Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/563

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


have attained success. France was already richly supplied with the necessaries of life, and considerable progress had been made in the useful arts; but large sums were expended yearly in the purchase of luxuries, and it seemed possible to introduce the manufacture of silk and artistic goods, so that there should be less reason for the drain of treasure, and that the country might be entirely self-sufficing, not only for necessaries, but also for luxuries. Sully was doubtful as to this policy; he would have preferred to check the use of luxuries by sumptuary laws, and to develop those industries in which French products were the materials employed. This objection was partly met by extensive efforts to introduce sericulture on French soil; and, on the whole, experience seems to have proved that the King was well-advised in following the example of Venice and Florence and trying to plant this new industry, even though it required large subventions at first. In the latter part of the seventeenth century it flourished to such an extent as to provide an important and valuable article of export trade, so that foreign customers had to pay a considerable balance in bullion. The manufacture of glass and that of fine pottery were introduced during this reign into various districts of France by persons who had special privileges conferred upon them; the tapestry-manufacture needed still further encouragement, and obtained a royal subvention of 100,000 livres, and a sum of 150,000 livres was lent to two merchants of Rouen who proposed to undertake the making of fine cloth. While such pains were taken to stimulate exotic and plant new industries, a very careful scheme was devised for the reorganisation of the corps-de-metier, so as to provide more effective supervision for the existing trades; attempts were made to check the preposterous claims of the "Kings of the Mercers," and to break down the arbitrary restrictions by which the status of master in any trade had been guarded. A Council of Commerce was established, which carried out some useful changes in particular trades, though it did not reconstitute the corps-de-metier as completely as might have been desirable. Their powers were, however, limited, and they were not allowed to obstruct enterprising individuals who were trying to introduce improved processes of manufacture; many abuses were checked, and these institutions as modified continued to be a convenient piece of administrative machinery. The efforts that were made to improve agriculture also resulted in the stereotyping of the old social organisation. The King could not interfere to force on progress in the arts of tillage; all that could be done was to set an example of enterprise on the royal estates, and to bring pressure upon the magnates to follow it. The cultivators could only be effectively reached through the landed aristocracy, and there was a tendency to coerce them for their good by the exercise of seigniorial powers. The preservation of the relics of natural economy was also unfortunate, inasmuch as the metayers were thus cut off from the