England's Economic and Political Crisis
HISTORIC England (inclusive of all Britain) is easily first among the great nations that have yet arisen. It is above ancient Greece both in character and in solidity of genius ; it has surpassed Rome in dominion, and even in the impression of its influence on the world. But what of the England that now is ? And what of its living people ? Nature has made their island very beautiful to the eye ; thirty generations or more of the Englishmen who sleep in church tombs and churchyards, or on remote battlefields, or in the depths of many seas, have filled it with impressive monuments and memories; Time, the great artist, has touched the work of both with shades and tones that move imagination profoundly. But if we resist imagination, and scan them in a critical mood, what stuff shall we find in the English of our own day ? Do they uphold the greatness of their heritage ? Do they keep their nation to the level of its old renown ?
I am not satisfied to take for answer the morning beat of British drums, which rattle their reveille 'farther, year by year, and more noisily, up and down every meridian of the globe. For of nations, as of men, it is true that vigor may decline while progeny increases, and the conquests and colonies of Great Britain are no sure measure of the strength that stays in the loins from which they sprang. It must be within the island that surrounds her throne, among the people whom she summons to her parliaments and who bear the cost of her armies and her fleets, that the power of the empire of Queen Victoria has its springs. Let us search those sources to see whether they show signs of failing, or are flowing with full potency yet!
Race and circumstance, the prime factors in human history, are to be weighed both with and against each other, when we try to understand a nation and its career. Originally, no doubt, racial qualities are mostly, if not wholly, the product of circumstances; the product, that is, of conditions and of happenings that those affected by them did not control. But the birth-history of tribes and races is hidden from our knowledge in the densest darkness of prehistoric time. As they emerge into the dim light of tradition and legend, the differing races, the differing branches of each race, and the differing tribes in each branch are equipped in different modes and degrees for a certain independence and defiance of outward conditions. When we get our first glimpses of them, they have passed, almost invariably, out of old into new environments, and are less plastic in the new than they must have been in the old. They have acquired some power to react, more or less, on their surroundings, and to shape circumstances, in a measure, as well as to be shaped by them. That is the racial quality, the potential stuff, in each people, of which we have to make a just reckoning if we would understand their history. The natural, egotistic inclination of our minds is to overvalue it in the reckoning, — ascribing too much to the human agency in events, and too little to the circumstance that helps or hinders it. Nevertheless, it is possible, I think, to judge impartially between the two.
Remembering how closely akin the English are in blood to the Dutch and the Danes, and generally to the Low Germanic peoples of the Continent, one cannot reasonably maintain that their distinction in history is principally explained by a superiority inherent in themselves. On the other hand, it would be foolish to suppose that if English and Dutch had exchanged countries, say twelve centuries ago, — the English carrying with them such leaven of Celtic blood as they took from the conquered Britons, and the Dutch preserving their racial purity in the island as they have preserved it behind their dikes, — the history of the two lands would have followed lines unaltered by the exchange. There cannot be a doubt that racial qualities which Angles, Jutes, and Saxons brought with them from their older home were modified by Celtic intermixtures as well as by changed conditions, more especially in the west and north of the island of Great Britain, and that there was a resultant national character and spirit distinctively English, or British, and clearly to be reckoned with as a potent factor in English history.
But when we have made all the concession that is possible to inherent forces in English mind or English temper, and then glance at the independent circumstances that have favored and forwarded the working of them, through all the centuries from King Alfred to Queen Victoria, we have to recognize that the latter are much the weightier of the two in their influence on the great career of the English nation. I think, indeed, that no other notable people have owed so much to favoring circumstances and fortunate events, — to incidents that, in the teleological view, are markings of the providential hand. But even more of Heaven’s favors might easily have been wasted on a weaker race.
The fundamental circumstance, which seems in itself to half explain English history, is, of course, the insularity of the nation. No fact has been more considered, has received more comment; let us remind ourselves now of its significance.
