The Increase of Human Life: Part Ii

Improvements in Life not equal in all Ages, but always connected with the Progress of Civilization.

THE improvements in human life have made varied progress in the successive ages of the world. Sometimes they have been rapid, sometimes slow, and sometimes the work has gone backward; nor have they kept equal pace in all nations. They have been made in quick succession in some, and at the same time they have been stationary or were lost, in others.

But the general progress has been onward and upward in all civilized nations ; for it has gone on side by side with civilization, — a companion to it and a part of it. Whatever has been done for this has been done for human life. The elements of civilization are among the causes of health and longevity.

Effect of Improvements in Arts, etc., on Health and Life.

The growth of wealth, the improvements in agriculture, the advance in the mechanic arts, the increase of comforts, the amelioration of personal, domestic, and social habits, the general culture, the diffusion of education, the elevation of morals, the refinement of manners, — all the ameliorations of personal and social life have their due influence on the development of vital power, on the maintenance of life, and the prolongation of man’s days on earth.

Most, if not nearly all, of the improvements in the means and facilities of business, labor, and the arts, or in domestic and social life in their several ways and degrees, have presently or remotely this effect of increasing the vital power of man.

The exhibitions of inventions, whose name is legion, in the Patent Offices and elsewhere, — models and descriptions of things new and of things improved, — are indications of progress in civilization, of increase in means of sustenance and human comfort, and consequently in human power and longevity.

The numberless varieties of stoves for warming and cooking afford better protection against cold and storm, and give opportunity to a large class of people for easier and better preparation of food than they could have without them ; carding-machines, spinning-jennies, power-looms, sewing-machines, with their multiplied modifications and improvements, all contribute not only to the production of better and more varied clothing, suited to the wants of people in every season and on every occasion, and give better protection from the dangers of the elements, but by cheapening the cost of garments they put these more effective means of defence within the reach of a much larger class of the people than in the days.of the fathers.

Ploughs, mowing-machines, horserakes, apple-parers, steel forks, all the kindred adjuncts of agriculture, increase the productions of the earth, while they lessen the labors of the cultivator or make them more effective. By aid of these, grain, hay, roots, fruits, cattle, sheep, etc., are produced more easily and abundantly, of better and more nutritious quality, and at less cost. The whole people, and especially the poor, are better nourished and strengthened, better armed to meet the responsibilities and to bear the dangers of life.

The steam-engine, man’s powerful, tireless, and versatile co-operator, in its multifarious uses in manufactures and locomotion ; ships, steamboats, railways, improved common roads, carriages for travel and for transportation, — these, and thousands of other inventions and improvements, enable men to accomplish larger and more varied purposes ; they lessen the burden of the laborer and increase his productiveness, and offer to the whole world means of sustenance such as the most favored in former ages could not procure.

Few, very few, of the improvements that belong to the civilized state are without their good effect, present or remote, direct or indirect, on human health. Small, infinitesimally small, and in many cases unperceived, may be the good that some produce ; yet it is not an assumption without warrant, to say that whenever and wherever the means of sustenance and of generating vital force, or the means of protection against the elements or against any deteriorating or destructive influences, or the conveniences and comforts of life are increased, or whenever by lessening the cost of production, or by facilitating communication and transportation, these conveniences and comforts are placed within the reach of any persons or classes that could not obtain them, or made freely accessible to any who would otherwise use them but sparingly,— these improvements, of whatever variety and character, have their due influence in increasing the power and longevity of mankind.

Warm, comfortable, convenient, and pleasant houses, with ample rooms and space for family movements, appropriate furniture, easy beds and chairs, to give good support to the frame when working, or when seeking rest ; easy carriages for locomotion, smooth roads; varied clothing, suited to the different seasons and well fitted to the body, .trunk and limbs : food well cooked and digestible, pleasant to the palate and light to the stomach,— these and manifold other accompaniments of cultivated society, sometimes called mere luxuries and contemptuously despised by the hardy, are yet more than mere luxuries ; they in their several ways and degrees are necessary for the fulness of life, in power and duration, which is obtained only in the state of the highest civilization.

