Christopher Hollis
Two Nations

Chapter IV — The Origin of the Progressive Legend

It was not possible to write the previous chapters of this book without reflecting upon a curiosity. Of no one of the facts contained in them is there, I think, any serious dispute. I have given the references for them, and they are all the commonplaces of any important books of admitted authority such as, for instance, Mr. Feavearyear's Pound Sterling or Mr. Lipson's Economic History. They will be all quite tediously familiar to any one who has given a study to these important questions. Such students will be inclined peevishly to ask why it was thought necessary to tell again a tale already so well known.

At the same time, should this book fall into the hands of anyone who learnt his history at school and has not had occasion to study it since, the whole story will seem to him like a wild fairy tale. Scarcely one of these facts which you allege, he will protest, was even mentioned in the textbooks from which I was taught my history. Why, if as you say, their truth is admitted and their importance is admitted, why then are we not taught a word about them in the schools ?

It is a very reasonable question and shall receive a proper answer.

After the collapse of the South Sea Bubble; Walpole ruled England for more than twenty years. It can be argued that in some ways he ruled England very well. But the method by which he ruled her was the method of frank bribery and blackmail — of blackmail particular in his neglect to prosecute influential persons of whose corruption there was in reality little doubt, of blackmail general in that he was able to present the people of England with the ultimatum, "The alternative to us is anarchy, therefore you had better allow us to remain in power and not ask too many questions about the manner in which we are enriching ourselves."

Now to-day the very frankness of Walpole's cynicism makes his appear a less unattractive character than that of his contemporaries. The modern reader, sickened with the sentimental rhetoric and imperialistic bombast with which, say, a Chatham was afterwards to cover up the tracks of usury, turns with relief to the very brutality of Walpole and finds it hard not to be persuaded by such a writer as Mr. Stirling Taylor(28) into a certain liking for the blackguard. If the things that he did were often dirty things, at least the things that he loved were clean things. At least he spent the money that he made — on building a house, on entertainment, on the pleasures of the country. He did not merely lend out again at usury the profits of usury in a lunatic's lust, for accumulation. Whatever he was, he was at least a man and not a bank.

So at a distance we like a man who lets cats out of bags, but it is only reasonable to remember that to those, whom one can only call Walpole's fellow-gangsters, the prime concern was not whether Walpole's character was attractive or unattractive but whether an arrangement which concentrated the wealth and power of the country into the hands of this gang could possibly be made to last. Walpole's urbane and winking jollity — his candid assumption that "We're all on the make together and each one has a skeleton in his cupboard" — might be tolerable round the dinner-table when the servants had withdrawn. It was well enough to denounce the South Sea Company in public as a fraud and then, when the Earl of Pembroke asked him what he ought to do about it, to say,(29) "I will only tell you what I have done myself. I have just sold out at 1,000 per cent and am fully justified" — so long as such remarks were kept for the Earl of Pembroke. But if the poor heard too much talk like that the whole régime must collapse. "The bank hath benefit of the interest of all the moneys which it creates out of nothing," explained Paterson — which again was fair enough and frank enough, but would not perhaps a little something about "service to the community" have been a trifle more discreet?

It was Townshend, Walpole's brother-in-law, who grasped perhaps more clearly than any of the other Whigs of the early eighteenth century that an aristocracy, if it is to retain its privileges, must make some pretence of earning them by some service to its country. Every régime must have its appropriate rhetoric of half-truths — an aristocracy no less than any other. Englishmen are ready with their criticism and their ridicule when they hear of the masters of the State in Russia, in Germany, in Italy, or America using the machinery of education in order to impose upon the minds of its citizens a certain view of history, selected rather for its convenience to the rulers than its truth. They sometimes fail to understand that these later and cruder countries are but doing two hundred years afterwards what the English with their far subtler technique had already done in the eighteenth century. It was not convenient, as Townshend and his colleagues saw, that the methods by which the gentlemen of England had become so should be widely known. Therefore attention must be diverted from the details of that rise, and an official version must be put out to occupy the minds of those whose interest in history it was not possible wholly to suppress.

