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Kinship and Capitalism: Marriage, Family, and Business in the English-Speaking World, 1580-1740 and Family & Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship, Patronage. (Reviews).

Kinship and Capitalism: Marriage, Family, and Business in the English-Speaking World, 1580-1740. By Richard Grassby (New York: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Cambridge University Press, 2001. xix plus 506pp. $64.95).

Family & Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship, Patronage. By Naomi Tadmor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. x plus 312pp. $59.95).

Relationships, relationships! Abused as that word is in contemporary usage, it wondrously describes the substance of these two works. Whether family, kinship, friendship, or patronage-relationships, singly or in networks, lubricate social, economic, and political intercourse. That such transactions matter is what these two works have in common.

Kinship and Capitalism pursues essentially the family's role in business from the late sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century; Tadmor's interest, in some respects more subtle, explores new notions of household, kinship, and patronage as distilled from common expression. Grassby aims the higher, articulating what amounts to the emergence of modem society; Tadmor, in discerning bonds that fostered diverse eighteenth-century social networks, is hardly less intriguing. The two authors' approaches are, however, very, very different. Crassby's rhetoric is at times haranguing in styling himself as an uncompromising empiricist. Theory, he reminds us emphatically, has no place in his work: "The approach in this study ... is both quantitative and qualitative, but not theoretical except in sense that absence of dogma is itself a dogma." Moreover, the study is groundbreaking: "Every aspect of the family is looked at from a new perspective with greater statistical precision and greater breadth and depth of coverage than earlier studies have attempted." Again: "The truth always lies in the details. Ideologies and methodologies come and go, but the facts are eternal" (p. 30). The fullest expression of both his method and scholarship is his having developed a database of some 28,000 London businessmen from 1580-1740. Operating on the assumption that writing business history depends upon more than probing accounts and worksheets, he ingeniously tests the numerous and complicated connections between families and firms that these data yield.

Aside from a lengthy introduction and conclusion, he divides his work into three parts--Marriage, The Business Family, and The Family Business. His conclusions on marriage, as suggested above, are based not on a few notable incidents, literary allusions, and certainly not on advice books, but by analyzing the behavior of thousands of business families that had plunged into the marriage market. How were matches made--why, when, and to whom? In this same first part the author also studies aspects of marriage--law, convention, married life, marriage duration, conflict, harmony, and loss. A concluding chapter in this section treats widowers and widows--the relative life expectancy of husbands and wives, widows as executrix, remarriage, and much more.

The life cycle beyond marriage poses problems hardly less complex than choosing a mate. The chapters regarding The Business Family, are devoted to parents and children, adulthood and old age, and kin and community. In the first two Grassby addresses parental roles at various phases of the life cycle--family size, birth, infancy, childhood, discipline, and adolescence in one instance and parents/grown children and sibling relationships in the other. A third chapter examines the broader world of aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, and more. Crassby ponders such matters as the spatial and genealogical limits of the kinfolk and wonders, among other things, about obligations to such kin.

The family firm was a crucial element in the capitalism spawned in Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Under the rubric, The Family Business, Grassby treats this topic in separate chapters on men in business, women in business, and inheritance and advancement. While the biological family may form the nucleus of a household, the latter may be one, no less, of apprentices and partners. Grassby's assessment of women's roles--how spinsters, married women, and widows fared as investors and entrepreneurs and their overcoming the legal and cultural obstacles--is of particular importance considering how such investments played a crucial role in buttressing Britain's burgeoning eighteenth century economy. The last chapter, inheritance and advancement, treats property transfer in death and social advancement by marriage and careers. Here Grassby concentrates on such matters as particle inheritance, laws regarding the distribution of estates, sons in business, parental choice, childrens marriages, consent , dowries, and pedigree. How business men of several centuries past coped with these competing priorities of family and business was doubtless a demanding task; however, they did if we are to believe the data which Grassby collected.

In outlining Grassby's work I have only highlighted this superbly researched and broadly-based work. So remarkable a vehicle is it that it should serve as a reference for business history scholars, allowing them to make credible pronouncements on the family dimensions of early modem capitalism. Furthermore, such a considerable database should become a model for historians in exploring other topics. As observed above, Grassby's grand enterprise enables us to ascertain with greater clarity the transition from a pre-capitalist to a capitalist and therefore modem society: the author talks about real people, lots of them, who coped variously with the kinds of problems we historians have long wondered about.

In contrast to Crassby, Tadmor focuses more narrowly on the eighteenth-century family and purports to revise the meanings of household, family, kinship, friendship, and patronage. Although there are points of intersection between the two books, the differences are considerable. No databases here: the vehicles for this scrutiny of contemporary parlance are diaries, guides on comportment, and novels. The diaries--111 notebooks--were those of Thomas Turner; the conduct pieces were Samuel Richardson's The Apprentice's Vade Mecum: or, Young Man's Pocket-Companion and Eliza Haywood's A Present for a Servant-Maid, or the Sure Means of Gaining Love and Esteem; then three novels, Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa and Haywood's The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless. Tadmor suggests that this language of kinship and friendship, so pervasive and yet so elusive in eighteenth-century usage, was a constant in facilitating common human endeavors of politics, commerce, and society. Her stated intent in this work is 1) to contr ibute to the history of the eighteenth-century English family by offering new concepts of family and friends; 2) to devise for this purpose a new method, one of analyzing linguistic usages; and 3) to advance the integration of family history with other fields of history.

The initial chapters dwell on the family as a household, utilizing the Turner diaries in one and the novels and conduct treatises in another. Then the author turns to the lineage family, utilizing the same sources. Those chapters which treat the language of kinship, friends, especially political friends, bespeak of the kinds of relationships described by Grassby, but they transcend them as well. "Friends," like family and kin, can have a host of meanings that define eighteenth-century life and the social order. Tadmor's affixing the language of kin and friendship to that of mediation explains transactions of services and obligations that tie in with Crassby.

These two works, original in conception and well researched and presented, are invaluable for understanding the economic and social change that shaped early modem Britain. They speak eloquently to the notion that much history, like politics, is local.
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Author:Schmidt, Albert J.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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