We may safely believe that the institutions which have made England the political teacher of the world could not have been originally worked out, by the same people or by any other people, under conditions that have prevailed hitherto in any continental European state. The shelter of the island from foreign interference and surrounding perturbations was necessary to the evolution of the representative system of government, with supremacy in Parliament, responsibility in administration, security of just independence in courts ; and not less necessary to a persisting growth of the industries, the trade, and the resulting wealth, upon which the empire of Great Britain depends. In their
Against infection and the hand of war ;
. . . set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,”
the English have rejoiced in many and great advantages over every neighbor, and have used them with a capability that has wasted none. Protection from invasion is not more than half the blessed service their insulating sea has done them. It has put a happy curb on greedy ambitions in their kings and ministers ; kept them for nearly five hundred years from aggressive continental wars ; moderated their share in the frictions, jealousies, neighborhood rivalries, dynastic entanglements, of European politics. By effect of this, it has turned the energies of their ambition more profitably to remoter fields of commerce and colonization. At the same time, by shutting out many distractions, it has held their more careful attention to domestic affairs. It has fostered self-reliance in the national spirit, and unity of belief among Englishmen in one another. If it has fostered, too, some narrow selfsufficiency and unteachable contentment with English things and English ways, even those may have had value to the nation in times past, though losing their value now. By standing a little at one side of the movements of thought and feeling in continental Europe, the English people have experienced a more independent development of character and mind, tending sometimes toward narrowness, but oftener to the broadening of lines. In literature, there has been a fruitage not equaled in any other tongue ; in morals, there is an outcome of doctrine that has pointed, and of sentiment that has led, almost every practical reform in the modern world.
By more, too, than the sheltering and inwrapping of the sea, the island of the English has been a physically favored land. If nature had denied to it her remarkable gift of iron and coal, how different would have been the industrial career of its people, how different their economic state, how different their power and position in the world! Its climate, moreover, has singularly fitted the needs of a strong, deep-natured, and well-balanced race. The perfection of temperateness is in its summer and winter airs, gently and most equably warmed by the unfailing ocean stream from the south, and scarcely flushed by the mild radiance of a sun that stays low in the sky. The very steaminess of humidity that hangs about the land is the tenderest emollient ever mixed for nerves and brains, and counts among the reasons for strength and steadiness and a certain measure of sometimes helpful stolidity in English character.
If physical and geographical conditions have thus been potent factors in the extraordinary career of the British nation, events arriving accidentally, so to speak, in their history have been not less so. The first of such events in time, and possibly the most important, was the Norman Conquest. At the coming of the Conqueror, England was being feudalized according to the anarchical pattern set in Germany and France. The authority of the crown was waning, the independence of the great nobles increasing, and a process of decentralization going on that threatened to destroy the integrity of the kingdom, as the integrity of the old Germanic kingdom had already been destroyed. By the Conquest that process was summarily and lastingly checked. The deliberately reconstructed feudalism which the Conqueror then introduced was something very different from the natural growth of the feudal scheme. It was feudalism perfected in its forms as a land system, and throttled in spirit as a political organization of the realm. All its obligations were centred in the king. The royal courts were broadened in jurisdiction, and the royal functionaries armed with effective powers. The reins of government were masterfully gathered into the sovereign hand. As a consequence of this revolutionary change, the movements of political evolution in England were happily turned to a course exactly contrary to the direction in which they worked unhappily in France. In the latter country, king and commons were pushed together into combinations against the nobles. The king chartered communes in the towns, and used them as allies and supports until the royal power had won supremacy. Then all fell together in subjection to an absolutism with which neither barons nor burghers could cope alone. In England, on the contrary, the primary masterfulness of royalty, after the Norman Conquest, produced an early confederation of lords and commons against the crown, which proved to be a more fortunate arrangement of the contending forces. Absolutism was checked by a resistance that brought all the considerable interests and energies of English society into play and kept them in well-balanced action. The extorting of Magna Carta was the beginning of what may rightly enough be called a process of social nationalization in English politics, which has persisted to this day, and as the consequence of which the government of England became representative and responsible.
Where the stuff of English character really shows itself is in the grip with which the people have held political rights once acquired. Circumstances, brought about in the main by the Norman Conquest, gave the burghers of certain prosperous towns and the lesser landholders of the shires a voice with barons and prelates in asserting common liberties and rights and in parleying on great public affairs with the king. It was never possible afterward to silence that voice. Helpful circumstances continued to arise, but it was the temper of the people which made the most of them. The kings involved themselves in foreign wars, and their sovereign pretensions were lowered by their needs. Their subjects who had purses held fast to the strings, and by keeping the power to open their purses for the public treasury on agreement alone, and not on command, they kept a share and part in the government. From occasional participation, this became, after a time, systematic and regular. Out of the wreck of the old English kingdom that fell at Senlac, the English commons had preserved, in local matters, not a few of their primitive Germanic institutions. Among them was the shire moot, or county court, which grew partly into the form of a representative body, to which township delegates were sent. The king having learned that his subjects represented in the shire court had something to say on questions of taxation which he must listen to, it seems natural that the idea of summoning delegates from the shire courts to meet with barons and clergy, when such questions were discussed, should arise. Thus “ knights of the shire ” began to appear, occasionally at first, then always, in national councils or parliaments, and a representative legislature, that greatest political invention of the modern world, came into being.