The first suggestion of the scheme for a permanent national debt came from Burnet, the historian of the Reformation, who had been secretary to William of Orange before the Revolution and after the Revolution was rewarded with the Bishopric of Salisbury. Now, as the war dragged on, Burnet grew to be seriously alarmed at the unpopularity of the debt-system among the gentry who had to pay the taxes to meet its charges. "The gentry are for the most part the worst instructed and least knowing of any of their rank I ever went amongst," was how he put the point. Nor did the educational system do anything at all to correct this fault in them and to reconcile them to acceptance of the principles of the Revolution. Both Universities, and particularly Oxford, were Tory. "In those seats of education instead of being formed to love their country and constitution, the laws and liberties of it, they are rather disposed to love arbitrary government and to become slaves to absolute monarchy."  Therefore a Whig history must be written — the History of Our Own Times — in order to show them "what are the methods bad princes have taken to enslave us and by what conduct we have been preserved" and to arouse in them, "which ought to be the top of an an English gentleman's ambition, to be an able Parliament man."

So the Whig history was written. The next thing was to get it read, or at least talked about. The important task was to capture the educational machine. Therefore, in 1724, Townshend and Gibson, the Bishop of London, arranged for "24 persons, who are Fellows of Colleges in the two Universities, 12 from Oxford and 12 from Cambridge" to preach a sermon each at Whitehall. For that sermon the preacher was to receive the considerable emolument of £30, and none "must hope for a share of this bounty but they who are staunch Whigs and openly declare themselves to be so."(30)  It was a beginning, but there was needed, thought Townshend, "some further encouragement."  He wrote to George I of the race of Dons, "As Your Majesty knows I have always had the gaining them over to Your Majesty very much at heart, so I have lately had frequent conversations with the Bishop of London, who is, with me, fully persuaded it would be very practicable to reduce them to a better sense of their duty; and we have already made a rough draft of some things proper to this end."(31)

The "things proper to this end" were "the foundation of a new professorship to teach the modern tongues and modern history, in which George himself is to put in the professor."(32)  "No encouragement has hitherto been made in either of the said Universities," it was explained with truth, "for the study of modern history or modern languages," and thus there have been "opportunities frequently lost to the Crown of employing and encouraging members of the two Universities by conferring on them such employment both at home and abroad."  The salaries of these new Regius Professors were to be £400 a year, out of which they had to pay £25 each to two assistant teachers — "an appointment so ample," said the University of Cambridge in its letter of thanks, "as well nigh to equal the stipends of all our other Professors put together." The duties of the Professor were to deliver one lecture a term and to keep an eye on "twenty scholars nominated by the King to be taught gratis" and every year to send "an attested account of the progress made by each scholar... to our principal Secretary of State." The only work of historical scholarship produced by a University History Professor during the eighteenth century came from the pen of Spence, Regius Professor at Oxford and tutor to the Duke of Newcastle's son. In the year 1745 he wrote Plain Matter of Fact, or a Short Review of the Reigns of our Popish Princes since the Reformation; in order to show what we are to expect if another should reign over us.(33)

There happen to have survived two books of the Duke of Newcastle's secret service accounts.(34) It is not surprising to find from them that a high proportion of that money the Whig noblemen merely put into their own pockets. There are grants to the two Secretaries of State, to the Dukes of Grafton, St. Albans, Somerset, Bolton, Marlborough, and Rutland. But of what could be spared from this primary purpose a very high proportion again went on capturing the educational machine. We find grants to "the Fellows of Eton College, the Fellows and Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, the readers of physics and modern history at Oxford and Cambridge."

Now what was the history which these endowed teachers taught? It was the progressive theory of history — a theory hitherto unknown, a theory soon, as a result of their activities, accepted uncritically, a theory created in the first place quite cynically and clear-headedly in order to cover up the traces of truth. It was the purpose of that history to create among the public the ambient feeling that, bad as things might be at the moment of writing, yet the lesson of history was a lesson of steady improvement, that each present generation was always, as Macaulay put it(35) of his generation, "the most enlightened generation of the most enlightened people that ever existed." Where there was evil, that evil was the relic of an evil past; where there was good, that good was the product of the increasing purpose which runs through the ages and which was assuredly leading us to a yet more glorious and more rosy dawn ahead.

This, though it was said, was not very seriously believed in the eighteenth century. It was said to keep quiet those who did not belong to the governing classes. Yet, as always happens with educational reforms, you have to have one generation of conscious lying, and then the second generation, the generation that was pupil when the masters were lying, honestly believes what it was taught. The common belief that schoolboys like to disagree with their masters is unfortunately entirely untrue; very few masters are stimulating enough to arouse disagreement. So by the end of the eighteenth century the progressive theory of history had received general acceptance among those who claimed for themselves the prestige of educated people. It was, therefore, not necessary specifically to teach it any more. So long as there was no great risk of their believing inconvenient history, it was much safer for the governing class not to learn any history at all. For they believed that they had a divine right to everything as it was. So history could not possibly teach them that they were justified in taking more, and might possibly arouse in them scruples at having so much.

