This quotation dating from the early days of the so-called ‘fair trade’ movement, provides a suitable introductory text for our subject. No doubt most of the readers of The Times who thought about the matter at all did indeed regard protection as an economical heresy and free trade doctrine as tantamount to holy writ. Moreover, although there had been certain economic difficulties which some later historians have treated as the beginnings of a ‘great depression’, few observers in 1881 questioned that free trade was the best policy for Britain, and many found it difficult to understand why other countries were so reluctant to follow her along the primrose path leading to the Cobdenite liberation of commerce and thence to international peace. The later twentieth century reader, however, with the benefit of hindsight, is likely to react quite differently. Unlike The Times, he is more liable to be puzzled by the question: Why did Britain continue to adhere to her free trade policy right up to World War I, throughout a period when her principal industrial rivals and many of her imperial partners were either clinging or adding to existing trade barriers?