By the civil Wars of the Roses, the nobles of England were so seriously weakened, and the royal power was so greatly enlarged in the end, that absolutism would probably have won its will, even then, if the footing of the commons, as the most substantial estate of the realm, had not been firmly secured. With all their arrogance, the willful Tudors could never quite shake off dependence, from time to time, on a representative parliament of the nation, to grant supplies to their treasury and assent to their acts.
Then came a second series of those important casual happenings by which the evolution of parliamentary government in England has been so singularly promoted. The change of dynasty — the arrival on the throne of a ridiculous sort of king out of Scotland, with an offensive crowd of Scottish favorites at his back — put a strain on the sentiment of loyalty that weakened it greatly. It might have recovered from the half contempt inspired by the first of the Stuarts, if the second had not put even harder trials on it by his perfidy and insolence. The completeness with which it was broken down, within one generation after Queen Elizabeth, could not have occurred if Elizabeth’s crown had passed to a native English line of successors. In the revolt that ensued there were success and failure. Monarchy was overturned, but only to demonstrate that Englishmen were unprepared to dispense with it. If the fatuous Stuarts, then brought back to a restored throne, had possessed any kind of kingly excellence, the reaction in their favor might almost have planted absolutism anew ; but their folly and their falsity persisted in making any revival of the old-time reverence for royalty impossible. By nothing less than the threatening of the Protestantism of England could they have provoked the nation so soon to a second revolt. In that remarkable rising of 1688-89 religious and political feelings were wonderfully joined, and acted to a revolutionary conclusion the most unanimous and the most perfect that appears in the annals of any nation.
But the favor of circumstances in the evolution of responsible government for England was not yet exhausted. The liberties of subjects, the franchises of citizens, the prerogatives of Parliament, had been rigorously guaranteed; the hereditary transmission of the crown had practically been subjected to parliamentary regulation and consent; and yet it might be possible for an able and artful prince to trouble the kingdom. Events were soon to erase even that possibility. Another change of dynasty brought a family of German dukes to the throne. They were utterly foreign and strange ; they were heavy and dull in intellect; they were helplessly ignorant of everything English, including the English tongue. Under such circumstances, with Parliament possessing an ascendency already won, it was inevitable that a ministry representing the Parliament should actually and fully take the reins of executive government into its hands; that the nominal sovereign should slip insensibly to a dependent and fictitious place, retaining little more than the regalia of his office, and employed for little move than ceremony and show on the stage of British politics. That came about first as a practical situation, and then it was legitimated as a constitutional fact. The evolution of responsible government in England was complete.
But popular government was still to come. So far it had only been prepared for, conditions arranged for it,— nothing more. In no just sense of the term was there anything democratic in the English political system until the present century had run a third of its course. It had exhibited the most admirable example of an aristocratic constitution topped with monarchy that ever took shape in the world. Its so-called commons were but an untitled or a lower-titled division of a political constituency that was thoroughly aristocratic throughout. Its representative Parliament, of the evolution of which I have been speaking, was elected in the later years of George III. by not more than 450,000 voters, out of a population in Great Britain and Ireland of about 22,000,000. Therefore if represented about one in fifty of the British nation, or one in ten of the grown men of the nation. Those 450,000 formed a political aristocracy a little more extensive than the social aristocracy of lords and gentry, but still excluding the vast majority of the people. Nevertheless, it was a broader aristocracy than ever had growth before in any country that gave political power to a class. Its bases were sunk to a small depth, at least, into the popular mass. It was in touch with the real commonalty of the nation at many points. Except in one direction it was not class-bound in its views, but was moved, for the most part, by a spirit really national and broad. The civil rights it had won were fairly shared with all its fellows. The disfranchised multitude were made as safe as its own members, in property and person, under the protection of the laws that its Parliament enacted, and of the courts that its disposition inspired. This feeling for civic equality, little corrupted by social and political inequalities, has been one of the marked distinctions of the English people. It is part of a moral sense in the race, which accounts for much in its history that is often credited to superior political genius. It explains, too, the long quietness with which political inequalities were submitted to. The one direction in which the class in power dealt unfairly with the politically powerless was the direction pointed by its landholding interests ; and not until a great industry in manufactures grew up, with interests of its own, did political discontent become serious. Then a new movement of evolution set in, which gradually has been substituting democracy for aristocracy in the political system.
