Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands/Chapter VI
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Of their Trade
'Tis evident to those, who have read the most, and travel'd farthest, that no Country can be found either in this present Age, or upon Record of any Story, where so vast a Trade has been managed, as in the narrow compass of the Four Maritime Provinces of this Commonwealth: Nay, it is generally esteemed, that they have more Shipping belongs to them, than there does to all the rest of Europe. Yet they have no Native Commodities towards the Building or Rigging of the smallest Vessel; Their Flax, Hemp, Pitch, Wood, and Iron, coming all from abroad, as Wool does for cloathing their Men, and Corn for feeding them. Nor do I know any thing properly of their own growth, that is considerable either for their own necessary use, or for Traffick with their Neighbours, besides Butter, Cheese, and Earthen Wares. For Havens, they have not any good upon their whole Coast: The best are Helversluys, which has no Trade at all; and Flussingue, which has little, in comparison of other Towns in Holland: But Amsterdam, that triumphs in the spoils of Lisbon and Antwerp, (which before engrost the greatest Trade of Europe and the Indies,) seems to be the most incommodious Haven they have, being seated upon so shallow Waters, that ordinary Ships cannot come up to it without the advantage of Tides; Nor great ones without unlading. The entrance of the Tessel, and passage over the Zudder-Sea, is more dangerous than a Voyage from thence to Spain, lying all in blind and narrow Channels; so that it easily appears, that 'tis not an Haven that draws Trade, but Trade that fills an Haven, and brings it in vogue. Nor has Holland grown rich by any Native Commodities, but by force of Industry; By improvement and manufacture of all Foreign growths; By being the general Magazine of Europe, and furnishing all parts with whatever the Market wants or invites; And by their Sea-men, being, as they have properly been call'd, the common Carriers of the World.
Since the ground of Trade cannot be deduced from Havens, or Native Commodities, (as may well be concluded from the survey of Holland, which has the least and the worst; and of Ireland, which has the most and the best, of both;) it were not amiss to consider, from what other source it may be more naturally and certainly derived: For if we talk of Industry, we are still as much to seek, what it is that makes people industrious in one Country, and idle in another. I conceive the true original and ground of Trade, to be, great multitude of people crowded into small compass of Land, whereby all things necessary to life become dear, and all Men, who have possessions, are induced to Parsimony; but those who have none, are forced to industry and labour, or else to want. Bodies that are vigorous, fall to labour; Such as are not, supply that defect by some sort of Inventions or Ingenuity. These Customs arise first from Necessity, but encrease by Imitation, and grow in time to be habitual in a Country; And wherever they are so, if it lies upon the Sea, they naturally break out into Trade, both because, whatever they want of their own, that is necessary to so many Mens Lives, must be supply'd from abroad; and because, by the multitude of people, and smalness of Country, Land grows so dear, that the Improvement of Money, that way, is inconsiderable, and so turns to Sea, where the greatness of the Profit makes amends for the Venture.
This cannot be better illustrated, than by its contrary, which appears no where more than in Ireland; Where, by the largeness and plenty of the Soil, and scarcity of People, all things necessary to Life are so cheap, that an industrious Man, by two days labour, may gain enough to feed him the rest of the week; Which I take to be a very plain ground of the laziness attributed to the People: For Men naturally prefer Ease before Labour, and will not take pains, if they can live idle; though, when, by necessity, they have been inured to it, they cannot leave it, being grown a custom necessary to their Health, and to their very Entertainment: Nor perhaps is the change harder, from constant Ease to Labour, than from constant Labour to Ease.
This account of the Original of Trade, agrees with the experience of all Ages, and with the Constitutions of all places, where it has most flourished in the World, as Tyre, Carthage, Athens, Syracuse, Agrigentum, Rhodes, Venice, Holland; and will be so obvious to every Man, that knows and considers the scituation, the extent, and the nature, of all those Countries, that it will need no enlargement upon the comparisons.
