Page:History of England (Macaulay) Vol 4.djvu/231

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


said, the English government would be unable to equip a fleet without digging up the cellars of London in order to collect the nitrous particles from the walls.[158] Before the Restoration scarcely one ship from the Thames had ever visited the Delta of the Ganges. But, during the twenty-three years which followed the Restoration, the value of the annual imports from that rich and populous district increased from eight thousand pounds to three hundred thousand.

The gains of the body which had the exclusive possession of this fast growing trade were almost incredible. The capital which had been actually paid up did not exceed three hundred and seventy thousand pounds; but the Company could, without difficulty, borrow money at six per cent., and the borrowed money, thrown into the trade, produced, it was rumoured, thirty per cent. The profits were such that, in 1676, every proprietor received as a bonus a quantity of stock equal to that which he held. On the capital, thus doubled, were paid, during five years, dividends amounting on an average to twenty per cent. annually. There had been a time when a hundred pounds of the stock could be purchased for sixty. Even in 1664 the price in the market was only seventy. But in 1677 the price had risen to two hundred and forty-five; in 1681 it was three hundred; it subsequently rose to three hundred and sixty; and it is said that some sales were effected at five hundred.[159]

The enormous gains of the Indian trade might perhaps have excited little murmuring if they had been distributed among numerous proprietors. But while the value of the stock went on increasing, the number of stockholders went on diminishing. At the time when the prosperity of the Company reached the highest point, the management was entirely in the hands of a few merchants of enormous wealth. A proprietor then had a vote for every five hundred pounds of stock that stood in his name. It is asserted in the pamphlets of that age that five persons had