The old aristocratic rule was admirable in many ways, while it lasted. It gave an efficiency and a tone to government that democracy cannot equal without long training. The blue blood and the wealth that controlled it were very far from giving cultivation or intelligence or high-mindedness to all their possessors ; but the average of culture and of high-minded intelligence in a small constituency selected by such advantages of fortune was sure to be higher than a like average in the general mass. It yielded more readily the lead in public affairs to men of superior talent and experience, and it supported them by an opinion better instructed, in the main. It maintained a higher standard of character and trained capacity in the public service. The national policy was thus directed and national business conducted with more wisdom, more steadiness, and more integrity, on the whole, than would probably have been the case under a government broadly popularized.
The intelligence in the old aristocratic constituency of Parliament produced a party in its ranks that grew strong enough to accomplish, in 1832, the first great extension of suffrage, by which the movement toward democracy in England was begun. A second step in the same direction was taken in 1867, and a third in 1885. One in seven of the total population of the kingdom, it is now computed, is in possession of the electoral franchise. Universal manhood suffrage — already in demand —would reach about one in five. Therefore, England is at present very nearly as democratic as the United States, and sure to become quite as democratic in the near future.
Now, this stupendous political change from an aristocratic to a democratic constitution, accomplished at three great leaps within sixty-five years, brings new conditions, from which England has yet to realize the most hazardous effects. So far, the old forms, feelings, opinions, of the aristocratic régime have lingered in existence and influence, with the curious vitality that English conservatism gives to everything old. Habits of deference, rooted by ages of transmission in the minds of tenants, tradesmen, and servitors of every order, have thus far been keeping a great mass of the newer voters under an influence from the “gentry” that is not known in America. Political parties have been generally controlled and manipulated by men of the old ruling class. Not much discredit has fallen as yet upon the name and character of the “ politician.” His work has been usually done with more decorum and dignity than in the United States, with somewhat less soiling of hands, and it offers a career more inviting to gentlemen in the proper sense of the word. The political mass is still quite inert. It has hardly acquired enough mobility for the free working in it of those perilous fermentations of democracy that are not to be escaped from, and that may bring, we dare hope, some great clarifying in the end. But the processes of mobilization are steadily going on, and the inevitable fermentations are not far away. For England the anxious moment of them is still to come. The slow democratic mass is already being stirred by influences from within itself; it will presently have learned independent motions of its own, and parties will be officered with fewer Oxford and Cambridge degrees. The “ caucus,” even now under experiment, will have assumed some dominating form; one by one all the parts of the American political “ machine ” will have been imported and set up, and the arts that operate it will have been acquired. For these things are not distinctively American ; they belong rather to a stage in the development of the motive forces and the working mechanism of democratic government that we are passing through, and that Great Britain is approaching.
But when England arrives at that stage, the situation is likely to be more serious for her than it is for us, because she is less prepared for it, and less willing to prepare. The firmest believer in democracy does not shut his eyes to its weaknesses, its vices, its perils. He only believes that its weaknesses may be strengthened, its vices diminished, its perils lessened, by popular education, and by time slowly ripening the fruits of it. Here in America he finds a justification for his faith, in the cheerful energy and substantial unanimity with which popular education is supported and urged. In England he is discouraged by a lack of earnestness and a want of agreement In that saving work. The spirit of the undertaking has been half paralyzed from the beginning by the attitude of the English Church. Down to 1870 the Church had successfully disputed the right of the national government to assume any duty or responsibility connected with the maintenance or management of elementary schools. In that year, despite its opposition, there was passed through Parliament an act that divided both the duty and the responsibility between the Church and the State ; or rather, it asserted, on the part of the State, a right to pick up and assume such remainder of duty in the matter of providing elementary schools as the Church might neglect. Wherever a school, sufficient for the needs of the locality and satisfactory to inspectors appointed by the education committee of the Privy Council, was voluntarily maintained, by Church organizations or otherwise, with its pupils free to attend or not to attend religious exercises or instruction, the government would contribute annually to its support a certain sum per pupil. Where any borough, town, parish, or rural district lacked such sufficient and satisfactory school or schools, the government would order the election of a local school board, and the collection of a school rate for the partial maintenance of the needed school, and would likewise grant aid to it from the national fund. This produced two very distinct and quite conflicting school systems, namely, the system of the “ voluntary schools, " so called, and that of the " board schools,”between the partisans of which there has been an antagonism that shows no sign of disappearing, and that does most obviously weaken the zeal and impair the efficiency with which common teaching for the multitude is carried on.
