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Conclusion: The Widening Gate of Capitalism
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We have seen how England’s loss of Bordeaux in 1453 marked the end of a long-stable pattern in the history of Bristol’s trade wherein every year cloth was exchanged in Gascony for huge quantities of wine, and how the Bristolians began a series of adjustments in the trade, society, and politics of their city. By the end of the sixteenth century, Bristol’s commerce, driven by its merchants’ quest for the highly profitable and scarce commodities of southern Europe, had come to focus on the Iberian peninsula, and new forms of merchant organization had emerged to exploit this traffic. A half-century later the pattern had changed again as Bristolians, still driven by “Bristol’s hope” for quick turnover and large gains in the luxury trades, transformed their city into an entrepôt of the trans-Atlantic economy. As recently as the 1630s, only a handful of vessels using the port annually had made the journey to and from the American plantations. But by the late seventeenth century about half of the shipping leaving British waters from Bristol was bound for Virginia, the West Indies, or Newfoundland, and a similar portion of the incoming traffic had originated there. As a result of this concentrated commercial effort, American sugar and tobacco had become by 1700 almost as much a staple of the city’s trade as French wine had been in the fifteenth century.

This transformation, so fundamental to bringing Bristol into the modern world, was as much a matter of outlook as of action. It could not have been accomplished without the will and ingenuity to break from the conventions of the past shown by many Bristolians, and it could not have been sustained without the growth among them of a new economic understanding. In Bristol as elsewhere, new economic ideas had been slow to emerge, and no single moment can be named as the turning point. But, fortunately, we can observe the main outlines of this important intellectual transition in the writings of three men: Roger Edgeworth in his Sermons, delivered in the 1540s and 1550s; John Browne in his Marchants Avizo, which appeared in 1589; and John Cary in his Essay on the State of England in Relation to its Trade, Its Poor and its Taxes, published in Bristol in 1695, and Essay on the Coyn and Credit of England: As they stand with Respect to its Trade, which appeared the year following. When looked at closely, these writings reveal a profound change in worldview of which Browne, who wrote in the late 1570s or early 1580s, represents the turning point between Edgeworth’s religious and ethical approach and Cary’s political economy.

As a city preacher in the 1540s and 1550s, Roger Edgeworth found it useful to draw many of his analogies and examples from the experiences of trade and the handicrafts familiar to most of his listeners. His sermons allow us to glimpse their world through its commonplaces. Edgeworth was well aware that this world, which involved the seeking of “gaynes” or “wynnynge,” operated according to ethical principles peculiar to it. “[T]he occupying that well besemyth som man,” he says,

is vnfitting and euil besemyng som other man…A Draper, a Mercer, a Shoemaker, and a hardwareman may stand in the open Market and sel hys ware to the most aduauntage and gaine, thereby sufficientlye to sustayne hym selfe, and hys familye or housholde. A knyght, a squyre, or a well landed manne maye not so do wyth hyse honestye. It were filthye, shame, and dishonestye for hym so to dooe, and hys winning shoulde not bee but fylthye wynnynge…and shamefull gaines.[1]

Nevertheless, even in the commercial environment of the city, the pursuit of gain was likely to be tainted. Covetous men, Edgeworth said, were like moles, blind to godly or heavenly counsel, who would rather descend “headlong” into the depths “to their lucre and aduantages” than feed on the “wine and wastel” of divine wisdom. Their lives were filled with “the temporall woe and paine they have in keping their goodes: for they be rather possessed and holden of theyr goods, then possesseth and holdeth them. And they haue their goodes as we say a man hath a paire of fetters or shackles vpon his legges, more to his paine then to his pleasure.”[2]

For Edgeworth, life in this urban world was fraught with unpredictable risks. It demanded courage as well as judgment and skill. To survive it was necessary to persist in one’s enterprises without regard to uncontrollable dangers and unforeseen losses. Since this was especially true for overseas traders, they became his model for fortitude in the face of adversity. If one or two storms or one or two losses should cause the shipman or the merchant to “abhorte and giue of going to the sea,” he says, “there would at the last no man aduenture to the seas, and then farewell this citye of Bristow, and all good trade of marchaundyse and occupying by sea.”[3] A merchant, although he has experienced many losses by shipwreck, still seeks out “straunge lands” and adventures “on his olde busynes” with a stock “gathered of borowed money, and dothe full well, and commeth to great substaunce and riches.”[4] But because survival required taking advantage of every opportunity to earn profit, this trading community was also a world of temptations to evil. Out of “couetousness to get the penye” men were driven to “sell false or noughty ware, or by false weightes or measures [to] deceiue [their] neighbours.”[5] We have all known “some Marchuntes and other occupiers,” Edgeworth says,