Surface of the Earth improved.

The earth itself has become more favorable to human existence. The forests have been cut down, wet lands have been drained, swamps have given place to dry and arable fields. The ground on which we stand and work sends forth less miasmatic and pestilential effluvia productive of fevers, dysenteries, etc.

European sanitary reports contain abundant evidences of the evil influence of marshy and wet grounds on the people that dwell upon them, and of the good effect of their drainage. Some large and many small districts that were formerly water-soaked or covered in part with ponds and stagnant pools have from time to time been ditched, drained, and dried, and the condition of the health and life of their inhabitants before and after their improvement are recorded and published. A few of these instances will be sufficient to represent the whole.

The district of Wisbech in England, formerly wet and marshy, was drained in the course of twenty years ending 1816. The improvements in vitality are shown by the records. “ For every hundred births in the respective periods, the deaths were, from 1796 to 1805, ninety-four ; from 1806 to 1815, seventynine; and from 1816 to 1825, sixty-four. In the first of these periods the rate of mortality was one in 31 living; in the second, one in 40 ; and in the third, one in 47.” 1

“ The medical officer of Eastry says: ‘ Some years back a great part of the parishes adjoining the marshes was under water from the end of autumn to the early part of the following spring; then agues [intermittent fevers] and fevers of all characters prevailed to a great extent. But for the last few years, owing to the excellent plan of draining, very few diseases have occurred, in my opinion, that can be said to be produced by malaria; there is very little ague, scarcely any continued fever, and a case of typhus has not been known along the borders of the marshes for the last three or four years.’ ” 2

Many other reports bear similar testimony to the good effect of drainage, making the wet and fever-haunted places dry and healthy.

Banff — Healthy people, long-lived, — much drainage.”

Fordoun. — So much draining, that now no swamps: formerly agues common ; now quite unknown.”

Os well. — Ague prevailed formerly, but not since the land was drained.’’

“Kinross. — Agues prevailed sixty years ago, in consequence of marshes; now never met with.”3

On a smaller scale, in most countries, the proprietors of swamps have drained them for the purpose of cultivation ; and these water-soaked and submerged lands which had been merely useless mud, sending forth miasmatic exhalations and producing fevers, rheumatisms, and consumptions among the people living near them, were by drainage converted into dry and rich fields that yielded abundant crops of grain and sent forth no causes of disease.

The motive for these improvements of lands was pecuniary gain, and the reward in that way was generally large and sure ; but a far better and equally sure reward, though unsought, was found in the improved health, the increased vigor and working-power, and lengthened years of the farmer and his family, and of others who lived on or near these lands.

Cities and Compact Towns.

Life has ever been and is lowest in the cities, where people were gathered in dense masses. The causes of sickness and the dangers of death are more abundant and effective there than in the open country. These causes and dangers are partly due to the fact of close aggregation of the people, and to that extent are unavoidable; and in part to ignorance, selfishness, and neglect, and to that extent they may be removed.

Within the last forty or fifty years the attention of the people and rulers, and especially of the physicians and political economists, has been called to this excess of city mortality over that of the country districts. In Great Britain, and some other European countries, minute investigations of the condition of cities have been made, and the causes of the great sickness and death sought out. It was discovered that there were the most sicknesses and most frequent deaths, especially among children, in those towns that had the narrowest streets and lanes, and where these were filthy, unswept, and undrained. In different parts of the same city, of which some had wide, open, and wellcleaned streets, and others crowded, close, and filthy ones, a difference in mortality like that between country and city was observed.

The British Parliament passed laws authorizing towns to make improvements and to raise money to pay the cost. Under this authority many towns and cities have drained their streets with sewers. They have paved streets that were bare, cleansed filthy places, opened closed courts, widened narrow lanes, removed nuisances, and introduced water from pure streams or fountains, to be used in households instead of the corrupted water of the wells. These improvements have been followed by marked changes in the sanitary condition of the inhabitants. Sickness has diminished; some diseases that were very frequent,—fevers, dysentery, cholera, etc., — have become rare ; and from some places they have disappeared. The rate of mortality has been reduced, and longevity has materially increased.

