Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/566

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and opening up wider commercial connexions. Those who were unable to adopt the modern methods of business were necessarily distanced in the race. The industrial centres where the craft-gilds had been most vigorous and had retained their power most successfully, were at a positive disadvantage in entering on competition with neighbours who had imposed no such restrictions. Modern nations have incorporated the towns which were formerly so powerful and which failed to maintain the leading position they once held; this has been in part at all events because their very success under the old system rendered them incapable of giving a cordial welcome to the new.

In conjunction with this social obstacle to progress may be specially noticed the antagonism which was felt in many quarters to the introduction or the retention of alien and seemingly incongruous elements of population. The strength of the capitalist system consists in its ability to utilise the most varied elements. Both Holland, and to a less extent England, in receiving immigrants from other countries, increased their industrial resources by that most precious of all national possessions,—great skill in industrial employments of every kind. Varieties of type and of intelligence have been of the greatest importance in introducing new methods of business and improved processes of production; France and Spain, on the contrary, suffered severely from the policy which insisted on assimilating the whole population to conformity in religious and political thought.

Such were the trading and social conditions which placed capital at a disadvantage, and which determined those who controlled it to seek opportunities for investment in other lands. But there was one occupation throughout Europe which offered little attraction to the enterprising capitalist, and which therefore continued to lie almost outside the sphere of his operations. The agricultural system on the Continent in general was highly stereotyped. In Germany and Hungary serfdom remained; in Spain, France, and Italy vestiges of natural economy survived. Such a reorganisation of the population as would have produced better results presented great difficulties; while the introduction of improved methods often involved an outlay of capital and a diminished rate of return. The small proprietary and cultivating peasantry were destitute of the means of introducing improvements, even if the value of the change had been apparent. Some public works for the benefit of agriculture were undertaken by the Crown both in Prance and Spain; but it was only in Holland where there was a plethora of capital, and in England where the trade of the farmer was encouraged, that private capitalists became interested in the improvement of the soil. There was, as a consequence, little alteration in the condition of the rural population, and the first changes which occurred with the gradual introduction of capitalism were often for the worse. It was left for the social and political revolutions of the last hundred