that in their prenticeshippe, and while they were iourneymen or seruauntes haue feared God deuoutlye, and the worlde busilye. And when they haue set vp and occupied for them selues, haue growen to muche riches in a little space, in so muche that within seuen or eight yeres they haue bene able to be shyriffes of the Citye, but when they were fatte, that their prouender pricked them, they haue begon to kycke againste GOD, and to do noughtelye.…They haue take their pleasures moste voluptuouslie, and haue contemned all others dispitefully which is a signe that the feare of GOD was cleane gone.[6]

For this reason, fearlessness in the face of danger could never be enough. It was also necessary to “sticke stedfastlye to thy fayth, doing accordinglye to Gods holye worde.”[7] According to Edgeworth, “He that feareth God will do good dedes, and will eschue the contraries, and his thrifte shall come accordinglye.”[8]

Since it was from God that men “had their thrift,” the only way to assure success was to live according to His will. All citizens were to do “their dutye in their tythes and offeryngs” to Him, keeping themselves “in the feare and awe” of His majesty, and “liuynge charitablye” toward their neighbors.[9] To illustrate these truths, Edgeworth told his listeners a little story. He asked them to consider two young men who had come to a town together as apprentices, “came forth to libertie together,” and set up in their occupations at about the same time. “[T]he one was more expert in his occupation then the other, the more quycke more liuelye, and more pregnant of witte, and he laboured…bothe earlye and late, as the other did, and yet he could not come forwarde, but euer almoste in beggars estate.” After a time the man “that was so farre behind” met his old acquaintance “and marueylynge of the chaunce of them boothe considerynge (sayth he) that when we were yong I was more likely to come forward then thou. And that I labour and studie…as many waies to haue the world, and to come to welthines, and more then euer diddest thou, & yet it wil not be, and the more I labour yet neuer the nere.” He suspected the reason must be that his fellow had “founde some bagges or treasure trouvy, some hid riches that bringeth thee alofte.” The second man agreed that his success was because he had indeed “founde some hydde ryches” and offered to bring his friend to where he “mayest finde like riches.”[10]

On the appointed day, the rich man brought his old acquaintance to church, where the first man “fell on hys knees and saide his prayers deuoutly as he was wont to do,” while “the other man called busily on him to shewe him his treasure. Tarye a while,” said the rich man,

we shall anone haue a Masse or some diuine seruyce compiled or gathered of the word of God, or some sermon of exhortation that may do vs good. Anone a prieste was ready & wente to masse: After masse this poore mannes minde was on the money, and called vppon his frende whiche at the laste aunswered after this maner. Frende, thou haste hearde and sene parte of the treasure that I haue founde. Here in this place I haue learned to loue GOD, heare I haue learned to feare God, Heare I haue learned to serue GOD. And when I haue done my duetye to God, home I go to my woorke about suche businesse as I haue, and all thinges goeth forward and so I am comne to this honeste Almes that GOD hathe lende me, wyth whiche I am well contented, and do thanke God for it, it commeth of God, and not of my deseruynge.[11]

His recommendation to his friend was to emulate this example if he wanted riches. “I see thy fashion,” he said, “thou little regardest God or his seruice, and lesse regardest his ministers. Thou haddest leuer goe to the market then to Masse, and on the holye daye, to idle pastimes, then to heare a Sermon.” Hence, “if thou thriue it is meruayle. And surely if thou prosper and go forwarde for a season, thou shalte haue one mischaunce or another that shall set thee further backwarde in a daye, then two or three good yeares hath set thee forward.”[12]

Skill, diligence, and the capacity for hard work were as nothing in Edgeworth’s economic world. By themselves they could not keep one from beggary. Even a successful enterprise was worthless, since it could not be counted upon as a firm foundation on which to build future successes. The world was simply too unpredictable, too likely to turn one’s days from good to bad in the twinkling of an eye. Only if one foreswore the market for the mass, respected the ministry, and performed the proper godly devotions would one receive a lasting reward. Hence the moral of Edgeworth’s tale was that “[t]hey that feare God haue no pouertie, for eyther they be ryche, or at leaste wyse be verye well pleased wyth that little that they haue, which passeth all gold and precious stoones.…Pietie or mercie with a hart content wyth that a manne hathe, is a greate gaynes and winnynge.”[13] Religious devotion also gave more than contentment with one’s lot; the spiritual merit built up through good works became the treasure upon which one could draw to go steadily forward in one’s everyday affairs. In this sense, the spiritual and material orders were united. God blessed those who gained His favor through their piety. In another way, however, they were radically disjoined, since there was little that one’s earthly endeavor could do to promote one’s earthly reward. Such success as one might have in one’s affairs came, as it were, from grace and not from works.

