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Reviewed by:
  • Kinship and Capitalism: Marriage, Family, and Business in the English-Speaking World,1580—1740, and: Family & Friends in Eighteenth-Century England: Household, Kinship, Patronage
  • Albert J. Schmidt
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 Capitalismpursues 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 modern 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. Grassby’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 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 [End Page 790]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. Grassby 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...

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