FIVE centuries ago the wealth-producing power of England, man for man, was small indeed compared with what it is now. Not merely were all the great inventions and discoveries which since the Introduction of steam have revolutionized mechanical industry then undreamed of, but even agriculture was far ruder and less productive. Artificial grasses had not been discovered. The potato, the carrot, the turnip, the beet, and many other plants and vegetables which the farmer now finds most prolific, had not been introduced. The advantages which ensue from rotation of crops were unknown. Agricultural implements consisted of the spade, the sickle, the flail, the rude plow and the harrow. Cattle had not been bred to more than one-half the size they average now, and sheep did not yield half the fleece. Roads, where there were roads, were extremely bad, wheel vehicles scarce and rude, and places a hundred miles from each other were, in difficulties of transportation, practically as far apart as London and Hong Kong, or San Francisco and New York, are now.
Yet patient students of those times tell us that the condition of the English laborer was not only relatively, but absolutely better in those rude times than it is in England today, after five centuries of advance in the productive arts. They tell us that the workingman did not work so hard as he does now, and lived better; that he was exempt from the harassing dread of being forced by loss of employment to want and beggary, or of leaving a family that must apply to charity to avoid starvation. Pauperism as it prevails in the rich England of the nineteenth century was in the far poorer England of the fourteenth century absolutely unknown. Medicine was empirical and superstitious, sanitary regulations and precautions were all but unknown. There were frequently plague and occasionally famine, for, owing to the difficulties of transportation, the scarcity of one district could not "be relieved by the plenty of another. But men did not as they do now, starve in the midst of abundance; and what is perhaps the most significant fact of all is that not only were women and children not worked as they are today, but the eight-hour system, which even the working classes of the United States, with all the profusion of labor-saving machinery and appliances have not yet attained, was then the common system!