'I marvel how the fishes live in the sea'— 'Why, as men do a-land: the great ones eat up the little ones.'
The Newcastle coal trade grew into something very like a modern American trust with the additional advantage of an authorized government monopoly so long as the agreed-upon duty was paid. Then there was the Starch Monopoly, a very profitable one because starch was a new delight which soon enabled Elizabethan fops to wear ruffed collars big enough to make their heads — as one irreverent satirist exclaimed — 'look like John Baptist's on a platter.'
But America? Could not America defeat the machinations of all monopolies and other trusts? Wasn't America the land of actual gold and silver where there was plenty of room for everyone? There soon grew up a wild belief that you could tap America for precious metals almost as its Indians tapped maple trees for sugar. The 'Mountains of Bright Stones' were surely there. Peru and Mexico were nothing to these. Only find them, and 'get-rich-quick' would be the order of the day for every true adventurer. These mountains moved about in men's imaginations and on prospectors' maps, always ahead of the latest pioneer, somewhere behind the Back of Beyond. They and their glamour died hard. Even that staid geographer of a later day, Thos.
Jeffreys, added to his standard atlas of America, in 1760, this item of information on the Far Northwest: Hereabouts are supposed to be the Mountains of Bright Stones mentioned in the Map of ye Indian Ochagach.
Speculation of the wildcat kind was bad. But it was the seamy side of a praiseworthy spirit of enterprise. Monopoly seems worse than speculation. And so, in many ways, it was. But we must judge it by the custom of its age. It was often unjust and generally obstructive. But it did what neither the national government nor joint-stock companies had yet learnt to do. Monopoly went by court favor, and its rights were often scandalously let and sometimes sublet as well. But, on the whole, the Queen, the court, and the country really meant business, and monopolists had either to deliver the goods or get out. Monopolists sold dispensations from unworkable laws, which was sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad. They sold licenses for indulgence in forbidden pleasures, not often harmless. They thought out and collected all kinds of indirect taxation and had to face all the troubles that confront the framers of a tariff policy to-day. Most of all, however, in a rough-andready way they set a sort of Civil Service going. They served as Boards of Trade, Departments of the Interior, Customs, Inland Revenue, and so forth. What Crown and Parliament either could not or would not do was farmed out to monopolists. Like speculation the system worked both ways, and frequently for evil. But, like the British constitution, though on a lower plane, it worked.
A monopoly at home — like those which we have been considering — was endurable because it was a working compromise that suited existing circumstances more or less, and that could be either mended or ended as time went on. But a general foreign monopoly—like Spain's monopoly of America—was quite unendurable. Could Spain not only hold what she had discovered and was exploiting but also extend her sphere of influence over what she had not discovered? Spain said Yes England said No. The Spaniards looked for trib ute. The English looked for trade. In government, in religion, in business, in everything, the two great rivals were irreconcilably opposed. Thus the lists were set; and sea-dog battles followed.
Elizabeth was an exceedingly able woman of business and was practically president of all the great joint-stock companies engaged in oversea trade. Wherever a cargo could be bought or sold there went an English ship to buy or sell it. Whenever the authorities in foreign parts tried discrimination against English men or English goods, the English sea-dogs growled and showed their teeth. And if the foreigners persisted, the sea-dogs bit them.
Elizabeth was extravagant at court; but not without state motives for at least a part of her extravagance. A brilliant court attracted the upper classes into the orbit of the Crown while it impressed the whole country with the sovereign's power. Courtiers favored with monopolies had to spend their earnings when the state was threatened. And might not the Queen's vast profusion of jewelry be turned to account at a pinch? Elizabeth could not afford to be generous when she was young. She grew to be stingy when she was old. But she saved the state by sound finance as well as by arms in spite of all her pomps and vanities. She had three thousand dresses, and gorgeous ones at that, during the course of her reign. Her bathroom was wainscoted with Venetian mirrors so that she could see 'nine-and-ninety' reflections of her very comely person as she dipped and splashed or dried her royal skin. She set a hot pace for all the votaries of dress to follow. All kinds of fashions came in from abroad with the rush of new-found wealth; and so, instead of being sanely beautiful, they soon became insanely bizarre. 'An Englishman,' says Harrison, 'endeavouring to write of our attire, gave over his travail, and only drew the picture of a naked man, since he could find no kind of garment that could please him any whiles together.
I am an English man and naked I stand here, Musing in my mind what raiment I shall were; For now I will were this, and now I will were that; And now I will were I cannot tell what.
Except you see a dog in a doublet you shall not see any so disguised as are my countrymen of England. Women also do far exceed the lightness of our men. What shall I say of their galli-gascons to bear out their attire and make it fit plum round?' But the wives of 'citizens and burgesses,' like all nouveaux riches, were still more bizarre than the courtiers. 'They cannot tell when or how to make an end, being women in whom all kind of curiosity is to be seen in far greater measure than in women of higher calling.
I might name hues devised for the nonce, ver d'oye 'twixt green and yallow, peas-porridge tawny, popinjay blue, and the Devil-in-the-head. '
Yet all this crude absurdity, 'from the courtier to the carter,' was the glass reflecting the constantly increasing sea-borne trade, ever pushing farther afield under the stimulus and protection of the sea-dogs. And the Queen took precious good care that it all paid toll to her treasury through the customs, so that she could have more money to build more ships. And if her courtiers did stuff their breeches out with sawdust, she took equally good care that each fighting man among them donned his uniform and raised his troops or fitted out his ships when the time was ripe for action.