Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV: How far the Advancement of Commerce and Manufactures has contributed to the Extension and Diffusion of Knowledge and Literature. - An Historical View of the English Government
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CHAPTER IV: How far the Advancement of Commerce and Manufactures has contributed to the Extension and Diffusion of Knowledge and Literature. - John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government 
An Historical View of the English Government, From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688, in four volumes, edited by Mark Salber Philips and Dale R. Smith, introduction by Mark Salber Philips (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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How far the Advancement of Commerce and Manufactures has contributed to the Extension and Diffusion of Knowledge and Literature.
It is natural to suppose that a proficiency in those practical arts, which multiply the necessaries and conveniencies of life will produce corresponding advances in general knowledge, and in the capacity of exercising the intellectual powers. Every practical art proceeds upon certain principles, discovered by experience and observation; and in the process of different arts there are numberless analogies and resemblances, which give rise to various deductions and conclusions, and thus, by a chain of reasoning, lead to new inventions and discoveries. The inexhaustible varieties of analogy and resemblance which occur in the objects around us, whether of art or nature, constitute the great<139> fund of general knowledge; and the faculty of discovering, and of arranging them, is justly regarded as the chief prerogative of the human understanding.
As the great wealth introduced by commerce and manufactures is, at the same time, very unequally divided, there springs up, of course, a numerous class of people, who, being born to affluent fortunes, are exempted from bodily labour, and who choosing to throw aside, in a great measure, the cares of business, indulge themselves in what is called pleasure. Being often destitute of that occupation which is necessary to preserve a relish for enjoyment, and without which the mind sinks into listless apathy and dejection. They seek amusement by artificial modes of occupying their imagination, in sports and diversions, in the collection and embellishment of those objects which are agreeable to the senses, and in those imitations and representations of nature which are calculated to excite admiration, wonder and surprise.1 Hence the introduction and improvement of the elegant and fine arts, which entertain us by the exhibition of what is grand, new<140> or beautiful, and which afford a delightful exercise to our taste, or a pleasing agitation of our passions.
The pursuits of mankind, however, are not limited to the objects of the common and mechanical, or of the elegant and fine arts. The first aim of every people is to procure subsistence; their next is to defend and secure their acquisitions. Men who live in the same society, or who have any intercourse with one another, are often linked together by the ties of sympathy and affection; as, on the other hand, they are apt, from opposite interests and passions, to dispute and quarrel, and to commit mutual injuries. From these different situations, they become sensible of the duties they owe to each other, and of the rights which belong to them in their various relations and capacities. A system of rules for enforcing those rights is gradually introduced, and the sciences of morality, of law, and of government, being more and more cultivated, give rise to a prodigious diversity of speculations and opinions. From the belief and the sentiments of mankind, in matters of<141> religion, there arises another science, not less intricate than the former, and which has proved even more fertile in disquisition and controversy. The remarkable appearances in the material world, the great changes in nature, the qualities and uses of the several productions of the earth; all these become in like manner, the subjects of attention and inquiry, and afford copious sources of knowledge and speculation.
While arts and sciences are thus advancing, they are gradually separated into different branches, each of which occupies the attention, and becomes the peculiar province of some individuals. The great branches of mechanical labour afford occupation to separate classes of workmen and artificers, who gain a livelihood by their peculiar employments; and according as every species of labour becomes more complicated, the separate classes of the people who derive a maintenance from it, are further subdivided. A similar division follows of course in those elegant and fine arts which become the subject of lucrative employments; as in painting, sculpture, and music.<142> Even in the cultivation of the sciences, the circumstances of society have commonly occasioned a separation of certain learned professions; and directed, in some measure, the attention of numerous classes of men to particular departments of knowledge. The diseases and accidents by which health is impaired have given rise to the medical profession, with its respective divisions, connected with various branches of natural science. The disputes and quarrels among mankind, with the modes which have been found expedient for settling their contentions without having recourse to arms, the execution of the various deeds requisite for the security and transmission of property, and the direction of those observances and forms which, in most countries, are established for ascertaining and confirming pecuniary transactions; these branches of business have given employment to attornies and lawyers, whose profession leads them to become acquainted with the rules of justice, and with the whole system of legal proceedings. From the belief of a Deity, and the corresponding sentiments which it inspires, has<143> arisen the profession of the clergy; whose business it is to preside over the public acts of religious worship, and who are naturally entrusted with the office of instructing the people in the great duties of morality.
