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Of all the indirect estimates of national prosperity, the rapidity and convenience of communication afford the most satisfactory. The most general mode of keeping up an interchange of thoughtfor that is the ultimate purpose of all civilized communication is by letter; and any documents which declare the extent of epistolary intercourse are most instructive upon the subject before us. The revenues of the post-office then are, next to the direct returns of national income, the surest measure of social improvement and opulence.
Like most things known in modern times, the establishment of posts claims a very ancient origin; but, as it is nearly impossible to know what the word meant formerly, all dates and facts respecting those old posts must be doubtful. They are ascribed variously to Cyrus, to Xerxes, to Charlemagne; but there can be no question as to their establishment, in France, under Lewis XI. in 1464. It was not, however, for any enlightened purpose, that so suspicious a prince desired to facilitate communication between the various parts of his kingdom; but in order to be himself the more speedily, informed of all that was passing there. His posts too were of a very limited nature, and merely for the use of the court; for it appears that a general letter-office was not founded till the year 1619. Germany, it seems, had the priority in this matter by a few years; for the Emperor Mathias, in acknowledgment of the service which the Count de Taxis had rendered to his country by forming such an establishment there at his own expense, erected the office of post-master into an hereditary feof for his family in 1616. Charles I. of England established posts in 1635; and it is remarkable that, so far back as then, the regulated speed between London and Edinburgh was six days to go and to return. In 1660 parliament authorized the same monarch to appoint a governor to this establishment. But posts were, in fact, a much earlier institution here; for, in 1548, under Edward VI. the price of post-horses was fixed at one penny per mile. Under Queen Elizabeth, in 1581, the office of chief post-master of England is mentioned; and it would be extraordinary if, so near to the epocha when the first English gazette was printed, rapid communication had not been facilitated. In 1631 also, a post-master for foreign countries is mentioned, and the office seems not then to have been quite new. The Fædera attribute it to James I. who died 1625. From all these documents it appears that an establishment for the conveyance of letters for public use was earlier in England than in France.
In the year 1644 the revenue of this branch was £5,000. In 1653 it was farmed for £10,000. In 1660, at the Restoration, it had more than doubled, being then £21,500. In 1674 it had increased to £43,000. In 1685 it was estimated at £65,000. In 1697 it was worth £90,504 : 10s. 6d. In 1711, when the former laws respecting the carriage of letters were repealed, and one general post-office was established, the gross revenue of the preceding year was stated to be £111,461: 178. 10d.; and Davenant makes the net produce of the three preceding years, 1708, 9, 10, to average at £56,664 : 19s. 10}d. The increase of postage laid on this year (1711) made the net revenue for the five years (1711, 12, 13, 14, 15) average at £90,223.. But as this increase was one-third, this sum represents about £60,000 at the former rate. Hence then, the real quantity of letters carried by post, at this time, was about three times as great as at the Restoration half a century earlier. In 1715. the gross amount of the inland postage was £ 198,226. In 1722 it was £201,804: 1s. 8d. from which deducting £33,397 : 12s. Sd. for letters franked, and £70,396 : 1s. 5d. for the expenses of management, the net revenue is £98,010 : 88. Od. In 1744 the gross produce of the inland and foreign office was £235,492; and twenty years afterwards it was £432,048. Thus then, in one century, the extent of letter-carriage had multiplied exactly twenty times. It is true that the rate of postage had been augmented; but if the wants of the people had not been as great as they were in respect to epistolary communication, and if their wealth had not increased, they would neither have demanded nor supported such an establishment. It is difficult to conceive a greater proof of the progress of civilization, commerce, and prosperity, than such an increase. We cannot help adding-though not in reference to M. Dupin—that, in half a century after the last-mentioned estimate, the gross amount of the English, Scotch, Irish, and foreign postage was £1,789,640; that is to say that, in one century and a half, the postage of the empire had increased ninety fold, fractions neglected. We have not in our hands
minute documents respecting the progress of epistolary communication in France, neither do we know whether any such existed, publicly, till very lately. But, by a comparison of what the revenues of the post-office now are in each country, and taking into account the various other circumstances of their prosperity, we shall be enabled to draw some conclusions concerning its state in France. In England, the net produce of all the post-offices, for the year ending July 5, 1825, was £1,497,000. Now, taking the proportions found above between the gross and the net produce, this sum represents about three millions sterling. In France the presumed. gross revenue of the posts was stated, in the budget of 1824, to be about twenty millions and a half of francs, or a little less than one million sterling; consequently about one third of the gross
revenue of the English posts. But, as the three of England are paid by a population which is only two thirds of that of France, it follows that each British subject pays, in the year, four times and a half as much postage as a Frenchman does. It is true that the rate of postage is higher in this wealthy and enlightened nation than in France; but, as the territory is only half as great, the distances are smaller, and the points of communication less numerous. Definitively, however, the epistolary necessities of England are four times and a half as great as those of France; and this is a stupendous intellectual balance in her favour.