Therefore, as soon as the Hanoverian régime was safely established, the lectures and pupils of the Regius Professors were allowed to lapse. Only their emoluments remained, as a hint to historians that silence was golden. "When I first read my warrant," confessed Nares,(36) who was appointed Professor in the early years of the nineteenth century," I well remember feeling ashamed of my ignorance of this curious science" — political economy. But, arrived at Oxford, he found his colleagues indifferent and as ignorant as himself, and "the young men too constantly engaged upon higher pursuits" to attend to "a subject comparatively so light and unacademical as modern history."  "Things might be better," he reflected as he retired to his private house in Surrey, "if the office were bestowed upon some resident member of the University."

As a consequence it was possible to be certain that all the ablest youths in the country during all their formative years, during the only years perhaps in which they might ever have leisure for study, should never come in contact within any problem that had been a reality since the foundation of Christianity. And yet in this world of unreality they acquired qualifications which they imagined to entitle them to positions of command in the real world. Thus Sir Robert Peel, the first man ever to win an Oxford double first, was allowed without question to take a leading part in his country's government, and neither he nor anyone else ever suspected for a moment his total misunderstanding of the forces that had gone to shape that country. "Now remember what I say," writes Jackson,(37) his Headmaster, to him, "Give the last high finish to all that you now possess by the continual reading of Homer. Let no day pass without your having him in your hands. Elevate your own mind by the continual meditation of the vastness of his comprehension and the unerring accuracy of all his conceptions. If you will but read him four or five times every year, in half a dozen years you will know him by heart." No one yields to the present writer in his admiration for Homer, but to advise a young man whose business is to reform the credit system to read Homer every day is clearly the advice of a maniac.

The miseries of the time, miseries to which Peel's absorption in the classics and consequent ignorance of history made no inconsiderable contribution, raised up at length their protest against the privilege of class. There stepped out another perfectly honest man — from Eton and Christ Church — to make himself the mouthpiece of that protest, Gladstone. The Civil Service, which now governed England, was, he agreed, no longer to be filled merely by nomination and favouritism. Entrance to it should be by competitive examination — and naturally to such a man it appeared merely as a matter of course that such examinations should be in the subtleties of the Latin and Greek languages, subtleties which could hardly be acquired save by those whose fathers could afford for them the luxuries of public school and University education and the acquisition of which would take up so much of their time and energy that it was very unlikely that they would also give themselves to any serious study of history. Innocent of that study, they complacently accepted the progressive theory of history of whose origin they had no knowledge, and to sceptical speculations they replied, "Well, such things may have been or may not have been, but you cannot deny that out of them there emerged the present society, which offers to everybody a higher standard of living than has been offered by any of its predecessors."  Like Hume, even when they deplored the injustices and barbarities of the past, they felt it impossible to deny that they "produced good," because they "led to our present situation."(38)  To question the progressive theory came to be looked on almost as a species of disloyalty — of disloyalty to country, to school, to University, to class, to the philosophy of Gilbert and Sullivan and the half a dozen other things whose claims upon him the English gentleman thinks to be superior to those of truth. For, while the educated Englishman is not perhaps the most mendacious of men, there is certainly nobody else who thinks it bad form to tell the truth for so many different reasons.

Now what is the truth? In the fifties of the last century there lived in Oxford a clergyman, called Thorold Rogers, who made for himself a living by coaching in the classics and in philosophy. The only work that he had published up till then was an Introductory Lecture to the Logic of Aristotle. In 1860, however, he began serious research into the wages and prices ruling at the various dates in English history, and on the strength of this research in 1862 he was elected Drummond Professor of Political Economy. It was while he held that chair that there appeared the first two volumes of his History of Agriculture and Prices. He had set himself a task which no man had ever attempted before. He had set himself to collect all the statistics available of wages paid at different dates and in different parts of the country and of the prices ruling at those dates and places. The material collected for his History of Agriculture and Prices he subsequently used again for his Six Centuries of Work and Wages. The statistics which he collected alone fill a thick volume, and there is no reason to suspect that the conclusions at which he arrives are generalizations from insufficient data. In a smaller work — of extracts from his large Six Centuries — called The History of Work and Wages, he summarizes these conclusions. [pp. 56-66.]