But even in those cases where particular sciences are not immediately connected with any profession, the progress of study and speculation will dispose individuals, according to their peculiar talents or disposition, to give different directions to their inquiries, and to separate the objects of their speculative pursuits.
There can be no doubt that this division in the labours, both of art and of science, is calculated for promoting their improvement.2 From the limited powers both of the mind and the body, the exertions of an individual are likely to be more vigorous and successful when confined to a particular channel, than when diffused over a boundless expanse. The athlete who limited his application to one of the gymnastic exercises, was commonly enabled to practise it with<144> more dexterity than he who studied to become a proficient in them all.
But though the separation of different trades and professions, together with the consequent division of labour and application in the exercise of them, has a tendency to improve every art or science, it has frequently an opposite effect upon the personal qualities of those individuals who are engaged in such employments. In the sciences, indeed, and even in the liberal arts, the application of those who follow particular professions can seldom be so much limited as to prove destructive to general knowledge. In all liberal occupations or scientific professions, there are certain principles to be studied by every person engaged in the practice; principles which admit of an extensive application to a variety of objects, and which, in many cases, cannot be properly applied without exercising the united powers of imagination and judgment. The practitioner, therefore, who is in such cases, engrossed by the objects of his profession, may have an air of pedantry to those who<145> are occupied in different pursuits, but can seldom with justice be regarded as destitute of knowledge or of intellectual exertion. But the mechanical arts admit of such minute divisions of labour, that the workmen belonging to a manufacture are each of them employed, for the most part, in a single manual operation, and have no concern in the result of their several productions. It is hardly possible that these mechanics should acquire extensive information or intelligence. In proportion as the operation which they perform is narrow, it will supply them with few ideas; and according as the necessity of obtaining a livelihood obliges them to double their industry, they have the less opportunity or leisure to procure the means of observation, or to find topics of reflection from other quarters. As their employment requires constant attention to an object which can afford no variety of occupation to their minds, they are apt to acquire an habitual vacancy of thought, unenlivened by any prospects, but such as are derived from the future wages of their labour, or from the<146> grateful returns of bodily repose and sleep. They become, like machines, actuated by a regular weight, and performing certain movements with great celerity and exactness, but of small compass, and unfitted for any other use. In the intervals of their work, they can draw but little improvement from the society of companions, bred to similar employments, with whom, if they have much intercourse, they are most likely to seek amusement in drinking and dissipation.
It should seem, therefore, that in countries highly advanced in commerce and manufactures, the abilities and character of the labouring people, who form the great body of a nation, are liable to be affected by circumstances of an opposite nature. Their continual attention to the objects of their profession, together with the narrowness of those objects, has a powerful tendency to render them ignorant and stupid. But the progress of science and literature and of the liberal arts, among the higher classes, must on the other hand contribute to enlighten the common people, and to spread a degree of the same improvements over the whole<147> community. There is in all mankind a disposition to admire and to imitate their superiors; and the fashions, opinions, and ways of thinking, adopted by men of high rank, are apt to descend very quickly to persons of inferior station. Whenever any branch of learning becomes extensively useful, those who have a common interest in attaining it, are enabled, by joining together, to hire an instructor at an expence moderate to individuals. Schools and seminaries of education are thus introduced, and they are sometimes promoted by the well-meant encouragement and protection of the public. By their industry, different sorts of instruction are brought into a common market, are gradually cheapened by mutual competition, and, being more and more accommodated to the demands of society, become, as far as it is necessary, accessible even to the poor. Thus, in commercial countries, the important accomplishments of reading, writing, and accounting, are usually communicated at such easy rates, as to be within the reach of the lower orders.<148>
The publication of books affords another medium for the circulation of knowledge, the benefit of which must extend, in some degree, to every member of the community. When, among persons in affluent circumstances, who are exempted from bodily labour, reading becomes a common amusement, it is to be expected that their example in this, as in other things, will have an influence upon their inferiors; and, although the publications likely to fall into the hands of the common people will be such as are suited to their taste, and therefore, probably, not the best calculated for conveying instruction, they cannot fail to enlarge the imagination of the readers beyond mere professional objects, and even to communicate, perhaps, something of the opinions which prevail among the higher classes, upon the great popular topics of religion, morality, and government.
