Thursday, June 16, 2011

Things You Read in Contemporary Novels

Among my holiday reading is a few novels and I quote from one below because it points to the early growing
role of tradesmen in the deeply feudal agricultural economy that was 16th –century England.

[Scotland then was still largely a patchwork of warring tribal clan chiefdoms, with small holdings of low productivity, a dominant if restless Catholicism, and a mainly poverty-stricken population.]

To Francis, one tradesman’s the same as the next.’

One tradesman the same as the next? Not in the real world.
Any man with a steady hand and a cleave can call himself a butcher: but without the smith, where does he get that cleaver? Without the man who works in metal, where are your hammers, your scythes, your sickles, scissors and planes? Your arms and armour, your arrowheads, your pikes, and your guns? Where are your ships at sea and their anchors? Where are your grappling hooks, your nails, latches, hinges, pokers and tong? Where are your spits, kettles, trivets, your harness rings, buckles and bits? Where are your knives?’

(Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall, 331-32, London, Fourth Estate.

A novel set against the backdrop of the rise of Thomas Cromwell to become the most powerful of King Henry VIII’s courtiers in the 1520s-30s).

The growth of the skilled tradesmen within the agricultural and ocean-going economy tends to be overlooked.

As the importance of tradesmen grew so did the hamlets, villages, and little towns, which gradually attracted population of experienced tradesmen and women, plus runaway serfs and slaves and became vibrant trade routes via rivers to the sea, and to foreign countries. This first-order division of labour became significant as it drove market relations across goods (necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries) and political relationships, foreign trade, colonialism, and, inevitably, warfare (and note, the technologies of war on land and sea).

There was a long way to go before the extent of the market drove the nascent division of labour, and nation states became powerful moulders and re-moulders, of human societies. But, significantly, the fourth age of commerce had recommenced about a thousand years after the fall or Rome in the 5th century (see Adam Smith in both Wealth Of Nations and his Lectures On Jurisprudence).

It just shows that novel reading is not quite a mere holiday way of passing the time.



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