Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/546

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There was a considerable migration of German industry in the wake of German capital: both the linen and the fustian manufacture were attracted to a region from which there was such easy access to distant markets. The prosperity of the town increased by leaps and bounds, until in 1576 the Spanish Fury dealt it a blow from which it never recovered.

Though her greatness was short-lived, Antwerp occupies a very important place in the transition from medieval to modern commerce; for her merchants are said to have developed the modern system of commission-business. In the Middle Ages every possible obstacle had been put in the way of such transactions. Each merchant travelled personally with his own goods, or consigned them to a factor who acted exclusively as the representative of a single employer. Each -city was cautious about admitting outsiders to any trading privileges within its walls; and no merchant, who was free to carry on business himself, was allowed to "colour" the goods of an unfree trader, or to act as his broker. At Antwerp no such jealousy of outsiders existed: any one might settle and commence trade, and there was no objection to his doing business for the men of any city, or on any terms that suited him. This implied an immense reduction in the cost of maintaining agencies and in the incidental expenses of trade; and when once the new system got a fair trial, there could be no doubt that it had come to stay.

The rise of Antwerp is also significant of the change in the centre of gravity of the world's commerce which has occurred, since ocean voyages have become the chief means of mercantile intercourse. The Mediterranean ports were left stranded, and Lisbon failed to take their place. The trade which had been opened up by Portuguese enterprise did not react on home industries, or give increased and profitable employment to productive labourers. The carrying trade between Lisbon and Antwerp was largely taken up by the merchants of Holland, who had ships and sailors engaged in fishing, and these could be easily and remuneratively employed in other waters. The Iberian peninsula offered an immense market for the salt-fish, the cloth, and linen of the Low Countries; Antwerp merchants had the means of purchasing the products brought from the East. While the energies of the Spaniards and Portuguese were thrown into the task of establishing their power in the Indies, and prosecuting distant trade, the Netherlanders reaped much of the profit of carrying goods in European waters, and their industrial and maritime activity was greatly stimulated. Antwerp obtained for a time that supremacy in the world's commerce, which has never since been wrested from northern ports.

The discussion of the application of capital to commerce, and of the