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THE PRESENT EDITION extends the History of British Commerce
to the end of the year 1878. The whole work has been revised, several new chapters have been added, and, as a distinct feature, it contains a decennial summary of commercial and economic progress, the text of some important treaties, and the statistics and other documents belonging thereto, at the end of the respective chapters. Several graphic tables are also given illustrative of banking, commerce, and finance, of great practical value. Otherwise, the plan of the history remains unchanged. It is not a simple chronological record of facts, but an historical account of the principal events by which commerce has been affected, and
of the influences which commerce has in turn exercised on the
economic condition of the country.
5, CROWN OFFICE Row, TEMPLE,
No HISTORY OF BRITISH COMMERCE for the last one hundred years has yet appeared, though the facts connected with it are replete with interest and instruction. The large quarto volumes of Macpherson and Anderson are chronological records of commercial transactions, rather than histories, and they end just when commerce began to expand into any real importance. Tooke's • History of Prices,' valuable as it is, is intended mainly to illustrate the effects of the circulation on prices. And though every history of Great Britain gives so far a history of British commerce, the inventions and discoveries which have so largely promoted productive industry; the political and economic events which have aided or hindered commerce and navigation; free trade, with its attendant blessings; those commercial and monetary crises which have so shaken public confidence; the introduction of railways, steam-packets, and telegraphs, which have imparted fresh life to international intercourse ; and the discovery of gold in California and Australia, have histories of their own, as well as a place in the history of Great Britain. Scarcely any of the reforms, moreover, which have completely altered the aspect of national industries, have been introduced without much misgiving and great opposition. In most cases, errors and prejudices had to be encountered, and many difficulties more or less formidable to be surmounted. A record of the arguments by which such victories have been gained, and of the work done by those noble champions
of progress to whose labour, skill, and wisdom the nation is indebted, must prove for ever valuable.
Though dealing directly with British commerce, occasional glances are taken of the state of commerce in foreign countries, especially at the commencement and end of the period embraced by our history. Economic laws are not limited in their operation to time or place, nor are the conquests of science the exclusive property of any single state. We can advantageously, therefore, study the lessons of experience of this and other nations; and should the following pages ever meet the eye of foreign statesmen or finance ministers, they will see in them that Britain has attained her present elevated position, not by restricting and entangling trade and industry, not by thwarting the laws of nature, but by removing every barrier, and by opening every avenue to the legitimate exercise of personal energies. Nay, more; they will see that, for the last fifty years, the principal efforts of the British Legislature have been directed to giving the greatest possible freedom to commerce, and to ensuring the greatest possible safety in mercantile transactions.
Ample are the materials at hand for a history of British commerce. The reports of parliamentary committees and royal commissions, always full and exhaustive; Hansard's Debates,' re-echoing the state of public opinion at the commencement and end of every agitation ; the works already quoted, and many more of a sectional character, yet of wide reach and solid value; the * Economist,' rich in economic facts; and the reports of secretaries of embassies and of British consuls in foreign parts—these and many other important works, to which I am greatly indebted, have furnished the threads which I have attempted to weave together.
A history of British commerce in so limited a compass can offer very little more than the main outlines of a vast subject. Monographs of special trades could only be given here and there. The revolution which has taken place in the value of many commodities has been simply hinted at, and but little room was left for any pictorial representation of the wonders of British commerce
among civilised and uncivilised states. Every effort has, however, been made to attain accuracy in data and soundness in the conclusions drawn. In most cases the authorities quoted are given, and these are generally the highest and most trustworthy extant. As an account of one of the most important interests in the empire, as a repertory of facts for the financier and economist, as a manual for the British trader all the world over, and as a class book for students of political and commercial economics, I trust the History of British Commerce' may prove of practical utility.