What were the key features of European society  in the 18th Century?

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Among the many features of European life in the eighteenth century were the agricultural revolution which gave rise to land enclosure; birth of the cottage industry, and the rise of the nuclear family.

The agricultural revolution was the result of new methods of crop rotation and machinery. Farmers rotated clover and flax with turnips. In Holland, some crops were rotated with tulips whose bulbs were sold to flowering enterprises. Part of the revolution involved enclosing lands which had previously been farmed in common. This move was not always popular, particularly with those who were landless laborers. Oliver Goldsmith described the situation in a ditty:

The law locks up both man and woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The cottage industry developed into the "putting out" system whereby weavers, spinners, etc. performed one function of manufacture and delivered the partially completed product to the factor who delivered it to another for completion of the next stage. This was an early form of capitalism and was not altogether popular, as factors were accused of cheating workmen. Another poem illustrates the point:

We heapeth up riches and treasure great store
Which we get by griping and grinding the poor.
And this is a way to fill up our purse
Although we do get it with many a curse.

Lastly, the eighteenth century saw the development of the nuclear family comprised of parents and children. Grandparents and other relatives did not live with the family under one roof. Couples normally married out of love rather than convenience, and often postponed marriage until their late twenties so that they could be financially independent.

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