In 1495 the wages of the agricultural labourer were fixed at 2s. a week. The price of wheat was 4s. 0¾d. a quarter, that of malt 2s. 4½d., of oatmeal 5s. 4d. Suppose, argues Rogers, that the labourer's family requires for its year's provisions three quarters of wheat, three of malt, and two of oatmeal, the cost of that will be 12s. 2¼d. + 7s. 1½d. + 10s. 8d., or 29s. 11¾d. That is to say, the labourer will be able to earn it by fifteen weeks' work.

In 1564 the labourer got, on the average, 3s. 6d. a week, but wheat was now 19s. 9d., oatmeal probably 25s., and malt 10s. 8d. a quarter. To earn the same store of provisions, the sum proves that the labourer would have had to give forty weeks' work.

By 1610 the earnings of his whole year would have been insufficient to buy that store by 24s. 9½d. In 1651 things are a trifle better and he could earn his store by forty-three weeks' work. In 1684 his whole year's work would be just insufficient to earn him the store. By 1725, when the labourer could earn from £13 to £15 a year and when the price of the provisions would have worked out at £16 2s. 3d., the sum would plainly have been insufficient.

He then, to vary the method of calculation, takes some figures given by Arthur Young in 1772 of the earnings of a family of seven, all in work. The sum total of their yearly earnings comes to £51 8s. a year. The same people, working in Henry VII's time, would, he shows, have earned £24 10s., and, by a comparison of prices, £183 15s. would have been required in 1777 to purchase what could be purchased by £24 10s. in Henry VII's time. In Young's time the wage of the agricultural labourer was 7s. 6d. a week. By 1866 it had risen to 13s., but by 1866 prices were twelve times what they had been in Henry VII's time, when the wage had been 2s. a week.

Only less striking is the story told by the study of the artisan's wages. Wages in the building trade in 1877 were, Rogers found, 42s. 9d. a week. In Henry VII's time they were 3s. 4d., which multiplied by twelve is 40s. Nor in those figures is there even that small improvement which there appears to be. For in Henry VII's time, and indeed right up to the reign of Charles II, rent was a negligible factor. Wages failed to keep pace with the rise in prices in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. On the other hand the amount of the rent, where there was rent to pay, was settled by custom. Now the whole strength of the landowners against the Crown was, as has been already argued, that their dues to the Crown were customary dues, and they had been strong enough to prevent those dues being revised with the rise of prices. But, refusing to permit a revision of their dues to the Crown, they could not demand, as long as the issue between them and the Crown was undecided, a revision of the yeoman's rent to them. By Charles II's reign, however, they thought that the cause of monarchy was so wholly beaten that it was no longer necessary to preserve an attitude of logical consistency in their opposition. They therefore abolished their feudal payments to the Crown, while preserving the yeoman's feudal payments to them.

In 1679 they also passed the Statute of Frauds. By that Statute they enacted that everyone must produce written evidence of his claim to his lands. After the confusion of the Civil Wars there was about such an enactment a superficial appearance of justice. But in truth the gentlemen possessed written titles and the peasants did not. The gentlemen possessed such titles, not because their claims were better than those of the peasants but because they were a great deal worse. The gentlemen had acquired their estates at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and, foreseeing that such titles might well be challenged, had been careful to obtain written evidence of them from the King. The peasantry had inherited their lands by custom dating back to ancestors in the heart of the Middle Ages and had no written title. Thus the gentlemen were able to acquire the land of the peasants and at will to re-let it to them for a fixed term of years and at a greatly increased rent, to seize the land and employ the former peasant as an agricultural labourer, or to seize the land and turn the former peasant loose to fend for himself. There were a few gentlemen scattered about the country who refused for honour's sake to raise their rents, and among them it is pleasant to find the noble name of John Dryden. But the Statute of Frauds marks in general both the destruction of the English peasantry and the imposition upon the poor of rent as one of the major items in their expenditure.

"We owe the fact," Thorold Rogers tells us,(39) "that the great English nation is tenant-at-will to a few thousand landowners, to that device of evil times, a strict settlement. We are informed that the machinery which has gradually changed the whole character of the rural population of England was invented by the subtlety of two lawyers of the Restoration, Palmer and Bridgman. As there have been men whose genius has bestowed lasting benefit on mankind, so there have been from time to time exhibitions of perverted intellectual activity, whose malignant influence has inflicted permanent evils. It may be that the mischief which this practice has induced is too widespread for remedial measures. But no Englishman who has the courage to forecast the destinies of his country can doubt that its greatest danger lies in the present alienation of its people from the soil, and in the future exodus of a disinherited peasantry."

