« AnteriorContinuar »
the history of our own country. Hitherto the history of England, and particularly the history of our industry, our commerce, and our conquests, has been written almost exclusively from the middle-class point of view. Middleclass histories are still the text-books at all our schools and universities; middle-class political economy likewise finds favour in all directions. Even men who pride themselves upon their sympathy with the democratic system of our ancient Anglo-Saxon village communities have failed to see beyond the limits of their own class when treating of the affairs of the last two hundred years. At most the landlord class has been denounced as the chief cause of the degradation and impoverishment of the mass of the people during the period of the greatest increase of national wealth.
In beginning with the fifteenth century I have of course evaded the necessity of explaining in full the feudal system based upon serfdom; and the earlier portion of the work makes no pretence to be a detailed historical record even of the struggles of the people. Later periods are treated more thoroughly. My indebtedness to the famous German historical school of political economy headed by Karl Marx, with Friedrich Engels and Rodbertus immediately following, I have fully acknowledged throughout. The chapters which deal with "Labour and Surplus Value" and "The Great Machine Industry" seemed to me essential to a right understanding of our economical growth, though strictly speaking they are not historical. What a flood of light Marx's researches in this field have thrown upon the whole record of our development is not yet understood in this country. My references to the "Capital" are to the French edition, for the reason that French is unfortunately much more commonly known in England than German. An authorised
English translation will, I am told, certainly appear within the next few months, together with a translation of the unpublished second part. The works of Engels, Rodbertus, Held, Meyer, &c., however, are only to be read in German. Since this work was in type an article on "Socialism in England" has appeared in the Quarterly Review. Forty pages are devoted to a little book of mine entitled, "England for All," published about two years and a half ago. The criticism, which is very laboured, has been fully met, by anticipation, in the following pages.
In leaving the book to the judgment of the public, I do so with the hope that, whatever errors and shortcomings I may have been guilty of, some readers will be induced to look more carefully than they otherwise would into the system of production and the social arrangements around them. My friends and fellow-workers of the Democratic Federation, whose zeal, enthusiasm, and self-sacrifice have given so great an impetus to the cause, will I trust find in some help in the noble work they have undertaken.
10 DEVONSHIRE STREET,
PORTLAND PLACE, LONDON, W.,
November 8, 1883.
and prosperity were not upset by any of the troubles of the time. Defeat abroad and pestilence at home, civil wars, and formidable insurrections did not seriously affect the general welfare. The main body of the workers fought their own fights, and returned peaceably to their towns or homesteads, looking on with the calmest indifference whilst the barons and their retainers cut one another's throats for the cause of York or Lancaster.
Learning in our modern sense the people certainly had not; but the education of the time was wide-spread, the universities have never been so crowded since by all classes, and Piers Ploughman and Chaucer, Wyclif and Caxton, laid the ground-work of that homely English speech which, properly used, is to-day the strongest and the clearest of modern tongues. The homes of the people were filthy,* and much that we now hold to be necessary for health was thought quite useless; nevertheless the finest buildings in these islands are of this date, whilst the stone-carving and woodwork, the stained glass and tapestry which remain, testify to taste and training of a very high order. As to the labourers, they ate, drank, and worked well, and foreigners gazed in wonder at the rich clothing, sturdy frames, and independent mien of our English common men. The truth, of course, is that below the troubles and disturbances on the surface the great main stream of human life and happiness flowed on unchecked, owing to the steady operation of economical and social causes which were peculiar to this epoch. The king, the nobles, and the clergy were the leaders of a free, and, in the main, prosperous community; and, although cases of tyranny were not rare, and the upper classes then as ever lost no chance of
* Not worse, however, than the cottages of our agricultural labourers to day in any respect. See Chapter X.