John Browne shared many of Edgeworth’s assumptions about the nature of the economy and its inherent dangers. The son of a Bristol draper, he was among the early Merchant Venturers in the city. Born about 1525, he was apprenticed in 1538 to a leading merchant, was married to the daughter of another in 1545, became mayor in 1572, and died in 1595. Hence he lived through the sixteenth-century climax of Bristol’s transition from being a specialist in cloth and wine to its new role as the entrepôt of the Iberian trades. His Marchants Avizo was intended as a handbook—or, as Browne himself says, “a patterne”—of merchant practice, designed especially for merchant apprentices in this era of economic change.[14]

Browne does not describe a modern economy. For him, the economy simply lacked the stable and predictable markets in which prices could be set without extensive haggling. As a result, a merchant could only use his “best indeuoure to sell as the time serueth.” If he could not “sel to some reckoning” in one place he took his goods to another “there to sell…as well as you may please.”[15] For this reason, the practice of merchants remained an art, subject to the wisdom of experience where nothing was hard and fast, and the best advice was “to haue good insight your selfe, and to do according as is your hast and necessities for your sales.”[16] No self-sustaining market mechanism could adjust the interests of buyers and sellers and control the dealings of merchants with each other. Browne believed, with Edgeworth, in a providential universe in which God’s visible hand could “destroy both thy bodie and soule.”[17] Trade, in this world, depended on personal relations among the traders, and the preservation of one’s good standing with them was more important than maximizing profit on a particular transaction. In Karl Polanyi’s phrase, the economy remained “submerged…in social relationships,”[18] subject to the unpredictable interplay of individual actions and chance events.

As if to mark this fact, Browne ends his book with “certain Godly sentences” which combine worldly wisdom and sage counsel on human frailty with admonitions to “first seeke the kingdome of God” and “remember often thy Creator.” Some of these sentences stress right actions, as in the admonition that “when thou promisest any thing: be not slacke to performe it, for he that giueth quickly, giueth double.” Others warn of dangers to be avoided from fellow merchants. “Be not hasty in giuing credit to euery man; but take heed to a man that is ful of words, that hath red eyes, that goeth much to law, and that is suspected to liue vnchaste.” For, through proper management of his relations with his fellows, a merchant “may liue with honestie and credit in time to come” and thereby have “prosperitie in all his wayes.” These moral precepts ring with an old-fashioned condemnation of covetousness and all that goes with it. “The godly and diligent man,” we read, “shall have prosperitie…but he that followeth pleasure and voluptuousnesse shall haue much sorrow.” Nevertheless, this condemnation was not in itself a critique of business enterprise. It focused instead on the morality of whoever might acquire wealth, no matter what his social rank or occupation. Did he gain it honestly, or by deceit? Did he act with reason and restraint, or rapaciously? Did he use his profits to maintain his family, to employ others, and to provide charity, or did he turn them to gluttony, wasteful luxury, and dissipation? If he was honest, selfless, and responsible, he was not covetous, even though he might be exceedingly wealthy. Browne’s overall aim was to encourage the merchant to live frugally and without greed, so as to avoid the threats of disaster around him. “Be circumspect and nigh in all your expenses,” he says, “that what you now spare and save…may grow the more to your owne benefit in time to come.” Here Browne differs from Edgeworth, since Browne believes that prudent conduct can limit risks and improve chances for prosperity.[19]

In the course of providing this tutelage Browne gives us a picture of the economy as he understood it. Since he saw its foundation in the exchange of goods, he dwelled primarily on relations among merchants. Nowhere in his book did he instruct the merchant apprentice in how to acquire domestic wares for export or how to dispose of imports once they had reached England. Instead, he focused on the manner in which a group of English traders, mostly from Bristol, worked together to dispose of their wares on the continent and to purchase the most profitable goods they could from foreign dealers. However, Browne had a clear comprehension of the mechanisms that made his economic world work. He knew the importance of foreign exchange and the role of credit, and he understood the necessity of organization and regulation in maintaining the vital networks. But the community of merchants was always at the heart of this world. Its success in mediating between domestic and foreign markets affected every craft—spinsters and sailors, weavers and dyers, landlords and tenants, husbandmen and victualers, grocers, clothiers, vintners, and mercers. If the merchant prospered through God’s blessing and his own prudence, those who depended on him would do so as well.