Manifold records of the health of these towns, before and after the improvements, show how greatly health and life have gained by the outward changes.

Salisbury drained, paved, and cleansed Its streets in 1854 and 1855. The deaths, which were sixty-nine in each of the winter quarters of the twelve previous years, were only fifty-four in each of the twelve winters succeeding; showing an improvement of twenty-seven per cent in vitality,4

In Liverpool, the rate of mortality, previous to 1847, was 3.84 per cent; or, one in twenty-six of the living died in each year. This great amount of death opened the eyes of the people and the rulers, and they began a system of cleansing and purification. They made sewers, introduced water, swept the streets, widened the narrow places. There were many closed courts, surrounded on all sides by buildings, with only a narrow passage-way under them at one end for an outlet and with no opportunity for the fresh air, and not much for the rays of the sun, to enter. These were opened at one end, and the winds allowed to visit them. Water was introduced, and the dwellers in many streets, lanes, and courts, who had before used and drunk only the polluted water of their wells, were allowed to have it pure and wholesome from the country.

At once there was a change for the better in the health of the people, especially of the poor. Sickness diminished, and the death-rate was reduced from 3.84 per cent to 2.7 per cent, — nearly one third.

Many other towns did a similar good work for themselves, and received a similar reward. The rate of mortality was reduced in London from 2.38 to 2.23 per cent, in Manchester from 3.71 to 2.71 per cent, in Glasgow from 3.39 to 2.78 per cent, by the same means.5

A great number of lodging-houses were inspected by the government commissioners or their agents. These had, in the aggregate, eighty thousand occupants. They were found filthy, unwashed, unswept, unventilated, and crowded with people. Typhus fever prevailed as an epidemic in these unhealthy dwellings. The new law limited the number of lodgers, and ordered purification under the direction of the police. These houses were cleansed and ventilated, and the lodgers reduced to a reasonable number, and the fever appeared no more in them as an epidemic.6

In Macclesfield, the rate of mortality was 4.2 per cent, or one in twenty-four of the living, in the years 1845 and 1846, and 3.3 per cent through the seven preceding years ; while that of the surrounding open country was 1.6 per cent, or one in sixty-two of the living. The rate varied in the different parts of the town according to their condition as to cleanliness. In the worst it was frightful, and in all it was bad.

Works of improvement were begun in the worst streets, lanes, and courts, those the most notoriously filthy and unhealthy. These parts were sewered, cleansed, and paved, and the houses drained; the yards and courts were cleansed, the dwellings ventilated, and water freely sent to the inhabitants. The general rate of mortality of the whole city was reduced from 3.3 to 2.6 per cent. The proportion of deaths to the number living, after the improvement, was 21 per cent less than before. But the worst districts, which had been the most foul and most sickly, and where the work of cleansing and purification had been the greatest, showed the largest improvement in health and life. The diminution of the rate of mortality varied among these according to their different degrees of previous degradation and suffering. In some it was diminished 34, in others, 40, 42, and in one 60 per cent. That is, while one hundred died in each of these districts, before they were improved, only sixtysix, sixty, fifty-eight, and forty died in them severally after that good work was done.

In the original state of the town, the average age of all who died was twentyfour years. But afterward it was twenty-nine years, showing a gain of 20 per cent in longevity. Comparing the improved districts with those not yet touched by the hand of the scavenger and sweeper, the average age in the cleansed is now thirty-four years, and in the foul only nineteen years, being a difference of 78 per cent.7


Man, originally rude, ignorant, and poor, shelters himself in the holes and caverns of the earth, or builds huts of sticks and brush. His children advance, and make themselves cabins of stones, and mud, and clay. Another generation emerge from these and dwell in houses; and the houses are successively improved and made more comfortable and healthy, from age to age, as intelligence and wealth increase.