By these Examples, which are all of Commonwealths, and, by the decay, or dissolution, of Trade, in the Six first, when they came to be conquered, or subjected to Arbitrary Dominions, it might be concluded, that there is something, in that form of Government, proper and natural to Trade, in a more peculiar manner. But the height it arrived to at Bruges and Antwerp, under their Princes, for four or five descents of the House of Burgundy, and two of Austria, shews, it may thrive under good Princes and Legal Monarchies, as well as under Free States. Under Arbitrary and Tyrannical Power, it must of necessity decay and dissolve, because this empties a Country of People, whereas the others fill it; This extinguishes Industry, whilst Men are in doubt of enjoying themselves what they get, or leaving it to their Children; The others encourage it, by securing Men of both: One fills a Country with Soldiers, and the other with Merchants; Who were never yet known to live well together, because they cannot trust one another: And as Trade cannot live without mutual trust among private Men; so it cannot grow or thrive, to any great degree, without a confidence both of publick and private safety, and consequently a trust in the Government, from an opinion of its Strength, Wisdom, and Justice; Which must be grounded either upon the Personal Virtues and Qualities of a Prince, or else upon the Constitutions and Orders of a State.
It appears to every Mans eye who hath travell'd Holland, and observed the number and vicinity of their great and populous Towns and Villages, with the prodigious improvement of almost every spot of ground in the Country, and the great multitudes constantly employ'd in their Shipping abroad, and their Boats at home, That no other known Country in the World, of the same extent, holds any proportion with this in numbers of People; And if that be the great foundation of Trade, the best account that can be given of theirs, will be, by considering the Causes and Accidents, that have served to force or invite so vast a confluence of People into their Country. In the first rank may be placed, the Civil-Wars, Calamities, Persecutions, Oppressions, or Discontents, that have been so fatal to most of their Neighbours, for some time before as well as since their State began.
The Persecutions for matter of Religion, in Germany under Charles the Fifth, in France under Henry the Second, and in England under Queen Mary, forced great numbers of People out of all those Countrys, to shelter themselves in the several Towns of the Seventeen Provinces, where the ancient Liberties of the Country, and Priviledges of the Cities, had been inviolate under so long a succession of Princes, and gave protection to these oppressed strangers, who fill'd their Cities both with People and Trade, and raised Antwerp to such an heigth and renown, as continued till the Duke of Alva's arrival in the Low-Countrys. The fright of this Man, and the Orders he brought, and Armies to execute them, began to scatter the Flock of People that for some time had been nested there; So as, in very few Months, above a Hundred Thousand Families removed out of the Country. But when the Seven Provinces United, and began to defend themselves with success, under the conduct of the Prince of Orange, and the countenance of England and France, and the Persecutions for Religion began to grow sharp in the Spanish Provinces, all the Professors of the Reformed Religion, and haters of the Spanish Dominion, retir'd into the strong Cities of this Commonwealth, and gave the same date to the growth of Trade there, and the decay of it at Antwerp.
The long Civil-Wars, at first of France, then of Germany, and lastly of England, served to encrease the swarm in this Country, not only by such as were persecuted at home, but great numbers of peaceable Men, who came here to seek for quiet in their Lives, and safety in their Possessions or Trades; Like those Birds that upon the approach of a rough Winter-season, leave the Countrys where they were born and bred, flye away to some kinder and softer Climate, and never return till the Frosts are past, and the Winds are laid at home.
The invitation these People had, to fix rather in Holland than in many better Countrys, seems to have been, at first, the great strength of their Towns, which by their Maritime Scituation, and the low flatness of their Country, can with their Sluces overflow all the ground about them at such distances, as to become inaccessible to any Land-Forces. And this natural strength has been improv'd, especially at Amsterdam, by all the Art and Expence that could any ways contribute towards the defence of the place.
Next, was the Constitution of their Government, by which, neither the States-General, nor the Prince, have any power to invade any Man's Person or Property within the precincts of their Cities. Nor could it be fear'd that the Senate of any Town should conspire to any such violence; nor if they did, could they possibly execute it, having no Soldiers in their pay, and the Burgers only being employ'd in the defence of their Towns, and execution of all Civil Justice among them.
These Circumstances gave so great a credit to the Bank of Amsterdam; And that was another invitation for People to come, and lodge here what part of their Money they could transport, and knew no way of securing at home. Nor did those People only lodge Moneys here, who came over into the Country; but many more, who never left their own; Though they provided for a retreat, or against a storm, and thought no place so secure as this, nor from whence they might so easily draw their Money into any parts of the World.
