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Still better was the condition of the labourer in the neighbourhood of. Bury Saint Edmund’s. The magistrates of Suffolk met there in the spring of 1682 to fix a rate of wages, and resolved that, Where the labourer was not boarded, he should have five shillings a week in winter, and six in summer.*
In 1661 the justices at Chelmsford had fixed the wages of the Essex labourer, who was not boarded, at six shillings in winter and seven in summer. This seems to have been the highest remuneration given in the kingdom for agricultural labour between the Restoration and the Revolution; and it 1s to be observed that, in the year in which this order was made, the necessaries of life were immo~ derately dear. Wheat was at seventy shillings the quarter, which would even now be considered as almost a famine price.1'
These facts are in perfect accordance with another fact which seems to deserve consideration. It is evident that, in a country where no man can be compelled to become a soldier, the ranks of an army cannot be filled if the government offers much less than the wages of common rustic labour. At present the pay and beer money of a private in a regiment of the line amount to seven shillings and sevenpence a week. This stipend, coupled with the hope of a pension, does not attract the English youth in sufficient numbers; and it is found necessary to supply the deficiency by enlisting largely from among the poorer population of Munster and Connaught. The pay of the private foot soldier in 1685 was only four shillings and eightpence a week; yet it is certain that the government in that year found no difiiculty in obtaining many thousands of English recruits at very short notice. The pay of the private foot
’ Cullum’s History of Hawstcd. 1' Buggies on the Poor
soldier in the army of the Commonwealth had been seven shillings a week, that is to say, as much as a corporal received under Charles the Second“; and seven shillings a week had been found sufficient to fill the ranks with men decidedly superior to the generality of the people. On the whole, therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that, in the reign of Charles the Second, the ordinary wages of the peasant did not exceed four shillings a week; but that, in some parts of the kingdom, five shillings, six shillings, and, during the summer months, even seven shillings were paid. At present a district where a labouring man earns only seven shillings a week is thought to be in a state shocking to humanity. The average is very much higher; and, in prosperous counties, the weekly wages of husbandmen amount to twelve, fourteen, and even sixteen shillings.
The remuneration of workmen employed in manufactures has always been higher than that Wm”, of the tillers of the soil. In the year 1680, mmfl'c‘m“ a member of the House of Commons remarked that the high wages paid in this country made it impossible for our textures to maintain a competition with the produce of the Indian looms. An English mechanic, he said, instead of slaving like a native of Bengal for a piece of copper, exacted a shilling a day.1' Other evidence is extant, which proves that a shilling a day was the pay to which the English manufacturer then thought himself entitled, but that he was often forced to work for less. The common people of that age were not in the habit of meeting for public discussion, of haranguing, or of petitioning Parliament. N0 newspaper pleaded their cause. It was in rude rhyme that their love and hatred, their exultation and their distress found utterance. A great part of their history is to be learned only from their ballads. One of the most remarkable of the popular lays chaunted about the streets of Norwich and Leeds in the time of Charles the Second may still be read on the original broadside. It is the vehement and bitter cry of labour against capital. It describes the good old times when every artisan employed in the woollen manufacture lived as well as a farmer. But those times were past. Sixpence a day was now all that could be earned by hard labour at the loom. If the poor complained that they could not live on such a pittance, they were told that they were free to take it or leave it. For so miserable a recompense were the producers of wealth compelled to toil, rising early and lying down late, while the master clothier, eating, sleeping, and idling, became rich by their exertions. A shilling a day, the poet declares, is what the weaver would have, if justice were done.* We may therefore conclude that, in the generation which preceded the Revolution, a workman employed in the great staple manufacture of England thought himself fairly paid if he gained six shillings a week.
