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MORAL AND MISCELLANEOUS.
ON SEARCHING AFTER HIDDEN TREASURES.*
THERE are amongst us great numbers of honest artificers and laboring people, who, fed with a vain hope of growing suddenly rich, neglect their business almost to the ruining of themselves and families, and voluntarily endure abundance of fatigue in a fruitless search after imaginary hidden treasures. They wander through the woods and bushes by day, to discover the marks and signs; at midnight they repair to those hopeful spots with spades and pickaxes; full of expectation, they labor violently, trembling at the same time in every joint through fear of certain malicious demons, who are said to haunt and guard the places. At length, a mighty hole is dug, and perhaps several cart-loads of earth thrown out; but, alas, no keg or iron pot is found ! no seaman's chest, ornamented with Spanish pistoles or weighty pieces of eight! Then they conclude that, through some mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink it deeper into the earth, and convey it out of his reach. Yet when a man is once thus infatuated, he is so far from being discouraged by illsuccess, that he is rather animated to double his industry, and will try again and again, in a hundred different places, in hopes at last of meeting with some lucky hit, that shall at once sufficiently reward them for all their expense of time and labor.
This odd humor of digging for money, through a belief that much has been hid by pirates formerly frequenting the river, has for several years been mighty prevalent among us; insomuch that you can hardly walk half a mile out of the town on any side, without observing several pits dug with that design, and perhaps some lately opened. Men otherwise of very good sense have been drawn into this practice through an overrunning desire of hidden wealth, and an easy credulity of what they so earnestly wished might be true; while the rational and almost certain methods of acquiring riches by industry and frugality are neglected or forgotten. There seems to be some peculiar charm in the conceit of finding money, and, if the sands of the Schuylkill were so much mined with small grains of gold that a man might in a day's time, with care and application, get together to the value of half a crown, I make no question but we should find several people employed there that can with ease earn five shillings a day at their proper trades. Many are the idle stories told of the private success of some people, by which others are encouraged to proceed; and the astrologers, with whom the country swarms at this time, are either in the belief of these things themselves, or find their advantage in persuading others to believe them; for they are often consulted about the critical times for digging, the methods of laying the spirit, and the like whimseys, which renders them very necessary to, and very much caressed by, the poor, deluded money-hunters. There is certainly something very bewitching in the pursuit after mines of gold and silver, and other valuable metals, and many have been ruined by it. A sea-captain of my acquaintance used to blame the English for envying Spain their mines of silver, and too much despising and overlooking the advantages of their own industry and manufactures. “For my part,” says he, “I esteem the banks of Newfoundland to be a more valuable possession than the mountains of Potosi; and, when I have been there on the fishing account, I have looked upon every cod pulled up into the vessel as a certain quantity of silver ore, which required only carrying to the next Spanish port to be coined into pieces of eight; not to mention the national profit of fitting out and employing such a number of ships and seamen.” Let honest Peter Buckram, who has long without success been a searcher after hidden money, reflect on this, and be reclaimed from this unaccountable folly; let him consider that every stitch he takes when he is on his shop-board is picking up a part of a grain of gold, that will in a few days' time amount to a pistole; and let Faber think the same of every nail he drives, or every stroke with his plane ; such thoughts may make them industrious, and of consequence in time they may be wealthy. But how absurd it is to neglect a certain profit for such a ridiculous whimsey; to spend whole days at the George tavern in company with an idle pretender to astrology, contriving schemes to discover what was never hidden, and forgetting how carelessly business is managed at home in their absence: to leave their wives and a warm bed at midnight (no matter if rain, hail, snow, or blow a hurricane, provided that be the critical hour) and fatigue themselves with the violent exercise of digging for what they shall never find, and perhaps getting a cold that may cost their lives, or at least disordering themselves so as to be fit for no business besides for some days after Surely this is nothing less than the most egregious folly and madness. I shall conclude with the words of my discreet friend, Agricola, of Chester county, when he gave his son a good plantation: “My son,” says he, “I give thee now a valuable parcel of land; I assure thee I have found a considerable quantity of gold by digging there; thee mayest do the same; but thee must carefully observe this, – never to dig more than plough deep.”
* This paper is from a series of essays entitled “The Busy Body,” of which Franklin gives some account in his Autobiography. They are mostly in imitation of the Spectator, and were written when he was about twentythree years of age. They are, for the most part, such “unconsidered trifles” as he must have taken little pride in preserving.
ADVANTAGES OF VERACITY.