In other words, Browne had a sense of the economy as an integrated system, though not yet one separate from the larger social world. Its trades and crafts formed a social body in which each part worked to support the welfare of the whole. But his hierarchical ordering of occupations was concerned primarily with social distinction—“degree,” as he says—not functional economic integration. The merchant stood at the apex of a social pyramid, where he was the outlet for surplus domestic goods and the source of scarce foreign ones. His work, although it was of social benefit to each rank beneath him, did not promote the creation of trades and industries; it only redistributed their wares. Its very nature prevented this hierarchy from being a self-regulating mechanism of interconnected parts, since what was valued within it was set by absolute standards of virtue and not by the workings of the system itself. Nevertheless, this emphasis on the virtue of the trader placed some of the responsibility for the general welfare on his experience, choices, and effective actions.

Browne’s moral precepts, though familiar enough to men of Edgeworth’s outlook and their medieval predecessors, were conjoined to a growing sense that the merchant was a public figure, like the gentleman, the lawyer, and the cleric. The merchant’s activities affected the harmony of the commonwealth, because if he neglected his duties or failed in his enterprises those dependent on him would suffer. Hence his work required close regulation and demanded protection. This was a theme of the Commonwealthmen of the mid-sixteenth century, who usually are read more for their criticisms of trade and industry than for their vision of a new social hierarchy.[20] The same ideas became a theme for the merchants themselves as they petitioned for privileges and as they joined the royal court to advise the Crown.[21] Although Browne, writing at the age of sixty or so, appears to have held no hope for political advancement or personal benefit, he shared this new understanding. He looked on his book as the product of his public duty to aid his “profession.” When his profession prospers, he argued, “then common weales in wealth increase,” and everyone gains thereby:

Let no man then grudg Marchants state,
Nor wishe him any ill:
But pray to God our Queene to saue,
And Marchants state help still.[22]
Nevertheless, The Marchants Avizo is not a work of policy. Its chief purpose was “to worke a generall ease to all Marchants: whereby they may the lesse trouble themselues either with writing, invention, or thought of these matters,” and also to “be some stay to young and weake wits: yeelding them therby the more freedome of mind towards their other businesses.”[23] To accomplish these goals, it provided models of accounting procedures and of letters to and from servants sent abroad, drafts of various types of commercial instrument, and guides to weights, measures, exchange rates, and the qualities of certain imported wares.

John Cary wrote, however, with a deep concern for high matters of political economy. The son of Shershaw Cary, a Merchant Venturer, he was also a Merchant Venturer in his own right. Born about 1650, he was admitted to the Society in 1677 and became its warden for the year in 1683. He was briefly a member of the Bristol Common Council in 1687–88, helped to found Bristol’s famous Corporation of the Poor in 1696, and died about 1720.[24] He too witnessed a major transition in Bristol’s history, as the city moved from its focus on Spain and southern Europe to become an entrepôt of trans-Atlantic commerce. Writing in a genre that first became prominent during the economic crisis of the early 1620s, Cary attempted a systematic analysis of the present economic order with the goal of promoting national trade, increasing wealth, and improving government revenues. Of course, he had his own viewpoint, one that, if implemented, would have specially benefited the kind of commerce practiced by his fellow Bristolians. Far from advocating a single interest, however, he adopted the dispassionate and disinterested tone of the public commentator explaining the “Foundations of the Wealth of this Kingdom.”[25] “The general Trade of the Nation (which is the support of all),” he says,

requires as much Policy as Matters of State, and can never be kept in regular Motion by Accident; when the frame of our Trade is out of Order, we know not where to begin to mend it, for want of a Sett of Experienced Builders, ready to receive Applications, and able to judge where the defect lies.[26]

