THE COMMERCIAL FRAMEWORK
IT IS customary, if hackneyed, to describe the eighteenth century, and particularly its closing decades, as an age of transition, and, because it has seemed to usher in the type of industrial civilization with which we are so familiar to-day, much attention has been focused on it. Detailed studies of its political life, its constitutional development, its social and economic activities, are all available. In consequence it is now possible to ask some questions about this period as a whole with a reasonable hope of obtaining at least tentative answers to them. What, for instance, were the essentials of the social and economic structure of the country before the impact of technological change produced the movement we know as the Industrial Revolution? What were the dominant influences in this society? Or in other words who were pulling the strings? What was it like to be an Englishman then? How far were the satisfactions which Society offered to him dependent on the class structure and how rigid was this structure? How closely did social and economic factors influence constitutional arrangements and the formulation of public policy? What were the new forces modifying this picture? How far had it changed by the close of the century?
Kipling's lines: 'What should they know of England who only England know' might have been written with special reference to these questions. Any attempt to understand Hanoverian England must start with a study of its relations, cultural and economic, with its European neighbours and with both America and the East. Its domestic policy, the modification of its class structure, the growth of industrial change were all influenced by these factors. In these circumstances the merchants are of particular importance. They were the channel through which outside forces permeated this country. Comparatively few in number, the merchants were of quite disproportionate significance. Their wealth, their interests and their commercial philosophy were