A FRIEND of mine was the other day cheapening some trifles at a shopkeeper's, and after a few words they agreed on a price. At the tying up of the parcels he had purchased, the mistress of the shop told him that people were growing very hard, for she actually lost by everything she sold. How, then, is it possible, said my friend, that you can keep on your business. Indeed, sir, answered she, I must of necessity shut my doors, had I not a very great trade. The reason, said my friend (with a sneer), is admirable.
There are a great many retailers who falsely imagine that being historical (the modern phrase for lying) is much for their advantage; and some of them have a saying, that it is a pity !ying is a sin, it is so useful in trade; though, if they would examine into the reason why a number of shopkeepers raise considerable estates, while others who have set out with better fortunes have become bankrupts, they would find that the former made up with truth, diligence and probity, what they were deficient of in stock; while the latter have been guilty of imposing on such customers as they found had no skill in the quality of their goods. The former character raises a credit which supplies the want of fortune, and their fair dealing brings them customers; whereas none will return to buy of him by whom he has been once imposed upon. If people in trade would judge rightly, we might buy blindfolded, and they would save both to themselves and customers the unpleasantness of haggling. Though there are numbers of shopkeepers who scorn the mean vice of lying, and whose word may very safely be relied on, yet there are too many who will endeavor, and, backing their falsities with asseverations, pawn their salvation to raise their prices. As example works more than precept, and my sole view being the good and interest of my countrymen, whom I could wish to see without any vice or folly, I shall offer an example of the veneration bestowed on truth and abhorrence of falsehood among the ancients. Augustus, triumphing over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, among other captives who accompanied them brought to Rome a priest of about sixty years old. The Senate, being informed that this man had never been detected in a falsehood, and was believed never to have told a lie, not only restored him to liberty, but made him a High Priest, and caused a statue to be erected to his honor. The priest thus honored was an Egyptian, and an enemy to Rome; but his virtue removed all obstacles. Pamphilius was a Roman citizen whose body upon his death was forbidden sepulture, his estate was confiscated, his house razed, and his wife and children banished the Roman territories, wholly for his having been a notorious and inveterate liar. Could there be greater demonstrations of respect for truth than these of the Romans, who elevated an enemy to the greatest honors, and exposed the family of a citizen to the greatest contumely 2 There can be no excuse for lying; neither is there anything equally despicable and dangerous as a liar, no man being safe who associates with him; for, he who will lie will swear to it, says the proverb, and such a one may endanger my life, turn my family out of doors, and ruin my reputation, whenever he shall find it his interest; and if a man will lie and swear to it in his shop to obtain a trifle, why should we doubt his doing so when he may hope to make a fortune by his perjury The crime is in itself so mean, that to call a man a liar is esteemed everywhere an affront not to be forgiven. If any have lenity enough to allow the dealers an excuse for this bad practice, I believe they will allow none for the gentleman who is addicted to this vice, and must look upon him with contempt. That the world does so is visible by the derision with which his name is treated whenever it is mentioned. The philosopher Epimenides gave the Rhodians this description of Truth: She is the companion of the gods, the joy of heaven, the light of the earth, the pedestal of justice, and the basis of good policy. Eschines told the same people that Truth was a virtue without which force was enfeebled, justice corrupted, humility became dissimulation, patience intolerable, chastity a dissembler, liberty lost, and pity superfluous. Pharmanes the philosopher told the Romans that Truth was the centre on which all things rested: a chart to sail by, a remedy for all evils, and a light to the whole world. Anaxarchus, speaking of Truth, said it was health incapable of sickness, life not subject to death, an elixir that healeth all, a sun not to be obscured, a moon without eclipse, an herb which never withereth, a gate that is never closed, and a path which never fatigues the traveller. But, if we are blind to the beauties of truth, it is astonishing that we should not open our eyes to the inconvenience of falsity. A man given to romance must be always on his guard for fear of contradicting and exposing himself to derision; for the most historical would avoid the odious character, though it is impossible, with the utmost circumspection, to travel long on this route without detection, and shame and confusion follow. Whereas he who is a votary of truth never hesitates for an answer, has never to rack his invention to make the sequel quadrate with the beginning of his story, nor obliged to burden his memory with minute circumstances, since truth speaks easily what it recollects, and repeats openly and frequently without varying facts, which liars cannot always do, even though gifted with a good memory.
[From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Nov. 20, 1735.]
THE desire of happiness is in general so natural, that all the world are in pursuit of it; all have this one end solely in view, though they take such different methods to attain it, and are so much divided in their notions of what it consists of