THE ECONOMIC HISTORY OF ENGLAND.* THIS book contains the substance,
practically unaltered, of two series of lectures delivered in the University of Oxford in 1888 and 1889 by the late Professor Rogers, who died before he could revise them for the Press. His son, Mr. Arthur Rogers, who edits the volume, remarks that their aim is rather to expound the method used by his father than to accumulate or communicate new theories. This method consisted in diligently searching out from original autho- rities enormous masses of facts, pertinent and relating to the production and distribution of wealth in England during the Middle Ages, and in tracing their progress by the same means up to the present time. In the light of the direct evi- dence thus obtained, Professor Rogers was prepared to discuss and criticise the works of the older and theoretic economists, who did not study, or at any rate did not collect, facts, and with whose conclusions he sometimes found himself at variance. He was a man of immense and untiring industry. He did not, it is true, always read his facts aright,—for who can be infallible P But he was possessed of great knowledge of his subject, and had an intimate acquaintance with the practice of agriculture, which was an invaluable acquisition to * The Industrial and Commercial History of En land. By the late Janes R. Thorold Rogers. London : T. Fisher Unwin. 1892. him. Nor did he shrink from admitting himself to be in the wrong, in the face of additional evidence. In style he was always lively and readable. He could be scornful, and lie could give way to anger, and when in anger his language developed much vigour, at times reaching invective. This book is a very good example of his style, and it will be found highly attractive ; whilst the subjects discussed are them- selves of great economic importance.
In his first two lectures, on "The Development of Industrial Skill in England" and " The Conditions of Economic Pro- gress," Professor Rogers points out that England was very backward in all kinds of manufacture, which he thinks was probably discouraged by the extremely lucrative monopoly of wool-production. The art of brickmaking was not re- covered until the latter part of the fifteenth century, Iron, a hundred years earlier, was worth, in the mass, £108 a ton of our money, and in spite of an abundant supply of raw material, salt was imported from France ; nor was it until the last century that the best woollen cloths were made in this country. From early times, England had a considerable mercantile marine ; but with this exception she was purely agricultural. Simultaneously with the improved processes of manufacture, " came the new agriculture, and with it a great development of British industry and prosperity, for cheap iron is a prodigious boon to husbandry, and successful agricul- ture is the healthiest stimulant to manufacturing enterprise." The terrible waste of the Continental wars was replaced by English manufactures, for England alone was neither invaded nor defeated; and, in spite of Berlin and Milan decrees, ex- port into countries under French control went on, "It was proved that, during the time which (sic) it might be supposed they would be effective, Napoleon's soldiers marched to Moscow in clothing purchased from English manufacturers." Nor does Professor Rogers despair for the future :— " Even though Europe has profited by peace during two-thirds of a generation, I see no reason to think that British industry and invention are losing their hold on the world's progress, or that, as was the case some centuries ago, our people have to be taught by foreigners. On the contrary, the German has not got beyond the position of an imitator, and not an over honest one either. The United States have made no great discoveries. And so with the rest of the nations. Nor is the cause far to seek. These political communities had deliberately adopted protection. Governments have been too weak or too dishonest to be sensible, and are consequently crippling the intelligence of those whose affairs they administer, by pandering to the foolish, dangerous, and wholly unjust dictum, that private affairs are public benefits."
An interesting lecture is one on "The Progress of English Population." Professor Rogers always held very decided views as to the population of England five hundred years ago, and he again brings forward his evidence, which is very in- genious, to show that it could not then have exceeded 2+ millions, at which point it remained stationary for more than two centuries. Nor could it increase until the art of agricul- ture improved. He disagrees with Malthus, saying that "the only prediction you can make about the conclusions of a metaphysical economist, is that he is almost certain to be wrong ":— "Two conditions, the efficiency of labour being postulated, make the risks of general over-population among the industrial classes remote. The one is the establishment of a high standard of living, the other is perfect freedom on the part of the workmen to interpret the terms under which they will accept employment. There is no risk that they will destroy the contingencies of their industry. No combination of English working mon has ever attempted to improve the capitalist employer out of existence, and I see no likelihood that they will ever fall under so gross and suicidal a delusion. Of course, they have never attained to the conditions which I have referred to. There are still laws in existence which permit certain persons to take excessive toll on industry, even to imperil its efficiency, and these are frequently called rights. The combination or association of workmen is still partial and imperfect, and when the union men meet they are apt, like all the rest of us, to run after the rod herrings of logomachy." In discussing the development of transit, the rise of the Datah trade, which excited the rivalry of this country, is fully described ; whilst the history of Chartered Trade Companies naturally includes an account of the South Sea and East India Companies ; and Professor Rogers is not without a passing regret for the extinguishing of the latter institution :— "Though I cannot in this place deal with the political exigen- cies which were supposed to have compelled its extinction, it may well be doubted whether the India O ce, and the languid debate on the Indian Budget, for which it is exceedingly difficult to get a House together, are the best equivalents conceivable for that Directorate which exercised the most diligent and unremitting scrutiny into the affairs which it had to administer. In all that I have ever heard and learned, the Indian Council is a farce, and the administration is a despotism shared between the Indian Secre- tary and the permanent officials, I may add that the only parallel to an Empire being founded by a trading company even on a small scale was the Bank of St. George in Genoa, which sold Corsica to France."