Another Circumstance, was, the general Liberty and Ease, not only in point of Conscience, but all others that serve to the commodiousness and quiet of life; Every Man following his own way, minding his own business, and little enquiring into other Mens; Which, I suppose, happen'd by so great a concourse of people of several Nations, different Religions and Customs, as left nothing strange or new; And by the general humour, bent all upon Industry, whereas Curiosity is only proper to idle Men.
Besides, it has ever been the great Principle of their State, running through all their Provinces and Cities, even with emulation, to make their Country the common refuge of all miserable Men; From whose protection, hardly any Alliance, Treaties, or Interests, have ever been able to divert or remove them. So as, during the great dependence this State had upon France, in the time of Henry the Fourth, all the Persons disgraced at that Court or banisht that Country, made this their common Retreat; Nor could the State ever be prevail'd with, by any instances of the French Ambassadors, to refuse them the use and liberty of common life and air, under the protection of their Government.
This firmness in the State, has been one of the circumstances, that has invited so many unhappy Men out of all their Neighbourhood, and indeed from most parts of Europe, to shelter themselves from the blows of justice, or of Fortune. Nor indeed does any Country seem so proper to be made use of upon such occasions, not only in respect of safety, but as a place that holds so constant and easie correspondencies with all parts of the World; And whither any Man may draw whatever Money he has at his disposal in any other place; Where neither Riches expose Men to danger, nor Poverty to contempt; But on the contrary, where Parsimony is honourable, whether it be necessary or no; and he that is forced by his Fortune to live low, may here alone live in fashion, and upon equal terms (in appearance abroad) with the chiefest of their Ministers, and richest of their Merchants: Nor is it easily imagin'd, how great an effect this Constitution among them, may, in course of time, have had upon the encrease both of their People and their Trade.
As the two first invitations of People into this Country, were the strength of their Towns, and nature of their Government; So, two others have grown with the course of time, and progress of their Riches and Power. One is the Reputation of their Government, arising from the observation of the Success of their Arms, the Prudence of their Negotiations, the Steddiness of their Counsels, the Constancy of their Peace and Quiet at home, and the Consideration they hereby arrived at among the Princes and States of Christendom. From all these, Men grew to a general opinion of the Wisdom and Conduct of their State; and of its being establisht upon Foundations, that could not be shaken by any common Accidents, nor consequently in danger of any great or sudden Revolutions; And this is a mighty inducement to industrious People to come and inhabit a Country, who seek not only safety under Laws from Injustice and Oppression, but likewise under the strength and good conduct of a State, from the violence of Foreign Invasions, or of Civil Commotions.
The other, is, the great Beauty of their Country (forced in time, and by the improvements of Industry, in spight of Nature,) which draws every day such numbers of curious and idle persons to see their Provinces, though not to inhabit them. And indeed their Country is a much better Mistress than a Wife; and where few persons who are well at home, would be content to live; but where none that have time and Money to spare, would not for once be willing to travel; And as England shews, in the beauty of the Country, what Nature can arrive at; so does Holland, in the number, greatness, and beauty of their Towns, whatever Art can bring to pass. But these and many other matters of Speculation among them, filling the Observations of all common Travellers, shall make no part of mine, whose design is rather to discover the Causes of their Trade and Riches, than to relate the Effects.
Yet it may be noted hereupon, as a piece of wisdom in any Kingdom or State, by the Magnificence of Courts, or of Publick Structures; By encouraging beauty in private Buildings, and the adornment of Towns with pleasant and regular plantations of Trees; By the celebration of some Noble Festivals or Solemnities; By the institution of some great Marts or Fairs; and by the contrivance of any extraordinary and renowned Spectacles, to invite and occasion, as much and as often as can he, the concourse of busie or idle People from the neighbouring or remoter Nations, whose very passage and intercourse is a great encrease of Wealth and of Trade, and a secret incentive of People to inhabit a Country, where Men may meet with equal advantages, and more entertainments of life, than in other places. Such were the Olympick and other Games among the Grecians; Such the Triumphs, Trophees, and Secular Plays of old Rome, as well as the Spectacles exhibited afterwards by the Emperors, with such stupendous effects of Art and Expence, for courting or entertaining the People; Such the Jubilees of new Rome; The Justs and Tournaments formerly used in most of the Courts of Christendom; The Festivals of the more celebrated Orders of Knighthood; And in particular Towns, the Carnavals and Faires; the Kirmeshes, which run through all the Cities of the Netherlands, and in some of them, with a great deal of Pageantry, as well as Traffick, being equal baits of Pleasure and of Gain.
