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England under James II
by [?]

Beyond the Trent the country seems at this period to have been in a state of barbarism. The parishes kept bloodhounds for the purpose of hunting freebooters. The farm-houses were fortified and guarded. So dangerous was the country that persons about travelling thither made their wills. Judges and lawyers only ventured therein, escorted by a strong guard of armed men.

The natural resources of the island were undeveloped. The tin mines of Cornwall, which two thousand years before attracted the ships of the merchant princes of Tyre beyond the Pillars of Hercules, were indeed worked to a considerable extent; but the copper mines, which now yield annually fifteen thousand tons, were entirely neglected. Rock salt was known to exist, but was not used to any considerable extent; and only a partial supply of salt by evaporation was obtained. The coal and iron of England are at this time the stable foundations of her industrial and commercial greatness. But in 1685 the great part of the iron used was imported. Only about ten thousand tons were annually cast. Now eight hundred thousand is the average annual production. Equally great has been the increase in coal mining. “Coal,” says Macaulay, “though very little used in any species of manufacture, was already the ordinary fuel in some districts which were fortunate enough to possess large beds, and in the capital, which could easily be supplied by water carriage. It seems reasonable to believe that at least one half of the quantity then extracted from the pits was consumed in London. The consumption of London seemed to the writers of that age enormous, and was often mentioned by them as a proof of the greatness of the imperial city. They scarcely hoped to be believed when they affirmed that two hundred and eighty thousand chaldrons–that is to say, about three hundred and fifty thousand tons-were, in the last year of the reign of Charles II., brought to the Thames. At present near three millions and a half of tons are required yearly by the metropolis; and the whole annual produce cannot, on the most moderate computation, be estimated at less than twenty millions of tons.”

After thus passing in survey the England of our ancestors five or six generations back, the author closes his chapter with some eloquent remarks upon the progress of society. Contrasting the hardness and coarseness of the age of which he treats with the softer and more humane features of our own, he says: “Nowhere could be found that sensitive and restless compassion which has in our time extended powerful protection to the factory child, the Hindoo widow, to the negro slave; which pries into the stores and water-casks of every emigrant ship; which winces at every lash laid on the back of a drunken soldier; which will not suffer the thief in the hulks to be ill fed or overworked; and which has repeatedly endeavored to save the life even of the murderer. The more we study the annals of the past, the more shall we rejoice that we live in a merciful age, in an age in which cruelty is abhorred, and in which pain, even when deserved, is inflicted reluctantly and from a sense of duty. Every class, doubtless, has gained largely by this great moral change; but the class which has gained most is the poorest, the most dependent, and the most defenceless.”

The history itself properly commences at the close of this chapter. Opening with the deathscene of the dissolute Charles II., it presents a series of brilliant pictures of the events succeeding: The miserable fate of Oates and Dangerfield, the perjured inventors of the Popish Plot; the trial of Baxter by the infamous Jeffreys; the ill-starred attempt of the Duke of Monmouth; the battle of Sedgemoor, and the dreadful atrocities of the king’s soldiers, and the horrible perversion of justice by the king’s chief judge in the “Bloody Assizes;” the barbarous hunting of the Scotch Dissenters by Claverbouse; the melancholy fate of the brave and noble Duke of Argyle,–are described with graphic power unknown to Smollett or Hume. Personal portraits are sketched with a bold freedom which at times startles us. The “old familiar faces,” as we have seen them through the dust of a century and a half, start before us with lifelike distinctness of outline and coloring. Some of them disappoint us; like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, they come in a “questionable shape.” Thus, for instance, in his sketch of William Penn, the historian takes issue with the world on his character, and labors through many pages of disingenuous innuendoes and distortion of facts to transform the saint of history into a pliant courtier.