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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XV. Early Writings on Politics and Economics

§ 8. Prescriptions for improving its resources

Another large section of the economic writing of the period was undertaken by men who were concerned in the official administration of national or local affairs. Such handbooks had existed from time immemorial; a great example of this kind of writing was set by bishop Richard of London, in the Dialogus de Scaccario, and a similar treatise on the business of the mint was probably compiled by Walter de Bardes; but, in subsequent times, there had been an enormous expansion of the administrative duties undertaken by local officials on behalf of the crown. Fitzherbert’s book on the justice of the peace was the recognised manual for those who were increasingly employed in economic duties connected with apprenticeship, the conditions and remuneration of labour and the employment of the poor. The book of John Fisher, of Warwick, gives a vivid picture of the duties which fell to the clerk of the market at the time. The regulation of the prices of the necessaries of life was a constant subject of public care. No part of the economic activities of the crown was more necessary, and none presented greater difficulties in practice, than that of authoritatively maintaining the qualities of wares presented for sale in the markets. Much may be gathered on this topic, so far as the reputation of our chief English export was concerned, from the writings of Thomas Milles, a collector of customs, and of John May, who held the office of “aulnager” and was responsible that the pieces of cloth exported should be of full length. A considerable portion of the writing of the period takes the form of complaint as to the want of regulation, and the desirability of bringing some new department under the direct control of government, or of reviving the care which had been formerly bestowed. It is in this way that Malynes, in a work which has considerable pretensions to literary grace, argues against the malpractices of dealers in coin and in favour of more stringent regulation in regard to currency and exchange.