Having thus discover'd, what has laid the great Foundations of their Trade, by the multitude of their People, which has planted and habituated Industry among them, and, by that, all sorts of Manufacture; As well as Parsimony, and thereby general Wealth: I shall enumerate very briefly, some other Circumstances, that seem, next to these, the chief Advancers and Encouragers of Trade in their Country.
Low Interest, and dearness of Land, are effects of the multitude of People, and cause so much Money to lye ready for all Projects, by which gain may be expected, as the cutting of Canals, making Bridges and Cawsies, levelling Downs, and draining Marshes, besides all new essays at Foreign Trade, which are proposed with any probability of advantage.
The use of their Banks, which secures Money, and makes all Payments easie, and Trade quick.
The Sale by Registry, which was introduced here and in Flanders in the time of Charles the Fifth, and makes all Purchases safe.
The Severity of Justice, not only against all Thefts, but all Cheats, and Counterfeits of any Publick Bills, (which is capital among them,) and even against all common Beggars, who are disposed of either into Workhouses, or Hospitals, as they are able or unable to labour.
The Convoys of Merchant-Fleets into all parts, even in time of Peace, but especially into the Streights; which give their Trade Security against many unexpected Accidents, and their Nations Credit abroad, and breeds up Sea-men for their Ships of War.
The lowness of their Customs, and easiness of paying them, which, with the freedom of their Ports, invite both Strangers and Natives to bring Commodities hither, not only as to a Market, but as to a Magazine, where they lodge till they are invited abroad to other and better Markets.
Order and Exactness in managing their Trade, which brings their Commodities in Credit abroad. This was first introduced by severe Laws and Penalties, but is since grown into Custom. Thus there have been above Thirty several Placarts about the manner of curing, pickling, and barrelling, Herrings. Thus all Arms made at Utrecht are forfeited, if sold without mark, or marked without Trial. And I observed in their Indian-House, that all the pieces of Scarlet, which are sent in great quantities to those parts, are marked with the English Arms, and Inscriptions in English; by which they maintain the credit gain'd to that Commodity, by our former Trade to parts, where 'tis now lost or decay'd.
The Government manag'd either by Men that Trade, or whose Families have risen by it, or who have themselves some Interest going in other Mens Traffique, or, who are born and bred in Towns, the Soul and Being whereof consists wholly in Trade, which makes sure of all favour, that, from time to time, grows necessary, and can be given it by the Government.
The custom of every Towns affecting some particular Commerce or Staple, valuing it self thereupon, and so improving it to the greatest height, as Flussingue, by that of the West-Indies; Middleburgh, of French-Wines; Terveer, by the Scotch Staple; Dort, by the English Staple and Rhenish Wines; Rotterdam, by the English and Scotch Trade at large, and by French Wines; Leyden, by the Manufacture of all sorts of Stuffs, Silk, Hair, Gold and Silver; Haerlem, by Linen, Mixt-Stuffs, and Flowers; Delf, by Beer, and Dutch-Purcelane; Surdam, by the built of Ships; Enchusyen and Mazlandsluys, by Herring-Fishing; Friezland, by the Greenland-Trade; and Amsterdam, by that of the East-Indies, Spain, and the Streights.
The great application of the whole Province to the Fishing-Trade, upon the Coasts of England and Scotland, which employs an incredible number of Ships and Seamen, and supplies most of the Southern parts of Europe with a rich and necessary Commodity.
