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defective architecture, draining, and ventilation of the capital. The
great fire of 1666 afforded an opportunity for effecting extensive im-
provements. The whole matter was diligently examiined by the Royal
Society ; and to the suggestions of that body must be partly attributed
the changes which, though far short of what the public welfare required,
yet made a wide difference between the new and the old London, and
probably put a final close to the ravages of pestilence in our country.^
At the same time one of the founders of the Society, Sir William Petty,
created the science of political arithmetic, the humble but indispensable
handmaid of political philosophy. No kingdom of nature was left un-
explored. To that period belong the chemical discoveries of Boyle, and
the earliest botanical researches of Sloane. It was then that Ray made
a new classification of birds and fishes, and that the attention of Wood-
ward was first drawn towards fossils and shells. One after another
phantoms which had haunted the world through ages of darkness fled
before the light. Astrology and alchymy became jests. Soon there
was scarcely a county in which some of the Quorum did not smile

■The eagerness with which the agriculturists of that age tried experiments and introduced im-
provements is well described by Aubrey. See the Natural History of Wiltshire, 1685.
^Sprat's History of the Royal Society.

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From the painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller, in the National Portrait Gallery.


contemptuously when an old woman was brought before them for riding
on broomsticks or giving cattle the murrain. But it was in those noblest
and most arduous departments of knowledge in which induction and
mathematical demonstration cooperate for the discovery of truth, that
the English genius won in that age the most memorable triumphs.
John Wallis placed the whole system of statics on a new foundation.
Edmund Halley investigated the properties of the atmosphere, the ebb
and flow of the sea, the laws of magnetism, and the course of the comets;
nor did he shrink from toil, peril, and exile in the cause of science.
While he, on the rock of Saint Helena, mapped the constellations of the
southern hemisphere, our national observatory was rising at Greenwich ;
and John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, was commencing that
long series of observations which is never mentioned without respect
and gratitude in any part of the globe. But the glory of these men,
eminent as they were, is cast into the shade by the transcendent lustre
of one immortal name. In Isaac Newton two kinds of intellectual
power, which have little in common, and which are not often found
together in a very high degree of vigour, but which nevertheless are
equally necessary in the most sublime departments of physics, were
united as they have never been united before or since. There may have
been minds as happily constituted as his for the cultivation of pure
mathematical science: there may have been minds as happily constituted
for the cultivation of science purely experimental: but in no other mind
have the demonstrative faculty and the inductive faculty coexisted in
such supreme excellence and perfect harmony. Perhaps in the days of
Scotists and Thomists even his intellect might have run to waste, as
many intellects ran to waste which were inferior only to his. Happily
the spirit of the age on which his lot was cast, gave the right direction
to his mind ; and his mind reacted with tenfold force on the spirit of
the age. In the year 1685 his fame, though splendid, was only
dawning ; but his genius was in the meridian. His great work, that
work which effected a revolution in the most important provinces of
natural philosophy, had been completed, but was not yet published, and
was just about to be submitted to the consideration of the Royal

It is not very easy to explain why the nation which was so far
before its neighbours in science should in art have been far behind them.
Yet such was the fact. It is true that in architecture, an art g^^^^ ^^ ji,g
which is half a science, an art in which none but a geome- fi"^ ^rts
trician can excel, an art which has no standard of grace but what is
directly or indirectly dependent on utility, an art of which the creations
derive a part, at least, of their majesty from mere bulk, our country
could boast of one truly great man, Christopher Wren ; and the fire