' See, in Thurloe’s State Pap 1' The orator was Mr. John pers, the memorandum of the Basset, member for Barnstaplc. Dutch Deputies, dated August See Smith’s Memoirs of Wool. 1%. 1653. chapter lxviiL
VOL. L F l‘
- It may here be noticed that the practice of setting Lmoumnm children prematurely to work, a practice d"“"‘"‘°"°°' which the state, the legitimate protector of those who cannot protect themselves, has, in our time, wisely and humanely interdicted, prevailed in the seventeenth century to an extent which, when compared with the extent of the manufacturing system, seems almost incredible. At Norwich, the chief seat of the clothing trade, a little creature of six years old was thought fit for labour. Several writers of that time, and among them some who were considered as eminently benevolent, mention, with exultation, the fact that, in that single city, boys and girls of very tender age created wealth exceeding what was necessary for their own subsistence by twelve thousand pounds a year.* The more carefully we examine the history of the past, the more reason shall we find to dissent from those who imagine that our age has been fruitful of new social evils. The truth is that the evils are, with scarcely an exception, old. That which is new is the intelligence which discerns and the humanity which remedies them.
“We will make them to work hard for
' This ballad is in the British Museum. The precise year is not given; but the Imprimatur of Roger Lestrange fixes the date sufficiently for my purpose. I will quote some of the lines. The master clothier is introduced speaking as follows :——
“ In former ages we used to give,
I I I O I i
sixpcnce a day,
Though a shilling they deserve if they had their just pay;
If at all they murmur and say ’tis too
small, We Did them choose whether they’ll work
at . And thus we do gain all our wealth and estate, By rpany poor men that work early and ate
Then hey for the clothing trade! It goes on brave ;
We scorn for to toyl and muyl, nor yet to slave.
Our workmen do work hard, but we live at ease.
We go when we will,md we come when we please."
When we pass from the weavers of cloth to a different class of artisans, our enquiries Wm“, will still lead us to nearly the same con- $513“; ,, clusions. During several generations, the “‘m' Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital have kept a register of the wages paid to difi'erent classes of workmen who have been employed in the repairs of the building. From this valuable record it appears that, in the course of a' hundred and twenty years, the daily earnings of the bricklayer have risen from half a crown to four and tenpence, those of the mason from half a crown to five and threepence, those of the carpenter from half a crown to five and fivepence, and those of the plumber from three shillings to five and sixpence.
' Chamberlayne’s State of Proposition for the Employing England; Petty’s Political Arith- of the Poor. It ought to be obinetic, chapter viii.; Dunning’s served that Firmin was an emiPlain and Easy Method; Firmin’n ncnt philanthropist.
It seems clear, therefore, that the wages of labour, estimated in money, were, in 1685, not more than half of what they now are; and there were few articles Important to the working man of which the price was not, in 1685, more than half of what it now is. Beer was undoubtedly much cheaper in that age than at present. Meat was also cheaper, but was still so dear that hundreds of thousands of families scarcely knew the taste of it.‘ In the cost of wheat there has been very little change. The average price of the quarter, during the last twelve years of Charles the Second, was fifty shillings. Bread, therefore, such as is now given to the inmates of a workhouse, was then seldom seen, even on the trencher of a. yeoman or of a shopkeeper. The great majority of the nation lived almost entirely on rye, barley, and cats.
The produce of tropical countries, the produce of the mines, the produce of machinery, was positively dearer than at present. Among the commodities for which the labourer would have had to pay higher in 1685 than his posterity now pay were sugar, salt, coals, candles, soap, shoes, stockings, and generally all articles of clothing and all articles of bedding. It may be added, that the old coats and blankets would have been, not only more costly, but less serviceable than the modern fabrics.
It must be remembered that those labourers who Numbm, were able to maintain themselves and their ““Pm' families by means of wages were not the most necessitous members of the community. Beneath them lay a large class which could not subsist without some aid from the parish. There can hardly be a more important test of the condition of the com
“‘ King in his Natural and to him, ate animal food twice a Political Conclusions roughly es- week. The remaining 440,000 timated the common people of ate it not at all, or at most not _ England at 880,000 families. Of oftener than once a week. these families 440,000, according