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But, as actual enjoyment feldom ensures continued fatis. faction, what had been demanded for a century, when it was regarded as unattainable, was ere long derided as des fective, when it was possessed. And theorists, who pointed out the defects of an establishment, that could not be made perfect, found believers enow, because men's pride is gra, tified, by seeing imperfection in all things.
Against objectors, who thus easily found abettors, it was justly remarked, that a record, containing each specific article of our imports and exports, with the mercantile value affixed to each, would give us, as it was originally intended, by a calculation tedious yet certain, the true value of both, at least with as much exactness as a vast detail admits, or public utility demands; that it was not probably perceived, how impossible it is to set bounds to human vanity, caprice and deceit, but, that as man, when engaged in similar pursuits, acts nearly a similar part, it was reasonable to infer, that the same vanity, caprice, or deceit, whịch, in one age, incited the trader to make exaggerated entries at the curtom-house, urged him, in every period, to gratify his ruling passion, when he was not carried from his bias by the dread of a forfeiture or a tax; fo that the average of error, dur. ing one season, would be nearly equal to the average of error at any other epoch,
When the committee of Peers originally affixed the price, whereby each article of export and import should in future be rated, they probably knew, that the successive Auctuation of demand, arising from the change of fashion, would necessarily raise the value of some articles, and finķ the price of others; but, that the same fluctuation of taste, which, in one age, occafioned an apparent error, would in the next re-establish the rule, Nor, did the Peers probably expect to
ascertain the real value of the exports, or of imports, of the current year ; as the prodigious extent of the calculation did not admit of a speedy deduction. But, they aimed with a laudable fpirit to establish a standard, whereby a just comparison might be made between any two given periods of the past; and thereby to infer, whether our manufactures and commerce prospered or declined, prior to the current year. This information the Ledger of the Inspector-General does certainly convey, with sufficient accuracy, for the uses of practice, or the speculations of theory. And, by contrasto ing, in the following work, the average exports of distant years, we are by this means enabled to trace the rise, the decline, or the progress of traffic, at different periods, even in every reign.
It is to the same age that we awe the establishment of The register-general of pipping. The original institution of this, office arose from an indefinite clause in the commission of the customs, in 1701. Thus it continued incidental to the appointment of the Custom-house commiffioners, till the act for the union with Scotland, requiring the then ships of Scots property to be registered in this office, it was thought fit to give it a distinct establishment, and at the same time to extend the account kept before of all ships trading over fea, or coastways, in England, to the ships in Scotland *.”
The same reasons, which had induced the traders to enter at the Custom-house, in respect to their merchandizes, rather too much, incited them, with regard to their vessels, to register the burden rather too low, because a. -tonnage duty, they knew, would be often required of them
* Charles Godolphin's Memorial to the Treasury, Dec. 1717
at many ports : in the first operation they were governed by their vanity; in the second by their interest: and if the one furnishes an evidence too Aattering, the other gives a teftimony too degrading. Thus have we, in the entries of the shipping at the Custom-house, all the certainty that the entries of merchandize has been supposed to want. And in the following work the quantity of tonnage, rather than the number of ships, has been always stated, at different periods, with the value of cargoes, which they were fupposed to transport, as being the most certain: when to the value of cargoes the tonnage is added, in the following pages, the reader is furnished with a supplemental proof to the usual notices, which each separately convey.
Of the tonnage of vessels, which will so often occur in the subsequent sheets, it must be always remembered, that they do not denote so many distinct ships, which performed so many single voyages : for, it frequently happens, that one vessel enters and clears at the Custom-house several times in one year, as the colliers of Whitehaven and Newcastle: but, these repeated voyages were in this manner always made, and will constantly continue; so that, being always included in the annual tonnage, we are equally enabled to form a comparative estimate of the advance, or decline, of our navigation, at any two given epochs of the past. It is to be moreover remembered, that the British vessels enter at the Custom-house by the registered tons, and not by the measured burden of the ship, which is supposed to be formerly one-third more; so that the reader may in every year, through the following statements, calculate the tonnage at one-third more, than the registered tonnage has given it, prior to 1786.
The office of inspector-general of imports and exports for Scotland, was established only in 1755. And no diligence could procure
authentic details of the Scots commerce from any other source of genuine information. The blank, which appears in the preceding period, as to the Scots traffic, fufficiently demonstrates, that imperfect, evidence, with regard to an important subject, is preferable to none; as the glimmerings of the faintest dawn is more invigorating than the gloom of total opacity. Cone nected accounts of the shipping of Scotland cannot be given before 1759; because it is only from this year, that they have been regularly entered at the Custom-house, at leaft constantly kept. In respect to these, the same allowance must be made for repeated voyages, and the fame augmentation for the real burden more than the registered tonnage.
It is not pretended, that the before-mentioned Customhouse books convey the certainty of mathematical demonftration. It is fufficient, that they contain the best evidence which the nature of the case admits. They have assuredly the credibility, which belongs to authentic history, though not the conviction, that is sometimes derived from the evidence of the senses. He who, in such inquiries, asks for more convincing proofs, ought to be regarded as a person, who, indulging a sceptical mind, delights to walk through the mazes of uncertainty.
The subject of population is so intimately connected with every estimate of the strength of nations, that the compiler was induced to inquire into the populousness of England, at different periods, from the earliest times to the present. In this difficult discussion, men, at once candid and able, have spoken a language, often contradictory
to each other, and sometimes inconsistent with their own premises.
The Lord Chief Justice Hale, and Gregory King, in the last century, and Doctor Campbell and Doctor Price, in the present age, maintained opinions directly the reverse of each other, in respect to the question, Whether the people of this island have not gradually increased, during every age, or sometimes diminished, amid public convulfions and private misery. The two first-the one a great master of the rules of evidence, the other equally skilful in calculation
have agreed in maintaining the affirmative of that question. Doctor Campbel has laboured to thew, , that the inhabitants of England diminished in their numbers under the misrule of feudal sovereigns. And Doctor Price has equally contended, that the people have decreased, fince a happier government was introduced at the Revolw$ion, and that they continue to decrease,
It is proposed to review historically the sentiments of each, with design rather to ascertain the authenticity of their facts, than to establish, or overturn, their several fystems. The candid inquirer may perhaps see cause for lamenting, in his progress, that the learned are sometimes too confident, and the unlettered always too credulous, And he will have an opportunity, as he advances, of listening to the sentiments of his ancestors, on various topics of legislation, and of observing the condition of different ranks of men, previous to the period, at which THIS ESTIMATE properly begins.