But we can hardly expect that the political economists of France should immediately perceive inductions which flash conviction upon the mind of every educated Englishman; or require the same conclusions to be drawn by persons who set out from very different premises, and pursue opposite modes of reasoning. It would be a difficult thing to convince the generality of French financiers that a piece of folded paper with a seal to it, can, by its multiplication, represent the knowledge, commerce, wealth, and power of a nation; while our economists would be very much puzzled to find those things in extreme splendour, accompanied by extreme misery. We conceive that prosperity consists in the wide and happy mean betwixt Tyrian purple and rags; they see it more in gold and silver tissues. We must then adopt a more direct mode of convincing M. Dupin, if that be possible, that the superiority of England is of older date than he is inclined to allow, This
be found in the commerce of Britain. We need not trace back the trade of this country to its origin, to be convinced of its comparative importance and extent even in early times. A record in the exchequer, for 1354, states the exports of England for that year to be £294,184: 175. 2d. and the imports £38,970: 3s. 6d.; leaving a balance of £255,214:13s. 8d. which, reduced to the present denomination and value, is a very large sum. The æra corresponds pretty nearly with the time when France, unable to pay the ransom of King John, was under the necessity of applying to the Jews, and of issuing a leather currency, with a little stud of silver in the middle; no very great symptom of her superiority. In 1381 was passed our first navigation act; which showed that the attention of government was much turned to trade and shipping. The turbulent reign of Henry IV. was unfavourable to our commerce, though some foreign merchants residing among us amassed great riches. In 1421 the revenue of England amounted to £55,754 : 10s. 10d. and some curious details are given in the Fædera of its sources and its application. In 1458 the company of staplers is said to have paid to the crown £68,000 sterling, for the customs of staple
VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII.
wares, consisting principally in wool, woolfels, tin, lead, leather, and, if so, commerce must have increased considerably in the space of forty years. During this period the condition of France was most miserable. Her lands remained without cultivation, and her people was reduced to misery, yet she could then boast of the richest merchant in the world, Jacques Coeur, intendantgeneral of the French king's finances; so much did that nation always abound in contrasts. At the end of the sixteenth century, the customs of England were farmed for £14,000, but were raised by Queen Elizabeth to £40,000, and, afterwards, to £50,000 per annum. In the beginning of the same century France had a gleam of prosperity; for trade, navigation, and letters began to flourish under Francis I.; but, as Voltaire remarks, they were all buried in his grave. The same writer observes, that about the middle of that century, 'the French, though possessing ports both on the Ocean and the Mediterranean, had no navy; and though plunged in luxury had only a few coarse manufactures. The Jews, the Genoese, the Venetians, the Portugueze, the Flemish, the Dutch, and the English traded for us, as we were ignorant of the very first principles of commerce. Yet, in the midst of this great superiority, it is curious to hear the complaints of Sir W. Raleigh, like a modern grumbler, lamenting over the misconduct and melancholy prospects of England; and, like modern grumblers too, finding a speedy refutation in facts; for, in 1613, the exports amounted to £2,487,435:75. 10d. and the imports to £2,141,151 : 10s. In 1622 the same complaints were renewed, and the same answer was given, by an increase of circulation, if not of exports: for the sum total of export and import exceeded that of 1613 by £300,000. An edict of Lewis XIII. in 1626, prohibiting the exportation of wine, grain, pulse, to England; and the importation thence to France of cloths, serges, wool, lead, tin, stuffs, and even silk stockings, shows how little reasonable were those complaints when the state of Britain was compared to that of our rivals. In 1641 the customs of England were said to amount to £500,000 sterling; but what seems almost incredible is that, notwithstanding the civil wars, which must have caused a great interruption to industry, the Lords and Commons actually raised £40,000,000 sterling to oppose the King between the years 1641 and 1647; or more than £6,500,000 yearly for six successive years. We are told that about this time France began to undermine the trade of England; and Richelieu had raised the revenues of the crown from 35,000,000 to 70,000,000 livres, not quite £3,000,000 sterling. But, when we consider that Richelieu was the greatest minister that France has ever possessed, and that his æra was contempo
rary with the most untoward circumstances of England; and when we compare the two amounts, together with the extent of territory and all other circumstances of both nations, we shall only be the more convinced of M. Dupin's error; since, at the conclusion of the most brilliant ministry of large luxurious France, this little England, then hardly one-fourth in size, could raise supplies so much beyond her proportion of territory and climate. Yet we venture to say that, if M. Dupin had been asked whether the administration of Richelieu had not raised his nation far above ours, he would not have hesitated to answer in the affirmative.
From the year 1601 to 1651 the interest of money had been, by law, lower in France than in England; having been there reduced to six and half a per cent. in 1601; and here from ten to eight in 1624, and to six in 1660. After the results just stated, it is impossible to suppose that the high rate of interest in England proceeded from an absolute dearth of money, but altogether from a relative scarcity. Money applied to commerce brought home larger returns than when squandered away in pleasure; and as long as active demands for capital exceeded the quantity, capital was worth a high price. This must occur in every rapid development of industry, and we have witnessed similar effects in our own times. But the tendency is to make capital ultimately plentiful, and consequently cheap. This effect most amply took place as trade brought home due profits to England; for from the time abovementioned interest has been pretty uniformly decreasing to its present rate; while in France it has really undergone no further diminution to this hour, and has often returned to its former high prices. The
year 1660 was remarkable, not only for the reduction of interest, but for the establishment of the Royal Society, to which, says
Voltaire, the world owes the recent discoveries upon light, the principles of gravitation, the motion of the fixed stars, transcendant geometry, with many other discoveries which in this respect entitles this age to be called the age of the English as much as of Lewis XIV:—We think much more so.
In 1664 our imports exceeded our exports, and this was the year in which the exertions of Colbert were the most strenuous. În 1667 the French had made great progress; but by pretending to a monopoly, and by excluding foreign goods, she compelled other nations to a retaliation. In 1669 the excess of our exports over our imports became £1,147,660: 10s. 9d.; and in 1703 it was £2,117,523:35. 104d. About this time, however, we took more wares from France than we sent thither; because her wines we could not produce, and we did not yet manufacture her luxuries; and because such comforts as we then possessed she had not yet