The effect of the cultivation proceeding from these different sources, is probably as remarkable at present, in Great Britain, as it has ever been in any commercial country, ancient or modern; but whether, upon the<149> whole, the artificial education thus communicated to the lower orders of the people, be sufficient to counterbalance the disadvantages of their natural situation, there may be good reason to doubt.
In ruder and more simple times, before labour is much subdivided, the whole stock of knowledge existing in a country will be scanty, but it will be more equally diffused over the different ranks, and each individual of the lower orders will have nearly the same opportunities and motives with his superiors, for exerting the different powers of his mind. The rude mechanic, residing in a small town, is forced to bestow his attention, successively, on many objects very different from each other. Not finding constant employment in one branch of manufacture, he exercises several, and furnishes himself with many of the tools requisite for each; he probably makes part of his own clothes, assists in building his own house and those of his neighbours, and cultivates, or directs his wife and children in cultivating, a small patch of ground, on which he raises part of his provisions. As he must<150> buy the materials, and sell or barter the produce of his labour, he is also, in some respects, a merchant; and, in this capacity, he is led to the observation of character, as well as to some speculation respecting the most advantageous times and places, for making his little bargains. When we add, that he is likewise trained to arms, for the purpose of assisting in defending the town of which he is a citizen, we must see that his situation, and consequently, his character, will be very different from that of a mechanic, in a more advanced society.
In this manner, all the members of a rude nation, being forced to exercise a great number of unconnected professions, and individually to provide for themselves, what each stands in need of, their attention is directed to a variety of objects; and their knowledge is extended in proportion. No man relies upon the exertions of his neighbour; but each employs, for the relief of his wants, or in defence of what belongs to him, either the strength of his body or the ingenuity of his mind, all the talents which he has been able to acquire, all the faculties<151> with which nature has endowed him. By experience, therefore, he learns to conduct himself in many different situations, to guard against the dangers to which he is exposed, and to extricate himself from the difficulties and embarrassments in which he may be involved. Unlike the mechanics of a commercial nation, who have each permitted all their talents, except in single and peculiar branches, to lie dormant and useless; but who combine, like the wheels of a machine, in producing a complicated system of operations, the inhabitants of a rude country have separately preserved, and kept in action, all the original powers of man; but in their united capacity, and as members of a community, they have added very little to the independent efforts of every individual.
If we compare the mechanics of different commercial states, we shall probably find that the respective degrees of their knowledge and intellectual attainments correspond with the foregoing observation. In England, and in= the other mercantile countries of Europe, it is believed, that, in pro-<152>portion to the advancement of manufactures, the common people have less information, and less curiosity upon general topics; less capacity, beyond the limits of their own employment, of entering into conversation, or of conducting, with propriety and dexterity, the petty transactions which accident may throw in their way.
