If we set aside the barbarity and customs of the Romans as heathens, and take them as a civil government, we must allow they were the pattern of the whole world for improvement and increase of arts and learning, civilising and methodising nations and countries conquered by their valour; and if this was one of their great cares, that consideration ought to move something. But to the great example of that generous people I will add three arguments:-
1. It is useful, and that as it is convenient for carriages, which in a trading country is a great help to negotiation, and promotes universal correspondence, without which our inland trade could not be managed. And under this head I could name a thousand conveniences of a safe, pleasant, well-repaired highway, both to the inhabitant and the traveller, but I think it is needless.
2. It is easy. I question not to make it appear it is easy to put all the highroads, especially in England, in a noble figure; large, dry, and clean; well drained, and free from floods, unpassable sloughs, deep cart-ruts, high ridges, and all the inconveniences they now are full of; and, when once done, much easier still to be maintained so.
3. It may be cheaper, and the whole assessment for the repairs of highways for ever be dropped or applied to other uses for the public benefit.
Here I beg the reader's favour for a small digression.
I am not proposing this as an undertaker, or setting a price to the public for which I will perform it, like one of the projectors I speak of, but laying open a project for the performance, which, whenever the public affairs will admit our governors to consider of, will be found so feasible that no question they may find undertakers enough for the performance; and in this undertaking age I do not doubt but it would be easy at any time to procure persons at their own charge to perform it for any single county, as a pattern and experiment for the whole kingdom.
The proposal is as follows:- First, that an Act of Parliament be made with liberty for the undertakers to dig and trench, to cut down hedges and trees, or whatever is needful for ditching, draining and carrying off water, cleaning, enlarging and levelling the roads, with power to lay open or enclose lands; to encroach into lands; dig, raise, and level fences; plant and pull up hedges or trees (for the enlarging, widening, and draining the highways), with power to turn either the roads or watercourses, rivers and brooks, as by the directors of the works shall be found needful, always allowing satisfaction to be first made to the owners of such lands (either by assigning to them equivalent lands or payment in money, the value to be adjusted by two indifferent persons to be named by the Lord Chancellor or Lord Keeper for the time being), and no watercourse to be turned from any water-mill without satisfaction first made both to the landlord and tenant.
But before I proceed, I must say a word or two to this article.
The chief, and almost the only, cause of the deepness and foulness of the roads is occasioned by the standing water, which (for want of due care to draw it off by scouring and opening ditches and drains, and other watercourses, and clearing of passages) soaks into the earth, and softens it to such a degree that it cannot bear the weight of horses and carriages; to prevent which, the power to dig, trench, and cut down, &c., mentioned above will be of absolute necessity. But because the liberty seems very large, and some may think it is too great a power to be granted to any body of men over their neighbours, it is answered:-
1. It is absolutely necessary, or the work cannot be done, and the doing of the work is of much greater benefit than the damage can amount to.
2. Satisfaction to be made to the owner (and that first, too, before the damage be done) is an unquestionable equivalent; and both together, I think, are a very full answer to any objection in that case.
Besides this Act of Parliament, a commission must be granted to fifteen at least, in the name of the undertakers, to whom every county shall have power to join ten, who are to sit with the said fifteen so often and so long as the said fifteen do sit for affairs relating to that county, which fifteen, or any seven of them, shall be directors of the works, to be advised by the said ten, or any five of them, in matters of right and claim, and the said ten to adjust differences in the countries, and to have right by process to appeal in the name either of lords of manors, or privileges of towns or corporations, who shall be either damaged or encroached upon by the said work.