An American visitor to England, who spends some little time in the country, can hardly fail to become conscious of three serious facts : (1) that there is a strong class feeling against much education for those who are looked on as underlings and servants, — a feeling more prevalent and more pronounced than the shamefaced sentiment of like meanness that is whispered in some snobbish American circles ; (2) that the “ school rate ” seems to be the most begrudged of English taxes, the most sharply criticised, the most grumbled at, — and this to a degree for which there appears nothing-comparable in America; (3) that the opposition to secular schools, fostered by the Church and ostensibly actuated by a desire for religious instruction in the schools, is largely supported in reality by the two sentiments indicated above. The party at the back of the voluntary schools appears, in fact, to include, along with many undoubted friends of popular education, all varieties of unfriendliness and all degrees of the friendliness that lacks liberality. Naturally, that party controls the present conservative government, and the grant to its schools from public funds has recently been enlarged. Yet even before this had been done, the schools in question were so little “ voluntary ” that but seventeen and a half per cent, or thereabouts, of the annual cost of maintaining them was supplied by voluntary contributions, and some three per cent from endowments. About five per cent of their income was still collected in 1896 in school fees from the children, and the remainder came from the national school fund. While the local ratepayers of England and Wales added 21s. 2d. per pupil, on the average, to the government grants for expenditure on the board schools, the supporters of the voluntary schools, receiving equal grants, added only 6s. 9 1/2d. per pupil to their expenditure. The economy of the voluntary schools is as attractive to a majority of ratepayers as the management of them is attractive to clergy and Churchmen. At present they count half a million more pupils than appear in average attendance at the board schools.
If we compare the expenditure on elementary education in England with that in the state of New York (which, among American states, is not exceptionally advanced in this matter), there appears to be scanty excuse for the grudging temper in which our English cousins scan their school bills. In round numbers, the population of New York state is 6,500,000, and that of England and Wales 30,000,000, or four and a half times greater. But the total income of all elementary schools in England and Wales — both voluntary schools and board schools — from all sources in 1896 was reported by the Committee of Council on Education to be £10,144,054, or about $50,000,000. The reported amount of moneys raised the same year in the state of New York by local and general taxation and from the income of the permanent school funds for public schools (corresponding to the English board schools) alone was 823,286,644. Beyond this was the expenditure of parochial and private schools, in which some 200,000 pupils received instruction. Of the latter there are no statistics, but an estimate of $3,000,000 to be added to the sum given above is surely very moderate. Relatively to population, therefore, New York gives more than double the sum that England and Wales are giving to common schools, and gives it, I venture to say, with much greater willingness.
Some, at least, of the colonial provinces of the British Empire make nearly the same showing in comparison with the home country. For example, the Canadian province of Ontario, with about 2,250,000 inhabitants, expended in 1896 $3,846,060 on elementary public schools, and $749,970 on secondary or high schools, while 349 Roman Catholic and Protestant separate schools, having an average attendance of 25,000 pupils, were otherwise maintained. In proportion, Ontario is applying money to popular education with twice the liberality of England.
If constitutional defenses against hotheaded action by majorities drummed hastily together in excited times had been provided in England, as they have been provided in the United States, the apparent lukewarmness of the country in its undertakings for popular education would still be sufficiently dangerous; but England has no such defenses. Her Parliament is checked neither by a written constitution, requiring time, discussion, deliberation, for its amendment, nor by a court empowered to interpret the constitution, nor by an upper house that can stand against the lower, nor by an executive right of veto that the sovereign dare exercise. It is the omnipotent maker and construer of constitutional law. It can turn and overturn at will, if it represents but momentarily the will of a majority in the nation. At a single sitting it may do things that would require, in the United States, the separate and concurrent action of the federal Congress and the legislatures of thirty-five states, and that would consume not less than a year of time. Far graver, then, will the situation of England be, when democracy there becomes as active and as independently organized as in the United States, and far more serious will be all the political effects of thoughtless ignorance among the people.
