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THE ORIENTAL HERALD.
No. 28.- APRIL 1826.-Vol. 9.
ON THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE SILK-TRADE
IN ENGLAND. It is not merely the temporary interest excited by the late discussions in Parliament, or the distress of the silk manufacturers generally throughout the country, which induces us to take up this topic. Independently of these considerations, which are of themselves sufficient to give it an additional importance in the estimation of the British public, the connexion of the subject with the silk-trade of India, brings it strictly within the province of our labours, and gives it a more especial claim on our attention.
Those who have the good fortune to be acquainted with M. Moreau's celebrated work on British Trade, or his subsequent publication on the Trade and Finances of our Indian Empire, will be at to loss to estimate the character of his still more recent and interesting production on the Silk-Trade of this country. It is distinguished by the same profound research into the most authentic records, the same indefatigable industry in compiling and digesting the multifarious
1 Rise and Progress of the Silk Trade in England, from the earliest Period to the present Time, (Pebruary 1826 ;) founded on Official Documents. Illustrated by copious Tables, constructed on a new plan, and exhibiting, since 1701, a collected view of the quantities of the Raw Silk of Bengal, China, and Persia, Italy and Turkey; and of Thrown Silk imported into, and reexported from, Great Britain; and the quantities remaining for the use of the Manufacturer, the Price of each Species of Silk, the Rates and the Amount of Duty; and also the Quantity, the official and real Value of British Manu. factured Silk Goods exported to Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and each Kiogdom, State, or Colony, depending on the same ; each Table having a Summary Recapitulation of several Periods of Five Years each, showing the true Increase or Decrease of the Silk Trade; concluding, Ist, with the Report relative to the Silk Trade presented the 8th June 1821, to the House of Lords, by a Select Committee, with the Minutes of Evidence taken before the said Coinmittee, the 4th, 7th, 14th, and 16th May 1821 ; and 2dly, by several authentic Accounts connected with the Silk Trade, &c. &c. The whole carefully compiled, digested, and arranged, (the antient part from the most authentic original Records, printed and mavuscript, and the modern part from the Records of Parliament, the Board of Trade, the East India Company, the Accounts of the Custom House, and the ablest Writers, Foreign and British). By César Moreau, French Vice Consul in London, Member of the Royal Institution, &c. &c. &c. London, 1826, Oriental Herald, Vol. 9.
statements in a tabular form, by which the whole facts, hitherto dispersed in a thousand directions, seem like scattered rays concentrated into a single focus, so as to reflect the strongest possible light on the progress of commercial enterprise.
The most important part of the work consists of six very comprehensive Tables, comprising the sum and substance of the British silktrade for about balf a century past; viz. from 1786 to 1823. But before entering upon them, we shall advert to the introductory part, which presents a brief sketch of the rise and
progress of the silk-trade in all parts of the world, but particularly in England, from the earliest periods of history. Many of the facts here detailed are too interesting and important to be passed over unnoticed. Aristotle hinself, that prince of antient philosophers, has described the silk-worm, or Βομβυξ, as a horned worm, which passes through several transformations in the course of six months,” and produces a substance called bombykia, which was first woven by Pamphila, a woman of Cos, an island near the coast of Caria. The prophet Ezekiel, in describing the commercial glory of Tyre when at its meridian, about the end of the fifth century before our era, enumerates raw and wrought silks among the objects of its rich merchandise. From the fourteenth year of Christ to nearly the end of the eighteenth century, we have a chronological view of the rise and progress of the silk-trade, which shows that this manufacture has been held in the highest estimation in the earliest ages. In the latter part of the third century, the Emperor Aurelian, when his wife begged of him to allow her " but one single gown of purple silk,” refused it, saying, that he would not buy it at the price of gold. (Vopiscus in Aur. c. 4.) And by the Rhodian naval laws, preserved in the eleventh book of the • Digests,' it is also proved, that this queen of manufactures, as it may well be called, held as high a rank in men's estimation as the king of metals. Silk, and likewise a fine species of linen called byssinus, sold for their weight in gold. Under the date of A.D. 73, the author says:
Silk still kept up so extravagant a price, that it was customary to decompose the most expensive kind, called the Assyrian bombycina, untwist the Threads, thereby reducing the stuff to a raw material, and then respin it very small, and re-weave it of so thin a fabric (probably like the modern slight silks called Persians) that it was too transparent to conceal what was under it. (Plin. l. vi. c. 17.; l. xi. c. 22.) For upwards of a century the moralists and satirists of Rome had execrated and ridiculed the indecent exposure of the person by such gowns of glass, such transparent clothing, “if, indeed, it might be called clothing," when a woman dressed in it“ could scarcely swear that she was not naked,” and yet it still kept its ground.
Nor were the gentlemen of Rome free from blame in their attachment to silk habiliments. In summer, some of them wore a silk dress, (manufactured from a species of worm in the island of Cos,) of an inferior quality to that used by the ladies, but so effeminate, that we are told it was censured by the graver people, and actually forbidden by the senate in the reign of Tiberius.