Several generations ago, the dwellings of the laborers and the poor had no floors. The inmates stood and lived on the ground, which was often wet and muddy. Seeking more comfort, they covered this earth floor with rushes or straw, which they seldom renewed, and suffered to become the receptacle of much of the waste and filth of the family. All these habitations, with the rotting straw and the mud beneath, sent forth foul and noisome exhalations and caused sickness in the inhabitants.

Erasmus, the learned scholar and writer, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, in his description of England, said : “The floors of the houses generally were made of nothing but loam, and are strewed with rushes, which being constantly put on fresh, without a removal of the old, remain lying there, in some cases, for twenty years, with fishbones, broken victuals, and other filth, impregnated with the excretions of dogs, children, and men.”

Even the houses of the rich had no carpets. The king himself had no covering for his floors, except straw, which was sometimes spread to receive and conceal the dirt.

The structure of the houses of the great mass of the people gave them neither good protection from the elements abroad nor pure air within. They were loose and leaky, exposing the inmates to winds and storms. They had imperfect means of warming, and in many houses these were entirely wanting, while no means of ventilation were provided.8 They were equally ill-lighted. In early times they had for windows only the doorway and other open holes, which when closed left the family in darkness ; afterward they used horn or other semitranslucent materials. But in 1557, Hollingshead said, the general run of houses were beginning to be improved. Instead of glass to their windows, they used to have lattice-work, or panels of horn, glass being scarce and dear. 9 Earlier than this, even horn windows were a luxury accessible only to the rich, and beyond the reach of the great mass of the people. In 1584, Harrison, in his description of England, said : " Of old time our countrie houses, instead of glasse did use much lattise and that made either of wicker or fine rifts of oke in checkerwise. I read also that some of the better sort in and before the time of the Saxons did make panels of horne instead of glasse, and fix them in wooden calmes (casements) ; but as horne in windowes is now, 1584, quite laid downe in everie place, so our lattises are also growne into disuse, because glasse is become to be so plentiful, and within verie little so good, cheape, if not better than the other.” “Glass is now, 1839, introduced into almost every cottage of Great Britain,” 10 and most of the dwellings of the civilized world.

When glass was first introduced, it was so costly and perishable, that some families, even if they were able to purchase it, thought they could not afford to run the risk of its loss, when not in actual use; when, therefore, they had occasion to shut up their houses and leave them, they took the glass out and put it in a more secure place, or carried it with them. The Northumberland Household Book, speaking of Alnwick Castle, in 1573, said: “And because throwe extreme winds, the glass of the windows of this and other my lord’s castels and houses here in the country dooth decay and waste, yt were good the whole leights of everie windowe, at the departure of his lordshippe from lyinge at any of his castels and houses and downing the tyme of his lordshippe’s absence, or others lyinge in them, were taken doune and lade up in safety. And at sooche time as either his lordshippe or anie other sholde lye at anie of the said places, the same might then be set uppe of news with small charges, whereas now the decaye thereof shall be verie costlie and chargeable to be repayred.”11 In Scotland, as late as 1661, the windows of ordinary country houses were not glazed, and only the windows in the upper parts of the king’s palaces had glass; the lower ones having two wooden shutters.

Surely, then, the general population could no more indulge themselves in the luxury of glass at that time than their fathers could in horn windows in previous ages. In the early times the dwellings of the most favored were no better than the poorest now inhabit, and in some respects they were more unhealthy and uncomfortable.

A public report on the condition of the farmers of Scotland says that, in the sixteenth century, the houses even of the rich and the great were destitute of glass windows. The cottages of the poor were not only without glass, but also without chimneys. They were wretched, dirty hovels, built of stones and mud, or of clay and straw, filled with smoke and black with soot. But within a hundred years all the farmhouses, offices, and cottages of Scotland have been rebuilt, and they are now well-contrived, substantial, and commodious, and of course more healthy. 12

These are the accounts of Scotland. But, with some modification, they may be taken as the type of other progressive nations. The dwellings of America are still improving ; they are larger, more airy, better warmed and ventilated, more convenient, and give better protection against the causes of disease, than our fathers enjoyed.