There are probably but few men to-day who would agree with Rogers's diagnosis that the solution for all these evils is to be found only in the application of the full gospel of his friend, Cobden. Concerning one or two details of his statistics there has been controversy. In their main outline they remain unchallenged and unchallengeable. His careful and exhaustive evidence makes finally certain what the more random evidence of Cobbett had already shown to be highly probable. Broadly he asserts this. Between Henry VII's time and 1850 the population of England multiplied by about five, rising from four million to twenty million. The productivity of the country had multiplied by about four by 1800, and multiplied by another four and a half between 1800 and 1850, making a total of 18. As a result the poor ought to have been between three and four times better-off. They were, however, considerably worse-off. The gentlemen of England, so far from being those leaders of the nation towards a finer and a wider freedom which the progressive history had represented them to be, were revealed as in the heyday of their power the trickiest and most rapacious class ever known among men.

The sweeping rhetoric of Macaulay(40) had in 1830 professed itself "unable to find any satisfactory record of any great nation, past or present, in which the working classes have been in a more comfortable situation than in England in the last thirty years." Very different was the verdict of one who was himself born in that class and knew their lives. "Experience," wrote Cobbett(41) in the Political Register, "daily observation, minute and repeated personal inquiry and examination, have made me familiar with the state of the labouring poor, and, sir, I challenge contradiction when I say, that a labouring man in England with a wife and only three children, though he never lose a day's work, though he and his family be economical, frugal, and industrious in the most extensive sense of those words, is not now able to procure himself by his labour a single meal of meat from one end of the year unto the other."

It was on the side of Cobbett's rhetoric and not of Macaulay's easy learning that the figures gave their verdict. From Rogers's hard arguments and dry statistics emerged the terrible conclusion, "I contend that, from 1563 to 1824, a conspiracy, concocted by the law and carried out by parties interested in its success, was entered into to cheat the English workman of his wages, to tie him to the soil, to deprive him of hope and to degrade him into irremediable poverty.... For more than two centuries and a half the English law and those who administered the law were engaged in grinding the English workman down to the lowest pittance, in stamping out every expression or act which indicated any organized discontent, and in multiplying penalties upon him when he thought of his natural rights."(42) "The condition of the peasant," he wrote elsewhere in 1869 in one quiet and awful sentence,(43) "is now lower than it was even in Cobbett's time."  And yet, if you go round the school libraries of England to-day, how many hundreds of copies of Macaulay will you find for every one of Cobbett?

It is true that between the middle of the nineteenth century and 1900 the lot of the poor improved greatly. The standard of living of the modern poor man is definitely higher than that of his medieval ancestor, but it is only slightly higher. The modern poor man has a very much wider selection of objects upon which he can spend his money. He can go to the cinema; he can eat tinned apricots; he can ride in a charabanc — all of which were impossible to his ancestor. But, except to a trivial extent, he can only do these things by denying himself things which his ancestors used to enjoy. They are not additions to his life. He possesses, so to speak, more alternatives than his ancestor, but he does not possess more goods. Society at large is at an advantage over medieval society in that it has banished the fear of real famine, but in the Middle Ages, if there was a sufficiency of food, the poor man was certain to be able to get his share of it.

Thorold Rogers stood again for his professorship at Oxford when the term of it expired in 1867. They put up against him a certain Bonamy Price, a man who had until recently been off his head, though Professor Hewins in the Dictionary of National Biography assures us that by the time of the election he had completely recovered. Price was elected by a large majority and subsequently re-elected three times. He had had no previous training in economics and, Professor Hewins tells us, "he made no important contribution to economic science." It was a sufficient qualification. Rogers meanwhile had to earn his living by giving lectures at a coaching establishment in Bayswater. It was only in 1888, two years before his death, that Oxford offered to him some reparation by re-electing him to his professorship.