But more than changed political conditions are to be studied, in considering the present state and situation of England as compared with her past. So much of her weight in the world is the weight of her vast wealth that the economic circumstances on which that wealth depends are scarcely second in the reckoning of what has been and what will be. Says Dr. Cunningham, the historian of English Industry and Commerce : " England’s place as a leader in the history of the world is chiefly due to her supremacy in industry and commerce. The arts which the citizens of Greece and Rome despised have become the foundations of her pride, and the influence which she exercises on the world at large is most clearly seen in the efforts which other nations make to follow the steps by which she has attained this supremacy.” The same writer adds : " It is not a little curious to remember that this supremacy is of very recent growth ; in the great period of English literary effort it was undreamt of; England seemed to be far behind. There was no question of taking a first place in the world, but there was much reason to fear that she could not maintain an independent position in Europe.” And again: " When Elizabeth ascended the throne, England appears to have been behind other nations of western Europe in the very industrial arts and commercial enterprise on which her present reputation is chiefly based.” Especially were the English behind their kinsmen of Holland until near the middle of the seventeenth century. It was the desperate fight with Spain, in Elizabeth’s time, that rallied them to the sea, as a really maritime people, and made them energetic competitors of the Dutch ; and it was not until Cromwell’s day that the islanders and the netherlanders had come to be rivals in commerce or colonization or naval war, on fairly equal terms. But then, when their footing in the oceanic lists had been gained, they won all the prizes easily ; and it is not strange that they did so, for they had vast advantages on their side. Against the ores, the coal, and the unequaled sheep-pasturage of England, there was the native poverty of the Holland fens. Against increasing fruits of unmolested peace for the shepherds, the weavers, the miners, and the smiths of the seagirt kingdom, there were the distractions and destruction of great wars that surged continually about the Netherlands, broke repeatedly through the defenses of the Dutch, and ended in their exhaustion before the eighteenth century was done. How could the result be any other than it was ?
The English should burn offerings to the god Circumstance for their original conquest of the dominion of the sea. For the keeping of it they may reasonably give proud credit to their own masterful powers. And it was not by valor only nor by energy alone that they spread their empire so wide and drove their trade so far. They had been politically trained for colonization, and for domination too, in their own parliamentary school. In the economic belief of the age that opened their career, possession and monopoly of sources and markets, in dependencies and colonies, were necessary to profitable commerce on the greater scale. The English were sure winners of a race for which that doctrine laid the lines. No other people were half so well prepared for distant rule or for distant colonial settlement. Their colonies thrived because they were true plantings, given root in their own soil, with enough of the life of self-government and self-reliance for a healthful growth. Their dependencies were ruled with sense and vigor, because administrative powers were localized in the midst of them to the greatest possible extent, and not centred jealously at the far-off London court. Whether we attribute this wise policy to political genius in the English people, or to political habits of mind and action acquired in their domestic experience, matters little. The essential fact is that it gave them success in the management of colonies and distant conquests, where Frenchmen and Spaniards failed alike, and left them no rival to be seriously feared after the Dutch fell back.
But after all, as I said in beginning, it is in their own country that the primary sources of English wealth and power, past, present, or future, must be found. The great commerce of the British Empire is underlaid and supported by the great industries of the British kingdom. There we touch the corner-stones of English power, and the stability of them is a proper subject of close inquiry. At the beginning, in their more important industries, as in their bolder seamanship and commerce, the English were learners and borrowers from their continental neighbors. At different periods, from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth, Dutch, Flemish, and Huguenot artisans, successively, brought over to them the mysteries of the finer manufacture of wool, cotton, and silk. But those arts, when borrowed, were at a primitive stage, and it was English ingenuity and enterprise that raised them to the astonishing importance that they began to assume little more than a century ago. During the period in which the economic foundation of their fortunes, nationally, was laid, the English showed themselves to be, first an eminently teachable people, and then an eminently inventive people, for the improvement of their teachings. Between the middle and the close of the eighteenth century they produced a series of great mechanical inventions, the most amazing in economic effects that had ever been given to the world. The carding, spinning, and weaving machinery invented by Paul, Hargreaves, Arkwright, Crompton, Kay, and Cartwright, the steam-engine of Watts, the hot blast of Neilson in iron-smelting, the puddling and rolling processes of Cort, gave England the sudden advantage of such a combination of revolutionary improvements in leading industrial arts as had never occurred before ; and her people made the most of their priority in the use of them. They had already borrowed the factory system from Italy, in the first half of the century, and they now applied it, with almost magical results, to the organization of their machine-armed labor. Before other nations learned to handle the new industrial forces they had taken possession of the markets of the world.