The furniture of mediæval ages corresponded to the dwellings ; both were meagre, inconvenient, and uncomfortable, and both insufficient for the purposes of health, according to the notions of the present day. At the end of the thirteenth century the laborers’ families had one or more beds that cost from three to five shillings each, and most had a brass pot that cost from one to three shillings, and this was almost their only cooking-utensil.13 Nothing was said of tables and chairs. But two hundred and fifty years later, Markbam, in his “ Instructions to a Good Housewife,” says : “ A bare table will do as well as if covered with cloth ; wooden and pewter dishes and tin vessels for liquor are best, as being most secure.” Markham was one of the cautiously progressive spirits of his age. He halted between the conservatives, who held to old customs and were satisfied with wooden dishes and spoons, and the progressives, who were ambitious of a better style of domestic life, and wanted their table furniture to be made of pewter and tin. His advice is given to good housewives, presumptively to those who were thrifty and prosperous, and could therefore afford the cost of the new luxuries. So he recommends a mixture of these kinds,—wooden in part, and tin and pewter in part.

About the same time Holingshed speaks of the introduction of pewter utensils instead of treen (wooden) ones,—particularly platters, — and silver and tin spoons as substitutes for wooden articles, as remarkable proofs of luxury.

In another place Holingshed says, that in the village where he lived, “ there were old men who could remember when a man could hardly find four pieces of pewter in a good farmer’s house.” 14

These new articles of luxury were not within the reach of the poor in those days, for the “ pewter platter cost twelve pence and a tynnen quart ten pence, and a square tynnen pot six pence ; ”15 and as the wages of the man haymaker was fourpcnce, and of the woman haymaker twopence a day, beside their board,16 they must hesitate long before venturing upon such extravagance as pewter and tin for their tables.

Their bedchambers were furnished in a manner not more generous and comfortable than the kitchens and dining-rooms. Bishop Latimer was the son of a wealthy farmer of Leicestershire. In a sermon preached before the king, Edward VI., March 8, 1549, he spoke of the manner of life among the people of the middle classes, and said : “ My father was a yeoman ; he tilled as much as kept six men, and his mother’s dairy consisted of thirty milch-kine. He kept hospitality with the neighbors, and gave some alms to the poor. The family laid upon straw pallets or rough mats, covered with a sheet; the under coverlet of dog’s wain [very coarse mantle] or hap-harlots, [very rough cloth], and a good round log of wood under the head instead of a bolster or pillow. If within seven years after marriage a master of a family could purchase a mattress or flock-bed and add thereto a sack of chaff to rest his head, he thought himself well lodged.”17

This economy was necessary for people commencing housekeeping in those days, from the limited outfit of the bride. The bishop, in the same sermon to the king and the court, says :

“ My father married my sisters with a dowry of five pounds each.” He also spoke of the beginning of the change of treen [wooden] platters for pewter, and of wooden spoons for tin and silver. But it can hardly be supposed that the bishop’s sisters, with their twenty-five dollars’ outfit, — still less other young brides, marrying from or into families less wealthy than his father’s and with less than five pounds’ outfit, — would feel justified in adopting the new fashion of pewter for their table furniture; they were probably content with wood until they became more prosperous or ambitious.


Among the world’s great improvements, those in textile fabrics are the most prominent and beneficial. Cloths of manifold kinds, thick, strong, soft, and warm, are now produced instead of the few thin, coarse, hard, and cold sorts that were used in mediæval times.

McCulloch says : “ The luxury of a linen shirt was confined to the higher classes [in the sixteenth century and previously]. The cloth used by the bulk of the people was mostly of home manufacture, and, compared with what they now [1839] make use of, was at once costly, coarse, and comfortless.18 Cotton was then unknown to the rich as well as to the poor.

The introduction of cotton not only produced cloth cheap and within the reach of the poorest, but afforded garments to be worn next to the body that can be and are frequently changed and washed. Queen Elizabeth, some three hundred years ago, with all her wealth and power, with all her ambition and pride in display of dress, and even with the three thousand garments that she left behind, was, in some respects, more poorly and less healthfully dressed than the humblest woman of our day. The new varieties of woollen and cotton goods, their manifold adaptation to the wants of men, women, and children. allow opportunities of health and comfort and of personal cleanliness, that neither peasant nor prince, neither washerwoman nor queen, enjoyed or even conceived of in the ages gone by.