The last, I shall mention, is, the mighty advance they have made towards engrossing the whole Commerce of the East-Indies, by their Successes against the Portuguesses, and by their many Wars and Victories against the Natives, whereby they have forced them to Treaties of Commerce, exclusive to all other Nations, and to the admission of Forts to be built upon Streights and Passes, that command the Entrances into the Traffick of such places. This has been atchieved by the multitude of their People and Mariners, that has been able to furnish every year so many great Ships for such Voyages, and to supply the loss of so many Lives, as the changes of Climate have cost, before they learnt the method of living in them: By the vastness of the Stock that has been turn'd wholly to that Trade; And by the conduct and application of the East-Indy Company, who have managed it like a Commonwealth, rather than a Trade; And thereby raised a State in the Indies, governed indeed by the Orders of the Company, but otherwise appearing to those Nations like a Sovereign State, making War and Peace with their greatest Kings, and able to bring to Sea Forty or Fifty Men of War, and Thirty thousand Men at Land, by the modestest computations. The Stock of this Trade, besides what it turns to in France, Spain, Italy, the Streights, and Germany, makes them so great Masters in the Trade of the Northern parts of Europe, as Muscovy, Poland, Pomerania, and all the Baltique; where the Spices, that are an Indian Drug, and European Luxury, command all the Commodities of those Countries, which are so necessary to Life, as their Corn; and to Navigation, as Hemp, Pitch, Masts, Planks, and Iron.
Thus the Trade of this Country is discovered to be no effect of common contrivances, of natural dispositions or scituations, or of trivial accidents; But of a great concurrence of Circumstances, a long course of Time, force of Orders and Method, which never before met in the World to such a degree, or with so prodigious a Success, and perhaps never will again. Having grown (to sum up all,) from the scituation of their Country, extended upon the Sea, divided by two such Rivers as the Rhyne and the Mose, with the Vicinity of the Ems, Weser, and Elve; From the confluence of people out of Flanders, England, France, and Germany, invited by the Strength of their Towns, and by the Constitutions and Credit of their Government; by the Liberty of Conscience, and security of Life and Goods, (subjected only to constant Laws;) From general Industry and Parsimony, occasioned by the multitude of People, and smalness of Country; From cheapness and easiness of Carriage by convenience of Canals; From low Use, and dearness of Land, which turn Money to Trade; the Institution of Banks; Sale by Registry; Care of Convoys; Smalness of Customs; Freedom of Ports; Order in Trade; Interest of Persons in the Government; particular Traffick affected to particular places; Application to the Fishery; and Acquisitions in the East-Indies.
It is no constant Rule, That Trade makes Riches; for there may be a Trade, that impoverishes a Nation: As is not going often to Market, that enriches the Country-man; but, on the contrary, if, every time he comes there, he buys to a greater value than he sells, he grows the poorer, the oftner he goes: But the only and certain Scale of Riches, arising from Trade, in a Nation, is the proportion of what is exported for the Consumption of others, to what is imported for their own.
The true ground of this proportion lies in the general Industry and Parsimony of a People, or in the contrary of both. Industry encreases the Native Commodity, either in the product of the Soil, or the Manufactures of the Country, which raises the Stock for Exportation. Parsimony lessens the consumption of their own, as well as of Foreign, Commodities; and not only abates the Importation by the last, but encreases the Exportation by the first; for, of all Native Commodities, the less is consumed in a Country, the more is exported abroad; there being no Commodity, but, at one price or other, will find a Market, which they will be Masters of, who can afford it cheapest; Such are always the most industrious and parsimonious People, who can thrive by Prices, upon which the Lazy and Expensive cannot live.
The vulgar mistake, That Importation of Foreign Wares, if purchased abroad with Native Commodities, and not with Money, does not make a Nation poorer, is but what every Man, that gives himself leisure to think, must immediately rectifie, by finding out, that, upon the end of an Account between a Nation, and all they deal with abroad, whatever the Exportation wants in value, to balance that of the Importation, must of necessity be made up with ready Money.
By this we find out the Foundation of the Riches of Holland, as of their Trade by the Circumstances already rehearsed. For never any Country traded so much, and consumed so little: They buy infinitely, but 'tis to sell again, either upon improvement of the Commodity, or at a better Market. They are the great Masters of the Indian Spices, and of the Persian Silks; but wear plain Woollen, and feed upon their own Fish and Roots. Nay, they sell the finest of their own Cloth to France, and buy coarse out of England for their own wear. They send abroad the best of their own Butter, into all parts, and buy the cheapest out of Ireland, or the North of England, for their own use. In short, they furnish infinite Luxury, which they never practise; and traffique in Pleasures, which they never taste.