Now does not the story of Thorold Rogers explain why it is that the truths of history sound to the average man's ear as strange and exaggerated paradoxes? There is hardly a scholar in all Europe to-day who would not acclaim Rogers's greatness. But has anyone who has only studied history in the text-books that they dole out in the public schools ever heard either his name or his thesis? Has such a one to-day any notion that solid scholarship has seriously challenged, let alone refuted, the progressive theory of history? And yet a distinguished modern Cambridge scholar, Mr. Butterfield, is able truly to say in his Whig Interpretation of History [p. 5], after having given a list of the main historical controversies of the last four hundred years, "In all the examples given above, as well as in many others, the result of detailed historical research has been to correct very materially what had been accepted Protestant, or Whig, interpretation." Those whose affection for the public schools is deepest should be the first candidly to admit that their system has not been so much a system of education as a system to prevent boys from getting education, their history little more than a prescription for setting the consciences of gentlemen at rest.

The poor in Townshend's day were illiterate. Therefore, so long as they were not educated at all, there was no necessity to educate them wrong. As a result there remained among them a strange and clouded memory that there had been good times in the past before the dissolution of the monasteries. This memory was quite unconnected with any present Catholic sympathies: it came from the fact that it was the coining of the monastic plate that started the rise in prices.

"I'll tell thee what, good fellow,
Before the friars went hence
A bushel of the best wheat
Was sold for fourteen pence,
And forty eggs a penny
That were both good and new,"

sings Ignorance in the Percy Ballad of Plain Truth and Blind Ignorance. And, though Truth is made to win the theological debate, he specifically refuses even to try to refute Ignorance's economic history. The Rev. C.L. Marson is his book on Glastonbury [p. 56] tells how the Somerset labourers in the last century still spoke of the Glastonbury monks as a "wonderful good class of people served terrible bad." It has taken but two generations of compulsory education and text-book history to make the poor as ignorant as the rich.

Now how was it that this perversion of history played into the hands of the masters of the credit-system? That was not its original purpose, the purpose for which Townshend and his friends invented it. They invented it to serve their own interests and owing to it they had a very comfortable innings. Yet from the first they suffered from the inevitable weakness of all blackmailers. They were defenceless against double-crossing. As has been argued, the Revolution of 1688 was essentially the work of gentlemen; the bankers were their very subordinate allies. Yet the most important result of that Revolution was the concession to the Bank of England of the extraordinary privilege of inventing money — a privilege which, as Swift demonstrated, by an inevitable mathematical necessity has caused the possessors of it to acquire a lien on the entire wealth of the nation to the loss of the gentlemen and everybody else. Nothing would have been easier than for a system of education to explain to its pupils the nature of this privilege of the bankers; nothing could be more evidently the duty of any proper system of education than to give such an explanation. But Townshend's education did not dare to give it because it was not possible to tell the story of the founding of the Bank of England unless you also told the true story of the Revolution of 1688. The two were inextricably intertwined. Thus, secure against all dangers of publicity, the power of usury was able to extend its control over the state and, by a horrid irony, all the strong forces of conservatism and tradition were used to defend the activities of the most dangerous enemy that those forces have ever had to encounter. It was the discovery of usury that the gentleman's code could be used, if used with skill, for the promotion of injustice as well as for the promotion of justice. The individual gentleman, unless like Townshend he was very rich, would, it is true, be unwilling to "do anything that would let down the school," or the regiment, or what not. But, if you could trick the whole school into connivance at injustice, then, on the gentleman's code, it would become disloyalty to question the conduct of the school. So Shylock exchanged the Jewish gaberdine for the Old School Tie and was elected with acclamation to the governing body.

Under the system the gradual extrusion of the landed classes by the monied classes was mathematically inevitable. It happened. At the time of the Revolution, Gregory King tells us, the income of a merchant prince was "half that of a baronet, little more than an eighth that of a nobleman and little more than a third that of a bishop." "In 1750 it is probable that the City of London had a larger commercial income than the rents of the whole House of Lords and the episcopal bench."(44)  It was the Napoleonic wars which brought the final and complete triumph of the money-lenders. As Mr. Chesterton has justly put it:(45)

"The squire seemed struck in the saddle; he was foolish as if in pain.
He leaned on a staggering lawyer, he clutched at a cringing Jew.
He was stricken, it may be, after all, he was stricken at Waterloo."