We now come to an important epoch in the history of silk. About the middle, or rather, in the earlier part of the sixth century, “two Persian monks, inspired by religious zeal or curiosity, had travelled to Serindah, the country of the Seres, and lived there long enough to make themselves acquainted with the whole process of the silk manufacture. On their return to the westward, instead of communicating their knowledge to their own countrymen, they proceeded to Constantinople, induced to do so, perhaps, by the sameness of their religion, and imparted to the Emperor the secret hitherto so well preserved by the Seres, that silk was produced by a species of worms, the eggs of which might be transported with safety, and propagated in his dominions. By the promise of a great reward, they were engaged to return to Serindah, whence they actually brought off a quantity of the silk-worms' eggs, concealed in a hollow cane, and conveyed them safely to Constantinople (anno 552). The precious eggs were hatched, in the proper season, by the warmth of a dunghill, and the worms produced from them were fed with the leaves of the mulberry-tree, spun their silk, and propagated their race under the protection of the monks, who also taught the Romans the whole mystery of the manufacture.” (Procop. Theophan. Buzan. &c.)
From this caneful of eggs, as if the little ark of this insect race, sprung the progenitors of all the silk-worms in Europe and the western parts of Asia. The infant manufacture was made a subject of state monopoly; and in the time of Procopius, the imperial treasurer, who compelled the worms to work exclusively for his master, sold the silks at the enormous price of six pieces of gold for the ounce, of those dyed with common colours, and twenty-four pieces for those tinged with purple, the imperial hue. This monopoly severely distressed the silk-manufacturers of Tyre and Berytus, and drove the inhabitants, who had depended upon them, to emigrate to the Persian dominions. About the middle of the ninth century, silk is reported to have been universally worn in China. A hundred years later, it is stated, that large quantities of silk were produced in the countries bordering on the Caspian, the most esteemed being those of Meru and Khorasan. In Greece, or the eastern empire, the manufacture continued to flourish unrivalled in any other part of Europe, till the middle of the twelfth century, when Roger, the Norman king of Sicily, invaded Greece with a fleet of seventy galleys, plundered Athens, Thebes, and Corinth of their wealth, and, among other things, carried off a great number of silk-weavers, whom he settled in Palermo, his capital city. These Grecian prisoners having, by the king's order, taught his Sicilian subjects to rear silk-worms, and weave all the varieties of silk stuffs then known, the manufacture appears in a very short time to have been completely established there; for about twenty years after, the fabrics of Sicily are spoken of as excelling in richness of colour and variety of pattern, some being intermixed with gold, and adorned with figures or pictures, others embellished with pearls.
The existence of a sufficient taste for silk finery in England, if not skill in its manufacture, about the middle of the thirteenth century, is plausibly inferred from the display of magnificence at the marriage of the daughter of Henry III. to Alexander III. of Scotland, on which occasion a thousand English knights, attired in habits of silk, honoured the ceremony with their presence, and next day appeared in new robes of another fashion. A little before this time, the ' Annals of Waverley' mention, that in 1242, the streets of London were canopied with silk, for the reception of Richard, the king's brother, on his return from the Holy Land. But whatever progress luxury may have made in the west of Europe up to this period, and till the close of the century, the manufacture flourished chiefly in the Levant, in Persia, and other countries of the East. However, it gradually extended westward : between 1300 and 1327, when the Venetians and Genoese had become masters of the chief seats of the silk-trade in the Mediterranean, it is supposed to have been in consequence introduced into Italy. Modena was first celebrated above other cities of Lombardy, for the quality of its manufacture ; and in 1327, to encourage the production, a law was made, that every proprietor of an enclosure in the city's territory, should plant, at least, three mulberrytrees. But the Bolognians enjoyed over them the advantage of possessing, exclusively, the proper machinery for twisting the silk, till the beginning of the sixteenth century, when that art extended to Modena, and thence to other parts of Italy. From the year 1300, the manufacture, according to some authorities, flourished chiefly at Florence ; according to others, in Lucca only, (which thence acquired great wealth,) till the year 1314, when the pillage of that place dispersed the workmen, with their art, to other cities of Italy, particularly Venice, Florence, Milan, and Bononia ; and some even to Germany, France, and Bretagne.
Hitherto, England had made no figure in this art, which appears, however, to have begun to be cultivated here early in the fifteenth century; for about the middle of this period it appears to have made considerable progress. In 1455, the silk-women of London complained to Parliament, that the Lombards, and other foreigners, were supplanting them in the market, by importing the manufactured goods, instead of unwrought silks, as formerly. It was, in consequence, enacted, that during the five ensuing years, no wrought silks should be imported ; and here commenced that system of protection and prohibition, which, by fostering indolence and imperfection, has kept our silkmanufacture at the present day, as much behind that of the rest of Europe, as we excel them in other branches of industry. Again, in 1482, in consequence of similar complaints, that our manufacturers were thrown out of bread by foreign competition, an act was passed to prohibit the importation of certain kinds of silk goods for four years. About twenty years afterwards, (1504,) for the encouragement of the smaller silk-manufactures in England, the importation of rihands, laces, girdles, and corses, composed wholly, or in part, of silk, was prohibited on pain of forfeiture; but all other kinds of silk, raw or wrought, were freely admitted. At this period, there seems to have been no broad manufacture of silk in England.