A little later, they clinched the possession by a measure of extraordinary sagacity, to which they were singularly led. To other nations, then and since, the question, for industry and commerce, between freedom and legislative meddling, has been mischievously confused and disguised. To the fortunate English it came nakedly and pointedly, with all sophistries and false pretenses stripped away, as a question, narrowed and well defined, between gain for a class and plenty for the mass. In their experience, a “ protective ” industrial policy showed one feature more conspicuously than any other, and that was protection of high prices for food, to benefit landowners and farmers at the expense of all others in the community. This brought straight home to their comprehension the fundamental issue, between few who produce, in any industry, and many who consume, and enlightened them to the acceptance, once for all, of the broad general principle of freedom for industrial interchange. Having swept “ protective ” corn-laws from their statute-books, they proceeded with little delay to erase everything of the kind from their economic policy. It was like the removal of plate armor from a warrior, to give him the whole use of his limbs, the whole strength of his muscles, the whole skill of his training. It ended for them the handicapping of one industry by " protections ” contrived for another: woolen manufactures by “protected ” wool-growing, machine-making by “protected” iron-making, tanning and shoemaking by “ protected ” cattleraising. It ended fatuous bounty-paying for the creation of new employments by a process more costly than the pensioning of the unemployed. It ended the imposition of taxes in disguise, to be collected from every buyer of the smallest thing, not by government for its revenue, but by the maker of the thing for his gain. It released the working millions of England from every needless burden. It released English capital and enterprise from every trammel, and guaranteed them against all ignorant political meddling with their practical affairs. As they have stood thus emancipated, stripped of harness and foolish panoplies, it has been as impossible for any “ protected ” people to break the industrial and commercial supremacy of the English as for a mailed knight of the Middle Ages to do battle successfully with a buckskin-shirted scout of the recent West.
But the security in which they have held their economic ascendency for more than a hundred years has bred, it appears, the kind of contemptuous carelessness that so often has fatal endings. They have despised their competitors too long to be alert in watching them. They have lost the teachableness that they showed at the beginning of their career. They scorn to learn better ways than their own, when better ways are found by other people. That unteachableness, moreover, would seem to have been growing on them while their own inventiveness declined. If we take the period since Hargreaves patented his spinning jenny, in 1770, as being the great age of mechanical and scientific invention, the English have a remarkable part in the achievements of the first half of it, but their share in the triumphs of the later time is small. Excepting the Bessemer process of steel-making, they have given no revolutionary invention to the world since George Stephenson finished the Stockton and Darlington Railway, in 1825. Nor have they been more active in the minor than in the major fields of invention. American ingenuity, German research, French dexterity, have all been contributing to the improvement of methods, processes, and instruments, in the industrial arts, much more than has come from the English, in the last half-century. If they were quick learners, this need not have been a serious default; but they are not. Their slowness, apparently, is not so much intellectual as willful. Nobody can accuse the English people of a lack of brainpower ; but by nature they are stubborn, and by habit they have grown too satisfied with themselves in the long enjoyment of their supreme success. Thus, nature and habit have combined to make them the most unteachable among the greater peoples in the civilized world. They seem to have arrived at a state of mind that almost forbids the acceptance, especially from a foreign source, of any new thing, whether it be a new convenience or a new tool, a new system in business or a new dish for the table. The signs of this disposition that are said to be discoverable in the great workshops are matters of expert knowledge, which I am not prepared to discuss ; but the ordinary traveler sees enough of it, in clumsy methods and perversely awkward arrangements that have no good right of survival in this dexterous and contriving age.
One or two generations ago, the English might thus chill their inventive faculties and seal their minds against instruction without serious commercial consequences. But that is no longer possible. The general activities of the world have attained too quick a pace. No advantage of position or possession can stand against deftness, speed, economy of labor and time. The whole world, Orient and Occident, is getting to its feet now in the industrial race, and the prizes are for the lithe and swift. That the English have begun to feel with growing alarm that they are losing ground in the race is plainly confessed ; and there are those in their own midst who plainly tell them why they fall behind. Last September, for example, one of the London daily newspapers, commenting upon a report on colonial trade, gave significant illustrations like the following: “ Some time ago English manufacturers monopolized the trade in miners’ picks. But they sent in a clumsy article, far too heavy for the miners to wield. The Americans sent in a short, neat, easily handled pick, which at once drove the British tool out of the market. We lost the trade of Victoria in tacks by failing to pack them in cardboard boxes instead of paper packages. We were cut out in the market for cartridges by declining to pack them in packages of twenty-five instead of one hundred. ' Both these defects,’ we are told, ' have now been remedied, but the trade has to be regained.’ In very many cases the shape of British articles is unsuitable to Victoria. The hammer, for instance, is not, in the opinion of Victorian carpenters, nearly so well shaped as the American hammer, but the British pattern seems unalterable.” The same journal said further : “ South Australia takes the view that ' British merchants are too often content to rest upon past laurels, and to be satisfied with continuing in their manufactures and business old styles and methods, — in short, are too conservative.’ ” “ Conservatism ” is quite too respectable a word for all that is involved in this matter. If our British cousins had defined it to themselves with a little more accuracy, they might have cherished their “ conservatism ” with less pride, and prepared themselves better for the changed conditions of a very radical age.