The Gentlemen and Officers of the Army change their Cloaths and their Modes like their Neighbours. But among the whole body of the Civil Magistrates, the Merchants, the rich Traders, and Citizens in general, the Fashions continue still the same; And others, as constant among the Sea-men and Boors: So that Men leave off their Clothes, only, because they are worn out, and not because they are out of Fashion.
Their great Foreign Consumption is French-Wine and Brandy; But that may be allow'd them, as the only Reward they enjoy of all their pains, and as that alone, which makes them rich and happy in their voluntary Poverty, who would otherwise seem poor and wretched in their real Wealth. Besides, what they spend in Wine, they save in Corn to make other Drinks, which is bought from Foreign parts. And upon a pressure of their Affairs, we see now for two years together, they have denied themselves even this Comfort, among all their Sorrows, and made up in passive Fortitude, whatever they have wanted in the active.
Thus it happens, that much going constantly out, either in Commodity, or in the Labor of Seafaring-men; and little coming in to be consumed at home; the rest returns in Coin, and fills the Country to that degree, that more Silver is seen in Holland, among the common Hands and Purses, than Brass either in Spain or in France; Though one be so rich in the best Native Commodities, and the other drain all the Treasuries of the West-Indies.
By all this account of their Trade and Riches, it will appear, That some of our Maxims are not so certain, as they are current, in our common Politicks. As first, That Example and Encouragement of Excess and Luxury, if employ'd in the consumption of Native Commodities, is of Advantage to Trade: It may be so to that which impoverishes, but is not to that which enriches a Country; and is indeed less prejudicial, if it lie in Native, than in Foreign, Wares. But the Custom, or Humour, of Luxury and Expence, cannot stop at certain Bounds: What begins in Native will proceed in Foreign Commodities; And though the Example arise among idle Persons, yet the Imitation will run into all Degrees, even of those Men by whose Industry the Nation subsists. And besides, the more of our own we spend, the less we shall have to send abroad; and so it will come to pass, that while we drive a vast Trade, yet, by buying much more than we sell, we shall come to be poor: Whereas when we drove a very small Traffique abroad, yet by selling so much more, than we bought, we were very rich in proportion to our Neighbours. This appear'd in Edward the Third's time, when we maintain'd so mighty Wars in France, and carried our victorious Arms into the heart of Spain; Whereas, in the 28th Year of that King's Reign, the Value, and Custom, of all our Exported Commodities, amounted to 294184l.-17s.-2d. And that of Imported, but to 38970 l.-03s.-06d. So, as there must have enter'd that Year into the Kingdom in Coin, or Bullion, (or else have grown a Debt to the Nation) 255214l.-13llsll.-08lldll. And yet we then carry'd out our Wools unwrought, and brought in a great part of our Cloaths from Flanders.
Another common Maxim is, That if, by any Foreign Invasion, or Servitude, the State, and consequently the Trade, of Holland, should be ruin'd, the last would of course fall to our share in England. Which is no consequence: For it would certainly break into several pieces, and shift, either to us, to Flanders, to the Hans-Towns, or any other parts, according as the most of those circumstances should any where concur to invite it, (and the likest to such,) as appear to have formerly drawn it into Holland, by so mighty a confluence of People, and so general a vein of Industry and Parsimony among them. And whoever pretends to equal their growth in Trade and Riches, by other ways than such as are already enumerated, will prove, I doubt, either to deceive, or to be deceived.
A third is, That if that State were reduced to great Extremities, so as to become a Province to some greater Power, they would chuse our Subjection rather than any other; or those, at least, that are the Maritime, and the richest of the Provinces. But it will be more reasonably concluded, from all the former Discourses, That though they may be divided by absolute Conquests, they will never divide themselves by consent, but all fall one way, and, by common Agreement, make the best Terms they can for their Country, as a Province, if not as a State: And before they come to such an extremity, they will first seek to be admitted, as a Belgick-Circle, in the Empire, (which they were of old;) and thereby receive the protection of that Mighty Body, which (as far as great and smaller things may be compar'd) seems the likest their own State in its main Constitutions, but especially in the Freedom or Sovereignty of the Imperial Cities. And this I have often heard their Ministers speak of, as their last refuge, in case of being threatned by too strong and fatal a Conjuncture.
