網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

Should the view of the subject which we have now ventured to open, and at which we have thus accidentally and briefly glanced, bear the test of careful examination, it may lead to important results. For ourselves, we entertain sanguine expectations of the good which is likely to accrue from the application of the inductive philosophy, as well to revealed as to natural religion. Lord Bacon happily observes, a little philosophy makes men atheists,' --a great deal reconciles them to religion. Human improvement, and human happiness, even in this world, are necessarily and inseparably connected with the developement and diffusion of religious truth. When we deprive man of his immortal character, and of the halo shed around him by his connexion with Omnipotence, and reduce him to a bundle of sensations and ideas, he sinks in our esteem; and the shadowy and unsubstantial form, which glides about for its hour and then passes into nothingness, engages but little of our attention and regard. With the fading dignity of man philanthropy decays, the ardour of benevolence and the glow of sympathy subside. Thus, in a moral sense, while religion is an attracting, irreligion is a repelling, power,-it diminishes our respect for man; what we cease to esteem we cease to love ; and as we cease to love we cease to sympathize. In this manner scepticism weakens those feelings of fellowship which bind the human family together, and by multiplying our sympathies enlarge our existence.

Art. IX.-1. Tracts on the Corn Trade and Corn Laws. By

William Jacob, Esq. F.R.S. 8vo. 2. Public Economy Concentrated; or a Connected View of Cur

rency, Agriculture, and Manufactures. By an Enquirer into

First Principles. Carlisle. 1833. 3. An Enquiry into the Expediency of the Existing Restrictions

on the Importation of Foreign Corn; with Observations on the Present Social and Political Prospects of Great Britain.

By John Barton. London. 1833. 4. Report from the Select Committee on Agriculture. 1833. 5. Report from the Select Committee on Manufactures, Commerce,

and Shipping. 1833. THE various opinions which at present exist upon the subject

of the Corn Laws may be reduced to these three :- 1st, that the present system of protecting the corn-growers by a fluctuating, that is to say, a graduated scale of duties, should continue un

changed; changed; or 2dly, that a fixed duty should be substituted for that scale; or, 3dly, that all restrictions on importation should be abrogated, and that free trade in corn proclaimed which the · AntiBread-Tax Societies' demand, and which, unless it be speedily and graciously conceded by the obedient legislature, is to be forced from it, vi et armis ; for this is declared to be the alternative by those leaders of public opinion, who in these days have it but too much in their power to bring about the fulfilment of their own predictions.

. It is something,' says the Times, * " to set the question astir; for sure we are, that if amendments, as well in the Poor Laws as the Corn Laws, be not made in the form of legislative enactment, discreetly, soberly, but diligently, and without any avoidable procrastination, by the recognized authorities of the state, changes in them will be made in a far different and, indeed, a frightful form,—from neces. sity, from passion, furiously, improvidently, in spite of authority, and to the subversion of all constituted power, by those who will plead no other justification but that their wants and their sufferings cannot any longer be endured ; and that to them no change is imaginable which must not alleviate some acute distress, and lead to some yet unknown enjoyment.''

It was upon occasion of the Poor Laws that these remarks were made— laws, the amendment or alteration of which, it is quite certain, will never be attempted by popular violence; but it is upon the Corn question that they are meant to bear. The same journal holds up to indignity what is calls the blind and chimerical warfare of the landholders against the wants of the great body of the nation.' " What,' it asks, 'is the exclusion of foreign bread from the British market, but a restraint upon the export of British manufactures, with the collateral merit of throwing hundreds of thousands of native workmen out of employment, and pinching the meals of all the others ??

• 'Tis not so great a cunning as men think
To raise the devil; for here's one up already:

The greatest cunning were to lay him down! In favour of the first opinion, that the present system of a fluctuating duty should be continued, there is this fact, that under this system *the price of wheat for the last five years has been more steady than for any other period of five years since 1797, beyond which time no official return of accuracy can be produced.”+

That the necessaries of life should be maintained (as far as possible) at an equable price, is an object most worth the attention

* Thursday, 5th Dec.-Monday, 25th Nov. 1833. of Report of the Committee on Agriculture, xii,

of a good government, as being most important to the commonwealth. If they be unusually cheap, you have, in the present state of public morals, so great an increase of idleness and profligacy as to produce a considerable increase in the mortality of each year. But if abundance be, in this respect, an evil, dearth is still worse; then, too, the rate of mortality is increased, not then in consequence of laziness and drunkenness, but of over-exertion, insufficient food, pinching want, and helpless, heart-consuming wretchedness. A dearth that should approach to famine is all that now is wanting to bring upon us a more appalling danger than any from which God's mercy has ever hitherto preserved us. Corn at the price of 1800 and 1801 would now occasion a jacquerie. It then cost the nation a million in bounties for the importation of foreign grain.

If,' say the Committee, “it be not prudent to run the risk of rendering the dense population of these islands dependent on the supply of bread-corn from abroad, the protection now given to corn the growth of the United Kingdom may be justly regarded as an insurance against famine, and against the danger of that reliance on foreign countries for the staff of life which might be found inconsistent with the safety and permanent interests of the people, and ultimately fatal to our national independence.'-Report, &c., xiii.

