I H A V E now, I trust, stated with sufficient distinctness the facts which bear on the history of wages and labour for six centuries in England. The evidence is taken from unimpeachable sources, from the record of what was actually paid, and the power which the wages earned had over the necessaries and conveniences of life. For nearly half the period, I have myself supplied all the evidence from which the inferences have been derived, or could be as yet. For another century I have relied on the notes which I have already collected for the history of prices during the period extending from the middle of Elizabeth's reign to the accession of Anne. For the rest I have trusted to Arthur
Young and Eden to the end of the eighteenth; to Tooke, Porter, and others for the nineteenth. I have been able, I hope, to discover and explain the special causes which affected the labourer from the middle of the sixteenth century to the end of the first quarter in the nineteenth. I have shown that from the earliest recorded annals, through nearly three centuries, the condition of the English labourer was that of plenty and hope, that from perfectly intelligible causes it sunk within a century to so low a level as to make the workmen practically helpless, and that the lowest point was reached just about the outbreak of the great war between King and Parliament. From this time it gradually improved, till in the first half of the eighteenth century,, though still far below the level of the fifteenth, it achieved comparative plenty. Then it began to sink again, and the workmen experienced the direst misery during the great continental war. Latterly, almost within our own memory and knowledge, it has experienced a slow and partial improvement, the causes of which are to be found in the liberation of industry from protective laws, in the adoption of certain principles which restrained employment in some directions, and most of all in the concession to labourers of the right so long denied, of forming labour partnerships.