The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century: An Outline of the Beginnings of the Modern Factory System in England

Excerpt

Paul Mantoux is one of a long line French men of letters -- the names of Voltaire, Taine and Halévy spring to one's mind -- who, in interpreting England to their own countrymen, have also made her more understandable to Englishmen The very phrase 'industrial revolution' was coined by a French writer in the eighteenth century, and it is fitting that the first comprehensive work on the subject should have come from across the Channel. More than fifty years have passed since M. Mantoux's book saw the light, and more than thirty since the revised edition was published in England. But it is one of those books that age cannot stale, and this new edition, which makes it more accessible to the growing body of students of economic history, is unlikely to be the last.

At the beginning of the century the chief foreign influence on English historical scholarship was from Germany. No doubt it was salutary that something of the system and discipline inculcated at Berlin should have been brought to bear on a subject still young and uncertain of itself. But elaborate classification and metaphysical interpretations have never made much appeal to English minds; and it was a relief to a young student in 1909 or 1910 to be introduced to a work by a French scholar who said that all classifications must be more or less artificial, and was content to 'distinguish certain facts which belong together and which...give their character to the great periods of economic history'. The industrial revolution was treated simply as a movement arising from a growing division of labour, a widening of markets and the adoption of new devices by ordinary people. Due attention was paid to changes in speculative thought and in the attitude of the State to economic life. But these were minor considerations; and even the growth of individual freedom, on which stress had been laid by some of his predecessors, was considered by M. Mantoux as a consequence rather than a cause of the upsurge of industry and trade. The treatment was at once logical and chronological. Generally the facts were so deployed as to tell their own story. But the author's comments were always apposite, and the presentation was superbly lucid.

There was nothing pontifical about Mantoux. Unlike the Frenchman of English legend, who asserted that the sun revolved round the earth and offered his parole d'honneur that this was true, he never asked . . .

Additional information

Contributors:
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1961
Edition:
  • Revised

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