The ends advocated by Cary resulted from his belief that “true Profits” result, not from trade, but from “that which is produced from Earth, Sea and Labour…our Growth and Manufacture.”[27] Therefore, trade that neither exported English products or manufactures nor supplied things necessary to promote manufactures at home, to carry on trade abroad, or encourage navigation

cannot be supposed to be advantageous to this Kingdom, for there must be a difference made between a Nations growing rich and particular Mens doing so by it, and I humbly propose that it may be possible for private Men to be vastly improved in their Estates, and yet at the Years end the Wealth of the Nation cannot be a whit greater than at the beginning.…[W]hilst the thrifty Shopkeeper buys at one Price, and sells at another to the prodigal Beaux, and the industrious Artificer rents his Labour to the idle Drone, and the politick Contriver outwits the unthinking Bully, one raises his Fortunes on the other’s decay, the same for our Outland Trade, if we Export the true Riches of the Nation for that which we consume in our Luxury, tho’ private-Men may get rich by each other, yet the Wealth of the Nation is not any way encreased.[28]

On this basis he rejected the trade with the East Indies, since it extracted England’s wealth for high-priced goods without promoting domestic employments. But he had high praise for trade with the American plantations, which, in his view, had spared England a crisis of overpopulation. “People are or may be the Wealth of a Nation,” he argued,

yet it must be where you find Imployment for them, else they are a Burthen to it, as the Idle Drone is maintained by the Industry of the laborious Bee, so are all those who live by their Dependence on others, as Players, Ale-Houses Keepers, Common Fidlers, and such like, but more particularly Beggars, who never set themselves to work.[29]

The plantations not only employed the poor but encouraged navigation, were a market for England’s own goods, supplied commodities that could be wrought up at home or exported again, and made unnecessary the purchase of similar goods from the territories of other princes.

[F]or I take England and all its Plantations to be one great Body, those being so many Limbs or Counties belonging to it, therefore when we consume their Growth we do as it were spend the Fruits of our own Land, and what thereof we sell to our Neighbours for Bullion, or such Commodities as must pay for therein, brings a second Profit to the Nation.…This was the first design of settling Plantations abroad, that the People of England might better maintain a Commerce and Trade among themselves, the chief Profit whereof was to redound to the Center.[30]

All in all, Cary’s work depicted an economy transformed. Browne, a century earlier, had portrayed a commercial economy concentrated on Spain, Portugal, and France, and on only a handful of commodities—spices, sugar, wine, dyestuffs, oils, soap, iron, and salt—from which the greatest portion of a merchant’s profits ordinarily could be expected. Nothing was said directly about exports, although of course they are mentioned in various of the letters Browne used to give examples of form. But Cary’s economy encompassed the whole world—Asia, Africa, and especially America, as well as Europe, and the domestic as well as the international market—and valued the widest range of raw materials and finished goods, from the small and high-priced to the bulky and cheap. Its foundation lay in the relations between merchants and producers and in the creation through labor of new wealth.

Cary was no less religious than Edgeworth and Browne. Indeed, he is probably best known for his public acts of charity on behalf of the poor in Bristol. He was also no out-and-out free trader in the manner of the Bristol Quakers. He believed in state intervention to protect commerce and industry. Though he thought an outright “Monopoly by Law a thing very contrary to the Genius of the People of England”—something that “seems to barr the Freedom and Liberty of the Subject”—he nevertheless agreed with the old Merchant Venturer theme about the need to prohibit “the Merchant from being a Shopkeeper, or Retailer, and the shopkeeper from being a Merchant or Adventurer at the same time.” If “neither would interfere in the others business,” he said, each “would be better managed.”[31] But in so saying he was offering advice to tradesmen based on his analysis of the workings of the economy, not on a program of regulations and laws. Unlike Edgeworth and even Browne, Cary understood the economy to operate according to its own demonstrable rules. For him the market was a mechanical system, reaching a balance according to a scheme of weights and counterweights and working on a principle of the division of labor in which all the parts were linked by the circulation of wealth. “As the wealth and Greatness of the Kingdom of England is supported by its Trade,” he said, “so its Trade is carry’d by its Credit, this being as necessary to a Trading Nation, as Spirits are to the Circulating of Blood in the Body natural; when those Springs…Decay, the Body languishes, the Blood stagnates and the Symptoms of Death soon appear.”[32] If the economy depended on cogs to direct the wheels, it required only minimum adjustments “to keep them true.”[33]

