extent, even when the Goths overwhelmed the Roman empire.

Nor has the national strength of England during this period been unworthy of the extraordinary prosperity which she had attained, or the unparalleled burdens which she bore. In the midst of profound peace in Europe, she has sustained in the East the character of a mighty conqueror ; the Mahrattas, the Ghoorkas, the Pindarrees, have successively yielded to her arms; and, at the same time that the strength of the Indian empire was engaged in an arduous struggle in the Burmese invasion, the force collected a thousand miles above Calcutta, for the siege of Bhurtpore, exceeded the native English who conquered at Waterloo.

When all these things are considered, and the result proves to have been that the vital changes were adopted by

* HUMBOLDT'S Voyages, Statistique, vol. ix.

« EdellinenJatka »