The same progress has been made in the means of nutrition. The improvements in agriculture, the better and more extensive cultivation of the earth, the introduction of new grains and vegetables, have greatly increased the quantity and variety of vegetable food, and the improved means of raising and preserving fodder for the winter have increased the amount of fresh animal food for the people throughout the year.

Potatoes, which are now on everybody’s table, were unknown to the civilized world before the latter part of the sixteenth century. They were a long time in getting into general use, and becoming a common and cheap article of diet for all; and for many years after they were introduced into Europe they were the rarest luxuries, to be bought and eaten only by the nobles and the wealthy. In 1633, in the list of prices established by proclamation of the government, potatoes were ordered to be sold for two shillings (fifty cents) a pound, equal to thirty dollars a bushel. A few years previously the wages of a bailiff of husbandry, head man on the farm, were fixed by the court at fiftytwo shillings (about thirteen dollars) a year; and of mechanics, carpenters, masons, etc., at eight pence (about sixteen cents), with board, a day.

Thirty-two years later, in 1665, Muffet, writing on food and diet, says : “ Potato-roots are getting to be quite common now ; even the husbandman sometimes buys them to please his wife.”

Grains have improved. More of the richer grains, wheat, etc., are raised, and the people have better bread. Morgan, in an old account of the agriculture of Scotland, 1590 to 1605, said : ‘‘They, the Scotch, eate harthcakes of oates, but in cities some have wheaten bread, which, for the most part, is bought by courtiers, gentlemen, and the best sort of citizens.” 19

Sir Frederic M. Eden, in his great and valuable work on the History of the Laboring Classes, quotes the Westmoreland Agricultural Report of 1797, which says that, “in Westmoreland, in 1797, a laboring man will eat sixteen pounds of oatmeal a fortnight.” The report adds : “ The cost of this is one

and a half to two and a half shillings, average two. Then his bread, which was almost his whole food, cost him a shilling [twenty-five cents] a week.”20 Substantiality of diet was the peculiar and exclusive privilege of the higher classes. Eden says : “ A maid of honor perhaps breakfasted on roast beef; but the ploughman in those good old times [sixteenth century], as they are called, could, I fear, only banquet on the strength of water-gruel.” 21

Harrison, in his description of England, says : “The bread throughout the land is made of such graine as the soil yieldeth : neverthelesse the gentilitie commonlie provide themselves sufficientlie of wheat, for their own tables, whilest their household and poore neighbors in some shires, are enforced to content themselves with rie and barlie : yea, in times of dearth, manie with bread made either of bran, or of otes, or of all together, and some acorns among, of which scourge the poore do soonest tast. sith they are least able to provide themselves better.” 22

“In the sixteenth century wheat was scarcely used at all, rye but little, mostly oats and barley by the laboring people.” 23

“‘Brown bread’ hath little or no floure left therein at all. It is not only the worst and weakest of all, but also appointed in old times for servants, slaves, and inferior people to feed upon. Hereunto likewise, because it is drie and brickie in the working, for it will hardly be made up handsomelie into loaves, some add a portion of rie meale, in our time, whereby the rough drieness or drie roughness thereof is somewhat removed.”24 “In champeigne countries, much rie and barlie bread is eaten, especially when wheat is scant and gesort.” 25

For three hundred years the laboring people have been gradually getting from oats and barley to rye, and from rye to wheat, and thus improving their nutriment, their capacity for labor, their health, and their longevity.

With the improvements in agriculture, the earth yields more abundantly; the products of the farms of Great Britain have much more than doubled since the days of Queen Elizabeth, and they better sustained the fourteen millions of people in 1820 than they did the six millions in 1550.

