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being considered the food of the poor, was limited to the price of one penny for two pounds, or two pounds and a half, at a time when wheat was sold for seven shillings and eight pence the quarter; so that the former was only at one-twentieth of the present price, while the latter was about one-tenth of the present price. Nay, in the 17th century, wheat bore a much higher ratio to animal food than in our times, for it appears by the Eton tables, só often referred to by authors, that the former bore a higher price during the whole of that century than it did for forty years preceding the year 1773, whereas butchers' meat bore only half the price in the former period of what it did in the latter.' Previous to the 18th century, therefore, it appears that animal food constituted the chief sustenance of the laboring poor, and that wheat, which is now their principal food, was little used but by the upper ranks. Oats and rye, even in the southern parts of England, were then the most common farinaceous articles in use. As civilization advanced, and agriculture improved, the proportion of animal food became again greater, for the raising of food for cattle, which formerly consisted solely of natural, pasture, has become a great branch of agriculture, not only by the improvement of pasture by tillage, but by the cultivation of hay, turnips, carrots, cabbages, and potatoes. Some of these articles, now the common food of cattle, were, two hundred years ago, considered as delicacies for the human species.
2nd. The next cause of the frequency of famines in those ages, was the scanty production in relation to the numbers and necessities of the consumers, owing to the more simple manners of the times. Before the introduction of refinement and luxury, there was no inducement to produce more than what was required for mere subsistence. The quantity of grain employed in later times in brewing, distilling, feeding of horses, and other heads of unnecessary consumption, becomes a sort of disposable surplus or reserve, which in years of scarcity may be turned into the channels of necessity. It is evident, therefore, though at first sight paradoxical, that luxury, or what on a narrow view would be called waste, is the principal resource and security against famine. In fact, what prospect can be so dreadful, as that in years of common plenty there should be produced just enough and no more than what will suffice for the wants of nature? When this is strictly the case, every bad season must be followed by famine. In consequence of there being no demand, except for the purpose of bare human subsistence, the prices of corn in the periods of
1 See Fleetwood's Chronicon Pretiosum, and other works, referred to by Dr. Price, in his work on Reversionary Payments.
our history above alluded to, fell much farther below the average than they do in this age. The consequence of this was that farmers had no motive for keeping up an abundant and equal supply. The unnecessary expenditure in years of plenty, therefore, may be considered as a perpetual public granary, far more. permanent and less precarious than any that could be made in storehouses, where grain is liable to deterioration and decay, from vermin or putrefaction, and which requires unremitted vigilance to maintain and replenish. However commendable and expedient. it may be therefore to make retrenchment in the above mentioned articles of luxury, under the pressure of scarcity, it would be highly impolitic and dangerous to make such retrenchments perpetual.
3rd. The want of internal commerce. It appears from the records of those times, that there was no method of equalising the consumption of different seasons, for in the course of the same year the price would vary, not by a third or a fourth part; not three or four times, but eight or nine times, as may be seen by inspecting the tables that have been constructed of the annual prices of wheat from the year 1202 till the year 1764. It appears from the same tables, that the plenty of one year was not called in aid of the scarcity of another, for a very wide difference between two consecutive years is observed constantly to occur. It equally appears that the wants and distresses of one part of the country were not relieved by the greater plenty that prevailed in adjoining districts. It is mentioned in the Chronicle of Dunstable, a document frequently quoted by historians, that while wheat was sold at Dunstable for a crown the quarter, it was sold at Northampton for eight shillings. There were in those days many. natural and unavoidable obstacles to free intercourse, such as the want of high roads, canals, and posts. But these difficulties might have been surmounted had it not been for a law prohibiting the transportation of corn from one district to another.
4th. There was no corn imported from foreign countries in those ages.
Lastly. What completed the annihilation of commerce, and carried public distress to the highest pitch, was, that the popular odium, and the severity of the laws against dealers in provisions, were then at their height, for all such dealers were proscribed. under the contumelious appellation of forestallers, regraters, engrossers, badgers, and jobbers. The monkish authors stigmatise them by every opprobrious epithet which language can furnish: the penalties inflicted by law were forfeiture of goods and chattels, pillory, imprisonment, banishment; and in the reign of Edward III. the punishment was made death by a statute, which was re
pealed, however, in the same reign. This reign, though so glorious by the splendor of its victories abroad, appears to have been one of the most calamitous as to its domestic interests, for beside the evil of foreign war, famine and pestilence raged with the utmost severity, to which were superadded great political ignorance and considerable civil misrule, of both which the preceding statement, as well as the great depreciation of coin, and the fixing the price not only of the necessaries of life but of labour, may be taken as examples.
When we reflect, therefore, that there was no relief to be derived in case of scarcity, from one season to another, from one year to another, from one county to another, nor from one country to another, we may safely affirm, that of all the causes of famine which have been enumerated, except bad seasons, the want of commerce had the greatest share in producing them.
