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Political Events and History. The chief political events of the years of the eighteenth century in which Goldsmith lived and wrote need little comment. The House of Hanover was newly on the English throne, George II becoming king in 1727, and George III in 1760. The policies of the nation were determined largely by her statesmen, notably Robert Walpole, prime minister from 1721 till 1742, and William Pitt, who became prime minister in 1757. Walpole's policy was to keep peace abroad and to conciliate party and religious differences at home, that the new line of kings might be firmly established and the internal resources of the country be developed. His methods involved much bribery and corruption, in reaction against which a new spirit of patriotism was awakened by Pitt; but under his peaceful guidance the country grew in material wealth as never before. Toward the end of the reign of George II, and in the reign of George III, came more stirring events, and there was still greater national expansion. A vast colonial trade was built up, and commerce and the wealth based upon it became of more and more importance. By the victory of Lord Clive in 1757, firmly establishing the British power in India, and by the capture of Quebec from the French in the same year, establishing British power in Canada, England gained complete control of the vast domains of India and North America, and took the place as a world power which she has since retained among the nations. Under George III the country was less contented than under his predecessor. The borrowing of vast sums of money to carry on her wars increased the national debt of England to alarming proportions, and in many ways public affairs were mismanaged.
Industrial England. The Deserted Village is in unusual degree the product of the age in which it was written, especially of contemporary industrial conditions. The marked growth in commerce, during the eighteenth century, had made it the serious rival of agriculture. Manufacturing also was growing rapidly, the two constituting what Goldsmith calls “ trade.”' The so-called industrial revolution, consequent upon the invention of new machinery, the utilization of steam and water power, and improved methods of transportation and communication, was beginning, although it was to come mainly after Goldsmith’s day. The year 1770, when the poem was written, was a period of strong depression with regard to the national future. England was thought to be on the verge of bankruptcy, because of the vast proportions of the national debt; the frequent emigration, really a sign of growing population, was thought ominous ; and in particular the country was erroneously believed to be depopulating. Arthur Young, the traveler, wrote in this same year :
It is asserted by those writers who affect to run down our affairs, that, rich as we are, our population has suffered ; that we have lost a million and a half people since the Revolution; and that we are at present declining in numbers. 1
Another characteristic feature of the time was the inclosure of the old public lands. Innumerable inclosure acts were passed by Parliament between 1760 and 1774 ; and though the inclosure system was beneficial in the long run, the change caused at the time much suffering. Working classes that had
1 Tour of the North of England, Letter XL.