Cobbett saw the whole thing happening in one part of Hampshire. "Let us look back to the place where I started on this present rural Ride. Poor old Baron Maseres, succeeded at Reigate by little Parson Fellowes, and at Betchworth (three miles on my road) by Kendrick, is no bad instance to begin with; for the Baron was nobly descended though from French ancestors. At Albury, fifteen miles on my road, Mr. Drummond (a banker) is in the seat of one of the Howards, and close by he has bought the estate, just pulled down the house and blotted out the memory of the Godschalls. At Chilworth, two miles further down the same vale and close under St. Martha's Hill, Mr. Tinkler, a powder-maker (succeeding Hill, another powder-maker, who had been a breeches-maker at Hounslow) has got the old mansion and estate of the old Duchess of Marlborough, who frequently resided in what was then a large quadrangular mansion, but the remains of which now serve as out farm-buildings and a farm-house, which I found inhabited by a poor labourer and his family, the farm being in the hands of the powder-maker, who does not find the once noble seat good enough for him. Coming on to Waverley Abbey, there is Mr. Thompson, a merchant, succeeding the Orby Hunters and Sir Robert Rich. Close adjoining Mr. Laing, a West India dealer of some sort, has stepped into the place of the lineal descendants of Sir William Temple.... Coming on to old Alresford (twenty miles from Farnham) Sheriff, the son of a Sheriff, who was a commissary in the American war, has succeeded the Gages. Two miles further on at Abbotston (down on the side of the Itchen) Alexander Baring has succeeded the heirs and successors of the Duke of Bolton, the remains of whose noble mansion I once saw here. Not above a mile higher up the same Baring has, at the Grange with its noble mansion, park, and estate, succeeded the heirs of Lord Northington; and at only about two miles further Sir Thomas Baring, at Stratton Park, has succeeded the Russells in the ownership of the estates of Stratton and Micheldover, which were once the property of Alfred the Great.... The small gentry to about the third rank upwards (considering there to be five ranks from the smallest gentry up to the greatest nobility) are all gone, nearly to a man, and the small farmers along with them. The Barings alone have, I should think, swallowed up thirty or forty of these small gentry without perceiving it. They indeed swallow up the biggest race of all; but innumerable small fry slip down unperceived, like caplins down the throats of the sharks, while these latter feel only the codfish.... The big, in order to save themselves from being 'swallowed up quick' (as we used to be taught to say in our Church prayers against Bonaparte) make use of their voices to get, through place, pension or sinecure, something back from the taxers. Others of them fall in love with the daughters and widows of paper-money people, big brewers and the like; and sometimes their daughters fall in love with the paper-money people's sons, or the fathers of those sons; and, whether they be Jews or not seems to be little matter with this all-subduing passion of love. But the small gentry have no resource. While war lasted, 'glorious war,' there was a resource; but now, alas, not only is there no war but there is no hope of war; and not a few of them will actually come to the parish-book."(46)

"To ascribe the whole to contrivance" he wrote(47) in another place "would be to give to Pitt and his followers too much credit for profundity; but ... if these knaves had said, 'Let us go to work to induce the owners and occupiers of the land to convey their estates and capital into our hands,' and if the Government had corresponded with them in views, the effect could not have been more complete than it has thus far been.... It was the sheep rendering up the dogs(48) into the hands of the wolves."

"The gentlemen of England," said George Wyndham at the beginning of the twentieth century, "must not abdicate."  But the whole history of England has been little but a history of gentlemen abdicating. The abdications have only not been noticed for the same reason as that for which Sir John Harrington found that treason never prospered — because the people who stepped into power always called themselves gentlemen.


28. Life of Walpole.

29. South Sea Bubble, Erleigh, p. 82.

30. Portland MSS., vii, 377.

31. Walpole, Coxe, ii, 297, 299.

32. Reliquiae Hernianae, ii, 200; May 20, 1724.

33. The previous pages are based on an article by Professor C. H. Firth in the English Historical Review for January, 1917.

34. The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, Namier, p. 231.

35. Essay on Soulitey’s Colloquies.

36. See article of Professor Firth referred to above.

37. Peel, Ramsay, pp. 13, 14.

38. Quoted by Cobbett in his Rural Rides.

39. History of Agriculture and Prices, Thorold Rogers, .pp. 693, 694.

40. Essay on Southey’s Colloquies.

41. Political Register, 6th December, 1806.

42. Work and Wages, pp. 65, 66.

43. Historical Gleanings, Lecture on Cobbett.

44. Work and Wages, Thorold Rogers, p. 111.

45. Secret People.

46. Rural Rides, pp. 310-12.

47. Ed. 1853, p. 92.

48. Sic. Does he mean "The dogs rendering up the sheep"?