This is perhaps the chief foundation of the common remark, which is made by the English, concerning the superior sagacity and cunning of their neighbours in the northern part of the island. As in Scotland commerce and manufactures have made less progress than in England, the great body of the people have not acquired the same habits of industry, nor are they so much engrossed by narrow mechanical employments. The man, therefore, has not been so entirely stripped of his mental powers, and converted into the mere instrument of labour. As the same individual often follows a greater variety of occupations, his understanding is more exercised, and his wits are more sharpened, by such different attentions. He is more capable of turning his hand to all<153> kinds of work, but he is much less a proficient in any. In the lower orders of society, where there are fewer restraints from education, it may be expected, that, in proportion as the people are more intelligent and quick-sighted, they will be more apt, in their mutual intercourse, to have their private interest in view, as well as to be more artful and subtle in pursuing it.*
Even in the same country, there is a sensible difference between different professions; and, according as every separate employment gives rise to a greater subdivision of workmen and artificers, it has a greater tendency to withdraw from them the means of intellectual improvement. The business of agriculture, for example, is less capable of a minute subdivision of labour than the greater part of mechanical employments. The same workman has often occasion to plough,<154> to sow, and to reap; to cultivate the ground for different purposes, and to prepare its various productions for the market. He is obliged alternately to handle very opposite tools and instruments; to repair, and even sometimes, to make them for his own use; and always to accommodate the different parts of his labour to the change of the seasons, and to the variations of the weather. He is employed in the management and rearing of cattle, becomes frequently a grazier and a corn-merchant, and is unavoidably initiated in the mysteries of the horse-jockey. What an extent of knowledge, therefore, must he possess! What a diversity of talents must he exercise, in comparison with the mechanic, who employs his whole labour in sharpening the point, or in putting on the head of a pin!3 How different the education of those two persons! The pin-maker, who commonly lives in a town, will have more of the fashionable improvements of society than the peasant; he will undoubtedly be better dressed; he will, in all probability, have more book-learning, as well as less coarseness in the<155> tone of his voice, and less uncouthness in his appearance and deportment. Should they both be enamoured of the same female, it is natural to suppose, that he would make the better figure in the eyes of his mistress, and that he would be most likely to carry the prize. But in a bargain, he would, assuredly, be no match for his rival. He would be greatly inferior in real intelligence and acuteness; much less qualified to converse with his superiors, to take advantage of their foibles, to give a plausible account of his measures, or to adapt his behaviour to any peculiar and unexpected emergency.
The circumstance now mentioned affords a view not very pleasant in the history of human society. It were to be wished that wealth and knowledge should go hand in hand, and that the acquisition of the former should lead to the possession of the latter. Considering the state of nations at large, it will, perhaps, be found that opulence and intellectual improvements are pretty well balanced, and that the same progress in commerce and manufactures which occa-<156>sions an encrease of the one, creates a proportional accession of the other. But, among individuals, this distribution of things is far from being so uniformly established; and, in the lower orders of the people, it appears to be completely reversed. The class of mechanics and labourers, by far the most numerous in a commercial nation, are apt, according as they attain more affluent and independent circumstances, to be more withdrawn and debarred from extensive information; and are likely, in proportion as the rest of the community advance in knowledge and literature, to be involved in a thicker cloud of ignorance and prejudice. Is there not reason to apprehend, that the common people, instead of sharing the advantages of national prosperity, are thus in danger of losing their importance, of becoming the dupes of their superiors, and of being degraded from the rank which they held in the scale of society?
