Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/552

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

Free access was given to food-stuffs imported from abroad, so that the 1 farmer was not only restricted in his operations, but was obliged to:'| contend with foreign competitors in the home markets. There is reason! to believe that this policy must have pressed with great severity on the rural population; a maximum was fixed for the wages of labour; and the terms of their contracts were such that the loss from bad seasons fell on the cultivating tenants rather than the proprietor. The depression of the rural inhabitants in the interest of the consumers was disastrous; but many communities besides Florence were tempted to pursue this policy. It seemed as if the peasant could be forced to carry on the work of tillage, whatever pressure was put upon him; there was little danger of his giving up rural occupations altogether, while the advantage of cheap food to an industrial and trading community was obvious.

The cities were also concerned in the wise management of such parts of their territory as were suitable for pasturage, partly for the sake of a supply of meat, but also with the view of procuring wool; the Florentines had large flocks upon the Maremma, for the obtaining of raw material was of primary importance to the Arte di Lana. We also find evidences of the introduction of sericulture in the neighbourhood of the towns where the weaving of silk had been introduced. The provision of raw material and of a proper food-supply were the two main points in the economic policy which the towns pursued in the large territories under their control.

This practice of treating town and country avocations as parts of one economic whole was commonly adopted, though it had hardly been definitely formulated in the fifteenth century; but the general principles which it involved had at least been so far thought out that they could be habitually assumed in the political writings of Machiavelli. He is quite clear as to the necessity of subordinating the interest of the citizen to that of the State; the civic policy of the Middle Ages had been that of severing different trading bodies and keeping them from encroaching on one another, rather than of subordinating all to an ulterior object. With Machiavelli the ulterior object towards which all commercial activities should be directed is the power of the prince. He points out that measures which tend to increase the wealth of the prince, without enriching the people, provide the firmest basis for absolute power.

Such ideas were widely current at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and they may easily have affected the statesmen who were guiding the destinies of the rising nationalities of Europe. In many countries all the elements that combine to form true national life were present; for there was a common stock, a common language, and a common law. But the fusion was incomplete and local divisions were deep and real. The ambitions which were opened up by the age of discovery