What then are the changes that have taken place since the middle of the 15th century, which have ever since that time prevented sarcity and dearth from amounting to famine? The more immediate causes seem to have been the freedom of internal commerce, which began to take place about the above-mentioned period, and importation from foreign parts, the mention of which is first met with in history a little later. Not long afterwards, civilization and commerce began to make rapid advances, under the Princes of the House of Tudor, and have continued to flourish and extend themselves ever since, so as in the course of three centuries to raise this country to its present state of unequalled prosperity and grandeur. The improved state of agriculture, and its becoming more honorable, together with the introduction of potatoes, have been additional resources in later times. And it is certainly none of the least advantages concomitant on wealth and industry, that they have been instrumental in preventing such grievous calamities as famine; for however deplorable the evils of the present day may be, how far short are they of what would have occurred in those periods from short crops in two consecutive years, such as the last and the present (1800)? Such an occurrence would then have been productive of famine, and probably of its usual concomitant pestilence: the state of society and manners in those days being such that the stock of food produced and imporced, bore a much smaller proportion to the population than in our times; and the prejudices of the age were such as not to allow middle men to apportion and equalize the consumption of different seasons of the year, nor of different districts, as is now so happily exemplified. Having premised this much with regard to former ages, let us
I See Illustration I.
now enquire into the causes of the present scarcity and high price of provisions..
The summer and autumn of the year 1799, were colder and more rainy than in any other in the memory of man, and crops have never in our times been so scanty nor so badly got in. The enormous deficiency of one third of an average crop is the least which any intelligent calculator has assigned, and many have com puted it much lower. It was one of those seasons, which in the 14th or 15th century, would certainly have been followed by famine. And how has this been prevented but by those operations of commerce, whereby the consumption of the several seasons of the year, and of the various districts, have been equalised and com→ pensated, and by which the abundance of other countries has been called to our aid? Had the product of last year (1799) been brought to market in winter, in the quantities and at the prices of a year of plenty, who does not see that this must have consumed that portion of the total supply which ought to feed the summer markets? Could this economical reserve for summer subsistence have been effected by any other means than by an advanced price, withholding from the consumption of one part of the year what was necessary for the supply of another? And had there not been persons, whether farmers or dealers, qualified by their enterprize, and enabled by their capitals to accumulate and reserve the articles of life, and to convey them where they were most wanted, we must have gone without bread in the months of June and July last, and we should run the same risk next summer, considering the deficiency of the crop of the present year (1800).
It is thought by many that it would be a most fortunate circumstance for the country, if the farmers and graziers were all to carry their crops and cattle immediately to market, without the intervention of a middle-man. Let us see what would be the consequence of this. If the farmer were a poor man, he would be under the necessity of selling his corn for what he could get, in order to pay his rent; the prices would be at or near those of plentiful years, the market would be glutted, and the article would be consumed beyond the proportion due to the other months of the year, just as happened in what may be called the ages of famine. On the other hand, those farmers who are possessed of some capital, and who can afford to reserve part of their stock in hand for the spring and summer months, must have a much larger profit than a dealer, in order to defray their expences, and to indemnify themselves for their loss of time in bringing so small a quantity to market. Add to this the great cruelty of compelling a farmer or grazier, whether rich or poor, to repair to a distant market at a' great expence and loss of time, to the neglect and detriment of his
domestic concerns, which it is of the utmost importance to the public as well as himself, that he should attend to with unremitting labor, undisturbed and undivided vigilance and attention. It is manifest, therefore, that it is only by means of middle-men, possessed of capital, that this salutary system of public economy can be carried into effect. There is here a fortunate, or rather a providential coincidence of private interest with public utility, accomplishing purposes which it is not in the power of human wisdom to bring about by the most elaborate system of regulation. It would in fact be an imputation on that being who has framed the human mind, as well as external nature, to allege that there should exist a discordance in the one any more than the other, from the operation of those laws which are established in the moral, equally as in the physical world. This merchant or middle-man, whether branded with the appellation of forestaller, monopolist, regrater, badger, or other opprobrious term, is he who lays up and reserves for the day of want in one season, what would have been heedlessly squandered in the preceding season, but who in ages of prejudice and ignorance was consigned to persecution, ignominy, and even death. A merchant who deals in other commodities, has in all ages and nations been considered as the benefactor of mankind, engaged in a fair and honorable occupation, conducive to the comfort and accommodation of society; whereas the dealers in provisions have been objects of reproach and contumely, though of all others the most useful to the community.
Let us see whether it is possible to draw a line between what is called a merchant and a middle-man. Suppose a dealer in cattle on a journey from the metropolis with a view to make a purchase in distant parts of the country, and that at the distance of fifty miles he meets a grazier who has brought his cattle fifty miles farther, but instead of proceeding to London, is desirous of disposing of them here, in order that he may save time and expence, and return home to mind the affairs of his farm: is it conceivable that any prejudice can arise to society from the dealer purchasing these cattle at this spot more than if he had purchased them on the farm? Now if this is fair and legal, is it not equally so to make such a purchase at any other distance from the market? If it is not, where is it that fair dealing ends and forestalling begins, is it at one third or two thirds of the journey, is it at Northampton or Dunstable, at Uxbridge or Knightsbridge? Will it be maintained that the owner of cattle will
In a case tried before the Chief Justice of the King's Bench, about this time, a dealer was convicted and punished for having bought cattle from a grazier who had brought them as far as Knightsbridge, on the way to Smithfield. Some dealers in corn have been tried and convicted in the same manner by the same judge.