Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

sied, that fools make feasts. I wish in this case the other were as true, and wise men eat them. These travellers might, one would think, find some fault they could more decently reproach us with than that of our excessive civility to them as strangers. I have not, indeed, yet thought of a remedy for luxury; I am not sure that in a great state it is capable of a remedy, nor that the evil is in itself always so great as it is represented. Suppose we include in the definition of luxury all unnecessary expense, and then let us consider whether laws to prevent such expense are possible to be executed in a great country, and whether, if they could be executed, our people generally would be happier, or even richer. Is not the hope of one day being able to purchase and enjoy luxuries a great spur to labor and industry May not luxury therefore produce more than it consumes, if without such a spur people would be, as they are naturally enough inclined to be, lazy and indolent 2 To this purpose, I remember a circumstance. The skipper of a shallop, employed between Cape May and Philadelphia, had done us some small service, for which he refused pay. My wife, understanding that he had a daughter, sent her as a present a new-fashioned cap. Three years after, the skipper being at my house, with an old farmer of Cape May, his passenger, he mentioned the cap, and how much his daughter had been pleased with it. “But,” said he, “it proved a dear cap to our congregation.” “How so?” “When my daughter appeared in it at meeting, it was so much admired that all the girls resolved to get such caps from Philadelphia; and my wife and I computed that the whole could not cost less than a hundred pounds.” “True,” said the farmer, “but you do not tell all the story. I think the cap was nevertheless an advantage to us; for it was the first thing that set our girls upon knitting worsted mittens for sale at Philadelphia, that they might have wherewithal to buy caps and ribbons there; and you know that that industry has continued, and is likely to continue and increase to a much greater value, and answer better purposes.” Upon the whole, I was more reconciled to this little piece of luxury, since not only the girls were made happier by having fine caps, but the Philadelphians by the supply of warm mittens. In our commercial towns upon the sea-coast, fortunes will occasionally be made. Some of those who grow rich will be prudent, live within bounds, and preserve what they have gained for their posterity. Others, fond of showing their wealth, will be extravagant and ruin themselves. Laws cannot prevent this, and perhaps it is not always an evil to the public. A shilling spent idly by a fool may be picked up by a wiser person, who knows better what to do with it: it is therefore not lost. A vain, silly fellow builds a fine house, furnishes it richly, lives in it expensively, and in a few years ruins himself; but the masons, carpenters, smiths, and other honest tradesmen, have been by his employ assisted in maintaining and raising their families; the farmer has been paid for his labor and encouraged, and the estate is now in better hands. In some cases, indeed, certain modes of luxury may be a public evil, in the same manner as it is a private one. If there be a nation, for instance, that exports its beef and linen to pay for its importations of claret and porter, while a great part of its people live upon potatoes and wear no shirts, wherein does it differ from the sot who lets his family starve, and sells his clothes to buy drink? Our American commerce is, I confess, a little in this way. We sell our victuals to your islands for rum and sugar; the substantial necessaries of life for superfluities. But we have plenty and live well, nevertheless, though by being soberer we might be richer. By the by, here is just issued an arrêt of council, taking off all the duties upon the exportation of brandies, which, it is said, will render them cheaper in America than your rum; in which case there is no doubt but they will be preferred, and we shall be better able to bear your restrictions on our commerce. There are views here, by augmenting their settlements, of being able to supply the growing people of America with the sugar that may be wanted there. On the whole, I believe England will get as little by the commercial war she has begun with us as she did by the military. But to return to luxury. The vast quantity of forestlands we have yet to clear and put in order for cultivation will for a long time keep the body of our nation laborious and frugal. Forming an opinion of our people and their manners by what is seen among the inhabitants of the seaports, is judging from an improper sample. The people of the trading towns may be rich and luxurious, while the country possesses all the virtues that tend to private happiness and public prosperity. Those towns are not much regarded by the country; they are hardly considered as an essential part of the States; and the experience of the last war has shown that their being in possession of the enemy did not necessarily draw on the subjection of the country, which bravely continued to maintain its freedom and independence, notwithstanding. It has been computed, by some political arithmetician, that if every man and woman would work four hours each day in something useful, that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life; want and misery would be banished out of the world, and the rest of the twenty-four hours might be leisure and pleasure. What, then, occasions so much want and misery It is the employment of men and women in works that produce neither the necessaries nor conveniences of life; who, with those who do nothing, consume the necessaries raised by the laborious. To explain this. The first elements of wealth are obtained by labor from the earth and waters. I have land, and raise corn: with this I feed a family that does nothing, — my corn will be consumed, and at the end of the year I shall be no richer than I was at the beginning. But if, while I feed them, I employ them, some in spinning, others in hewing timber and sawing boards, others in making bricks, &c., for building, the value of my corn will be arrested, and remain with me, and at the end of the year we may all be better clothed and better lodged. And if, instead of employing a man I feed in making bricks, I employ him in fiddling for me, the corn he eats is gone, and no part of his manufacture remains to augment the wealth and the conveniences of the family; I shall therefore be the poorer for this fiddling-man, unless the rest of my family work more, or eat less, to make up the deficiency he occasions. Look round the world, and see the millions employed in doing nothing, or in something that amounts to nothing, when the necessaries and conveniences of life are in question. What is the bulk of commerce, for which we fight and destroy each other, but the toil of millions for superfluities, to the great hazard and loss of many lives by the constant dangers of the sea How much labor spent in building and fitting great ships to go to China and Arabia for tea and for coffee, to the West Indies for sugar, to America for tobacco. These things cannot be called the necessaries of life, for our ancestors lived very comfortably without them. A question may be asked, Could all these people now employed in raising, making or carrying superfluities, be subsisted by raising necessaries 2 I think they might. The world is large, and a great part of it still uncultivated. Many hundred millions of acres in Asia, Africa and America, are still forest, and a great deal even in Europe. On one hundred acres of this forest a man might become a substantial farmer, and one hundred thousand men employed in clearing each his hundred acres (instead of being, as they are, French hair-dressers) would hardly brighten a spot big enough to be visible from the moon (unless