In 1691, Sir William Petty, in his elaborate essay on Political Economy, said: “ As for the land of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by draining of fens, improving of forests and commons, making heathy and barren grounds bear sain foyne and clover grass, meliorating and multiplying several sorts of fruits and garden stuffe, the land in its present condition is able to bear more provision and commodities than it was forty years ago.” 26 Improvements in the production of food have gone on more rapidly since Sir William’s day. McCulloch, writing in 1839, said: “Wheaten bread is now universally made use of in towns and villages and almost everywhere in the country. Barley is no longer used except in distilleries and in brewing. Oats are employed only in feeding horses. The consumption of rye bread is comparatively inconsiderable. The produce of the wheat crop has been, at the very least, trebled since 1760.” 27

Animal Food.

The improvement in the production of animal food is greater than in that of vegetable. “ According to the estimate of Dr. Davenant in 1710, the average weight of the net carcase of black cattle was only three hundred and seventy pounds, of calves fifty pounds, and of sheep twenty-eight pounds.”* In 1795, a committee of Parliament, who had the matter of the food supply under investigation, reported that cattle and sheep had at an average increased in size and weight about a fourth since 1732. McCulloch thinks that the increase is much greater than this, and that forty-four years later the average net weight of the cattle after drawing was five hundred and fifty pounds, of calves one hundred and five pounds, and of sheep over fifty pounds, making the increase of food offered to man from these animals from 50 to 100 per cent 28

In other civilized countries, both of Europe and of America, there has been a similar increase of the supply of vegetable and animal food, and the quality has gained as well as the quantity. These improvements did not stop in 1839, when McCulloch examined the matter and reported ; but without doubt they have gone on as rapidly within the last thirty years as in the last century.


There has been a greater improvement in fruits in respect to abundance, nutritiousness, and healthfulness. Instead of the hard, small, sour crab, we have hundreds of varieties of rich, nutritive, and digestible apples. Instead of the wild and worthless sloe, we have manifold kinds of healthy plums. Pears, peaches, berries, have also been multiplied and made subservient to the sustenance and strengthening of the human race.

So the farm, the garden, the orchard, have all increased their contributions to the diet of man immensely in quantity, and still more in nutritive power.

Famines and Plenty.

The seasons varied more in former ages than they do now : and agriculture, being imperfect, was less prepared to meet or modify the effects of the unfavorable vicissitudes of the weather. The crops therefore varied, and the people were very unequally supplied with food. In some years they might riot in abundance, and in others suffer from privation. In 1696, 1697, and 1698, the price of wheat in England averaged ninety-two shillings a quarter, and in the next succeeding six years the average price was thirty-three shillings and sixpence.

In those early days, the people had neither the means nor the habit of intercommunication ; consequently there was no general knowledge of the condition of agriculture, or of the amount of food produced, in the various nations of the world, or in the various parts of any single country, and not always even in the different parts of a single district.

Roads and Transportation.

Beside this want of knowledge in the favored countries of the necessities of food in others, and ignorance, among the people whose crops had failed, of the more abundant supply that was offered elsewhere, there was a want of the means of transportation, both by sea and land, from nation to nation and from district to district. There was not then the broad and generous commerce that now, with its comprehensive eye, watches over all the nations of the earth, and, seeing their poverty and their riches, carries the surplus food of those whose crops are abundant to supply the wants of those whose crops have failed or are scanty, and thus equalizes the means of sustenance and compensates for the unequal distribution from the skill of men or nature’s bounty.

Roads, as now in our least cultivated territories, were then hardly known ; in summer the ways not unfrequently consisted of the bottoms of rivulets, and in winter they were hardly passable. Many roads were impassable for any wheel-carriages, and the transportation was done on horseback. Even in Scotland, as late as the middle of the eighteenth century, all the goods, merchandise, and produce, even straw, hay, coal, etc., were conveyed in this way. The freight was usually placed in sacks, baskets, or panniers, suspended on each side of the horse, or fastened with ropes to the animal’s back in such way as the skill of the carrier could devise.