And if this should happen, the Trade of the Provinces would rather be preserved or encreased, than any way broken or destroy'd by such an alteration of their State, because the Liberties of the Country would continue what they are, and the Security would be greater than now it is.
The last I will mention, is of another vein; That if the Prince of Orange were made Sovereign of their Country, though by Foreign Arms, he would be a great Prince, because this now appears to be so great a State. Whereas, on the contrary, those Provinces would soon become a very mean Country. For such a Power must be maintain'd by force, as it would be acquir'd, and as indeed all absolute Dominion must be in those Provinces. This would raise general Discontents; and those, perpetual Seditions among the Towns, which would change the Orders of the Country, endanger the Property of Private Men, and shake the Credits and Safety of the Government: Whenever this should happen, the People would scatter, Industry would faint, Banks would dissolve, and Trade would decay to such a degree, as probably, in course of time, their very Digues would be no longer maintained by the Defences of a weak People against so furious an Invader; but the Sea would break in upon their Land, and leave their chiefest Cities to be Fisher-Towns, as they were of old.
Without any such great Revolutions, I am of opinion, That Trade has, for some years ago, past its Meridian, and begun sensibly to decay among them: Whereof there seem to be several Causes; as first, the general Application, that so many other Nations have made to it, within these two or three and twenty years. For since the Peace of Munster, which restored the quiet of Christendom in 1648, not only Sueden and Denmark, but France and England, have more particularly, than ever before, busied the Thoughts and Counsels of their several Governments, as well as the Humours of their People, about the matters of Trade.
Nor has this happen'd without good degrees of Success; though Kingdoms of such extent, that have other and Nobler Foundations of Greatness, cannot raise Trade to such a pitch as this little State, which had no other to build upon; no more than a Man, who has a fair and plentiful Estate, can fall to Labour and Industry, like one that has nothing else to trust to for the support of his Life. But however, all these Nations have come of late to share largely with them; and there seem to be grown too many Traders for Trade in the World, so as they can hardly live one by another. As in a great populous Village, the first Grocer, or Mercer, that sets up among them, grows presently rich, having all the Custom; till another, encouraged by his success, comes to set up by him, and share in his Gains; at length so many fall to the Trade, that nothing is got by it; and some must give over, or all must break.
Not many Ages past, Venice and Florence possest all the Trade of Europe; The last by their Manufactures; But the first by their Shipping: And the whole Trade of Persia and the Indies, whose Commodities were brought (Those by Land, and These by the Arabian-Sea,) to Egypt, from whence they were fetcht by the Venetian Fleets, and dispersed into most of the parts of Europe: And in those times we find the whole Trade of England was driven by Venetians, Florentines, and Lombards. The Easterlings, who were the Inhabitants of the Hans-Towns, as Dantzic, Lubeick, Hamburgh, and others upon that Coast, fell next into Trade, and managed all that of these Northern parts for many years, and brought it first down to Bruges, and from thence to Antwerp. The first Navigations of the Portuguesses to the East-Indies broke the greatness of the Venetian Trade, and drew it to Lisbon; And the Revolt of the Netherlands, that of Antwerp to Holland. But in all this time, The other and greater Nations of Europe concern'd themselves little in it; Their Trade was War; Their Counsels and Enterprises were busied in the quarrels of the Holy Land, or in those between the Popes and the Emperors (both of the same Forge, engaging all Christian Princes, and ending in the greatness of the Ecclesiastical State throughout Christendom:) Sometimes in the mighty Wars between England and France, between France and Spain: The more general, between Christian and Turks; Or more particular quarrels between lesser and Neighbouring-Princes. In short, the Kingdoms and Principalities were in the World like the Noblemen and Gentlemen in a Country; The Free-States and Cities, like the Merchants and Traders: These at first despised by the others; The others serv'd and rever'd by them; till by the various course of Events in the World, some of these came to grow Rich and Powerful by Industry and Parsimony; And some of the others, Poor by War and by Luxury: Which made the Traders begin to take upon them, and carry it like Gentlemen; and the Gentlemen begin to take a fancy of falling to Trade. By this short account it will appear no wonder, either that particular places grew so Rich, and so Mighty, while they alone enjoyed almost the general Trade of the World; nor why not only the Trade in Holland, but the advantage of it in general, should seem to be lessen'd by so many that share it.
