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which were then known in the world, being CHA P. much exhausted, and confequently the expence of working them much increased: Or it may have been owing partly to the one and partly to the other of thofe two circumftances. In the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the fixteenth centuries, the greater part of Europe was approaching towards a more settled form of government than it had enjoyed for several ages before. The increase of fecurity would naturally increase industry and improvement; and the demand for the precious metals, as well as for every other luxury and ornament, would naturally increase with the increase of riches. A greater annual produce would require a greater quantity of coin to circulate it; and a greater number of rich people would require a greater quantity of plate and other ornaments of filver. It is natural to fuppofe too, that the greater part of the mines which then fupplied the European market with filver, might be a good deal exhaufted, and have become more expenfive in the working. They had been wrought many of them from the time of the Romans.
It has been the opinion, however, of the greater part of those who have written upon the prices of commodities in ancient times, that, from the Conqueft, perhaps from the invafion of Julius Cæfar, till the discovery of the mines of America, the value of filver was continually diminishing. This opinion they feem to have been led into, partly by the obfervations which they had occafion to make upon the prices both of
BOOK of corn and of fome other parts of the rude produce of land; and partly by the popular notion, that as the quantity of filver naturally increases in every country with the increase of wealth, fo its value diminishes as its quantity increases.
In their obfervations upon the prices of corn, three different circumftances feem frequently to have mifled them.
Firft, In ancient times almoft all rents were paid in kind; in a certain quantity of corn, cattle, poultry, &c. It fometimes happened, however, that the landlord would ftipulate, that he should be at liberty to demand of the tenant, either the annual payment in kind, or a certain fum of money instead of it. The price at which the payment in kind was in this manner exchanged for a certain sum of money, is in Scotland called the converfion price. As the option is always in the landlord to take either the fubstance or the price, it is neceffary for the fafety of the tenant, that the converfion price fhould rather be below than above the average market price. In many places, accordingly, it is not much above one-half of this price. Through the greater part of Scotland this cuftom ftill continues with regard to poultry, and in fome places with regard to cattle. It might probably have continued to take place too with regard to corn, had not the institution of the public fiars put an end to it. These are annual valuations, according to the judgment of an affize, of the average price of all the different forts of grain, and of all the different qualities of each, accord
ing to the actual market price in every different CHA P. county. This inftitution rendered it fufficiently fafe for the tenant, and much more convenient for the landlord, to convert, as they call it, the corn rent, rather at what should happen to be the price of the fiars of each year, than at any certain fixed price. But the writers who have collected the prices of corn in ancient times, feem frequently to have mistaken what is called in Scotland the converfion price for the actual market price. Fleetwood acknowledges, upon one occafion, that he had made this mistake. As he wrote his book, however, for a particular purpose, he does not think proper to make this acknowledgment till after transcribing this converfion price fifteen times. The price is eight fhillings the quarter of wheat. This fum in 1423, the year at which he begins with it, contained the fame quantity of filver as fixteen fhillings of our prefent money. But in 1562, the year at which he ends with it, it contained no more than the fame nominal fum does at prefent.
Secondly, They have been misled by the flovenly manner in which fome ancient ftatutes of affize had been fometimes tranfcribed by lazy copiers; and fometimes perhaps actually compofed by the legislature.
The ancient ftatutes of affize feem to have begun always with determining what ought to be the price of bread and ale when the price of wheat and barley were at the loweft, and to have proceeded gradually to determine what it ought
BOOK to be, according as the prices of those two forts of grain fhould gradually rise above this lowest price. But the transcribers of thofe ftatutes feem frequently to have thought it fufficient to copy the regulation as far as the three or four firft and lowest prices; faving in this manner their own labour, and judging, I fuppofe, that this was enough to fhow what proportion ought to be obferved in all higher prices.
Thus, in the affize of bread and ale of the 51ft of Henry III., the price of bread was regulated according to the different prices of wheat, from one fhilling to twenty fhillings the quarter of the money of thofe times. But in the manufcripts from which all the different editions of the ftatutes, preceding that of Mr. Ruff head, were printed, the copiers had never transcribed this regulation beyond the price of twelve fhillings. Several writers, therefore, being mifled by this faulty transcription, very naturally concluded that the middle price, or fix fhillings the quarter, equal to about eighteen fhillings of our prefent money, was the ordinary or average price of wheat at that time.
In the ftatute of Tumbrel and Pillory, enacted nearly about the fame time, the price of ale is regulated according to every fixpence rife in the price of barley, from two fhillings to four fhillings the quarter. That four fhillings, however, was not confidered as the highest price to which barley might frequently rife in those times, and that these prices were only given as an example of the proportion which ought to be obferved in all
all other prices, whether higher or lower, we may CHA P. infer from the laft words of the ftatute; " et fic "deinceps crefcetur vel diminuetur per fex de"narios." The expreffion is very flovenly, but the meaning is plain enough; "That the price
"of ale is in this manner to be increased or di"minished according to every fixpence rife or "fall in the price of barley." In the compofition of this ftatute the legislature itself seems to have been as negligent as the copiers were in the transcription of the other.
In an ancient manufcript of the Regiam Majeftatem, an old Scotch law book, there is a ftatute of affize, in which the price of bread is regulated according to all the different prices of wheat, from ten-pence to three fhillings the Scotch boll, equal to about half an English quarter. Three fhillings Scotch, at the time when this affize is fuppofed to have been enacted, were equal to about nine fhillings fterling of our prefent money. Mr. Ruddiman feems to conclude from this, that three fhillings was the highest price to which wheat ever rofe in those times, and that ten-pence, a fhilling, or at most two fhillings, were the ordinary prices. Upon confulting the manufcript, however, it appears evidently that all these prices are only fet down as examples of the proportion which ought to be obferved between the respective prices of wheat and bread. The laft words of the ftatute are, "reliqua judicabis fecundum præfcripta ha"bendo refpectum ad pretium bladi.”
* See his preface to Anderfon's Diplomata Scotia.