Among the most interesting of these lectures will be found the group on the " Theory of Economic Rent," on " Contracts for the Use of Land," and "Large and Small Holdings," and the one on " Peasant Agriculture and Manufactures," which really belong to this group, although placed elsewhere in the volume. Professor Rogers traces the history of rent, and points out that in return for it, the English landowner of the Middle Ages guaranteed the King's peace, and taught the tenant "by his own example and practice the best system of agriculture which the age could develop." During the latter part of the sixteenth and the seventeenth century a severe rack-renting prevailed; but in the eighteenth century a passion for the new agriculture arose, of which Young was the annalist and unwearying supporter, and the landowners of the day did great public good by teaching its advantages to their tenants. But rents were not raised until towards the end of the century, when, unfortunately, rack-renting again became common, and continued until about the year 1874. The crash came in 1879. Since then the reaction has been rapid, and at the present moment British agriculture lies in ruins. Now, whence comes rent P asks Professor Rogers, and this question be answers by saying that rent does not come out of prices, as was affirmed by Ricardo and Mill, but out of profits. This distinction is neither merely antiquarian, nor merely philo-
sophical, but of the highest practical significance :- " If rent is the outcome of price only, the rent receiver may be looked on, naturally, as a public enemy ; if it be the outcome of profit only, it is the interest of the rent receiver to be as anxious about the occupier's profit as he is about his own rent, for with that profit, as he has lately learned, his rent will rise, and without that profit his rent will tend to zero. I know that be has not learned more than the fact, for he still prates about the unearned increment, and sometimes dreams that he can claim protection, and more foolish still, that his rents would rise if ho could get protection."
Land in England is already protected by the amount paid for freight from foreign countries, and in the case of wheat this amounts at the very lowest to from 9s. to us. a quarter from Chicago to Liverpool, and is therefore equal to 36s. to 44s. an acre. Therefore, Professor Rogers will not admit that foreign competition has been at the root of the present distress in the farming-world. The cause, he insists, has been the absorption of agricultural capital by excessive rents, together with a pre• carious tenure. During the twenty years, 1853-72, rents rose on an average no less than 26+ per cent. Under the threat of dispossession, rents have been forced up, and so great is the loss on capital on quitting a farm under these conditions—Sir James Caird puts it at 15 per cent. —that tenants have stayed on hoping for better times, preferring the future chance to the immediate loss. If they have made unusual outlay on improvements of a more or less permanent character, they are still more open to aggression. Farmers in the present day have been negligent and slovenly in keeping accounts, which in the Middle Ages were kept with great detail and scrupulous accuracy; and hence, with a very risky business, they have invited ruin. Another cause has been the consolidation of small farms and the erection of farm buildings and houses "out of all proportion to the capital and income of the tenant." Lord Duck told Professor Rogers " that one of the greatest troubles which he had with his Oxfordshire estate was in the sumptuous homesteads which his father-in-law had built to five- hundred-a cre farms."
No doubt, all these causes have worked together for evil; but after all said, does not foreign competition hold the first and most important place P Professor Rogers, in writing on "The Development of Transit," points out what the Bessemer- steel rail and the modern steamship have done in bringing the produce of distant lands to our own shores. This, grown under less fickle skies, and on a vast scale, is put upon our markets at prices which, it may be, leave the barest profit, if any, to the producer and carrier, but with which, so far, our farmers cannot compete. A practical man has stated that the produce of five acres of wheat can be brought from Chicago to Liverpool at the same expense that it costs to manure an acre of land in England. When it is considered that there are hundreds of acres of fairly good land on which a furrow has not been drawn for four years, with substantial homesteads and cottages all empty and deserted, for which no tenant can be found; with the church shut up, the rectory abandoned, and the parson fled ; and this within forty miles of London, and near a railway, it seems idle to argue the question of rent at all. Yet, says Professor Rogers, in his emphatic way,— " I must consent to surrender all my faculties before I allow that foreign competition has depressed the British farmer. He has paid too much for the land he uses, he has been made to pay rent on his own outlay, and he has insensibly, but assuredly, lost his capital in the one certain appreciation, the appreciation of rent."
What is the remedy P The skill is not wanted ; " the British farmer is the most competent agriculturalist in the world ;" but farming-capital has gone, and, owing to want of con- fidence, no part of the general store is attracted towards the land. The outlook, as our author admits, is most uninviting and discouraging. Nothing is more fleeting than agricultural improvements, and one of the worst features is the large out- lay that will be needed to restore land to condition. "It seems that the future generation is to live on memories, a diet as unpalatable as the east wind." Professor Rogers suggests as remedies,—firstly, security to the tenant ; and secondly, the establishment of a true economic rent ; and, further, the encouragement of peasant cultivation.
These are all good in their way, and would undoubtedly do something; but Protection being as impossible as it is undesirable, it is difficult to see what can be done effectu- ally until such time as the world's requirements again over- take its production. This question has been touched on at length because it is the economic question of the day. But the lectures on other subjects are worthy of attentive perusal. Professor Rogers was strongly opposed to bimetallism, the history of which he gives, and which, he argues, can only be established by an international conference, which should devise penalties to be enforced by " a powerful and respected international police." This he considers impossible.
Professor Rogers did not often succeed in taking a stand- point sympathetic with other times, as Dr. Cunningham has so admirably done in writing on cognate subjects. He was not inclined to allow that our forefathers did, or wished to do, the best from their point of view, and constantly scolded and railed in his forcible manner at those from whom he differed. But these sooldings are amusing, and often humorous, and tend further to brighten his lively pages. After all, they are " Only pretty Fanny's way," and we should assuredly miss them. So persistently did he gird at landowners, often not without cause, that it is refreshing to find that he had no objection to rents, and agreed neither with Mr. Mill nor Mr. George, considering that a landlord who does his duty is a worthy and useful citizen, and entitled, better than any other, to the unearned increment. In conclusion, it may be said that the book is a thoughtful and informing one, and throws valuable light on the subjects commented on in its pages. The index, which is of a distressingly meagre charm- ter, is a great blot on a work of this kind; and there are several typographical errors which may well be corrected in any future edition.