Another cause of its decay in that State, may be, that, by the mighty progress of their East-India Company, the Commodities of that Country are grown more than these parts of the World can take off; and consequently, the Rates of them must needs be lessened, while the Charge is encreas'd by the great Wars, the Armies, and Forts, necessary to maintain, or extend, the Acquisitions of that Company, in the Indies. For, instead of Five, or Six East-India Ships, which used to make the Fleet of the Year, they are now risen to Eighteen or Twenty, (I think Two and Twenty came in one Year to the United Provinces.) This is the reason, why the particular persons of that Company in Holland, make not so great advantage of the same Stock, as those of ours do in England; Though their Company be very much richer, and drives a far greater Trade than ours, which is exhausted by no charge of Armies, or Forts, or Ships of War: And this is the reason, that the Dutch are forced to keep so long and so much of those Commodities in their Magazines here, and to bring them out, only as the Markets call for them, or are able to take off; And why they bring so much less from the Indies, than they were able to do, if there were vent enough here: As I remember one of their Sea-men, newly landed out of their East-Indy Fleet, in the Year 69, upon discourse in a Boat between Delf and Leyden, said, he had seen, before he came away, three heaps of Nutmegs burnt at a time, each of which, was more than a small Church could hold, which he pointed at in a Village that was in sight.
Another Cause may be, the great cheapness of Corn, which has been for these dozen Years, or more, general in all these parts of Europe, and which has a very great influence upon the Trade of Holland. For a great vent of Indian Commodities (at least the Spices, which are the gross of them) used to be made into the Northern parts of Europe, in exchange for Corn, while it was taken off at good rates by the Markets of Flanders, England, France, Spain, or Italy; In all which Countrys it has of late years gone so low, as to discourage the Import of so great quantities, as used to come from Poland and Prussia, and other parts of the North. Now the less value those Nations receive for Corn, the less they are able to give for Spice, which is a great loss to the Dutch on both sides, lessening the vent of their Indian Ware in the Northern, and the Traffick of Corn in the Southern, parts. The cause of this great cheapness of Corn seems to be, not so much a course of plentiful and seasonable years, as the general Peace that has been in Europe since the year 59 or 60; by which so many Men and so much Land have been turned to Husbandry, that were before employ'd in the Wars, or lay wasted by them in all the Frontier-Provinces of France and Spain, as well as throughout Germany, before the Peace of Munster; and in England, during the Actions or Consequences of a Civil War; And Plenty grows not to a height, but by the Succession of several peacefull as well as seasonable Years.
The last Clause I will mention, is the mighty enlargement of the City of Amsterdam, by that which is called the New Town; The Extent whereof is so spacious, and the Buildings of so much greater Beauty and Cost than the Old, that it must have employ'd a vast proportion of that Stock which in this City was before wholly turned to Trade. Besides, there seems to have been growing on for these later years, a greater Vie of Luxury and Expence among many of the Merchants of that Town, than was ever formerly known; Which was observed and complained of, as well as the enlargement of their City, by some of the wisest of their Ministers, while I resided among them, who designed some Regulations by Sumptuary Laws; As knowing the very Foundations of their Trade would soon be undermined, if the habitual Industry, Parsimony, and Simplicity of their People, came to be over-run by Luxury, Idleness, and Excess. However it happen'd, I found it agreed by all the most diligent and circumspect Enquiries I could make, that in the years 69 and 70, there was hardly any Foreign Trade among them, besides that of the Indies, by which the Traders made the returns of their Money, without loss; and none, by which the common Gain was above Two or Three in the Hundred. So, as it seems to be with Trade, as with the Sea, (its Element,) that has a certain pitch, above which, it never rises in the highest Tides; And begins to Ebb, as soon as ever it ceases to Flow; And ever loses ground in one place, proportionable to what it gains in another.