The separation of a whole people into two great classes, of which the one was distinguished by knowledge and intelligence,<157> the other by the opposite qualities, occurred very remarkably over a great part of Europe, in what are called the dark-ages. A very numerous clergy, who had engrossed all the learning of the times, and whose understandings were whetted by an interested and incessant activity, formed the one class. The laiety, comprehending the military people, continually engaged in war and depredation, and the peasantry, reduced to the state of villainage, both equally sunk in ignorance and superstition, composed the other. In consequence of this unfortunate arrangement, the ministers of a religion which taught men to renounce all considerations of worldly interest, taking advantage of their superior talents, and uniting in a system of deep-laid fraud and deception, persuaded their simple flock to resign so great a proportion of their possessions, and to submit to a series of such extensive encroachments, as at length established an ecclesiastical tyranny, which the efforts of more than two centuries of diffusive science and philosophy, have hardly been able to overturn.<158>
But although commerce and manufactures, have, in like manner, a tendency to form two distinct and separate classes of the learned and the ignorant, there is no reason to suspect that the former will abuse their superiority, by perverting it to the hurt or detriment of the latter. It is plainly the interest of the higher ranks to assist in cultivating the minds of the common people, and in restoring to them that knowledge which they may be said to have sacrificed to the general prosperity. A certain degree of information and intelligence, of acquaintance with the good or bad consequences which flow from different actions, and systems of behaviour, is necessary for suggesting proper motives to the practice of virtue, and for deterring mankind from the commission of crimes. It surely is of the utmost consequence to the public, that men in the lower orders should be sober and industrious, honest and faithful, affectionate and conscientious in their domestic concerns, peaceable in their manners, and averse from riot and disorder. But how can it be expected that they will persevere in the<159> practice of the various duties incumbent upon them, unless they have acquired habits of observation and reflection; unless they have been taught to set a high value upon character and reputation, and are able to discover that such a conduct is no less conducive to their own interest, than to that of others. To render them useful in their several relations, either as men or citizens, it is requisite that they should be in a condition to form a proper estimate of the objects which will promote their true happiness, to detect those false appearances which might frequently mislead them, and to guard against the errors in religion, morality, or government, which designing men may endeavour to propagate. The doctrine maintained by some politicians, that the ignorance of the labouring people is of advantage, by securing their patience and submission under the yoke which their unequal fortune has imposed upon them, is no less absurd, than it is revolting to all the feelings of humanity. The security derived from so mean a source is temporary and fallacious. It is liable to be undermined by the intrigues<160> of any plausible projector, or suddenly overthrown by the casual breath of popular opinion.
As the circumstances of commercial society are unfavourable to the mental improvements of the populace, it ought to be the great aim of the public to counteract, in this respect, the natural tendency of mechanical employments, and by the institution of schools and seminaries of education, to communicate, as far as possible, to the most useful, but humble class of citizens, that knowledge which their way of life has, in some degree, prevented them from acquiring. It is needless to observe how imperfect such institutions have hitherto been. The principal schools and colleges of Europe have been intended for the benefit merely of the higher orders; and even for this purpose, the greater part of them are not very judiciously modelled. But men of rank and fortune, and in general those who are exempted from bodily labour, have little occasion, in this respect, for the aid of the public, and perhaps would be better supplied, if left, in a great measure, to their own<161> exertions. The execution, however, of a liberal plan for the instruction of the lower orders, would be a valuable addition to those efforts, for the maintenance of the poor, for the relief of the diseased and infirm, and for the correction of the malefactor, which have proceeded from the humanity and public spirit of the present age. The parish schools in Scotland, are the only extensive provisions of that nature hitherto known in the island; and though it must be confessed that they are but ill calculated for the purposes of general education, the advantages resulting from them, even in their present state, have been distinctly felt, and very universally acknowledged.<162>
[1. ]Millar echoes the opening of Smith’s essay “The History of Astronomy,” where admiration, wonder, and surprise are presented as general categories of human response to intellectual challenge. See Smith, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, ed. W. P. D. Wightman and J. C. Bryce (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982), 33–34.
[2. ]Smith remarks that the sciences too benefit from the division of labor. See WN, bk. 1, chap. 1, 21.
[* ]The inhabitants of the southern counties in Scotland have applied the same remark to those parts of the country which are still further behind in commercial improvements; and they have introduced a proverbial expression to that purpose: they say, “a person is too far north, that we should venture to have dealings with him.”
[3. ]Millar makes use of Smith’s famous analysis (itself reflective of a similar discussion in the Encyclopedie, Paris, 1751–80) of the division of labor in pin making. See WN, bk.= 1, chap. 1, 14.