which laid London in ruins had given him an opportunity, unprecedented
in modern history, of displaying his powers. The austere beauty of the
Athenian portico, the gloomy sublimity of the Gothic arcade, he was,
like almost all his contemporaries, incapable of emulating, and perhaps
incapable of appreciating : but no man, born on our side of the Alps,
has imitated with so much success the magnificence of the palacelike
churches of Italy. Even the superb Lewis has left to posterity no work
which can bear a comparison with Saint Paul's. But at the close of the
reign of Charles the Second there was not a single English painter or
statuary whose name is now remembered. This sterility is somewhat
mysterious ; for painters and statuaries were by no means a despised or
an ill paid class. Their social position was at least as high as at present.
Their gains, when compared with the wealth of the nation and with the
remuneration of other descriptions of intellectual labour, were even larger
than at present. Indeed the munificent patronage which was extended
to artists drew them to our shores in multitudes. Lely, who has pre-
served to us the rich curls, the full lips, and the languishing eyes of the
frail beauties celebrated by Hamilton, was a Westphalian. He had died
in 1680, having long lived splendidly, having received the honour of
knighthood, and having accumulated a good estate out of the fruits of
his skill. His noble collection of drawings and pictures was, after his
decease, exhibited by the royal permission in the Banqueting House at
Whitehall, and was sold by auction for the almost incredible sum of
twenty six thousand pounds, a sum which bore a greater proportion to
the fortunes of the rich men of that day than a hundred thousand pounds
would bear to the fortunes of the rich men of our time.^ Lely was
succeeded by his countryman Godfrey Kneller, who was made first a
knight and then a baronet, and who, after keeping up a sumptuous
establishment, and after losing much money by unlucky speculations,
was still able to bequeath a large fortune to his family. The two
Vandeveldes, natives of Holland, had been tempted by English liberality
to settle here, and had produced for the King and his nobles some of
the finest sea pieces in the world. Another Dutchman, Simon Varelst,
painted glorious sunflowers and tulips for prices such as had never before
been known. Verrio, a Neapolitan, covered ceilings and staircases with
Gorgons and Muses, Nymphs and Satyrs, Virtues and Vices, Gods
quaffing nectar, and laurelled princes riding in triumph. The income
which he derived from his performances enabled him to keep one of the
most expensive tables in England. For his pieces at Windsor alone he
received seven thousand pounds, a sum then sufficient to make a gentle-
man of moderate wishes perfectly easy for life, a sum greatly exceeding
all that Dryden, during a literary life of forty years, obtained from the

> Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting ; London Gazette, May 31. 1683; North's Life of Guildford.




booksellers.' Verrio's assistant and successor, Lewis Laguerre, came
from France. The two most celebrated sculptors of that day were also

From a mezzotint by I. Beckett after a painting by Sir P. Lely

foreigners. Gibber, whose pathetic emblems of Fury and Melancholy
still adorn Bedlam, was a Dane. Gibbons, to whose graceful fancy and

' The great prices paid to Varelst and Verrio are mentioned in Walpole's Anecdotes of


delicate touch many of our palaces, colleges, and churches owe their
finest decorations, was a Dutchman. Even the designs for the coin
were made by French artists. Indeed, it was not till the reign of
George the Second that our country could glory in a great painter ; and
George the Third was on the throne before she had reason to be proud
of any of her sculptors.

It is time that this description of the England which Charles the
Second governed should draw to a close. Yet one subject of the highest
moment still remains untouched. Nothing has yet been said of the
great body of the people, of those who held the ploughs, who tended
the oxen, who toiled at the looms of Norwich, and squared the Portland
stone for Saint Paul's. Nor can very much be said. The most
numerous class is precisely the class respecting which we have the
most meagre information. In those times philanthropists did not
yet regard it as a sacred duty, nor had demagogues yet found it a
lucrative trade, to talk and write about the distress of the labourer.
History was too much occupied with courts and camps to spare a
line for the hut of the peasant or the garret of the mechanic. The
press now often sends forth in a day a greater quantity of discus-
sion and declamation about the condition of the working man than
was published during the twenty eight years which elapsed between
the Restoration and the Revolution. But it would be a great error
to infer from the increase of complaint that there has been any increase
of misery.

The great criterion of the state of the common people is the amount
of their wages ; and as four fifths of the common people were, in the
seventeenth century, employed in agriculture, it is especially
common important to ascertain what were then the wages of agricul-
peop e tural industry. On this subject we have the means of arriving

at conclusions sufficiently exact for our purpose.

Sir William Petty, whose mere assertion carries great weight, informs
us that a labourer was by no means in the lowest state who received
Agricultural f^"" ^ day's work fourpence with food, or eightpence without
wages food. Four shillings a week therefore were, according to

Petty's calculation, fair agricultural wages. ^

That this calculation was not remote from the truth we have abun-
dant proof About the beginning of the year 1685 the justices of
Warwickshire, in the exercise of a power entrusted to them by an Act
of Elizabeth, fixed, at their quarter sessions, a scale of wages for the
county, and notified that every employer who gave more than the
authorised sum, and every working man who received more, would be
liable to punishment. The wages of the common agricultural labourer,

' Petty's Political Arithmetic.




from March to September, were fixed at the precise amount men-
tioned by Petty, namely four shiUings a week without food. From

- f}CB:^-'^ll'f^O\ '^JU^R '(/am

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From a mezzotinl by J. Smith after a painting by Sir G. Kiieller

September to March the wages were to be only three and sixpence
a week.''

• Stat. 5 Eliz. c. 4. ; Aixhsologia, vol. xi.