One influence on Cary’s thinking was his acquaintance with major developments in the natural sciences. His papers even contain descriptions of three comets and a sketch of one of them.[34] He felt comfortable, as we have just seen, with analogies drawn from William Harvey’s path-breaking work on human circulation and had grasped the mechanistic paradigm emerging in astronomy and other branches of science in his day. He probably was familiar as well with the writings of John Locke and his circle; his work obviously owes a debt to Locke’s thinking on the role of labor in creating wealth. But the development of the economy in the second half of the seventeenth century also played a large role in accounting for Cary’s vision. He could easily see in his own city the integration of trade and industry about which he theorized. The plantations alone supplied it with

great Quantities of Sugar, Tobacco, Cotten, Ginger and Indigo…which being bulky for their transporting hither, and the greater Number of ships, imploys the greater number of Handicraft Trades at home, spends more of our Product and Manufactures, and makes more Saylors, who are maintained by a separate Imploy.[35]

The same was true for every trade. “For,” he argued,

if One Raised the Provision he eat, or made the Manufactures he wore, Trade would close, Traffique being a variety of Imployments Men set themselves on adapted to their particular Genius’s, whereby one is serviceable to another without invading each others Province; thus the Husbandman raises Corn, the Millard grinds it, the Baker makes it into Bread, and the Citizen eats it; Thus the Grazier fats Cattle, and the Butcher Kills them for the Market; Thus the Shepard shears his wool, the Spinster makes it into Yarn, the Weaver into Cloth, and the Merchant exports it; and every one lives by each other: Thus the Country supplies the City with Provisions, and that the Country with Manufactures.[36]

As Cary envisioned this interlocking of trade, it extended far beyond the boundaries of England. For example, according to him, the use of Indian calicos drove Silesian and German linens from the market and encouraged those who made them to convert their looms to the production of woolens. This in turn deprived England of a market for woolen cloths and even touched the manufacture of hats, which depended on central European wools for felt.[37] The same principle applied everywhere. In place of Browne’s hierarchical view, in which everyone depended on the merchant to succeed, Cary’s functional view stressed the reciprocity of all economic relations. “I comprehend all transferring of Properties under the general Notion of Trade; the Landlord, the Tenant, the Manufacturer, the Shopkeeper, the Merchant, the Lawyer all are Traders so far as they live by getting from each other, and their Profits arise from the Waxing and waning of our Trade.”[38] The guiding principle was indeed that “every one lives by each other.”[39] The merchant had a vital role to play, because he stimulated production, but he was only one among many, each of whom depended absolutely on his fellows in the division of labor.

Because Cary’s economy was subject to the laws of cause and effect, it was capable of development. “The first Original of Trade,” he tells us,

was Barter; when one private person having an Overplus of what his Neighbour wanted furnished him for his Value in such Commodities the other had, and stood in need of…And as People increased so did Commerce; this caused many to go off from Husbandry or Manufacture and other ways of living; for Convenience whereof they began Communities; this was the Original of Towns, which being found necessary for Trade, their Inhabitants were increased by expectation of Profit; this introduced Forreign Trade, or Traffick with Neighbouring Nations.[40]

This economic evolution created increasingly complex relationships among people. As they came more and more to depend on trade, the “buyer not only sold his commodities at home, but also dispersed them among those who were seated in the Country at a distance…and thence came in a skill and cunning to foresee their Rise and Fall according to their consumption and prospect of supply.”[41] Differences arising among buyers and sellers led next to the need for laws and lawyers, courts and judges, while the advance of “Trade brought Riches, and Riches Luxury, Luxury Sickness, Sickness wanted Physick and Physick required some to separate themselves” to become doctors. “[M]any also of ripe parts were fitted for Service of the Church, others of the State; great numbers were Imployed in providing Necessaries of Meat, Drink and Apparell both for themselves and other People…others fit things for their Pleasures and Delights.”[42] In this way economic growth produced civilization, with its benefits and discontents. As “Mens knowledge increases by Observation,” Cary concluded, “one Age exceeds another…because they improve the Notions of Men.”[43]

Roger Edgeworth could not conceive of improvement in our lives as in any way the consequence of human will. Only an ever-present God, working according to His own judgment of our true wants, could produce worldly satisfaction of them. Although John Browne had a more positive view of men’s ability to cope with the ways of the world, he too looked to God as the primary source of human welfare. “First seek the kingdome of God and the righteousness thereof,” he advised, “and then all things shall be giuen thee that thou hast neede of.”[44] He was also unable to contemplate a world ordered in any other than a static, hierarchical fashion. For John Cary, however, the social world was in a continuous process of change. It had begun in simplicity, but, driven by man’s need to balance existing supplies against his wants, it had grown day by day in complexity. Only the underlying laws of economic action, themselves open to human understanding and application, remained constant.


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