Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/544

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for increasing their shipping in northern waters. They left to other merchants the business of distributing to European consumers the spices and other valuable products which were imported to Lisbon; and Antwerp, from her position and still more from her policy, became the chief centre of the capitalists who were ready to take a part in this profitable commerce.

The organisations for intermunicipal commerce in the Middle Ages hampered the enterprising capitalist, as they tended to confine him to dealings in one particular class of goods and to limit the amount of his transactions. The modern capitalist desires to be free to engage in any promising venture, and to push his business as fast as he can; but to this the medieval merchants hardly aspired. To secure a footing at some particular port was a difficult and costly business; and'when they succeeded in this they organised the trade with care, so as to avoid flooding the market with their imports, and to ensure that all who joined in maintaining the factory and in contributing to the expenses of the establishment should have a share of the available trade. The old merchant organisations, with their particular privileges, their private factories, and "well-ordered trade," were a mere encumbrance at a time when the main routes of the world's commerce were being shifted; the real chance of rising to fortune lay with the men who were free to adapt themselves to these changing conditions; and Antwerp was a town which imposed little restriction on the employment of capital in any direction. The Merchant Adventurers had transferred their factory from Bruges to Antwerp in 1446; but they were almost the only traders who enjoyed special privileges in the city on the Scheldt. English commerce had given a great impetus to the growth of the town, which also became a staple for the products of Holland, and eventually secured much of the trade in fish, barley, and salt that had been previously carried on at Malines. The men of Antwerp were thus brought into direct antagonism with other Flemish cities, and were forced, almost unconsciously perhaps, to adopt an economic policy in consonance with the requirements of the coming age. The towns which followed the traditional scheme tried to make outside commerce directly subservient to their particular interests as producers or consumers; the men of Antwerp were merely concerned to increase the volume of trade and to take advantage of any benefit that happened to accrue; they bought out the rights of the landowners who took tolls on the Scheldt and made their city a centre of free intercourse, where men of all nations were welcome to engage in trade on equal terms. During the Middle Ages the only opportunities for such unrestricted intercourse had occurred at fairs; Antwerp owed its first importance to one of these gatherings, and so far as its economic institutions were concerned it was not so much a city as a permanent fair. Hence it was most natural that the German capitalists, who saw