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CHAPTER IX

EFFECTS OF THE NEW COÖPERATION:
WEALTH, SKILL, A MIDDLE CLASS, A NEW
IDEAL

O

UT of town life with its trade, its crafts, its

middle class, and its new powers of united

action came three kinds of gains: wealth and comfort; knowledge and skill; liberty, and ideals of honesty and of the dignity of labor.

It is easy for us to see why trade and exchange of Increase wares produces wealth, and usually means a gain for of all concerned. For it makes it possible for men to do wealth different kinds of work, according to their various abilities. In this way, if each man does what he can do best, there ought to be more grain grown, better houses built, better clothes made. It also gives a chance for people in one place to get the advantage of metals, clothes, foods, and all sorts of articles produced in other places, and thus to exchange what they have a surplus of for what they lack.

Exchanges were at first made largely at fairs and markets. The towns were a sort of continuous market where buyers and sellers could always find each other. Wealth tended to accumulate in towns not only because merchants often made large profits on trade with distant countries, but also because in towns were made the fine cloth, the jewels, the other luxuries, which the rich lords and their ladies sought. The lords exacted rent and labor and dues of various sorts from their villeins.

Increase in skill

They had all the necessaries of life produced or made on their own estates. Their surplus of cattle or wheat or salt they could exchange for fine clothing and ornaments. The substantial houses, and especially the beautiful gild houses of many of the towns, showed that in this exchange the burghers got their share of gain. Increase of wealth, like increase of power through military coöperation, may be misused, but it is none the less a great gain for more men to have the power to live comfortably and independently.

Men in towns had a better chance to become skilful. In a village or on a manor there would be one smith or carpenter, and perhaps several who could do weaving or shoe-making, but there would not be the chance for one man to get ideas from others that there would be in a town where there could be several men plying each kind of trade. And in a village it would be seldom the case that a man could work at one trade steadily; there would not be demand enough to keep him busy. So he would not have a chance to become so expert as the town mechanic who would be in demand all the time. The town then favored division of labor and tended to make expert craftsmen.

The increase of wealth in towns and of skill among craftsmen together made possible beautiful buildings, paintings, and sculpture. The motives for building great or fine buildings or making various beautiful and useful articles might have nothing to do with trade or town life, but the skilled workmen were almost sure to be found in the towns and the wealth with which to employ them was likely to be there also. Thus it was religion which prompted Solomon to build his temple, but he had to send to Tyre for skilled masons and carpenters. So the beautiful cathedrals which were

built during the Middle Ages were built for religion, but they were built in towns of some importance. The very numbers of people made a difference in the size and grandeur of the building. So the beautiful temples and statues of the Greeks were largely for their cities.

Growth of towns and growth of trade favored knowl- Increase edge directly. Any one who lives entirely by himself in is usually satisfied to remain at about the same stage knowledge of knowledge. So any small group or even a whole people, if cut off from intercourse with other people, is apt to settle down in its own ways of thinking and living, and regard these as best. We fall into a rut, as the phrase goes, unless we in some way meet other people, or learn about their ideas and ways of living. Nowadays, books, magazines, and newspapers keep us informed of what goes on elsewhere. But before printing was known people were generally dependent upon traders, soldiers from foreign wars, or wayfarers to carry news.

And of these, traders were probably the most important. More than the others, they helped to give people new wants, and so to raise their standards of living. As compared with soldiers, they tended to break down the old suspicions which in the tribal life always made a wall between people. And town life, where people from different places meet, tends also to break down old traditions which are a sort of weight on progress. If today you want to find traces of old customs and beliefs you look in country places.

It is interesting, too, to see how some of our branches of science grew out of the needs of trade. Geography of course necessary.

Arithmetic was closely connected with trade and industry. Some of the measures” in arithmetic-furlongs, acres, roods,

was

rods--- grew up with farming, but various kinds of weights—Avoirdupois and Troy-and liquid measures, the processes of measuring lumber and computing percentage and interest, were due to the needs of buyers and sellers, borrowers and lenders. Indeed, arithmetic was in early days in this country regarded as so " commercial ” a subject that it was not taught in the “ grammar schools ” which fitted boys for college. Further, it was necessary for the trader in ships to study the sky; and although astronomy began earlier, it was among such a trading people as the Greeks that it made its greatest advance in early times. It is interesting, too, that our alphabet came from the great traders, the Phænicians, and it was from them that the Greeks learned it and passed it on to Rome and through Rome to us.

It was indeed in the trading cities of Greece that science had its greatest growth in the Old World, and while we cannot say that trade deserved the credit for the wonderful genius of such men as Euclid, the geometer, or Democritus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the philosophers, or Thales, who foretold an eclipse, yet the general exchange of thought and knowledge which trade favored had much to do with giving oppor

tunity for science to develop. Defects

It is in some respects surprising that there was so

much ignorance in some matters in the mediæval towns knowledge where there was such knowledge, taste, and skill in other

matters. The cathedrals, the castles, the furnishings and carvings, the glass of early times were wonderful. On the other hand, men believed in magic and astrology. In medicine their remedies were often more dangerous than the disease; and they had almost no knowledge of chemistry which is so important today. One great

in

discovery was indeed made which helped to upset the whole scheme of castles, walls, and armor. This was gunpowder. It helped to put the common man on a level in war with the armed knight, and so to break down the power of the fighting class.

Town life, trade, and handicraft made a great change Rise in social classes. The earlier division had been into of the Fighters and Workers, or into Free and Unfree, or

middle

class into Gentry and Peasant. This growth of towns with their traders and craftsmen made a new class who were neither gentry nor peasants. They were free, but their strength was not in their land as with some of the free yeomen; it was in the wealth they gained through trade or skill, and in their union in town or gild. The wealth of the gentry was in land and was largely due to conquest or birth. The wealth of the burghers or town dwellers was due chiefly to their labor or shrewdness. This gave a field for a new kind of ability to show itself. Before this the chief rewards had been for brave fighters or capable rulers. In the church there had also been an opportunity for scholars, and administrators as well as preachers. But now there was an opportunity for the capable merchant and skilled craftsman. In Italy, in Germany, in France, in the Netherlands, and in England this Middle Class arose.

But we must not think that every one could enter this class. In the first place, no one from the gentry could enter it, for trade or any kind of manual labor was looked upon as a disgrace for a gentleman. Nevertheless from our present point of view we can see why to be kept out of trade was really a limitation for the gentleman, even though he did not think of it as such.

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