Inhabitants of a Rude Country


In ruder and more simple times, before labor is much subdivided, the whole stock of knowledge existing in a country will be scanty, but it will be more equally diffused over the different ranks, and each individual of the lower orders will have nearly the same opportunities and motives with his superiors, for exerting the different powers of his mind.

The rude mechanic, residing in a small town, is forced to bestow his attention, successively, on many objects different from each other. Not finding constant employment in one branch of manufacture, he exercises several, and furnishes himself with many of the tools requisite for each; he probably makes part of his own clothes, assists in building his own house and those of his neighbors, and cultivates, or directs his wife and children in cultivating, a small patch of ground, on which he raises part of his provisions.

As he must buy the materials, and sell or barter the produce of his labour, he is also, in some respects, a merchant; and, in this capacity, he is led to the observation of character, as well as to some speculation respecting the most advantageous times and places, for making his little bargains.

When we add, that he is likewise trained to arms, for the purpose of assisting in defending the town of which he is a citizen, we must see that his situation, and consequently, his character, will be very different from that of a mechanic, in a more advanced society.

In this manner, all the members of a rude nation, being forced to exercise a great number of unconnected professions and individually to provide for themselves, what each stands in need of, their attention is directed to a variety of objects: and their knowledge is extended in proportion. No man relies upon the exertions of his neighbor; but each employs, for the relief of his wants, or in defence of what belongs to him, either the strength of his body or the ingenuity of his mind, all the talents which he has been able to acquire, all the faculties with which nature has endowed him….

Unlike the mechanics of a commercial nation, who have each permitted all of their talents… to lie dormant and useless; but who combine, like the wheels of a machine, in producing a complicated system of operations, the inhabitants of a rude country have separately preserved, and kept in action, all the original powers of man….

— John Millar, “An Historical View of the English Government: From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688” (1803). Thanks to Jeff Burks for exhuming this one.

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26 Responses to Inhabitants of a Rude Country

  1. Robert W. Foedisch says:

    According to the Oxford English Dictionary, The final source of definitions for all things oral and or spoken.
    Rude is: Definition of rude adjective
    1offensively impolite or ill-mannered:
    she had been rude to her boss
    [with infinitive]:
    it’s rude to ask a lady her age
    referring to a taboo subject such as sex in a way considered improper and offensive:
    he made a rude gesture
    [attributive] having a startling abruptness:
    the war came as a very rude awakening
    2roughly made or done; lacking subtlety or sophistication:
    a rude coffin
    archaic ignorant and uneducated:
    the new religion was first promulgated by rude men
    3 [attributive] chiefly British vigorous or hearty:
    Isabel had always been in rude health
    Based on this I must disagree with your premise that the inhabitants you defined did not meet the definition of rude. Rather you described artisans, Who by their nature are creative. This however does not ecclude them individually being rude but as a class I disagree that artisans are rude

    • lostartpress says:

      If you follow the OED on this, you are missing the boat.

      • Tom Pier says:

        I am not going to offer much of a defense, but I think Millar was using the second definition from OED.

        I would guess that Millar’s point is that the type of economic society described here would not support an artisan or specialized class. I also think that Chris sees great beauty in the wood working performed by the non-specialized class. I think Millar was more enamored with the stuff commissioned by Loius XIV. I think the deconstructionists of the 20th century would agree more with Chris.

      • David T says:

        Following OED does not make you miss the boat. It is in agreement with Mr.Millar, in that a rude mechanic produces items that are “roughly made or done; lacking subtlety or sophistication. “Roughly made” is not to be confused with “Poorly made” it just means that it is made fit for purpose and no more. To keep in context of the current blogs, 6 board chests are made by “rude mechanics”, dovetailed chests are made by “artisans”.

  2. Robert W. Foedisch says:

    Merry Christmas

  3. billlattpa says:

    Sounds somewhat like the description of an early American farmer. He was a militia man, carpenter, woodworker, veterinarian, stone mason, architect, and of course he grew things too. I’m not so keen on the whole era of the artisan, though. From the research I’ve done (i’ll admit that it wasn’t a whole lot, but enough) It seems that during this golden age very few people actually could afford those “artisan” goods. Maybe that’s how some people would like it to be though?

    • lostartpress says:


      1803? Everything was made by hand or with the help of water/wind/animal power. Perhaps you are thinking of 1903? American Arts & Crafts?

      • billlattpa says:

        I hope it doesn’t sound like I have something against the artisan, not in the least. The 18th and 19th century in particular were difficult times for the average person is what I should have said, and the rural artisan was built out of those times.