But in that age, as in ours, the earnings of the peasant were very
diiTerent in different parts of the kingdom. The wages of Warwick-
shire were probably about the average, and those of the counties near
the Scottish border below it : but there were more favoured districts.
In the same year, 1685, a gentleman of Devonshire, named Richard
Dunning, published a small tract, in which he described the condition of
the poor of that county. That he understood his subject well it is im-
possible to doubt ; for a few months later his work was reprinted, and
was, by the magistrates assembled in quarter sessions at Exeter, strongly
recommended to the attention of all parochial officers. According to
him, the wages of the Devonshire peasant were, without food, about five
shillings a week.^

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 1 66 1 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 is to be observed that, in the year in which
this order was made, the necessaries of life were immoderately dear.
Wheat was at seventy shillings the quarter, which would even now be
considered as almost a famine price.^

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 difficulty in obtaining many thou-
sands of English recruits at very short notice. The pay of the private
foot soldier in the army of the Commonwealth had been seven shillings

^ Plain and easy Method showing how the office of Overseer of the Poor may be managed, by
Richard Dunning ; ist edition, 1685; 2d edition, 16S6.

^ Cullum's History of Hawsted. ^ Ruggles on the Poor.

From a mezzotint by G. White in the British Museum


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 coun-
ties, 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 of the tillers of the soil. In the year 1680, a
Wag-es of member of the House of Commons remarked that the high
manufac- 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.^ 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. No newspaper pleaded their cause. It was
in rude rhyme that their love and hatred, their exultation and their dis-
tress 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 miser-
able 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

1 See, in Thurloe's State Papers, the Memorandum of the Dutch Deputies, dated August -^.

"- The orator was Mr. John Basset, member for Barnstaple. See Smith's Memoirs of Wool,
chapter Ixviii.

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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.

It may here be noticed that the practice of setting children pre-
maturely to work, a practice which the state, the legitimate protector of
Labour of those who cannot protect themselves, has, in our time, wisely
children in and humanely interdicted, prevailed in the seventeenth cen-
tury 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 ex-
ultation, the fact that, in that single city, boys and girls of very tender
age created wealth exceeding what was necessary for their own sub-
sistence by twelve thousand pounds a year.^ The more carefully we
examine the history of the past, the more reason shall we find to dis-
sent 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.

When we pass from the weavers of cloth to a different class of
artisans, our enquiries will still lead us to nearly the same conclusions.
Wages of During several generations, the Commissioners of Greenwich
clai'^es'of Hospital have kept a register of the wages paid to different
artisans classes of workmen who have been employed in the repairs

of the building. From this valuable record it appears that, in the course

^ This ballad is in the British Museum. The precise year is not given ; but the Imprimatur
of Roger Lestrange iixes 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,

So that our workfolks like farmers did live ;

But the times are changed, we will make them know.

"We will make them to work hard for sixpence a da)'.

Though a shilling they deserve if they had their just pay ;

If at all they murmur and say 'tis too small,

We bid them choose whether they'll work at all.

And thus we do gain all our wealth and estate.

By many poor men that work early and late.

Then hey for the clothing trade ! It goes on brave ;

We scorn for to toyl and moyi, nor yet to slave.

Our workmen do work hard, but we live at ease,

We go when we will, and we come when we please."
'^Chamberlayne's State of England; Betty's Political Arithmetic, chapter viii. ; Dunning's
Plain and Easy Method ; Firmin's Proposition for the Employing of the Poor. It ought to be
observed that Firmin was an eminent philanthropist.












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.

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 oats.

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 were able to
maintain themselves and their families by means of wages were not the
Number of iTiost necessitous members of the community. Beneath them
paupers Jay 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 common people than the ratio which this class bears to
the whole society. At present the men, women, and children who
receive relief appear from the official returns to be, in bad years, one
tenth of the inhabitants of England, and, in good years, one thirteenth.
Gregory King estimated them in his time at about a fourth ; and this
estimate, which all our respect for his authority will scarcely prevent
us from calling extravagant, was pronounced by Davenant eminently

We are not quite without the means of forming an estimate for
ourselves. The poor rate was undoubtedly the heaviest tax borne by
our ancestors in those days. It was computed, in the reign of Charles

' King in bis Natural and Political Conclusions roughly estimated the common people of
England at 880,000 families. Of these families 440,000, according to him, ate animal food twice
a week. The remaining 440,000 ate it not at all, or at most not oftener than once a week.





Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayThe history of England from the accession of James the Second → online text (page 39 of 49)