Page:History of England (Macaulay) Vol 4.djvu/372

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disaster was severely felt by many of the great mercantile houses of London and Bristol.[324]

A still heavier calamity was the failure of the harvest. The summer had been wet all over Western Europe. Those heavy rains which had impeded the exertions of the French pioneers in the trenches of Namur had been fatal to the crops. Old men remembered no such year since 1648. No fruit ripened. The price of the quarter of wheat doubled. The evil was aggravated by the state of the silver coin, which had been clipped to such an extent that the words pound and shilling had ceased to have a fixed meaning. Compared with France indeed England might well be esteemed prosperous. Here the public burdens were heavy; there they were crushing. Here the labouring man was forced to husband his coarse barley loaf; but there it not seldom happened that the wretched peasant was found dead on the earth with halfchewed grass in his mouth. Our ancestors found some consolation in thinking that they were gradually wearing out the strength of their formidable enemy, and that his resources were likely to be drained sooner than theirs. Still there was much suffering and much repining. In some counties mobs attacked the granaries. The necessity of retrenchment was felt by families of every rank. An idle man of wit and pleasure, who little thought that his buffoonery would ever be cited to illustrate the history of his times, complained that, in this year, wine ceased to be put on many hospitable tables where he had been accustomed to see it, and that its place was supplied by punch.[325]

A symptom of public distress much more alarming than the substitution of brandy and lemons for claret was the increase of crime. During the autumn of 1692 and the following winter, the capital was kept in constant terror by housebreakers. One gang, thirteen strong, entered the mansion of the Duke of Ormond in