  4. rob campbell says:

    Despite being a professional [digital] technologist, I do not use Twitter and have never warmed up to it. I will admit, though, to occasionally scoping what you do with it, and have puzzled as to your moniker. Thus, thanks for this.

  5. Eric R says:

    Millar had a great perspective on the attributes of knowing some of a lot of things as opposed to a lot of one thing.
    His historical view is right on the money.

    Self sufficiency was (and frankly still is) the key to survival.

    • Jay Oyster says:

      Jared Diamond would not necessarily agree. Just ask him about the self-sufficiency of the Easter Islanders. Millar’s description is a) charming, and b) a wonderful description of the time period where the European civilization truly began to switch to the specialization of professions. This specialization, along with the domestication of animals, is why the Europeans invaded the new world, rather than the Incas invading the old.

      My point? Specialization allows individuals within a society to gain greater skills in a particular area than in civilizations that require generalization to survive. These greater skills allow the culture to diversify and gain technology and skills they would not have otherwise.

      Oh, and John Donne, “No man is an island, Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.:

  6. Robert W. Foedisch AKA Bob says:

    I don’t know Millar. I do agree that the second definition in the OED is the most applicable in the Craft of woodworking. Additionally, I agree this current American society is not the sort that would support an individual crafts person/artisan, generalist or specialist,unless they could find a financial benefit or reward. Okay, I am a cynic.
    Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukkah

  7. Damien says:

    Rude? “We have learned nothing” Pablo Picasso’s comment on most archaic paintings.

  8. What a wonderful synopsis of how thing things were and could be again. When the zombie apocalypse comes, folks with the ability to use their hands and minds in multiple ways will be much in demand.

    See the lyrics of “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams, Jr.

  9. cmhawkins says:

    What a wonderful synopsis of how thing things were and could be again. When the zombie apocalypse comes, folks with the ability to use their hands and minds in multiple ways will be much in demand.

    See the lyrics of “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams, Jr.

  10. mike siemsen says:

    Rudimentary my dear fellow, rudimentary.

  11. Devon says:

    If you don’t know of any rude mechanic in your small town, does that mean you might be him/her?

    • tsstahl says:

      You might be a rude mechanic if..

      You have used a shoe heel to hang a picture.

      You have used a soup can to fix your rusted muffler pipe.

      You stacked an overlong replacement bolt with washers instead of taking the time to hack off the excess steel thread.

      Apologies to Jeff Foxworthy. 🙂

      • Devon says:

        Ever fixed the “arc of shame” a drill press with JB Weld.
        Ever made a keyhole saw from the remnant of a larger saw.
        Ever made a hand vise from two sicks, a bolt, and a hinge.
        Ever fixed anything around your homestead only using items from the rubbish bin.

  12. David Pickett says:

    I think Mr Millar may have been more than a little wide of the mark. We now know, through study of surviving documents and through archaeological work, that early English society had quite a high degree of specialisation in practicing the skills and trades, and a very rigid social structure.

  13. fitz says:

    I cannot begin to guess the number of books and essays written on the “Rude Mechanicals” in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Peter Quince, carpenter; Snug, joiner; Nick Bottom, weaver; Francis Flute, bellows mender; Tom Snout, tinker; Robin Starveling, tailor. All of them are assumed to be skilled manual laborers (if not-so-skilled actors). Puck calls them, “A crew of patches, rude mechanicals/That work for bread upon Athenian stalls”

    • Robert W. Foedisch says:

      I wonder, based on many of the comments here and apparently John Millar hisownself if the “Rude Mechanic” is a synonym for Craftsman. Many centuries removed

  14. Sandy says:

    Le Petit Robert is better here. From latin rudis “brut, inculte, grossier” 1. primitif et qui donne une impression de force naturelle. Many other definitions listed but the antonym for rude nails it. “Ant. raffiné, doux” (refined, soft).

  15. Paul says:

    R.I.P. ……………

  16. Paul says:

    rob campbell,

    While employed as Journeyman Machinist, at LLNL. The powers that be decided we were to be renamed “Machine Tech~”, All of the (Machinists) considered it an INSULT!

    “But I’m Much Better Now”

  17. Robert W. Foedisch says:

    I am fortunate to live in a university community, I stopped by one of their libraries after doing some research on furniure design and construction. I managed to locate a book on Provincial Furniture Design and Construction by Franklin H. Gottshall. In the preface he defines, I believe, why certain people were thought of as rude. “The pieces of furniture shown in this book were built by provincial cabinetmakers, skilled in the technicalities of their craft but not always as sensitive finer principlesof design as the more thoroughly schooled artisans” In this definition he is saying that the more schooled in design a person was the less rude he was.
    Merry christmas & Happy Hanukkah

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