Wagons were then unknown; but when the distances between the places were very great, carts were employed, for the horse could not carry on his back a load sufficient to justify the expense of a long journey. These carts were heavy, clumsy, and difficult to be moved even when empty. At the same time, draught horses and cattle were of low breeds, imperfectly nourished, and weakened by exposure to cold-and storm in rude sheds, or perhaps with not even this shelter. They were consequently incapable of great exertion, carried but small burdens, and travelled slowly. The common carrier, from Edinburgh to Selkirk, thirty-eight miles distant, required a fortnight for his journey, going and returning, between the two places.29

This great labor of transportation added very much to the expense of merchandise when carried from the cities to the country, and to the cost of grain and all agricultural produce in the cities. Bishop Fleetwood says, that sometimes there was a very wide difference in the price of grain in London and in the country districts. One year, 1557, he quotes the market prices of wheat as ten, twelve, and thirteen shillings a quarter in several of the counties, and sixty-four shillings in the metropolis. 30

Jealousy of the Merchants.

Beside these inherent obstacles to equalizing the supply of food by means of trade, — carrying it from places where it was plentiful to places where it was scarce, — there was at that time, among both producers and consumers, a great jealousy of dealers in grain, and several laws were enacted in England to prevent their freedom of action. “especially in the reign of Edward VI., when the engrossing of corn, or the buying it in one market with the intent to sell it again in another, was made an offence punishable by imprisonment and the pillory ; and no one was allowed to carry it from one port to another without a license.” 31


The uncultivated people of early times seem to have had little of that calculating thrift and that discipline and self-denial which, by economy in consumption of food in the autumn and winter, would save enough for at least a meagre support, and prevent destitution in the following spring and summer. When their stores were exhausted, or nearly exhausted, they suffered from privation until the new crop came to their relief. This was manifested in the course of prices of grain through the years succeeding short crops. In 1556, after harvest, the price of wheat in England was eight shillings a quarter, and so continued until the following season. Grain was cheap and apparently abundant, want was out of sight, families lived freely until scarcity was forced upon them in the spring and summer, when the price rose to fiftythree shillings and fourpence a quarter, and so remained until the new harvest reduced it at once to eight shillings,32 and then the people again lived freely.

In 1317, wheat was twenty shillings, — two hundred and forty pence, — a bushel before harvest, and fell to ten pence when the new crop had been gathered. 33

  1. Chadwick, Sanitary Condition of Laboring Classes, p. 80.
  2. Chadwick, Sanitary Condition of Laboring Classes, p. 82.
  3. Ibid, p, S3.
  4. London Medical Times, August, 1857.
  5. McGowan, in Transactions of Social Science, 1860, p. 728.
  6. Chadwick, in Transactions of Social Science, 1860, p. 722.
  7. John May, in Transactions of Social Science, 1857, p. 403.
  8. McCulloch, Stat. Acct. Brit. Empire, II. 522
  9. Social Hist. Great Britain, I. III.
  10. McCulloch, Dict. Commerce, p. 603.
  11. Quoted by McCulloch, Dict. Com., p. 603.
  12. McCulloch, Stat, Acct. Brit. Empire, II. 518.
  13. Sir Fred. M. Eden, History of the Laboring Classes, I.
  14. Koberts, Social Condition of Southern Counties, p. 324.
  15. Ibid., p. 345.
  16. Social Hist. Great Britain, p. 16.
  17. Sermons, I. 93.
  18. Statistical Account of the British Empire, II. 512.
  19. Quoted by Eden in Hist. Laboring Classes, I. 515.
  20. Eden, Hist. Laboring Classes, I. 512.
  21. Ibid., 116.
  22. Quoted by Eden.
  23. Eden, I.
  24. Holingshed, Chronicles, p. 168.
  25. Holingshed, Chronicles, p. 168.
  26. Political Arithmetic, pp. 96, 97.
  27. McCulloch, Diet. Commerce, p. 182.
  28. McCulloch, Dict. Commerce, p. 261.
  29. McCulloch, Dict. Commerce, p. 995.
  30. Chronicon Preciosum, p. 99.
  31. McCulloch, Dict. Commerce, p. 403.
  32. Fleetwood’s Chronicon Preciosum, 113, 114.
  33. Eden, Hist. Laboring Classes.