The question of a fixed or fluctuating duty does not depend on calculation. The main objection to a fixed duty is the same as that to Mr. Joseph Hume's abrogation of the laws against the combination of workmen ; and it may be overlooked in this case as it was in that, by many perhaps ignorantly, by some perhaps wilfully. The objection is, that violence is sure to be applied on one side; that is so certain a consequence, that they who can see any thing must see it, unless they wilfully shut their eyes—and who so blind as those that will not see!' A fixed duty on foreign corn is imaginary when corn is cheap at home, because it is not worth while to import it; and the self-same fixed duty could not possibly be levied when corn was dear. The workman is starving already, and would you enforce a tax on his supply of bread?' The grower of corn would not, and could not, practically be protected in the least by a fixed duty, which in the one case is nugatory, and in the other impossible. The proposal, therefore, is a mere absurdity, unless it be intended to fix the duty so low as to complete the ruin of the British agriculturist. Then, indeed, it ceases to be absurd, and is to be classed, with that of a free trade in corn, among the destructive projects of the day.

Two points are taken for granted by the advocates for a free trade in corn—that England can, at all times, be supplied with foreign grain to supply the deficiency occasioned by the diminution of its

own

own produce ; and that foreigners will afford us as sure a market for our manufactures as they would find here for their corn. Let us see what the state of our own agriculture is at this time,-and what it would immediately become, if the protecting duties were withdrawn.

During the war with Buonaparte, agriculture and trade flourished in these kingdoms, far beyond all former example, each cherishing and supporting the other; and during those years it is proved by the Property-Tax Returns, that the agricultural classes contributed to the state more than three times as much as the manufacturing and commercial classes of every description united.—So ill-founded is the assertion, that it was the steamengine which fought the battles of Europe ! Peace, which, by all but a few far-sighted men, was expected to bring with it its proverbial blessings of plenty and prosperity, immediately brought down the price of corn nearly one-half, by the unrestrained admission of foreign grain, and thus struck off at once fifty millions from the gross revenue of the agricultural classes (comprising in that term all who are immediately connected with agriculture); the result was a fall in wages and in the price of all other commodities, and a consequent diminution of profit and income to every class of the community.'* This evil may be deemed to have been inevitable, unless greater foresight had existed in the cabinet than has, ever since the days of Elizabeth, been found there; and unless there had co-existed with such foresight more intelligence and more reasonableness in the people than ought to be expected in any country.

But there was no want of activity, as far as their own shortsighted interests was concerned, in our mercantile speculators, when even forewarning failed to awaken it in the government. No sooner was the Baltic open to our merchants, than corn was bought up there for importation into England; at the same time the continent was glutted with English goods, which, because the supply greatly exceeded the demand, were sold at less than their prime cost, and upon which the foreign governments soon laid new duties—not more in aid of their own finances, than, as in duty bound, to prevent the ruin of their own manufactures. This might have been a salutary lesson, if nations were ever rendered wise by experience; it might have taught us that, however willing one part of this nation might be to see the other ruined by the free admission of foreign grain, foreign governments would never consent to have their fabrics destroyed by the unrestricted introduction of British goods. It is a sound maxim in politics, whatever it may be in morals, that charity begins at home. * Spence's Tracts, xvi.

Before

Before the commencement of the war, agriculture had become a favourite pursuit; a Board had been instituted for its improvement; reports upon its state, in every county throughout England and Scotland, were drawn up by the most experienced persons, and the House of Commons passed a resolution, that no greater national benefit could be conferred than by bringing waste lands into cultivation. Our good King George III. used to say, that the ground, like man, was never intended to lie idle ; if it does not produce something useful, it will be overrun with weeds.' That king encouraged it by his example, and is now known to have contributed to the humble but useful pages of an agricultural journal. Science, enthusiasm, and capital were already applied to it, before the circumstances of the war gave to speculation and cupidity the same direction; and the result cannot be better stated than in Lord Brougham's words :

. It may safely be said,' he asserted, -that-without at all comprehending the waste lands which have been wholly added to the productive tenantry of the island-not, perhaps, that two blades of grass grew where only one had grown before, but certainly that five grew where four used to be; and that this kingdom, which foreigners used to taunt as a mere manufacturing and trading country, inhabited by a shopkeeping nation, had in reality become, for its size, by far the greatest agricultural state in the world.' · Agricultural industry had effected this for the nation. Yet, when the agricultural interest received, by the return of peace, severer and more lasting as well as far more extensive injury than any branch of trade ever suffered upon the breaking out of a war, the farmers were reproached, as if their distress, in great measure, had been brought upon them by their own extravagance.

• Formerly,' it was said by the advocates of the free-trade theory• formerly a farmer thought it a high luxury if he was rich enough to enjoy his ale; but now, on entering their houses, you are not only treated with a bottle of port, but sometimes even with Madeira. The sons of these wealthy agriculturists are all fine gentlemen; instead of following the plough, they are following the hounds; and the daughters are strumming upon the piano-forte instead of milking the cows.

Well, indeed, would it be, if the virtue of thrift, with some other old-fashioned and now all but obsolete virtues, could be renewed among us; but it might have been thought that they who exult in the march of intellect' would have regarded at least with complacency the march of refinement; and that language which seemed to exult over the impending ruin of a large and most respectable class might have been spared in parliament. The

great

« 上一頁繼續 »