It is probable, however, that neither failing inventiveness nor growing unteachableness will account for all that seems wanting in the management of English business affairs at the present time. The contempt with which trade and “business” generally (except, perhaps, banking and brewing) are looked upon by the land-owning caste, whose social superiority is conceded, and whose opinion is penetrating and powerful, must have been having a constant tendency to deflect practical talent from the home arenas of business, and to send it abroad, into colonies and dependencies, and to other countries where ability of every useful species is surer of respect. Besides that influence of repulsion there are the strong attractions that pull in the same way, outwardly, from the narrow and crowded island to more open and adventurous fields. In English affairs, alone, spread over the world as they are, there arises an outside demand for executive and administrative capacity, to govern, to manage, to command, to direct, which taxes the home supply very heavily. All considered, the ceaseless drain of practical talent from England is enormous, and leaves us no reason for surprise if we find signs of some deficiency of it there, in those services that are scorned by a pretentious caste.
Three causes, then, I conclude, have been operating together to diminish, relatively at least, and in their own country, the economic capability that originally secured for the English people their supremacy in production and trade, namely : (1) the dulling of inventive faculties by excessive confidence and contentment; (2) the crusting of the commercial mind by that same influence with a disposition that resists teaching; (3) the drafting of practical talent away from the mother country into every quarter of the globe, by increasing attractions and demands. None of these causes can be easily overcome ; and if, as appears certain, they have already begun, in a serious way, the yielding of ground to foreign competition in British fields of trade, one cannot see where or how the backward movement will be stopped. For several countries, notably Germany and the United States, have been assiduously in training for the competition, and are entering it well prepared.
As the whole fabric of British power is sustained by the national wealth, it looks more insecure than it has looked before since the American colonies were lost. Yet the architects of the empire continue to build upon it more ambitiously than ever. They suffer no year to pass without stretching the bounds of the sovereignty of their queen and heaping new responsibilities upon it. Lord Rosebery, speaking in 1896, reckoned the additions of territory that had been made to the British Empire within twelve previous years at 2,600,000 square miles, or twenty-two times the area of the British Isles. That averages the acquisition every year of a province greater than France. Last October, Mr. Broderick, Under Secretary of State for War, quoted the ex-premier’s estimate with assent, which makes it doubly authoritative. And the taking in of barbaric regions, which British armies must guard, British fleets keep in touch with, British administrators control, British statesmen be responsible for, goes on continually.
To what end ? If it be true that England is losing ground in her older markets, can she save herself commercially by political possession of new ones ? The eighteenth century might have said yes, but no doctrine in our day will justify that line of a national policy. To the impartial looker-on, there seems to be a strain in it that must have its inevitable breaking-point, — not indefinitely far away. If all the jealous and envious rivalries provoked had stayed at the relative weakness which they showed even thirty years ago, — if Germany, Russia, France, stood no stronger than they were when the third Napoleon fell, — Great Britain might still regard them with small anxiety; but the substance of power, which is organized resource, has been growing on the Continent, during these thirty years, much faster than it has been growing in England. There are powers in Europe now that only need combination to put England in fearful peril. And there is no friendliness to restrain them. They are all hungry for the territorial plunder of Africa and the Asiatic East, and resentful of the huge share that the British have grasped. Only one strong nation in the world can be named that would not go eagerly into a fight with Great Britain for the dividing of her possessions, if opportunity favored. That one is the United States, which does not covet territory, and has no ambitions to be satisfied by aggressive war. Were it not for a single black memory, there might be between the kinsfolk of England and America a closeness of friendship that all Europe would not dare to challenge. Americans find it hard to forget how the ruling class of England rejoiced when the calamity of appalling civil war overtook their republic and it seemed likely to fall. They forget more easily that the plain people of England bore little part in that rejoicing, and they do not sufficiently understand how fast the aristocratic England that so offended them seven - and - thirty years ago is disappearing, and how surely the democratic England that has immense claims on their fraternal good will is taking its place. Perhaps they will remember and perceive these things in time to be drawn near their mighty British mother in some hour of sore need. That no such hour may come is the fervent wish of every American whose blood warms with the pride of kinship when he reads the great story of the English race. Yet how can we hope that it will not come, unless the public mind of England is roused to a clearer apprehension of the changed conditions that have risen in the world since the nineteenth century was young, — unless it shall wake to see that the imperial “forward policy” of advancing flags and drums has had its full day, and that the time has come for a domestic “ forward policy,” in English workshops and common schools, to be vigorously taken up ?
J. N. Larned.