with Herschell's telescope), so vast are the regions still in the world unimproved. 'T is, however, some comfort to reflect that, upon the whole, the quantity of industry and prudence among mankind exceeds the quantity of idleness and folly. Hence the increase of good buildings, farms cultivated, and populous cities filled with wealth, all over Europe, which a few ages since were only to be found on the coasts of the Mediterranean, And this, notwithstanding the mad wars continually raging, by which are often destroyed in one year the works of many years' peace; so that we may hope that the luxury of a few merchants on the sea-coast will not be the ruin of America. One reflection more, and I will end this long, rambling letter. Almost all the parts of our bodies require some expense. The feet demand shoes, the legs stockings, the rest of the body clothing, and the belly a good deal of victuals. Our eyes, though exceedingly useful, ask, when reasonable, only the cheap assistance of spectacles, which could not much impair our finanēes. But THE EYEs of oth ER PEOPLE are the eyes that ruin us... If all but myself were blind, I should want neither fine clothes, fine houses, nor fine furniture. B. FRANKLIN.

P. S. This will be delivered to you by my grandson. I am persuaded you will afford him your civilities and counsels. Please to accept a little present of books I send by him, curious for the beauty of the impression.

[To william STRAHAN, M.P.]

On visiting England— Public Salaries Wagrancy of Congress

The War British Disdain for Yankees Consequences Evi

dences of Providence Comparison of Fortunes English Copy

rights in America Emigration.

PAssy, August 19, 1784.

DEAR FRIEND: I received your kind letter of April 17. You will have the goodness to place my delay in answering to the account of indisposition and business, and excuse it. I have now that letter before me ; and my grandson, whom you may formerly remember a little scholar at Mr. Elphinston's, purposing to set out in a day or two on a visit to his father in London, I sit down to scribble a little to you, first recommending him as a worthy young man to your civilities and counsels.

You press me much to come to England. I am not without strong inducements to do so; the fund of knowledge you promise to communicate to me is, in addition to them, no small one. At present it is impracticable. But, when my grandson returns, come with him. We will talk the matter over, and perhaps you may take me back with you. I have a bed at your service, and will try to make your residence, while you can stay with us, as agreeable to you, if possible, as I am sure it will be to me. You do not “approve the annihilation of profitable places; for you do not see why a statesman who does his business well should not be paid for his labor as well as any other workman.” Agreed. But why more than any other workman 2 The less the salary, the greater the honor. In so great a nation there are many rich enough to afford giving their time to the public; and there are, I make no doubt, many wise and able men who would take as much pleasure in governing for nothing as they do in playing of chess for nothing. It would be one of the noblest amusements. That this opinion is not chimerical the country I now live in affords a proof; its whole civil and criminal law administration being done for nothing, or in some sense for less than nothing, since the members of its judiciary parliaments buy their places, and do not make more than three per cent. for their money by their fees and emoluments, while the legal interest is five; so that, in fact, they give two per cent. to be allowed to govern, and all their time and trouble into the bargain. Thus profit, one motive for desiring place, being abolished, there remains only ambition ; and that being in some degree balanced by loss, you may easily conceive that there will not be very violent factions and contentions for such places, nor much of the mischief to the country that attends your factions, which have often occasioned wars, and overloaded you with debts impayable. I allow you all the force of your joke upon the vagrancy of our Congress. They have a right to sit where they please, of which perhaps they have made too much use by shifting too often. But they have two other rights, – those of sitting when they please, and as long as they please, in which methinks they have the advantage of your Parliament; for they cannot be dissolved by the breath of a minister, or sent packing as you were the other day, when it was your earnest desire to have remained longer together. You “fairly acknowledge that the late war terminated quite contrary to your expectation.” Your expectation was ill-founded; for you would not believe your old friend, who told you repeatedly that by those measures England would lose her colo

« ZurückWeiter »